Previous month:
February 2011
Next month:
June 2011

Food for thought: opt-out is the new opt-in

Here's an excellent observation from a talk I've just been convinced I would have loved to listen to (thanks to Adam for liveblogging it):

"Highly technical people are dictating how we communicate with each other. The least social people are dictating how we interact. They force us to opt-out not opt-in. There's software that kills you internet connections for a set time to allow you to focus. Opt-out is the new opt-in."

Nothing all that new in the higlights Adam posts from Jeremy Tai Abbett's talk, but the way Abbett coins these key trends is refreshing and very much to the point. Read the full post here.

At the frontline of the tablet revolution

An issue of a media magazine I wrote the lead story for just won a prize for front page of the year during the Nordic Media Festival in Bergen.

I had absolutely nothing to do with that front page but I love how it alludes to some of the paradoxes of the "tablet revolution", or at least the media's approach to it.

Because in some respects it's been a very old fashioned revolution to this point, for some media organisations almost a(n attempted) return to the olden days:


And from the actual story:


This issue was published in early autumn last year, at which time we were still speculating as to what this "revolution" would entail. The 10 page story features interviews with many of the usual suspects (well, at least to the readers of this blog), including Eirik Solheim (@eirikso ), Adam Tinworth ( @adders ), Alan Patrick ( @freecloud ), Jon Einar Sandvand ( @johnei ) , Eirik Newth ( @astronewth ) – and some reflections from INMAs tablet summit in Oxford last spring.

And now, 10 months on, a new issue of that same magazine is just out with another lead story of mine on how the market for (media) apps is evolving (I'll return to one of the key themes in a different post).

10 months on we're not really all that much wiser though.

We know a lot more about how people use tablets, but it's fair to say that the media industry is still some way off from cracking the tablet code – even though there's also some good stuff happening.

So, perhaps Adam in right, when concluding from my most recent blog post:

My gut reaction: tablets are in the same place that the web was in the mid- to late 90s: companies think that they can recreate the environment of the past, even as the tidal wave of change surfs towards them. While people were building brochure sites, the blogging revolution was getting underway. Look for the niche, techie, cool stuff happening on tablets, and you'll see the real face of the future.

Having said that, my media consumption has shifted heavily to my iPad.

Checking news there, mainly using Flipboard +VG and Aftenposten's iPad editions, is the first thing I do in the morning – before I get out of bed even, and my Google reader section of Flipboard has almost entirely replaced my newsreader (I still check Newsrac k, also for iPad, on occasion, but it's rare). During weekends, my iPad reading is more varied.

But even though I absolutely adore, and find myself thinking I couldn't live without, apps like Flipboard and Zine, some of the debates we're having about such apps reminds me a lot about those we had about RSS and newsreaders.

The two latter were going to change everything and outcompete mainstream media imminently, but lacking a decent business model they never did. Or at least haven't done so far. Apps such as Flipboard have many of the same challenges.

In fact, a recent study by City University's Neil Thurman shows that basically, readers are too lazy to take advantage of many such innovations:

New research from City University London reveals that the use of personalisation features has been growing at major news website in the UK and US. However, passive news personalisation ― which allows news websites to filter and recommend articles based on user browsing behaviour ― is outstripping active user customisation by a factor of three.

Do read it in full here.

Apple and publishers: A Faustian bargain

"Publishers are finally saying yes to Apple's terms because turns out their fear that Apple’s policies would deny them the consumer data they need to do business was unfounded".

So writes Jeff Bercovici on his Forbes-blog.

His post reminds me of two things, well three come to think of it.

First of all, to slightly rephrase Neil Postman:

"All new technology is a kind of Faustian bargain – you get a lot but you also lose something. It was true for the alphabet, for the printing press, for radio, for TV" – and it is true for Apple's iPad (from this video-interview)

In the case of Apple, publishers lose control, which perhaps isn't such a brave new thing because they already lost that with the web, with online publishing and social media – just in a different way.

Still, looking at this particular exercise in letting go of control, Adam looks at Apple's pop-up window that asks customers to share their personal data with publishers and concludes:

It's a pretty bland, factual pop-up, so it's not really giving people much incentive to click "Allow", really, is it? In fact, it very easily reads like you're accepting a dump of junk mail.

Now, I'm not sure how customisable that pop-up is (my guess is that it isn't), but surely if developers could find ways of incentivising people to accept earlier in the process, by highlighting the benefits of that data transfer on the subscription information page. Because there are benefits to the user from this, right…?

Which brings me to my third point, as this quote from Hearst Magazines announcing its new deal with Apple really made me pause:

"Our deal is fundamentally different from any other deal Apple has done with a publisher; we came to fair and equitable agreement that allows both parties to own customers together"

I do wonder how customers feel about the prospect of being co-owned by Hearst and Apple.

I understand the  business sense behind that statement, but it made me wonder if anyone remembers stuff like Day of the Longtail and the empowerment of the people formerly known as the audience?

