Category Archives: Notes

Reinventing the article

A month ago I wrote about Sean Blanda’s BarCamp NewsInnovation session on reinventing the article. Sean has gone ahead and wrote up his own blog post that should help flesh this debate out further:

Much of the discussion about reinventing media/journalism happens in a frustratingly small spectrum while instead we ought to be reconsidering everything. No really, everything.

Perhaps the biggest reason traditional content creators are being usurped by seemingly unrelated and non-journalistic web services is because the foundation of journalism is broken. In other words: we need to reinvent the article.

What Sean is arguing for is that we need to stop merely tweaking how journalism is done and rethink it from the ground up. Computers and the Internet allow all kinds of journalism that didn’t exist before, especially around structured data. Presenting information in narrative form made sense in the heyday of newspapers, but that time has come to an end.

Crime data is a great example of something that doesn’t make that much sense in narrative form. Focusing on the narrative when reporting on crime leads to people feeling too much and not thinking enough. People are swayed by the visceralness of the reporting, and not the reality of crime in a particular area. This is how you have people claiming that an area is getting less safe when in reality crime is dropping.

And when the general population begins to believe the opposite of reality, bad journalism can often be the source. Good structured crime reporting, however, can better show the reality on the ground and trends over time.

Chicago Crime and its successor EveryBlock showed a better way to handle crime data. Take the data, put it into a database and show it on maps. All of the sudden this gives crime reporting context. Without context, this kind of reporting can lead to invalid conclusions. EveryBlock can even be used as civic tool to help bring about change.

Residents and politicians can easily see crime trouble spots and can use it as a tool to come up with new solutions to tackle problems.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers on how to make journalism more relevant in a digital age, but I do know that too much of our reporting is done in a manner better fitting a different time.

Landline users are very different from mobile users

The politics of this is immaterial to us at the Interchange Project, but the findings are fascinating:

Political pollsters have been under pressure to make sure their samples include Americans who rely solely on cell phones—and the latest NBC News/Marist polls of Florida, Ohio and Virginia exhibit why.

As NBC’s First Read flags, Romney narrowly pulls ahead in Florida among voters who were polled over landlines—48 percent to 45 percent. But among cell phone respondents only, Obama has a major lead: 57 percent to 34 percent.


Escaping the Internet is easier said than done

Paul Miller is trying to avoid the Internet for a year; that’s easier said than done:

The other day, while searching out the Knicks / Heat game with a casual internet user, we happened across a dingy bar he’d never visited before. The so-dive-it’s-cool scene is still active in NY, but this wasn’t that sort of place. There was one retired patron at the bar, some video slots in a corner, a few ancient flat-screens along the ceiling, and a smell of death. We asked if they were planning on showing the game.

“Yeah, are you showing the game?” said the patron, happy for some action.

“Oh, I forgot that was tonight,” said the middle-aged bartender. “Let me see if I can get it to work.” He tossed his towel over his shoulder and disappeared into a back room.

I tried to figure out what he meant by “get it to work,” until I realized what was on two of the TV screens. A Windows desktop. I pointed this out to my companion.

“If he moves that cursor, we’re going to have to leave,” I said.

“Why’s that?”

“I think he’s going to stream it.”

Avoiding the Internet is really difficult to do. It’s how I watch most of my TV shows, movies and sports games. Miller is going without the Internet to find a better place of mindfulness. He has found, however, that escaping the Internet is easier said than done.

Finding peace and productivity in cube farms

The New York Times has a good piece on cubes, bullpens and other open office work environments and their impacts on productivity. As traditional offices become less popular, it’s important for us to realize that it’s not enough to just put in desks; creating a work environment that fosters productivity takes purpose and forethought.

The biggest complaint with open office environments is noise, and this is largely because too many companies think that creating an open, collaborative environment is as simple as getting rid of fixed offices. But it’s so much more than that:

When Autodesk, a software company, moved into a an open-plan building in Waltham, Mass., three years ago, it installed what is known as a pink-noise system: a soft whooshing emitted over loudspeakers that sounds like a ventilation system but is specially formulated to match the frequencies of human voices.

Autodesk ran the system for three months without telling the employees — and then, to gauge its impact, turned it off one day.

“We were surprised at how many complaints we got,” said Charles Rechtsteiner, Autodesk’s facilities manager. “People weren’t sure what was different, but they knew something was wrong. They were being distracted by conversations 60 feet away. When the system’s on, speech becomes unintelligible at a distance of about 20 feet.”

If you find yourself more at ease and able to work when you can hear the air conditioning running, it’s because you find the white noise soothing. A lot of people do, and open work environments without background noise are a disaster for productivity. The issue isn’t that people don’t like working in environments with noise, but rather that people get distracted by other people talking.

Background noise is soothing and helps us concentrate. It blocks out the world. But talking isn’t background noise. Our brains begin to try to process the conversations of others and we begin to get distracted.

Office environments need to be purpose built. Quietness is the enemy. Too much of the wrong noise is the enemy too.

In many open work environments everyone feels like they need to be quiet like they’re in a library. Quietness breeds more quietness, which makes every breech of the quietness stand out.

