Archive for November, 2010

What happens when senses collide? This is a very interesting clip from a BBC show that demonstrates how hearing is affected when what we see does not correspond with what we hear.

 

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When I first head the phrase “iPad newspaper” — shorthand for Rupert Murdoch’s not-so-secret-any-more new project — I puzzled over its oxymoronic implications. Forget about the, you know, iPad/paper contradiction and think about the business. Murdoch is reportedly spending $30 million on this thing. Could that possibly pay off with a product that’s tethered to a single, new platform? Puzzled, I tweeted, “Will they stop me from reading it on my desktop?”

Apparently, the answer is yes. The Guardian writes that this new publication will feature “a tabloid sensibility with a broadsheet intelligence” (funny, that’s pretty much how David Talbot described Salon when we started it!) and tells us:

According to reports, there will be no “print edition” or “web edition”; the central innovation, developed with assistance from Apple engineers, will be to dispatch the publication automatically to an iPad or any of the growing number of similar devices. With no printing or distribution costs, the US-focused Daily will cost 99 cents (62p) a week.

Now, these “reports” (and the Guardian) may be unreliable here; we won’t know for sure till Murdoch unveils his product. But taking these rumors at face value, it sounds like Murdoch intends to deliver his latest news baby into a tablet-only world. A Monday column by David Carr confirms the report and adds some detail: The publication is to be called The Daily, and it will, apparently, be just that: “It will be produced into the evening, and then a button will be pushed and it will be ‘printed’ for the next morning. There will be updates — the number of which is still under discussion — but not at the velocity or with the urgency of a news Web site.” Wonderful! Slower news — and at a higher price.

First, let’s give Murdoch credit for what’s intelligent about this plan. It’s smart to ditch the original “legacy” of paper and the more recent legacy of website publishing — to build something fresh for a new platform rather than do the old shovelware dance. And it’s smart to jump in relatively early, to snag users when the tabula is still rasa.

For Murdoch, I have to imagine there is also something personal about this project. I’m sure he is furious that he has so far failed to extend his record of success and dominance, unbroken in other media, into the digital world. The iPad must look to him like his latest, best, and perhaps last chance to do so, after the humiliating embarrassment of his MySpace investment and the apparent trainwreck of the Times UK paywall.

But how likely is it that any significant number of people will pay $50 a year (or a bit less, assuming a subscription discount) for what is likely to be an above-average but hardly essential or irreplaceable periodical? It’s not as if iPad users have no existing sources of online news, innovative delivery mechanisms for information, or a shortage of stuff to read. iPad users love their browsers; the device is great for reading the free Web.

Murdoch will need more than half a million people to pay that fee to cover a $30M budget (less if he can sell ads), so maybe the thing will work. I’ll bet against it, though, assuming it’s as the Guardian and Carr describe it. I’ll base my bet on the same logic that I’ve long articulated about why paywalls are a bad idea (the problem is not with the “pay” but with the “wall”).

Why do people love getting their news online? It’s timely, it’s convenient, it’s fast — all that matters. Murdoch’s tablet could match that (though it sounds like it may drop the ball on “timely” and “fast”). But even more important than that, online news is connected: it’s news that you can respond to, link to, share with friends. It is part of a back-and-forth that you are also a part of.

Murdoch’s tablet thingie will be something else — a throwback to the isolation of pre-Web publications. Like a paywalled website, this tablet “paper” will discourage us from talking about its contents because we can’t link to it. In other words, like a paywalled site, it expects us to pay for something that is actually less useful and valuable than the free competition.

It’s possible, of course, that the creators of Murdoch’s tablet publication will try to turn it into a true interactive project — where interactive doesn’t mean “buttons you can click on” but rather “people you can interact with.” If they’re smart, they’ll try to build a community within their walls. But that’s a very difficult goal to achieve even if you embrace it wholeheartedly. At big media companies like News Corp., this idea is more often an afterthought than a priority.

Much more likely, the Murdoch project will make the same mistake so many big-media-backed digital ventures have made before. It will assume that its content is so unique, its personality so compelling, its information so rich that readers will regard it as essential. Yet even if it is a really good digital periodical — and it might be! — it is hard to imagine what News Corp. can do to make it that essential, in a world awash in news and information.

(Carr reports that “Initially, there will be a mirror site on the Web to market some of its wares outside the high-walled kingdom of apps.” I’ll bet that over time this mirror site will either grow to be the “real” Daily, as editors realize the free numbers dwarf the pay numbers, or they will pull up the drawbridge completely to try to force a few more customers to pay. It’s Slate 1998 all over again! Will we get Daily umbrellas?)

Now, I know a lot of my friends in journalism are rooting for Murdoch here because they see the pay-for-your-apps iPad model as a deus ex machina that will intervene to save the threatened business model of the old-school newsroom. (Carr’s column weighs the pros and cons here well.)

