Sometimes it’s better never than late…

I don’t mean to be too hard on the BBC news technology show Click (iPlayer link). After all, the broadcast television show does a reasonable job of displaying and explaining technology to a mainstream news channel. And there’s always an occasional something for those more technologically savvy.

But today’s episode highlighted the problem with broadcasting schedules. At the end of the show, they plugged their CES coverage which will run over the next two weeks (on iPlayer on Jan 16 and Jan 23 I believe).

Now the 2010 International CES ran from January 7-10. Which means it started last Thursday, and finished today. And being the first major show of the year, and just about the biggest, there’s been coverage absolutely everywhere. Previews, videos, interviews, analysis – on almost every single website under the sun.

Indeed if you manage to find the actual Click section of the BBC website, there are already features on many of the big CES gadgets on video, and an interview with Steve Ballmer.

And almost everyone attending CES has a device capable of recording decent video content – whether it’s quick mobile footage, a handheld like a Flip Mino HD or Kodak Zi8, or something higher up the professional recording level ladder like the Canon 5D. As an example, my friend Angus shot 30 fully-produced videos available on Youtube, and 11 Qik videos, plus a combination of iPhone and hi-res still photos for Which? magazine which are all already online. (Find out more @angusfarquhar)

Put simply, if anyone in the world wants to see absolutely anything from the CES, they’ll have seen it. Even if they’ve got a passing interest in technology, someone will have sent them the link on Facebook or by email. And if they’re not that interested, they’ll struggle to find out Click exists, check the scheduling, and be watching at the fairly unsociable hours at which it’s broadcast.

It’s something I come across every day with the sheer weight of microblogging stories I could cover on 140char.com if I had infinite time available.

Probably the rule of thumb is to assume that everything becomes available to almost anyone as soon as it’s public anywhere, and you should make as much available as you can as soon as you can. And if there’s going to be a delay for non-exclusive content, you’re better off forgetting about it and moving onto the next thing.

(Incidentally, in terms of BBC CES content and coverage, I’d recommend following the likes of @ruskin147 and @maggieshiels on Twitter.)

BBC reminds me of two elements of consumer satisfaction

I’m a big fan of much of the work the BBC does online, and in general it does a very good job of providing a massive amount of content in a fairly logical manner.

But using the site as a consumer with a couple of urgent needs highlighted a couple of things which I think are good lessons for any website:

Multi-channel delivery:

I’m a huge fan of the BBC iPlayer, and the fact it allows me to watch good quality online and on-demand television. So on Sunday morning, I rushed to watch Match of the Day, having missed it on Saturday night (and with the Absolute Radio Fantasy Football game meaning I need to pay extra attention to every team this year!).

But the listing was greyed out – and with no reason given, I had to presume it was down to the licensing rights for the Premier League.

So it was a bit weird to be looking for something else a bit later, and stumble across it in the sport section! (Flaw here was attempting to browse my way to it, rather than using the site or Google search.)

The lesson: If you’re putting out content through two difference channels for whatever reason, then link between them! And always try to explain why someone can’t access something if they might logically think they should.

Reassurance:

The BBC carries a lot of event coverage, particularly in areas such as music, and especially sport. For example, it’s great to be able to watch the MotoGP series via the BBC, and also great to be able to see the full list of races (125 and 250cc) online, as my TV set-up seems to struggle with the Red Button Freeview channels.

But although it’s nice to see everything go live at the same time, as if a single switch somewhere brings everything to life, unless you’ve got Freeview and the website running at the same time, it isn’t that impressive. And the fact the online feed wasn’t listed from the MotoGP page of the Sport section until the video went live two minutes after the listed time meant that I probably wasn’t the only one frantically refreshing the page to see if it would appear or if there was a problem.

The lesson: If you’re covering an event that starts at a specific time, why not have a page and link ready and live in advance, which can provide a bit of reassurance for internet users? That way, we can relax knowing that everything will go live at noon, for example, rather than worrying that there’s a technical fault with 1 minute to go. Whatever happens afterwards, we’re already stressed and less likely to enjoy and appreciate your hard work!

 

I’m still a huge fan of the BBC, and there are hundreds of sites which could have been used for the same points – the reason it stood out for me was that I was a completely powerless consumer. Reinforcing the final lesson – always look at your website as a consumer trying to achieve something.

