3 posts categorized "Apple"

June 13, 2011

What’s Past Is Prologue – The Link Between Early CDROM Publishing and Today’s Digital Books and Storytelling Apps

  HyperCardBrochure (HyperCard brochure cover excerpt, 1987)

 

“What’s past is prologue.” – William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” (1610-1611)

 

In William Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” (1610-1611), the character of Antonio utters the phrase “What’s past is prologue” which in modern times has come to mean that history influences, and sets the context for, the present.  Such is the case if we look at the links between the vision of media-rich computer-based storytelling from approximately 20 years ago (1987-1991) with the possibilities that the iPad now offers for realizing some of those dreams  - if not now, then in the very near future.   That is, if we get a few things right this time.

In preparing this post, I spoke with some colleagues from the early days of “New Media” at Apple including:

  • Hugh Dubberly, who was a creative director at Apple and co-creator of the famed “Knowledge Navigaor” video . He now runs an interaction design and information architecture firm.
  • John Worthington, who was a pioneering software engineer in the areas of sound and video (QuickTime, Sound Manager, MIDI Manager) in Apple’s Advanced Technology Group, and is a software architect, inventor and performing musician today. 
  • Antonia Chappelle, who was an interactive producer/business development exec at groundbreaking CDROM publishing companies Voyager and Inscape, and has now founded iPad publishing company Sage Tales which recently released its first title “The Venetian.”

 

1987: Past as Prologue

In 1987, Apple produced a video that articulated a vision of the computing future called “The Knowledge Navigator.”  It painted a story of a near future with a portable tablet-like device with high-speed connectivity and new UI paradigms (e.g. touch and voice) enabling a highly personal visual convergence of documents, rich media and data with autonomous agents acting on our behalf (what we might think of now as “friends,” semantic search, intelligent readers, and curators).

That same year, Apple released Macintosh veteran Bill Atkinson’s HyperCard, one of the first interactive authoring platforms “combining database capabilities with a graphical, flexible, user-modifiable interface.” This was an important “entry level” authoring platform with a pathway to adding some more sophisticated programming and media control options.  One big drawback that limited HyperCard – there was no powerful global network (or browser) to access non-local (beyond on the computer or a CD) information or remotely connect people and ideas.  And there were certainly few hints anywhere of the powerful social networks of today (with AOL and The WELL as the only real players in the space at the time).

“Hypercard as an end user authoring system had a low bar of entry but gradually stepped up to sophisticated programming …  It was really powerful but there was no Internet.  It could work over a LAN but there really were no networks. It (the Internet) was still locked up … This thing that was a “war device” could be used for commerce and information exchange…. (But) laws had to change as well as technology. “– Hugh Dubberly

 

The Limitations of the Past

With a vision of a rich media connected computing future that is not much different from the reality of today, married with the beginnings of an authoring platform that could, at some level, address different levels of programming sophistication – why did we not have the potential explosion of interactive storytelling that is possible today?  The late 1980’s to mid 1990’s rich-media storytelling world was largely a great experimental playground populated by a mix of avante-garde experience creators/artists and some mainstream entertainment brands repurposing existing properties.  But the playground never evolved into a sustainable business.  Why?

(1) Immature authoring platforms

HyperCard was a start, but never evolved into a mature authoring platform.  Even Macromedia Director, which became the workhorse of the time, was still in its technical infancy and largely held developers at its mercy.  With a lack of both powerful cross-platform tools and an ecosystem of APIs to plug in and extend functionality quickly and inexpensively, both creative and technical expertise was disproportionately focused on solving rudimentary problems rather than envisioning what the storytelling experience could become.

(2) Long and expensive development cycle

Development cycles for early interactive CDROM titles were often in the 12-18 month range, with the deployment of teams of significant size (10-20 people or more).  Development was expensive, not only as a result of time, but because of the expense of specialized platforms – high end desktop computers ($20-30k) with additional expensive memory, hard drives that had to be physically moved around offices between machines because of lack of networks (with a cost of $10/meg for a device), limited – if any- opportunity for distributed collaborative teams without the Internet and online storage/file sharing, and often expensive ($5k/development computer) software licenses.

