Category Archives: Mash Ups / Web Services

Open Plaques: joining the blue dots

Writing in the Telegraph last year, Stephen Fry reflected: “Many of us like to believe that we understand the point of history. We all pay lip service to the idea that yesterday makes today, but it is hard to make the imaginative leap that truly connects us to the past. It is as if we are forced to move forwards in such a narrow passageway of time that the act of stopping to look behind us is difficult.”

Fry surmised that the UK’s blue plaques – erected to mark the physical locations occupied by people from history who have left a notable mark on our culture – were a living corrective to this. But are they really? What if these inert short-form stories were re-animated by augmenting the physical markers with a layer of digital information that made looking back in time from the present day a far easier, richer and more immediate experience? Wouldn’t that be a greater step forward in terms of bringing history to life?

WB Yeats open plaque on Flickr courtesy of ChicagoGeek

Even as Fry was writing this in June 2009, a project was already underway do just that – to open up that heritage and make it accessible, expanding the narrow passageway of time that Fry lamented.

Credit to kickstarting this goes to Frankie Roberto who came away from a conference on mobile learning for the museums and archives sector in January 2009 with a bee in his bonnet:

“You see them everywhere – especially when sat on the top deck of a double-decker bus in London – and yet the plaques themselves never seem that revealing. You’ve often never heard of the person named, or perhaps only vaguely, and the only clue you’re given is something like “scientist and electrical engineer” (Sir Ambrose Fleming) or “landscape gardener” (Charles Bridgeman).

I always want to know more. Who are these people, what’s the story about them, and why are they considered important enough for their home to be commemorated? I’d like to be able to find out all this, and to do so at the point at which I stumble across a plaque – which to me suggests something on a mobile platform.”

In the 15 months since, this desire for deeper and more accessible context to these static emblems has crystallized in the Open Plaques initiative. An open source community project; it is also community-driven by necessity, due mainly to the data surrounding the UK plaques being fragmented between hundreds of bodies, and not only inconsistent but sometimes totally absent.

It gathered momentum when Frankie’s early efforts caught the attention of Jez Nicholson, Simon Harriyott and Marvin Baretto who’d already (coincidentally) teamed-up to do a blue plaques project for the Open Hack London event in May 2009. So it happened that they prototyped a website that could pull this information together.

Open Plaques London Map

The Open Plaques service which emerged from this ad-hoc grouping (which I joined later last year) synthesises a number of tactics and workarounds to overcome the challenges it faces. As the plaques by their very existence are in public domain, Frankie has made a series of Freedom of Information requests for data and records of the plaques to several of the bodies that hold them, so they can aggregate them together and offer the data in standardised form for free re-use by others.

In turn, the already existent Blue Plaques group on Flickr proved useful and amenable, and the idea of using images from Flickr on the Open Plaques service gained an important leg-up when Flickr agreed to grant a “machine tag” option to photographs of plaques uploaded under a Creative Commons licence.

It’s remarkably simple and works like this: each plaque location listed on the Open Plaques database (which you can search on their site by name, place or organisation) has a number. When the number is added as a machine code in the tags of the corresponding photograph on Flickr by the user – and if the user gives the photo a Creative Commons licence – the image is pulled from Flickr onto the Open Plaques website. The service also allows geo co-ordinates to be imported.

The site itself is still in Alpha phase of development but is already substantially populated – with 38.44% of 2297 known plaques in the database now having a corresponding machine-tagged photograph.

William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect on Flickr courtesy of Sleekit

The whole project is still in the earliest of stages. Making it fully functional and accessible on mobile devices still lies ahead. Any number of possibilities for what could be done going forward suggest themselves. But in the very act of pulling it together, it already bears the DNA stamp of what it could some day become. The plaques themselves encapsulate people-powered history: a history of action, ideas and invention. Open Plaques has the potential to transform them into a living resource – and make each one a porthole that helps us connect with, understand and traverse moments in place and time, just like Stephen Fry said.

Re-shaping historical interest points nationwide as dynamic experiences is a mammoth task but Open Plaques – which is unfunded and 100% volunteer based – is already gearing up for a productive 2010. In February, Simon and Frankie attended the first ever English Heritage conference on commemorative plaques (yes, they’re not all blue) to find out more about the organisation’s thinking and plans, and talk to people about the initiative. Simon also talked about the project at last week’s £5 App Meet in Brighton.

In the meantime, we need more people to help fill up the image database – yes that’s you Flickr users! – plus help with the technical development. Spreading the word also matters and you can stay in the loop by following Open Plaques on Twitter.

Any input is welcome. You can even source and suggest plaques that aren’t on the website’s (incomplete) list. So if you’d like to get involved in connecting past and present, and do some local or further-afield exploring in the process, visit the site’s Contribute page for more instructions, see Jez’s blog and the Open Plaques group for simple Flickr tips or get in touch directly, and lend a hand in joining the blue dots.

[UPDATE 12/5/10] We now have an Open Plaques blog and I’ve added my first post: Meet the time bandits.

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Micromedia futures or the emperor’s new clothes?

Disposable, atomised media is all the rage and I’m as guilty as the next person of wallowing in it.

Web 2.0 and all its trimmings is no exception to this trend, in fact it glories in all things transient.* But what does it add up to? This question is an itch worth scratching, so sometimes we revisit particular events after their initial outing.

