Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Adrian Holovaty

Image by niallkennedy via Flickr

Everyblock’s Adrian Holovaty has signalled a change in direction for the hyperlocal news site he founded in 2007 and which was subsequently bought up by MSNBC.com.

He wants to switch its focus from that of a data-driven aggregator to a “platform for discussion around neighbourhood news”.

He told Poynter: “…we’ve come to realize that human participation is essential, not only as a layer on top but as the bedrock of the site.”

On his blog, Holovaty writes that current social media tools are focused on people you already know and he poses the question: “How many people in American cities can even name more than a handful of their neighbors?

His answer is to use Everyblock to post to them – “instead of the social graph, it’s the geo graph”.

As a way of helping to knit a community together it’s an interesting approach but, as Holovaty himself points out, it’s not attempting to be yet another social network.

“If you want to follow your neighbor’s personal life, friend her on Facebook; if you want to talk about neighborhood issues, use EveryBlock.”

The site was spawned from his Chicagocrime site helped along by a Knight Foundation grant and it has now been extended to cover all major centres across the US.

A skim through the information available for West Seattle brings up local news, messages from neighbours, 911 dispatches, real estate info, restaurant reviews, meet-ups, local photos and much else besides.  Every item is mapped and it’s possible to search by zip code, by area, or even by street.

The granularity that comes from mining official data is impressive, everything from building permits to restaurant inspections are available – though the neighbourhood chatter wasn’t evident when I looked because the change in emphasis is still so new.

Less impressive is the chronological design which, without more sophisticated filters or editorialising, makes staying informed an ordeal by parish pump.

Planning applications can, of course, be a big as a story if they directly affect you, but weeding the relevant from the irrelevant needs better tools to let people decide what they want – and what they don’t.


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Snaptu home screen on cell phone

Image via Wikipedia

The burgeoning growth of Facebook has been given another boost by the social network’s acquisition of mobile start-up Snaptu for an undisclosed sum.

No big deal, you may think, but as Paul Butler points out at ReadWriteWeb, the people accessing Facebook via their mobiles are twice as active as those who engage via PCs.

It was Israeli outfit Snaptu who earlier this year built a feature-phone app for Facebook, extending social network access to thousands more devices and into markets where smartphones are less prevalent.

If you add to that purchase, the acquisition of group messaging company Beluga and a location-based advertising start-up, Rel8tion, it’s plain to see Mark Zuckerberg’s intention to capitalize on the mobile space.

The other big beast in that battle is the subject of David Carr’s excellent New York Times piece – The Evolving Mission of Google

Despite its insistence that it is not a media company, Carr makes a good case that it is and why it’s more than a matter of semantics.

The gravitational pull of Google and Facebook has already had a huge impact on the way news is distributed and they’re both attracting vast sums of advertising cash that would otherwise have gone to the traditional newspaper and magazine businesses.

At the same time, Google acknowledges that it depends on high-quality content and has “a responsibility to encourage a healthy web ecosystem”.

For newspapers and magazines struggling to make money from the link economy that assertion might ring hollow, especially if the ledgers show their days in the eco-system might be numbered.

Planets Google and Facebook have pulled money from their grasp on the traditional web and now it’s slipping through their fingers in the mobile world too.

According to the folks at Guy Kawasaki’s Alltop, Google’s algorithm has “had more impact on the shape of the web than anything or anyone since Tim Berners-Lee” and this infographic attempts to show how.

The casualties of this shift in fortunes will be replaced, of course, hopefully by something better, but as we’ve seen with recent natural disasters the consequences will be traumatic and restoration will take a long time to effect.

Commentator Tomi Ahonen’s mobile industry statistics guide is always compelling reading, in fact many of the numbers have found their way into Marc Settle’s excellent BBC College of Journalism course.

There’s one number in the blizzard of information that’s especially interesting – that, according to Nokia, the average person looks at their phone 150 times per day. That’s a glance every six and a half minutes.

I’m guessing much of that activity is associated with SMS or other forms of instant messaging, but part of it will be to monitor Facebook’s news feed or Twitter’s continuous stream of what Google’s Eric Schmidt calls “newness”.

It’s why I’ve bored for England over the past couple of years about the need to present the flow of news from the BBC as a chronology as well as an editorially weighted, sifted and sorted set of headlines.

There’s drama in minute-by-minute information flux and no reason not to do both if suitable filters can be added.

We already offer agency-style running updates for set-piece live event pages, but all of life is a live event and this kind of treatment should be our normal operating procedure.

The dip in, dip out behaviour seen in mobile use patterns needs a different news mix and a different metric to measure engagement.

When web stats are talked about it’s rare for anyone to mention that up to half of unique users only visit a site once a week, that dwell times are scant and fewer than half a dozen pages are looked at.

With all the resources at our disposal and with the development of the BBC’s internal Quickfire breaking news tool we could lead the way in a different kind of news delivery.

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.

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.

looxcieMobile video is constantly improving but all too often the best, unexpected moments are missed because the device isn’t ready or it’s in your pocket.

“Everybody gets the splash, but nobody gets the whale,” is how Looxcie’s marketing chief Bob Kron puts it.

His company makes a wearable Bluetooth camcorder which fits over the ear and continuously records video.

It stores up to five hours of material on a 4GB flash memory and the last 30-seconds of viewing are continuously buffered to be saved by a one-click, instant clip button.

To set-up, you use your smartphone (Android only for now) as a viewing screen to make sure the camera is level and pointing where you look.

Once up and running a red “video on” light illuminates.

The 30-second clips you save can be instantly shared – bandwith permitting – to pre-selected recipients or to Facebook, YouTube or Twitter.

On the face of it,  this new hardware looks like a useful addition to the journalists’  toolkit.

At $199 it’s a cheap route to video capture, and simple to use. It doesn’t involve fiddling with lots of buttons and controls so you can concentrate on what’s going on around you – and that’s important if you’re in potentially hostile environments.

It’s also less obvious than a handheld camera so less likely to trigger adverse reactions in a crowd, though there’s always the risk that someone will think you’re filming them for clandestine purposes.

And as mobile pictures from the G20 protests have shown, the increasingly levels of scrutiny mean that you can never be sure that someone, somewhere, isn’t watching – and recording – you.