Back to the Internet’s Future

Once in a while, I take a look through some of the links I’ve been saving, sharing, and publishing in the sidebar of my blog, Twitter, and a few other places, and try to scrape the pixelly cream off the top to immortalize (until the links break, anyway) a little bit of the Web, hung in blog post with care, framed neatly by a theme. This is one of those onces in a while. If you like what you see here, follow me on Twitter to get ’em while they’re fresh.

The Internet? Bah!
Published at Newsweek on February 27, 1995.
Clifford Stoll’s 1995 predictions included “…no computer network will change the way government works.”

What the Internet hucksters won’t tell you is that the Internet is one big ocean of unedited data, without any pretense of completeness. Lacking editors, reviewers or critics, the Internet has become a wasteland of unfiltered data. You don’t know what to ignore and what’s worth reading.

Anonymous Polk Award Honors Citizen Journalists
Published at The New York Times on February 21, 2010.
The chain of people who moved video of an Iranian woman’s violent death from the street to the Web are honored.

The panel that administers the George Polk Awards, based at Long Island University, said it wanted to acknowledge the role of ordinary citizens in disseminating images and news, especially in times of tumult when professional reporters face restrictions, as they do in Iran. The university said it had never bestowed an award on an anonymous work before.

On foursquare, location & privacy…
Published at Foursquare Blog on February 18, 2010.
The Foursquare team responds to the conversation around and the perceived dangers of sharing your physical location on the Internet.

The truth is you could make something like this without using foursquare at all. Just try searching Twitter for the words “headed to”… The Next Generation
Published at on February 18, 2010.
The Coworking community picks itself up by its bootstraps and raises money to buy the domain. What happens next? They’ll figure it out as a community.

The beautiful thing about the internet is it’s made up of words. Domain names are technically pointers to ideas, and instead of having to remember IP addresses, DNS has allowed us to connect words with ideas.

Expert Labs, ThinkTank, Gina Trapani and our Grand Challenges
Published at on February 17, 2010.
Anil Dash begins to claim territory for Expert Labs as a technology incubator for networking tools to help governments ask and answer big questions.

Today, I’ve been able to go to the White House and help make the case that a better technology platform, connected to the social networks we already use, could have the same transformative effect on policy making that it did on the world of media or business. And they were ready to listen, not just to me, but to our entire community.

Multi-Touch Will Change Everything
Published at on February 2, 2010.
This post comes a bit closer to the way I’d like to see designers and developers think about the iPad. It *is* a completely new interface.

With multi-touch, DIVs are the new fold. Being able to tap on a section to zoom in will allow users to focus only on the content they want to see. This quadrant based page browsing will make skipping over uninteresting content & advertisements much easier.

kleinmatic: First correction issued in a news app?
Published at Twitter on February 9, 2010.
Maybe not the first, but it becomes an interesting question. How long do you leave the correction on the page? How and where do you archive corrections that relate to databases? Is it worth having some sort of microblog — or at least a blog category — for every app to cover notes like this?

Gizmodo’s Comment System: How It Works and Why It’s Better
Published at Gizmodo on February 2, 2010.
A great explanation of how comments work on Gawker blogs, powered by karma, Facebook Connect, and heavy moderation of new commenters before they’re set free on threads.

There are three levels of commenters: Unapproved, Approved and Starred. You basically have to audition for the right to comment, by leaving a smart blurb—if it’s good, you’ll get approved by an editor, one of our moderators, or a starred commenter, and then people can see your comment.

So what do you think? Are all these bits and pieces signs that point to the future of communication, or the past? It’s difficult to look at today’s innovation without looking through the lens of everything that it’s built on, eh? Including, complicatedly, our own habits and biases.

Carnival of Journalism: Five positive predictions for new media in 2009

For this month’s Carnival of Journalism, Dave Cohn is asking for positive (if possible) predictions for the new media world of 2009.

How about 5?

