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August 02 2013

TERRA 816: Reduce Reuse Recycle-tron

Bjorn, a surly viking transported to the present through mysterious circumstances, must come to terms with Resource Conservation (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) through the expert coaching of high school students Brenda and Mickey, and their biology teacher, Mr. Wilson. The film is composed of two parts: a narrative and a music video, both overlain with motion graphics. These films were shown to focus groups of 6th-8th grade students to test the educational value and appeal of music videos and motion graphics. This film was sponsored by the Mr. Rogers Memorial Scholarship. Produced by Seth Ring.

April 15 2011

Getting your book in front of 160 million users is usually a good thing

Last week, Megan Lisa Jones launched a promotion for her new book "Captive" in a (seemingly) unlikely forum: BitTorrent, a space commonly associated with "piracy." At about a week into her two-week promotion, I checked in with BitTorrent to see how it was going. In an email interview, BitTorrent spokesperson Allison Wagda said that as of 10 am Tuesday, "Captive" had been downloaded 342,242 times.

Though the environment may feel like a strange bedfellow for publishing, the impressive level of exposure for a new book release can't be denied. The marketing appeal of BitTorrent, Wagda said, is two-fold:

The technology and the audience. For larger downloads, BitTorrent is the fastest, easiest way to distribute and download a file to lots of people. And there's no infrastructure cost. Since we have a built-in massive audience, publishers and creators gain a unique ability to engage with users.

For more on how a platform like BitTorrent could be used by publishers, I turned to Matt Mason, director of innovation at Syrup and author of The Pirate's Dilemma. Our interview follows.

What advantages can be gained by staging a promotion through a platform like BitTorrent?

Matt Mason: The real problem for most authors, to quote Tim O'Reilly, isn't piracy, but obscurity. There are millions of books on Amazon, and the average book in the US sells around 500 copies a year. A lot of authors, including Cory Doctorow, Seth Godin, Paulo Coelho and myself have had success by giving away electronic copies of our books as a way to promote the books. It can spread the message of the book further, boost sales of physical copies, boost ebook sales, and stimulate other opportunities like speaking and consulting engagements.

The great thing about BitTorrent is you are talking to a massive audience — more than 160 million people use it. Research has shown that people who use file-sharing sites are more likely to spend money on content. Whatever you're trying to promote, 160 million people who are big consumers of all kinds of media is a huge opportunity.

Do you think this is a viable promotion/distribution model?

Matt Mason: Absolutely, and it will become more widely used as content creators and distributors wake up to the benefits of BitTorrent. It is quite simply the cheapest and most efficient way to share digital information, because the audience is the server farm. It's way to create a giant repository of content with no servers. It has a huge user base and it is growing every day. It's not about giving something away for free, but about distributing it in the smartest possible way. In the next five years, I think we'll see all kinds of publishers waking up to this.

What are some of the obstacles environments like BitTorrent face as promotion platforms?

Matt Mason: One of the biggest problems peer-to-peer technologies like BitTorrent have is the stigma of piracy, but P2P is actually a new and better way of distributing information. Piracy has been at the birth of every major new innovation in media, from the printing press to the recording industry to the film industry — all were birthed out of people doing disruptive, innovative things with content that earned them the label "pirate" (including Thomas Edison).

I think of piracy as a market signal — it signifies a change in consumer behavior that the market hasn't caught up with. If an ecosystem like BitTorrent grows to 160 million users, it's not a piracy environment, it's just a new environment. Media is an industry where the customer really is always right. If people are trying to get your content in a new way, the only smart thing to do is to find a sensible way to offer it to them there.


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March 10 2011

Flipboard and the end of "sourciness"

Today's Flipboard update sports increased speed, an improved design layout, a partnership with Instagram, and the ability for users to search across several social platforms, including Flickr, Twitter and Facebook.

The shiny new features are drawing plenty of attention, but the really cool thing here — and what likely will fuel Flipboard's success — is the platform's ability to seamlessly present the newly integrated social content without overly focusing on the original source or platform.

In a recent interview, Craig Mod, designer and publisher at Flipboard, stressed the importance of putting the content first. By making content the focus of the presentation, users can experience a seamless stream of information rather than jumping from platform to platform:

I think the thing that Flipboard is doing particularly well is that the integrations become seamless. One of the main goals at Flipboard that we really try to drive home is that [users] plug in these [integration] sources and we remove the "sourciness" from it.

