Wednesday, September 29, 2010

10 Minute Strategy: Mini-Blogging with Tumblr, Google Buzz, Posterous

In our third installment for 10 Minute Strategy, Peter Propp and I had a lively chat about the ins and outs of using today's leading mini-blogging services effectively to communicate to your markets. If messaging services like Twitter are micro-blogs and services like WordPress and are blogging platforms, think of services like Posterous, Google Buzz and Tumblr as mini-blogging, making it easier to share short posts rapidly and to build discussion communities around them. This rapid development of insight and interaction can be a key component of your communications strategy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I'm Really Going to Miss The New York Times

I’m really going to miss the New York Times, and I’ll keep on saying it until they pry the last coffee-stained, slightly color mis-aligned paper issue from my grumpy hands. Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger has said that eventually they will stop the print edition and many have predicted that this will happen in about 5 years. (My real guess is that paper issues will become a premium, luxury item that only the wealthy can afford – you heard it here first).
But if the paper goes away, we lose out on an experience that has been tuned and crafted for centuries. I just don’t see how an electronic version can match the paper version in 3 key areas:
  • Community
  • Professional Curating (otherwise known as editorial oversight)
  • Serendipity
Our world will have less paper to throw away, but our ability to understand and participate in the world will be forever change.
In the area of Community, I introduce a typical US family in the morning, waking up, drinking coffee, eating breakfast, and swapping sections of the Times. They scan the headlines, groan at the editorials, read the sports, pass sections to each other and basically get as much of a grip on the world as they are willing to bear on that particular morning. I’m sure that this family represents a dying breed and that home delivery numbers are dropping. I just wonder what the future experience will be. Will the family have 4 iPads, 4 Kindles or 4 NY Times specialty devices that just download the Times? (I’m thinking it’s the latter, frankly) As I think about it in 5 years my kids will both be in college, so I guess Suzanne and I will just have to fight over some sort of tablet.
Professional Curating/Editorial Oversight is a funny topic. So many of us who blog and tweet describe what we do as curating. But the folks at the Times and their ink-stained brethren at dying newspapers around the world are the original curators. And curating does not mean just deciding what is interesting. It also means that articles can be placed near each other so that when you read one story you may be drawn to another related story, or maybe even an advertisement. And editorial oversight goes way beyond curating what is interesting or important and begins with an idea for a story, and includes primary research, editing, re-writing, photography or illustrations and fact-checking.
For example, in today’s (9/27) Business section of the Times, there was a great article on QR tags titled “Bar Codes Add Detail On Items In TV Ads” – describing a way to drive consumer Action from a TV ad in a very low friction manner. Just point your app phone at the weird QR image and you get taken to a website for further personal engagement. But how many steps were involved in deciding if that story was newsworthy, doing the research, editing, etc? Way more than most bloggers are willing to take, I promise you.
Finally, Serendipity. As I’ve said in previous posts, serendipity is harder to find these days. Simply said, it is harder to be delighted when you are being targeted.
Back to the Times, right below the QR TV Ad article was an ad from NBC Universal titled “Marketing Action” on a very similar topic, showing how advertiser TurboTax benefitted from a cross-platform marketing campaign involving Awareness from custom commercials featuring NBC talent on news, fiction, Sports and Late Night shows, and delivered opportunities for consumers to take action on integrated ads for the websites for those television properties. NBC’s ad directly related to the story above and was placed perfectly in the Business section. This was not a coincidence.
AOL and Google also ran very interesting Ads on the online Ad business. AOL took out a full 2-page spread to talk about an improved customer viewing and advertising experience through something they call “Project Devil” and Google took out three quarters of a full spread to tell their story on improved targeting through better online display ads. I’m sure someone out there can tell me if Google was likely to get more impressions by not running the full spread and getting an actual news story to run next to their ad. Is there an online medium that delivers the punch of a full two-page print spread in the NY Times?
The things that interest us come in many flavors and styles. We trust print institutions/brands like the Times to deliver a specific experience that allow us to learn about things that we don’t already know and to help us make connections. But since that experience is part of a business model that is no longer viable, we will all lose something. We’ll still have access to information, but the methods by which we make connections and learn about things that we weren’t specifically looking for have a long way to go before they can equal the pleasures of a great morning newspaper.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

10 Minute Strategy: Succeeding with Content Aggregation [VIDEO] [WHITE PAPER]

For our second in our 10 Minute Strategy videos for ShoreViews, Shore Communications Inc. Principal Peter Propp interviews me on the best practices on content aggregation in online media an enterprise markets. To complement this video, we're making available to people for free downloading a refreshed version of our classic white paper "The New Aggregation: Models for Success in Creating Content Value". We'll be updating the paper more fully in the months ahead, but it is as relevant today to the issues of content aggregation as it was when it was first issued..

