Oct 232011

What do we really value online and can traditional publishing companies adapt quickly enough to save themselves?

Earlier this week I and a group of social media ‘influencers’ were invited to a briefing by News Ltd of their, two years in the making plans to move to Australia’s first big Freemium news content model. Basic freemium model – a range of teaser online news excerpts leading to fuller, more in-depth news stories behind a pay wall at subscription prices starting at $2.95 a week to $7.95 including the daily printed paper.

Ross Dawson, Richard Freudenstein, Tim 'Mumbrella' Burrowes - photo garyphayes

The basic details of the plan were dutifully and immediately blogged in traditional journalistic style by Ross Dawson and Tim ‘Mumbrella’ Burrowes (both featured above with Richard Freudenstein CEO of the Australian). But alternate opinions are surfacing from other online ‘influencers’ who were there – including Laurel Papworth (who just published a thoughtful Paywall for News.com and Online Community Social Media), Gavin Heaton (his tweet compilation) Tiphereth GloriaKatie ChatfieldCraig WilsonBronwen Clune and Karalee Evans. Some were feeling privileged to be at this briefing (in advance of traditional media – who of course are competitors so why not invite the ‘independent voice’) but others were confused regarding the actual value proposition being put forward.

Firstly hats off to the large News Ltd operation for taking this ‘if we don’t were damned’ and ‘if we do were also damned’, step. Also for setting up a no-mans land, bridging site, looking at the Future of Journalism. It is really the only thing they can really do at this juncture – so it all comes down to ‘how’ they do it. I and others pointed out during the session that regardless of the mammoth ‘back-end’ production, business and editorial systems upgrade, it really boils down to IF users like the taste of this particular flavour of digital content. Is there a demand for your ‘paid for’ product?

Some heritage news orgs are starting to turn the corner of this ‘experiment’ of course while others have just crashed and burned. Yesterday AdAge reported on New York Times just keeping it’s head above the water with it’s 324 000 and climbing, digital subscribers. It announced that, as it’s print ads decline by 10.4% a quarter it’s digital ads (up 6.2%) and increasing subscribers online are balancing the books, just.

Within the company’s news media division, which includes The New York Times itself as well as the Boston Globe and other newspapers, digital-ad revenue increased 6.2% — slower growth than in the second quarter — while print-ad revenue dropped 10.4% — a sharper decline than last quarter.

In a world of scarcity asking people to pay for ‘information’ or stories about themselves and the wider world makes sense. Get that. But in a world where digital, to a growing number, means free access, open re-distribution, self-publishing and outright plagiarism of those same stories, will ‘paid for news’ ever work?

Lets step back from the granularity of price points and production challenges covered by others for the moment and without getting bogged down in journalistic integrity or endless ‘manipulative’ stats, lets get back to basics.

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Apr 082010

What happens when the content cloud descends? Rocket science or people science?

Here is a really simple metaphor to illustrate the pervasiveness and societal significance of Augmented Reality. For the past 20 years humanity has been ‘floating’ its content (its personas, its information, life data, economy and social media) creating a distant, electronic cloud drifting, conceptually, way up above us. A cloud that is only reachable when we area able to connect to it via a variety of fixed and mobile ‘information’ screens, themselves connected to a veritable wormhole aka the global internet. (In reality hundreds of thousands of servers murmuring around the world with billions connected via hard wiring to receive richer media & experiences).

Up until now this ‘content cloud’ (different to cloud computing) has been abstractly disconnected from our physical lives – we read news about California earthquakes sitting in Australia, we view videos on the train of a concert three weeks ago at a local venue, we have personal social networks fragmented across time and space, play a game set in Hong Kong on a screen in London, Facebook groups comprised of half friended, remote avatars (the extended self ). 99% of the content in the cloud is not relevant to here and now (although a philosophical moot point if the now ‘is’ the participation and consumption itself?!)

In a near AR future, non geo-sensitive content will be perceived as incomplete

The Descending Cloud

But that cloud, has reached saturation, it no longer can keep afloat, there is just too much or rather just enough content to be temporally and geographically relevant. In other words there is so much ‘stuff’ up there that it now makes sense to access it, in a true Web 3.0 way, in real time, the present moment from anywhere you are. It will at its simplest level be Google Earth, slowly morphing out of your PC screen, growing to global scale and locking into place over the real world or Facebook mapping itself onto the billion users faces out in the street, advertisers reaching out to where ever you are, personalizing your everyday life with relevancy vs noise.

The always on cloud has now become very useful to a range of stakeholders. Marketeers, storytellers & users alike. Mists of information, media and experiences will engulf onto our cities and physical infrastructure, it will become a persistent fog that will coat everything in its path with layers of time and place stamped content. It will create a web of layers, of parallel narratives and realities and enhance our experiences.

OK fluffy intro over and this leads to some high level areas of a ‘consultancy’ whitepaper I did mid last year (which annoyingly I still can’t publish) but some key themes are explored below.

What does this mean on the ground, a ground covered in this fog of information. The transformative effect of our physical world being invaded by ‘cyberspace’ will make the current discussions about social network privacy seem like a children’s party. When the ‘web’ spreads into and permeates our real world will their be any hiding places. As portable screens become practical (think iPad with camera), pervasive wearable computing becomes commonplace and surveillance technology evolves to being ubiquitous and transparent – society will evolve way ahead of government and law, who powerless to stop the flow of information on connected screens will be even more powerless to stop this flow moving into real space?

“Augmented reality allows people to visualize cyberspace as an integral part of the physical world that surrounds them, effectively making the real world clickable and linked,” says Dr. Paul E. Jacobs, chairman and CEO of Qualcomm.

The videos below might give them ‘digital’ food for thought.

Beware: I would like to point out everything below has already happened or about to launch in the next few months.


From Eyetap.org (a wearable computing lab in Toronto) – “Stewart Morgan discusses Architecture of Information on the show Daily Planet. It is a visionary short film showing augmented reality, and the implications of it’s applications.” From 2007


What kind of society will it be when our personal profiles, details and content are available to anyone in the street simply by scanning our face. That person across the train carriage, are they really playing an iPhone game or finding out ‘everything’ about you, well at least that which you have placed on the open web? A short video that will shock forward thinkers…

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