When I'm reading stuff in Flipboard, it's not like I'm engaging Twitter or engaging Facebook. I'm just aware of the great content that's being micro-curated by my social groups. There's an obfuscation of that social network layer — what we're building is a comfortable consumption layer, as fed by human curation.

Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco 2011, being held March 28-31, will examine key pieces of the digital economy and the ways you can use important ideas for your own success.

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In the interview, Mod also discusses the most important elements of app design and how Flipboard is, at this point, a great big experiment. The full interview is available in the following video:


February 22 2011

Kevin Kelly on how to sell free

KevinKelly.jpgThe question of whether access or ownership is more important was directly addressed — and answered — by Kevin Kelly, senior maverick at Wired magazine, during his keynote speech at TOC 2011. In no uncertain terms he said access was the future:

There's this huge shift we see in the entire environment where people get more value out of having access to something rather than owning it. With Netflix, you don't own the movies, you just have access to them — Spotify, Pandora, and Last FM are music streams that go by; you don't actually own the music, you just access it ... Why own them if you can have instant, all-the-time access?

What's more, he suggested our current models of selling items — books, music, etc. — will change. Instead of selling "things," producers and publishers will be selling the parts that cannot be copied:

In a world where everything is moving to the free, we have to have a different attitude ... the only things that become valuable are the things that cannot be copied. Let me give you one example: immediacy. So, you're not paying for the copy, you're paying for immediacy — you can eventually get anything you want for free if you wait long enough, but if you want it as soon as the creator has created it, the artist has made it, you're willing to pay for the immediacy of it.

So, the monetization comes from the speed of delivery, personalized experiences and individual attention. The products themselves will be free, or nearly so.


Kelly also pointed out that visualization will go both ways — as we look at the content on a screen, it will look back at us. Showing an image of a tablet screen (pictured above) he explained:

This is a heat map generated by software in a camera inside a tablet looking at the ways eyes spend time tracking on a web page — the more orange it is, the more attention it's given. So, it's very easy to imagine our books looking back at us ... they become adaptive in some ways ... [the books are] aware of where [they're] being read and aware of us.

Kelly's keynote is embedded below. We also had the opportunity to interview him one-on-one — that clip is available in O'Reilly's YouTube channel.


October 19 2010

Pandora's ubiquitous platform play

Pandora on the iPad and AndroidAn informal survey of my home's device inventory reveals that Pandora is omnipresent. The music service is accessible through my various computers, an iPad, two iPods, an Android phone, and a Blu-ray player. The only reason I can't access Pandora through a DVR, stereo, distributed audio system, or car is because I don't have compatible devices (yet ...).

I began mulling Pandora's presence in my life after interviewing Pandora CTO Tom Conrad (@tconrad) at last month's Web 2.0 Expo. During our chat, I asked which of Pandora's platforms is most popular. Here's what he said:

It's about 50/50 between desktop and mobile. In fact we just slipped over into having more hours of listening consumed off of the PC than on. And the vast majority of off-PC listening is some kind of a mobile device. There's a big chunk of iPod Touch usage, and then there's a small but growing percentage that's consumer electronics devices. We've done probably a hundred or more partnerships for television and Blu-ray players, tabletop radios and stereos, and set-top boxes and even automobiles.

I'm as enthusiastic about platforms as anyone. I believe digital content should be spread far and wide: websites, phones, tablets, ereaders, Facebook, Twitter, RSS -- get it all out there. But even my liberal platform perspective pales in comparison to Pandora's. They're going for all the platforms, not just the web-based ones.

And this makes me wonder if there's a lesson here for content companies -- both those that create content and those that distribute it.

Decoupling on a different level

A lot of folks in the publishing world have grown comfortable decoupling content from containers. That's why CSS is an integral part of online content development and XML is a key tool in many production chains. But Pandora represents an entirely different type of decoupling: They're not just container-agnostic. They're device-agnostic. You want Pandora's content on a computer? Done. On a phone? No problem. On your stereo? On a TV? In a car? You bet.

Pandora is a music service, so the expectation is that the music it provides will be available through all the channels where music is consumed -- not just the ones chained to a computer. Shouldn't this be the threshold for other types of content?

