Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

Over at the Online Journalism Review there’s an interesting post by Robert Niles on attempts to codify the language of Twitter to extract value from the morass of information.

As anyone knows who’s tried to use Twitter when news is breaking the good stuff often gets masked by misinformation, speculation and mis-steps in the chronology.

Jeff Jarvis has suggested a change to the hashtag convention so that witnesses to events could be separated out from those merely talking about them. He gives the example of !jpquake for witnesses v #jpquake for discussion.

Niles argues that it’s in the interests of news organisations to improve Twitter protocols and it’s time to start promoting the idea more widely as well as thinking about ways to elevate the standing of top sources in the microblogging community.

News aggregators are becoming two-a-penny but I’m excited by the newest kid on the block, the Zite iPad mag that claims to get smarter as you use it.

I haven’t had lots of hands-on time but I’ve already found much to like and it holds out bags of promise.

Like Flipboard you can kickstart it with content from your social graph, in my case Twitter, and then access a Top Stories page with a more detailed section index down the right-hand side. For me this included Social media, Technology, iPhone, Journalism and Mobile.

It’s at story level where things start to get really interesting. Now the right-hand side becomes a personalisation column topped by a question: Did you enjoy reading this? And Yes/No buttons for the answer.  (The nomenclature may need adjusting; I don’t enjoy reading about the Holocaust but I do find it useful/valuable/insightful etc).

Below that there are options to get more articles from the site which originated the story, or more stories about elements within the text. In a feature on the future of social AR gaming for instance the metatags offered were Social Gaming, World of Warcraft, Virtual Reality and Dante’s Inferno.

For some this may be a descent into one of the circles of hell, ranking and rating is a chore but over time it’ll save time if you get a better, more relevant service.

The magic in the mix will be the delivery of stuff you didn’t know you were interested in – that you didn’t specifically ask for – which is a bit more difficult.

The brains behind Zite are researchers at British Columbia university’s computational intelligence lab and they’ve stitched together stats and semantics to try to crack that.

I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen so far and I’m already thinking this will supplant my use of paper.li and Flipboard.

It’s also likely to appeal to advertisers who are no longer entranced by overblown CPM metrics that drive the worst kind of click-whoring subject matter.

Now it’s about reaching the right eyeballs, not just any eyeballs, and a magazine that refreshes every half an hour and provides a tailored cut of content for every user will surely become a powerful new player.

bbc mobile newsJournalist Cory Doctorow misses an essential point in an otherwise excellent Guardian post on information overload*

He argues that we should stop worrying about trying to stay abreast of everything because “signal amplification” will ensure the most interesting things eventually get through. We should relax, “it’ll be around again shortly”.

I broadly agree, but it’s the ‘shortly’ part I take issue with since the timeliness and excitement of breaking news is often what compels people to read, listen and watch.

That doesn’t mean we all live our lives panting with anticipation for breaking news on any topic in a kind of News Channel hell.

But it does mean that for things we are passionate about, or likely to affect us in profound ways, we want to know about them sooner rather than later and not wait for the information to eventually come round.

Hearing about events in the moment, as they unfold, ticks all the boxes for our need to know for which, I’m sure, there are deep-rooted anthropological explanations.

There’s social capital in being first with a piece of information and the osmosis of news transmission has grown rapidly in recent years through posts and tweets, linking and sharing, and recommending.

Mobiles are the ultimate end-product in this chain. They’re with us all the time. But delivering updates on diverse stories is a tough nut to crack for news organisations when speed needs very from person to person.

What’s compelling and vital for one might be of scant interest to another depending on the relative importance of the topic to them and their view of the world.

Push notifications need to be refined and filtered and not used in the current fashion as blunt instruments for relentlessly battering people with breaking news.

Anyway, with finite resources it’s impossible to prioritise everything as “urgent”, but it doesn’t mean we can’t, and shouldn’t, be doing better.

Twitter has stolen a march on many news organisations in this area with a flow of raw information which sometimes includes rumour, repetition and half-truth as well as high value, genuine ground-breaking news.

It has many more people sharing bits of information than any news organisation can muster. But its scale is also its weakness; the signal to noise ratio can be high and adjusting who you follow doesn’t wholly solve the problem.

The chap who delivers great insight on mobile topics is equally prolific in other areas that are not of interest – do you cut him out or take the chaff with the wheat?

