News, media & communications

Me and we media

Why are websites like MySpace and Facebook so popular? One reason, according to Duncan Watts (A Columbia University sociologist), is that they allow people to see and be seen. In other words, social networking sites are less about networking and more about voyeurism and exhibitionism. They are also about convenience. It is much easier to keep in touch with friends virtually than physically, and in reality sites such as these are just ways for people to hang out and chat together. However, the main reason for these sites popularity is probably the fact that teenagers tend to measure friendship in terms of quantity not quality. Sites like MySpace allow users to build confidence by creating their own worlds in which factors such as looks can be closely controlled. Add to this an element of peer pressure and it's easy to see why these sites are so popular. MySpace now has 73 million users while Facebook, although much smaller, was the second fastest-growing website in the world in 2005. The sites have a strong community feel and also tap into user-generated content. However, it's eyeball counts that ultimately interest established media companies like Newscorp, which paid US$580 million for MySpace, and NBC Universal, which paid US $600 million for iVillage. Online advertising revenue has grown by about 50% since 2002 but magazine and newspaper ad revenues are almost static. Moreover, according to a PEW Internet study, more than 50% of Americans have now uploaded some kind of digital content onto the Internet. So will the old media companies die in the face of such new media competition? Unlikely. The smarter players will either acquire sites like MySpace or build Facebook characteristics into existing products.
Ref: The New Yorker (US), 15 May 2006, 'We Media', J. Cassidy , Financial Times (UK), 3 June 2006, 'Enough', J. Margolis.
Search words: MySpace, Facebook, social networking, social media, new media

Memories of the future

Why do we take so many photographs these days? The answer is because we can.Taking a photograph has become much easier thanks to camera phones (Nokia is probably the world's largest camera maker by now) and the cost of taking a photograph is now zero thanks to the virtual disappearance of film. However, the ubiquity of digital photography has had some unexpected consequences. We take photographs (increasingly of ourselves) and (increasingly) we share them. But very few of us print these photographs. We are also drowning in images, which, in a sense, devalues the power of the images themselves. There is also the issue of privacy, now that 'personal' photographs are distributed for almost everyone to see. So what's going to happen next? According to Kodak, the answer is sharing and organization. Innovations will emerge that allow us to share our photographs with others. This will include mashups will other forms of content and media. We will also see new ways of organising our photographs, both by date-taken and subject matter. So in the future it is quite easy to imagine an iPod-like device that will allow us to carry all our photographs ('memories' in Kodak speak) with us and look at them any way we want. According to research scientists at Xerox, images will also be merged with information so that in 20 years time, any image will contain other relevant data.
For example, a picture of a bird would also contain the bird's song and information about migratory patterns and feeding habits. Let's just hope we remember to back up.
Ref: The Ithaca Journal (US), 1 May 2006, 'Kodak: photos on the verge of iPod-like innovation', B. Rand.
TMCnet (US), 8 May 2006, 'Xerox scientists look into the future of digital imaging; pictures will someday speak more than a thousand words'.
Search words: film, photography, pictures

The Net's next frontier

What will the Internet look like in the year 2016? In case you haven't noticed, technology is developing exponentially so in ten years time the Internet will be something like a thousand times larger in terms of size and impact than it is today. The number of Internet users will most likely treble from 1 to 3 billion users and we will see the barriers between our physical selves and our virtual selves melt away. Our interaction with the Internet will also migrate from physical objects in fixed locations to mobile devices and devices invisibly embedded in our everyday environment. In the future almost everything will be a computer and almost everything will be connected to everything else. Going further into the future, computers as we know them today won't exist. They will be embedded in our clothes and even our bodies and we will be able to access the Internet just by thinking about it. We will have full sensory links to people we've never met and to places we've never been. There will also be more things ('machines') connected to the Internet as RFID tags and sensor motes take off, creating vast sensor networks. Location tracking will also be built in to people and things, which will please some people. Searching for information will still be big but it will include physical proximity and information will be linked to the reliability of the source. Everything will be ranked - including rankings. As for who owns or who controls the Internet, chances are governments will increase their interference as the Internet becomes a critical part of the global economy. This may mean that the centre of the Internet universe shifts away from the US, or it could mean the opposite if countries like China attempt to further restrict access, or the Internet becomes a government-run monopoly.
Ref: Red Herring (US), 10 April 2006, 'The Future of the Internet'.
Search words: Internet, future

Blog stats

Research into blog-use by comScore, Six Apart and Gawker Media has found that 50 million people visited blog sites in the US in the first quarter of 2005. That's approximately 30% of all US Internet users or one-sixth of the US population. Four individual blogs had audiences well over 1 million, which makes them as large as many mainstream media sites. One very interesting finding was that political blogs were the most popular, which makes a mockery of the idea that we are living in politically apathetic times (newspapers take note). The 400 largest blogs were segmented into seven (non-exclusive) categories and political blogs came out on top followed by 'hipster' (lifestyle) blogs, tech blogs and blogs authored by and aimed at women. Top political/news blogs included FreeRepublic, DailyKos, Wonkette and TalkingPointsMemo. Top hipster blogs included Fark, Gawker, BoingBoing and ApartmentTherepy and top tech blogs included Slashdot, Gizmodo, Engadet, Mozillazine and ScienceBlog. Meanwhile the Guardian newspaper (UK) has reported that blogging isn't actually that popular. According to research commissioned by BMRB, only 2% of the UK population has a blog and only 10% read them. So are blogs a short-term phenomenon produced by exhibitionist amateur journalists or something more significant? I'd suggest it's the latter, although it depends on what you mean by short term and what you define as a significant audience size.
Ref: Comscore Networks (US), 'Behaviours of the Blogsphere: understanding the scale, composition and activities of Weblog Audience', August 2005, See also Sense Bulletin (UK), 2 May 2006, 'Blogging in "not actually that popular" shock'.
Search words: blogs, blogging

New newspaper and magazine ideas

The newspaper industry is really starting to feel the full force of the technological revolution and a number of titles are scaling back off-line resources in favour of their online editions. For example, The New York Times recently announced that it was cutting back its stockmarket price tables because readers were accessing this type of information online. Meanwhile, the Washington Post has announced that it had hired Adrian Holovaty (creator of to develop 'mashups' that combine Google maps with statistical information on crime rates in the local area. This is undoubtedly one way to go. In the future, newspapers will have to make their conversations with readers more of a two-way street, which means opening up stories to comment and sharing credit with the co-creators of news and analysis. But it's not all hi-tech in medialand. In the UK, Piers Morgan (ex editor of the Daily Mirror), is launching a new newspaper aimed at children aged 9 to 12. Columnists could include celebrities such as Jamie Oliver, Richard Branson and David Beckham. The idea isn't new. In France, Play Bac Presse has published three newspapers aimed at kids since 1995. The idea could work in the US too, given that parents spend over US$ 3 billion on kids books and the fact that the top 10 kids magazines has a combined circulation of 15 million. Meanwhile, in Australia, another low-fi publishing idea is taking off thanks to growing levels of obesity. Diabetic Living was originally a quarterly but higher than expected sales mean that the magazine is moving to a bi-monthly format.
Ref: BusinessWeek (US), 20 March 2006, 'Newspapers: From Print to Pixels', S. Rosenbush. The Independent (UK), 31 May 2006, 'Piers Morgan launches children's newspaper', I. Burrell.
The Australian (Aus), 13 April 2006, 'Diabetes digests serve up big sales'
S. MacLean.
Search words: newspapers, kids, diabetes, mashups