(3) Lack of interactive design and development experience

Outside of the MIT Media Lab (founded in 1985),   there were few individuals with any experience in interactive design.  And while both design and engineering talent for these kinds of projects was difficult to find, it was nearly impossible to hire an individual who could bring some level of both design experience and engineering knowledge to the medium.

(4) Limited distribution

Many early developers of interactive titles saw distribution as the single largest obstacle that they faced, even more so than the expense of development/teams and the lack of tools. Because the end game for a title was a CDROM disc, both physical production and physical distribution were necessary.  There was no one button publish or Apps Store.

“Distribution was difficult, if not impossible, to capture if you weren’t a major entertainment company.  In order to compete you had to be able to buy shelf space and end caps at a price tag of $100,000 or more.  And even at that price, you were still competing against big game titles.  This made things difficult for any immersive storytelling company at the time.” - Antonia Chappelle 

(5) Pricing options

Because of the expense of development and limited market size, CDROM titles were priced more like the platform video games of today ($49 or more), as opposed to the free or $.99 apps of today. 

There is a very different consumer expectation of value, and willingness to experiment, when the cost is $49 vs less than $1.  How many units of the Angry Birds app would be out in the market if it cost nearly $50 vs $1?

(6) Niche audience

Audience size was limited because of player platform requirements. Early interactive CR-ROM titles usually required higher end computers for playback to handle graphics, video and audio.  Higher end machines naturally skewed to the early adopter, male dominated, gamer audience – an enthusiastic group, but limited in size then and very specific in its tastes.

“ …people had to have higher end machines, so naturally this  skewed more gamer … (but) to be truthful,  we really didn’t know who the audience was .  We were driven more by experimentation than business.” - Antonia Chappelle 

(7) No consumer Internet

With the inability to build in any network connectivity (beyond a LAN for some specialized business applications), developers had to limit their content and code to the 650 megs that could be squeezed onto a CDROM, or deal with issues of multi-CDROM installations on customers’ computers.  This limited choices about breath and quality of media (and why we saw video postage stamps of 1/16 the size of screens in even the most advanced titles)

 

As a result of these 7 key limitations (“7 deadlies”), early interactive/immersive storytelling was limited in market size, and was dominated economically (although not creatively) by large media companies who already had channel and brand awareness to address the physical distribution channel issue at some level.  As large entities, risk mitigation played a greater factor in decision-making than it did for the independent developer community – resulting in many “best-selling” titles coming from repurposed books or other media, often lacking a particular editorial point of view for what the medium could be.

 

Then vs Now - The Rise of iPad and the Demise of the 7 Deadlies

What’s different now and why won’t 2011 be a repeat of the “failed” (at least from a business point of view) efforts of the 1980s and 1990s?

Over the past two decades, all but one of the “7 deadlies” has been addressed.  The average consumer’s access to baseline processing power and bandwidth is significantly better.  Development teams are perhaps 1/6 the size with virtual geographically distributed teams taking ½ the development time of some of the original titles. Interactive design expertise still continues to evolve, but has moved out of its “ransom note” beginnings.  The market and appetite is no longer only “gamer niche” when over 150 million people have their credit card numbers in Apple’s iTunes Store alone. And the Internet has 15+ years in front of consumers, bringing in a volume of content and connection not even conceivable in the early interactive days – but with user and design experiences that generally fell far short of those developed in early interactive CDROM titles.

“Apple's iPad is a milestone in computing, because it brings together for the first time several capabilities long in development. Vannevar Bush (1945), Douglas Engelbart (1962, 1968), and Ted Nelson (1974) articulated early visions of computers as tools the average person might use to organize their own research. SRI, PARC, and Apple demonstrated the power of graphical user interfaces and direct manipulation. HyperCard and Director ushered in a "revolution" in interactive multi-media, but 600 MB CDs were the only medium for distribution. The Internet exploded onto the scene in 1995 providing distribution but taking a 10-year step backwards in terms of media and interactivity. iPad is the first device to bring together rich media, interactivity, portability, and broad distribution.” – Hugh Dubberly

So which one of “the 7 deadlies” still needs to be addressed?  It’s mostly about authoring platforms, although one can debate there is still a distribution limitation focused now around “how one rises above the noise once you get in the free apps stores, were certain companies have a lot of say about success.”