Chinwag Live: Micro Media Maze at ad:tech 2008 L-R Miles Lewis of Last.fm, Umair Haque, Steve Bowbrick

Chinwag Live: Micro Media Maze at ad:tech 2008 L-R Miles Lewis of Last.fm, Umair Haque, Steve Bowbrick

Which is why, after it’s May 2008 debut (which garnered some good coverage), Chinwag Live took the Micro Media Maze panel on tour to the annual ad:tech London expo in Olympia on September 24th 2008, for an afternoon session on the issues of widgetised, disaggregated media – exploring the trends they embody and are driving forward.

PANEL:
Umair Haque – Director, Havas Media Lab /Bubblegeneration / Harvard Business Online
Miles Lewis – SVP European Advertising Sales, Last.fm
Nick Halstead – CEO & Founder, fav.or.it
Chair: Steve Bowbrick – digital media consultant & entrepreneur

Steve Bowbrick opened by remarking that we’re coming to the end of the IP4 phase of the internet and moving into IP6 (what happened to IP 5 nobody knows). In IP 6, there is 2 times the power of 52 addresses to every star in the universe.

This fits with the trend that we see emerging today in the digital world of everything being connected to everything else.

Every device – whether it’s a PC, or a phone – can have its own address in the IP space, Steve said. Steve I’ll raise you a bunny and the arrival of that old stalwart the interactive fridge 🙂 . Conjuring up a picture of billions of interconnected end points, this reminded me somewhat of Bruce Sterling’s concept of spime but I digress…

The micro media era – content unbound

Micromedia” – a term coined independently by both panellist Umair Haque and new media theorist Lev Manovich in 2005 – held out the promise of content being able to move between these fixed places (or IP points), to be unbundled and rendered remixable; the resulting formations of which could unlock new sources of value. Steve Bowbrick didn’t mention this explicitly, but it’s worth revisiting Haque’s original 2005 Media Economics Powerpoint presentation. The implications certainly informed the discussion.

Nick Halstead of fav.or.it observed that widgets are catering to the ability to customize, another trend we’ve seen explode over the last few years as media becomes more personalised. In turn, the widgets provided by MyBlogLog, Digg, etc, are using the medium in a very viral way, he noted.

fav.or.it’s widgets expose what widgets are popular on fav.or.it. There’s also an attention tracking element to their widgets, Halstead explained, as they’re tracking the number of seconds each user who has installed the widget spends on it and on the sites / URLs visited via the widget.

Widgets and the media balance sheet…

Last.fm now has 21 million users and an additional 19 million more people coming in through widgets. But they have a problem, as their SVP of advertising Miles Lewis explained. They can’t monetise people who only visit and experience Last.fm on widgets, and hence can’t pay for the music rights (publishing, recording and streaming rights).

Currently, there are 350m active Last.fm widgets [I need to check the podcast coming this week to verify this figure], and they also have free streaming on the iPod. Their recent re-design has helped them in terms of streaming rights and deals with the labels, Lewis explained.

But, Steve Bowbrick asked, isn’t that reversing the entire widgetisation trend? To which Lewis replied:

“It’s less about reversing a trend than it’s about building a bigger widget that has an ad on it.”

‘Last.fm In A Box’ is a new solution they’re working on, Lewis revealed [see Mashable and CNET‘s coverage of the announcement in June 2008]. If you click on the link, it opens a player and a commercial message starts that you can then minimise if you wish to proceed immediately. It’s on Rockstar.com on the Guitar Hero game.

Nick Halstead of Tweetmeme & Mile Lewis of Last.fm

Nick Halstead of Tweetmeme & Miles Lewis of Last.fm

Trojan horse for toxic media?

Umair Haque took the premise of widgets – and media more broadly – to task.

“We need to step back and realise that if we use widgets to bring the same old paradigm, that trend will eat itself, as it has done on Wall Street. The stuff we trade in, in media, is in danger of becoming toxic waste.

Now I’ve heard of toxic boyfriends and toxic hangovers before 😉 , and this week’s been all about toxic debts in financial markets, but toxic media was a new one for me. Haque posited an alternative:

“Ads have to become benefits for consumers – communication as benefit, not cost. Media and communications need to help people improve their abilities.”

“But most media – all the stuff we’re surrounded by here at ad:tech – is about making stuff 1% more efficient than it currently is. Most widgets are just distribution mechanisms for the same old junk, and these widgets are about amplifying the devaluation of that junk.”

Off-the-peg widgets for social networks

From the audience Miko Coffey asked the panel’s view on Widgetbox, which allows creation of widgets on the fly that run on Bebo, Myspace and the like.

Miles Lewis replied that Last.fm are open source. Nick Halstead explained that fav.or.it supports Creative Commons licensing, but the problem is that many of these sites promise to deliver widgets that work everywhere but they’re still not mass market enough.

Another audience member from a charity told how they had created an alcohol tracking widget, where users could enter their intake of alcohol and track how that changed and added up over time. How could they get older people to use this widget, when use of this media is dominated by a young audience?

Game-changing moves and creating new markets

Umair Haque turned the question around.

“Nintendo would never have created the Wii if they’d asked who the average game player was. Ten years ago, we never would have thought that old people would be playing games.”

Implicit in Haque’s statement was the understanding that Nintendo have eschewed recycling the same old ideas and assumptions in a new wrapper. Instead, they have done something different and created a whole new market in the process.

