The five forces transforming media revisited (updated)

Updated: at the end of the post, discussion notes

I had a great discussion today with a group of journalism students at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium). I facilitated a discussion about the five forces transforming media, based on the book The Age of Context by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel  (about mobile, social media, data, sensors and location):

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After this discussion I talked about how we adapt our newspaper and newsroom practices.

I also presented a Prezi about how journalists (or bloggers of course) can use social media to make the people formerly called ‘the audience’ participate in the production of the story or project:

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I was very fortunate: my students had very outspoken opinions. They insisted on the need for well-designed digital news media. It seems people get bombarded with far too much information they are not interested in.

Some students suggested to present only a few news items deemed ‘need to know’ to all users. So each day journalists would select two, maybe 5 at the most, news items as ‘universally’ important. There would be much more content, but that content would be suggested through personalized filters so that people get news in function of their own preferences. Tags, key words, hidden tags and semantic techniques were suggested to accomplish this.

Another suggestion was to use Amazon.com-like tools such as ‘people who read this article also read these other articles’. I mentioned Flipboard which uses the social graph as a filter and Zite which allows users to correct the suggestions made by the algorithm (by giving a thumbs up or down).

However, not all students liked the idea of personalized digital news media – some of them wanted the newsroom to continue to decide the news selection and hierarchy. They fear that personalized news could lead to a filter bubble in which we only learn what we want to learn and block everything which is inconvenient.

We did not go very deep in analyzing how wearable computing could impact news media. Google Glass, virtual assistents will make us rethink the newspaper-metaphor for digital media in a very fundamental way, and I’m sure the issues of ‘filter bubble’ and privacy will stay high on the list of urgent discussion themes.

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…

 

 

Weekend Reading: “news may be in decline, but insight is booming”

– On Fastcompany I read a story about Lara Setrakian and her site Syria Deeply. The site is ultra-focused and makes good use of infographics and video. It not only provides news but also context to make sense of it. They are working on new software to facilitate policy crowdsourcing. Technology could pay for the news, like a Bloomberg-terminal pays for the Bloomberg-journalism – such a terminal delivers not only well-structured news, but also services such as communication, secured mail, transaction, lots and lots of data – and is very expensive. As Setrakian says:

The news business may be down, but the insight industry is booming.

– On TechCrunch Gregory Ferenstein brings us Twitter Co-Founder Evan Williams Lays Out His Plan For The Future Of Media. A remarkable quote:

News in general doesn’t matter most of the time, and most people would be far better off if they spent their time consuming less news and more ideas that have more lasting import.

The post also refers to the research paper, “Does the Media Matter”, in which a team of economists found that getting a randomized group of citizens to read the Washington Post did nothing for “political knowledge, stated opinions, or turnout in post-election survey and voter data.” Medium tries to make publishing stuff easy, also for those who maybe have something very insipring to tell but don’t find the time nor have the inclination to devote lots of time for running their own blog and building an audience. Medium runs an intelligent algorithm that suggests stories, primarily based on how long users spend reading certain articles.

– Another way of applying technology to journalism is Google Glass. In July Sarah Hill explained in some detail on MediaShift how Glass will change the future of broadcast journalism. There are new tricks to be learned (how do you warn people you’re conducting an interview and not just chatting with someone during a conference), microphone issues but as she explains in Mediatwits it can be a kind of real time social backchannel. For Robert Scoble, on that same Mediatwits, it’s a new device category which will change media – he has been using Glass for several months now. Jeff Jarvis expects new eye-witness stuff being generated through Glass and similar devices. Robert Scoble also interviewed Mark Johnson, CEO of Zite and now a VP at CNN. As an information discovery specialist he wonders whether Glass/Google will be smart enough to give us really relevant information via Glass. It’s the future, but when will it happen?
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Eric Scherer talks about Google Glass (and drones, and encryption) as a new tool for journalists and interviewed Tim Pool about how he uses Glass. Interesting is that Pool also uses a mini keyboard and the touch pad of a smartphone in combination with Glass.

Digital Game Based Learning MOOCs: Join in September!

So nice. We already had the connectivist Massive Open Online Courses – based on learner-centric, distributed activities using a syndication engine to connect the various events. Then came the xMOOCs – more top-down like massive courses, experimenting with auto-grading systems. Now I learned about gMOOCs – game-based MOOCs.