I guess that must all have been forgotten in the iPad-age... and the people who prior to 2006 were the media's very own "cuddly coach-potatoes" preparing a revolt causing total disintermediation ... well, they must've gone back to being cuddly coach potatoes again (If my metaphors in this paragraph is lost on you, do watch Day of the Longtail here).  

I know of course, that some of the people who previously were at the front guard of the  Cluetrain-revolution, now are deeply involved in working for Vendor Relationship Management (VRM), working for solutions that would enable users to regain control over all the personal data they now have to leave with numerous different vendors.

So maybe the next question should be if there ever will come a time that VRM will gain the traction Cluetrain did, or if we have become sated, made complacent, by the new range of marvellously easy-to-use, well-designed devices that make our lives so much easier in so many ways...

... If we're on the road to surfing ourselves to death. I know, that's a really bad wordplay on Postman's classic title... but I do wonder ... Apple's iPad does seem to have caused a mentality-shift...

But perhaps that's just an inevitable step in the perennial "cycle", the succession of optimistic and open media, each of which in time, becomes a closed and controlled industry, Tim Wu talks about in "The Master Switch".

Anyway, I'm just thinking out loud here, and covering more than a decade of social media history while at it so forgive me if I don't explain all of my references sufficiently (perhaps in the morning I shall add more links).

For the record I should say that I have a rather pragmatic approach to Apple/Android/Linux/Microsoft etc. As it happens the only Apple-device in my household at the moment is an iPad, but it's one I've found very good use for: it has become integral  both to my media habits and to plain everyday habits (such as cooking).

The girl whose dog saved her life

"You're the girl whose dog saved your life, aren't you?"

It's sometimes strange how people from different parts of your life remember you, the things they associate with you.

Last night, attending a reunion for junior high school, one of the girls present met me with the question quoted above.

She added, a twinkle of tears in her eyes: "The girl whose dog sat down in the middle of the road, stopped that car and dragged the driver over to where the hit-and-run driver had left you to die? It was such an amazing story!".

To which I could only answer: "Yes, that's me".

There was a twinkle of tears in my eyes too at that point. It sure was, and is, an amazing story, but one I rarely touch on these days.

Because that was me 17 years ago.

Today I'm more used to being that columnist or blogger, the media journalist or technology commentator, even the girl who writes for VG.

But yes, I'm that girl whose dog saved her life too.

As I've blogged more about here, he's the one whose amazing actions have made all of these years after the accident possible.

Had this happened today, my dog would probably have had a Facebook-fanpage set for him. As it was, I did set up a blog for him when he died in 2006 but it was quickly forgotten in the stream of deadlines and workday-demands. Not sure if I even remember the password now.

But it struck me the other day, when I saw a friend add the journalist who covered my accident and its aftermath most intimately as a Facebook friend, that had I the inkling to do so I could probably add most of the key actors of that drama as Facebook-friends.

Because most everyone, be they people you remember with fondness or fury, are on Facebook these days.

As it was, this accident happened towards the end of 1993, long before internet and social media had become the part of our society's infrastructure it has today.

But luckily, the guy whose car my dog stopped (we've met once on a TV-show where my dog was the guest of honour) did have a mobile phone to call 911 with... even that was all too rare in those days if my memory serves me correctly...

A painful lesson in why innovation is so hard for (media) companies

Do you remember how "stickiness" used to be considered a virtue online?

I can recall it being praised as such in a newsroom I worked as late as 2007.

However, a story from 1997 about this very same "virtue" really leapt at me when reading Steven Levy's new book on Life in the GooglePlex.

Back then what was to become Google search was called BackRub and there's a lesson for many a company in this anecdote. Google's founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were looking for investors and/or a potential partnership, and met up with Excite CEO George Bell, a former Times Mirror magazine executive, with this object in mind.

The two teams fired up BackRub in one window and Excite in another:

«The first query they tested was "Internet"... Excite's first results were Chinese web pages where the English word "Internet" stood out among a jumble of Chinese characters. Then the team typed "Internet" into BackRub. The first two results delivered pages that showed you how to use browsers. It was exactly the kind of helpful result that would most likely satisfy someone who made the query.

«Bell was visibly upset. The Stanford product was too good. If Excite was to host a search engine that instantly gave people the information they sought, he explained, the users would leave the site instantly. Since his ad revenue came from people staying on the site – "stickiness" was the most desired metric in websites at the time – using BackRub's technology would be counterproductive....»

Sounds familiar?

Needless to say, the deal never happened.

I reviewed this book over Easter for work( the review's here, in Norwegian), and might return to it again on this blog as it was a very interesting read – and another good book from Levy.

I spent some 30 hours reading this, in Kindle for iPad, which is an amazingly long time for me as I'm normally a very quick reader – but it was absolutely worth it even though I kept checking the percentage left with repeated amazement as I was moving through the last third (just natural impatience on my part).