In our next 10 Minute Strategy video Peter and I discuss the ins and outs of mini-blogging services such as Tumblr, Posterous and Google Buzz. It's a lively discussion, I think that you'll enjoy it. Stay tuned for more ShoreViews Video.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New York Times/NYU Hyperlocal Site: Will News Ever Get Local Right?

With all of the high-visibility media types coming out of New York University's journalism programs, you'd figure that a collaboration between NYU and The New York Times to develop a hyperlocal Web site for news in Manhattan's East Village would knock your socks off. Unfortunately, while the announced result of this collaboration, The Local East Village, is not the worst attempt at hyperlocal journalism ever to come along, it certainly could have gone further to engage both its audiences and marketers in that vibrant Manhattan neighborhood..

The LEV is in essence a blog with some nice integration of social media content from Twitter, Flickr, Vimeo and Facebook and a blogroll integrated into the sidebar of the blog. Blog content can be submitted by community members, who can pitch stories to the editorial desk of the LEV or choose existing assignments from its "virtual assignment desk." Shake all of that great stuff together and you should have a hot online publication, right? 

Well, maybe in time, but so far the outlook isn't so promising. The overall look of the LEV is about as drab and corporate as anything that you could imagine coming out of the NYT "grey lady" up in Midtown. The most lively content extracted from social media services is shoved down on the sidebar under a lot of blah-de-blah words from the editors. The blog entries are decent enough, capturing comments from local candidates for office in the recent primary elections, coverage of a local Salman Rushdie talk at NYU. And that's about it, so far. Pretty thin stuff. In the meantime, one has to ask the key and burning question: what dog do local merchants have in this fight? Especially in a neighborhood like the East Village, which is chockablock with unique local shops and trendy merchandise, there's nothing to speak of from or about the commercial sector in this trial publication.

I don't mean to come down hard on J-school folks who are trying to get their feet wet in online technologies, but given the partnerships and the visibility that this effort has, you would have hoped for a lot more. There are a few missing ingredients that other reasonably successful efforts in hyperlocal journalism point to that should be considered in the Local East Village's efforts:
  • Keep it short, sweet and visual on the home page. The articles in the LEV are fine enough, but they are relatively long for the front page of a blog, not frequent enough. Take a look at a good local blog like Westport Now to get a sense of how to build a lede with good graphics that can break to the more detailed view of a story.
  • Local news is personal news. Embrace local personalities. The East Village is filled with more characters than a Sunday comics section. What are these people like? Who can tell their stories well? Which one of them are telling those stories well already? Don't let traditional views of "important journalism" get in the way of telling really home-spun stories of local people. Lots of them, preferably. Mainstreet Connect properties such as The Daily Westport do a pretty good job of this, though not with the greatest layout.
  • Help merchants to be story tellers and relationship-builders. Certainly traditional advertising is not to be ignored in local media, but the key branding that most local businesses have is their ability to have strong personal relationships with their neighborhood clients. Any "virtual assignment desk" will be incomplete without people assigned to helping merchants to tell their own stories to their community. Does this blur the lines between traditional journalism and ad sales? Sure, and such content deserves its own treatment accordingly. But if hyperlocal journalism is to succeed commercially, it has to embrace its role as a facilitator of relationships between local buyers and sellers as community peers. See - again - Mainstreet Connect for some interesting early examples of this.
  • Leverage aggregated social media more effectively. One of the very positive steps in the LEV experiment is its willingness to aggregate content from existing social media channels into its editorial content, if but on a sidebar basis. These channels are often the places where the freshest and most personally interesting content can be found. How can this information be massaged and contextualized to add value to the community most effectively? More importantly, how can merchants already using social media channels like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook be offered the ability to have their videos, tweets and posts featured very contextually in a publication like the LEV for a fee? In other words, why pay local salespeople to place ads when you can just make it easy for them to use the content that they're already producing online?
It's good to see NYU working with The New York Times on this project, but my suspicion is that they could use some help to get this project looking a lot more vibrant and a lot more tuned in to the commercial potential for such a news outlet. The help that they need is not necessarily social media help in the sense of getting experts on Twitter or whatever so much as getting help from people who understand how communities really work. Perhaps the sociology department or business school at NYU could help them with some research on how people really relate to one another in a community that is a complex mix of local pride, ambition and talent that can be harvested for news, entertainment and marketing-related revenues. Until then, I guess that we can grade this assignment an incomplete for now.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Elsevier SciVerse: A Unified Search API Meets the Era of Apps

