On the move again: Europe to South Africa

Here I am at the end of my stint of European Summer, all packed and ready to fly back home to Cape Town tomorrow. If two ideas I had didn't really materialise in the end, a couple of exciting, new projects seem to have surfaced and I will be looking into them soon.

In the meantime, below is a short selection of images from Italy:

Stay tuned.

Pay-for-News online: the debate intensifies

A very quick note to add on yesterday's post. I've just found this brief analysis that Adam Westbrook has published on his blog, which, image apart*, is rather spot on, and builds on Jay Rosen's argument being debated on Twitter: #gopaywall The message is: let's do something. Whatever it is, wherever it'll take us, "let's just do it."

Stay tuned for more and read on, both here and here.

* Nothing wrong with the picture itself, but I personally see the roads ahead of the media industry being a lot more and way more obscure and different from one another. A maze really, an intricate labyrinth that crisscrosses the vast plain of the future of journalism. On a dark, moonless night.

Pay-for-News online: the next big thing?

Alternative title: how the industry is looking to the future with newspapers wrapped around its eyes.

The days of tough decisions seem to have finally knocked on the doors of media barons the world over, and these stalwarts of 20th century-type news-making are squeezing their brains to find a viable solution to their worries, a brave new business model that will save the God Newspaper.

But why bother? And why going down a route that many media commentators point out as being kin to suicide, a misjudged effort that "will backfire on the newspaper industry, putting it at even greater risk than it already is"? (1) Recently the American Press Institute (API) delivered a report to a summit of media execs in Chicago, in which it states that "paid content is the future of news website." See here for full story and click on image for the full report.

Among other things, I find a couple of the report's findings hugely explanatory of the attitude towards innovation of today's news world's elite, i.e. pressure Google into paying news organisations to aggregate their content according to a Fair Share policy, and create a "paid content wall" to retain print subscribers. So ultimately, this is what it comes down to: a holy alliance against the search engines to prevent the propagation of copyrighted material, and a last, desperate attempt to save print operations.

The "doctrines" (2) above are based on the assumption that only by asserting copyright on a product you can protect revenue, so if anybody wants to access what you do — articles, photography, essays, analyses, etc..— they will have to fork out money. To explain this to the layman, engaged media people often use this example:
What we do is a product, and we are are like any other professional who wishes to be rewarded for their work, becasue you wouldn't dream of not paying your doctor, the plumber, or a shop-keeper, now whould you?
Which is a very reasoned argument and all. I myself am trying to make a living out of writing and shooting pictures, and am a firm believer that freelance services should be paid. But today we, as media practitioners, are not only facing a steep learning curve as we quickly adapt to a more demanding audience, we also increase our communiticative potential by getting to know and using new tools that have opened our work to vast audiences in the first place. Google is one of these, both for individuals and large news organisations, as it sends 1 billion clicks a month to news websites — that's 400 clicks a second. (3)

Setting up and hiding behind content walls is clearly counterproductive in today's digitalised and globalised news world, as it does only perpetuate the ancronistic concept of the newsman as gatekeeper of precious, almost classified information rather than as facilitator of a borderless conversation aimed at sharing knowledge. See Cody Brown's analysis of what happens when "the news product" is privileged over "the news process."

Furthermore, if the proposed wall contents get implemented as a last resort to prop up ailing print operations — as API's report seems to suggest — news organisations would really show how little they understand the Internet reality. Sad as it may be, traditional outlets like newspapers are a dieing breed and it is about time to see radical innovation for what it really is: the only way forward.

Social media are setting the pace of 21st century's media revolution and have become the dominant players in news-gathering, news-making, and news-sharing. In this context, new, cutting edge ways to generate revenues must be investigated not only by large news organisations, but also by individual media practitioners (4), because, as Ken Doctor highlights, we ultimately need to achieve two goals: "maintaining the free flow of global news and information and figuring how to pay people to create journalism and other useful content we all need."

Both at the same time.

ps: Follow the debate launched by Jay Rosen on Twitter: #gopaywall

  1. What a Persuasive Technology Psychologist Can Tell Us About Paying for News Online. By Steve Outing
  2. Quoted from API's Newspaper Economic Action Plan via PoynterOnline.
  3. API's Newspaper Economic Action Plan itself acknowledge that 25 to 35 percent of traffic to news websites comes from the search giant and its Google News.
  4. Who could become true one-man shows, by mastering skills as diverse as writing, film editing, online publishing, programming. See here on Computer Assisted Reporters.

Social media: changing daily and here to stay

It seems like my previous post has attracted some interest. I woke up this morning after a 'refreshing' 6-hour sleep and found a number of new messages in my inbox: all new Twitter followers. About 20 of them in just a few hours, which for a social-media-rookie like me is no small thing.

The above statement might actually need to be rectified a little, i.e. I'm not completely new to social media as such. I am a longtime user/abuser of Facebook, Linkedin, YouTube, and various IMs. But just recently I've got into them like never before, linking my accounts and profiles, digging and bookmarking all sort of things, writing about social media...playing the game basically.

It's addictive, ever-changing, hugely interesting, and I like it a lot.

Not all of this is just form and mindless fun though: social mavens know that Web 2.0 savvyness — brave marketing strategies, innovative design ideas, powerful networking — needs to be combined with original, solid content to make the magic happen. And I'm trying my best to follow this simple, yet not well defined, rule.

With that in mind, I was chatting with a a filmmaker friend from London yesterday, and flooded him with excited opinions about the future of traditional media such as journalism, filmmaking, and photography*. What is a working business model we can aplpy to our activity without selling out to the ad-man? Copyright and Creative Commons, new technologies and old habits, subscription versus donation models, one-to-many communication versus many-to-many conversation...all this came up. And boy, it was an animated chat.