  1. Mobile video streaming goes mainstream: Probably tied to disaster/breaking news reporting from non-professionals, a la 9/11 blogs, the YouTube tsunami of 2004, Flickr bombings of 2005, and the livetweeted siege of #Mumbai in 2008.  Whether it’s the expansion of a startup like Qik or Flixwagon or a wildcard like an improved iPhone with a real video camera, something is going to change in 2009 that’s going to put live mobile video at our fingertips.
  2. Fewer newspaper jobs means more local news startups:  As major metro news organizations continue to contract, consolidate, and implode, more journalists will walk away from the press, but not walk away from reporting.  Right now, most of this is happening at the national level (think: Politico) or in local blogs, but as more entrepreneurial journalists leave the “industry,” more of them will start small businesses of their own, reporting on their neighborhoods.
  3. Local news organizations will continue to improve at being “of” the Web and not just “on” it:  Yep, that means more newspapers (and local TV stations) on Twitter, blogging, livechatting, streaming video, participating in comment threads, and generally getting in gear — though still perhaps far behind the pace of Internet time.  This seems obvious enough, although as a media critic, if all you’re looking at is a selection of major metro papers, you’re not going to see the changes as clearly as readers — or participants in the news site’s social web — will see them.
  4. Alternative business models for monetizing journalism will flourish: There are plenty of ideas kicking around already on this front, although few of them are coming from traditional news organizations.  That won’t matter, because people with ideas for solving the riddle of funding quality journalism without the revenue of a standard daily print product are already having success.
  5. Crowdsourcing tools will evolve on the backs on existing platforms: I’m thinking DocumentCloud plus Twitter or Facebook, or some similar combination that lets a large news organization with a large social network power through large documents (think: US Attorney firings data dump analysis at Talking Points Memo, but with a much bigger crowd and structured data instead of a comment thread.)

And of course, a bonus prediction:

  • Major newspapers and huge newspaper companies will continue to consolidate, sputter, fail, and close — but it won’t matter.  The people formerly known as readers will be too busy informing each other about their world to notice.

So, got any predictions of your own for 2009? (Remember, we’re trying to keep it positive…)

Next Newspaper

Funny thing about the newspaper business.

If you’re interested in innovation, you find yourself constantly trying to demonstrate the present to people with their feet (and desks, workflow, and hierarchy) planted firmly in the past.

And while The Future of Newspapers mostly gets ink for being bleak, the future of news does not blink, or miss a beat, or stop to have a meeting to decide what color the background of its new Web site will be.

The future of news is Qik and Twitter and Friendfeed and Google Reader and Seesmic and Yahoo Live and whatever launches tomorrow that lets the people in your community share information and produce content by pushing a big red record button.

The future of news looks more like Blade Runner than Minority Report. And I don’t mean the part where Deckard reads the print edition. I mean the crazy chaotic floating blimp advertising and the bits of information flowing around mobile screens in places like taxicabs and the exposed innards of machinery.

So stop waiting for The Future of Newspapers to arrive, wrapped in a plastic sleeve with a business model printed on the outside, slipped politely behind the screen door by the paperboy. He got laid off last week. You’re going to have to try something new if you want to survive.

The word Kindle makes me think of burning books

All branding aside, the oncoming launch of Amazon’s e-paper device essentially begins the practical discussion about e-paper in earnest.

Books are a neat trick, but I’m pretty exclusively thinking in terms of the future of newspapers here.

Things to pay attention to:

  1. EVDO: This device has ubiquitous Internet access when in cell range. That’s good. Obviously, any cell phone with a data plan has the same thing, although I’d argue the iPhone handles the user interface for news better than many other devices at the moment.
  2. DRM: The e-books (which users will be able to by at $10 a pop from Amazon) will be in a proprietary format, not based on an open standard. Start thinking now about what newspapers will do as devices like the Kindle improve enough (read as: get lighter, less expensive and better-looking) to get a solid adoption rate going. Will your paper (or company) charge users for a Kindle subscription and encode the pages so they can only be read on a set number of devices? (Think iTunes-style DRM.)
  3. Price: $400 isn’t that bad. I usually see sub-$200 as a spot where mass adoption becomes possible, but $400 is halfway there. Remember when DVD players cost $400? Me neither, because it wasn’t that way for long.
  4. The wider Web: It’s not clear from what I’ve read so far if the Kindle has a browser built in, but it clearly has some sort of Web access. That’s smart, and necessary. There’s something weird going on involving paying to subscribe to blogs in a feed reader, but the question for news organizations will be whether to make it easy or hard for users of future e-paper devices to get off their reservation and out to the Web.
  5. Hackability: Given the recent history of the PSP and iPhone, I’m going to take a wild guess that the Kindle will be hackable, and that users will do interesting and unexpected things with it. That’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.