If you’ve read this far you know I think that’s unlikely. I also think it’s undesirable. On this, I stand with Tim Berners-Lee — who did the primary work in creating the Web two decades ago.

I followed the coverage of Murdoch’s venture around the same time I read Berners-Lee’s great essay on the 20th anniversary of the open Web., I’ll let him have the last word:

The tendency for magazines, for example, to produce smartphone “apps” rather than Web apps is disturbing, because that material is off the Web. You can’t bookmark it or e-mail a link to a page within it. You can’t tweet it. It is better to build a Web app that will also run on smartphone browsers, and the techniques for doing so are getting better all the time.

Some people may think that closed worlds are just fine. The worlds are easy to use and may seem to give those people what they want. But as we saw in the 1990s with the America Online dial-up information system that gave you a restricted subset of the Web, these closed, “walled gardens,” no matter how pleasing, can never compete in diversity, richness and innovation with the mad, throbbing Web market outside their gates. If a walled garden has too tight a hold on a market, however, it can delay that outside growth.

Rupert Murdoch just doesn’t get the internet.
First, he killed MySpace (while he did turn a profit with the Google advertising deal, MySpace could have been in the position Facebook is in today) and then destroyed traffic to his newspaper sites with a paywall.
Now he wants to create a way for you to get slower news via a device-tethered newspaper!

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I have always found the legacy QWERTY keyboard transported to touchscreen devices to be error prone and lacking in intuitiveness. Could 8pen solve this problem and become the new touchscreen keyboard?
Too bad this app is available only for Android right now. Any Fandroids willing to test it and report back your thoughts?

It is interesting how counter-intuitive A/B testing results can get. One of the best examples of that counter-intuitiveness is a recent A/B split test. This test was done by a Visual Website Optimizer customer Vendio, an Alibaba.com company that specializes in providing free e-Commerce stores to its merchants. They have special landing pages for the free store signup and the objective of this test was to increase signup conversion rate on one of those landing pages.

A/B test details

Their original landing page (control) combined marketing content and registration fields in an attempt to reduce the number of clicks for a successful registration. This is how it looked:

Original Landing Page (with embedded signup form)

Note that it uses the so-called “best-practice” of embedding the signup form in the landing page itself. They had long been using the layout of the original page because as a best practice they presumed that reducing the number of clicks for a registration increased conversion rate. Although the page was performing relatively well, they wanted to make sure the included registration fields weren’t too aggressive or limiting us in any manner.

So, the variation that they tested had somewhat similar imagery and content but the page didn’t include any registration fields and had slightly different styling. Clicking on ‘Signup Now’ button simply took the visitor to a page with signup form. In other words, Vendio added an extra step in their conversion funnel. Not a smart move, huh? This is how variation looked like:

Variation (no signup form) – 60% increase in signups!

A/B test results

Guess what? The page without the registration fields performed better – much better – to the tune of a 60% increase in conversions! Here is what Vendio had to say about the results:

Best practices are NOT always true! It’s still hard to believe, but the numbers don’t lie.

So, that’s the biggest lesson here and it is worth repeating: “Best practices are NOT always true”. If you do changes on your website or landing pages without A/B testing them, you are actually flying in the dark. Another lesson here is that it is it is worth testing radically different ideas – which, on the first glance, may appear not-so-smart (like removing signup form from the landing page!).

Multi-variate Testing or A/B testing is a very important tool for any performance campaign. As the article shows, best practices may not always be true for your campaign. We successfully used this approach in a performance campaign for a leading bank last year and found the ‘winning’ webpage had a CTR of 20% more than the average.

HDR Video Demonstration Using Two Canon 5D mark II’s from Soviet Montage on Vimeo.

This video highlights several clips made using our new High Dynamic Range (HDR) process. Video is captured on two Canon 5D mark II DSLRs, each capturing the exact same subject via a beam splitter. The cameras are configured so that they record different exposure values, e.g., one camera is overexposed, the other underexposed. After the footage has been recorded, we use a variety of HDR processing tools to combine the video from the two cameras, yielding the clips you see above.

 HDR Video provides filmmakers with many exciting new opportunities. Not only can HDR video create interesting effects, it can also allow for even exposure where artificial lighting is unavailable or impractical. For example, when a subject is backlit, one camera could be set to properly expose the subject, the other the sky, resulting in video with perfect exposure throughout.

Source: SovietMontage.com 

John Pistole, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, announced yesterday that full body scanners at airports across the nation will be seamlessly integrated with Facebook next month, allowing travelers to save, tag, and share their near-naked security photos with friends, family, and co-workers through the popular social networking site. Immediately after being subjected to a scan, the traveler’s photo will be automatically uploaded to a public album on Facebook and tagged accordingly. According to Pistole, this cutting-edge integration will allow travelers to stay more connected than ever with their social networks, letting Facebook users know when their friends have made it through airport security and if they are smuggling weapons in their rectums in real time.

Foursquare integration is rumored to be rolled out in 2011.

🙂