Sunday, 27 January 2013

My Interesting Reads

  • The Daily Post website is getting Facebook sign-in later this year for comments. So... this , from TechCrunch, was an interesting read:  " The bullies and asshats left our comments sections, but so did everyone else. Now, several years later, after dozens of endless meetings and conference calls, we’ve decided we’re going to try out Livefyre instead of Facebook Comments.  "Frankly, our trial with Facebook Comments lasted way too long at too steep of a cost. Sure, Facebook Comments drove extra traffic to the site, but the vast majority of our readers clearly do not feel the system is worthy of their interaction."
Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Why does live tweeting put councils in a spin?

The issue of tweeting in the council chamber has caused some debate lately, and I'm happy to hold my hand up as someone who helped the discussions along.
I've also been ridiculously busy at work, and so there hasn't been much time to blog about local authorities and their varying views on anyone - press, public, councillor, officer - tweeting during the business end of proceedings. 

To recap, the Daily Post* sent a reporter to cover a budget meeting at Wrexham Council and it became apparent that a Twitter rule - in place for more than a year but unenforced, in our experience - would prevent real time reporting, and thus impact on our rolling news liveblog.  

The standing orders dictated:
 "Proceedings at meetings may not be photographed, videoed, sound recorded or transmitted in any way outside the meeting without prior permission of the chair".
I've covered council meetings since I was a trainee reporter. I have watched (genuine list alert) snoozing councillors reflex-vote, tantrums worthy of two-year-olds, recommendations voted through because the reporter sat next to me called out "move progress!" and a mayor utter the warning: "Allegations have been made about me, and if I find out who those alligators are..."
I've watched councillors make the most moving, impassioned pleas on behalf of their electorate, block economically-sound but culturally-wrong recommendations, make principled stands against cutbacks or planning outrages, and conduct cut-and-thrust debates that made a democratic difference.

None of the above - good or bad - needs to be reported retrospectively. Google 'council chamber live stream' and see all the authorities who let the electorate watch the democratic process as it happens 
Wifi, Ustream and a will to make it happen - that's all our councils need to make a significant contribution to the transparent, open government. 
Being more open means more scrutiny, and potentially more criticism, but it also means more feedback, interaction and opportunity to talk to people. 
I don't know why some councils embrace opportunities for transparency and others shy away from it. The subsequent fallout is never edifying - at best, it means the kind of nonsense the Daily Post is trying to negotiate a path through, at worst, well, all sense of perspective is lost.

Anyway, there was quite a lot of coverage, not least in the Post, and we've got a Right to Tweet campaign running now that is calling for consistency across public bodies, rather than ad hoc interpretation of constitution rules... 

The Twitter ban incident (hashtagged as #twitterban but never to be referred to as #Twittergate) was covered in various media; among the articles were these here and here and here

We even made the chief executive's weekly email to staff (instantly leaked to the Press, of course): 

[Twitter policy] can of course change in time as the Council further embraces technology, it doesn’t however, change as a knee jerk reaction to an editor who it appears only communicates with her readers via “twitter”.
The annoying part of that comms is, of course, the "twitter" bit. It's a PROPER NOUN, for heaven's sake, and don't get me started on the quote marks...
Ways to wind up in Rotten Boroughs, No.348

I don't seek out Twitter spats but I do feel strongly that if reporters and the public can use mobile devices to transmit information from court, there is no reason why they should seem permission to do so from public meetings. 

Guidelines can be useful (maybe 'switch off your phone's volume' or 'ensure your behaviour doesn't distract others') but if the Attorney General doesn't think the decision rests with his judges, then why should it rest with committee chairmen?

So, it's an issue we aren't letting subside - there's a Daily Post campaign underway now as a result of us being refused tweeting rights during one council meeting - and the problem is spreading
Louth Leader reporter Sam Kinnaird was thwarted in a bit to amend Louth town council's standing orders to allow live tweeting, this week and tweeted that fact
Two councillors backed it out of the whole full council; I see from the report the Mayor took the view that journalists should 'have the courtesy to do it from the foyer'.
Quite how the dignity of the chamber is offended by someone quietly sending texts from a mobile phone escapes me. 
In other Lincolnshire news, Boston Borough Council has also banned tweeting of its full council meeting today. 
The Boston Standard report says
The borough authority currently only permits people to use Twitter during cabinet meetings and says its constitution will have to be changed to allow the social media site to be used to provide live updates from other meeetings.
Constitution, You'll find it in the dictionary under S for Smokescreen. 