Hashtags go part of the way to solving this but they usually are only added around major events or set-piece topics, not the general tide, and they take time to become established.

There’s room for a better service from the BBC between what it does now and what Twitter provides, but it needs a change of approach.

Could the BBC ever open itself up to new ways of presenting news in flux – showing what we’re hearing and seeing and what we’re checking out as well as what we’ve verified and confirmed?

I wrote about this train of thought shortly after the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

There are those who will only ever want authenticated, double-sourced, fully cross-checked material; for them the consequence is that they get information behind the curve but that they know it is accurate.

For those wanting a quicker service it means information may be contradictory or possibly even incorrect for a brief time – but they understand and accept that trade-off.

What we don’t currently offer are the variations of output or the tools to allow the audience to make that choice.

There is, of course, potential for reputational damage from exposing our newsgathering processes and that needs to be carefully explained.

But there’s also reputational damage from maintaining the status quo, of not adapting to a changing news landscape, and of not letting people decide which type of news flow suits them best.

News doesn’t always have to be a choice between only the slow lane and only the fast lane; there are times when we want to switch from one to the other and back again.  Ultimately, we have to let the people decide.

* Incidentally, I came upon Doctorow’s article not by scouring The Guardian or ploughing through my Twitter feed but via an app called Smartr which grabs Tweets with links, pulls in the stories and presents them in aggregated news reader style.

And for managing information overload, look no further than tech blogger Robert Scoble who tracks more than 30,000 people via his @scobleizer account and reaps the benefit both of scale and smart filtering to manage the tide.

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.

The eccentric one-man-band that is Joseph Tame is taking outside broadcasting to a new level with his bizarre rig for the upcoming Tokyo Marathon.

As he runs the 26-mile course he’ll be live broadcasting on two cameras – one facing forward, one facing him – while at the same time transmitting live location, pace and heart-rate data via Runkeeper, as well as sampling pollution, humidity and noise levels.

His kit features an iPad strapped to his chest on which Twitter messages will be displayed, four iPhones and an Android device, plus three mobile wifi routers. A volunteer team of 15 will broadcast live from points along the route and all the material will be fed back to a studio for mixing and rebroadcasting via Ustream.

Joseph has a good track record in technological firsts having previously live-streamed himself climbing Mt Fuji.

You can listen to a primer on his marathon plans at 0300 Tues on Radio 5live or catch-up via the less chronologically challenging Outriders Podcast where he’s in conversation with my colleague Jamillah Knowles.

Mobile has pulled ahead of the desktop web as the “most important medium” to get breaking news.

That’s one of the main findings from a US survey of 300,000 people across a broad demographic range.

Yes, it was conducted by a mobile app developer, Handmark and, yes, it was questioning people who have bought into a smartphone lifestyle.

But it underlines, once more:

  • the growing importance of mobile for news consumption
  • that mobile and desktop services have different strengths
  • that there’s an opportunity to feed news demands in new and varied ways

Handmark CEO Paul Reddick believes 2011 will see consumers increasingly relying on their mobiles as a primary source of news and information and the survey findings bear that out.

It  assumes, of course, that network capability will keep up with demand for bandwidth and that’s far from certain.

But leaving that aside for now, I’ve long argued that mobile requires a different cut of content to mainstream web coverage and that it should convey the sense of flux and excitement that comes from breaking stories.

News organizations should be offering chronologies of content as well as the traditional, editorially-weighted mix of material.

And the paid-for SMS news alert should be sent to the dustbin of history. At upwards of 12-25p a message it works out as the most expensive bandwidth in the world, especially if you measure it against the amount of data transmitted.

Yet organisations still pump out alerts, many of questionable value, in the knowledge that companies rather than individuals are footing the bill.

If you’ve already paid for “unlimited” bandwidth, or bandwidth capped at “fair use” levels, why on earth would you pay for SMS alerts?

Push notifications do, at least, take cost out of the equation but they need to be used sparingly or the news currency becomes devalued.

And if you have several apps offering push alerts then the distraction can quickly become annoying, especially when they aren’t deemed relevant or important enough to warrant the interruption.

It’s why I believe news organizations need to incorporate time-driven hierarchies into the mainstream of their platforms and make much more of immediacy.