 

The Remaining Deadly - Authoring Platforms

While the Internet took us steps ahead in accessing and distributing information, entertainment and conversation, it took us many steps back in terms of authoring and design.  And that’s not surprising if you consider and believe this:  looking at the Internet as something that was initially structured to transmit 20-30 page physics papers, and then various individuals found ways to bolt on code and brute force morph that system into something that could distribute cat videos or sell stuff, and create multimillion dollar valuations.

Now if we are to move ahead and take the best of the vision of “Knowledge Navigator” and merge it with that of the Internet, thoughtful development of authoring platform(s) needs to be addressed.

“2011 is like 1991 all over again  -  a new revolution in interactive multi-media. HTML-CSS-JS-SVG offer a great deal of potential, much of it still untapped. But we lack good authoring tools at all levels from end-user to professional designers and authors…. As good as it is, iPad has no authoring environment … Quite a number of iPad information utilities or intelligent aggregators have emerged… All of these services are new and evolving. We're quite a ways from a final or even a stable form.” – Hugh Dubberly

Given this, there are several challenges/development areas that will need to be addressed to get to a true authoring platform that enables many (not just the “tech elite”) to develop immersive storytelling and information sharing experiences (that are neither pure books/magazines, video/documentaries or social platforms):

  1. Intelligent readers and social aggregators that can learn from user behavior and facilitate discovery beyond intentional search of a friend’s “Like” (cross reference this to my prior posts on Flipboard etc);
  2. Richer “book/magazine” authoring platforms that contain social elements (to facilitate media as catalysts for conversation) and more structural information beyond a list of words and pages – reflected in richer navigation, parallel information, linking, collecting and curating one’s own and group material);
  3. Interactive video (and photos) authoring platforms beyond simple linear editing and navigation;
  4. Mobile authoring platform as opposed to authoring on PC.

 

Moving Forward to “Past Is Prologue”

With the development of the right authoring tools and APIs we may well move to a “Media and Story Convergence 2.0” where we see the digital and physical worlds; journalism, publishing and broadcasting; social and personal; services and commerce – all come together in a meaningful, accessible, mass market way - after a nearly 20 year hiatus since the first experimental attempts.

“It’s exactly the same thing people were trying to do with HyperCard.  What has changed is of course the platform … Now with Push Pop Press the real stunning thing about it is consistency of vision throughout the book… Part of it is about the willingness to do things on a grand scale, to go beyond repurposing.  People really thought about the material and the right way to present this… Brain cycles can now be spent against the bigger issues – and not the struggle of the 90’s with so many basic technology issues ….”  - John Worthington  


“Imagine an updated version of HyperCard running on smart phones, enabling 10-year-olds everywhere to develop contents and apps. That will create a revolution equivalent to the invention of pocket books which made possible universal education and literacy. ” – Hugh Dubberly

 

So to the innovative developers who have pieces of what a powerful authoring platform could be - Push Pop Press, Zite, Flipboard, Inkling, and others -  the games have begun.   The past is waiting.  Patiently, perhaps.  Favicon

 

May 15, 2011

If "All Politics Is Personal," Then for 2012 Will It Also Be Increasingly Social and Semantic?

  PoliticalMagazines2012

(Image top right: Flipboard.  Image bottom left: Zite.  Image bottom right : Push Pop Press "Our Choice."  Click on image above to see full size image.)

 

Politics and the Internet, as well as politics and the personal, are inextricably linked.  This may offer up some interesting new opportunities for "political magazines" (built around individuals’ social graph, expressed interests and inferred semantic behaviors) via "publishing platforms" like Flipboard, Zite, and even Push Pop Press - depending on their respective development and business plans.

