Posts Tagged ‘Internet’


Could Twitter apps be worth paying for?

June 18, 2009
What does the future hold for Twitter?

What does the future hold for Twitter?

Today, I discovered TweetPsych. It applies linguistic word theory to some of your past tweets to tell you something about your personality.  It still has a way to go, in my humble opinion, but it brilliantly gives a snapshot of where Twitter apps are heading – they are going to get deeper, and provide information that is really useful.  In fact, you may even pay to use them – and wouldn’t it be nice to know people are paying to use Twitter?

As an test, I put CNN’s breaking news feed (@cnnbrk) into TweetPsych.  I discovered CNN expresses lots of negative emotions – or, in other words, bad news. Is this proof that the mainstream media are obsessed with bad news? Or just that there is a lot of it about at the moment?

TweetPsych is a great start – a way of adding value to Twitter. Here are some suggestions for Twitter apps that I would happily pay for. Please let me know what you think, and add others in the comments, if you feel inspired!

User analysis

1. Tweeter bias test. During the recent Iranian election, it became clear that Twitter contained more useful evidence about what was going on than the mainstream media.  The only problem was, it is impossible to know how objective individual tweeters are.

But a check on the content and tone of previous tweets could reveal political or religious bias, giving you a better way to judge the value of individual tweets.

2. Tweeter preference finder. I sometimes wonder who the people are that follow me.  I would love a tool that could help me sift through my followers to identify those who feel positively towards a certain subjects, based on an analysis of their tweets.  So if I was arranging an event centred on a specific issue, I could simply DM the right followers and offer them an invitation.

Power search tools

3. Ask Twitter. Twitter is great at providing answers to questions.  If a question has been answered once, the Q&A still exists.  Why not develop a tool that offers previous answers, based on a linguistic analysis of any question posed?  Users could rate suggested answers, and the tool could “learn” over time to improve the identification of best responses.

4. Twitter Picture Viewer.  This would allow you to search for and download twitter images using hashtags, key words, or a user name. It could also use search filters along the lines Microsoft has used in Bing image search (colour vs. b+w, head shots vs. landscape) and potentially additional functions such as geo-locate used in iPhoto ’09 to make the tool even more powerful.

5. Twitter Local Trends.  This would allow you to analyse all sorts of things based on tweets within a specific region.  For example, it could help locate the source of slang, or reveal local attitudes towards key words or phrases based on tone of tweets, e.g. how does popularity towards the Olympics vary across the country?  Could be a nice research tool, giving realtime changes in attitude.

And there must be more! What Twitter app you would design, if you had the chance? And would you pay for any of these?


Facebook’s last roll of the dice?

May 27, 2009

Facebook has sold a $200m stake to a private Russian investment group. This is its last chance to succeed by going down a road nobody else has tried.

Is that alarmist? I don’t think so. Zuckerburg and his team should be complimented for their attempts to do things differently – after all the biggest prize often goes to the innovation that leaves the competition behind. Just look at Apple and the success of iPod, which eight years after its launch, still easily leads the portable music device market.

But the problem with rolling the dice is that you need to show the audience at some point that you have a knack of winning, otherwise you look like you are gambling.

Look at Ev Williams – there’s a guy with a knack of winning. Having founded both Blogger and Twitter, he epitomises not only Silicon Valley entrepreneurial success, but business success.

But Zuckerburg is still dining out after his first success – the launch of Facebook. Since then, he has overseen the launch of the Facebook Platform, had to quell – and then acknowledge – rumours about a Facebook payment platform, and totally redesigned Facebook to resemble a twitter hybrid.

The problem is that none of these has had the effect of changing the game. In fact, the latest design changes to Facebook to some extent diminished the impact of third-party apps (i.e. I can’t find them any more), and repeated customer service failures (see here and here) mean some people are beginning to think Zuckerburg and his team don’t have a game plan – or winner’s luck.

Whatever Facebook does with this $200m had better rewrite the rules, or there will be a very unhappy group of Russian investors wondering where their money has gone.