He cited companies like Kiva, who have pioneered micro-lending to entrepreneurs in developing countries, as salutary in that regard (the Grameen micro-financing initiative is in a similar vein and was recently mentioned by Vint Cerf in a piece for The Guardian). They show how enabling micro-transactions in a counter-intuitive fashion (from the financial norm in this instance) have been incredibly powerful and transformative.

Business models and the limits of social media

Another audience member who only wished to be identified as coming from “a social networking property”, asked about Last.fm’s business model. Lewis explained it was fourfold: advertising, affiliates, subscriptions, and on the biz dev side, a client like a retailer could use Last.fm In A Box to stream music and place an ad it, so people could listen to that while on the retailers website.

I took this to mean a white labelled widget or plug-in powered by Last.fm that adds ambience to a site, and the user experience, and monetises itself simultaneously.

While the crowd-pulling seminars at ad:tech London seemed to revolve around monetising social media, it seemed that our panel was more frank about the progress made to date. Last.fm, as the poster child of the UK’s Web 2.0 scene (they spoke alongside Skype at the first Beers & Innovation event I organised in February 2006), is still to turn a profit despite its huge audience. Since its acquisition by CBS/ Viacom, it has leeway to continue to grow whilst it pursues this objective.

The next wave of micro media

In turn, the economic shocks reverberating around the world should give us pause for thought. Perhaps the recession we’re poised to enter will precipitate new ways of creating value, and innovative services and strategies that foster that. Recall that game-changing services Craigslist and Flickr were born out of the utility and creativity fostered in the downtime of the last doctcom bust. Keeping an eye on mobile services is probably a good idea.

Steve Bowbrick, reflecting on the session, gives his view:

“The business of marketers should be to invest in durable, authentic content and experiences for their customers, not coming up with increasingly effective ways of taking them to the cleaners. At a conference and trade show devoted to online advertising I think this was a good message to leave behind.”

Whatever happens, we should assume that while micro media may be here to say, its deployment by companies and organisations is not intrinsically clever.

Instead, what will make micro media strategies fly is a combination of experimental chutzpah and purpose to solve real problems. Or else, like Haque says, it could just be about making stuff 1% more efficient, which doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

[* Of course Web 2.0 has many upsides too, collaborative software being my particular favourite, and services such as Zopa]

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PREVIOUS EVENTS ON WIDGETS & MICRO MEDIA:

Beers & Innovation: Aggregator & Upsetters – October 2006 (event report)

Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised – May 2007 (event report)

Mobile Monday London: Mobile Widgets – May 2007

Chinwag Live on Tour: Media Widgetised at ad:tech London – September 2007

Chinwag Live: Micro Media Maze – May 2008 (event report)

Alchemy in the micro media maze

Micromedia makes my life better. For one thing – I don’t have to take comprehensive notes at Chinwag events, because there’s always the trusty podcast 🙂 Thus I spent more of this event using my more evolved faculties of listening and thinking. Amen to that!

L-R: Umair Haque, Ewan McIntosh (The Guardian), Steve Bowbrick, Mitch McAlister (Last.fm), Miles Lewis (Last.fm), Gerd Leonhard

L-R: Umair Haque, Steve Bowbrick, Neil McIntosh (The Guardian), Mitch McAlister (MySpace), Deirdre Molloy (Chinwag), Miles Lewis (Last.fm), Gerd Leonhard

Another good thing about micromedia is that it can re-combine or aggregate into different – often richer – things than its constituent ingredients. The whole is indeed greater… usually. And that’s exactly what happened at Chinwag Live Micro Media Maze last Tuesday 20th May.

PANEL

Umair Haque – Director, Havas Media Lab / Bubblegeneration
Gerd Leonhard – Media Futurist, Author, Entrepreneur
Mitch McAlister – Product Director (Europe), MySpace
Miles Lewis – SVP, European Advertising Sales, LastFM
Neil McIntosh – Head of Editorial Development, Guardian Unlimited
Chair: Steve Bowbrick

From the premise of widgets, and disaggregated, widgetised media more generally – it quickly took off into a much broader debate about the value of media, the challenges for advertising, and the potential of openness for brands, innovators and society more generally.

That’s an exciting leap – and it’s alchemy in my book. Like a previous event we held in Manchester in April – User Centred Advertising – raising bigger questions and breaking out of the ‘media as entertainment’ mindset triggered a much more stimulating conversation with the audience and pointed to an almost boundless horizon of opportunities.

Syndicated companies vs dinosaur brands

And if you’re looking to the future, then Media Futurist (and author of books The Future Of Music and Music 2.0) Gerd Leonhard is your man. Gerd has a way with metaphors and was on good form that evening. He predicted that in the future, there will be one bookmark that represents me, which I can reveal and share different parts of with my friends, colleagues and network.

In the future, most companies are going to be 90% syndicated, he said, as few can afford the huge investment it takes to create a major centralised [aka monolithic?] brand.