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Have a look at this very rich presentation by Sherry Jones and Kate Caruso (great videos!):

A MOOC with a trailer:

rgMOOC 2 will run between September 2, 2013 to November 10, 2013. In fact, this is already a second round, and the course will explore the rhetoric of first person games and the immersive sandbox game Minecraft. You can find the registration form here.

Interesting: they’ll explore Minecraft as sandbox game. Second Life is still quite huge, but sooo unfashionable, even among academics, so it seems. Or is it too wild and libertarian for educational use (unless you invest heavily in some closed island) – and what about OpenSim?

I think I’ll participate or at least lurk in this rgMOOC. So many themes are relevant for all content creators, not only game-producers: I’m sure journalists and bloggers will learn a lot during this course.

Journalism as a service: what it means

There are no journalists, there is only the service of journalism. That’s at least what Jeff Jarvis, author, journalist and entrepreneurial journalism expert wrote on his blog BuzzMachine. So what does this mean? In his post he explains:

Journalism helps communities organize their knowledge so they can better organize themselves.

Anyway, I had the opportunity to meet him in Mechelen, Belgium, at the World Journalism Education Congress:
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So why is this important? Because it makes it obvious that thinking about journalism is not something only journalists should do. As so many of us engage in ‘acts of journalism’, there are important issues which concern far more people in a very direct way.

This became very obvious when professor Yochai Benkler testified (pdf) in the case United States vs. PFC Bradley E. Manning. Jarvis reacted on this testimony in the Guardian (read it, also for the discussion section and the many links provided by Jarvis). Benkler explained that journalism is a network in which there are many roles that can be linked together: witnessing, gathering, selecting, authenticating, explaining, distributing. Each can be an act of journalism. Each can be done by someone else, not necessarily working in a single institution. Jarvis quotes him as saying:

One of the things that’s happened is people realize that you can’t have all the smartest people and all the resources working in the same organization. So we have seen a much greater distribution in networks that even though they use the internet, what’s important about the network structure is actually permissions, who’s allowed to work on what resource or assignments of work assignments.

Which is an important thought, as it has consequences for the political debate about whistle blowers, security and transparency, but also for the organization of journalism as a business.

Streams of News

Stuff I’ve been thinking about:

  • There are advantages of working for an established newspaper. Like having a salary, infrastructure, lots of news-addicts around you. But it’s becoming ever more important to look at how media companies from a streaming tradition innovate. Wire services such as Reuters for instance build rivers of news. Justin Ellis on Nieman Journalism Lab says Every page is your homepage: Reuters, untied to print metaphor, builds a modern river of news.
  • Ben Adler at the Columbia Journalism Review discusses Streams of Consciousness: Millennials expect a steady diet of quick-hit, social-media-mediated bits and bytes. What does that mean for journalism? Adler:

    I found four overlapping, and mutually reinforcing, trends:

    Proliferation of news sources, formats, and new technologies for media consumption
    Participation by consumers in the dissemination and creation of news, through social-media sharing, commenting, blogging, and the posting online of photos, audio, and video
    Personalization of one’s streams of news via email, mobile apps, and social media
    Source promiscuity Rather than having strong relationships with a handful of media brands, young people graze among a vast array of news outlets.

  • One of the most interesting coders/philosophers of the rivers of news is Dave Winer. He explains why every news organization should have a river. It’s about the curation of streams, not of stories: the streams one monitors oneself in order to produce media, the streams produced by bloggers who collaborate or even by those who are competitors, the streams the own organization puts out.Another one by Winer: 11th hour for news nets.
  • Great story about a start-up, Gittip, getting a call from TechCrunch. The guys from the start-up react by saying they want to stream the interview in real-time and publicly. TechCrunch was not amused. Read about it on the blog of Gittip. Even famous blogs have problems adapting to streams.

I found some great folks on Google+ wanting to discuss media in the era of streams. I asked them: Suppose today you got 15 minutes to either follow your social streams (Facebook, Twitter, Google+… ) or read a newspaper. What’s your choice? Answers on my Google+ page

Are our attention spans becoming longer again?

