The Age of Context shows us the storm ahead for news media

What happens if we apply the lessons of the book The Age of Context (Robert Scoble and Shel Israel) to news media? Well, I tried it today for a group of communication experts invited by the Belgian company Outsource and we got an intense debate.

The Age of Context analyzes five forces which are developing rapidly and interacting with each other: mobile, social, data, sensors and location-based technology. What could it mean for news media?

1) Mobile: we’re still finding out how to use tablets and smartphones to the fullest extent. More often than not newspapers transfer their print content to the mobile device, making it swipable, adding some videos and links. I think tablets offer new ways of telling stories. Remember movies: these are not just recordings of theater plays, using techniques such as cuts we can deliver a new media form – we’re still in the early phase of discovering the ‘cut’ which unlocks the unique possibilities of the tablet.

While we’re doing that, a new kind of mobile devices is about to be launched: wearable stuff such as Google Glass, making it even harder to stay in the print newspaper paradigm.

2) Social Media: meaning new curation practices for journalists but also new distribution challenges. Flipboard and Zite for instance convert social streams into customized news magazines. People re-assemble the content of very different providers through the filter of their social graph and preferences.

3) Data: do news media use the data on social media and on their own digital platforms to get to know the needs and intentions of their communities? They try to do so, but much more could be done.

4) Sensors. If sensors make devices aware of what their owner is doing (traveling, running, relaxing…) one could imagine that news will be selected and transmitted in a way which suits the user.

5) Location. There is no reason to assume that a user of a Belgian newspaper who happens to be in New York City needs the same information as someone who is in Brussels.

I added some ideas about communities, which in part can mitigate the conclusions mentioned above. If a newsroom can determine efficiently what really matters for a certain community, they’ll be more able to produce a common news selection which is relevant for the users as members of that community. The news provides a common background for the social interactions in that community. Real life meetings, forums and chat sessions help the newsroom to open up and to gain deeper insight in the needs of the community.

Of course we also discussed privacy. The Age of Context is optimistic: respect for privacy concerns will be a competitive advantage for makers of devices or service providers. Not everyone is that convinced – maybe the new generation cares less about privacy.

There was quite some discussion about ‘who determines what the individual wants’. I have the feeling that it’s not the newsroom, but not the individual either. It will be an algorithm, which makes a selection for the individual on the basis of revealed preferences, social graph, sensor and location data, and expressed preferences (explicit likes and dislikes).

The changes ahead are tremendous (we only discussed news production and distribution, but then there’s also the impact on advertising which adds another layer of complications) and very hard to predict. Exactly the kind of situation journalists like…



Social discovery services turn the world into a virtual environment

There is something strange going on with virtual worlds. MixedRealities used to focus heavily on worlds such as Second Life, but these days less so as I no longer think that Second Life is “the future of the internet”. It’s an interesting niche product, but not about to go mainstream, not now and I suspect it never will in its current form.

But on the other hands, the physical reality now gets augmented by all kinds of social and mobile layers. For now augmented reality as such did not go mainstream either, but that could change if ever the “Google Goggles” would indeed be launched by year-end and if it proves popular. But in a less spectacular, but more pervasive way, virtual worlds elements are finding their way to mass adoption.

First, what do I mean by “virtual world elements”? Well, everything related to “social discovery”: you look around on a virtual world map, and typically you see those dots representing other participants. You click on a dot or hover on it, and you get access to their profile, you get means to chat with them etc. In Second Life at least I’ve the impression that the text chat function is extremely popular: lots of avatars standing around, not moving, seemingly away from keyboard (AFK) but in reality happily text chatting away.

Now look at the mobile & social internet. On SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, social discovery services the new big thing. Apps such as Glancee, Highlight, Sonar, Banjo and others allow you to see who is around, and (some more than others) try to filter those present in function of their relevance to you: number of contacts you both share on the social networks, interests you share via Facebook… Basically they use the information which is out there about you (via social networks, via the localization data of your smartphone) in order to match you with “relevant people” close to you (hence a new version emerges of the filter bubble danger, I guess).

The world, looked at through your smartphone, becomes a map where your contacts are localized in more or less real time. A touch and you get more information about those people: what was it again you have in common? And of course the possibility to chat with them is another touch away. Well, this is something virtual worlds people are used to.

The social discovery services go beyond the individual level. Shadow Cities allows you to play a World of Warcraft kind of game based on your location, and to unite in a guild. Wallit! builds virtual walls which can be seen by everyone but where you need to be in the neighborhood in order to leave a message on the wall – maybe it could be used for neighborhood projects. Localmind organizes the participants as “local experts” who can respond to questions.