Coming from a massively widgetised service, Miles Lewis had some fascinating facts and insights – Last.FM‘s homepage only has 3% of its total hits. They’ve built their success by being all about music and nothing else, he observed. As such, I guess they are one of the leading niche networks – certainly the leading one founded in the UK! [aptly – they spoke at the first NMK Beers & Innovation event I organised in February 2006 on Start Up Culture]

Steve Bowbrick, Umair Haque and Ewan McIntosh at Chinwag Live: Micro Media Maze May 2008

Steve Bowbrick, Umair Haque and Neil McIntosh at Chinwag Live: Micro Media Maze May 2008

The writing on the crumbling walls is that they’re doomed

Lewis estimated that by the end of this year 55% of their users will be partaking of Last FM via widgets (currently that already stands at 40%), of which the largest has 50,000 users, and the smallest just 3. Regarding those thousands of smaller widgets, he wondered – somewhat archly – how the big media buyers and agencies [with their dinosaur mindsets 😉 ]can reach down into these micro audiences.

Mitch McAlister threw his and Myspace’s support behind the tenets of and movement towards openness – what Gerd is doing, and Lawrence Lessig, and a whole lot of other people, plus open source technologies and development. Collaboration, data portability and more are all key.

What’s more, Mitch expected to soon see the majority of traffic to Myspace on non-PC devices. The main stumbling-block has been the mobile network operators but that’s starting to change. Social nets shouldn’t be walled gardens, he stressed.

Brands in the wild and the benefits of remixable culture

Neil McIntosh of Guardian Unlimited said micromedia is good news for journalists, quipping that “nobody wants to be a channel”. The difficulties he saw were twofold. Firstly, it’s harder to serve ads against feeds. The second challenge was context – if you have a brand built around trust, what happens when your content is presented in an upsetting or inappropriate context off your site.

Umair Haque of Havas Media Lab explained that he wrote a long piece entitled The Age of Plasticity in 2005 (accessible as a Powerpoint download from his Bubblegeneration blog), wherein he first articulated and explained at length the idea that we get productivity and efficiency gains when we are allowed to remix things. Haque didn’t mention that he was also one of the two people who independently coined the term micromedia – also in 2005 – the other being leading new media theorist Lev Manovich]

Coops on the mike and Ian Delaney (lurking left) at Micro Media Maze

Coops on the mike and Ian Delaney (lurking left) at Micro Media Maze

Last FM and Myspace have revolutionised and solved the problem of the music industry, Umair said. But what is happening now – apart from micromedia being seen as yet another way to shove shitty advertising down our throats?

Going beyond the trivial mindset…

Umair (who also blogs as a discussion leader at Harvard Business Online) loathes the term ‘monetize’, he said, because you have to *create* value before you can capitalise on it; you have to have a purpose before you can profit from it. It’s not about creating games for Facebook. We in London labour under the delusion that media is entertainment, but media is so much more than that, it’s the interface for so much activity and experience in the world.

He challenged the panel and the audience to come up with something that would help solve real problems, not trivial ones, and create value at the same time.

Gerd Leonhard drew this analogy: in old media control = money; in new media trust = money. In companies embracing new media, collaboration with the audience is supplanting the old business model of control. Gerd’s remarks on a trust-based market reminded me a lot of the ideas of social capital getting a published articulation in Tara Hunt’s book The Whuffie Factor due to drop this autumn.

Media and ad agencies looking in the wrong direction?

Paul Fisher of Advent Capital Partners was first in from the audience with a question. If industries are creating less value, does this mean there will be fewer jobs in the old companies? In turn, where should he be looking for growth areas in terms of investments? For its sheer audacity, this got a few laughs from the audience.

Miles Lewis of Last FM had an interesting perspective on this. He argued that it is media agencies and ad agencies that are the dinosaur industries. The billions of spend they control are not going to where people are, it’s all going into TV and search.

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PODCAST ACTION!

Well, that’s what I’ve deciphered from my pleasingly sparse notes… but the debate was long and lively, and continued as people stayed to chat and have a drink afterwards. You can catch it all on the Chinwag Live podcast due later this week. Subscribe here or for iTunes go to the event page.

MORE COVERAGE OF MICRO MEDIA MAZE:

There have been some superb write-ups already from people who attended.

Jonathan Hopkins – Middledigit
Ben Matthews – Pudding Relations
Jemima Kiss – PDA Blog, Media Guardian
David Jennings

[NB. cross-posted on my Chinwag blog]

Widget Week part 2 – Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised

Potent openers are thin on the ground at events, mine especially. Having often developed and programmed the events, I’m normally found delivering safety instructions and other such vital messages in a vaguely ironic monotone (see photos).

So props to Steve Bowbrick for his scenesetting observation at Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised on Wednesday 16th May that the opposing life forces of disintegration and re-formation are encapsulated in the widgetisation of media.

Getting the second event in Widget Week properly underway, Steve canvassed the panel for their definition of a widget and the answers were both resonant and diverse. For their answers, you have to listen to the podcast due this Thursday 24th May.

PANEL:
Mark Taylor – Head of Content, Eircom & founder, Sleevenotez (blog)
George Berkowski – Head of Internet Strategy, BT Retail
Fergus Burns – CEO & Founder, nooked
Jonathan Gabbai – Solutions Manager, eBay
Kaj Häggman – Business Development Manager & Inventor, WidSets (blog)
Chair: Steve Bowbrick

So are widgets internet famous? 😉 George Berkowski, Head of Internet Strategy at BT Retail flagged-up Adsense as the most successful widget to date. He also cited Photobucket, which gets 1% of all internet traffic in the US.