Facebook *has* to become more than this (though it is very funny):


Murdoch lays groundwork for paid-for online content

May 11, 2009

Rupert Murdoch has proven he is no fool in business, but he is a divisive character.  He received a great deal of criticism after the publication of News Corporation’s latest financial figures, much of it for his plans to charge for online content. But do these plans deserve criticism?

Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wolff provided an ascerbic analysis, suggesting that a man who does not use email cannot possibly make a success of an internet business (this is familiar territory for Wolff, who last year wrote a biography of Murdoch). Maybe a more important point is that Murdoch, unlike some younger peers running web businesses, knows how to make money.

When he bought MySpace, it was turning over $79m a year. It has failed so far to break the $1 billion mark – though it has come close – but you would have to be churlish to deny that $850m turnover is impressive, particularly in comparison with the commercial realities at other social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

You use it, you pay for it

The real bombshell delivered by Murdoch, however, was his view that charging for online content is imminent at some of his newspapers, following the success of the subscription model at the Wall Street Journal.

It is often claimed that people will not pay for internet content. For example, Michael Tomasky at The Guardian makes this point very clearly.  But that is only half the argument.  The issue is that people will refuse to pay for content when they are offered something the same or similar for free at the same time.  And this is usually the case because the media sector is so fragmented.

Thanks to the Internet, if your favourite newspaper starts charging for its use, there are thousands of alternative ways to get the same information for free.  So in terms of moving to a paid-for content business model, unless all media websites change as one, the first movers will be so severely penalised as to render the change to a pay-per-use model impossible.

But Murdoch’s announcement may make a difference because he is a game changer. By announcing his intention to begin charging for content a year in advance, he has primed the entire media sector for a change in this direction. This would be good for newspaper users. A move to a mixed model, where revenue could come from web subscriptions, mobile devices such as the Kindle or iPhone, as well as ad-funded, is overdue. Dependence on a single revenue model is dangerous. If you need proof of this, just look at the current plight of the venerable Boston Globe:


Journalists and bloggers could both benefit from e-readers

May 4, 2009

I just finished reading this great TechCrunch op-ed written by MG Siegler. He believes newspapers, such as the New York Times, that pin their hopes on large-screen e-readers, prove that they have not grasped the challenges posed by the internet.

Part of his argument is based on the immediacy of online news, and he says:

It’s not the “paper” part of newspaper that’s the problem, it’s the “news.” As in, newspapers are way too slow at delivering it in the age of the Internet.

This is a good point and he goes on to suggest online news is the solution, but e-readers are not. I am not so sure it follows that e-readers cannot be part of the solution. After all, with the right connectivity they could  become a very attractive way of browsing the net, including newspaper websites and blogs.

But this all skirts round the real problem of commercial sustainability in news organisations. MG suggests that:

…there is something to be said for good journalism, but that is being done online as well — and can be viewed for free.

But how long can good journalism carry on being viewed for free? This point is brought into stark contrast by this line:

But books are fundamentally different from newspapers. There isn’t a free online equivalent to books, like the newspapers have to contend with in blogs.

This, I think, sums up the current problem with journalism. This statement assumes authors of books are unique and valuable in a way that journalists are not.

The task at hand for the traditional media is to remind people of the value of good journalism – as something that has to be paid for. Good journalists deliver value because of the access they gain, the training they receive to write clearly, capture information through interview and investigation, and know the laws surrounding defamation and libel.

In fact, many of the best blogs are attached to media websites and written by professional journalists. And many of the best independent bloggers have learned the skills of the journalist, and earn money from their blogs through the blunt tool of advertising. The smart solution for newspapers and blogs will ultimately be the same – getting paid for what you do by charging the people who benefit from your work.

E-readers such as the big-screen-Kindle will be part of the solution, by helping broaden the appeal of online journalism and blogging alike.


The end of newspapers

May 2, 2009

The debate rages on – how to save printed newspapers.  Try googling the terms “newspaper”, “death” and “internet”, and you receive 10 million results.