In 2003, the Howard Dean campaign demonstrated that the Internet could be used effectively to raise campaign funds.  In the 2008 Obama for America Presidential Campaign, a relatively small team demonstrated that digital, social and mobile platforms had graduated from fundraiser status to gamechanger. (Twitter was in its infancy when the Obama campaign sent out its first tweet in April 2007.) And outside of American politics, many of the defining moments for Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook have been around political issues and movements.

What did not exist in these earlier campaigns was the iPad and technology platforms that could enable the construction of personalized political/issue “magazine” experiences built around individuals’ social graph, expressed interests and inferred semantic behaviors – with both deep archival and breaking content of all media types. With thoughtful experience design added to the equation, platforms from companies such as Flipboard, Zite and the underlying technology from PushPopPress could evolve and be used to create a new kind of living mobile political campaign magazine for the upcoming 2012 election.

 

"Like a lot of Web innovators, the Obama campaign did not invent anything completely new. Instead, by bolting together social-networking applications under the banner of a movement, they created an unforeseen force to raise money, organize locally, fight smear campaigns, and get out the vote…” – David Carr

 

A Look Back at the 2008 Obama “New Media” Campaign

The campaign generated a connection with “users” in ways that had never been achieved before, and was based around the facilitation of the dissemination and sharing of massive quantities of media (interlinked with actionable opportunities) across many platforms, with minimal effort (given small size of the team). A quick recap of some of the main elements: (for more details, see a great 2009 case study written by Kimberly Smith for Marketing Profs).

  • Main campaign website: My.BarackObama.com was designed to be the comprehensive resource point with media, how-tos, transcripts, and opportunities for involvement.
  • Video: The campaign’s YouTube channel eventually held 1800 videos with over 18 million views. Ustream.tv served almost a million hours of live video streams during the campaign.
  • Photos: The Flickr account included official event photos as well as candid views.  (There was no Instagram,Path or other social photo sharing apps at that time.)
  • Social technologies: Numerous Facebook groups were created and updated daily not only for Barack and Michelle Obama, but also for every state and innumerable interest groups. Twitter was in its infancy when the campaign sent its first tweet in April 2007 (with under 300 followers for @BarckObama). LinkedIn was used to present questions and discussions to the (largely) business community.
  • Mobile: The campaign developed an iPhone app that included news, photos, videos, location specific engagement opportunity information (using GPS), and user’s contacts organized by state for campaign calling. The opt-in nature of the mobile strategy provided the campaign with a community with robust profiles on almost 3 million participants by the August 2008 VP announcement.

Possibilities for the Personal-Social Political Magazine 2011-2012

If 2007-2008 was about brute strength and enthusiasm fueling the cobbling together of the various digital initiatives, perhaps 2011-2012 will see the addition of the elegant auto-generated (and two-way) “personal and social political magazine” generated by new tools from companies such as Flipboard, Zite or even a more social-enabled version of PushPopPress (with various evolution of the tools required).

If “O Magazine” and my Twitter feed can be social magazines via Flipboard … If  Zite can learn about my interests and serve me up more undiscovered content … If Push Pop Press can create Al Gore’s “Our Choice” to merge the models  of the book with documentary film … Then why can’t a party, a politician or a cause have the same kind of possibility of creating an engaging, ever changing environment of media resources (from archival to breaking) and social conversations/sharings around their “brand?”

That new personalized political magazine could include integration of all the disparate elements we saw in the 2008 Obama campaign into one dynamic package (although one could still go to the individual platforms as well).  We might see in these "magazines":

  1. Curation of the political articles/videos your friends have found most useful and interesting
  2. Revelation of influential sources and expertise from sources you didn’t know about (avoiding the personal echo chamber)
  3. Revelation of related issues and discussion documents (to what you have already requested or that has been pushed via a programmed feed)
  4. Options to select information on opposing points of view on particular issues
  5. Historical issue and poll timelines and dynamic infographics and maps generated on the fly
  6. Deep archival issues video presented in relationship to relevant current writings
  7. Live streaming video integrated with info graphics, social curation, feedback, polls and calls to action
  8. Polls, real-world engagement opportunities, and messaging/texting supplied in realtime relating to your interests, reading/viewing path, and geolocation data (of you and friends)
  9. Realtime social sharing of media as well as personal highlighting of media
  10. New models of "opt-in" database building, as well as advertising and fundraising