Implementation of this type of distributed effort is tricky, but I think the mindset is what really matters here. If we accept that the old model of driving all the attention to specific platforms (e.g. a website, a book, etc.) has been replaced by serving audiences where they want to reside, then shouldn't content companies make their content accessible through all the appropriate channels and devices? Instead of hedging bets on specific devices or platforms, why not spread that bet across as many platforms as you can? Most will be misses, but some of the hits could come from channels you wouldn't expect.

Other examples

Pandora isn't the only content-centric company pursuing the ubiquitous path. In putting together this piece, I was reminded of three related efforts:

  • Netflix made a statement in 2009 when it switched the default tab at from "Browse DVDs" to "Watch Instantly." The company has followed up by spreading their streaming service far and wide. In addition to standard browser-based access, the Netflix streaming library is now available through game consoles, TVs, mobile devices and other hardware. In many ways, Netflix is the video version of Pandora.
  • Amazon's Kindle platform extends across computers and devices. The Kindle hardware is simply part of a broader effort to sell ebooks through Amazon. How and where you access Amazon's offerings isn't the priority. (Barnes & Noble and Borders are following the Amazon playbook as well.)
  • UK news publisher The Guardian encourages developers to grab its content API -- which pumps out the full text of articles -- and transform/mash-up/repurpose as developers see fit. The only caveat: the Guardian reserves the right to put ads into its API content stream. This represents one possible way to maintain an advertising model while distributing content across platforms and devices.

The defining characteristic of these efforts is commitment. These aren't tepid platform plays. The companies behind them are all in, which is necessary during this period of ambiguity and experimentation.

Really, it comes down to this: The old methods of distribution doen't mesh with the way audiences consume digital content, so a technique that relies on those old methods will either fail mightily, or -- perhaps even worse -- chug along aimlessly. A bold embrace of the digital landscape is key to seizing the digital opportunity.

The full interview with Conrad is embedded below. His Web 2.0 Expo keynote is also worth checking out.


September 10 2010

The line between book and Internet will disappear

A few months ago I posted a tweet that said:

The distinction between “the internet” & “books” is totally totally arbitrary, and will disappear in 5 years. Start adjusting now.

The tweet got some negative reaction. But I'm certain this shift will happen, and should happen (I won't take bets on the timeline though).

It should happen because a book properly hooked into the Internet is a far more valuable collection of information than a book not properly hooked into the Internet. And once something is "properly hooked into the internet," that something is part of the Internet.

It will happen, because: what is a book, after all, but a collection of data (text + images), with a defined structure (chapters, headings, captions), meta data (title, author, ISBN), and prettied up with some presentation design? In other words, what is a book, but a website that happens to be written on paper and not connected to the web?

An ebook is just a print book by another name

Ebooks to date have mostly been approached as digital versions of a print books that readers can read on a variety of digital devices, with some thought to enhancing ebooks with a few bells and whistles, like video. While the false battle between ebooks and print books will continue -- you can read one on the beach, with no batteries; you can read another at night with no bedside lamp -- these battles only scratch the surface of what the move to digital books really means. They continue to ignore the real, though as-yet unknown, value that comes with books being truly digital; not the phony, unconnected digital of our current understanding of "ebooks."

Of course, thinking of ebooks as just another way to consume a book lets the publishing business ignore the terror of a totally unknown business landscape, and concentrate on one that looks at least similar in structure, if not P&L.

While you can list advantages and disadvantages of print books versus ebooks, these are all asides compared with the kind of advantages that we have come to expect of digital information that is properly hooked into the Internet.

Defining a book by what you cannot do

What's striking about this state of affairs -- though not surprising, given the conservative nature of the publishing business, and the complete unknowns about business models -- is that we define ebooks by a laundry list of things one cannot do with them:

  • You cannot deep link into an ebook -- say to a specific page or paragraph chapter or image or table
  • Indeed you cannot really "link" to an ebook, only various access points to instances of that ebook, because there is no canonical "ebook" to link to ... there is no permalink for a chapter, and no Uniform Resource Locator (url) for an ebook itself
  • You (usually) cannot copy and paste text, the most obvious thing one might wish to do
  • You cannot query across, say, all books about Montreal, written in 1942 -- even if they are from the same publisher

You cannot do any of these things, because we still consider that books -- the information, words, and data inside of them -- live outside of the Internet, even if they are of the e-flavor. You might be able to buy them on the Internet, but the stuff contained within them is not hooked in. Ebooks are an attempt to make it easier for people to buy and read books, without changing this fundamental fact, without letting ebooks become part of the Internet.