Twitter is viewed as an appropriate communications tool by the House of Commons - possibly not a bastion of courtesy but certainly the seat of democracy, and tweetin' since 2011 - and at the Senedd
Welsh Secretary Dvaid Jones believes in it, Obama couldn't wait to tell the world he's secured four more years...
I just wish our locally elected representatives would try to catch up.


* Yes it's a personal blog, but work inevitably bleeds into it sometimes. Like it says here, these ramblings are not the opinions of Trinity Mirror. 
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Twitter gets video!


Oh. Er, boo!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

My Interesting Reads (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

My Interesting Reads (weekly)

  • "Inside the NYT’s Idea Lab, a team of 10 works to save the banner ad. The lab itself is an offshoot of NYT’s Tk, which was set up to come up with new technologies for storytelling. Think of the three-year-old Idea Lab as something similar, only it works with agencies and brands to help advertisers tell stories in modern, interesting ways. "
  • "There are very, very few organizations today that have sufficient leadership. Until we face this issue, understanding exactly what the problem is, we're never going to solve it. Unless we recognize that we're not talking about management when we speak of leadership, all we will try to do when we do need more leadership is work harder to manage. At a certain point, we end up with over-managed and under-led organizations, which are increasingly vulnerable"
  • "We’ve built a real-time human computation engine to help us identify search queries as soon as they're trending, send these queries to real humans to be judged, and then incorporate the human annotations into our back-end models. First, we monitor for which search queries are currently popular. Behind the scenes: we run a Storm topology that tracks statistics on search queries. For example, the query [Big Bird] may suddenly see a spike in searches from the US. As soon as we discover a new popular search query, we send it to our human evaluators, who are asked a variety of questions about the query. Behind the scenes: when the Storm topology detects that a query has reached sufficient popularity, it connects to a Thrift API that dispatches the query to Amazon's Mechanical Turk service, and then polls Mechanical Turk for a response. Finally, after a response from an evaluator is received, we push the information to our backend systems, so that the next time a user searches for a query, our machine learning models will make use of the additional information."
  • "Free apps are dangerous, yet free is the dominant business model most mobile apps are taking these days. The roadmap is simple: grow as quickly as possible, then insert ads of some kind or get acquired. For consumers it offers a crummy set of choices: either losing the countless hours you put into the app or have your private data sold to marketers — since as well all know, when the product is free, you are the product. So how are we to trust investing time (our most valuable asset) in free apps that seem to inevitably "jump the shark," no matter how cool they start out? Are paid apps the answer, or will we need something more complex to keep developers in business?"
Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Open season on audience stalking

Stalking the venison
Photo by Trojan_Llama

The quote below is taken from an interesting post on It's All Journalism today, that raised the question of why news media push content to social sites and engage users there, rather than on their own sites. 

“I think that we have to start driving our audience back to our freaking websites because we have managed to put ourselves in an awkward position in terms of Facebook, where we’re paying to play with people who were our consumers in the first place. We kind of give them to them,”"
It made me think of the Guardian's social reader on Facebook, an experiment that the brand launched in September 2011 and pulled back from last month, but which - at the time of it's launch - was seen as a bold and engaging step. 

 I am of a 'go where the audience is' persuasion - you can't set up shop and demand people come to you or stalk them like a sheepdog and herd them where you want.
However, I also think Kate Gardener makes a valid point in exhorting journalists to take back their audiences. 
But it strikes me that the attraction for most FB users is either a) sharing information with a selected group of friends (via personal profile sharing) or b) sharing with people who are like-minded (in the case of FB sharing). 
Google+ is similar in that, and it gives us (incorrectly, I know, but nevertheless...) a sense of ownership of that space. 

Newspaper websites aren't social media and no matter how much we want to build our own communities via forums, blogs and comment threads, with all the moderation in the world they aren't 'safe' spaces. 
Post something on your Facebook page and your friends will like, and give positive responses. Post something on a news website, and anyone can disagree - harshly or unfairly perhaps - or troll for the lulz, and there isn't much you can do about it. 

As a user of a newspaper website, you can report someone for snarling at you, but just because they've hurt your feelings, it doesn't mean they've contravened the rules of that  website.
You can't unfriend them, block them, throw them out of circles or lock down your privacy so they can no longer see your content. 
The only thing you can do is take yourself out of that space, and -*puft* - there goes a member of the site's audience, possibly sharing accounts of their bad experience with others, as the depart.

If Facebook didn't exist, would newspapers have invented it? Not back in 2004 when FB launched; maybe now we would know what was required, but only because we have a model to copy. 
So the solution can't be to withdraw from social media, but to learn from social media to the extent that we employ its best characteristics in our own news sites.

Then people have a choice. That's key, as far as I can see. 