Twenty years ago, most professionals trading financial securities had to deal with a rat's nest of information services from competing information vendors stacked on their desks, in addition to dozens of phone lines used to chat with trading counterparties. Then along came applications programming interfaces on computers that allowed software developers to combine content from many different sources into powerful analytical applications.

It didn't take long for many major information companies to start buying and building platforms that could deliver content via APIs from their own databases and other sources into the software that their clients wanted. The result was a universe of powerful applications built by these publishers, their clients and third party developers that revolutionized productivity in financial trading.

Flash forward to today, when major scientific and technical publishers are just beginning to enter an era in which APIs are becoming a marketing necessity. For most subscribers to SciTech journals and databases, saying "it's worth it" for expensive and poorly integrated intellectual property is no longer an accepted response to their productivity needs. As in earlier years in the finance industry, market pressures require engineers and researchers to deliver profitable products more quickly than ever, placing more emphasis in information budgets on productivity tools than on information subscriptions.

It's in the light of these needs that one has to both praise Elsevier's announced SciVerse unified search platform and API and to ask the obvious question: what took you so long? SciVerse is a new initiative by Elsevier to provide unified searching of their Scopus, Scirius and Science Direct databases and their beta release of SciTopics edited research summaries. Searching is available either direcly via an Elsevier-designed SciVerse Hub search interface or via other applications consuming SciVerse-organized content using a SciVerse API. Initially the beta version of the API is available only for Elsevier's own Science Direct and Scopus content with the API being opened up to curated Web content available via Scirius as well as SciTopics content.

The demonstration of the initial SciVerse Hub search interface shows a competent search interface with a unified login to Elsevier services that demonstrates typical best practices for federated searching of multiple document databases. Unlike Elsevier's Illumin8 interface into similar content, SciVerse Hub does not try to apply a natural language layer to its "white box" search interface to try to organize content into different semantic groupings. Instead, the relatively traditional center column of search results in SciVerse is complemented by sidebar applications that provide more general but powerful post-search refinement tools.

The SciVerse Hub "Matching Sentences" tool, for example, developed by Elsevier partner NextBio, gives a highly visible count of sentences and paragraphs in matching document s that use terms related to the search query. This is very handy for getting a general idea of not just document counts but the general density of matches in specific documents. A click-through will provide a more detailed listing for further analysis. The SciVerse Hub "Most Prolific Authors" tool provides a bar chart listing of authors producing articles on the search topic listed in Scopus and how many documents that they produced match the search term. A NextBio "Methods" search, available beneath the main search box on SciVerse Hub, provides the ability to retrieve Elsevier documents in a pop-up window from a NextBio search based on general scientific topics.

As a search platform, SciVerse provides Elsevier a competent response to subscribers who have been frustrated by having to choose between Elsevier's powerful but unintegrated databases to perform searches for scientific and technical research. Finally all of the resources that Elsevier has to offer are available in one place, with useful tools to help subscribers to filter down to the most relevant documents. Integrating author content from Scopus helps to pull together views of content from multiple sources relating to those authors in powerful new ways, a big plus for researchers trying to understand how relevant and valuable the insights of specific researchers may be on a particular topic. SciVerse is not as powerful as their newly acquired Collexis platform for author analysis, but no doubt the integration of Collexis with SciVerse APIs will provide more powerful results in the future. The Methods tool integration, while appearing to be rather an afterthought in this version of SciTech Hub, is likely to provide more value in the future as part of other more sophisticated applications.