And a red herring to ignore:

It’s ugly. Seriously. Instead of looking at it directly, try to imagine a device with similar funcationality, but thinner, with a flexible screen, and fewer buttons. That’s what it will look like in, let’s say, four years.

Yes, that, the future, right there

What was it I was just saying about the future? That newspapers need to keep pace with the Web lest they get leap-frogged and left for dead?

Well, a little slice of the future was unveiled today. That’s one of the most impressive retail *things* I’ve ever seen.

And of course, I want one, but I don’t need one, and I probably shouldn’t have one.

Ubiquitous Internet access is right around the bend: Fiber to the home is on the way, WiMAX is happening, and Apple and Microsoft both rolled out the machinery that hooks your home media consumption habit to the Web.

Ink? On paper? That’s a business model? Really… How long?

$100 million for e-paper firm – maybe you should start thinking about the future

Red Herring reports a British e-paper company locked up $100 million in venture capital.

“The company plans to build the plant, with an initial capacity of a million displays a year, in the eastern Germany city of Dresden and start production in 2008. The company said demand for electronic readers is expected to climb to 41.6 million units in 2010.”

E-paper is real, and its coming. The best thing for newspapers to do is to keep moving their online presences forward.

There are three key elements to this technology you’re going to want to start developing now, if you haven’t already:

  1. RSS feeds. I’m embarrassed that the paper I work at doesn’t have news feeds yet, and I’ve been there almost three months now. At the Spartan Daily, implementing feeds was my point of entry for working on the site. I’ll work on that… RSS is going to be your delivery system.
  2. Mobile usability. Have you tried to load your paper’s site on a mobile phone browser lately? How much navigation and advertising do your readers need to scroll through before they get to a clean list of headlines? What will Web design for a flexible semiconducting-polymer screen look like?
  3. Search. Think Google News more than Google here. You’re going to want readers to see your headlines in their topic-based RSS feeds, and the only way to do that — other than by frequently updating high-quality content that draws lots of inbound links — is to develop and design in a way that plays nice with search engines. Brush up on some basic SEO, like matching title tags to h1 tags, and start making the little fixes like this on your news site now.

Why should you bother with all this now? Because the future doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a slow process. You’re not going to get surprised by a new technology — your old technology is just going to slowly become obsolete.

Note to newspaper companies: Keep your print layout off my screen

Hey guys, let’s make a deal: You stop trying to paste an old media model (print layout) on a new medium (e-paper, UMPC, tabletPC), and I’ll keep reading the stories I want to read, when I want to read them, either via RSS feeds from your paper, or when a blog I trust links to you.

How hard is that to understand?

Don’t get me wrong – I love print layout, and I love paper, but a mobile device is not a piece of paper, and I don’t want it to be.

I spotted this in the press-release-osphere today: NewspaperDirect (the folks behind have cut a deal with Microsoft to zap your favorite newspapers over to your UltraMobilePC (that Origami thing everyone was so excited about awhile back).

Gee, how excited am I to view a broadsheet newspaper layout on a tiny handheld screen? And honestly, even if this ends up being more like the New York Times/Microsoft Vista weird we’ll just make up our own Web standards deal, I’m still not interested.

Stop trying to control my screen, and let me mashup your RSS feeds into my own digital newspaper in peace.

Northwestern J-School dean takes the long view

In this Q & A, John Lavine lays out “Medill 2020,” a plan to develop the Medill J-School at Northwestern University.

Medill seems to be doing all the right things: Planning to get students out of their silos and into classes that teach them storytelling, ethics, and basic journalistic principles, regardless of their medium of choice.

Lavine also mentions “faculty classes”…

“Some key portions of the faculty class are still being developed, but I can tell you that for 10 weeks in the spring term, I am facilitating a required four-hour class for faculty. (The staff also has a weekly in-service session.) Instruction comes from Medill faculty, other professors on campus and experts from leading media companies. The course also has eight hours of weekly homework and two hours of digital media training…This faculty class is the first of what I suspect will be an annual class for the next three years — 10 weeks of all of us going to a demanding course. In the quarters when we are not in school, there will a couple of deep in-service sessions. We are serious about increasing our knowledge as a way of life at the school.”

