Monthly Archives: June 2012

Building a car-friendly news environment

A 2011 post by Steve Buttry has been gnawing a hole in my consciousness for a few weeks now. It’s called “Newspapers don’t need new ideas; here are lots of ideas for new revenue streams.”

In the post, Steve talks about some of the money-left-on-the-table scenarios in the local news publishing space, but the first one really hit home:

Develop the must-have driving app for your communityI first outlined this idea two years ago in my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection. I am not aware that any news organization (or anyone else) has tried it yet. Mutter notes that the newspaper ad decline has been most severe in automobile advertising, falling from $5 billion in 2004 to $1.1 billion last year. Auto manufacturers and dealers have built better tools than the newspaper want ads section for selling cars.

Buying a car is a job most people need help with only every few years. It was an easy job to disrupt. But driving is a task many of us do daily, and it presents abundant opportunity. Community news organizations are well-positioned to offer one place where drivers can compare gas prices, buy insurance, find parking spaces, check the traffic, get emergency service, schedule maintenance, rent a car and download coupons for tires and service. And if you develop that app that drivers can use daily, it may also be the best vehicle for advertising auto sales.

That’s an outstanding idea, as far as it goes. But it got me thinking further. In most local communities around the U.S., the daily commute is done in a car, as Steve notes. But, while this certainly offers a great context-appropriate environment for car- and commute-related news and information, there may be an even bigger opportunity here, one which the march of mobile technology makes so much easier to pull off here in 2012 than even a year or two ago: car-friendly news delivery.

Imagine how useful this could be:

  • An app-like mobile browser experience, with larger buttons/identifying text for one-glance control of the in-car site. Safety first! (Yes, this can be an app, also. But let’s make it work first without the need to download anything.)
  • Tight integration with a traffic-alert system, customized to my commute pattern AND my current location.
  • An easy means for users to post news from their commute, in photos, video, pre-written text snippets or, for passengers in the car, free-form text. For an outstanding example of how this can be implemented, look at the Reports function in the social-traffic service, Waze.
  • Original audio programming, both live and podcast. Streaming audio is cheap to the consumer; downloaded audio is effectively free.
  • Dial-in capability for the full talk-radio experience.
  • Read-aloud versions of selected stories and the latest breaking news. Yes, this is that bad idea from the early 2000s, dressed up in new clothes simply because the quality of machine-read content is finally catching up with our aspirations. It’s not James Earl Jones, true, but it’ll do, used sparingly.
  • The ability to pin articles and related content to a user’s private space for later retrieval.
  • Here’s what it’s not: Yet another wrapper or skin for the full content of the local news service. For this to work well, it needs to be tightly curated and updated; it can’t simply be a mass regurgitation of everything that’s on the homepage of the mothership. It’s just enough news, carefully selected and presented with a mobile- and audio-first bias.

Remember: As of this year, more than half the cell phones in use in the USA are smartphones. Presenting app-like web pages, knowing a user’s location, playing audio and video — it’s all in there just waiting to be accessed intelligently by users and the local news organizations who love them.

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt, Creative Commons License

Local news is not an island

On a recent edition of his Critical Path podcast, (right around the 52-minute mark) Horace Dediu notes an interesting fact hiding in plain sight in the most recent Apple keynote at WWDC: Apple is entering into more partnerships for content and solutions than ever before. Partnerships such as with MLB or NBA for scores and stats for Siri and Yelp for restaurant reviews in Apple’s new mapping system. His point is that Apple is moving ever-so-perceptibly away from the old approach of build-it or buy-it for most of their offerings to a new openness to work with the best that’s out there, perhaps toward their larger goal of beating Google at the most lucrative slice of the search game, faceted search for high-interest — and high-spend by advertiser — activities.

So, if we’re musing on this while gazing at our WWAD wrist-bands, what’s the message here?

Jeff Jarvis gave us the clue years ago: Do what you do best and link to the rest or, in this case, partner for the rest.

Local news organizations have a default mental switch marked Do It All, but does it really make sense to recreate a database of restaurants, ratings and reviews and hope that people will help us populate it, or would it be better to partner with Yelp and/or Foodspotting and incorporate that information into a tool that’s tuned to the specific needs of people in our communities? I think, increasingly, the answer may be yes.

