David Ho on our wired lives and the future of digital journalism

There are now more mobile devices than people on earth: What does that mean for journalism, for digital design and for our lives?

For one, «print newspapers might outlast websites in their current form because websites are changing so fast», David Ho, Wall Street Journal’s Executive Mobile Editor, predicted  during a talk on mobile journalism and responsive design in Oslo this week.

Currently there are more than 7,2 billion mobile devices in service in the world. As of last year, there are more mobile devices than people on earth. There are bout 2 billion smart phones in the world. More than 60% of all US digital time is spent on mobile. Most of that is spent on apps, rather than websites.

Ho said that in a sense every aspect of our lives is now becoming wired and chipped, a trend he described as very cool and very unsettling at the same time: very exciting and a bit Orwellian.

«We are moving towards a world where there’s a chip in everything...  A world with more data collection and less privacy, and if you really want privacy you have to go out of your way to get it,» he said.

We’ve been talking about that privacy challenge for so many years now that it’s hardly news.

But I think it is as if we’ve seen the overall mobile trends for a very long time, while the implications for how we live our lives (and consequently for the news industry) have  only come into full focus more recently. As a result, I found the talk by Ho, organised by the Norwegian Institute for Journalism (IJ), interesting - even though much of the things he talked about were not all that new.

As a former technology journalist and mobile (smartphones & tablets) columnist I’ve been to countless such talks by major players in the industry, but it’s as if five years ago, when many were (wrongly)  predicting how the iPad would bring about a new golden age for journalism, we saw only the blurry outline of the mobile future. But as this picture has come more and more into focus, details have appeared which makes the overall picture much clearer. And Ho’s talk brought a lot of this together, which is why I find it interesting to dwell on and summarise in a blog post.

I am aware that David Ho also was the keynote speaker at last summer’s Newsrewired in London, so I’ve summarised the points from his talk in Oslo I found most interesting in a bullet point list to make it easier to scan for new/old insights.

At the start of his talk, he had everyone in the room, mostly media folks, unlock their smartphones and hand it to the the person sitting next to them: An experiment which had many people in the room feeling decidedly uncomfortable.

He used this experiment to illustrate how «we are our phones». Our smartphones hold our contacts, our family, friends, work documents, email, photos –  they organise our entire lives.

We’ve never had «a technology this personal and this intimate. So when we in the news industry send news to mobile we send it to a very personal sphere,» he said.

Some of the insights Ho shared from his work (in the US):

  • Mobile is now, not the future. If you’re not already embracing it, you’re behind.
  • Mobile is social and social is mobile. The vast majority of Facebook’s revenue comes from mobile.
  • We see a major shift to mobile. At the start of 2015, 39 of the top 50 news websites had more traffic from mobile than from desktop. The vast majority of data traffic on mobile comes via apps, not the web.
  • Mobile news users skip home pages and arrive sideways. One place desktop is still holding on: At work, at the office, a place where people still go to frontpages.
  • Tech companies focus on platforms and app-to-app «deep linking». We also need to think about how apps talk to other apps and go directly from one app to another with no website inbetween
  • Mobile news sites tend to be high traffic, low engagement. People read one story then leave.
  • Apps are different: Lower traffic but very high engagement, people who use apps stay. The time is what’s important on mobile.
  • Mobile is a battle for time. So the challenge is how do you get people to stay.
  • Tech is becoming personal, contextual, aware of behaviour, habits and location. It anticipates you.
  • Interfaces are evolving beyond screens to focus on voice and gesture control.
  • WSJ launched a new responsive news site this year that a lot of work went into. Having a responsive website is a must, a minimum to survive in this mobile world right now.
  • Advertising doesn’t work as well on mobile for most people. Native ads are definitely the trend, definitely working better than traditional banner ads, but advertising is work in progress on mobile.
  • If your content is good enough people are willing to pay for news on mobile, but it has to be unique. Subscriptions are a major part of WSJ’s strategy – but a lot of the news provider's content is stuff people rely on for their work.

Ho also shared his 50 favourite apps for journalists in 30 Minutes, and has later shared those slides on Twitter:  Journalism Apps slide 1, Journalism Apps slide 2, Journalism Apps slide 3 & Flappy bird lessons for news.


Get your users hooked: How to design addictive products and services

Negative emotions are the most powerful inner trigger for habit-forming actions: «When we're depressed we go to Facebook. When we’re bored we go to YouTube. When we’re stuck, we Google it – these are all responses to internal triggers.»

So, how can we design for it?

The sentiment above belongs to behaviour design consultant and author Nir Eyal, who opened the show at this year’s Webdagene, an annual Norwegian web conference organised by Norwegian UX-company Netlife Research.