Twitter IS mainstream. Please move on…

I think it’s time for anyone writing about Twitter to realise and accept that the endless debate about becoming mainstream has become redundant – it’s mainstream, please accept it, move on, and let’s talk about something else!

There are 2,360,000 Google results for ‘Twitter + mainstream’, and 144,000 for ‘curing + illness’. Make of that what you will!

Everybody Knows by Harvard Avenue on Flickr (CC Licence)

Everybody Knows by Harvard Avenue on Flickr (CC Licence)

@SarahM‘s post for O’Reilly, isn’t a bad post, but the two examples against accepting Twitter as mainstream did start me thinking.

The reasons for Twitter not making televised Superbowl coverage were probably the scale of the televised coverage of the event, and gaining media passes/internet connections etc to moderate a live feed for broadcast – I’ve only ever covered much smaller events, but the manpower required can be surprising, and it can be a battle to get enough staff access.

Meanwhile the lack of TV adverts carrying Twitter ids isn’t surprising – most companies will see their main website as the hub of their activity and will want to keep the list of web address down to one simple name to remember – not supply details of the website, the Facebook page, the Myspace page, the Twitter account and the Get Satisfaction page! Being UK-based, there may be TV adverts promoting Facebook pages in the U.S, but I haven’t seen any yet…

But for mainstream, I’d state the following:

CNN and BBC cite Twitter for Mumbai updates.

@wossy and @stephenfry discuss Twitter on the BBC. @schofe discusses Twitter on ITV.

The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Washington PostUSA Today, LA Times, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Channel 4, The Guardian, New York Times, New Scientist, The Independent.

All in the last 2 or 3 days, and just the most mainstream titles I saw in a quick Google News search.

Meanwhile:

On Something for the Weekend, Working Lunch, On Jonathan Ross, This Morning, Channel 4 news. (I didn’t do the U.S TV channels because I have no way to tell which ones are more notable than others, and didn’t want to try and list every single use, but here’s CNN for some balance.

And of course – Twestival‘s 140+ global events (with LiveEarth as broadcast and video partner!)

And to finish off –

‘If you want to know what technology will change the world, watch young mothers…and don’t watch teenage boys – young mothers have no time for any technology that isn’t useful and doesn’t work.’

Clay Shirky in 2005, via Broadstuff.

So – Twittermoms.

Can I stop yet?

No it hasn’t got the scale of TV, print media or Facebook – yet. But it’s never been about scale for anyone except those wanting eyeballs for the same old display adverts.

But social networks are built for exponential growth (in theory, if not in scalability of the backend!). And after growing 974% in 2008 (Hitwise) it’s not going to slow down now. I’m seeing more and more non-technical friends and family appearing, just as happened with Facebook – and more and more people asking me questions without trying to hide the shame of using a silly-sounding word like ‘twitter’.

So can we all accept it’s not going to get any smaller, and it’s reached the mainstream now. In a bit of time the audience will be in a similar range to the biggest social networks of the moment, and we’ll be discussing something new – maybe nano-blogging!

Obama Wins! by annethelibrarian (Flickr CC Licence)

Obama Wins! by annethelibrarian (Flickr CC Licence)

Does mainstream media really boost Twitter followers?

There’s been some coverage of the appearance of Twitter on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, due to both @wossy and guest @stephenfry not only being ‘celebs who Twitter’, but actualy ‘celebs who really get how Twitter works’.

Martin Belam calculated that Stephen Fry had increased his follower count by 16% between the filming on Thursday and Sunday morning.

Personally, I’d have calculated any effect from when the programme was first shown, as that’s when new followers would appear. Neville Hobson used Twittercounter to count 4000 new followers for StephenFry in the first 24 hours, but really focuses on the increase in activity and conversation from existing Twitter users about the TV mention. (Techcrunch UK also has a summary of the TV coverage)

But hang on a minute.

Even if we take the total at 10.30pm on Sunday, @stephenfry has gained 8864 from an audience of 4million+. Meanwhile 84% of his followers appeared before the mass media appearance, by finding him on Twitter and spreading the word.

So he gained 8/10 followers by conversation, word of mouth and social networking, and just 2/10ish by broadcasting on the biggest national TV station in the UK.

