Archive for October, 2010

Marconi station at WellfleetMobile spectrum availability is the oily rag conversation no-one wants to have when there’s a new car outside waiting to be driven.

But demand already outstrips networks’ ability to supply and every smartphone or tablet sold is competing for space in a bandwidth traffic jam.

In the US, the Federal Communications Commission expects mobile broadband demand to rise by 35 times today’s level by 2014 and has started talks on potential policy solutions

In the UK lack of bandwidth is already acting as a brake of provision of future services.

The Internet of Things in which billions of objects are interconnected is all very well but most people just want a service without blindspots or severely limited data speeds.

Next generation LTE and 4G services will help, but according to O2’s head of radio engineering Andy Conway: “We’re looking at years rather than months”.

Ofcom will be auctioning additional spectrum next year.

How the Government handles next generation infrastructure needs will be key to the UK’s future prosperity because in a knowledge economy wealth creation is inexorably tied to fast connectivity.


AP puts new focus on mobile news

Posted: October 22, 2010 in Journalism, Mobile, News
Tags: , , ,

AP logoAP chief executive Tom Curley has signalled a change in the agency’s mobile strategy to meet the challenge of “a new golden age for the development of new products”.

There would be more touch screens than front pages by 2012, he told the Southern Newspapers Publishers Association in Austin, Texas, as he anticipated a period of explosive growth, .

“That shift to mobile and easy-to-use touch screen devices will transform the market we’ve been operating in.

“A one-dimensional, Web-based marketplace will be supplanted by a multi-dimensional, multi-platform opportunity. We’ll be moving well beyond websites, search results pages and RSS feeds.”

Curley said AP’s mobile strategy would morph away from simple repurposing of traditional wire feeds toward the creation of new experiences, handcrafted by the expert journalists.

“By early next year, we expect to launch new applications in the mobile and tablet markets that will offer consumers fresh perspectives on the day’s top stories and take them behind the scenes with our experts.”

The full text of Curley’s speech is here

remote controlsIf media is part of the “attention warfare” business then the lines are being drawn for the next big battle – The War of the Living Room.

Google TV and Apple TV are facing off with set-top boxes that combine television and the web, with the promise to change forever the way we consume content.

Search, apps and social networks will all collide in the magic rectangle that was your television to create a powerful new viewing platform.

There are myriad technical challenges, user interface issues and education messages to overcome but the implications are wide and profound.

According to TV Nation 2010, a Radio Times and survey on the nation’s viewing habits, a third of TV viewers now watch their favourite progammes online, on computers and mobile phones.

For viewers the distinction between web and broadcast will become increasingly blurred.

However things shake out, Google looks to be in pole position to dominate another area of our lives.

It owns YouTube, the world’s most popular online video community, it dominates the search market processing over a billion requests per day, and is rated the most powerful brand in the world by brand equity database Brandz.

Last year, Marissa Mayer told the US Congress at a hearing about the future of journalism that Google send more than a billion page views every month to print publications.

So what might Google do with Google TV?

Well, there are already glimpses of what’s to come. There’s the developing news and politics blog Citizentube, there’s the YouTube Reporters’ Center to “Help You Report The News” and there’s YouTube Leanback which is designed to play in full screen, in HD, and without any browsing or clicking.

It’s based on a feed of your YouTube preferences and as soon as video ends another starts. You can also link your feed to your Facebook account to see what friends are sharing, or simply type in a search term to create a “channel”.

You can take a quick tour of Google TV here

In a lighter take on events, New York Times tech writer David Pogue argues the case for Apple TV against its cheaper, less restricted Roku competitor.

coin“Mobile airtime is the Euro of the African Union” was just one of the jaw-dropping pronouncements from Simon Cavill at last week’s ForumOxford future tech conference.

The founder of mobile payment company Mi-Pay said 20 per cent of Kenya’s gross domestic product was now moving through mobile money, with a resulting 15 per cent drop in cash in circulation in the country.

The transactions amounted to 150m Euros per day and the World Bank had estimated mobile finance added 2-3 percent to the country’s GDP figures, he said.

The story of M-Pesa, run by telecom company Safaricom and part-owned by Vodafone is well known;  it is the biggest of more than 70 live mobile money schemes that have sprung up in Africa with another 80-plus in the pipeline.

Cavill’s company launched its international airtime transfer service back in August, allowing organisations to top-up pre-paid mobiles of individuals in other countries.

He told of a visit he had made to Nairobi with £500 of airtime on his mobile which he used to pay for his cab from the airport and to pay for his hotel – he hadn’t needed real money.

Airtime was being used for gifts and marketing rewards, and in Uganda it was possible to walk into a shop and redeem airtime for real money.

Showing a slide with a $50bn Zimbabwean note, Cavill said regional networks for airtime transfer that were being talked about in East and West Africa would help to force compliance and stabilize currencies.

On the question of money laundering he said: “There’s the real world and what the banking industry would like. Eighty per cent of money transfers are illegal.”

waze logoFor all the technical barriers to the roll-out of new technology, there’s another obstacle that looms just as large and crops up across multiple platforms – the question of privacy.

It’s at the heart of many emerging services in which the balance of uptake will be measured by the degree of information surrendered, against the benefit given back.

Get it right and the rewards can be huge. Get it wrong and the reputational kickback can be severe as both Google and Facebook have learned in recent times.

As I write Facebook’s attempt to give people more control of their privacy through Groups is attracting criticism.

Time will tell whether the concerns are justified, but every time confidence takes a knock from lapses or misjudgements the potential benefits from surrendering data become much harder to achieve.

In the case of Waze, a free UGC mobile app which shares traffic conditions in real-time, the balance weighs heavily in favour of drivers.