In his talk, Eyal went on to to provide a step-by-step guide to how to design what he calls «habit-forming products» (addictive is my term) – such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

At the start of the conference I instinctively started taking copious notes, but then I had to remind myself I was there to listen, as a paying member of the audience, not to report, and I promised myself to only blog about what really stuck, what really stood out for me after the conference was over (I've blogged more about the conference here, in Norwegian).

And Eyal's talk certainly gave me lots of food for thought.

During the talk he quoted Ian Bogust that «our technology is quite possible becoming the cigarettes of our time», admitting that designing habit-forming products is a form of manipulation, but saying we should use the psychological insights that allow us to create habit-forming design as a force for good.

You can check out the highlights from his talk on Slideshare here  or see his talk on video here.

At the start of the talk, I must admit I found myself wondering how far we’ve travelled from the days of Cluetrain (when social media very much were portrayed as tools for democracy, creating a new more democratic public sphere), to Gluetrain (an excellent parody on Cluetrain) to social media as some kind of addiction machines.

Was that development inevitable? Describing Eyal's book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, Forbes writes:

«Making products habit-forming, and the behaviour design that makes it possible, has gone from being a nice-to-have to a need-to-have in the ultra-competitive world of apps and digital services. There are so many things screaming for users’ attention that only the things that they whisper to themselves about have a chance of sticking around for a while.»

WWW inventor warns against call for comment sections to be placed under Data Rentention Act

- Don’t let Anders Behring Breivik become an excuse to encroach on human rights, said Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

Since the twin terror attacks on Utöya and Oslo 22/7 last year, Norway has seen demands to censor and monitor web communications grow stronger as people have looked for ways to prevent such atrocities from ever happening again.

The man who committed the atrocities has been portrayed as a terrorist who would have been unable to create the destruction he did without the internet – as he copy-pasted so much of his manifesto and strategy from web sources and committed his crimes with the explicit hope of making his manifesto a viral hit.

"If only someone had monitored the comment sections on far right-wing news sites and blogs better, could he have been stopped before he managed to slay 77 people?," is a question that has been asked repeatedly in many forms since 22/7.

Recently, The Norwegian Police Service (PST) even asked to have the comment sections of news sites and debate forums governed by the Data Retention Act in order to "better investigate hateful comments and threats towards people in authority." 

So obtaining a short interview with Berners-Lee when he was in Oslo speaking at Gulltaggen, a Nordic digital marketing conference, last week I asked him how he thought society should respond to the likes of Breivik, who relied heavily on the web to organise his campaign and to espouse his ideas.

"I think we have to be very careful with fundamental human rights. Here we have two different levels. On the first level, police should go to these sites were people are discussing hate crimes and infiltrate these," he said.

But he also warned that the authorities do not need extra powers to automatically monitor everyone on the planet.

"A normal person must be able to go the web to research a sensitive issue, such as a medical condition, safe in the knowledge that this will remain between him an the website," he said.

Berners-Lee  said he was concerned about how increased demands for monitoring the web, both from governments looking for greater powers to track down terrorists and companies looking to trade our personal web data for commercial purposes, threatens the very infrastructure of the web.

He described his worry that people in the end will no longer trust and use the web for e.g. researching sensitive things like depression if they fear everything they do online is being monitored.

On the Data Retention Act and similar initiatives, he had the following comment:

"If you collect a lot of personal data in once place this can easily become dynamite. You have a lot of sensitive information sitting there in a database, becoming a very attractive target for cyber criminals or rough states using hackers to attack other countries’ infrastructure where it is most vulnerable," he said, referring to how cyber crime and cyber terrorism is on the increase.

Talking to Norwegian intelligence sources when I interviewed Misha Glenny in connection with his new book ”DarkMarket: CyberThieves, Cybercops and You” in November, they confirmed cyber crime and cyber attacks on national infrastructure was also on the rise in Norway.

As for that Tim Berners-Lee interview: I’m used to opinions being strongly divided in the comment section on technology stories for VG, Norway’s biggest news site, but on this story every single commenter applauded Berners-Lee's comments.

Will we see state-controlled intranets start replacing the Internet in 2012?

"I think we’re beginning to see the fragmentation of the Internet into numerous state-controlled intranets."

The words belong to author and investigative journalist Misha Glenny whom I interviewed about his new book, «Dark Market: Cyberthieves, Cybercops and You», when he was in Oslo to talk at an IT-security conference early November. I also reviewed the book and found it a fascinating read.

But I was reminded of his prediction when reading this piece on Iran recently:

"If you think anti-piracy legislation like SOPA and Spain's so-called Sinde law are as far-reaching as it gets, you obviously don't live in Tehran.