Photo credit: The pic used to illustate this was taken by Trojan_Llama. It's part of a wonderful monochrome set of husky photos, and I'd seriously recommend having a look at his work - it's great.

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Sunday, 6 January 2013

My Interesting Reads

  • Fascinating study of web users and usability - especially around how people are accessing content directly via search. Raises some interesting questions around how we design our home pages (and the diminishing relevance of home pages) among other things. "It seems to me, that for at least for some sections of the web community, the mental model they have of the web toady may be very different to the one they had a few years ago. This could be contributing to an impaired understanding of the structure of conventional sites, and difficulty in using the navigation systems they contain. At the same time, an increasing number of web users are not using internal information retrieval mechanisms to locate information within a site, turning instead to external search engines (mainly Google) as a way of providing quick and direct access to resources deep within sites. A combination of this growing reliance on Google, and the suggested ‘Facebook effect’ may mean that it is time to reconsider some basic usability and accessibility principals, and the potential impact it could have for web users with cognitive impairments and/or limited internet experience. "
Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Juxtaposition and the benefits of snark

I think next year, instead of running that newspaper stalwart the Review of the Year, I might suggest a round-up of Front Pages That Never Were.
The topic came up after Dan Owen and I had a good hard stare at a splash page the other Sunday night, and reluctantly reached the conclusion that we Just Couldn't.*
This was the first iteration:

If you can't see what needed to be changed, well done for having a mind free of snark.
If however, you are now rolling on the floor hooting at the idea of a Wales Skipper Could Have Killed van Persie/18 Fractures in Pub Attack double-act, then you're exactly who we had in mind when we decided we Just Couldn't. 
You prompted us to redo the blurb, sans RVP's footballing brush with death; you helped edit that front page. Because although they are obviously different stories, it's way too easy to see them as a mash up.
This is what changed (on that particular edition, at least) 

When a newspaper fouls up, especially on the front page, some users laugh, some reach for the caps lock and just about everyone reacts like no one has ever made a mistake in the history of the world before. 
I view it a bit like an entire street rushing to surround a postman and collectively yell at him YOU DELIVERED THAT LETTER TO THE WRONG HOUSE!!! PATHETIC POSTMANISM!!!
I also tend to take a 'there but for the grace of God...' approach when other publication's blunders are crowed over and, ultimately, everyone loses interest and moves on after a few hours; Twitterstorms burn bright, but don't generate a lot of heat. 

Nevertheless, it's a good tool for the development of audience-informing-content. No matter what sort of ding it gives to one's ego, the fact that social networks allow people to give instant feedback - often unfiltered - can be a learning experience. 
Juxtaposing straps or headlines like this has happened for years; pre-internet they might find their way into Press Gazette or Private Eye, and there would be some gentle ribbing.
I can't say if the Daily Post's clashing juxtaposition would have led to an outpouring of online hilarity but I can identify it as the sort of clash that has the potential to. 

Knowing what triggers the social hive mind (be that lolcat, tyop or sweet little video of a blind dog with a guide cat) is handy, and it translates from online into print more often than not. 

Every trainee journalist arriving on a paper is told to write for a fictitious reader (in the Pembroke Dock office of the Western Telegraph, our lodestar was Mrs Evans, of Lower Pennar. Twenty years on I still have a strong mental image of her.) 
We've historically been told "Write for your readers" - to have that everyman/everywoman in mind and make sure we connect with them, to be 'Like Us' and hit our demographs.
But now our readers aren't limited by geography or print availability any more - some of my readers might never have set foot in North Wales, but they are - sometimes fleetingly, sometimes deeply - engaging and becoming a part of the creative process, via the internet.

Tweeting photos of the creation of Wales on Sunday's front page ahead of print deadline on a Saturday night helped market the paper; got people talking about us and sharing the front. More memorably, it massively spared our blushes once, when a follower pointed out a typo in a footballer's name. 
It's important to me that the Daily Post is shared socially every night, for those reasons and for one more - with our policy of talking about what we're doing, on the liveblog or on social networks, it's puts the cap on a day's work for us and for our Facebook and Twitter networks, where friends and followers might have been following our progress and contributing. 
So, there's my rather upbeat view on the nature of snark. 
Of course, the next time the Daily Post makes a mistake (like this - fleetingly online, ffs, but screengrabbed forever, of course) I will be as cross with the interwebs as ever. Until the bandwagon rolls on to the next unfortunate, of course.  

* Dan suggested I use the Daily Post's Saturday editor's column to talk about on how we decide what the front page looks like - I did pen a less detailed version for that, but had so many thoughts around the subject that didn't fit into a 370 word template (and that probably weren't of any interest to my readers) I figured it was worth firing up the blog to post something. Belatedly.

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