So why is this such big news?  Are we facing the death of news?  Hardly. We are swamped by more news today than ever, and are blessed with digital ways to track issues and filter for our interests.  For news junkies, things have never been better.

It seems that it is not the public good that news confers that is at stake, but rather the newspapers themselves. Why is there such a strong urge among newspapers to back the status quo and stick with print?  After all, surely the smart money is on the first news gathering organisations to make a break and start doing things radically differently.

The Guardian’s recent decision to release its API might come to be seen as a game-changer, but most of the messages we hear are about “saving” newspapers.  Here are five reasons printed newspapers are dead meat, and why they won’t tell you about it:

1) Once people stop reading printed papers, they won’t go back

It happened to me, it’s gradually happening to my colleagues who work in PR and deal with newspapers every day, and it’ll happen to us all eventually.  You can get the same information from the newspaper’s website, so why would you bother with the paper?  It’s more convenient, I hear you cry.  Well, that brings me to the second point:

2) The technology that will allow us to read electronic papers is still in its infancy

You can buy a subscription to the NY Times for the Kindle*.  It’s updated daily over Wifi and costs 50 cents a day.  This does not even begin to tell you how slick, cheap and flexible e-readers will be in a decade’s time.  Before long, you will be able to read something that feels lots like a newspaper, based on flexible, textured e-paper and programmable full colour e-ink.  Think the Daily Prophet in Harry Potter and you’re getting close.

3) People buy news, not newspapers

It so happens that since the invention of the printing press, the best/cheapest way to obtain news was via a newspaper.  But this is by the by, based on the technology that there was.  Technology has moved on, and so will consumers.  Thanks to simple platforms like Twitter and RSS, I read news from hundreds of different places each week, based on subjects that interest me, headlines that grab me, and recommendations from people I trust. Newspapers are limiting – imagine going into a restaurant and being offered only set meals instead of a flexible menu.  You would not be happy – so why are you happy with newspapers?

4) Demographics are against newspapers

Research shows again and again that young people get information from the internet, not newspapers.  That’s all you need to know to tell you that newspaper circulations are going to fall off a cliff.  The death of newspapers is not the problem – it’s the death of the newspaper readers that will come to haunt traditionalist newspaper men and women.

5) The picture we have is skewed by vested interests

However bad the situation for newspapers looks, the truth is far worse.  The “save the newspaper” lobby – i.e. the newspapers themselves – is desperate to keep the idea of the printed newspaper alive.  Why?  There are the people.  As in any walk of life, the establishment is old and has become stuck in its ways.  Newspapers are no different – in the UK, one of the most interesting papers to watch is the Daily Telegraph, as it embraces electronic media.  It is no surprise that the editor Will Lewis is only 40 this year.

Then there are the financial investments in the print works. Large print machinery is amortized by the hour.  That’s part of the reason it costs so much more to run a short print run than a long one – because the time it takes to set the printer up literally cost money. If the print machinery is amortized according to a 20-year schedule, they had better be used profitably for the full 20 years.  Welcome to newspaper world – The Guardian installed its berliner presses on a 25-year schedule in 2005.  So they have an interest worth millions of pounds in pushing for printed papers lasting until 2030.

But here’s a fact: as circulations drop, the profitability of printing newspapers drops too.  At some point, the cost of printing the paper will become larger than the cost of not using the print presses – and that’s the day the newspapers will die.

* UPDATE  (07/05/2009): Amazon have launched Kindle DX – makes my point even more valid ;)


This day in 1999 – I’ll give you a Clue(train)

April 15, 2009

It started my interest in conversations.  A manifesto that seemed right for the frothy age I finished University. I can hardly believe that it was ten years ago today that I read a little article in The Guardian by Jack Schofield, while I was reading the newspapers as part of my student job in a British PR agency.

The article that captured my attention was about a website that was to turn into a little book.  A “primer on Internet marketing”, according to Schofield.  It was called The Cluetrain Manifesto.  Some months later, I bought the book on Amazon, the “will-it-won’t-it-make-a-profit” online book seller.  Jeff Bezos was one of the best-known men in business, and great excitement followed him around.  But great excitement also followed around the founders of the doomed at that time, so that didn’t mean much.