There are some great open work environments out there, and others were clearly built just to save money. Best practices for open work environments would include some kind of background noise, purpose built acoustics, providing quiet spaces for work, having lots of meeting rooms and allowing for remote work.

Without all of those, a cheaper open work environment may end up costing a company a lot of money.

Game of Thrones looks to grab the crown for most pirated show of 2012

Forbes reports that HBO’s Game of Thrones is on track to be the most pirated show of 2012:

While “Game of Thrones”‘ filesharing rates are probably driven in part by its appeal to the young, geeky male demographic that’s most prone to using torrent sites, HBO hasn’t helped the problem by making the show tough to watch online for the young and cable-less. The show isn’t available through Hulu or Netflix, iTunes offers only Season 1, and using HBO’s own streaming site HBO Go requires a cable subscription. (The situation was captured in thewidely read comic strip The Oatmeal, in which the author attempts the rage-inducing process of trying to watch “Game of Thrones” online before giving up and downloading it from a sleazy porn-ad covered torrent site.)

A frame from the comic strip The Oatmeal, which pointed out how HBO drives ‘Game of Thrones’ viewers to piracy by making the show tough to watch online.

“This is absolutely a reaction to the show’s not being available elsewhere online,” says Big Champagne’s Robinson. “It’s a very tricky game trying to create this kind of scarcity.”

I’ve written several times about the mistakes that HBO is making in the Internet Age. Perhaps most damning is the fact that HBO’s products and services don’t even work well for paying customers.

Erik Kain says HBO only has themselves to blame:

This underscores the larger problem with how so many companies in the entertainment industry think about piracy. Instead of thinking about the ways lack of access to media creates opportunity for piracy, and how increasing the access to products could help stave off illegal downloads, too often people want to take legal measures or implement digital protection on their products. These “fixes” always have easy work-arounds.

Meanwhile, the millions of pirated Game of Thrones episodes show that it’s not difficult at all for non-subscribers to enjoy the show. I’m willing to bet that a stand-alone HBO GO service would largely fix this problem, though nothing will stop piracy altogether.

Game of Thrones in particular appeals to young people — people more prone to be cord cutters. They’ll pay for a standalone HBO product, but aren’t going to get cable just for one network or show.

‘The Golden Age of Silicon Valley is over’

Professor and entrepreneur Steve Blank thinks that the Golden Age of Silicon Valley is over. VCs are only interested in investing in Web companies that can be sold for billions of dollars and not in investing in companies that produce physical products:

I think it’s the beginning of the end of the valley as we know it. Silicon Valley historically would invest in science, and technology, and, you know, actual silicon. If you were a good VC you could make $100 million. Now there’s a new pattern created by two big ideas. First, for the first time ever, you have computer devices, mobile and tablet especially, in the hands of billions of people. Second is that we are moving all the social needs that we used to do face-to-face, and we’re doing them on a computer…

The golden age of Silicon valley is over and we’re dancing on its grave.

He might be onto something. The Pebble watch was turned down by VCs and then became the most popular project on Kickstarter ever with me than $10 million raised from the people.

There is nothing wrong with investing in software and Web companies, but we need people investing in other science and technology products, particularly ones that take time to mature.

Game of Thrones looks terrible streaming over hotel wifi (HBO No Go?)

This is an actual screenshot from my iPad. I usually don’t write actually, but I thought I’d clarify that this did in fact happen.

This is why HBO Go needs offline caching.

The only way I could watch the latest episodes of Game of Thrones in any respectable manner while I’m traveling is to pirate the episodes and watch them when they are done downloading. Watching Game of Thrones on hotel wifi over the HBO Go app was a bit like watching late 1990s Web video. It was blocky, pixelated and prone to stopping randomly.

The best is when HBO Go drops down to an audio-only stream. Yes, instead of providing offline caching or selling digital episodes via iTunes or Amazon during the season, HBO believes showing a blank screen with audio is a good solution.

This actually happened. And it happened several times while trying to watch one episode.

HBO Go is not a to go app.

Toy Store 2 almost lost forever? We’ve come a long way with computer backups.

The 1990s was a crazy time of parachute pants and poor computer backup hygiene.

Toy Story 2 was almost lost to a computer problem and a bad backup. Yes, that Toy Store 2.

We’ve come a long, long way since the 1990s with computer backups. I have several working backups of all of my files. Even when I start a blog post on my iPhone, it is automatically backed up to the cloud.

Today, I’m sure Pixar has many backups of each movie, some onsite, some offsite. With Amazon S3, cheap multi-terabyte drives and modern computers, there really would be no excuse for a company like Pixar to ever lose data.

But in the 1990s? Well, that’s a different story.

The best backup strategy is to have local backups and remote at the same time. I use Time Machine for local backups and Dropbox for remote backups. I have yet to see a failed back up (it’s important to check fairly regularly).

I don’t clone my drive, because I don’t care that much about the applications or the system itself and with the Mac App Store, it’s incredibly easy to restore applications. I can quickly install a new drive drive, install a fresh OS and get my critical applications up.

Today, I think completely cloning a hard drive is only necessary for people who would need to boot from that clone hard drive within minutes. If that describes you, then, yes, check out something like SuperDuper.