Archive for April, 2011

toozlaI’ve had only the briefest of acquaintances with Toozla, a Russian-based augmented reality outfit that is using location-triggered audio to pep up experiences for tourists, but I like the idea enough to flag it up here.

Unlike most AR apps that overlay text on a camera view, Toozla uses voiced information that is tethered to proximity to places of interest.

There are Wikipedia text entries in the mix too, along with weather from Wunderground and UGC voice notes that can be anchored to a place so others can hear about individual impressions and experiences.

Audio has many advantages over text in this kind of context, both in the amount of information it can convey and because it lets people concentrate on their surroundings rather than looking at a screen, though there’s also an overhead in file download size and the ability to skim content for relevance.

For commercial companies seeking to profit from the tourist trade there are opportunities to incorporate sales and promotion activity linked to location.

There are also sponsorships like that of the Wellcome Foundation’s for a Medical London tour, written and presented by historian Richard Barnett, last year for City Stories Walks

As Broadcastr, another player in this area, states:  “It’s like a museum tour of the entire world.”

The Beta-service, which has just followed up its iPhone release with an Android app, lets users record their own content, create playlists, follow their friends, and share on Facebook.

As ever, extracting value from the mix is the hard part; hearing voices is one thing, but a cacophony isn’t helpful. The winner here will be the service that makes best use of listener time while adding real value to the experience of place.

The BBC has a seam of authoritative, expertly produced, historical audio recordings but rights issues, commercial impact considerations and the enormity of digitizing, filtering, voicing and repackaging the material is likely to stymie progress any time soon and that’s a huge shame.

In a country like the UK, with such an extraordinary history, bringing the past to life is enriching for visitors and likely to be good business too.


ISOJ logoA couple of weeks ago I spoke about mobiles, metadata and the future at the International Symposium on Online Journalism in Austin, Texas.

One of the other speakers I met was Seth Lewis, an assistant journalism professor at the the University of Minnesota, who gave a presentation on the ways in which organizations like The New York Times, NPR, and the Guardian have created and used their own application programming interfaces (APIs) to work with outside developers.

His talk struck a real chord; I’m still at a loss to fully understand why the BBC closed Backstage, the community it brought together back in 2005 for people to get creative with its content.

Seth has now posted a piece on the Nieman Journalism Lab blog which gives a good overview of the merits of tapping the wisdom of the developer crowd and the learnings to be had from taking such an approach.

Huffington PostIt’s great to see the Huffington Post pushing the boundaries of social media integration to better serve readers, especially since it endorses a point of view I’ve long held and promoted.

The site’s social media editor, Rob Fishman, has blogged about letting readers follow topics, reporters and bloggers both on the site and across other platforms with the aim of not missing stories that often slip through the cracks.

Back in the day, I suggested the BBC should automate the aggregation of correspondent reports in “shrines” to their output (and egos) across all platforms and all media types.

I’d always enjoyed Matt Frei’s perspective on life in the US, but trying to keep abreast of his video pieces, his audio packages, his features for the web and his musings for From Our Own Correspondent was a job of work.

The best correspondents are brands within the brand, something newspapers have long understood with their star columnists, and I always thought they deserved better packaging and promotion.  Before I left there was a project in the pipeline which was tackling this and I  hope it bears fruit this summer.

There’s more to this than just doing a better job of showcasing correspondent material though, tracking stories, people, companies and individuals’ interests is the next big step in filtering the news that’s relevant to you.

emphas.isFour of the nine projects at the Beta crowd-funded photojournalism site,, have reached their funding goals, attracting pledges of more than $40,000 between them.

It’s an impressive start for a site that only launched back in March but it’s too early to say whether the model will successfully grow and lift the gloom that pervades the world of professional news photography.

The successful four are:
1 Matt Eich’s project in the American South on the inheritance of slavery and how it continues to impact generations of people growing up in the US.

2 Kadir van Lohuizen who wants to investigate the roots of migration in The Americas by traveling from the very south of Chile to the very north of Alaska, covering 15 countries along the Pan-American Highway.

3 Carolyn Drake on China’s policy to develop its western frontier which has sent millions of loyal Han Chinese into Xinjiang, home to about 10 million Uyghurs. She plans to return to Xinjiang to photograph the changes in the physical and cultural landscape of the Uyghurs.

4 Tomas van Houtryve’s return to Laos to continue his series on communism, asking how has the Communist Party survived in Laos against the tide of history and why are Hmong groups who collaborated with the US during the Vietnam War still being persecuted?

taptuOld media companies still haven’t grasped that they’re going to have to forge new alliances and collaborate with once bitter rivals if they’re to survive and thrive.

Newspapers and broadcasters have always operated as walled gardens and the model has served them so well that some have come to think they have a right to exist, or that brand loyalty will see them through, or that an iPhone or iPad app will pull the fat from the fire.

   Technology is taking us into the media equivalent of fantasy football where readers can pick and choose their favourite columnists and commentators, mix and match the organizations that serve them, and all while letting their social networks do the heavy lifting by filtering the tide of new information.

In this world aggregators like Taptu, Flipboard Pulse and Zite take different approaches but they all have one thing in common, they break the boundaries that organizations put up between their content and their competitors.

Taptu talks about DJ-ing the news and mixing streams to curate them exactly as you want, by organization, or topic, or special interest.

