Nothing is more nebulous than trying to predict the future of the media.
That has been a recurring theme in these blog posts since I began doing them about 17 months ago. Still, it is interesting to see where one concept is now, where it has been, and where it may head.
The concept is personalization.
In 1994 I wrote a book called, The Age of Multimedia and Turbonews, trying to forecast where the communication media were headed. Some of the predictions then never came true, while others that weren’t even visualized, are now reality.
Facebook, for example. Youtube, for another.
Still, there was one idea rolling around then that seems to be making a comeback. Citing from the above 17-year-old book:
“One of the products under development at the (MIT) Media Lab … is an electronic newspaper called Newspace, which could join the worlds of mass media and personal computing. Newspace would offer a broadsheet-sized electronic news presentation to the reader, complete with state-of-the-art graphics and human interaction. Much of the product would be built around individual users’ habits, interests, tastes, hobbies, and lifestyles. “
This was before the age of online newspapers obviously, and those products have underdone several evolutions trying to get to the stage that Newsok.com is now. But it’s the personalization aspect – or the so-called Daily Me aspect – that is the focus here.
Trove and Livestand
The current March/April issue of the magazine, News & Tech, features an article headlined, “Personalization making 2011 resurgence.” The article, written by editor chuck Moozakis, notes that the concept seems to have finally gotten some traction.
Moozakis focuses on Trove, a news aggregation service that will let users build their own news site from more than 10,000 news sources, and Livestand, a tablet service that funnels content to consumers based on their interests.
Trove is the brainchild of The Washington Post, which launched it in March on the Web. Livestand comes from our friends at Yahoo.
An open letter from Post CEO Donald E. Graham on Facebook explains what Trove is all about:
Reflects User Choices
“Trove harnesses smart, flexible technology that learns from the choices you make. Some have called it ‘Pandora for news,’ and the serendipity in its suggestions, pulled from around 10,000 sources, makes Trove a powerful tool for information discovery.”
Essentially, Trove users are meant to have the ability to develop their own information channels. They can then utilize those channels to follow anything, anyone, or any place that interests them. Trove uses Facebook Connect to deliver a range of possible channels to users, based on their individual interests.
A “Social Experience”
Says Graham, “Trove is … a social experience; you can share your channels with your friends, engage with fellow site users using the conversation boards featured on every channel, and interact with Trove on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.”
And, since the world is moving to mobile devices, you can take Trove with you on your Android, iPhone, or BlackBerry. An iPad app is on the near horizon.
Trove and Livestand follow, by just a couple months, the launch of Ongo. This service is backed by a consortium including The Post, USA Today, and The New York Times. It is a paid service that lets subscribers select the content they want to read on their mobile devices or computer screens.
600 Daily Stories
The content comes from more than 600 top news stories daily from the above news organizations plus the Associated Press, Reuters, and Financial Times. It costs subscribers about $7 per month.
Almost two decades past the MIT Media Lab experiment in 1994, personalized news channels started making a comeback with MediaNews in 2008. This company sent up a trial balloon then in the form of an “individuated newspaper,” called I-News, which was tested in Los Angeles and Denver before being put back on the shelf.
Will the trend toward personalized publishing continue?
How can it not? We are all tailoring the Web to our individual, personal needs everyday. The direction such personalization will go, however, is open to question.
“It’s still a moving target,” says media analyst Peter Vandevanter. He sees personalized media following two different – but parallel – paths:
- Initiatives such as Trove that depend on keywords and algorithmic searching.
- So-called crowdsourcing services, of which Facebook is a prime example. Here, users read what their friends and trusted sources recommend.
Back to the Caves
I have always found it ironic that the Web is a culture of openness where anyone can find anything they want, yet so many of us only scratch the surface by going for narrow kinds of information that interest us personally.
What could be a tool for a gigantic common pool of information is, in a way, a trail that leads each of us back to our individual caves to read the paintings on the wall.
In previous posts, I’ve discussed some of the positive ways which the social media have been used to help people in need. None, however, may be as useful as what transpired after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti.
Although estimates of the death toll vary to this day, more than 300,000 perished in this disaster, according to the Haitian government early in 2011.