"...Web censorship in the Islamic republic is nothing new, but this latest initiative cranks things up quite a few notches and paves the way for a government-approved domestic intranet that will be completely cut off from the public World Wide Web we all know and love. Iranians are already reporting painfully slow Internet connections and difficulty accessing certain sites or using VPNs, the Wall Street Journal reports."

Iran may be a special case but all the current, sometimes really far-out, attempts to police the internet often depress me.

The suggestion by an EU polictian to build internet surveillance into every operating system is one example (thanks for the link, Leo). SOPA is of course another, although there were some good news on the SOPA-front this week - with The White House coming out against SOPA and DNS blocking

But how worried should we be about all this?

As mentioned in my previous post, I would love for JP Rangaswami to be right, that what we're seeing are just the last, desperate attempts of the dinosaurs - as he describes in this paragraph:

"DMCA. Hadopi. Digital Economy Act. ACTA. SOPA. Yup, with the passage of time, the level of desperation is getting higher, the clauses are getting less and less workable, making the laws harder to enforce, to prosecute, socially, politically, economically. It gets harder to sponsor them when you have information from sites like Maplight available to all; it even gets harder to support, as GoDaddy found out recently.  We live in a world where trust is an increasingly important currency, and where transparency is the mint that produces that currency. So it’s over. It may not appear so, but it is."

As the financial climate keeps getting worse, and the protests against those in power keeps getting louder I fear that may not be the case. I fear Douglas Rushkoff may be right that the Internet in its current form is unredeemable. But I would love nothing better than to see my fears proved wrong.

Update 16 January: On the same topic, check out Cory Doctrow's notes on how "SOPA is DYING; it's evil Senate twin, PIPA, lives on"

New year, new opportunities (even to see the end of SOPA)

I have so much I want to blog about from last year and for this, but I guess I'm suffering from a bit of a blogger's block.

In the meantime, here's wishing you all a happy and prosperous new year and a link to a much more optimistic outlook on law proposals such as SOPA, and how it all will play out, than what I've held until now:

"SOPA is a terrible act of legislation because of some of the words used in the bill. Words that were put in by people desperately trying to preserve the problems of the past. And the level of desperation is a good measure of the way time is running out."

I'm not sure if I fully share the optimism, but as always lots of food for thought from JP Rangaswami in this blogpost on why he's excited about 2012.


Steve Jobs, innovation & serendipity

Writing about Steve Jobs and his philosophy of life for work today I was reminded about liberation management.

I was really struck by this video (which must have travelled all over the web by now), Jobs 2005 Stanford commencement speech, and how it gels with the other things we know about his life.

I especially found myself wondering how many leaders of disruptive and/or innovative companies subscribe to something along the lines of this statement:

”Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

It reminded me about liberation management as I said (I’ll return to that), but also of how Google's Marissa Mayer once described Google's culture and how it could reinvent the rules online in the early days (quoted in Steven Levy’s excellent book about Life in the GooglePlex which I reviewed for work around Easter).

”You cannot understand Google unless you know that both Larry and Sergey was Montessori kids," she said, and continued: ”It’s really baked into their personalities, to do things their own way, to not respect authority. Do something because  it seems sensible, not because someone told you to”

Page has later said he thinks there some truth in this.

But this all comes down to how important it is to think outside the box to be truly innovative.

Oh, and in Jobs case (whom I wrote more about here for work, in Norwegian) about trusting that serendipity can benefit, and even be crucial to, your career.

Which brings me to liberation management.

It’s just about five years since first I blogged about Tom Peters’ 50 strategies for increasing the odds for getting innovative ideas and creating innovative companies, or at least for attracting a little nuttiness into your life, so I think it stands repeating.

One of my favourite strategies, which writing about Jobs’ philosophy of life reminded me of today, is:

48. Nurture peripheral vision. The interesting “stuff” usually is going on beyond the margins of the professional’s ever-narrowing line of sight

I don’t agree with all of these, especially not on constant reorganisations, but they offer food for thought and here’s some other good ones:

31. Spend 50 percent of your time with “outsiders.” Distributors and vendors will give you more ideas in five minutes than another five-hour committee meeting.

3. Ready. Fire. Aim. (Instead of Ready. Aim. Aim. Aim. ...)

11. Ask dumb questions. “How come computer commands all come from keyboards?” Somebody asked that one first; hence, the mouse

14. Don’t back away from passion. “Dispassionate innovator” is an oxymoron

A ghostly weekend and the future of streaming

I was ill this last weekend and spent it in the company of ghosts. Fictional ones, that is.

As it happened, I’d been fighting flu for quite some time.  But I had just finished some big, important assignments, could finally allow myself to be ill and it was raining cats and dogs:

So what better time to test an online streaming service for audio books?