Many people don't want books to become part of the Internet, because we just don't know what business would look like if they were.

This will change, slowly or quickly. While the value of the digitization of books for readers has primarily been, to date, about access and convenience, there is massive and untapped (and unknown) value to be discovered once books are connected. Once books are accessible in the way well-structured websites are.

What lurks beneath the EPUB spec

The secret among those who have poked around EPUB, the open specification for ebooks, is that an .epub file is really just a website, written in XHTML, with a few special characteristics, and wrapped up. It's wrapped up so that it is self-contained (like a book! between covers!), so that it doesn't appear to be a website, and so that it's harder to do the things with an ebook that one expects to be able to do with a website. EPUB is really a way to build a website without letting readers or publishers know it.

But everything exists within the EPUB spec already to make the next obvious -- but frightening -- step: let books live properly within the Internet, along with websites, databases, blogs, Twitter, map systems, and applications.

There is little talk of this anywhere in the publishing industry that I know of, but the foundation is there for the move -- as it should be. And if you are looking at publishing with any kind of long-term business horizon, this is where you should be looking. (Just ask Google, a company that has been laying the groundwork for this shift with Google Books).

An API for books

An API is an "Application Programing Interface." It's what smart web companies build so that other innovative companies and developers can build tools and services on top of their underlying databases and services.

For instance:

We are a long, long way from publishers thinking of themselves as API providers -- as the Application Programming Interface for the books they publish. But we've seen countless times that value grows when data is opened up (sometimes selectively) to the world. That's really what the Internet is for; and that is where book publishing is going. Eventually.

I don't know exactly what an API for books would look like, nor do I know exactly what it means.

I don't know what smart things people will start to do when books are truly of the Internet.

But I do know that it will happen, and the "Future of Publishing" has something to do with this. The current world of ebooks is just a transition to a digitally connected book publishing ecosystem that won't look anything like the book world we live in now.


April 09 2010

Großes Gedränge in der Arktis

Von Andrej Fedjaschin, Moskau | RIA Novosti |- Es scheint die Zeit gekommen zu sein, in der die Claims auf der Arktis und dem Nord- polarmeer neu abgesteckt werden. Das jüngste Treffen der "arktischen Fünf" (Russland, USA, Kanada, Dänemark und Norwegen) im kanadischen Chelsea am 29. März zeigte, dass vor dem Tor zur Arktis nicht nur die Anrainer stehen.

Ganz offen strebt China nach dem Zugang zu der Region. Kaum jemand wird es wagen, ihm den Weg zu den "kalten Reichtümern" rund um den Nordpol zu versperren. Die Aufteilung der kolossalen Bodenschätze der Arktis rückt immer näher – etwas anderes ist nicht zu erwarten.

Man sollte allmählich aufhören, sich darüber zu wundern, wie viele nichtarktische Länder in der Schlange vor dem Tor zur Arktis stehen. Sie haben es nicht nur auf ihre Erdöl- und Gasvorkommen abgesehen. Die Arktis hat eine weitere ausschließliche Naturbesonderheit, die durchaus als "natürliches Monopol" bewertet werden kann. Mit der Klimaerwärmung bleiben die nördlichen Seestraßen (in Kanada und Russland) für längere Perioden eisfrei.

Die Transporte über diese Seewege, etwa von China nach Deutschland oder aus China in den Osten der USA, werden bei der zunehmenden ganzjährigen Schifffahrt um 6000 bis 7000 Kilometer verkürzt.

Die Kanadier, die am 29. März die unmittelbaren Anrainer der Arktis bei sich empfingen, handelten sich bei US-Außenministerin Hillary Clinton eine Rüge ein: Es sei nicht schön, sich in einem so kleinen Kreis zu versammeln und ohne Island, Schweden und Finnland und Vertreter der Ureinwohner einzuladen. Wie die US-Chefdiplomatin sagte, "brauchen wir alle Hände auf Deck, weil enorm viel zu tun, die Zeit aber kurz bemessen ist".