Nooked CEO Fergus Burns was quick off the mark with some headline info about the widget economy. Last year was the year retailers and advertisers started asking “how do I get onto Myspace and onto Vista Gadgets?” You want your widget to be viral, but how do you drive traffic back to your site from RSS and the widget, Burns continued. The challenges ahead mean it has to be fun and it has to give value to the consumer (can you tell Fergus wasn’t giving away too much..?).

Kaj ‘Hege’ Häggman of Widsets stressed the widget proposition has to be simple. They now have 14,000 widgets in their library, 99% of which have been created by users. Doing profile-base widget recommendations is edging very close to advertising he noted.

Widgets – socking it to the portals?

Eircom Head of Content and Sleevenotez founder Mark Taylor explained that the “Kwaydo” engine that powers Sleevenotez (get more info by clicking on ‘Navigation’ on the Zythe homepage), is in fact a platform that powers what he terms “thin portals”.

He acknowledged that on the one hand – with Kwaydo – he is trying to disrupt portal models, but on the other – with his (Irish incumbent telco) Eircom hat on – to maintain them. He said widgets can extend your brand’s borders, but as a widget sceptic he is concerned that widgets are going to become another marketing and advertising tool.

Outfits like Ning and PeopleAggregator are going in one direction against the old portals, he said, but portals still have a role to play and while we are trying to figure out what that role is, it is clear that there is a value in aggregating large audiences. In turn, those portal-type aggregators can also provide access to exclusive content that you can then widgetise.

Utility versus monetisation?

eBay Solutions Manager Jonathan Gabbai stressed that widgets facilitate the distribution of content – which begs the question how do you monetize that? eBay is good for that because it is time-sensitive. The newly launched eBayToGo widget can be embedded on a blog or website giving you live updates on your auction. It this scenario, it’s important to have an open API, as has Amazon and Google, he added.

From the audience Pauli Visuri described a widget rather poetically as a “tear-off” from a website. Robin Gurney of (Estonian-based) Altex Marketing sounded a more cynical note, saying this monetized widget “sounded like a glorified version of affiliate marketing”.

Jonathan Gabbai concurred welcomingly that widgets do lend themselves to affiliate marketing. Someone else said the whole widget phenomenon must be like a “freak-out nightmare” for content owners and publishers, and George Berkowski noted that that is part of it, but there is also a real value for the user – the widget services from Slide, Photobucket and RockYou have great usability and utility for users. They have an altruistic and positive brand effect, and at the same time those companies are monetizing widgets very well.

Applications for and by the masses?

Kaj Häggman observed that it’s as much about allowing users to generate applications, and it’s a new paradigm that that not only gives users control to create their own apps, it’s also about giving control back to the developers. The mobile industry needs to be able to talk the language of the web industry, he stressed; a remark that triggered a flurry of comments about how the mobile industry’s business models were being put on the line by the arrival of the mobilized web, hence their reluctance to embrace it until the last moment possible.

Steve Bowbrick mused on the impact on site owners who have to host the applications and content of others via embedded widgets; the prospect of that happening on phones struck him as even more iffy.

One widget into 25 platforms does not compute…

A delegate from Profero noted that the arrival of Apollo from Adobe opens out the Flash platform to developers and he suggested that this would make it all more popular and widespread. Fergus Burns countered that the recent launches of Silverlight (from Microsoft) and Apollo means that we will end now end up with about 25 different widget platforms that developers will have to develop differently for.

This issue was thrown into even sharper relief by Opera Software ’s Charles McCathieNevile two nights earlier at Mobile Monday: Mobile Widgets. If development work around incompatible widget platforms is not in itself going to become a barrier to the development of widgets, he reflected, support needs to cohere around the notion of a standardised widget spec which is validated by the W3C (more here).

Dave Markham from Vodafone wondered wasn’t it all more about making sure it all works. Vodafone want it to work with widget builders, he said, and he asked the panel whether it would be a better experience for mobile users with downloadable widgets or online widgets.

Widgets as symbiotic parasites

Kaj Häggman commented that a widget is a very personal thing and there is a possibility to put an ad in that space that is not intrusive. Jonathan Gabbai observed that the big question here was one of trust. For kids, you could see a widget as a Harry Potter sticky note. So does that mean it’s all pre-packaged content?

A widget can be classified as a web service, said Burns. Dave Hornick on Ventureblog reckons it can be symbiotic (the Harry Potter-type, providing value for both host and widget provider), or that such as found with Slide, which is a parasitic widget that makes revenue for the widget provider.

Steve then interjected with a vivid analogy of an ecosystem of parasitic widgets leeching around the place and monetizing the attention of hosts on the one hand, and benign widgets that that swung freely between the trees.

Personalisation and widgetised identity

George Berkowski cited the robust personalisation of SnapVine. In turn, he continued, you have the phenomenon of widgetised startpages, whereby you can go to a celebrity’s page, for example on Netvibes, and it has all her content aggregated, plus you can leave voicemails and comments on it.

Lingo allows you to do the same with video and audio. There’s nothing to download, sort of like Skype without the download.

Alex Cooper of 1UpSearch asked if the Widsets business model was one of collecting demographic information and he wondered how that will pan out – will we be spammed by Nokia? Häggman explained that it will be opt-in as they value peoples’ privacy. Steve commented that it all was a bit like widgets as Big Brother or CCTV on your desktop.

Widgets atomised or widgets humanised?