Ordflyt, owned by Norwegian publishing house Cappelen Damm, bills itself as a kind of Spotify for audio books (or rather, Wimp for audio books, as the service is developed by Aspiro, the company that also has developed Norwegian Spotify-competitor Wimp).

In either case, it was the perfect companion on a grey and rainy day, and even though the selection of audio books available through the service still is limited, and the free section mostly is limited to old classics, I greatly enjoyed being reacquainted with Oscar Wilde’s old classic “The Canterville ghost”.

On the whole I liked Ordflyt (though still in beta) because of its App Store-like ease of use:

Digital marketplaces such as Apple’s App Store and Amazon’s Kindle has spoiled many of us to such a degree that we’ve come to expect that ease of use from any new service.

But more interesting than the streaming service in itself:

Of course, for book lovers such as me, it’s great to have a Spotify for audio books too, but when I tweeted about my review of Ordflyt, @portart (aka Marius Röstad) had an interesting suggestion:

Why not combine streaming of music and streaming of books in the same service?

Certainly, if it wasn’t for the business-related challenges, combining Ordflyt and Wimp, would give Wimp a huge competitive advantage over Spotify? (Wimp is currently available in Sweden, Denmark and Portugal in addition to Norway).

Both Android and iPhone-apps with the ability to seamlessly transfer tracks between say PC and iPhone are in the process of being developed for Ordflyt – and having both audio books and music available to stream, or play offline, via any of your computers  and/ or mobile devices seems like a very attractive proposition to me.

In fact, in the long term: why not combine the likes of Spotify, Audibook and Netflix into one big streaming service?

I am aware that streaming movies and streaming sound is two very different propositions and that movies take up a lot more bandwidth, but still: it’s an attractive proposition – your very own mobile entertainment centre that you can tap into wherever you go.    

As for ghosts, I also read Andrew Taylor’s “The Anatomy of Ghosts” this weekend, mainly because I greatly enjoyed his bestselling book “The American Boy”


I found some of the villains in “Anatomy of Ghosts” so annoying that I nearly put the book down at times, but it certainly did wonders for my flu to lose myself both in the paper-book and the audio book.

It’s rather amazing what a miracle cure just staying at home for a few days with some decent books (and Lemsip) can work on flu;-)

And while we’re on the subject of ghosts, this ghostly weekend of mine also reminded me of one of the most bizarre stories I’ve ever worked on: namely when I did all the research, effectively working as a fixer, for a big magazine feature on how to have a ghostly holiday (or rather go ghost-hunting) in Britain.

This is about five years ago but I was rather proud of myself for putting together a great travel route which included a meeting with one of Britain’s top paranormal experts and a stay at what billed itself as the most haunted house in Britain - with a representative from the local paranormal society bringing over all sorts of equipment for identifying any ghostly presence.

I’m afraid I’m pretty much an out-and-out rationalist myself, but I found working on the story both fascinating and enjoyable - if bizarre. The most bizarre moment was probably when I called up an establishment in the West-Country, which told me:

“Unfortunately, all our eight ghosts are friendly ones, nothing scary like in this place on the other side of the mountain”

That place on the other side of the mountain was Skirrid Mountain Inn, by the way, not that I’ve ever been there or got to send “my journalist” there in the end.

But luckily, I did blog about my experience putting together that story. Reading through that blog post now I can recall the week in question vividly, which I doubt I’d be able to do without that blog post


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).

Food for thought on a Sunday

"Oh, I don't read HER. It's not that I don't like her, it's just that she makes me think too much," a journalist friend told me back when I had just graduated from City.

He'd been in news reporting for a decade or more already by then, while I, even though I'd started my media career as a columnist when I was 18, had done precious little of day-to-day news reporting.

And I must admit I found his statement absurd: how can an a writer make you think too much? Isn't it always a good thing if a writer makes you think a lot? Since then I've come to appreciate, albeit very reluctantly, that at least it's perfectly possible to get so busy you don't have time to read writers that make you think a lot - which is a pity, a big loss and detrimental in the long run if you keep running out of time to do so.

These last few weeks I have been too busy with work to do much of this kind of reading - not too busy to read and think, but too busy to really contemplate all the things I'd like to, so here's a few posts that I'd really like, and will return to, to contemplate some more:



Explained: iPad’s role in the media ecosystem

The iPad is a premium product for premium content. It’s a lean-back device most used in the evenings, and it provides a new chance for photo- and long-form journalism.

Since its launch earlier this year, the media industry has been abuzz with talk on how the iPad will change the industry. As a media journalist I’ve already attended quite a few talks, and read an extraordinary amount of articles, on the subject, but INMAs Tablet summit in Oxford this week gave me new insights into what kind of role the iPad might come to play in the media ecosystem.

