The Now/ledge

A Guide to the 'Now' Revolution in News / by Alan Soon

Worrying: Facebook patents the Newsfeed

Patents are nothing new in the tech industry; giants like Intel and Apple have played this card for years to deliver the goods that we’re now so familiar with.

But what happens when your activity online suddenly becomes a patent fight?

Facebook this week was granted a patent on — guess what — its Newsfeed.

According to the patent filing, the Newsfeed is:

A method for displaying a news feed in a social network environment is described. The method includes generating news items regarding activities associated with a user of a social network environment and attaching an informational link associated with at least one of the activities, to at least one of the news items, as well as limiting access to the news items to a predetermined set of viewers and assigning an order to the news items.

Can you imagine a social web experience in 2010 without a news feed?

This is a massive game changer as it take the fight straight into what everyone else is trying to do right now: help users discover relevant and interesting stories flagged through their primary filter — their friends.

As I wrote previously, status updates will be the most valuable consumer content in the next two years as a gold mine of insights into user behavior and preference. Facebook’s move to create a moat around this is troubling.

So is this the end of the line for other companies? Probably not. In fact, this could be a good thing. Since many of us hate the way Newsfeeds are presented, this is a fabulous opportunity for innovators to present social news in new ways.

How would you like to see your social news feed?

(Illustration: Geek and Poke/Creative Commons)

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Filed under: Facebook, Social Media

Who in the world is Marsha?

If you were watching Twitter’s trends last night, you may have been wondering: What’s Marsha and Rana?

It’s more a “who” than a “what.”

Marsha and Rana, two Indonesian students found themselves at the center of the Twitter spotlight, not for academic accomplishment but for ongoing taunts and insults.

Rana, a junior high school student in Jakarta, started insulting BlackBerry users by calling them tacky. But Marsha decided to take on a bigger fight: She smeared public schools as sub-standard.

It wasn’t long before public school students flooded their Twitter streams attacking Marsha, retweeting one insult after another. Some users also created phony accounts in her name in a bid to fuel the rage. Marsha made it top of Retweet Rank in no time (her account @marshaaaw has since gone dark).

Wednesday’s surprising incident on Twitter is a reflection of significant trends in Indonesia.

First, according to a report by Sysomos in January, Indonesia is Asia’s biggest Twitter market. Interestingly, Indonesia didn’t even make it to Sysomos’ league table in June 2009.

Second, the growth of mobile phones has skyrocketed among students. And it’s not just the $50 Nokias — we’re talking BlackBerry smartphones, which are ubiquitous among students, homemakers and businessmen. The BlackBerry is practically a “community” phone that ties people and conversations together.

Twitter apps are also everywhere. They are light, fast and they work on practically every platform on phones. Tweets are spreading like wildfire.

Welcome to the new SMS — faster, easier and full of rage.

(Photo/Creative Commons: basibanget on Flickr)

Filed under: Tools, Twitter, ,

Foursquare — a far more interesting tool for journalists

Call me unambitious, but I really don’t care about being Mayor. Neither do I care about collecting those Boy Scout badges.

However, I’m interested in how journalists can use Foursquare in sourcing stories and seeding dialogue.

It has the potential of being a good source of stories, no different from a good Twitter feed. It’s a channel for:

  • Transportation: Traffic accidents and which streets to avoid, airport chaos
  • Economy: Store closures, where to find the lowest gas prices
  • Political: Strikes, protests
  • Crime: Bar fights, break-ins
  • Trust me, it won’t be long before we start seeing stories generated by these tip-offs on Foursquare.

    But one of the best uses of Foursquare and its GPS feature is in disaster coverage. In floods, earthquakes and other disasters, GPS location could make it easier to pinpoint emergency needs.

    How are you using Foursquare as a journalist?

    (Photo/Creative Commons: PinkMoose, Flickr)

    Filed under: Tools,

    It’s the screen, stupid

    The whole conversation about PC versus Mobile is sooo 2009. So let’s put it behind us once and for all.

    It’s not about the mobile device. It’s simply the screen size, stupid.

    The social publishing service Scribd is trying to carve a niche for itself as a universal adaptor. Its founder told the Wall Street Journal that it will soon launch a feature for users to “send to mobile” most of its 10 million documents stored on the site.

    Don’t get me wrong. This is an incredible feature (one more excuse for me to buy an e-reader!), but let’s stop calling it “mobile.” The goal here is content agility — single content on multiple screen sizes, whether that’s the iPhone, Android, iPad or Kindle, or whatever else that arrives on the scene.