Data and Insights

Think of the interesting breadcrumb trails of action data to be culled from the various browsings of such an integrated, dynamically built, and two-way “magazine”  - the reading of a tweet from a political curator that leads to a YouTube video that leads to a campaign donation and hosting of an event with 20 friends that generates instantly shared photos curated back into the Twitter feed and displayed in the magazine. Additionally, there would be an incredible learning opportunity for mapping people’s information sources, interests,sharing propensities, and their relationship to various stances on critical issues by discrete geograhic location (even via GPS).

Platforms Need to Evolve

In order for this kind of experience to occur, there would need to be evolution in the development of the technical and design capabilities (eg interactive graphics) of the various  social magazine (Flipboard) and personal semantic learning magazines (Zite), or alternatively the integration of these kinds of social and semantic capabilities into the rich-media book/documentary model of PushPopPress .  Some ideas:

  1. Combination of social curated, search generated, and semantic discovered content across a complex topic definition in a single "magazine" format (not in multiple panes in Flipboard or separate list categories in Zite).
  2. Opportunity to more powerfully discover, capture and retain content of interest from your quickly flowing “historical social stream” to get beyond the timeline model to the “personally important model” that is driven by both “discovery and unexpected delight.”
  3. Intuitive and powerful “bookmarking and clipping” functionality to collect and share entire pieces of media or only highlighted and annotated sections (think scrapbook).
  4. Dynamic integrations of various media types from multiple sources into a single screen experience – eg streaming live debate video with an interactive map and poll, curated related analysts' content that can bookmark, conversing/tweets with friends, fundraising around the issue being debated
  5. Balance between content and sources that are asked for, and new serendipitous information and sources that would be useful and revealing. This goes to the ideas in Steven Johnson’s book “Emergence” where he presents the idea that a newspaper tailored to the tastes of a person on a given day will lead to too much positive feedback in that direction, and people's choices/offerings would be permanently skewed for the rest of their lives.
  6. Addition of new interactive media types.
  7. Smarter deduping of shared media via social relationships so that the same video or url is not shared multiple times from multiple sources using multiped url shorteners.

The Near Future

“Much of the creativity and spirit they (Obama 2008 digital team) brought with online tools to help galvanize grass-roots supporters in 2008, they will be trying to re-create this time with an ambitious online presence. This was evident when Mr. Obama began his re-election effort this month with an e-mail and text-message blast, posts on Twitter, a short video on YouTube and a new app that connects supporters and their Facebook friends to his campaign Web site with a question: Are you in?”NY Times Blog: The Caucus

And in the not too distant future (later this year?), might this not also include political iPad magazines that have content that is both professionally created (by candidate/party) as well as "personally" curated via social platforms, search generation and semantic learning?  Favicon

 

April 20, 2011

Will 2011 Finally See the Realization of the 1995 Idea “The Daily Me” - and Beyond?

FlipboardBeingDigital

"To be a viable publisher in this new world you have to think about how your content is going to map to social real-time experience."  - Mike McCue, CEO, Flipboard, 2011

 

Imagine a future in which your interface agent can read every newswire and newspaper and catch every TV and radio broadcast on the planet, and then construct a personalized summary… It (the newspaper) would mix headline news with “less important” stories relating to acquaintances, people you will see tomorrow, and places you are about to go to or have just come from … Call it The Daily Me.” -  “Being Digital” (p 153) by Nicholas Negroponte, 1995

  

The Future Is Today

Sixteen years ago in 1995, Nicholas Negroponte wrote one of the seminal books of the early days of digital media and design called “Being Digital.”  In Chapter 12 of that book, there is a brief two page section entitled “Personal Filters” in which he sketches the vision of “The Daily Me,” a personalized newspaper that would migrate us from the world of general print (atoms) to that of personalized electronic bits (see his quote above).