Convenience or uniqueness?

That is not to say that there is a consensus about this role. For instance, The Guardian’s Jonathan Moore said his newspaper saw the iPad more as a convenience device, its iPad app offering pretty much the same content as you find on The Guardian’s news site, while the majority of the presenters saw it as the perfect device for offering unique content people were willing to pay for.

"This has to be a premium content. If you approach it as something free: let’s just turn off the light and go home. It has to be premium, paid for, from day one," said Juan Señor, Innovation in Newspapers' UK director. He asserted that we can’t talk about tablets without talking about the rest of our platforms, pointing out that you have to have different content for different platforms.

A new chance for photo- and long-form journalism

"Tablet and paper will be premium, provide background etc, while we have to see online and mobile as mass media. You will have to charge perhaps five times more for print paper and for tablets," he said, highlighting some of the newspapers Innovation in Newspapers has remade, especially the successful Portuguese daily news magazine I, as perfect journalism to be transformed to the iPad.

Media consultant and commentator Frédéric Filloux said the iPad offers a new chance for long-form journalism. In his view, it provides three major rehabilitations: 1) Re-bundling the news. Tablets and mobile can re-bundle content, 2) Visual 3) Length.

The lean-back device

"The iPad is the lean-back device: it’s a consumption device rather than a production device – it has nothing in common with a lean-forward device such as the PC," he said. Read more of his thoughts on this here. Interestingly, Jon Einar Sandvand, digital strategist at Aftenposten, Norway’s newspaper of record, said iPad readership figures suggested it was most used in the evening, between six and ten.

"Research suggests iPad will become the leading platform in terms of how much people spend consuming media on it. It is a media consumption device. If you are a mono-media operation producing second-hand stories you won’t win from iPad: garbage in, garbage out," said Juan Antonio Giner, president and founder of Innovation in Newspapers.

Now, let me confess that I often find big media conferences tend to focus too much on ideology than on how people actually are approaching a certain issue or innovation, but the Tablet Summit offered some excellent brain food in that it provided lots of insight into how different news organisations were approaching the iPad.

Among those, the most useful was the very hands-on presentation by Saulo Ribas, creative director at Brazilian Editora Globo’s "Epoca Magazine".

Useful iPad tips for publishers

His newspaper wanted to be the first in the country with an iPad app, so they built a light version first, and will launch the full version in July. He offered five useful tips for newspaper wanting to develop iPad apps:

    1.It’s an app, not a magazine or something like that. We have to make the best use of the interface Apple has provided.
    - Good apps are non-linear. You can access content from everywhere in the app.
    - Good apps don’t require users to learn how to use it, or at least not so much. If you need instructions on how to use the app it usually means it’s poorly designed.
    - Good apps have very simple information architecture. Simplify and eliminate the unnecessary.
    - Good apps allow the users to leave and then come back to where he left. Try to produce the best reading experience possible.
    2. Think about templates not pages. What is the role reserved for the editorial designer in the age of the tablets? If it looks awesome in the iPad it will look awesome in any other tablet.
    3. Personalise: the reader is really in control. Allow the reader to define the settings of the app, the more the better. It's a big change for us because we’re very attached to our typography in our mags and papers. We have a search view. Can’t be static, people are used to search. We’ve tried to put the basic controls at the bottom of the page.
    4. Technology is content. Have programmers be part of the newsroom
    5. Choose the right flow of information inside the iPad app

Who controls the data?

Many industry experts have looked to the iPad as a potential saviour for the media industry. In essence, the sound bite I took away from the Tablet Summit which best answers this proposition was that yes, "there is a future life for the news industry if we reinvent, not if we just repurpose". We also have to keep an eye on who controls the data.

"I do believe Apple wants to become the world’s kiosk. We could end up like the music industry; we do need to be aware of what’s happening. They control pricing and they control customer data – and if you loose those, you loose out," said Senõr. That Apple also controls the customer data was new to me, but it was also mentioned by one of the other presenters. If that is the case, it sounds very worrying indeed.

Now, these are the ideas that still stand out for me, looking back at the conference. While I made extensive notes during the Summit, Marek Miller was doing such an excellent job of live blogging it that I thought I’d afford myself the luxury of taking some time to reflect a bit on the event before I started writing about it. I will return to a few other thoughts I took away from the event a bit later, but, if you want to read more about the individual presentations, do check Mareks excellent live blog from the event here.

Newspaper group wants to make money selling e-readers and mobile platforms

Danish regional newspaper company Fynske Medier unveiled plans to invest another two million pounds (20m DK) in developing technology such as e-readers and mobile platforms this week.