So, the book talked about conversations between people, and about the way companies were not going to be in the conversation for long if they didn’t start talking like people.  In conversations.

Oh, there was a lot more.  A lot of “we don’t know”.  Some detail about some ways conversations might manifest themselves, certainly the flavour of what a conversation between people feels like.  Plus there was a cool petition-type-thing on the webpage (I just checked – it’s still there) with a lot of names of people I’d never heard of (I’ve heard of a lot of them now, funnily enough).

But in essence that was it.  I found it mind-blowing.  Difficult to comprehend, and slightly complex – but it also felt deeply right.

Fast forward ten years to Cluetrain 2009.  I just read the Manifesto again yesterday and I had two main thoughts.  First – wow, it was so *right*.  I mean, I can’t really see a thesis that hasn’t either become self-evident, or is on course to become so.  And second – it seems so simple now.

Maybe I got cleverer.  But perhaps visionary ideas always seem difficult to comprehend when you are WAY ahead of your time.  Ten years in Internet years is a lifetime.  Or two.

Moving on then, what else changed apart from me?  Jeff Bezos is still the man, but this time it’s of a “will-it-won’t-it-make-$1bn” online retailer, digital reading device maker and crowdsourcing engine.

I now follow @jackschofield on Twitter (as well as @dsearls).

And a friend of mine, Will, works for Venda, which bought the technology of failed  Venda makes a profit, just like Amazon, which proves lots of lessons have been learned.  But there are still more to learn.

UPDATE 16 April 2009: Jack Schofield brilliantly tweeted the names of the other Cluetrain authors last night – so now I’m also following @clockerb @dweinberger and @ricklevine – thanks @jackschofield!


The economics of the ad-funded web

March 28, 2009

Why should we have to pay for information and services we receive over the internet?  I have never had to pay before now for things like Facebook, Gmail or Twitter.  I can use Spotify for free.  I have not bought a newspaper for years, but can still read The Times and The Guardian every day.


Well, I am quickly coming round to the view that this is not nearly as simple an argument as people make it sound.  I think we may have this one wrong.

Here is a confession: I would rather pay £10 a month to use Spotify without adverts.  Why?  Partly this is aesthetic – I just don’t want my playlists interrupted by sponsors’ messages.  But there is also an economic angle – since I am unlikely to buy  many CDs ever again, Spotify will save me much more than £10 a month.  So why on earth would I complain about paying for such a brilliant service?

Yet people feel very strongly about this – why should we pay for something when we got it for free before now?  The truth is, there is no such thing as a free service.  We pay for the services we value, one way or another.  In the main, these services are ad-funded, meaning that some brand is actually paying for its delivery.  They are not doing this for free.  Every time you buy that brand, you just paid for the so-called “free” service too.

What’s wrong with this?  Two things.  If I am a consumer of the brand in question, but not the net service, why should I fund both? Better I pay for what I use.

Secondly, this approach is inefficient. The way to ensure consumers get the best deal is to have price transparency and competition.  If a net service is ad-funded, we have no way of knowing whether the brand is striking a good deal or not.  The problem for consumers here is that, if the brand pays more than it needed to advertise, the only losers are that brand’s consumers, who end up paying more.  And the only winners from this are the owners of the “free” service. The money is flowing from my wallet into their bank account.

I’d rather just pay for what I use, thanks.

(Hat tip to my friend @masoke who got me thinking about this via a 140-chars argument on Twitter!)

Update: Someone pointed out this all-encompassing “how to” on getting paid for online content, and it cited an excerpt from the brilliant Time magazine article on micropayments for newspapers that got me started in the first place: “One of history’s ironies is that hypertext — an embedded Web link that refers you to another page or site — had been invented by Ted Nelson in the early 1960s with the goal of enabling micropayments for content. He wanted to make sure that the people who created good stuff got rewarded for it. In his vision, all links on a page would facilitate the accrual of small, automatic payments for whatever content was accessed.”  He got it!