For more information about the action going on in the “personal discovery field” in Austin, read Robert Scoble. Remember: the 2007 edition of SXSW brought us Twitter, in 2009 Foursquare (and Gowalla) was the talk of the town and in 2011 “group texting” was the big theme – so chances are we’re witnessing now another big move in the social&mobile evolution.

No doubt not all of those personal discovery thingies and other location-based services will survive, but the trend is clear: an overwhelming supply of apps allowing you to “discover people” locally, to exchange information and collaborate locally. Add this to wearable devices, to face recognition and our physical world blends with the digital realm in such a way that we can, indeed, consider it a “mixed reality”. Which will very soon be a concept for non-digital natives, as the new generations will just consider these services as part of their one and only reality, just like we no longer think that phones and televisions are some kind of special dimension.

But we, who lived through the first adventurous steps of bulletin boards, chat systems, forums and virtual environments, see the evolution and cannot help being amazed, and also a bit worried. But more about that later.

Entering a fluid state

Fluid. Liquid. Streaming. It are words often used to describe the new reality the more affluent part of humanity lives in. We are always on now, social, webbed, mobile, connected. As Om Malik says in Will We Define or Limit the Future:

Mobile phones of today might have innards of a PC, but they are not really computers. They are able to sense things, they react to touch and sound and location. Mobile phones are not computers, but they are an extension of us.

Stowe Boyd tells us what this means for media:

We are sliding into a liquid state from a former, more solid one. Our devices and software is where we are seeing this first, but it is already transforming the media world. Witness the headlong transition from solid media (media destination sites with their proprietary organization, with inward-focused links, concrete layout, and editorial curation) to liquid media (media content is just URL flotsam in the streaming apps we use, rendered by readering tools we choose and configure, and social curation).

Boyd sees beyond media and into the near future:

What is over the near horizon is a liquid world, in which social nets, ubiquitous connectivity, mobility, and web are all givens, forming the cornerstones of a vastly different world of user experience, participation, and utility. This is the new liquid world, just a few degrees away.

As I read about this and post stuff, services are being announced in rapid succession. On the readering side there are services such as FlipBoard, Zite and Pulse. I posted about the curation side of things a few days ago and new tools are being launched about every day, so have a look at my Scoop.It to see some of the latest developments – or join my curating team about curation on Pearltrees.

At The Next Web Robert Scoble gave a presentation about Humans + Reality + Virtual. He talked about experiments combining the physical with the virtual. Now, for me ‘virtual’ is more like environments such as Second Life or World of Warcraft, but Scoble uses it in a broader sense: ‘the digital’, ‘that what you see on you tablet or smartphone.’

He refers to apps such as Photosynth which allows you to make 3D pictures where you can look around and zoom. Mealsnap processes pictures you make of your food and tells you what you’re eating and how many calories that represents – again that mixture of human, real and virtual. Foodspotting allows you to share the places where you eat and what you eat, Cyclemeter tracks your walking, cycling, skiing, running, tells you how you’re doing, shares it on networks etc. Another application checks what you’re watching on tv and share that precious information with your friends. It makes pretty clear what Scoble means with human + real + virtual.

All of which sounds a bit frightening. What about my privacy? Isn’t all this Big Brother? Think about stuff such as Klout score, or PeerIndex, or internal measurement by Twitter telling how connected your are, what your online social capital is and how all this could be used as an asset on the job market or even in financial ratings.
Malik says in Will We Define of Limit the Future:

With this revolution, it has become easier to share our moments and other details of our life that have so far been less exposed. The sharing of location data becomes a cause of concern because it is the unknown. The situation is only going to get more complicated — we are after all entering a brave new world of sensor driven mobile experiences, as I wrote in an earlier newsletter. No, this is not science fiction stuff.

I’m getting more and more immersed in this mobile, connected, liquid state. I use an iPhone and things only got more intense now that I own a iPad. It’s a gradual process of discovering new apps, new social tools linking various aspects of your life and connecting you in many different ways with other people.

Even the ‘real virtual’ stuff is going mobile. First I discovered the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) Pocket Legends and now Gameloft launched Order & Chaos Online, a kind of mobile version of World of Warcraft. It’s not hard to imagine some augmented reality enabled mixed realities environment, combining the real, the human, the virtual and what we usually call the virtual. When we get there in an increasingly convincing and integrated way, expect some profound changes in how we live, love, work and connect.