The motorist surrenders his or her location data – anonymously – and that allows Waze to gauge average traffic speeds on different stretches of road.

By aggregating the data and then feeding it to live traffic maps Waze gives drivers the chance to make instant decisions about the best routes for their journey.

Another, less visible, service is Skyhook, a location engine embedded in many phones.

Conventional GPS doesn’t work indoors and even assisted GPS which combines satellite tracking and cell tower triangulation can be patchy.

Skyhook claims an edge over these methods by adding in wifi hotspots to get a location fix accurate to 10-20 metres.

By aggregating position fixes, – again anonymously – CEO Ted Morgan says he “knows where everybody is, but not where you are”.

His company is collaborating with researchers at MIT and retailers to mine the data to extract value.

Focusing on pedestrians, he says he could also tell advertisers how many people have walked past a street billboard.

“Imagine you have 10 Gap stores in San Francisco. I can tell you where to put the 11th based on patterns of people”, he adds.

“No-one’s ever had this much location data, cross-device, cross-carrier, at this level of accuracy.”

Google tried, of course, and began collecting wifi data as it gathered images from its Streetview vehicles.

In doing so it also harvested snippets of private information – though a Google representative claimed it was done inadvertently and none of it was used in its services.

In the instances of Waze and Skyhook, the benefits are obvious, but cross the line as Google did, even inadvertently, and repairing reputational damage can be difficult to erase.

logoI’ve been using a Beta site called Storyful for the past couple of weeks after being attracted by the notion of skilful journalistic curation of big stories in real time.

The team collates reports, pictures, video and comment from multiple sources – some traditional news content, some UGC material – and incorporates social network elements to build stories with a range of perspectives.

The journalists behind it say Storyful: “Separates streams of useful news from a river of useless noise. We discover the authentic voices and primary sources on the big stories.”

From what I’ve seen so far, it’s useful, interesting, and novel though I can’t vouch for the rigour of their verification of sources.

Watching a story being built in real-time using the best of the web is fun and, more importantly, opens the door to deeper engagement.

Last week while reading about the Pakistan drone strikes it led me to this fascinating insight into the life of a drone “pilot”

The video is nearly 11’ long but if you join around the 8’ 50“ mark you’ll hear an airman say: “The thing I enjoy most about the job is knowing what’s going to be in the paper the next day and, when I read about it, knowing I was involved.”

This is a view of the future of modern warfare, fought thousands of miles from the battlefront and from what looks like a converted freight container. Incredible.

SmartLens for iPhone

Originally uploaded by paulbrannan

I’m a sucker for gadgets, especially when they live up to billing, and I’ve been stupidly pleased with my latest additions – three mini-lenses that attach to my iPhone.

They give macro, wide angle and fish-eye options and are small enough to stash in a pocket.

The ingenious bit is the magnetised ring that sticks to body of the phone and to which the lenses are attracted. When not in use the lenses slide off and the slim profile of the phone is maintained.

You can buy the lenses from the wacky folks at Photojojo who, in their own words, find the best photo shiz anywhere.

new yorker cover

The New Yorker is now available as an iPad app and is especially interesting for a couple of reasons.

You can watch a video of David Hockney using the Brushes app to create the front cover artwork, and there’s a full page Visa advert containing hotspots which link to deeper layers of information in the page.

Once you’ve tried it, conventional flat-on-the-page ads elsewhere in the issue seem positively barren.

The same rationale is behind Brainient, but for video adverts. London-based Romanian Emi Gal netted $50,000 seed funding for the project by winning a start-up competition last year and has now secured another $800,000.

reuters hqCommunity management of conversations around stories has taken a new turn at Reuters where they’re offering points to people whose comments are civil, thoughtful and add to the sum total.

On some stories, the “conversation” had been little more than partisans slinging invective at each other under the cloak of anonymity, said Global Editor for Consumer Media Richard Baum.

Reuters had agonized over how to achieve more rewarding discussions before coming up with the points system in which people whose comments were approved gained a point, those who were off topic or transgressed rules lost a point.

High scoring commentators are classed as expert users and get extra – as yet unspecified – privileges. Interestingly, statistics for reader contributions are visible to all – creating a sort of reputational league table.

Journalist and computer scientist Jonathan Stray asks why Americans spend only 12 minutes a month on the average news site versus seven hours a month on Facebook and concludes that journalism needs a root-and-branch rethink.

He argues that existing journalism formats are not very good at engaging curiosity and that news can no longer be about the mass update, it needs to become intensely personal so people get lost in it like they do in Facebook and Wikipedia.   I think we can all agree on that, though the “how” part is elusive.

Stray wants journalists to look beyond notions of how to make better stories and ask:  “Who are our users, what would we like to help them to do, and how can we build a system that helps them with that?”

And he suggests that emulation of previous media fetters thinking: “Newspaper web sites and apps look like newspapers. “Multimedia” journalism has mostly been about clicking somewhere to get slideshows and videos.

“This is a little like the dawn of TV news, when anchors read wire copy on air. Digital media gives us an explosion of product design possibilities, but the envisioned interaction modes have so far stayed mostly the same.”

Whether you share his conclusions or not, his observations do provide food for thought even if they only take us so far; identifying issues doesn’t necessarily lead to solutions.

He’s right when he talks about the “tremendous knowledge and capability scattered throughout society, untapped”. But unlocking the potential in crowd-sourced news or collaborative journalism is far from trivial.

Curation isn’t cheap, rules of engagement are a minefield and stoking active participation through community needs eternal optimism, the subtle art of diplomacy and a very thick skin.

I’m not convinced, either, that comparing time spent in a news site against time spent on Facebook is valid or useful. Personal relationships and the ties that bind people will always win out over wider, more general themes – it’s what makes us human.