Needless to say, we did not really reached a satisfying conclusion. Is there anybody out there who has? Confident enough to share it? Please get in touch. The way I see it, new technologies will need to be combined, as they appear, with important content, the type that is often neglected in a show-biz-orientated society like ours. We are witnessing the "largest increase in expressive capability in human history" as Clay Shirky says in his TED talk above. It is the biggest opportunity for the true liberalisation of media channels, and it is time to raise the standards of news.

I personally have a couple of ideas, and I will research them and try to implement them soon, stay tuned on this space for updates.

*Journalist and commentator Charlie Beckett talks about networked media as the future of the industry in his Supermedia: saving journalism so it can save the world.

Social media old and new: a bubble ready to burst?

Being able to witness and experience new Internet tools as they happen is a rare thing by definition. Last night I was lucky enough to catch the wave and ride it for a while before, as some commentator is already warning, it will crash on shore like the dot com bubble did.

Twitter is over capacity - was something big going on last night around 11.30pm CET?

Technology, both at its software and hardware ends, is moving so fast that new applications and platforms get developed on a daily basis. And while some are good and stick around while many just don't cut it. A rule of thumb seems to be that users will deem useful and readily adopt those that simplify, in one way or another, our hectic Internet lives: RSS readers that gather news from different sources, and desktop aggregators of Twitter and Facebook updates are good examples of this trend.*

The two social media giants have until now being at the helm of this mini-revolution, and the sheer number of enthusiasts they are able to muster today makes any initiative worth noting. Below, for instance, is an example of a multimedia, Internet conversation that was happening yesterday at 4pm PST (1am CET) thanks to the guys at Mashable.

Mashable's Ben Parr interviewed Zappos' CEO Tony Hsieh live on video chat, and live on twitter: while listening to the back and forth about social media, people were able to tweet their comments and questions. Which is a pretty cool concept if you ask me.**

Even more difficult is to create brand new platforms in what seems to be a overly saturated market: this is the case of new-kid-on-the-block Knoyce, but also of next-big-thing-elect Google Wave.

Not much is yet known to common mortals outside the developers' world about the above projects. The lenghty presentation of Google Wave (see end of post) at Google I/O 2009 — the Internet search giant's annual conference in San Francisco — gave us a glimpse of the dircetion they want to take, and would like humanity to follow them on: they call it a revolution in the e-mail concept, I see it as a development of their Gmail conversation model. Eagerly we await: here’s the #googlewave on Twitter.

But can we make of Knoyce? Did you even ever heard of it? Promising to be "not only a [new] social network, but a new trend to follow, a new word to say, and a new site to see", it launched today at 12am EDT (6am CET). Problem is: nobody is really talking about it, and the whole thing looks like more of a marketing stunt than anything else — their promotional video devotes a whole minute to examples of page customisation, and branded apparel is already available. #Knoyce on Twitter.

Going back where we started: are we really in the middle of the next revolution, a change so quick that is hard to follow and judge its meaningfulness? Or is it just a weak, ever-inflating bubble that will burst soon leaving us with nothing?

Remembering Darwinism...Stay tuned.

*Like the following: Google Reader, NetNewsWire, Tweetdeck, and Seesmic.

**Ok, to be honest, not everything worked out perfectly: sound quality was bad — Tony's mic was scratchy, and Ben's voice was non-existent — plus Ben didn't find easy to interview and read the endless incoming tweets at the same time. It can be improved but the bases are there.

What good comes from the past?

There are many different options available to anybody that would want to answer this question. I've heard them all, and I thought hard on every single one of them: the past is what you are, it defines you. Or, the past doesn't exist, nor does the future, and only the present is real. The past is where you committed mistakes that you can now learn to avoid. Etc, etc...

Footprint and seagull feather. Luderitz Peninsula, Namibia.

All of them are partly true, and aspects of each of them resonate within me. But today, a new thought emerged, and it sort of rocked the lazy calm of my housebound, stormy, hot, summer afternoon.
The past is painful, it is no more, and it is everywhere. It smiles cunningly, and seduces us deep inside our hearts, while at the same time deriding us for our petty longings.
Gloomy? Well, yes, I can tell you it wasn't a cheerful five minutes after I elaborated the above thought, but lately I haven't found much room to hide this kind of sentiments regarding all that I left behind, all the moments, the encounters, the laughs and the cries, the travels, the loves, the parties, the friends. All gone. Furthermore, when for any reason I don't like what I've become, I experience sadness, self-criticism, and discomfort. I feel stuck, and problems begins.
Needless to say, acceptance is the key, even if, as human beings, we can't get over what we've done and wonder endlessly how we could have done it differently. If we believe that our past defines us in some way or another, at least it isn't wasted, because we now use those experiences, and what we learnt from them, to be who we are, possibly a better, more complete, and understanding person.

To go back to the question that started the post then, can there be good in the past? Memories, I believe, can be good, as long as we are detached enough from them. My road trip around Namibia in April was a good time, and I want to remember it that way.

Moon rising on the Spitzkoppe, Namibia.

Collective nest, near Aus, Namibia.

Sunrise on the Naute Dam, Namibia.

Below is a short poem I wrote today about it.

Namibia's dusty roads,
Namibia's blue skies,
It is hot and sweaty days,
Cool and windy nights.

It never ends, it never stops,
not a soul for a hundred miles,
on and on you drive on straight roads
next to you your companion smiles.

Wake up with the morning sun,
Bade farewell at night,
Sunset is nothing but a pause,
In Namibia's blissful light.

I miss now hot and sweaty days,
Cool and windy nights,
Namibia's dusty roads,
the daily promise of blue skies.

Click here to see more images from Namibia — don't forget to select full screen mode on the bottom right corner of the page.
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