For those who don’t want to invest the time or effort in doing this then the social graph that connects them with what friends and peers are reading, or watching, or finding interesting, is less taxing.

Is it too fanciful to think that ‘old media’ moguls might join forces to aggregate their own content on a shared platform rather than relying on third parties to do the job?  Perhaps it is, but as things stand they’re losing out.

Frederic Filoux makes the point that they’re not getting audience data from those third parties and it’s the rich learning mined from understanding new patterns of consumption that will be the foundation of future advertising models.

Getting media rivals to collaborate would be problematic, for sure.  Getting agreement on a format and ways to share and monetize material would be a Herculean task, no question. But not to even try would be foolhardy.

Flipboard has just picked up another $50m in venture capital funding; it’s lean (32 employees) it’s nimble, it’s single-minded and it’s tech savvy.

Against that, media businesses may harbor deep rivalries, but they also have rich content at local, national and international level and the potential to package their material in new ways that would better serve the audience and themselves if they could find a way to collaborate.

It’s worth remembering that before SMS became a multi-billion pound earner for mobile operators the business was Balkanised to the extent that messages couldn’t be sent to people outside individual networks.

It only took off when the restriction was removed and a business model was instituted that allowed rival operators to charge each other a small fee for passing messages to other networks.

Honor the TreatyA crowdfunded project that caught my eye recently was Aaron Huey’s Pine Ridge Billboard initiative on

Huey has spent six years documenting life on native reservations in the US, places where he says unemployment runs at 80-90%, where most people live in poverty and where life expectancy for men is 47, on a par with Somalia and Afghanistan.

Huey likens the reservations to PoW camps and wants to confront Americans with that message on billboards, buses and in subway tunnels.

He’s raised nearly $12,000 towards his $17,250 goal with 20 days left for pledges.

GoPano My gadget of the week is the GoPano Micro 360-degree video lens for the iPhone 4.

Inventor Michael Rondinelli went to Kickstarter looking for $20,000 funding to get it into production and 1,600 backers have already pledged more than $90,000 with 30 days of the campaign still to go.

It’s just the job for kettled snappers needing eyes in the back of their head, and it would be a discrete way to capture events at Westminster Abbey for that wedding on the 29th – if you could lay hands on a pre-production model.

Cisco FlipIt burned brightly in its short lifespan but the Flip Ultra camcorder is toast, gobbled up by ever-smarter smartphones, the disruptive power of which forewarns of bigger convulsions to come and which will change the news landscape forever.

Cisco learned their lesson the hard way, shelling out $590m to acquire Pure Digital Technologies in 2009 in pursuit of a device that had continuously topped Amazon’s best-seller list.

It must all have looked so promising to the execs who signed the cheque back then, blind as they were to the burgeoning growth of mobile and incapable of envisioning the blistering rate of development.

The only saving grace is that they’ve recognized the inevitable and won’t be putting in good money after bad, though that’s scant consolation for the 550 workers who will be laid off.

News organizations haven’t reached that point yet. They’re desperately trying to keep afloat, cutting margins, slicing services, laying people off, trying to stay relevant and all the while holding onto existing audiences and reaching new ones.

Cisco could still find a buyer for Flip if they let it go for a trivial amount, but the purchaser would have to invest considerable capital to extend its life and to improve the modest capabilities that only a couple of years ago were lauded for their simplicity.  Realistically, its time has been and gone.

We’ve seen this before, of course. Mobile has disrupted multiple areas of everyday life and it continues to change the way we interact with the world around us. It’s a timekeeper, an alarm clock, a games machine, a music player, a recording device, a camera, a navigation aid, a video player, a musical instrument, an information source, a news machine.

The time for news hasn’t yet come, but the clock is ticking and for many organizations mobile is still only the most junior of partners, something that is a way off in the future; they get it, but it’s a distraction in the daily battle to hold onto audience and revenue.

My former colleague Kevin Anderson in a post on Rethinking the jobs newspapers do, cites two findings from the NewspaperNext project that have a bearing on this:

  • Cramming old products into new forms is the wrong approach so new companies with new approaches win.

The writing was on the wall for Flip more than two years ago, it’s just that the Cisco people couldn’t see it. The writing is on the wall for the news business too, but the blinkers need to come off.

Audiences need new kinds of news products that let them filter by relevance, or location, or context. News organizations need a better understanding of who they are serving and with what – and that’s going to mean partnering with former competitors and taking a very different approach.

The most innovative news product of recent times – Zite – has been met with understandable hostility from major content producers and a flurry of cease-and-desist letters from their lawyers.

That’s a huge shame, because everyone I’ve spoken to who’s used Zite has loved it, but pillaging other people’s material and profiting from it isn’t a sensible or sustainable business model.

Had Zite sought prior approval from publishers I doubt it would be out of the starting blocks even now. Sometimes showing, rather than talking, can be a powerful persuader and the glimpse it has given of future consumption capabilities is a compelling proposition.

Rather than picking a fight, news organizations should applaud the inventiveness of their approach and try to figure out a way to put things on a fair and equitable footing, or risk losing a route to their future survival.

governor's messageDear Governor Perry,
Perhaps cutting the proof-reading budget for official documents like your Welcome to Austin message wasn’t such a good idea.
Yours sincerely,
Bob Bullock