A lot has had to happen since then to turn this from prognostication/science fiction into the possibilities we are now seeing popping up most predominantly on our iPads.  Remember that in 1995:

  • Netscape was but a year old (Navigator 1.0 browser),
  • Steve Jobs was at NeXT,
  • the fastest commercial cell phone network anywhere was 2G in Japan,
  • the coining of the term Wi-Fi and the first version of RSS were still 4 years away,
  • companies like Google (1997), Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005) and Twitter (2006) wouldn’t be founded for years

In the decade and a half since then, the Web evolved into an amazing cacophonous, and certainly imperfect, information source – filled with innumerable pieces of content of all types (words, numbers, photos, audio, video) – with the “good/relevant” sharing equal shelf space with “bad/irrelevant.” And with technology development generally outpacing the integration of thoughtful experience design, even that deemed “good and relevant” was often surrounded by distractions and elements that diminished its value and the experience – often made in pursuit of an elusive, but needed, revenue model or some way to optimize search.  Then, more recently, layer in the supersonic speed of information sharing via social technologies like Facebook and Twitter, and it becomes a near full time job for mere mortals to sift the “signal from the noise.”  (This is at least true for the information junkies among us).

 

 

The Problem and a Need for a New More Human Experience

 

For the most part, the truth is out.  Except for a few media sources accessed religiously, a growing portion of news and entertainment finds us via friends, followers, communities, loose ties, and vertical curators. (Whether we “consume” it in the social space, or go to the media brand source with social primarily serving as discovery and trusted referral service, is another discussion.)

 

On the other side of the media equation, publishing brands are struggling with maintaining control of the content they pay professionals to create, installing paywalls, fighting social syndication, bringing in or contracting technical expertise to create their own branded apps, and perhaps “burdened” with old Web thinking and assumptions that people already know of their content and its relevance for them (excluding the opportunity for new serendipitous discovery/new audience).  At what cost?  And might there be another road (not necessarily exclusive of these) to take?

 

The problem with journalism on the Web today is that it's being contaminated by the Web form factor. What I mean is, journalists are being pushed to do … stuff meant to attract page views …  that are really distracting for the reader, so it's not a pleasant experience to 'curl up' with a good website. … Journalism is being pushed into a space where I don't think it should ever go, where it's trying to support the monetization model of the Web by driving page views. … Let's leverage the power of the Web -- don't get rid of it, but make the Web beautiful again. We need to give the content room to breathe, and give magazine-style advertisements the opportunity to flourish.”  - Mike McCue, Flipboard

 

So What's the Win-Win?

For the consumer audience: it’s the creation of a mobile media “enjoyment” tool for the average person, not another power user dashboard that fills large monitors and enables the parsing and scheduling of content. It’s a platform that, in essence, reinvents the Web content model – by providing, in one aggregated place, what the individual specifically requests/wants or what they would enjoy if they knew about it – without inundating them with everything and expecting them to sift.

  • Platform that can help me find what is most relevant to me from a variety of sources - branded, social, curated, semantic-search aggregated - and present the totality in a visual structure that encourages emotional and intellectual exploration and engagement (vs. just clicking).
  • Customization of sources if desired – passively (via technology in the background observing human behavior), and actively via conscious human choice.
  • Creation of “magazines, portfolios or movies” of content pieces that are additive in nature, rather than providing duplicative coverage of a story with the same reference sources,
  • Presentation in a beautiful engaging way that encourages scanning, as well as reading/viewing, bookmarking, highlighting, sharing, and saving
  • Collection and presentation of all media types around a content areas within a single wrapper – text, photo, audio and video

 

For media brands and publishers: it’s about providing a viable technology platform option and place to aggressively experiment with a reinvention of the possibilities of digital content surfacing, presentation and monetization less constrained by some of the “Web rule” legacy that results in “unnatural behaviors” to generate clicks.  There is a chance to be able to design and provide information and entertainment – to tell stories - in ways designed for human behaviors and not merely Web optimization behaviors that humans tolerate.