The media group has already had some success selling online systems, and I'm assuming we're talking about content management systems here, to other smaller online publications, and wants to develope this side of its business further, according to Mediawatch.dk (quoting financial daily Börsen). The newspaper group even has international ambitions, though the story had me wondering if this market isn't already rather saturated? And how well is a smallish newspaper group like this positioned to compete in it?

Update 22.03.2010 09:14 CET: Not that I think it's a bad thing that media companies look for ways to diversify their business and create new sources of revenue, but this story came hot on the heels on a Guardian blog post on New York Times (NYT) and CNN trying to keep up with tech companies - with the executive editor of the former saying that NYT is as much of a tech company as a journalism company now.

Obviously, mobile techonology, smart phones, as well as the need to find new ways of making money online, has made it an imperative for media companies to either invest more in developing new products and solutions, or partner with someone who can do it for them. My point is only that a) media groups dabbling in tech development like this is not new, and the Guardian story had me wondering how much of this is just re-branding or spin; b) most of the bigger media players are rushing to grab a part of the mobile market these days and investing in in-house development; c) how well are most media companies, hampered by institutional inertia and constraints really suited to take on more agile tech start-ups?   

There's a lot of buzz around e-readers, mobile platforms, apps and architecture these days, and some of it is really, really exciting. Of course media companies have to be where their readers are, ideally also foresee where media habits are moving, but this new bonanza in the mobile market reminds me a bit about the heady start of the Danish freesheet war, of the days when all media companies had to have their own freesheet. That, of course, was great fun to cover as a journalist, it was a very colourful drama from beginning to end, but it didn't end very well for the media companies involved.

A blogging-journalist hero for Ada Lovelace Day

Danish IT-journalist Dorte Toft used her blog to help reveal one of the country’s biggest business scandals in modern time. It won her both acclaim and criticism.

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, and, answering UK software consultant Suw Charman-Anderson’s call, over 1,500 blogger worldwide have pledged to write about a woman in tech they admire. As I believe we sorely need new journalistic heroes and new myths that better illustrate the opportunities offered by our rapidly changing media landscape, I thought I would take this opportunity to put forward one such hero: programmer turned blogger-journalist Dorte Toft. Full story over at Journalism.co.uk

I find it unbelievable that editors felt the need to emphasis that blogging doesn't replace journalism and warn of using blogs as a journalistic tool (in Danish) after Toft helped flush out the skeletons in the closet at IT Factory. Toft's work is a great example of both beat blogging and using a blog to do investigative research. It also reveals some of the major flaws in journalism today, and I have a feeling I shall return with some more thoughts on this story, an ALD09 post for Ada Lovelace Day, later. However, I really wanted to use my own blog to force myself to write an ALD09 post about a late mentor of mine.

Free our data (chapter xxx)

Bente Kalsnes has an interesting post on the problems with "free" public data in Norway, which is often very far from free.

She describes an environmental web project she was involved with for local newspaper group Edda Media: it stranded on a combination of lack of a coherent format for the data in question (ex. xml), the public institutions' lack of experience/willingness to cooperate with external partners and the worsened financial outlook.

It's a pity the project stranded, or was postponed until further notice rather, because it sounds like one that would have added great value to the local news sites and communities in question.

It's yet another example of how difficult it can be for newspapers to make structured use of public data in Norway, another aspect being how "it is a problem, especially for local newspapers, that public institutions often charge big fees for this information which has been gathered on behalf of the public, using the taxpayers money,” as Espen Andersen pointed out in this interview.

Tim O'Reilly on Andrew Keen at the Web 2.0 Expo in Berlin

Here's a great video clip from a conference I wish I'd found the time and opportunity to attend this week, the Web 2.0 Expo in Berlin:

However, I expect to find lots of people have blogged brilliant stuff from the event when I get a moment or two to catch up with all the posts I've been running out of time to look at in my newsreader. In the meantime, I've skimmed through Adam's excellent blog coverage from the conference here and here - which the clip above is taken from.

I couldn't resist sharing this clip as I've spent, perhaps wasted, quite some time debuking Keen's arguments, notably in The Road to Hell is paved with amateur contributios, Keen, Leigh and the Appeal to Authority and Keen's misguided cult of the professional (the latter is, by the way, very relevant to some of the things I'll be talking about this weekend).

On the mind shattering importance of the worldwide web

I know I write a lot about the wonders of the web, but it does of course have its pitfalls as well, and here's one of the best parodies of web evangelism I've come across in a while.

Now, even though I read the Cluetrain earlyish (2002 I think, thanks to Adriana), I didn't come across Gluetrain 'til yesterday, here's a few excerpts, but better afford yourself the whole treat if you, as me, miraculously hadn't heard of it until now:

A powerful inter-galactic conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to waste time at work, download naughty pictures, and build pipe bombs. As a direct result, things are getting really weird -- and getting weird faster than the parking lot at a Grateful Dead concert...