…although he also alludes to students-showing-faculty-how-to-use-an-iPod situations.  But that’s bound to happen as the teenage early adopter crowd picks up new gadgetry before it pops in the mainstream.

The Medill J-School’s whole idea here is to picture its incoming 2006 class 10 years after graduation.

What will an everyday professional journalist of 2020 carry in her briefcase?  A notebook?  A Tablet PC?  A video camera?  Which of those tools will be the most relevant 14 years from now?

Your paperboy called. He says he’s made of fiberoptic cable. And your micropayment is late.

Here’s why the “but-I-like-inky-fingers” crowd should relax: After most news organizations get their online operations in full swing, but before newsprint goes completely extinct, e-paper will emerge as the daily medium for information. This is old news, but with all the hand-wringing over what to do about a business model for the new newspaper, I think it’s time to take a look at the bright (pun intended) future of the physical newspaper.

Imagine a plastic screen, flexible enough to roll up and put in your back pocket as you shuffle down the stairs to the F train, inexpensive enough that you can replace it when you lose it, and contrasty enough that you can read it in full sunlight without hiding the screen with your arm like a 3rd grade math test.

the real thingLeft, Belgian newspaper De Tijd on an iLiad eReader from iRex Technologies. Picture this, but flexible.

That’s the future physical newspaper, with your preferred paper’s stories downloaded via wireless Internet access to your screen from anywhere where there’s access. (Hint: Everywhere.) Wait, what? Wasn’t I supposed to say that you’ll be able to completely configure this thing to download news from any source you want? Maybe I was, but I’m not sure if that’s what news organizations really want to hear. Here’s a couple permutations…

Let’s start with the closed model, in which different news orgs each have their stable of papers and sources, set up in an iTunes-like environment, where readers can subscribe to their news feeds from within your range of sources. If you’re McClatchy, you’ve got feeds from all your papers available for readers to subscribe to. If you’re Hearst, you’ve got text and video from your local news stations. If you’re CBS, you’ve got national and local news in the form of video and text. Users set up their subscriptions on a home computer, laptop, or other device at first, but once they’re reading their daily e-paper, they should have the ability to unsubscribe from a feed or subscribe to a related feed with a few pushes of a button.

Oh, in this model, readers pay the news organization for the service, with different prices based on how often they want their feeds updated and how many feeds they want to subscribe to.

In the open version of this idea, your iTunes-esque service will be more like a standard RSS feed aggregator, and readers will be able to subscribe to feeds from anywhere they want. In this version, though, newspapers might want to make premium content available only to the readers who use their branded reader or their branded subscription service.

In both versions, micropayments could come into play. Want to read that whole Tom Friedman column? That’ll be 59 cents, please.

Frankly, micropayments sort of nauseate me, but that’s just because I’ve grown accustomed to getting all my information for free, online. With a new format like an e-paper, it will be much easier to get early adopters to pay a little bit for their news. Maybe one way to find a balance here would be to charge only for the stories on the fringes — top news or most popular stories shouldn’t cost you anything, but maybe more detailed feature stories, interviews, and local news from places other than where you live should cost a little something more.

What will an e-paper page look like?

Well, I suppose a PDF-ish newspaper layout should always be an option, but if you’re aggregating a bunch of sources, you’ll probably need some sort of system to decide what gets to the top of the page. (For some reason, I just heard a thousand editors cringe.)

Okay, so the editors get to be involved in the system. I know that some online editions are published automagically at 3 a.m., with placement on the page based on a variable set by the editor. Content management software allows editors to easily set priorities and categories for stories. So let’s use that as part of our placement system, but then add a function of popularity in there as well, and possibly a memetracker-type element that would let readers know if a story was getting a lot of action in the blogosphere, or if it had been picked up by a lot of other publications.

So what we would have laying out the pages is an algorithm based completely on a human process of selection, prioritization, and conversation. Sounds like a newspaper, right?

This futurist stuff is pretty fun. Maybe I should apply for this job

What do you think? Is this for real? Will this just be a high-end luxury toy? Would you rather get email updates on your Blackberry or Google News on your mobile phone? How would you use a mobile newsreader like this? Would you miss turning the pages?