As a "day one" offering, SciVerse compares favorably to other SciTech search platforms, with much more to unfold as applications developers begin to use the SciTech API to build out additional delivery channels for Elsevier content. Elsevier claims to be able to reach more than 15 million scientific professional via their content subscriptions, so certainly there's a wide potential market for applications developers to consider. More importantly, there are already dozens of applications being developed for scientific research and engineering that could benefit from better integration of Elsevier content. For example, professionals using products such as Innovation Tools' Goldfire platform to define opportunities to apply scientific innovations to product development could get more access to more relevant content on research to make more effective product decisions more quickly.

While SciVerse will benefit in time from the ability to integrate client-supplied content and more content from competitive publishers, it represents a good start for Elsevier's first strong venturing away from product-centric approaches to content delivery and towards a wider array of client-centric solutions. The complete integration of Elsevier's own content resources will certainly help to position Elsevier more strongly during renewal negotations with clients who may have otherwise decided to choose one database from Elsevier over another. The power of SciVerse integration is in this sense a defensive move by Elsevier to ensure revenue retention for starters. But as more developers of productivity applications for researchers and engineers begin to make use of SciVerse's APIs, Elsevier can develop more ways to put their content into more valuable contexts far more quickly than they could via a handful of their own applications. Over time, they will, of course, have the opportunity to acquire those applications that are the best fit for their overall strategy.

It's product R&D on the cheap with little downside in the short run and with great potential to expand Elsevier revenues in the long run as its revenues turn away inevitably from intellectual property licensing and towards productivity enhancement. Will this mean a stronger and better Elsevier in time? It may, but it's also likely that a broader array of content sources than those used today in SciVerse will prove to be the foundation of future profitability in SciTech publishing. SciVerse begins to put in place the right kinds of plumbing to develop new generations of valuable Elsevier content services. What comes through those pipes will matter as much as the plumbing, though probably in ways that many scientific and technical publishers are not yet ready to embrace. In the meantime, though SciVerse may be a bit behind the curve when compared to financial information platforms, it's a welcome step forward for scientific and technical publishiing.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

10 Minute Strategy: Branding, Naming and Web Search [VIDEO]

Shore's new Principal team member Peter Propp is a whiz at helping companies to implement successful online marketing strategies, which we felt was a great focus for our initial video in our new "10 Minute Strategy" series. We'll be interviewing one another as well as key industry experts to share marketing strategies for organizations that are trying to succeed in marketing via electronic publications and content technologies. If you're looking for interesting insights delivered through engaging interviews, make sure to subscribe to ContentBlogger for updates to this series.

Link to video

Monday, September 6, 2010

March of the Androids: Has Apple's Content Appeal Peaked?

The big news in content coming off of this U.S. holiday weekend should be Apple's big media event last week. We should be buzzing about how cool Apple's new Ping social media service for music sharing is going to be, how awesome and game-changing Apple TV is and how innovative the new iPod is for a compact touch-screen device.

Well, credit Steve Jobs for trying hard, but it appears as if the bloom on Apple's mobile media rose is beginning to wilt a bit. Mind you, having a runaway hit like the iPad on your hands is hardly what anyone can call a problem, and Apple's iPhones still represent about half of all smart phones in use today. But what's that little green guy that we're seeing more of these days doing to ruin the Apple's buzz?

Yes, you've heard it here before, but clearly events in the past few weeks have been tipping momentum in mobile markets strongly towards devices using Google's Android operating system for mobile devices. The big story comes from market share statistics, some of which are showing Android stealing all of today's mobile phone momentum. While Apple claims to be selling more iPhone units per day than Google partners are selling of Android-equipped mobile units, recent research from Gartner begs to differ, declaring Android phones the global market sales leader.

In the meantime, market metrics company Quantcast indicates one of the main reasons by Android is succeeding, According to Quantcast, Android mobile units now account for 25 percent of mobile Web content consumption, up from a small fraction of that a year ago, while iPhones are coming close to slipping down to owning less than half of mobile Web content consumption. When it comes to the mobile Web, the key driver of mobile data usage, Quantcast data shows that Android units are the only ones showing growth among major smartphone brands.