Digging below the Surface

I love that Microsoft seems to have awakened to the fact that it’s 2012 with the introduction of their Surface concept. Here’s hoping they can actually ship this and do so at a decent price. It’ll be good for the market and great as a prod to Apple to keep innovating further.

Until then, Horace Dediu and MG Siegler have some good questions for Redmond:

Dediu wants to know who will be the operational and supply-chain genius at Microsoft to lead this effort to market. Who will turn this from an interesting concept into something that ships and sells? Who will be Microsoft’s Tim Cook?

Siegler also looks at Microsoft’s dreams of vertical integration of hardware and software and wonders what their partners-who-are-now-suddenly-competitors will think of that. He also wonders why Microsoft, try as they might, can’t resist gumming up the works with product-complexity:

Again, it looks like a goddamn PC. It’s a keyboard and a screen. Sure, it’s thinner — great, Microsoft has made a more portable laptop that you can’t actually use on your lap. Nothing in that gallery even suggests it’s a touchscreen device. How weird is that?

To top it all off, there are major branding issues. The press release simply calls it the “Surface”. It’s a regurgitated brand from something not really related (and, let’s face it, a failed product), but whatever. The real problem is with “Surface for Windows RT” and “Surface for Windows 8 Pro”. These sounds like fake names I came up with while drunk last night. But they’re real. I double-checked.

What are there differences? There’s quite a few actually. The biggest is that one works on ARM chips (RT) and one works on Intel chips (8 Pro). But they’re also different sizes, different weights, have different displays, different inputs, different release dates, and run different OSes — and thus, different apps.

How to craft social media rules for journalists

This is a bit old, but I hadn’t seen it until today, thanks to the topic rearing its ugly head again around the recent Barrett Tryon kerfuffle.

Anyway, here’s John Paton, outlining his company’s social media rules for journalists:

Some of you have asked what are JRC’s Employee Rules For Using Social Media. To keep it simple I have reduced them to three:

The sweet payoff is at the link.

The forecast is hyperlocal

I walk for about an hour every day. Which means, if I don’t want to get rain-soaked occasionally, I’d better know when the storms are coming.

That involved a lot of guesswork and inference on my part. I’d look at the hourly report on weather.com and pull up the live radar on wunderground.com. It wasn’t perfect, but it mainly worked.

Until now. Because I just discovered my new best weather friend: Dark Sky.

Dark Sky is an iPhone and iPad app that does one thing very well: It tells me whether it will rain (or, I assume, snow) where I am standing (or walking or running or biking) right now and, if so, for how long.

That, my friends, is hyperlocal news. Relevant and extremely local.

The team behind Dark Sky has a great blog post that explains how it all works, but like most great ideas expressed simply, all you need to really know is that it just works.

Four bucks. Boom. Purchased.

If you have any ongoing desire to know when and how much it’s going to rain, I suggest you take a look at Dark Sky and consider adding it to your iPhone. And, if you’re in the business of creating anything that you dare call “hyperlocal,” consider the effect an app like Dark Sky has on users who see it, get it and feel no hesitation in buying/supporting it.

Rain photo by mytimemachine (Parry) on flickr. Creative Commons.

Why do we love to highlight the downside?

My feed reader lit up in the past day with an interesting bit of primary research on some numbers that Kickstarter doesn’t make particularly easy to find: the percentage of successful vs. failed projects on the popular crowd-funding service.

Jeanne Pi from AppsBlogger.com commissioned a scraper script to try to get at that number herself.

Here’s what she found:

  • Successful Kickstarter Projects: 50.0%
  • Failed Kickstarter Projects: 41.3%

So, what was the headline? “Kickstarter failures revealed! What can you learn from Kickstarter failures?” The blog post that sent me to Jeanne’s research had the headline “Over 40 Percent Of All Kickstarter Projects Fail.” CNN had a similar approach: “Survey: About 41% of Kickstarter projects fail.”

But what about this, instead: “Half of all Kickstarter projects are successful”? That’s true, too. But missing in action.

Is it a bigger story that 41% of projects launched on Kickstarter don’t make their goal, or that half do? Given that these are largely projects that, in aggregate, would not have gotten funded without Kickstarter, I’d argue that the positive results are the real news here and the negative spins are just evidence of the knee-jerk reaction of all of us to lead with bad news, even when it presents a distorted view of the larger truth.