There has been an eerie silence on this blog for the past weeks. I was immersed in various learning projects. I had to focus for longer times, and this made me switch my attention away from social media streams, unless I could focus on certain topics via Twitter lists for instance.

howard rheingoldSo what is the learning about? I’m still absorbing stuff I learned at the various courses facilitated by Howard Rheingold (there’s a new one coming up about Mind Amplifiers). Also, I attended a real life class featuring Howard in the Netherlands (more about this in a later post, but that’s where I took the picture), where he discussed the major findings of his book Net Smart (which can be considered as a long and deep study of attention practices). In this part of the learning it’s all about forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat and Twitter.

– The other part of my learning is about tools for digital stortytelling and data journalism. I made a good start on Codeacademy, but somehow I need the intervention of real tutors to continue the learning process. So I decided to take courses at the O’Reilly School of Technology. They even deliver certificates for professional developments. I do realize it are not the certificates which are that important, but it’s a kind of an interesting gamification element. The ‘school’ offers a nice interactive coding environment and tutors evaluate the homework and give feedback.

Crucial technologies I want to master: the components of HTML5 (HTML, CSS, JavaScript), jQuery, and for stuff such as web scraping I need a language such as Python.

Data Journalism is something we’re learning at our media company, and our teacher is Peter Verweij (who was so kind as to include the very basics of using spreadsheets in his program).

– Finally there is a big experiment of helping a newsroom to adapt to the age of never-ending social media streams, community interaction and digital storytelling.

Frankly, all this is pretty exhausting – but at least it forces me to focus for longer periods of time on the same subjects. In this sense it’s immersive – when one is trying to meet some Python course objective, times passes very fast – it’s like playing in some 3D environment.

Is something changing?

These last few years I got the impression we were evolving from longer, immersive experiences to sequences of fast dipping in and out of media streams (status updates, tweets etc). In that context I was not surprised an immersive envrionment such as Second Life was stagnating. It quite simply takes too much time and our attention spans were getting too short for this.

But think again. Maybe we once again want something more. People start complaining about the ‘Facebook-experience’. They start reading books such as Net Smart or meditate about mindfulness. But there’s also something going on at the technology-side of things.

Philip Rosedale, Chairman of Linden LabPhilip Rosedale (archive picture), the founding father of Second Life, has a new company, High Fidelity, to create a new kind of virtual reality platform. True Ventures invested in the company. It’s about a new virtual world enabling rich avatar interactions driven by sensor-equipped hardware, simulated and served by devices (phones, tablets and laptops/desktops) contributed by end-users. Virtual worlds watcher Wagner James Au on New World Notes says that Rosedale is not alone: others are working hard to create new virtual reality platforms: “Overall, this feels like a real trend, made possible by continued leaps in computer power, especially related to 3D graphics, and their continued drop in price.”

But maybe this new trend is also driven by the need of balancing the short attention bursts by longer periods of mindful attention…

Read also: 

True Ventures about the investment in High Fidelity.

Teaching journalists to become entrepreneurs…

Student journalists, financing their projects through the French crowdsourcing platform KissKissBankBank, that’s what I encountered last Saturday in the offices of the Belgian startup accelerator NestUp at Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium). The journalist/teacher/entrepreneur/blogger Damain Van Achter facilitates the project. He is a guy who teaches his students to first learn the rules, then break them. Anyway, what he actually teaches them, is to thrive in a media environment which will become totally disrupted.

They also learn themselves to sell their projects on the crowdfinancing platform and to their peers. It involves communicating and connecting, also after they manage to get the money – they need to explain what they’re doing and how the project advances.

In some cases this is a great way to finance the making of a video, in other cases it may lead to the creation of a more permanent project or even… a media company.

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Content vs. service in media & education — BuzzMachine

Jeff Jarvis: “I ask us — in journalism and in education (and in journalism education) — to aspire to being services. That requires us to start by thinking of the ends.”

This is so right. Aspire being services, in education as in journalism, as both activities have so much in common. 
via Diigo http://buzzmachine.com/2012/11/19/content-vs-service-in-media-education/

Research the publishing industry by making things

Whiteboardmag has a story about how publishing giant Sanoma launches an in house startup accelerator. In other words: rather than endlessly researching and creating fiction-spreadsheets, they’ll foster intrapreneurship in order to find out about winning ideas in their industry. A kind of Makers-ethos: 
“These days, the successful models come from making things. I thought we should have a model where we can create concepts and validate them fast, make prototypes, test them in the market, see which ones fly. “
via Diigo http://www.whiteboardmag.com/sanoma-intrapreneurship-in-house-startup-accelerator/