One could rationalize this all away and say, "It's all about the apps." Well, certainly apps software on mobile devices is popular, but there's nothing about mobile devices that's changing people's fundamental hunger for Web-based content, be it delivered via a browser interface or an app interface. It's where people find their friends, most of their content and most of their business associates, with apps being functional containers that adapt Web content to specific functions.

Moreover, there are dozens of healthy, vibrant technology companies around the world that can make lots of money selling great devices that leverage Web content very effectively - while not pretending that huge portions of it don't exist. Adobe's Flash technology may be a transitional tool in the long run, but if you're looking to make money here and now on the Web, Flash technologies are essential for video, ads and a wide range of corporate Web sites trying to provide rich media experiences to clients and prospects.

If insanity is trying the same thing again and again and expecting different results, it's probably no surprise that even the usually fawning tech media is beginning to question whether Steve Jobs' marketing mojo may be reaching its limits and repeating old mistakes. Apple's "our-way-or-the-highway" approach to content and technology integration works well enough when you've succeeded in hypnotizing the masses with the wonder of your products, but it appears that more and more people are waking up and wondering what they've bought into by accepting Apple as the only new hotness in town.

There are, after all, really nifty mobile devices being churned out now by Motorola, Samsung and HTC powered up with Android that are, at minimum, at complete feature and performance parity with Apple mobile phones - and, given their ability to support many Web-based sources of information and entertainment that Apple devices won't touch, much hotter overall. New tablet devices based on Android from Samsung and LG appear promising also, with Samsung's new Galaxy tablet going feature-for-feature with Apple's iPad and one-upping it in areas like automatic upscaling of Android apps to full-screen viewing.

If we were talking only mobile phones, perhaps you could say that it's only a partial trend towards trouble for Apple. Yet when the previewed Apple TV is compared against the options from Android-equipped television interfaces launching later this month, the breadth of the problems for Apple become more apparent. As with most Apple products, simplicity is the palm-sized Apple TV's most appealing strength. But what one gets in simplicity leaves the unit being little more than an under-featured, underpowered version of existing settop box offerings from competitors such as TiVo and other DVR manufacturers. It doesn't store video, it only streams it - a cable and satellite disaggregator, to be sure, but not a very convenient one.

More importantly, Apple TV offers no Web interface, so there are no options for watching videos from YouTube or popular television network-supported online video outlets such as Hulu. In contrast, upcoming Google TV-equipped devices will be able to allow its users to search through online cable and satellite offerings as well as a complete menu of Web-based TV and personal video libraries from one user-friendly interface. Add in remote control and syncing capabilities from Android-equipped mobile phones and tablets and from Chrome browsers on PCs, and you had best get ready for seeing a lot of the little green guy from Google in your living rooms.

Apple's Ping social networking option for iTunes shows some promise as a way for Apple to gain a foothold in the burgeoning world of social media, but Ping seems to be having a hard time so far. Apparently its design has turned out to be a field day for spammers setting up accounts on the new service. Ping is focused primarily on enabling people to share links to songs and playlists of popular songs, which will certainly bolster iTunes sales, but is a highly limited step towards a service that can enable people to communicate with one another on a wide array of topics - you know, the ones that billions of people share on the Web already. It's a start, but so far, one that is far too limited towards complementing existing media sources.

Apple continues to turn out beautifully designed equipment that's easy to use, but consumers and professionals are not blind. Apple's limited approach to content and technology partners and its obsession with controlling technology to the point of excluding many innovative partners and sensible Web standards is likely to limit its appeal to audiences looking for the best content and the best tools with which to experience it. Love it or hate it, the Web is here to stay and is growing faster as the result of new sources of rich media that benefit from competent integration with Web experiences.

People will have patience for Apple's approach as long as they're happy with limited choice. Somehow that patience seems to be drawing to a close. When more than eight million people bother to view a video trashing a mindless consumer wanting an iPhone no matter what the advantages of an Android-based competitor (warning - crude language), you know that the emperor in black turtlenecks and faded jeans had best check his wardrobe pretty soon. I hope you had a great summer, but don't worry - things are just starting to heat up.