Could they make far more money than they ever have on the Web in the past  - when they can get the combination of broader distribution and better targeting leading to larger ad, commerce and even ticket/event subscription revenues – with “The Digital Me” as the way they finally tap into real digital revenues (which for pre Internet entertainment company sector in particular, has been strictly second class)?

  • Platform that rewards playing to the strengths of storytelling and understanding the audience
  • Choices of revenue opportunities from multiple sources, including and beyond re-imagined advertising and subscriptions (see “Evolution” section below) – that supports and evolves the brand essence and the creation of great stories
  • New promotion and discovery opportunities that maintain brand and creator integrity
  • Inspiration for opening up media brand’s archives of content, as well as the creation of new – with both used in concert to create new kinds of stories
  • Exploration of new kinds of programming and storytelling experiences, with the majority of resources going to content creation vs. technology infrastructure

Smart and Powerful Under the Hood; Beautiful and Witty on the Surface; Socially Savvy and Agile

If the above are the desired end states for consumers and creators, how do we begin to get there?  Has there been enough evolution in “installed base” infrastructure, agile tools, and human understanding and practice of media design since “Being Digital” -  that companies in the space (such as Flipboard, Zite, News.me, Pulse, FLUD, NewsMix, Taptu) can successfully move toward the vision of the “Daily Me”?

I say “Yes.”  From a development perspective, it’s about focusing on three areas, while always understanding the importance of the building of relationships with media creators and publishers with a creative and economic model that can support all.

 

Smart and powerful under the hood

Search and social for discovery highlight the need for syndication and integration beyond the need for subscription to single branded channels.  A syndication model in turn requires additional focus on relevance and personalization.  Algorithms that are smart and powerful under the hood will have an increasing role in differentiation (because of the desire for personal relevance) but must be deeply linked to design respect.  Technology can’t trump presentation. The kinds of business relationships that can be developed with media partners will also influence the outcome of what algorithms will be allowed to present  (What can be done is not always what should be done.)  Lots of questions and exploration to come here:

  • How is personalization different than customization?
  • How might recommendations algorithms play out – asking questions that require human action (like Netflix and Amazon) or making decisions and taking action to refine choices in the background (like Pandora)?
  • How will content search and semantic search balance out?
  • Does the resulting model of the algorithmic parsing of the information need to be (or lend itself) more to a digital newspaper or magazine, or something not yet seen?

 

Beautiful and witty on the surface

Design that is beautiful and witty on the surface – meaning innovation on the presentation and navigation layers – needs to have equal footing with algorithm development. And this mantra applies as much to the visual manifestation of advertising and other revenue sources integrated in, as it does with the content itself.

 

Socially savvy and agile

A socially savvy and agile approach that can make the wide, fast-moving streams of Twitter, Facebook and even RSS more navigable and time effective is a requirement for any of the experience offerings that wouldn’t revolve around a single media brand.  Again, many questions to be answered in this area beyond technical development and feed integration – as important questions in terms of how one monetizes and could share revenues within “curations apps” part of the system would work vs. the “single media branded” world (whether as part of a social magazine platform or a stand alone branded app).

Evolving the Opportunity - Strategies and Examples

How might a platform like Flipboard evolve to consider areas such as:

  • Advertising
  • Commerce
  • Special Events - Both Live and with Deep Archival Content
  • Video, Music and Entertainment
  • Location-Based Experience Guides

 

Advertising

Is there an opportunity for design-centric advertising fueled by deep multi-source data (real time and historical), in addition to supporting ad sales and display for single media brands within their own “social magazines?”

Advertising models within this kind of environment, could potentially exist in three spaces:

  • The media brand’s space itself (eg the Flipboard Pages model with brands such as “O Magazine”)
  • Socially curated spaces, ranging from Flipboard curated spaces like FlipTech, or feeds from noted curators such as Maria Popova and Jason Hirschorn.
  • Self-curated and directed by the individual using Google Reader, or some future form of custom complex search (if this capability develops over time with Ellerdale technology)

The first is the model that is being experimented with Flipboard Pages with magazines such as Rolling Stone and O Magazine, as well as pure online plays like All Things D – For now, full page ads that fill part or all of the page sold and provided by an outside agency.