Does mainstream media coverage really boost followers or validate Twitter?

Are efforts to get boys reading more barking up the wrong dead tree?

As a relatively new father, I’ve suddenly become far more interested in the educational merit of the transition from dead-tree print to digital,  in addition to the implications for journalism and marketing.

So I paid a little bit of attention to the Oxford University Press launching a range of ‘computer-esque books to encourage boys to read‘. (link to BBC story).

Apparently the books have been tested in 2000 schools, and can be made interactive via CD-Roms (Are we back in 1995?) and whiteboards.

Two quotes in the BBC article got me thinking:

One from Charlie Higson (author of the Young Bond books):

‘”The point is that books are different to computers – that’s the whole point. If kids want to play with computers, they’ll play with computers, not read these stories.”

And one from Elaine Millard from the National Assocation of Teaching English

“What we have to do in schools is get that enthusiasm back for words on the page.” (emphasis mine)

Seems to me that Charlie makes a very good point for all print businesses – instead of bemoaning the fact that kids or adults are spending time on computers, perhaps we should either be making better print experiences, or better online experiences?

And I think that ties into the idea that we need to only have enthusiasm for words ‘on the page’.

Because, presumably, going into the school library and spending 40 minutes trying to find the right entry in an Encyclopedia bought the last time a school governor donated funds in the 1990s has more merit than searching Wikipedia, and it would be impossible to find literary merit in staring at a computer screen, or to combine something like a great computer game with some humour, intelligence and problem solving?

Coincidentally, whilst writing this, I spotted Dave Cushman linking to Dr Chris Thorpe‘s thoughts on both Dave’s book, and the power of print.

There’s an interesting change taking place – I still love reading books, and used Christmas as a chance to catch up on quite a few, and I can agree to an extent with Chris that reading print can have benefits (not getting distracted by links, or by other online services would be probably the main point which couldn’t be replicated online).

But what’s also interesting is that Cush’s book collects and organises thoughts which have appeared on his blog in a way that perhaps gives them more meaning due to the recurring themes – but the interactions that led Chris to read it is from meeting in person, and doubtless interactions via email and social networks.

Perhaps it’s not the actual content of great books which would have to change, but the ways in which we can help people discover them?

As an example, off the top of my head – people seem to have vastly different views on the idea of enjoying Shakespeare outside of academia, which seem to be driven by how they experienced it. For instance, I had some great English and History teachers who really put some life into Shakespeare – and also had parents who took me to see a handful of excellent Royal Shakespeare Company productions – some of which transposed Shakespeare with modern props and settings – Julius Ceasar stood in a transformed Kent sports centre next to a tank for example.

So rather than trying to corral kids into reading books by imitating things they’d rather be doing, perhaps we should be looking at how the things they’d rather do could be inspirational and interesting – could there be English and History scholars having conversations on Twitter, or could kids be siding with the Montagues and Capulets on a Facebook application?

After all, most of the books I read are by people I can contact via their blogs, emails and social networks and engage with to increase my understanding. Why should kids be denied the same opportunities?

The important thing is that we should be teaching children about the huge amount of ways they can find, enjoy, share, discuss, and interact with information in every format, and the benefits of each. And ensuring that we work with them to make sure what is produced is something engaging rather than patronising.

A useful new site, and a future prediction…

If you’re reading this elsewhere, it’s from www.thewayoftheweb.net by Dan Thornton

Had a really good day in London, and met some cool new people, both from within Bauer Media and externally. Hopefully I’ll have plenty of reasons to write about them all shortly!

I spotted a number of sites mentioning Backtype as I was catching up on my RSS feeds on the train home. It’s a fairly elegant way of keeping track of the comments you leave on other websites and blogs – something I tried doing via Delicious, but always failed to keep track of!

If you’re interested, you can keep tabs on me at Backtype.com/DanThornton. The way it tracks comments is by tracking the url you leave – which covers most blogs and similar sites. I doubt there are any Dan Thornton/BadgerGravling impersonators out there, but they’ll appear if they’re dropping my urls! I’ve looked at alternatives like Disqus, and coComment, but never quite saw enough value to invest the time and effort needed. Backtype is far quicker and simpler, and may well encourage me to re-investigate some of the alternatives, depending on what happens – although Friendfeed etc also give a home to comments and conversation about blog spots.