In the days and weeks after that country’s devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake, many people used social network sites like Facebook and Twitter to get information about the damage, try to connect with family and friends caught in the tragedy, and find the most effective charities to send money to.
Andrew Noyes, manager of public policy communications at Facebook, told PCWorld Magazine the rush to social media was immediate.
Instant FB response
“Moments after the earthquake hit, we started seeing a response on Facebook. It was very organic. People were posting status messages about Haiti at about 1,500 per minute.”
Noyes added, “The big picture here is that Facebook and other social networking sites are offering a lifeline to Haiti that the Internet has never seen before. This is the first disaster of this magnitude where the Internet has played this big of a role.”
One Facebook page in particular, was created the day of the quake by a family to find a missing relative, believed lost in the collapse of Haiti’s five-star hotel, Hotel Montana. Today the page has more than 16,000 followers, many of whom have been using it for the same purpose and others using it to show support and find out how to help.
The page states its reason for existence: “Keeping the people of Haiti, and those who lost loved ones, in our thoughts and prayers.”
A gallery of grief
In addition to the page-after-page-after-page of posts, the site contains nearly 4,000 photos, most of them of family and loved ones lost in the earthquake and the hotel’s resulting collapse.
The site also hosts 57 different topical discussion groups, ranging from “How You Can Help Haiti Now,” to “Grief,” to many discussion pages for individual families who lost loved ones in the disaster.
Hotel Montana story
An especially gripping story about that Hotel Montana online family born out of the hotel’s rubble was written by Rukmini Callimachi, West Africa correspondent for the Associated Press. Callimachi went to Haiti three months after the quake to write a story about how survivors were coping.
Last week, Callimachi won the Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism writing Award for her article, “Haiti: Hotel Montana,” presented by the Journalism Department of Ball State University.
Writing on the wall of the “Haiti Earthquake Hotel Montana” FB page, Callimachi wrote this week:
“Hello everyone. I’m Rukmini, and for several months last year I had the honor of getting to know you. On Wednesday night, I shared your story with students at Ball State University, some of whom wiped away tears as they listened to the journey all of you endured. It was hard for me to re-read the Haiti: Hotel Montana story and to remember your enormous loss … You are not forgotten.”
Other friends felt compelled to comment on Callimachi on the same page. One wrote, “Our hero, Rukmini, made it back from the Ivory Coast and kept her appointment at Ball State after all. She’s continuing to tell the story of this amazing HM (Hotel Montana) family. Still here. Still grieving. Yet still filled with hope.”
Other posts on the Haiti Earthquake Hotel Montana page show the intensity of feelings being expressed on this social media site, well over a year after the quake. Some of them also show the power that a journalist can have in telling a story like this to the world. Among the thousands of posts:
- “Hey HM family – almost bed time for me, and all I want to do right now is find the Haitian people who helped my brother survive the earthquake over a year ago and hug them.”
- “More than writing “about” this online family, Rukmini became “part” of this online family, and many of us are honored to have met her here.”
- “Hello everyone. Just wanted to let y’all know I’m thinking about you … This family is in my blood, and I have been blessed so much by it. As always, holding you in my heart.”
- “The earthquake in Japan has brought our emotions soaring high again. We miss Jim every day, but it’s been extra tough this month watching the news and seeing the devastation. A lot of us here know somewhat of they are going through.”
- (Stopping in to let my HM family know you are never far from my thoughts. I pray each of you is doing well and remembering the good times you shared with those you love.”
- “Love and prayers to my Hotel Montana family. Still taking things one day at a time. Praying for the people of Japan and all families affected by this terrible tragedy.”
It may well be that, in times of tragedy like those experienced by Haitians in 2010 and Japanese in 2011, these are the moments when the social media plays its most positive role in the world.
We’ve had some interesting stories this week about the varied ways we are using Twitter.
That online phenomenon which some still discount as a joke, is delivering some pretty good punchlines about how we live our lives.
Let’s focus on just three uses of Twitter as it relates to snakes, love, and hamburgers. Can’t get much more disparate than that.
First the snake.
As you probably heard, a highly venomous, 24-inch Egyptian cobra went missing on March 25 from its area of the reptile house at the Bronx Zoo. The thought of having an intimidating asp slithering through the Big Apple, possibly sticking its head up out of someone’s loo, made New Yorkers look twice before sitting down.