6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media. How many discussion groups on nude pictures of Pamela Anderson Lee could you find twenty years ago?

12. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. So just let 'em build the damn stuff themselves, and retire on your stock options, OK?

I found this gem via Doc Searls, who, both through his contribution to Cluetrain and his blog, has provided me with, and inspired me to elaborate on, many of the best metaphors I know for describing things great and small, both in the virtual and the real world. I was fortunate enough to be able to thank him for this in person in London in February. Here's a shot I snapped when the company I was with had just escaped Google HQ (a visit we all had to swear on a legally binding paper we'd repeat nought of).

LondonFeb2008 010

Your grandchild: "Did people just sit there?"

I have to confess that I've shamelessly ripped the headline of this post, as well as the first quote, from a post on NRKbeta, but it all serves a larger purpose.

You see, NRKbeta brought my attention to this thought-provoking quote from an article by Douglas Adams, which, when I read it, was a bit like a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle falling into place, as I've been thinking quite a bit about how people use social media, and how the way they use it defines their understanding of it recently. I'll return to those thoughts later, but, first, here's Adams:

During [the twentieth] century we have for the first time been dominated by non-interactive forms of entertainment: cinema, radio, recorded music and television. Before they came along all entertainment was interactive: theatre, music, sport—the performers and audience were there together, and even a respectfully silent audience exerted a powerful shaping presence on the unfolding of whatever drama they were there for. We didn’t need a special word for interactivity in the same way that we don’t (yet) need a special word for people with only one head.

I expect that history will show “normal” mainstream twentieth century media to be the aberration in all this. ‘Please, miss, you mean they could only just sit there and watch? They couldn’t do anything? Didn’t everybody feel terribly isolated or alienated or ignored?’

“Yes, child, that’s why they all went mad. Before the Restoration.”

“What was the Restoration again, please, miss?”

“The end of the twentieth century, child. When we started to get interactivity back.”


Which brings me to a quote from The Cluetrain Manifesto (2000), to my mind, the book that best describes how the (social) web has changed business as usual.

In fact, if we are to imagine how the world may look like a decade or two into the future, I think this might be the book professors in intellectual history will use to introduce their students to how the interactive web, or social media, changed people's mentality, the way they communicated, what they came to expect of the world etc. (that is, if the age of mass media isn't treated as just an insignificant aberration as Adams suggests):

In many ways, the Internet more resembles an ancient bazaar than it fits the business models companies try to impose on it. Millions have flocked to the net in an incredibly short time, not because it was user-friendly – it wasn't – but because it seemed to offer some intangible quality long missing in action from modern life.

In sharp contrast to the alienation wrought by homogenised broadcast media, sterilised mass 'culture', and the enforced anonymity of bureaucratic organisations, the Internet connected people to each other and provided a space in which the human voice would be rapidly rediscovered.

Though corporations insists on seeing it as one, the new marketplace is not necessarily a market at all. To its inhabitants, it is primarily a place in which all participants are audience to each other. The entertainment is not packaged; it is intrinsic.

Unlike the lockstep conformity imposed by television, advertising and corporate propaganda, the Net has given new legitimacy – and free rein – to play. Many of those drawn into this world find themselves exploring a freedom never before imagined: to indulge their curiosity, to debate, to disagree, to laugh at themselves, to compare visions, to learn, to create new art, new knowledge...

...or simply to communicate, as Global Voices co-founder Ethan Zuckerman's 'The history of digital community, in less than 7 minutes' (via Sambrook) so aptly shows we've been doing 'literally from the moment people started connecting computers to one another':

Fined for flirting with Gates

Without doubt my favourite headline last week, but the story behind it was probably not a big hit in the headquarters of Fast Search and Transfer who was served a hefty fine of roughly £100,000 (NOK 1.110.220 kroner) for not informing Oslo Stock Exchange (OSE) about Microsoft's bid for the company.

According to OSE, Fast should have disclosed that it was being courted by the IT-Giant by 7 November 2007 at the latest, when the sales negotiations were formalised with a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA).

However, that Microsoft was in the process of acquiring Fast, clearly price sensitive information according to OSE, was not made public until 8 January 2008. Hence the fine, and the headline – which strictly speaking I guess should have been "Fined for flirting with Ballmer." After the acquisition of Fast was completed on Friday, Microsoft's CEO paid a secret visit to Oslo on Saturday to reassure Fast's employees about their future roles in the company. He was greeted by Digi.no and Anders Brenna, who recorded the visit for posterity here.

Detail from picture by Anders Brenna.