Clinton betonte, dass Island, Schweden und Finnland nicht weniger "arktisch" seien und die gleichen Rechte auf die Ressourcen unter, über und in den Gewässern des Nordpolarmeeres hätten wie alle Teilnehmer der Konferenz über Arktis-Zusammenarbeit am 22. und 23. April in Moskau. Die Moskauer Konferenz unter dem Namen "Arktis – Territorium des Dialogs" ist ein bisher nie dagewesenes Treffen dieser Art und das erste globale Projekt der wiederbelebten Russischen Geographischen Gesellschaft.

RIA Novosti fungiert dabei als einer der Organisatoren. Zur Diskussion stehen die Erkundung und Erschließung der Naturressourcen, darunter auf dem arktischen Schelf, ferner der Naturschutz und die Entwicklung der Verkehrsinfrastruktur in der Region.

Russlands Außenminister Sergej Lawrow musste erläutern, dass die „arktischen Fünf" dem Arktischen Rat keineswegs Konkurrenz machen wollen, sondern vielmehr nur einen informellen Mechanismus darstellen, der diesen Rat ergänzt.

Dem 1996 auf Finnlands Initiative gegründeten Arktischen Rat gehören Dänemark, Finnland, Island, Kanada, Norwegen, Russland, Schweden und die USA an, und er gilt als die wichtigste regionale Organisation der Arktis. Als "arktische Beobachter" sind im Rat bereits Großbritannien, Frankreich, Deutschland, die Niederlande, Polen, Spanien, China, Italien und Südkorea vertreten.

Dass die Amerikaner den Kanadiern Vorhaltungen machen und sich für die Nichteingeladenen einsetzen, ist kein Zufall. Zwischen Washington und Ottawa gibt es seit langem Gebietsstreite, die große Abschnitte der Beaufortsee betreffen. Da ist jeder Verbündete willkommen. Besonders vor der drohenden Aufteilung der Arktis, wo fast alle Länder Ansprüche an alle haben.

Die Dänen zanken sich seit langem regelmäßig mit den Kanadiern, die ständig die dänischen Gebiete in Grönland mit ihren Fahnen abstecken. Die Kanadier haben die gleichen Streitigkeiten mit den USA. Die Norweger erheben Anspruch auf beinahe 175 000 Quadratkilometer unseres Schelfs in der Barentssee, und wir haben uns über die Teilung längs der berüchtigten Schewardnadse-Baker-Linie im Nordpazifik mit den USA immer noch nicht endgültig geeinigt.

Jetzt schielt China auf die Arktis.

Peking ist bereits von theoretischen in praktische Arktis-Forschungen übergegangen. Sein voll modernisierter, weltgrößter nichtatomarer Eisbrecher "Schneedrache" (übrigens zu Sowjetzeiten in der Ukraine gebaut) ist in den arktischen Seestraßen unterwegs. China erhebt keinen Anspruch auf die Arktis-Bodenschätze, darauf hat es keine juristischen Rechte.

Doch die Chinesen verfolgen mir großem Interesse, wann die Anrainerstaaten in den Polarmeeren juristische Ordnung schaffen, transparente und für jedermann verständliche Regeln für die Schifffahrt schaffen sowie die Grenzen ziehen, die Öl- und Gasfelder usw. genau bestimmen werden.

Dann wird die weltgrößte Wirtschaft neue Investitionsmöglichkeiten und neue Wege für den Export seiner Erzeugnisse haben. Oder auch für die Aufnahme von Importwaren. Bei den Investitionen handelt es sich um absolut schwindelerregende Summen.

Russland, Kanada, die USA, Dänemark und Norwegen haben das "angeborene" Recht, im Nordpolarmeer Ansprüche auf alles zu erheben. Nunmehr werden sie ihre "vererbten Ansprüche" abstimmen müssen. Das wird schwieriger sein als die Entdeckung des Nordpols.

Die Meinung des Verfassers muss nicht mit der von RIA Novosti übereinstimmen.

Quelle: – RIA Novosti- 31.03.10- Mit freundlicher Genehmigung unseres Informationspartner: RIA Novosti. Danke dafür!

Reposted fromZaphod Zaphod
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