Twitter came alive with messages about the cobra … and with messages purportedly from the cobra herself. Right, someone or someones actually took on the guise of the snake and began tweeting away, informing New Yorkers of what she was thinking and doing.
For example, from @Bronxzooscobra we get …
• A lot of people are asking how I can tweet with no access to a computer or fingers. Ever heard of an iPhone? Duh.
• Just FYI, I’ve had it with Samuel L. Jackson too.
• What does it take to get a cab in this city?! It’s cause I’m not white isn’t it?
• Donald Trump is thinking about running for president?! Don’t worry, I’ll handle this. Where is Trump Tower exactly?
• If you want to find me, I right in front of the original Ray’s Pizza.
• I want to thank those animals from the movie “Madagascar.” They were a real inspiration.
As humorous as these tweets were, New Yorkers were getting a little more worried each day that the cobra went unfound. Six days later, however, the mystery was over.
Just like a child who was gone missing only to be found later hiding under his bed, the cobra was found about 200 feet from her holding cage in a dark corner of pipes and other equipment. She was alive and well and apparently just wanted a change of scenery.
The zoo plans to hold a naming contest for the female snake it acquired in February. This escapade should increase the chances for getting a fun moniker for the cobra. Maybe something like “Loosey?”
I was having a chat with William Whitman, head of corporate communications for McDonalds USA, on Friday about how this behemoth company uses the social media in their marketing.
Whitman said that there is no longer any doubt about the marketing value of Twitter and Facebook. They are here to stay, he said.
“Facebook is great for one-way communication, and McDonald’s uses its own Facebook page for that a lot,” he said. “There is some interaction there from customers, but the real interactive communication for McDonald’s comes through Twitter. That’s where you really get out to where the customers are and can engage them one on one.”
As I was thinking about this later, I couldn’t think of another place where more tweets probably originate from than a booth at McDonalds.
Here are a few tweets from McDonald’s Twitter account:
• I watched the McDonald’s Game last night. Wish I could dunk like them! Instead, I’ll settle for dunking my McNuggets in BBQ.
• McDoubles are not just given, they are earned!
• Hope everyone is on guard and prepared for this day of trickery! Happy April Fool’s Day .
• I don’t know about you, but I’m a tad bit sleepy this morning. Looks like it’ll be a McCafe Monday!
Finally, Twitter, texting, and love.
The March 28 issue of Time Magazine carried an interesting piece on the way many Americans are using Twitter to get dates and build relationships.
As I was reading this, I was remembering those painful afternoons and evenings in high school where I would work myself into a sweat worrying about making that phone call to ask a girl out for a date. How many times did I defer that job until the very last minute?
As did other 16-year-old guys I’m sure, I would actually write out the little conversation I expected would ensue, what I would say, what she would say, yadayadayada. Of course, after hello, the chat would always take off in a different direction, leaving me totally baffled about what to say next.
And often in the end, the answer from the girl would be, “Sorry, no,” because she had just made a date the night before when I was deferring that call to this night.
If only Twitter had been around then. Here’s how Time writer Megan Friedman frames Twitter’s role today:
“Compared with a sonnet on perfumed parchment, a 140-character declaration of love doesn’t seem very romantic. But you may get one soon. In a recent survey by Shape and Men’s Fitness magazines, more than 65% of respondents said they had been asked out via text message (and tweets).
“Looking for your Romeo? The boom in Internet dating means there are more fish in the sea than ever before … Half the respondents in a survey by advertising giant Euro RSCG Worldwide said they know someone who had met a partner online.”
This all confirms earlier posts in this blog series which have discussed how technology-driven our interpersonal relationships have become.
As impersonal as that sounds, it sure would have helped this awkward 16-year-old ask for dates back in the late 60s.
I also now know enough to realize, however, that online texts and chats take us only so far in getting to know another person.
In my adult dating years, as the Internet was just establishing itself, I struck up an online, text-based chat with a woman a couple thousand miles away. This back-and-forth went on for weeks when we decided to actually meet each other. As I got off the plane and encountered her face-to-face for the first time, I realized everything I’d heard about the value of non-verbal communications was true.
After the first five minutes I knew it was going to be a very long weekend. It was the last time we ever saw each other.