Friday, January 28, 2011

All eyes on Egypt

I'm still recovering from the flu and so I won't attempt to write today about events in Eqypt, social media and the Internet -- all thing very much on my mind this morning. I expect TNM will be back with regular posts on Monday. There will be a lot to talk about.

Channel surfing:

BBC World Service: live radio news coverage of the events in Egypt. Much of the reporting has been incredibly well done, though the service has made the silly decision to stick to its regular schedule. It is currently (10 AM EST) broadcasting a documentary: "Roland Buerk looks at Japan's growing "rent a friend" industry." Really?

The Guardian: live blogging events as always. Example: 3.17pm: A second police station has been taken over by protesters in Suez, reports al-Jazeera.

The New York Times: the Times loves packages. A package includes a main story updated frequently that gets the reader quickly up to speed; a live blog, in this case The Lede; and side stories.

CNN: The cable news channel has a live video stream on its website showing live shots from Cairo. It is a rather strange experience as the stream jumps back and forth between live Egyptian television and its own web cams without audio -- as if watching events from outer space without any understanding of events.

While the main CNN channel remains a news-free zone, CNN International is doing its best to show events in Egypt. In fact, as Mubarak is about to speak to the nation CNN says "let's take a break" and goes to commercial. Later: while looking at live video of tear gas attacks on protesters CNN host asks "so, Ben, how unusual is this?". Next: "hold on Ben, let's take a break."

Al Jazeera: Al Jazeera in English seems more capable than the other cable news channels of keeping their attention on the story of importance. The NYT more and more refers to Al Jazeera's content in its news updates. The bad news is that Al Jazeera depends on Flash to stream its video and, well, it keeps crashing, and failing, in general.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New date and place announced for 'The Daily" event; Eddy Cue, head of Internet services, will represent Apple

It's back on: News Corp. has announced that they will unveil their new digital publication designed for the iPad at an event at the Guggenheim Museum in New York on February 2 at 11 EST.

While Rupert Murdoch will still represent News Corp. at the event, Apple will be represented by Eddy Cue, Apple's vice president of Internet services, the division in charge of iTunes and the App Store.

According to the NYT story by Brian Stelter, a spokeswoman has confirmed that the media app will be available on that date, as well.

The original event was scheduled for January 19 but was postponed. While no reason was given for the postponement, it is assumed that News Corp. could not launch its app until Apple had agreed to a new subscription structure within the App Store. This change may come with an iOS update -- and then again, it may not.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs was originally scheduled to appear at the News Corp. event but has since announced that he will go on another medical leave of absence.

Yes, TNM is still pretty much shut down while I fight the flu. It's just hard to stay away completely.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

955 Dreams: a start-up that can teach old media a few lessons about the potential of tablet publishing

With all the content freely available to newspaper and magazine publishers, you would think that these media companies would be in the best position to launch new tablet and mobile products into the iTunes App Store. But as I predicted a year ago, the most imaginative new media products being produced are coming from independent developers who feel comfortable with the new platforms, and take content where they can get it.
A good example of this comes from 955 Dreams, a Mountain View-based start-up, and their first released app The History of Jazz - an interactive timeline.

This is the first in series of music apps that the developers say they will release for the iPad. At $9.99, it priced more like a book app than a media app, but the tablet product is stuffed with lots of features and content -- the much of it freely available online. Despite the price, those who have downloaded the app have rewarded the effort with overwhelmingly good reviews. So much for the idea that price is everything.

By taking existing content and configuring it into a new interactive product, the developers here have created an exciting new product. The lesson, of course, being that rather than being obsessed with duplicating their existing print and web products by creating replica editions, publishers with a wealth of content at their disposal have the potential to create lots of new products for the mobile and tablet market -- if they become developers.

I won't bother to review the app since it has already garnered plenty of press, but if you are interested in reading more here are some links: The Telegraph: iPad app of the week, or the WSJ's take on the app. The developers have created a very good website in support of their app: a modest press packet, links to reviews, and demo videos.

Here is one of the video demos that can be found on the 955 Dreams website:

Morning Brief: Ongo to launch news aggregation site today; J.P. Morgan Chase reduces its stake in Gannett

Another news aggregation site is launching today. Not news, right? Every day a news aggregation site opens, so what is so special about this one? The NYT, Washington Post and Gannett all have invested in the start-up.
The biggest sell made by Alex Kazim, the founder of the Cupertino, Calif. based company, won't be to get readers to pay $6.99 per month to buy aggregated content from news organizations -- because I doubt seriously that they will -- it was getting the media companies themselves to folk over investment dollars to start up Ongo.

Business Insider's story this morning ask "Craziest startup idea ever?", and frankly who can blame them.

Jay Yarow writes: "Ongo is going to aggregate the content from a number of newspapers, strip out the ads, improve the interface and charge a monthly fee. Yes, Ongo is going to CHARGE for news that's generally free on the web. Crazy, right? We think so, but Ongo CEO Alex Kazim doesn't seem rattled."

Kazim's idea is that readers don't need to visit the NYT or USA Today website but can instead go to Ongo to read their news. Of course, I don't think the ad people at any of these companies appreciate the executives at these companies investing with a company that will drive down traffic in exchange for a few pennies generated by subscription revenue.