Mark Taylor cited the utility of a private banking widget and Fergus Burns flagged-up the Ding! widget produced by South West Airlines, noting that it had 2 million downloads and there was no privacy issue with that. Jonathan Gabbai remarked that there’s a difference between installation and download, for example, with Firefox you download the extensions but it’s a low barrier to entry.

Finally, Gavin O’Carroll of Rememble asked the kind of mind-melting question that I had hoped audience members might ask in a previous post about this event. Where does it stop? Can you widgetise widgets? For example, will we have banner ads in widgets, and is there any reason why you can’t advertise in widgets?

Check the podcast (due Thursday 24th) for attempted answers to that, as at that point my humble penning skills failed and minutes later chair Steve Bowbrick said it was a wrap.

Stowe Boyd (who discovered the event via Dopplr when he arrived in the UK that afternoon) remained quiet during the discussion but told me afterwards he thought the event was too focused on monetisation (he also tweeted this) and didn’t really look at the user. Fair dos, but isn’t it fair enough to examine potential business models when you want to make a living?

Freakout nightmare or scent of a persona..?

What I felt was also missing was the publisher and brand perspective in terms of future media (although there were plenty of mainstream media publishers in the audience) – how do they maintain their brand identity in the web feed, widget and mash-up space without hugely irritating or inconveniencing people, and how do they fund widgetisation? Alan Patrick is convinced advertising in feeds will fail (see his post on the event). So what will work?

The broader issues of widgetisation outlined in the event webpage were barely touched upon and I would like to have heard more from panellist Mark Taylor too. Check out Mike Butcher’s excellent post on Sleevenotes from back in December 2006 for more on what Mark is up to.

Priya told me later that evening she thought a widget was like a digital perfume. But then we started quibbling over whether she meant natural human scent, perfume or aftershave, and then whether or not we favoured aftershave. And so the lights went down and off I hobbled to Madame JoJo’s for the tail end of the book launch party for Richard Barbrook’s Imaginary Futures: From Thinking Machine to Global Village.

Yep, another Chinwag Live to remember when we’re in yr rockin chairz gluing captions to yr cats…. (cheers Ian). Hmm, did I already mention the photos?

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Please bear in mind my notes were sporadic and atomised 😉 For the complete lowdown on what was said, subscribe to the Chinwag Live podcast via RSS or iTunes.

SXSW notes: Using RSS For Marketing

I dipped into this session on Sunday 11th March 2007 a little after it began, and the panel was already in full-flow. The session overall was an interesting elision of technology and marketing, and drew a 200-strong audience – pretty good going for a 10am slot!

While I left knowing feed adoption was certainly on the up, a strong sense prevailed that the technological and design issues around it were also hampering its growth.

Anyway, onto the report. Discussing the uses of and issues around RSS for marketing were a very insightful and affable panel…

PANEL
Emily Chang – IdeaCodes / EmilyChang.com
Bill Flitter – CEO, Pheedo (blog)
John Jantsch – Duct Tape Marketing (blog)
Greg Reinacker – CTO & Co-founder, Newsgator (blog)
Chair: Tom Markewicz – EvolvePoint

Difficulties around tracking RSS user statistics and data were first on the agenda, and Greg Reinacker of Newsgator was stressing that they do have good data, but that what they don’t have is data on people using Firefox and Outlook for their feeds.

John Jantsch said their clients and prospects are getting information in lots of different ways. There’s a segment that want it in RSS and he wasn’t worried by the adoption rate. The trick is to easily enable all the ways people want to get information.

Emily Chang countered that we don’t get good data. However NBC are already using RSS internally to send out information; and many people may be using RSS without being aware of it.

Bill Flitter of Pheedo said that last year (2006) saw a huge spike from clients and brands in the automotive industry; there was a 500% increase so it is going towards the mainstream via these hobbyist channels. Last year when Google Reader and some Microsoft products launched, he added, there was another big spike.

It’s the plumbing stupid…

The moderator asked if RSS will remain a specialist term like POP Server, etc, or will it go mainstream like “email”? And if there’s a difference between RSS and Atom, can we use RSS as a generic term?

As browsers and other products integrate RSS into the toolset we will need the term less, reckoned Chang. It’s about receiving information by subscribing to content, Reinacker added, “RSS is just plumbing.” Just like no-one knows what SMTP is, he observed, RSS is under the hood and will stay there.

If you look at things like Pageflakes, there are widgets pulling information in. What excites him is the example of a publishing site that is putting all the content reconfigured for RSS through XML mark-up [not sure that I noted this correctly – will check podcast and amend if required].

RSS moves to enhance your marketing

What marketing is being done, Markiewicz asked the panel. Jantsch noted that on Pageflakes you can set up RSS feeds on different topics and areas around news stories. Reinacker observed that you don’t need to build your own RSS reader; rather, there’s a big cloud of content out there and you can access everyone’s content the same way using a desktop aggregator to tap into the cloud and pick stuff out of it.

Or if you’re in an industry sector for example, Reinacker continued, look at all the content specific to your area and pull bits of it into your site [eg. via a widget]; this way you can become a thought leader by leveraging others content.

Ford are doing blogs for auto shows (eg Detroit, NY), Flitter explained. They’re sending a person there to cover the show, not just to write about Ford but to write about what’s happening in the industry. They’re creating content on their blog and then looking to get that content syndicated elsewhere, leveraging the written word to build affinity with customers. Understand the power of content, Flitter stressed.