That doesn’t mean throwing away the traditional, editorially-weighted view of the news – that still has value – but it does mean presenting content in a new way that makes a virtue of “nowness” and conveys information in snackable bursts.

Twitter’s already shown itself to be a powerful force for breaking news with its 140-character snippets rewarding repeat visits – there’s always something new to consume – and rapid updates  are a key strength of mobile.

But presenting only one that type of view means important news can swiftly be displaced by less substantial matter.

It’s not a case of speed over importance, one or the other, mobile can and should do both.

stickybits

Can a barcode tell a story? It can if it’s powered by Stickybits to add digital information to real-world objects.

Earlier this week I received a postcard from colleague Jim Haryott containing nothing in the message area other than a barcode.

Using a reader – available for Android and iPhones – I was able to read a message and see a piece of video which had been attached.

Interacting with information in the landscape is at an early stage and the Internet of Things is still a long way off but Stickybits shows a glimmer of what’s coming.

For now it’s a bridge between analogue and digital.  In future, interaction with objects via a mobile device will become an everyday feature.

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.

The tech world’s relentless race to the next big thing can sometimes make it hard to see the wood for the trees.

But this week has given some tantalising glimpses of the future of news even if the breathless exaggeration that greets each new “app for that” can make them all seem much of a muchness.

The latest entrant to be hyped to the heavens is Flipboard which tech specialist Robert Scoble described as “revolutionary” and others have called “game-changing”.

At first glance it appears to be no more than an elegantly packaged collection of feeds and – for now at least – it’s iPad only so a long way from mainstream.

This is not just a fancy wrapper. It’s underpinned by semantic search company Ellerdale which mines Twitter data in real-time to extract trends and patterns of interest from a vast seam of interactions.

Co-founder of the Ellerdale Project, Arthur van Hoff, talks more about semantics and finding patterns in big data here

Links come alive when the content they point to is re-displayed in familiar magazine-like formats (though questions are already being raised about whether Flipboard is scraping content to which it doesn’t have rights).

Important though that is, it shouldn’t deflect from the fact that social sharing will become an increasingly important distribution route for news organisations and for news discovery.

There are, of course, earlier, less-developed variants:  For some time, Feedera has been delivering a daily email digest of content shared by friends.

It began as an attempt to help people cope with information overload. Peer-group filtering of the significant or relevant brings with it a degree of trust because you know who’s passing it on and who regularly sends the best stuff.

Feedera  gives every story a ranking based on a combination of the number of friends who have tweeted a link – and from popularity metrics gleaned from  services like Digg and Delicious.

Delicious, itself, has recently started a “Browse these bookmarks” beta that brings back full pages rather than simple links and The Twitter Tim.es is another service to jazz up aggregation by pulling in text, images and video.

By extending aggregation to Twitter lists the power of scraping and re-rendering is multiplied many-fold.

It’s as if you can peer over the shoulder of anyone you choose to see what they’re reading, or listening to, or watching.

For instance, by accessing Robert Scoble’s list of people he has deemed The Most Influential in Tech you can see an instant filter of what that group has been signposting, talking about and considers significant.

There are groups of every stripe and if you don’t like the exisiting lists, or you find a gap in the market, then you can always draw up your own.

Reading Twitter streams – even from the smartest people – can be a chore, especially when jumping backwards and forwards to see linked pages.

Flipboard does the legwork and makes for a much nicer reading experience.

As TED speaker Gary Lauder commented: “My mother is not going to read tweets but she will read Flipboard”.

Apollo is another news app for the iPad (price $4.99) and one that claims to be The Future of the Newspaper.

It aims to help readers discover new content and makes personalisation and social recommendation part of the fabric.

Its algorithm, according to Techcrunch, factors in time spent on articles and sources that have been favourited, as well as the familiar “thumbs up, thumbs down” options to like/dislike articles.

The reason I’ve highlighted these services is because they point the way to a different kind of content consumption in which friends and peers bring social context into the discovery of news.

This kind of filtering is especially important in a world of super-abundant news provision where competition for a reader’s time becomes the most precious commodity.

As well as sampling and aggregating multiple sources, the filters and options they give to rank and rate give readers a greater sense of control.

Anything which helps sift quality items from a mountain of mediocrity will ultimately win out.

To that end we need to start thinking about the tools people will want to control and refine their news flow.