Start your own publishing house or university…

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to meet journalism students interested in social media (at a Journalism Night in Brussels, Belgium, organized by publishers, journalism departments & organizations). I presented some tools I use on a daily basis, a workflow for articles and bigger news projects. That same workflow could be considered a “personal learning environment” but also the nucleus of a publishing venture. One can look at it clockwise, working from collaborative mindmaps up to chat and immersive environments: working out a project systematically, publishing in real time “the making of” and finally presenting the article or video while asking feedback. But it’s also possible to start out in a synchronous session, brainstorming in a chatroom or in an immersive place:

I also mentioned the possibility for young journalists to start their very own publishing house. Why not start the next TechCrunch or Huffington Post? If it fails, too bad, but the skills one acquired by simply trying are useful also for the more established media companies. I posted about this on PBS MediaShift and here you see my interview with the famous Californian blogger Robert Scoble:

Often journalists look bewildered when I talk about becoming their own publishers, but not in this case. I definitely had the feeling that at least some of them are considering the possibility…

‘Silicon Valley is a state of mind, not a place’

Cities, centers of innovation, do matter. Even though we have telecom, internet, tele-presence technologies, people seem to need concentrations of innovation and expertise: look at the international financial centers and the geographical clusters of technological innovation.

The tech blogger and evangelist Robert Scoble brought a round-up of what’s hot in Silicon Valley at the LIFT conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Some companies he discussed are located in Silicon Valley, others in San Francisco… but does it make any sense to make a separation Valley/San Francisco? Of course not, and Scoble said: ‘Silicon Valley is a state of mind, not a place’.

Which is interesting for virtual worlds people. There is a need for those cities and regions where innovation is so important (read also the works of Richard Florida). However, one can take part in this state of mind, even from a distance. I think virtual places such as Second Life can be important here.

It helps to actually talk to innovators (using SL voice for instance) and to share a same virtual space with other tech-minded people. I do know for a fact that my own passion for internet technology got a tremendous boost by meeting internet-minded people from all over the world in virtual environments, and most of the time in Second Life.

Of course virtual environments are part of a wider social media ecosystem (Twitter, Plurk, blogs, video, machinima, wikis, forums, offline meetings etc), but as we speak about changing mentalities and worldviews, meeting other people is of crucial importance – in virtual or physical environments.

So what is hot these days in Silicon Valley? Mark Littlewood has this great post about Scoble’s list on The Business Leaders Network. For the new media Scoble mentioned Flipboard (personalized social mazagines), PostPost (online newspaper based on your Facebook links), The History of Jazz (reinvention of the book on the iPad) and Datasift (screening streams of information).

Other media stuff: Storify (for curating social media), (another curating tool), PearlTrees (a way to curate, structure and exchange information) and Prezi (cool alternative for Powerpoint).

What is not mentioned? Well, virtual environments. They are not on the list of hot new developments. So yes, for some people at least virtual environments help to get into a Silicon Valley state of mind, but those environments themselves are no longer perceived as being an important part of the future of the internet. Oh yes, Blue Mars now lets you rate avatars on the iPhone, but you won’t hear comments on that during innovation conferences such as LIFT. More will be needed to make virtual environments ‘hot’ again.

Related (about the innovation conference LIFT):
Digital natives are not the same everywhere
The murmuration in the Arab World

Looking for meaning in social streams using Hootsuite and Storify

I’m working hard covering the crisis in the euro zone (Ireland, Portugal, Spain, etc). It’s a crisis which is not “just financial”, it’s a real social tragedy as well, and I feel it should get more attention on networks such as Twitter. It seems that the newest version of some gadget is incomparably more important to most people on Twitter than developments in the economy which could change the course of history for whole continents.

However, there are great discussions going on about the situations on blogs, on Twitter and Facebook. I’m trying out some tools to monitor and curate that stuff. I read an inspiring post by Tris Hussey about how to build a social media dashboard on TNW Lifehacks. Once concrete result is that I’m trying out Hootsuite now to monitor and organize my social media streams (Twitter, Facebook, I’ll add Foursquare and LinkedIn). Until now I was using Tweetdeck and Seesmic. I’m not sure yet which service I do prefer, but this Hootsuite tutorial (also by Hussey) seems very promising.

Of course, it’s not only a matter of organizing incoming information and engaging in conversations, but also of putting stories back out. I’m using Storify for that, and Robert Scoble had a great video interview with the founders of that service (even talking about game mechanics!):

In the meantime another curation service,, went into public beta. Other curation services are Keepstream and Bag the Web, I still have to try out those tools but for now I do like the newsy, journalistic approach of Storify as you can see for instance in my euro crisis coverage (in Dutch and English) or in this old post about Second Life in a browser.

Read also my previous post: making sense of our streams, in real time.