Kazim is a former executive at EBay and is obviously great at making investment presentations, or he knows an easy mark when he sees one.

J.P. Morgan Chase a year ago upped its stake in Gannett Co., but ABC News reports that the financial giant has reduced its ownership share to 8.98 percent from 10.2 percent.

The story notes that Gannett has stayed profitable by cutting costs, as any employee of the company knows all too well. But maybe J.P. Morgan Chase is also looking at the investment decisions the company is making. In addition to an investment in Ongo, noted above, Gannett in January bought a group of websites called -- another investment in a property where there is no barrier to entry.

This morning's Bangor Daily News website:
The Bangor Daily News website suffered several hours of downtime Monday evening after hackers from Tunisia exploited a security vulnerability on one of the BDN's servers. While the site is being restored, online readers will notice changes to the display of the site and will be unable to access some features and archived articles. The BDN staff is working as quickly as possible to fully restore the site.
Hackers from Tunisia? That's a first.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Comments and breaking news stories: Rep. Giffords, Moscow bombing stories lead to reader speculation

A couple of weekends ago news flashes reported that a shooting had taken place at a Tucson Safeway grocery store. Immediately news websites from the NYT to Huffington Post began covering the event. On many news websites, the stories were accompanied by reader comments. That is where things started to get out of hand.

On the day after the shooting I wrote about the huge error NPR had made by posting that Rep. Giffords had died. That day Dick Meyer, executive editor of NPR News, apologized to readers of their website.

I also pointed out, however, that certain new media websites had made a royal mess of the story, as well. Talking Points Memo was very quick to flash the NPR story, and readers on the site were very quick to assign blame.

Today The Guardian is dealing with the issue of comments on its breaking news stories. It's live blog on the home page already has several readers begging the editors to turn off the comments on the story. Their complaints are pretty standard: too many readers are willing to speculate on motives, perpetrators, etc. As a result, those reading the comments are skewing the story even when the editors may be playing it straight.

But the temptation to include comments throughout a website seems too strong. Even the NYT is allowing comments on its main story.

As an example, Tim from Texas writes: This is likely to be the work of Chechans. Is there a good reason why US and Russia cannot work together against a common enemy? One of the reasons Islamist movements are such a grave thread to the entire world is that the rest of the world has a hard time uniting against them. Short term expediency seems to be the order of the day.

Do comments on stories that are still developing really serve a purpose, or are they simply a way to increase page views? Obviously I have my own opinion on this.

The Toshiba Tablet sports impressive specs, but success may depend more on Google's Honeycomb OS

The first Android Honeycomb driven tablet from Toshiba is supposed to arrive this Spring, and to promote the device Toshiba has launched a website. What has gotten some attention in the press is the cute little dig the company is taking at Apple. When iOS devices, iPhone, iPod touch or iPads, access the site a message comes up saying "Such a shame" your device can't display Flash so you're out of luck.
It turns out that this really is just a gimmick. As John Gruber points out on his own site, erasing the last part of the URL takes you to a perfectly visible html site that allows even iOS device owners to look at Toshiba's soon-to-be-released tablet.
Gimmicks aside, the Toshiba Tablet does sport some impressive specs. It has a 10.1 inch multi-touch display, ever so slightly larger than the iPad's display. The tablet has both a front and rear facing cameras, USB and mini USB ports, along with HDMI out and a SD slot. It has, in essence, laptop (or at least netbook) specs in a tablet form.

Running all this will be Google's new version of Android, Honeycomb. The real question on everyone's mind is 'will Honeycomb prove to be a good tablet OS?' It looks like we will see in the Spring.

Morning Brief: Timing is everything; iPad 2 on track to ship in Q2; new Apple and Verizon ads pitch the iPhone

Timing is everything in business, the cliché goes, and the same surely applies to app releases. Take the timing of this one, for instance: 24/7 Bears. The iPhone app, released by independent developer Spare Time Ventures, was released yesterday -- the day the Bear's season was ended by the Green Bay Packers.
The developer here has pretty amazing timing: release an app, have a season end. Two weeks ago he released a similar app for the New England Patriots -- they then lost to the NY Jets. A couple of weeks before that an app for the the Dallas Cowboys was released -- their seasons ended simply when the regular season ended, so bad was their season.

Each of these apps are RSS readers that grab the content from local newspapers, ESPN and other outlets and then displays it in a pretty standard mobile app. The good news here is that at least the developer can not be criticized for trying to profit from the work of others: each apps is free.

AppleInsider is pointing to this story in the Chinese paper the Commercial Times which says that production of the iPad 2 will begin in February and increase in volume thereafter. This would be consistent with an April release -- one year from the time the first iPads were shipped to US customers.

If the report is true, and it is just one report, it would point to Apple delaying its iOS update at least into February. My assumption remains that Rupert Murdoch will be able to have his unveiling event for The Daily only when the iOS 4.3 update is released. (My guess: the first week of February -- but it is only a guess.)

Speaking of Apple: did you see the Verizon and Apple ads during Sunday's football games?

The Verizon ad was previewed here last week. But the Apple ad was new and attempted to play nice by promoting both AT&T and Verizon -- though what it really was promoting, of course, was the iPhone 4.

In any case, if you didn't get enough commercials this weekend here is one more for you: