Friday, April 22, 2011

The Globe and Mail releases a completely new universal app as its mobile strategy continues to evolve and expand

I believe this makes three different mobile apps that the Canadian daily newspaper The Globe and Mail has released. No matter, the evolving apps continue to get better, and one senses that the newspaper is starting to feel comfortable in its digital media strategy.
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When I was looking at the new tablet edition from the Orange County Register I searched for other apps that I felt looked and felt a lot like that new one. One app that crossed my mind was the Spreed developed app The Globe and Mail for iPad. But launching that app yesterday brought up a dead app. 'What was going on?' I wondered.

What was going on was that the newspaper was about to release its third app that works for the iPad. The Globe and Mail: News makes three: three apps that all are branded in "Globe and Mail", and all are still available in the App Store. The other app, The Globe and Mail's Globe2Go, is a replica app produced by NewspaperDirect.

Ignoring for a second the wisdom of having your brand image confused with so many apps, this new free app from the publisher is probably the direction the newspaper wants to go in.
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Since the app is free, and for now, at least, so is the content, I will leave it up to you who are interested to check it out and make your own evaluation. Suffice it to say that it is a 'traditional' approach (if such a word can be used for a style this is only a year old) to building tablet newspaper editions.

The app, as mentioned in the headline, is universal, so will work for your iPhone, as well. The Globe and Mail also has mobile apps for both the BlackBerry and Android platforms, as well. I suppose a tablet app for both platforms should be their next move.

While it may appear that the paper is simply throwing things out to see what will work, having used all their apps in the past I sense that this new app is where they are going. The next move they have to contemplate (and probably are) is whether they will begin charging for access to content.



While there are no reviews inside the U.S. App Store for the new app from The Globe and Mail, there are already a number of reviews inside the Canadian store. The majority of users are very positive, though a couple of users mentioned the old Spreed app and lamented its demise.

The biggest complaint seems to be that the old app allowed for offline reading – and that certainly is important.

But the paper already is aware of some of the issues. Here is what their current app description has to say:
This app is a living product. We have a lot of updates planned for the next few months -- things like search, weather, push notifications -- but we'd also like your feedback: What killer feature have we missed? What can we change to make Globe News more useful to you?

News.me: news aggregation app uses Twitter to find content for users; app a hit-or-miss news experience

My wife is a huge fan of the television series Bones. In fact, every early evening the series is on in reruns on TNT so we "watch" the old episodes at dinner time – not necessarily paying attention because, after all, we've seen them before.
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One episode involves the Jeffersonian team going to an Asian restaurant where Booth, the FBI character, tells the members of the team to let the owner order their food for them – 'it will better that way'. One character orders their own food and as a result gets sick to his stomach. Only when he returns to the restaurant and lets the owner choose his food does he feel better.

Are you the kind of person who would let someone you don't know choose your food for you? If so, you might think the new News.me app is great. If not, you'll be left wondering what the big deal is and why the hell would the NYT invest money in this thing.

The premise of the app is simple enough: upon opening the app you are required to sign into Twitter. The home screen then shows you in the upper left hand corner, along with some of the Twitter folk you might be following, as well as other media partners.

The concept is that you will be interested in what stories other people are linking to, what others are interested in.

The problem, at least for me, is that while I may be interested in what one person has to say about their field of expertise, I may not be interested in what their other interests. For instance, I might tweet that the Giants won yesterday (actually, they had the day off). Great, except you might be following me on Twitter for news about New Media, my obsession with the Giants is just something that comes with the package, you are a Yankees fan, or hate baseball completely, or live in Amsterdam only care about Ajax.

So for me the possibility that I will run across an interesting article is too hit-or-miss.

But as I try to avoid predictions I won't guess whether this app has a chance of being a success. If you like are one of those people who likes to be told what to think, say a Fox News fan, this app might appeal to you – just turn off your brain and let the stories come to you. But if you are someone who knows what they like, and doesn't have time to sift through the stories others are reading in hopes of finding something of interest you probably would prefer an app like Flipboard where you feel in total control of the content.



One reason I didn't write about News.me yesterday was that by the time I got around to downloading the app I noticed that several articles had already appeared online. Fine, I thought, no reason for me to pile on.

But last night, leisurely reading some of them, I realized that in some cases the author had not even opened the app themselves. My gut told me that the author doesn't even own an iPad – yet here they are writing about an iPad app.

Whenever I wonder whether it is time to close up shop and move on to another web launch these incidents bring me back to TNM.

Morning Brief: As Apple remains silent on tracking logs, concern grows; Flanders Image app gets update, another can be expected; short day ahead

Even as Apple remains typically silent about its latest PR fiasco, concern continues to grow about why the tech giant continues to have its iOS devices track users and then retain the information in an accessibly file. CNet today reports of instances where police investigators have used the stored data in the course of their work, while readers comment about the intrusion of privacy.
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Once again it is the culture of silence that is doing the company the most harm, where as a simple statement that a fix is in the works would have defused the entire drama.

Guess with Apple you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

Shown here at right is my own iPhone data – or at least a portion of it. I found the file not 100% accurate when it comes to my actual locations, but then again the way the tracking works it involves cell towers so they would not necessarily line up exactly with your true location (this is apparent in the occasional one dot locations far off the main highways).


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If there was ever an app that shows you that, well, things can go wrong, it has to be this one for Flanders Image. Earlier this week I looked at the app and tried to use the app as one of those "teachable moments" pointing out that publishers need to make sure their developers are responsive, etc.

In the case of this app the problems was simple: it wouldn't let you download the issues. I suggested that an update should be coming soon.

And indeed an update has arrived. The good news is that readers can now download the Spring issue of the Belgian film magazine. The bad news is that another update will be right around the corner.

It turns out that if you have your iPad in landscape, which I tend to do most of the time because of the case I use, opening the app will take you to the download area. There you will see the latest issue – displayed on its side – and the word "landscape" typed across the cover.

I took a screenshot of it but decided that this publisher has suffered enough drama with their app by now – better to simply show the cover of the magazine as it appears in my iPad now. But look for version 2.2 to be released any day now.



The youngest kid is out of school, the wife is off work, the dog is recovering from his latest injury . . . sounds like a good day to take off, at least part of the day, anyway.

So expect a quick look at the News.me app, which honestly didn't impress me, and then off for the weekend. If that's your plan, too, then have a great weekend and we'll see you next week.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Final thought for the day: is there a barrier to entry for tablet news aggregation apps?

I was asked by about a half dozen readers today what my impression of the new app from News.me was – that will come tomorrow. But while many writers are enthusiastic about these news aggregation applications, I am a little cautious. Like any new product that hits the market I ask myself two questions that I find are fundamental: what is unique about the product, and is there a barrier to entry that will prevent others from doing the same thing?
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When Apple started to accept third party apps into the newly launched App Store one of the first types of apps that were seen in the News category were RSS feed news aggregators. New readers are still launched. But sitting on top of the heap remains Marco Arment's Instapaper. The reason is simple: Instapaper provides a unique service that combines both superior programming with unique features. It is not simply an RSS feed reader. (In fact, it is not one at all.)

Now, one year after the iPad was launched, we have Flipboard, Zite, Pulse, News.me and other magazine-styled news apps. Can all these apps succeed? Is there a barrier to entry that will prevent other apps with similar concepts from entering the market?

I don't know the answer to these questions yet, but clearly I wonder about the long term viability of the news aggregator model for tablets. I know that because I am a news junkie and consume far more information each day than the average reader, sitting in front of Flipboard holds little pleasure. But the time I get around to reading for pleasure I want something that offers me a consistent level of quality in both writing and design – not a mashup. If the goal is a quick read I find the tablet to be the wrong device, for that I want the web.

Like the OCR which created a new iPad app because it wanted a product that fit the reading habits of iPad owners, I wonder if aggregation apps will be supplanted by more branded news apps from individual media outlets who take the design and aggregation ideas from these new entries into the market and improve upon them through better curation, writing and editing. I have no doubt that consumers what the ability to customize their media experiences. I just wonder whether consumers will find that they are better aggregators and curators than the professionals.

In the end, aggregation of content will continue to be a major features of future media apps. I just have my doubts whether the future will be lots of these apps all raking in millions. Right now I just don't see it.

First news apps developed for the BlackBerry PlayBook begin to enter RIM's BlackBerry App World

The marketing people at WoodWing passed along a press release and screenshots of what they claim to be the first daily newspaper to publish on RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet platform. The newspaper, Kompas, offers readers the paper's weekly digital-only supplement Jendela, and the paper plans on offering its daily product for the PlayBook soon, as well.
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“We aim to provide the best tablet media experience for our readers, regardless of the platform they are using,” said Rikard Bagun, Editor-in-Chief of Kompas in the WoodWing release. “We paid close attention to how we can digitally enhance our newspaper and brought that to the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet.”
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“One of the main differences between the two tablet platforms is the different screen ratios of the devices – 16:9 for the PlayBook versus 4:3 for the iPad," said John Fong, CEO of Serious Technology, one of WoodWing´s Gold Authorized Solution Partners in Asia.

"With WoodWing´s multi-screen-enabled Tablet Publishing Solution, we can easily create the content for both platforms using a single master template to gain efficiency and achieve consistency.”



Have you visited the BlackBerry App World online store? Since I don't own a Blackberry there has really been no reason to pay much attention to the online store.
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Like the Android Market, it will be important to see what is being released there by publishers, right? But I wasn't expecting this silly warning message when I got there (see at right).

"It looks like you are using an unsupported Operating System. BlackBerry App World was designed to support the following: Windows."

You're kidding, right? It's a frickin' website! What are the folks up in Canada smoking?

Orange County Register dumps old iPad app and develops new one in keeping with its digital strategy

Had it not been for a tweet I would have missed the radically new iPad app released yesterday by Freedom Communication's Orange County Register. The new app is a far cry from the RSS driven app released last year that was more of a mobile app for the iPad rather than this new, more tablet-centric product.
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Driven by the belief that the reading habits of tablet owners are different from mobile users, reading their devices in a leisurely fashion, late in the day, OC Register for iPad is designed as a separate media product, not just a brand extension of the print newspaper.

“People are using it (the iPad) a little in the morning, and really in the evening is when traffic spikes,” Claus Enevoldsen, Freedom’s Director of Interactive of Marketing says in the company's case study. “In the old days, you’d sit with your laptop at night...But when you’re on your laptop it feels like work. There’s a sensation that there’s always something extra to look at, that the reading is infinite. Plus the laptop will get warm when you’re using it, and it becomes uncomfortable.”



Claus Enevoldsen joined Freedom Communications in 2006 as the marketing manager at the chain's Victorville Daily Press. He moved up to Orange County in 2009 to join the team that wrote the company's mobile strategy.
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"We're trying to get a new audience," Enevoldsen told me this morning in an interview. "We looked at our reach with our existing products said 'where do we have some gaps'. Then we looked at the iPad and asked 'where is the sweet spot for the iPad.' And there was just a good fit."

Because of this, the OCR has created a totally new and different iPad app than what was released back in December of last year. That app, developed by mobile app developer Handmark, was roundly criticized here for its mobile look and lack of tablet features. The new app, however, is more consistent with the publisher's digital strategy.

"Our strategy is more of an audience creation than it is migrating existing audiences to a new platform," Enevoldsen said.
Photobucket "Our strategy is that we play to the strength of the platform."

The app currently gives gives readers free access to the content, which is designed more like apps from a developer like Bottle Rocket than a typical newspaper converted to tablet. This consistent with the company's of goal of creating a product that is consistent with the reading habits of iPad owners.

"There is a sense to this that we are bringing back the afternoon paper, but its just not paper," Enevoldsen said. "During the day you have the web, and 24/7 you have your phone, and the phone is really what you use for breaking news."

The new OCR iPad app does employ RSS feeds to bring in some content, and there is a ticker that can bring in breaking news, if necessary. But the app is not designed to fulfill the role of a constantly updated news product.

For one thing, the daily edition of the OCR does not appear until six in the afternoon, but then it can be updated several times a day, if desired. I would argue with the publishing time, but the concept has merit.

"We're taking a magazine approach. We believe in this design, and the design drives the story. Whereas a lot of the RSS based apps out there are automatic," Enevoldsen told me. "It's not a compromise, it's a choice, we're sacrificing some of the instant updates with RSS feeds over design and curation and this finite experience."

NYT reports drop in earnings due to print advertising; reports digital subscriptions have surpassed 100,000

This morning's financial earning reports include surging iPhone sales at Verizon and declining print advertising at The New York Times – neither report was unexpected.

The NYT earnings report brings into focus how unique the Times is versus most other newspaper across the country. Like the WSJ, the NYT brings in a larger share of its total revenue from circulation than does other papers: 45 percent. The New England Media Group, another NYT property that includes the Boston Globe, brings in slightly less than 40 percent from circulation. The Regional Media Group, which includes such papers as the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, brings in around 32 percent of its revenue from circulation.
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If you are a publisher, and love looking at financial (yeah, I know, I'm a freak) the contrast between what your P&L looks like and that of the NYT is interesting. OK, forget about the size of the numbers and concentrate on the segments. The NYT is heavily skewed towards national advertising, with classified advertising down to only 17 percent of total ad revenue. ASs a former CAM, this brings tears to my eyes (I was once a national ad manager, too, but my allegiance is still with the classified team).

This weighting is important to keep in mind when considering the NYT's move towards paid digital subscriptions.

Digital subscription packages on NYTimes.com and across other digital platforms have been well received, and approximately three weeks after the global launch, paid digital subscribers have surpassed 100,000. So soon after the launch, the Company does not yet have visibility into conversion and retention rates for these paying customers after the initial promotional period, although early indicators are encouraging. – from the press release
We are most certainly at least one more quarter away from getting a better feel about how well the NYT is doing converting readers into digital subscribers. Because of this, the real issue will be total performance. Unlike the Times of London, the NYT has not gone completely behind a paywall. Because of its metered approach, it will be hard to do a definitive 'thumbs up' or 'thumbs down' on the strategy.

But will be matter? Ultimately, investors will judge the compan;s performance based on earnings, while editors and reporters will judge performance based on job security.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: newly launched iPad app offers a different take on the replica editions model

Let's be clear, when it comes to 'replica editions' I am not dogmatic. If I were I would dismiss this new newspaper app from the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine out of hand, and that would be a shame in this case.

My biggest issue concerning replica editions is that presumes that a media product that is designed for one medium works automatically on another – with modifications. And that is the key for replica makers, they often deny that their products are 'replicas' because they have embedded links, or text versions of stories, or video, or ...
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But a product starts with an exact copy of the print edition, then that is my definition of a replica, even if the end result is something far different than what is found in print – and that is why there are good replica editions, like this one, or really, really bad ones, like those for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group and others produced by the same flipbook vendor.

F.A.Z. Zeitung is the recently released iPad app for the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The app name is a bit strange, if you think about it, because if you were to say the name in full it would be Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Zeitung.

The newspaper is an amazing throw back to the earlier days of newspaper design. The blackletter font that is used for the flag used to be used for headlines, and no photographs were traditionally seen on the front page. The use of photographs have slowly become more common, and the headlines now appear in regular font. But this is a very traditional looking newspaper, so for it to launch a tablet edition you would think it would keep its traditional look.
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It is probably for this reason that this new iPad starts with a replica of the print edition. From there things get more interesting. A tap of a story brings up a new page that displays a text version of the story with a new layout. In landscape mode a left hand column appears that lists other stories.

The new story page also contains font size controls and a display brightness control. I love having the display brightness control here. If the app is going to approximate a Kindle edition in styling and be so text oriented, brightness controls are absolutely necessary.

The app also lets you save article and do searches for topics. Social media sharing is not a feature in this very conservative (not in the political sense) app.

So does this work? I think regular readers of the newspaper are probably in a better position to judge than me. I certainly would never recommend starting with a replica of the print edition. But the way this app is built, the replica serves pretty much as a 'table of content' more than the actually reading product. But you can read the replica thanks to pinch to zoom, you just probably wouldn't want to.

(Inside the German App Store the majority of reviewers have been positive but there are also a number one-star reviews that accuse the app of being simply a PDF version of the newspaper. "Das ist lächerlich. Es ist einfach nur ein pdf der Printausgabe, mit irgendwelchen unnützen und auch unverständlichen navigationselementen." Google translation: This is ridiculous. It's just a pdf of the print edition, with some useless and incomprehensible navigation elements.)

F.A.Z. Zeitung is free to download and users get free access to all editions of the newspaper for the first 14 days. After that the cost of each issue is a rather steep 1.59 €.



Keeping to the theme: Amazon.com has released an update to its Kindle app for iOS devices. The update makes the app available for German customers purchasing content from the Amazon.de Kindle Store.

The update also adds a dictionary for German-language books using the Duden Deutsches Universalwörterbuch.

Morning Brief: Condé Nast to 'hand back control to the magazine staff; 'Digital Distribution' website launched

Yesterday Adweek, you remember them, ran a post that talks about changes at Condé Nast including the decision to return much of the day-to-day control of the magazine websites back to the actual staffs, as opposed to a centralized entity – in this case Condé Nast Digital.
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The story doesn't provide much background, but then again, when you are publishing your website stories in 20 point type (slight exaggeration) there isn't much room left on the page for perspective.

What was left out of the story is the background involving the decision by Condé Nast to use the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite instead of creating native apps. The decision was the sign that one political faction had won, another had lost. It shouldn't be a surprise which side lost: the centralized digital teams always have lots of enemies in the publishers, editors and sales folk who feel that outsiders are managing their brands. And while I have tremendous sympathy for the "digital" people, more often than not the complaints of the grunts (I use this term lovingly) have merit.

My own experience has often been that those who are put in charge of digital rarely know much about the publishing products they are supposedly there to support, and too often, especially at smaller media firms, know next to nothing about digital, as well. (I could tell you horror stories . . .)

But if you think I am coming out hard against "digital teams" then you are wrong. Someone has to be able to introduce new technology, new platforms, and needs to lead the way. How long would it have taken Condé Nast to create its first tablet edition had the impetus to create these apps had to come from the publishers?

It is an old question in publishing: create digital teams or have digital in the control of the print teams? (The answer depends on the print teams, doesn't it?)



A new digital media website has been born: Digital Distribution. Created by Portugese graphic designer and publishing veteran Pedro Monteiro, the site will, of course, look at digital publishing – but no doubt from a more design perspective than other websites including TNM. Monteiro's day job is design coordinator for Impresa Publishing, as well as consultant for Innovation Media Consulting Group.

Oh, look at that, and Digital Distribution has an interview with me on its front page.



What exactly are we going to do with websites that lie in order to drive traffic? The media community doesn't see any problems with the practice. Heck, some of the "great minds" of the industry have made a career out of stealing other people's work and repackaging them into newsletters for years. But what about the practice of intentionally lying in order to draw in readers?

I'm referring, of course, to those stories that often talk about companies like Apple or Google, make a wild claim knowing that readers who hate the company will be drawn in to applaud while others will click through in order to refute the lie.



The BBC has posted an obituary for Tim Hetherington, the photographer and journalist killed yesterday in Libya. Chris Hondros of Getty Images was also killed in the same incident.

Hetherington and American author Sebastian Junger together created the film Restrepo, a film about an outpost in Afghanistan called a film from "the valley of death".

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Apple blows out its Q2 numbers, big time – but can they please get their App Store back up online?

Update: Finally, finally, I was able to download the app I wanted to look at this afternoon. Look for a post on the new tablet app from Frankfurter Allgemeine tomorrow – bring your German dictionary.

This afternoon would have been the time I looked at a new newspaper iPad app from Germany – that is, if I could get into Apple's App Store. Instead, I have found it dead all afternoon (have you had better luck?).

In the meantime, Apple reported its second quarter (of its fiscal year 2011) earnings and depending on who you read the earnings either "blew away expectations", "a record", "amazing" or "Apple bombshell: terrible iPad numbers" – that last one from Business Insider, proving once again that if it will drive clicks they will post it.

The best headline was from John Paczkowski of the WSJ, assuming he wrote his own headline: "Thar She Blows: A Whale of a Quarter for Apple". Sadly it got rewritten to simply "Apple Blows It Out ... Again." Too bad.
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The horrible iPad sales Business Insider Jay Yarow wrote about were that Apple sold a "very light" 4.69 million units, down from 7.33 million units during the holiday season. Of course, these earnings reflect the last month of the original iPad, and only three weeks of iPad 2 sales. 2010 sales of iPads in the same were, of course, zero.

But some analysts were claiming Apple would sell over six million iPads, so what happened?

"We sold every iPad 2 that we could make,” Apple chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer said, leading to the usual conclusion that listening to analysts will make you stupid.

But the real story here is the boat loads of dough the company is bringing in now: Mac laptop sales were up 59 percent (though desktop sales actually declined 6 percent, guess no one really wants a desktop anymore), and iPhone sales were up a measly 126 percent.

Overall revenue was up 83 percent, so maybe Apple could get buy some new Dell servers to keep their App Store online, huh? (Just kidding, of course.)

When in doubt, follow your customers

An old saying in the newspaper ad game was "follow your customers". That advice used to mean that if you wanted to increase business it might be wise to start attending the Chamber of Commerce meetings. In one ad manager position I learned that there was no local auto deal association so I started my own, that way the dealers would be coming to my own meetings.

The same advice holds true when trying to figure out what the heck Walmart is up to buying a social media platform for $300 million.
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The company, Kosmix, will join forces with @WalmartLabs to work on the retailers social and mobile commerce strategy. The acquisition, along with the founding of @WalmartLabs suddenly gives the Arkansas-based retailer a more Silicon Valley orientation, a development that probably has a few people shaking their heads in amazement.

"We are at an inflection point in the development of ecommerce," co-founder Anand Rajaraman writes on the Kosmix blog page. "The first generation of ecommerce was about bringing the store to the web. The next generation will be about building integrated experiences that leverage the store, the web, and mobile, with social identity being the glue that binds the experience."

"Social networking and mobile applications are increasingly becoming a part of our customers' day-to-day lives globally, influencing how they think about shopping, both online and in retail stores," Eduardo Castro-Wright, Walmart's vice chairman said in Walmart's announcement. "We are excited to have the Kosmix team join us to accelerate the development of our social and mobile commerce offerings."

When learning about a move such as this one it is typical to wonder "what the heck are they up to?" But a better reaction from media executives would be "where are they going, and are we going there, too?"

Publishers need to ask the right questions of their new development partners, just as they would of their printers

Every print publisher has had one of those moments: the UPS guy is at the door with a box of magazines, your latest issue, you tear it open and to your horror something is wrong. Generally you will have to live with whatever mistake your print has made, but you are instantly on the phone screaming at your sales representative and eventually begin negotiating a credit on your account.
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Tablet publishing, of course, is a different animal. But like print, it often centers on a publishing solutions provider – in this case the developer of the app. The good news is that unlike print, an updated app can be produced and submitted to Apple if something is wrong. But, in the end, the publisher is again at the mercy of their publishing partners.

This is why a smart publisher needs to choose their developers as carefully as they do their printers. But the questions posed to potential publishing partners are certainly going to be different.

I thought about this when I opened up the new iPad app for the Belgian film magazine Flanders Image (or alternatively, Flanders (i). Flanders I is a free app created by the Belgian web agency Netlash, and the company's website gives no clue that they would be involved in app developing.

One gets a clue that something is not right with the entry for the magazine in iTunes. There is only one screenshot shown. This is bizarre since adding screenshots to your app description is incredibly simple, so why only one shot of the cover?

Opening the app leads you to a page where you are supposed to be able to download the latest issue. Since the app description does not say there is an in-app purchase necessary, you would assume you could download the issue for free. But the app gets stuck trying to load a price and the "Buy this issue" is dead.

How this app made it through the Apple app review process is a little hard to understand, but, hey, mistakes happen, right? It is what happens from this point on that will be important to any publisher.

The day your media app hits the App Store is the first day of only a couple that your app will appear on the first page of the category you chose. Oh, and did you choose the category. In the case of this app, a film magazine, the News category was chosen, usually not where you would find a film product – that would be Entertainment.

So here are a few things I would ask any company that wants to be my developer: once the app is submitted to Apple and is launched into the store how fast can you turnaround an update that will fix any major bugs? In other words, will you give my app priority on launch day so that I know my brand will be protected?

Another: who will be the "seller"? It is very easy to sign up to be an Apple developer, and the cost is only $99. If the publisher is listed as the "seller" who will actually submit the app and complete the online forms, the publisher or the developer? And if the developer, will you involve the publisher in the writing of the app description and the screenshots? (You better.)

HBO GO app won't free us from the cable companies

It sounded like a good idea, a separate service from HBO called HBO GO which would allow users to watch HBO programming on their tablet or mobile device. Instead of a horrible promotional app, like what is being offered now in the App Store, this would be an honest to goodness streaming service.
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Unfortunately, this isn't going to be one of those breakthrough moments where a major media company unshackles itself from the television carriers and begins offering its services free from cable contracts that force you to pay for the Home Shopping Network. No, HBO GO is very much tied to the hip with the cable and satellite providers.

The new app, which will be available May 2 for iOS devices and Android, is really just an extension of the online service that will allow subscribers to watch their favorite programming on their computers. The app, in the end, looks to be superfluous. Apps for Xfinity and other cable providers already do, or what to, allow viewers to stream content for viewing on their mobile or tablet devices. So why do you need HBO GO?

Really, what HBO's service is about is differentiating their premium service from regular network broadcasters. While HBO doesn't mind you watching a movie while stuck at the airport, the networks are fighting for the right to do this themselves, free from the cable providers. Meanwhile, the cable and satellite providers are arguing that their contracts with the content providers give them the right, the exclusive right, to stream content to their subscribers.

In other words, the battle will be over whether when you sign that cable contract you are locked in to getting programming only one way, through that carrier. While the carriers and programmers fight it out, it is the consumer that is saying they want to be free: free to view programming anywhere, but also free to pick and choose that programming.

Comparing the television to other mediums, television is probably the most backwards. Content providers are constantly locked into regional and carrier agreements. For instance, try watching live BBC television in the States – instead we get BBC America, hardly the same. As for Al Jazeera English, well forget it, the cable companies have made sure they are locked out.

It is unlikely that if the often rumored Apple television display product is actually launched that it will be able to break the direct tie between programming and carriers. Apple is very much used to negotiating deals across the board in order to avoid problems. Apple is generally interested in bringing content to consumers in new ways, not through new distribution channels. (You could argue that iTunes is a new distribution channel, but it really isn't, it is a new retailer, simply replacing one seller for another. You still must go through EMI, for instance, to get music – but instead of buying the end product from Tower Records, it is though Apple.)

Between now and May 2 we will find out if the new HBO GO apps will allow viewers to watch programming on 3G – unlikely – and whether there will be an Android tablet version available – also unlikely. If I were at RIM I'd be making sure that a version was ready for their platform, as well. But that is, of course, unlikely.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The New Zealand Herald launches new iPhone app

This is a brief follow-up to this morning's post about new apps from New Zealand. After looking at tablet apps and an Android app, I almost missed this new iPhone app released today.
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NZ Herald News is the new free iPhone app for APN Holdings' daily newspaper of the same name (or pretty close).

The mobile app gets a fresh look which as you can see here is quite attractive.

The app allows users to customize their experience by arranging the sections in the More area. The interface is not intuitive – it took me a while to figure out that you dragged the icons down into the bottom bar rather than just arranging them like Apple allows – but allowing customization is always a good feature.

The app description also says that the photo galleries and video content has been AirPlay-enabled so you can view the material on your television through an Apple TV device (but to be honest, I couldn't find any photo galleries or video content, so who knows if this works).

Hands on with the new BlackBerry PlayBook

The Canadian company Research In Motion (RIM) launched its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet in retail outlets today in the U.S. and while demand appears to be almost nonexistent I did, in fact, see a customer pick up their previously reserved tablet from Best Buy.
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As many TNM readers probably already know, the PlayBook has been pretty uniformly panned, both for the basic functions not included in the stand alone product (e-mail, calendar) but for the lack of apps. You only launch once, and rather than wait until the product was fully loaded, RIM kept to its launch schedule (big mistake).

For a more thorough hardware review you can definitely search online for better alternatives, but here is my own brief look at the newest tablet to enter the market:

Specs, Look and Feel

The BlackBerry PlayBook features a 7-inch multi-touch display with cameras on the front and back. It sports a 1 GHZ dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, and comes in 16GB to 64GB models. The tablet also comes with three ports: micro-HDMI, micro-USB and a charging connector.

Early reviews show that the PlayBook gets about seven hours of battery life, less than the iPad, but probably more than enough for almost all occasions.

In your hands, the PlayBook has a comfortable, solid feel thanks to its rubberized metal feel. It is thin, light and feels solidly built.

But if you want to connect to the Internet you will have to do it through WiFi as the PlayBook does not offer 3G connectivity, though you can use your BlackBerry phone to tether. Is this a big deal? I don't think so. My iPad is the WiFi version, and I've always used tethering to connect when outside of WiFi.

User Interface

Consumers familiar with the iPad will be taken aback a bit by the lack of a home button – familiarity with webOS helps a bit. To move from one app to the next the user swipes from left to right, or a swipe in the bottom right hand corner with do the trick.

Like the Motorola XOOM, which runs the Honeycomb version of Android, the PlayBook's user interface is contrasts greatly with the iPad. The iPad is all about apps, so its home page is an ugly collection of apps, something that is starting to feel old to me, even if it works well.

The PlayBook, on the other hand, gives you a bit of a cover flow look, and is far cleaner in appearance. But, and this is vitally important, one reason it is so clean is because of what the PlayBook can't offer it users.

Email, Contacts and Calendar

Don't go looking to for these features unless you own a BlackBerry smartphone. RIM has been rightly lambasted for leaving out email and calendar programs from the tab and instead forcing users to rely on something called BlackBerry Bridge. Assuming you own a BlackBerry, BlackBerry Bridge uses Bluetooth to marry the two devices so that you can do these functions on your tablet. But then again, if you have your BlackBerry smartphone on you why would you want to do this on your tablet?

And if you don't own a BlackBerry phone then you are out of luck.

Apps

There are, of course, few apps, as many reviewers have pointed out. There is no PlayBook version of Pandora, or Netflix, for instance. To me this says that the executives at RIM don't really understand how people are using their iPads. Instead, the focus is too much on specs, as good as they are, and less on why one would want to use a tablet.
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Checking out the app store, one sees that there is News category broken out into magazines and news. Despite seeing screenshots from RIM that showed news apps from CNN and the NYT, a search of the news category only showed two news apps: one from the CBC and another from TechCrunch. Both were simple RSS reader apps familiar to any smartphone owner.

When Apple launched the iPad, Steve Jobs bragged that all iPhone apps would run on the iPad. While true, users soon discovered that they much preferred apps that would designed specifically for the tablet. Nonetheless, one that first day if you want to listen to Pandora, or play a game designed for the iPhone you could do it.

But the BlackBerry PlayBook will not run BlackBerry apps, though an emulator is promised for later in the year. But a new tablet doesn't need apps to run six months for purchase, it needs them that first day. Why wouldn't the developers of this new tablet make sure there would be essential apps on day one? Buyers can wait a few months for a Wired or Financial Post app, but they need a Netflix, Pandora and NYT app now.

The Daily loses its managing editor to Reuters

So what does this mean for The Daily: managing editor Jim Gaines is leaving the tablet-only news product to join Reuters as ethic editor.
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Managing editor to ethics editor, huh?

The news was released by Reuters as part of its announcement that Paul Ingrassia, former Dow Jones Newswires president, was joining the news service as deputy editor-in-chief. Reuters says it is part of a move to "raise the profile of the 160-year-old news agency, streamline decision-making, and better exploit the resources of the company created by the $16 billion takeover of Reuters by Thomson in 2008."

Stuff.co.nz releases first New Zealand's first news app for Android; The New Zealand Herald still leading tablet app

With tons of iOS and Android apps to choose from, US smartphone and tablet owners have an easy time getting the news. But in New Zealand, not only is the market smaller, but media companies have moved a little slower in developing for Android smartphones or Apple's iPad.
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Stuff.co.nz, the Fairfax Media Group owned news site, today launched what it claims to be the first New Zealand news app for Android devices. Found in the Android Market, the app is the perfect occasion for one of those PR agency-speak releases:

"Stuff.co.nz is the number one mobile site in terms of audience size, with nearly five million monthly page impressions, according to AC Nielsen Online data. Now, with our launch of an Android app, more people than ever can get up to date with Stuff’s award winning news on the go,” Nigel Tutt, General Manager - Fairfax Digital is quoted. Imagine if people really spoke like this.


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If you want to get your news from New Zealand on your iPad you can download the Stuff.co.nz iPad app or one from The New Zealand Herald.

Unfortunately, the Stuff.co.nz has quite a number of complaints in iTunes from users who say the app is unstable and prone to crashing. I didn't find the app unstable myself, so it is possible that iPad users need to keep their tablets clean and reboot occasionally.

But Stuff.co.nz doesn't appeal to me as a news source with its obsession with violent crime stories. On the other hand, the story on the front page of The New Zealand Herald app, "It pays not to be too attractive if you're a woman looking for a job" had me scratching my head, as well.

The Herald app is number one in the New Zealand App Store, both for its iPhone and its iPad apps. It is by far the more attractive app, and the reviews inside that store are mostly positive. The app takes advantage of the iPad's display by blowing up its news photos to full screen, forcing readers to scroll to read the copy. But readers don't seem to mind this in the least, and I think it is something to consider when designing your own apps: readers are very much used to scrolling on the web, and so the 9.7 display doesn't have to be the limits of your design.

(One drawback to this design, however, is photo quality. The lead story right now in The Herald app uses a very low resolution photo that looks horrible when blown up to full display size.)

This is something the techies have been debating online: swipe versus scroll, fixed page versus expandable page. I know John Gruber of Daring Fireball has commented negatively in the past on apps that utilize both scrolling and swiping, but I think iPad readers are OK with the concept of scrolling within a story, and swiping to get to the next story.

Both news apps are free to download and the Herald app did not appear to contain advertising, making one wonder what the business plan would be for this company's tablet product. But it is worth remembering that not all nations are abandoning print at quite the same pace as the U.S.

Morning Brief: Multitude of websites gives Patch advantage in app promotion; a 'birther' bill too far

When you have more than 800 websites you can promote a new app pretty easily. That is what AOL's local news division Patch is discovering.
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Patch rolled out its own iPhone app last week, and it's a pretty good one at that. News from all the different local news websites can be accessed through the app, as well as the company's local retail directory.

But the real marketing advantage, of course, are all those local news sites running stories telling their readers to download the app. This would, would assume, lead to the app being a mega-hit with iPhone owners.

Well, guess again. For some reason, Patch decided to put its app in the lifestyle section rather than news. As a result, the app only has 17 reviews so far, 15 of them are five-star reviews, so obviously users like the app.

But "lifestyle"? Big mistake, the app is there with Living Social, Groupon, eBay, Amazon. Unless the company is trying to brand this as a shopping app, which it could do, it is miscategorized.



Arizona's Republican Governor Jan Brewer vetoed two bills yesterday. The first was a bill that would have required required candidates for president to provide a birth certificate or other documentation proving that they were born in the United States. The other would have allowed students to carry firearms on college campuses.

"I never imagined being presented with a bill that could require candidates for president of the greatest and most powerful nation on earth to submit their 'early baptismal or circumcision certificates' among other records to the Arizona secretary of state," Brewer is quoted by Politico as saying in her veto statement. "This is a bridge too far."

The Republicans, however, have a huge majority in the state legislature and so could override the governor's veto if they choose, though that is unlikely.



I see John Burns is back in London writing about Camilla and Kate. Good. I see a gossip column in his future.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Rockfish Interactive creates iPad app for weekly hobbyist publication Coin World with two in-app purchase options

After looking at lots of replica editions of magazines, or those God-awful flipbooks that newspaper publishers can't seem to get enough of, one feel completely without hope that their are creative publishers left in our industry. Then a last minute check of the App Store veals a diamond in the rough.
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Amos Press has released a very nice tablet edition for its publication Coin World. Coin World is a weekly publication for coin collectors and the publisher maintains an interesting website chock full of medium rectangle ads (makes a publisher very happy).

That same website was prepared for the appearance of the new app in Apple's App Store because right there on the homepage is an ad for the new iPad app that takes you to a whole new section of the site to explain the app.

As for the app itself, Coin World for iPad is not just a free way to access the editorial content of the publication or website. Instead, the publisher has thought through what they wanted to offer users, and how they would justify the cost of producing the app. In fact, the editorial content is probably the least interesting part of the app. The articles appear using cover flow, familiar to iTunes users.


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Left: the cover flow way of accessing articles; Right: the in-app purchase prompt for Coin Values.


The real meat of the app are the non-editorial features: the dealer locator, essentially a directory of dealers; the Marketplace where readers can browse through coins and make purchases by bringing up the browser; an events calendar, another database driven features; a coin value feature which is a $4.99 in-app purchase; something called Making the Grade, a guide to rare coins which is a $9.99 in-app purchase.

Of course, something like this takes some real development work. In this case, Amos Press worked with Rockfish Interactive to create the app. The interactive marketing company, headquartered in Rogers, Arkansas, has created mobile apps for Sam's Club and CouponFactory (though the geolocation coupon app has not made it into the App Store quite yet).

Retweet: SAY Media and the contrast with old media

Dan Frommer of Business Insider has a story this afternoon about SAY Media, predicting that the company will soon makes its first acquisition. The company here, SAY, offers a good window into the starkly different worlds of new media versus old.

SAY Media is the new name applied to the merged companies VideoEgg and Six Apart. I noticed VideoEgg after they had put their software solution on AOL, allowing AOL users to upload their videos for sharing much like YouTube. From AOL's perspective I'm sure that it was a good way to get in the game of video sharing.
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At the time VideoEgg was getting going, 2005, I was working for a Chicago-based online video company – having joined precisely because it was a start-up and because, well, how many online video companies are based in Chicago, this sounded exciting (it wasn't).

My job was to get advertisers interested in our video content. The problem was that no one was watching our video content because the company did not promote its website which hosted the content. As a result, we had no answer to the very first question out of a customer's mouth: how many people will see my ad?

I immediately knew that the first thing we needed to do was get an audience, and the best was to do this was to have our content shown on other people's sites. Enter VideoEgg. They were getting content from those who were uploading their personal videos, maybe they would be interested our content, professional made short videos on topics such as gourmet cooking?

So off to the West Coast I went, to the funky South of Market office that is still their home.

I was sick as a dog that day when I met with the team. It had been ten years since I left San Francisco, and it took me maybe five minutes to realize that I had completely misunderstood the company, I was thinking like a Midwestern working for an old media company rather than thinking about it from a New Media perspective. To me, VideoEgg was a software company, providing AOL and other companies with video software solutions. To VideoEgg, they were a media company trying to build an audience.

The meeting took place in a small, cramped conference room with this large group of people there. Why were all these folks in this meeting, wasn't I just meeting with Matt Sanchez (the current CEO of SAY Media)? No, all these folks had an interest in VideoEgg being a success. If they succeeded all of them would be millionaires.

I left the meeting a bit depressed, and not just because I wasn't feeling well. I was working my butt off trying to get other companies to host our content, but I was also fighting a losing battle back at the home office trying to make their owner of the company understand that content is without any value whatsoever if no one sees it. He simply didn't get it. Further, he insisted that he would decide what the content would be that would be produced, on the content partners I was trying to line-up. Conflict ensued and eventually I was out of there.

For VideoEgg, their model was typical New Media: we'll give away our software solution so that lots of websites will be able to host video. We'll then sell that audience to advertisers. That business is currently driving big dollars. For the customers like AOL, the business proposition was simple: this is FREE, you might even get a share of the revenue, and the content is all yours.

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, the old media video folk are still, six years later, still trying to get other companies to host their content. Their proposition is also simple: its our content, you have no say, we'll sell the ads, get the revenue, and you might be able drive some additional traffic, though all that traffic will be diverted back to our channels.

The lesson for old media companies that I took out of the experience was this: don't fall in love with your own content, the value lies in the audience, and include your team, not just your managers in meetings and strategy sessions. But most importantly, have a strategy that builds revenue, and build the company and the products around that strategy (as opposed to creating a product that trying to figure out a strategy to make that product successful).

What really impressed me about VideoEgg, back in 2005, was that it was a sales driven company that wanted to aggregate an audience, and it knew how to monetize that audience.

RSS driven news apps: Deseret News launches universal app; The Ottawa Herald, circulation 5,400, gets its very own iPad app

The RSS driven app is the bread and butter of newspaper app. Stories are fed into the content management system, properly tagged, and then can be spit out into a mobile or tablet application. Whether it is the New York Times, or Talking New Media, everything revolves around those RSS feeds when it comes to app development because very few apps are built like a magazine – The Daily's app being a good example of a newspaper iPad app looking more like a magazine.
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The Desert News, the daily newspaper associated with the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has released a universal app that, while driven by RSS feeds, has unique enough layouts for both the iPhone and iPad that one might think these were completely separate applications.

The iPad version seen here works in both portrait and landscape. The portrait layout works a bit better as the copy fills the display screen. In landscape the app layout has a hole in the upper right hand corner (maybe an update could fill this spot with an ad).

The app is not filled with many bells and whistles: I did not detect that the app will be using push notifications to alert readers to breaking news, for instance. Readers can, however, share stories through Twitter, Facebook and email.
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One of the few features to assist readers is a font size adjustment tool which is much needed as the default font size, especially on the front page, is too small.

The problem with RSS driven apps, of course, is that an RSS feed does not sort stories by order of importance but by time of posting. It is the biggest issue bloggers face (and one I'm working to solve here).

The biggest issue with this particular app, however, is the apparent lack of a business model. The app is free to download, and once installed the reader has complete access to the content without even having to register. There are also no ad spots in this version of the app making one wonder if the publisher considers the new app simply a marketing piece for the brand.


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The Ottawa Herald, circulation around 5,400 (I found conflicting figures online), is the latest newspaper to have its own branded iPad app appear in the App Store.

Created by its parent, Harris Enterprises, The Ottawa Herald is also an RSS feed driven app though without the more complex layout found in the Deseret News app.

Gordon Billingsley, digital media director at the paper, told me that this is the second app to appear from the company – Salina Journal being the first. The apps are identical, though in the Salina Journal app you can see that the bottom banner is meant to be an ad position.

The advantage of RSS feeds is that each paper can customize their app by including some feeds, but not others. The Salina Journal app features News first, then Obituaries, Sports and then SalinaFYI. Obituaries are obviously important in Salina!

The Ottawa Herald app contains no separate sports feed, an unusual decision since this is prominent tab on the newspaper's website.

The news layouts are completely without graphics, something that I would hope would be corrected in an update. There is a photo feed, however, that does contain a bit of programming: the picture comes up without a cutline, but tapping the photo will bring up some text. Line break coding frequently appears here, so the editors will have to be careful to monitor this.

Releasing an iPad app for such a small circulation newspaper is an interesting endeavor, but it shows that even small newspapers can publish tablet editions if they can do the work themselves and limit their development costs.

Most newspapers are still struggling with the basics of web publishing: Chronicle series lack interactive features

This year marks the 105th anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. 105 is not a nice round number, but for the citizens of San Francisco, the earthquake of that year will never be ancient, irrelevant history.
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Having lived through the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, known now as the World Series quake, I can say that the specter of '06 always lingers. Back in '89 I was working for a Bay Area daily and the quake was a quick reminder that newspapers were pretty irrelevant compared to broadcast mediums. The reporters and editors left our building when the power went out and headed to a local bar which still had power in order to watch the television coverage of the quake. Things would have been quite different had the paper a web site to maintain.

To commemorate the '06 quake, the San Francisco Chronicle published a two part series of excerpts from the manuscript of Dr. Leonie von Zesch, who was 23 at the time of the great quake. Her manuscript was found in some boxes that were stored after her death in 1944.

The online version of the two articles that appeared on Sunday and this morning in the print edition of the newspaper simply replicate the print versions. Five photos can be found online, but other than those photos no additional work was put into the digital versions of the stories.

For me, this partially explains the Chronicle's continued backwardness with all things digital. Here they had an incredible opportunity to use the power of digital publishing to create an interesting package. At the very least, the use of an interactive map would have shown the home of Von Zesch and the locations mentioned in the two excerpts.

Until the Chronicle starts taking its online editorial content seriously it is not hard to see that moving towards a legitimate mobile or tablet publishing strategy would be a waste of time (one would guess that creating a flipbook would be all we could expect from the paper at this time).



The Chronicle's situation is, sadly, not unique. While editors spent lots of time trying to piece together packages for their print editions, very little effort is spent on the online opportunities.

Obviously, the one newspaper property that usually is the exception is the New York Times. Their digital team time after time produces interesting and highly informative interactive features. While it might be near impossible for other papers to replicate these efforts, those features that are part of the Sunday newspaper package are different – more time is available to the editors, and the online team (if one exists) should be able to add to the reader experience.

This is all so nineties, yet here we are are on 2011 still with newspapers struggling with the basics. It is not just a reengineered newsroom that is necessary, but a whole new management attitude towards digital publishing that is required.

April in Chicago: this just isn't right!

Welcome to Spring in Chicago. April 18 and there is snow on the ground this morning. This just isn't right – the baseball season is in its third week of play, and isn't Memorial Day right around the corner?
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Oh well, this is what you get for moving from the west coast: endless winter, followed by the mosquito season.

On the bright side, I'm sure the farmers here in the Midwest love all this precipitation, as long as it stops at some point, I suppose.

Anyways, that's your weather for this morning, hopefully we won't be doing this too often over the next few weeks.

Then again, the tornado season is right around the corner. Ah, the Midwest!

Morning Brief: UK MP worries that gagging orders are hampering investigative journalists; coordinating marketing for a media app launch a challenge

The Guardian today published a story this morning about the concerns of Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley, John Hemming, who is concerned that a new type of gagging order being used by UK courts will interfere with investigative journalism. "This goes a step further than preventing people speaking out against injustice," Hemming is quoted in The Guardian story (which first appeared Sunday online).

The Guardian used as an example of this new type of press restriction the "superinjunction against the Guardian to suppress a leaked report on its toxic waste dumping, which even prevented reporting proceedings in parliament," the article states.


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One of the problems publishers face when launching new media apps is knowing exactly when their apps will appear inside the App Store. Unless you are launching a major app and working very closely with Apple your app will simply have to go through the app review team's system and then ... well, you'll have to be patient.

That doesn't mean the process drags out – despite some horror stories from individual developers and apps – the process has a logical sequence of events: after completing the online forms one submits their app, the app gets reviewed and is then approved or rejected. If rejected one can then appeal. For a "typical" app the process takes a couple of days, if rejected an appeal can take only a few more days unless there are issues with the programming or content

The problem comes in coordinating publicity with launch. Take this app from the Dow Jones Local Media group – SouthCoastToday Pix. It is the second iPad photography app released by the group, the first was CapeCodOnline Pix App (not a great name, was it?).

Released in the App Store on April 8, the press release that got my attention was released on the 16th, a Saturday. The press release contained no link to the app (that would only be known once it is actually in the App Store) and the only clue as to where to find the app was a link back to the SouthCoastToday website which was, at I write this, dead.

The app can be found under News, but the first page of the free news apps only goes back to the 13th, meaning that the app dropped off the first page severa days ago. The other choice as the main category would have photography. As of the time I am writing this post, the oldest app on the first page of free apps was released on the 4th, so if the app have used this category it would spend more time being visible, something to keep in mind when picking your categories.

As for the app itself, I like the idea – it is a great way to reward your photographers, get readers to contribute (if you include a mechanism for reader contributions). I found the app a bit sluggish, but my biggest gripe with the app was actually the photography. I opened the app and was immediately presented with photos from a family funeral, a stunning intrusion of privacy I thought. The description gave no reason why this private moment of brief was important for the general public to observe.

I deleted the app immediately after grabbing the first non-funeral picture I could find.