Markiewicz reflected that as with any aspect of marketing, you need to measure it. With marketing as a discipline there are no pre-defined answers, but with RSS you can know instantly if people are paying attention.

Search, SEO and indexing content

Jantsch added that you can use RSS to get better search results. It’s very easy now for a company to build upon their content to get better search results by having themed pages that are re-published as feeds – a really powerful way to get some nice rankings and hopefully some traffic!

Chang concurred – if you have your pages optimized, Google is rapidly indexing all feeds already. Flitter agreed – better indexed content begets better found content than all the merely beautifully designed sites out there.

You can repurpose content from your own site, Jantsch interjected. You don’t have to go out to the world. Markewicz took it a step further positing that you can use RSS as a content management system.

The truth about full versus partial feeds

So what mistakes are being made? What are publishers doing wrong, Markiewicz wondered. They’re being too stingy with their information, Flitter reckoned, by putting just the headline out, or a partial feed.

But are their audience ready for full feed content? The difference in response on full feeds and partial feeds is marginal, Flitter argued. There’s something inherent in the way we interact with feeds in that people want to poke around and see what else is there. So for response rates and marketing / branding impact, think about being more generous.

If you want to secure your feeds, Reinacker said, http authentication works across the board; secret URLs don’t work, because Google, Newsgator, etc will index it anyway! Jantsch added that as marketers we have to make it easier to subscribe. He’s been using AddThis which means he can avoid using all the little chicklets [the little branded buttons for Feedster, Bloglines, Netvibes etc].

Covering all the bases

Markiewicz said we should be consistent if we want subscribers because an RSS subscriber is going to be a lot more valuable over the long term than an email subscriber – so make it so that you can auto-subscribe.

Chang commented that the problem is where people think that your RSS strategy is something different from your overall content strategy.

Flitter raised the instance of where the reader is just looking at lines of text; they may open all their feeds in one long river of news, but then it all looks the same. How then does your information stand out? For every article, start it with your company name at the start of the headline so when it’s syndicated your brand will be visible there too and you’ll also benefit in the search realm too [this idea did not appeal at all to me, but that’s the dormant journalist thinking, I guess 😉 ].

Tracking, content and objectives

The question was raised as to regularity of feed posting by an audience member. Markiewicz stressed consistency. Chang said if your company is doing product updates, then at least make it once a month, like an email newsletter.

Jantsch argued that it all comes down to goals. Reinacker said put quality before quantity; you can’t put garbage out there with the occasional nugget. Jantsch disagreed – get a PDA and note down everything interesting you hear, it’s not that hard!

Are there tracking tools other than standard web tracking, someone asked. This can get done in-house, responded Markiewicz but there are services like Feedburner that can package that data for you.

Approaching it from a marketing perspective, remarked Flitter, it’s all about how to leverage feeds and what to do with them. Do you have campaign-specific objectives and data needs, or overall objectives? Feedburner is good for general and publisher feeds; Simplefeed is good for the enterprise; and Pheedo is suited to marketers. Is it impressions, views or clicks that you seek? These tracking packages are just a guideline for measuring feeds.

From chicklets to auto-discovery

If you have a built-in fanbase, an audience member asked, and they’re mostly not technically skilled, how do you make RSS easy to use if it’s positioned as plumbing?

If you have a large target group you know how to speak to them, Markiewicz replied, and you need to make that effort. Customise your language to your audience, said Chang. So if it’s a cookery site, say “get a daily recipe”. People should also be able to subscribe to your feeds by email, Jantsch suggested.

Reinacker differed regarding the orange RSS button. If you don’t need it that assumes that your site supports auto-discovery. But major aggregators like Google, Newsgator and others don’t support auto-discovery, so leave the chicklets and the orange button there, and also support auto-discovery.

You should probably do your first reach-out via email, added Chang. The orange button was created to remove the need for multiple chicklets. It was created for the early adopters – to get them to use RSS and spread the early adoption take-up. From a marketing perspective, Flitter said, keep testing to figure out what is the best way to get uptake.

Video descriptors in feeds & breaking the US stranglehold

Dealing with video was the next question raised from the audience. If your content has a lot of video, and you have a one minute or thirty second spot, would you recommend a short description of it that’s not actually visible on the site but is to aggregators and search engines?

While you don’t have to transcribe every word, Flitter reckoned, you should have a summary of the content, both from a marketing standpoint and from an indexing standpoint.

Use Flash or an embedded YouTube / other trusted player, recommended Reinacker. Make sure you see how your feeds render in all the top news readers; so be careful of putting shiny little objects in the feed.

A French man in the audience got the last word in. He remarked that all this stuff about plumbing is just a big turn-off; we should be talking about stories, not the technology. He said that he used Feedburner and that all the stats are very US-centric, but in the morning you get more RSS readers from abroad. With services like[Vancouver-based] NowPublic, he observed, you actually get a different audience.