    WordPress does this especially well. This blog looks great on a PC. But try it on your mobile phone and WordPress automatically detects a smaller screen and delivers a cleaner version of this page.

    I’ve been frustrated at the number of news networks that failed to get this right. Sites like the BBC are still unable to detect when I’m on an iPod Touch or any other non-PC device; I’m still served the desktop page making browsing painful.

    What’s your favorite site on a small screen?

    (Photo/Creative Commons: steve.hubbard, Flickr)

    Filed under: General

    Is Facebook now a major news site?

    I always knew it would happen, but not this quickly.

    According to data crunched by Hitwise, Facebook is now the fourth largest source of traffic to news and media sites, sitting just behind MSN.

    With its dizzying growth and the new options it creates for content publishers, Facebook could avoid the vampire stigma attached to machine aggregators like Google News.

    This is how Facebook compares to Google News as an upstream source of traffic to news sites:

    Facebook, in a blog last week, extolled the virtues of its news-distribution abilities, pointing to what it considers the best filter for you: Your friends.

    In this era of social news, information is more ubiquitous than ever before and the rate at which we consume and share news has never been quicker. Your friends on Facebook help you cut through the clutter so you can read what’s most relevant to you, discover new items and carry on thoughtful discussions.

    It’s clear that Facebook can deliver the traffic, but can it help publishers monetize on the social media site itself? Right now, distributing on Facebook creates two problems for publishers:

    First, you’re further fragmenting the conversation by splitting comments (although this can be avoided in some degree through Facebook Connect). Second, there’s no meaningful way for you to advertise and target your news consumers on Facebook.

    Despite the traffic it sends, many more people are reading and interacting with news content directly on Facebook. Most users don’t care where the news comes from, as long as it is deemed credible and accurate. So what can be done to monetize that user base?

    For Facebook to succeed, it needs a deeper engagement with publishers who will have to start counting beans at some point. What do users do after they read your article on Facebook? How many people do they recommend it to? How many of their friends follow through by clicking on the link? And why aren’t there keyword ads?

    Distribution and dialogue are great. But at some point, you’ll still have to monetize it.

    (Photo: U.S. Navy, Sailors at Naval Air Station, Beaufort, South Carolina, listen to a radio broadcast of news of Japan’s surrender, 14 August 1945.)

    Filed under: Social Media, ,

    Small steps to building a cross-platform online newsroom

    ABS-CBN is the latest media giant in Southeast Asia to try and build an integrated news operation.

    This is no easy task. Having worked in TV, radio, print and newswires, I have seen many companies attempt to reach the Holy Grail of content production: A combined, agile news operation working across all platforms, especially in online and mobile.

    On Monday, Charie Villa started her first day on the job as head of ABS-CBN’s online news site and its mobile counterpart. A seasoned broadcast journalist (former Reuters), Villa was head of newsgathering at the TV network.

    This puts her on strong footing, but she faces the tough challenge of getting all the parts to play together. Indeed, many attempts at the “convergent newsroom” have failed for a number of reasons.

    Operationally, multimedia journalists — while good at reducing total headcount on the books — aren’t completely productive out in the field. You can’t shoot photos while conducting interviews; you can’t break news on Twitter while trying to transcribe a speech. And you sure as hell can’t crop and upload a photo while trying to track down a source on the phone. Let’s not forget styles — TV and print writing are still far apart. Quality suffers.

    Financially, many mega-media companies still can’t justify the investments into new media, such as online and mobile. In emerging markets like Southeast Asia, the online advertising market simply doesn’t exist. If the board wants to grow profits, TV, radio and publishing are still top priority. Have you tried justifying the cost of a dedicated social news team?

    My advice (unsolicited, of course) is to take baby steps. You can’t fully federate the skills of a journalist in the field. Choose your primary distribution point (social media, TV or radio) and stick with it. Help your journalists figure out which hat to wear first, and what will be the second.

    Second, fight hard to get the training budget to help your multimedia journalists think as social media marketers. Yes, this is another hat they will have to wear. The payoffs won’t come quickly enough for the finance department, but will help you raise the next generation of journalists. Like it or not, marketing has a lot in common with journalism in Web 2.0.

    Third, build the community. Journalists are more than just news gathers and news isn’t just about what’s happening. In the new world order, “shepherding” the community is a core skill. Seed the conversations and keep bringing your users together.

    All the best.

    Filed under: Social Media, , ,

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