In the second and third instances, with aggregated or curated content “magazines” fed via news reader-type application, no one has yet figured out how to share advertising revenues with publishers. One option is to have advertising revenue for brand specific “magazines” only, and use access to curated content feeds as “discovery cost.” However, while the waters may currently be murky in the world of curation, there may be an interesting hidden opportunity for both technology and media partner alike. Consider the possibility of advertising that leverages the power of all the data feeds that pour into Flipboard from the various Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, Flickr, Instagram and other accounts – as well as directly from the media brand “magazines.”  That’s a pretty big potential gold mine –obviously more complex than Scenario 1, requiring different technology, agreements and resources to scale and support.

But while not publicly on the drawing boards, could there eventually be a Flipboard powered ad network or advertising type for “multi-source social magazines” that combines great creative with the diverse data streams, social heuristics and additional inventory?

 

Commerce

In many instances, It has been easier to monetize in the commerce space than advertising space on the Internet.  Something to consider in more broadly thinking about what Flipboard and the 'social magazine" space could become, with three potential models:

  • Traditional catalogs (print and Web) translated in a new way onto the platform
  • Curated commerce around a single brand (media or product), product class/type (across brands), or various "deal of the day" offerings
  • Social semantic search commerce where information (photos, social reviews, offers, videos etc) is collected and displayed on the fly against a certain specific product, product class or brand with purchase opportuity online or real world (with geolocation driven recommendations)

 

Special Events - Both Live and with Deep Archival Content

Special events offer new content opportunities to media partners both in creating new live programming, as well as digging deeply into their content archives and integrating "evergreen" programming with new professional content and social commentary/curation.  Programming could range from one time only to an ongoing series (monthly or quarterly) with revenue opportunities extending beyond traditional advertising to include branded sponsorship.Revenue sources ranging from brand underwiritng to ticketing.

What might this look like for live nature, adventure or travel-related programming, sports, music performances, and curated events (think PopUpMagazine on Flipboard)?  How might a YouTube Live partnership fit with this?

 

Video, Music and Entertainment

Could Flipboard become a new syndication and monetization platform for video creators  - both at the head and mid-tail.

  • Major media brands with their video vaults of evergreen content not yet on the Internet (eg topics around science, nature, travel, sports, history, health, pop culture.)
  • New integration/distribution opportunities for many of the newly funded digital studios that fit the middle ground of media continuum between “the major brands” and the long tail of “skateboard dog videos” (eg Maker Studios, Machinima, Break, BedRocket).
  • Celebrity partnerships with direct to the audience behind the scenes or cause related content.

 

Location-Based Experience Guides

Could Flipboard provide a platform for the next generation in guides - around a  location/geography or experience type/topic? The potential exists for guides to be created "on the fly" with social and  algorithmic curation, appropriately integrating (and “de-duping”) media of multiple types from a variety of sources, providing not only content, but cross reference commerce/retail offers and unique events and experiences that are time-based.

 

Moving Forward

We could be seeing the beginning of the first serious rethinking of the Web content experience in 15 years via a better and more human balance of technology, design and financial relationships. This space (and Flipboard in particular) sits squarely at the intersection of design and algorithms, social media and copyright, storytelling and data feeds, order and cacophony - so it is certianly not going to be boring any time soon - and the opportunities for all sides of the table could be astounding.   Favicon

 

    Or

Liz Gebhardt


  • © Amanda Jones
    Digital and traditional (live & broadcast) media/ marketing strategist and producer living at the intersection of Web meets (live) World. More than two decades of experience in building media and technology businesses, content programming and distribution, brand stories and integrated communications campaigns.

    Believes that strategy is all talk unless it can be executed in a way that delivers on both the creative and business promises. Embraces the role of navigator of the uncharted path vs. passenger along the known road.