Of course, the headline isn't all that great from a SEO-point of view, but that's another matter...

I give up

My internet connection is sending me headlong into a major depression here. And, you know, I find it very hard to blog when I'm in a bad mood: I'm definintly a good mood blogger.

My internet connection is so painfully slow and erratic that I have to phone my bank to check my balance (yeay, £60, let's go wild), and on such occasions my Yahoo-account behaves like a hungry little brat, screaming: 'Lost connection, LOST CONNECTION, HTML ERROR, error, heellloo? FEED ME' constantly, thereby interrupting my writing again and again (I hate it when it does that).

Yes, I decided to sign up with a new internet provider, only seven days until I can get that up and running, only seven more days in hell. But for now I give up working from home: better head to the office, and stop by the gym for a dose of endorphines on the way so I don't arrive the office looking like a storm cloud (not that it matters that much: we have separate offices. Can you imagine? A news site/magazine where all the journalists have separate offices? Yeah, I know it's 2008, but we're on the Northern frontier here you see, the future is often slow to reach this faraway corner of the world). Okay, enough complaining: gym. Perhaps the blogging mood will catch up with me later in the day...


Incidentally, this storm cloud is from Brighton,
where they have great storms:-) (lived there 96-97)

Scandinavian living: my online provider is a liability, any of the 2 other providers worth signing up with?

Okay, enough is enough. I really need to get a new online provider before my current provider gives me a nervous breakdown, any ideas for a better solution? (My currrent connection is unstable and slow as hell, pardon my language)

As far as I gather there are only three solutions to choose from in Norway: Netcom (my current provider), Telenor (the part state-owned former state monopolist), all other providers in Norway run on the networks of one of these with the exception of Ice (which is the process of building its own network).

Something like BT Open Zone would work well for me if the national coverage was good, but as far as I know no such option is available here.

Since mobility is key to me, a landline-based broadband tied to my address with a 12month or more fixed contract is pretty useless. I need something that works on the road: ideally all over Norway and beyond (and in my experience the UMTs network in this country only really works well in the main cities and along the main highways).

As for Netcom: I'm aware that my mobile broadband card is not the best, and I've heard from friends that Netcom has another mobile service which works well, at least in Oslo, but I can't forgive them for the customer disservices I suffered from their side since signing up with them.

This was only the beginning ...the fact that I've twice spent close to an hour on the phone with them trying to fix my non-existent online connection - with Netcom going on about me having to reinstall everything from the Netcom software to my operating system, only to be told at the end of the conversation that, actually, Netcom's network is down, that's what's been causing my problem - is enough to never go near them again. My time is valuable for one, but they also charge money for these customer disservices.

Now, Telenor tells me they will be the better option because they've been in the game for so long (like in: hey kid, you know we used to be a state monopolist, so our starting point is .. well...kinda superior you know – wink, wink), but evidence and my, perhaps ill-informed, instincts tell me that this starting point doesn't bode well for their customer service, which leaves ICE: do you think it's worth the gamble?

Funnily enough, they say Norway is one of the most connected countries in the world, but right now the chore of finding a decent online provider reminds me of my first visit to a Californian supermarket in 1996: the sheer multitude of different brands for every products was perplexing to say the least, just for Mayo there was something like 20(!) different brands to choose from! Back home we only had one... Now, these days we have at least two, but what if both are equally shit?

Having said all this, I could have missed something in my crazy deadline race, in which case I'm more than happy to be enlightened...

Influence on the Web is all about connectivity

It's been months since I revisited the value of linking out, so it was great to stumble across this post by Publishing 2.0 (via Martin Stabe), which contained too many eloquent lines on the power of the hyperlink to include them all on del.icio.us. My favourite parts:

The reason Google’s search results often contain more blogs than traditional media content is that blogs were the first to harness the power of the link. Blogs linked to other blogs, while traditional media brands remained disconnected silos. Savvy web users — many college age or early 20s — pooled their links on Digg and developed the power to drive server-crashing volumes of traffic, forcing traditional media sites, who still lack such influence, to plaster themselves with Digg This buttons...

...Journalists and PR professionals, the influence brokers of traditional media, have lost a huge degree of influence on the web in large part because they don’t link to anything. While traditional media brands are still powerful channels on the web, they are losing influence everyday to the link-driven web network — journalists and PR professionals can no longer depend on controlling these former monopoly channels to exert influence online.

Whenever I give talks to traditional publishers who have been afraid to link to other sites because it will “send people away” instead of keeping them trapped in the publisher’s own content, my now standard response is to say that there’s a site that does nothing but link to other sites — all it does is send people away. And yet remarkably, people keep coming back. So much so, that this strategy has translated into $10 billion+ in advertising revenue. (Yes, Google of course).........