—————- 

This is the first of my reports from SXSW Interactive 2007. No doubt, like last year, it’ll take me another 10 months to get all these babies written up! In the meantime, here’s some other good coverage and commentary on this session:
http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/sxsw_using_rss_for_marketing.php
http://www.darowski.com/tracesofinspiration/2007/03/11/sxswi-using-rss-for-marketing/
http://christopherschmitt.com/2007/04/03/sxsw07-rss-for-marketing/

UNSUBTLE HINT…
If you found this report of interest, then can I (Amazon-stylee) suggest that you might also like these upcoming events…

Chinwag Live Media Widgetised – 16 May 2007, London
http://live.chinwag.com/mediawidgetised
“How will the growth of widgets, aggregators and web-feeds effect the online media landscape?” Speakers from eBay, BT Retail, nooked and Eircom / Sleevenotez [disclosure: I’ve organised this event]

Widget Week! – 14-22 May 2007, London
Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised on 16th May is part of the inaugural Widget Week – the world’s first co-ordinated cluster of events to focus on the widget phenomenon and explore its business, marketing and cross-platform potential. Move over Silicon Valley – the UK and Ireland is where the best of media and technology intersect! Brought to you by Chinwag, NMK (Beers & Innovation) and MoMo London

Upcoming listings:
If you like to watch, share or just aren’t sure yet, your needs are catered for on these Upcoming pages:
Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised – 16th May 2007
Widget Week 2007 – 14th – 22nd May 2207

Dawn of the widgeteers

Funny how things change. One minute we’re all shouting about websites, WAP sites, social networks, the mobile web, and the need for these to be branded, marketed, accessified, monetised and measured to within an nanometer of perfection.

Then what do you know – along comes the widget.

When Sam and myself at work settled on the idea of doing an event on this, as we batted the concept around amid the usual multi-tasking mayhem, the questions that came out of our minds were more far-reaching than we’d anticipated.

Do newly launched brands and businesses even need a website? Isn’t mobile the better platform for RSS feeds and widgetised content? Are web services the new black? [okay, the last one’s a bit less pondersome].

As I’ve written in our latest Chinwag Live newsletter [and BTW I *know* most of you don’t subscribe because you’re strict RSS discplinarians, but patience people 😉 ]:

“One thing’s for sure, widgets are shaking up the way we consume information. When you can get all your favourite bits of the web delivered to a feed reader, blog widgets or personalised homepage, bypassing the “destination website” setup, what are the implications for brands, marketing and digital media?

Do we really know where we’re going as media is delivered by RSS and content is “widgetised” – deportalized, snipped, aggregated and mashed up everywhere?”

To which I would add, how do we search widgetised and dis-aggregated content? How do we enable its discovery? How do we archive it? Some folks out there must be cooking up the answers.

Springtime for widgets and feed readers…

Hopefully YOU, or your partners in crime 🙂 And along with our panellists at Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised on 16th May, perhaps we can start to get more of a handle on all this upheaval. Or, at the very least, over a few drinks, we can come up with some even more mind-melting questions (feel free to pop them in the comments here too why dontcha).

Who are the panellists? Mark Taylor, Head of Content at Eircom & founder of Sleevenotez, George Berkowski, Head of Internet Strategy at BT Retail, Fergus Burns, CEO & Founder of nooked and Jonathan Gabbai, Solutions Manager at eBay, with Steve Bowbrick chairing (more info and bookings here).

It’s also on the newly Yahoo-ified Upcoming.

So, if the widgetsphere is starting to remake the web, does that give you the late-night-sweats, or are you downright hugging-yourself excited? Either way, this event is made for you.

Newsweek declared 2007 the year of the Widget. Well I reckon May 2007 will be the month of the widget (more on that soon). You heard it here first.

Roll on SXSW Interactive in Austin!

I’m off to SXSW Interactive in the morning! And it’s in Austin, a bohemian oasis isn the middle of redneck Texas.

Went last year, had a tremenduous time, and have been planning my return pretty much ever since I arrived back last year.

I think it’s the only large-scale digital / tech conference (in the English-speaking world) that’s also a festival.

Daytime sessions that have caught my eye so far include:

Online Publishers & Ad Networks
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060200

How to Bluff Your Way in Web 2.0
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060169

Turning Projects Into Revenue Generating Businesses
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060246

Under 18: Blogs, Wikis and Online Social Networks for Youth
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060248

Kathy Sierra Opening Remarks
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060180

Tag. You’re It
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060222

Everything’s Gone Douglas Coupland
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060283

Games + Entertainment Brands: Five Top Trends In 2007
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060284

Mapping: Where the F#*% Are We Now?
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060187

Web Hacks: Good or Evil (or: Welcome to Web 2.666)
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060263

Every Breath You Take: Identity, Attention, Presence and Reputation
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060150

Using RSS For Marketing
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060252

Web 2.0 and Semantic Web: The Impact on Scientific Publishing
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/conference/panels_schedule/?action=show&id=IAP0602

Why We Should Ignore Users
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060271

Non-Developers to Open Source Acolytes: Tell Me Why I Care
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060196

How to Convince Your Company to Embrace Mashup Culture
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060170

User Generated Content and Original Editorial: Friend or Foe
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060251

Why Marketers Need To Work With People Media
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060270

Open Knowledge vs. Controlled Knowledge
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060202

MobileActive: Mobilizing The Masses With Mobile Technology
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060190

There’s no Such Thing as the Mobile Web (Or Is There?)
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060244

The Global Microbrand: Are Blogs, Suits and Wine the New Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll?
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060165

And that’s just the ones I *really* want to go to!!

All the panels:
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/

I’ve also put myself down for more than a few parties over the 10th – 14th March duration:
http://upcoming.org/user/45382/

Stamina will be required 😉