Now the predicition. I’ve been prompted to pick some of the things I think will emerge next on the web (and I’m always happy to also spout my ideas unprompted!). I’ve often made the obvious observations around mobile and smartphones, and the fact that Twitter and microblogging are being adopted by brands, enterprise, celebrities and the mainstream. But the third prediction is one that surprised me a little, the first time it launched out of my mouth!

Twitter has a fair way to go to become really mainstream, but the next site/application to follow it, in my opinion, will be Seesmic. Most people in the tech bubble will have heard of it and web celeb founder Loic le Meur. But, like many emerging sites and applications, it’s taken a little time for the value of the service to become apparent.

For the unitiated, it’s a tool for video conversations by individuals, enabling responses to be threaded into coherence. Which means it overcomes the downside of streaming your life via webcam 24/7 – the dull bits. It’s already popular with some people withing social media – like top journalism lecturer/social media/multimedia person Paul Bradshaw – but now it’s also being used by mainstream media. The BBC has now joined the Washington Post in using the service, as written about by Loic today, and not only have they outlined how it will be used in their first video, but they’re already gaining responses to their first conversation about the financial crisis.

Now listen up, journalist people. Not only can you get a response from the more engaged members of society without having to do ‘voxpops‘ in the local town centre in the pouring rain – but now they’ll even video themselves! See the benefit now?

Why I love links

By nature, I’m a frustrated librarian and a compulsive hoarder. My music collection is in alphabetical and chronological order, and my loft is packed with old video consoles and other collections which I know fatherhood will stop me from indulging in, except as family heirlooms in 30 years time!

Part of this is a reluctance to lend CDs and books, even to close friends, for fear of them being lost, or being returned with the spine of the book broken beyond all recognition.

But now access to knowledge and entertainment is instantly sharable from the moment of discovery. From the almost infinite resource of online knowledge I can share findings via links, Del.icio.us bookmarks, or RSS. My tastes in music are logged, and accessible via Last.fm, and TV and videos get distributed from Youtube, the BBC iPLayer, or where ever they’re found. And it doesn’t matter if my friends lose them, and they can’t return them broken. In fact, even if, God forbid, I lost all my saved files and links, I could find most of the memorable ones that mattered in a few minutes with Google.

There’s a popular quote by author and broadcaster Leo Laporte which has spread via shared links:

“I’m less likely to read print lately because I can’t tag, bookmark, and share the stories. Info gathering has become a social process for me”

And it rings true. Print and physical copies are now back-ups, or objects for sentimental value. They’re for those rare occasions that you want to get away from it all.

And that’s why I love links!

Scheduling your work with the ‘kitty litter’ method…

Don’t worry, I haven’t decided to switch to blogging about my pets! There’s already enough people filling that niche quite nicely.

The reference to kitty litter comes from the fact that I quite enjoy doing all the stereotypically manly jobs around the house, like DIY, changing light bulbs, and heroically standing up to insect and rodent invaders. And that’s despite the fact I exude the aura of someone permanently bathed in the glow of a computer monitor, laptop screen, or videogame.

But the one task I do hate is cleaning out the cat litter tray, especially if I’ve let it go for a day or two. If it’s done daily, it’s not too bad. If it’s a day or two late – you can probably imagine…

And by the same token, I’m lucky enough to have a job I’m really enjoying, but it does come with some tasks that are either new, or things that don’t always fill me with joy. But the more I do them, and the more regularly I schedule them, the easier it is to get them done and then get on with something more enjoyable. Hence kitty litter scheduling…

In other news, I picked up a shocking story about the UK Government and plans for healthcare from the excellent Communities Dominate Brands. Trying to be impartial, I can see why increasing private sector healthcare makes sense for a Government run like a corporation. But it deeply offends me that the Government isn’t putting service to the electorate first, and seems to have ignored the problems that many people in the U.S encounter every day due to private healthcare. It certainly means I know exactly which party will no longer get a vote from me.

Finally, some other interesting tidbits:

BBC Iplayer drivers online TV in the UK.
General Motors is compiling it’s 100 year history via a wiki
And
A call to boycott writing for academic journals who refuse to allow open access
Proving that even the most exclusive and respected academic journals face the same problems as consumer media and newspapers – and in fact, may find it even harder to adapt to survive.