Ada Lovelace Day

About The Authors

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson is a social software consultant and writer who specialises in the use of blogs and wikis behind the firewall. With a background in journalism, publishing and web design, Suw is now one of the UK’s best known bloggers, frequently speaking at conferences and seminars.

Her personal blog is Chocolate and Vodka, and yes, she’s married to Kevin.

Email Suw

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. He has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines in multiple media and on multiple platforms.

From 2009-2010, he was the digital research editor at The Guardian where he focused on evaluating and adapting digital innovations to support The Guardian’s world-class journalism. He joined The Guardian in September 2006 as their first blogs editor after 8 years with the BBC working across the web, television and radio. He joined the BBC in 1998 to become their first online journalist outside of the UK, working as the Washington correspondent for BBCNews.com.

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

E-mail Kevin.

Member of the Media 2.0 Workgroup
Dark Blogs Case Study

Case Study 01 - A European Pharmaceutical Group

Find out how a large pharma company uses dark blogs (behind the firewall) to gather and disseminate competitive intelligence material.


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All content © Kevin Anderson and/or Suw Charman

Interview series:
at the FASTforward blog. Amongst them: John Hagel, David Weinberger, JP Rangaswami, Don Tapscott, and many more!

Corante Blog

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

“OK open systems beat great closed systems every time”

Posted by Kevin Anderson

The title of this post is a quote, via Steve Yelvington, from Prodigy’s Vice President of marketing around the time that the Web arrived and changed the online game. Usually I just reference links like this in Delicious, but Steve’s post Early to the game but late to learn how to play needs a little more attention.

In the current business climate for newspapers, Steve brings a wealth of experience and history that few folks in the industry have and, as he points out, it is not that newspaper didn’t try to adapt but that they tried to adapt the web to their existing business rather than adapting for the web. Newspapers tried to keep their closed systems as they moved online, locking their content in online services. The web might have arrived ‘pathetic and weak’ but it was ‘open and extensible’, says Steve, and it eventually buried online services like Prodigy, Compuserve and even AOL. He quotes Jack Schafer from a Slate piece titled “How Newspapers Tried to Invent the Web:”

From the beginning, newspapers sought to invent the Web in their own image by repurposing the copy, values, and temperament found in their ink-and-paper editions.

I’ve long fought against the re-purposing reflex of shovelware, mindlessly slapping content from another medium onto the web. As we move to integrated newsrooms, we’re often still treating the web as just another distribution channel that simply has to be optimised for Google. Here is why it isn’t. To quote Steve:

Many of us who were there at the time knew that human interaction, not newspaper reading, would be the most powerful motivator of online usage. Certainly I knew it; I had run a dialup bulletin board for years as a hobby. But as hundreds of newspapers rushed to “go online,” few even bothered to ask basic questions about content strategy. It was, many declared as of they were saying something wise, “just another edition.”

But it’s not.

If human interaction is the ‘killer app’ of the internet, which I agree with Steve it is, how would this make a news site different? It is only in the so-called Web 2.0 era that we finally started adding social elements into our news web sites. And if human interaction is primary motivator of online usage, can we as journalists fail to interact and still hope to remain relevant? Open systems are not just about a choice of technology. The philosophy of open systems is also about how we use technology. Open is a philosophy that drives us to use technology to bolster human interaction. It is why Steve talks about the mission statement of his news site as being to increase the social capital in the communities Morris serves.

Jay Rosen has been doing a lot of thinking about closed versus open editorial systems, and he characterised this comment as one of his clearest comparisons yet of the two systems:

The strength of a closed system is that it has controls, in same sense that an accounting system puts controls in place. Stories are assigned, reported, edited and checked (copy edited) by a team using a protocol, or newsroom standard. These are the hallmarks of the closed system. The controls create the reliability, right?

Versus:

Open systems take advantage of cheap production tools and the magic distribution system of the Web. This leads to a flood of “cheap” production in the blogosphere, some of which is valuable and worth distributing in wider rings, much of which is not. Thus, a characteristic means of creating value online is what I called the intelligent filter to do that sorting and choosing.

If you look at successful open systems, they don’t try to prevent “bad,” unreliable or low quality stories from being created or published. They don’t try to prevent the scurrilous. But the Los Angeles Times would. Typically, successful sites within open systems “filter the best stuff to the front page.” And this is how they try to become reliable, despite the fact that anyone can sign up and post rants.

That way of creating trust (or reliability) is different than the way a closed system–like the health team at Time magazine–does it. Therefore the ethics will be different.

And he talks about hybrid systems, which is where I think some of the most interesting work is going on. We live in an AND world not an OR world, and I fear sometimes journalists’ tendency to paint the world in black and white infects our approach to our own way of working.

For me, I don’t use technology simply because I’m neophilic. I use it because it helps me do better journalism, in a way that is more useful to people in my network, or as Dan Gillmor says, the people formerly known as the audience. The internet as an open system means that my methods aren’t a fixed destination but an ever evolving, extensible process that adapts as the network changes, whether I conceive of the network in terms of the technology or the people I’m interacting with. Through all this my core journalistic values and ethics haven’t changed. That’s the constant.

I’m feeling a little philosophical at the start of the New Year. I am an online journalist. If the road trip I took for the US elections reminded me of anything, it reminded me of the power of networked journalism, which in terms of both the technology and the human connectedness increases almost constantly. Let’s just look at the expanding reach of mobile phones and data. In 1999, I got my first mobile modem and started to be freed from my desk. It ran at 9600 baud, slow even then. In 2009, I used a DSL-class mobile network card, and when I was on the move, I used a Nokia N82, which like the iPhone and Blackberry, allowed me to continue to use key internet services like Twitter, Flickr and Facebook. The network is not only mobile, it is on my mobile.

Open systems are a huge opportunity for journalists, not a threat to our professional livelihoods. We journalists don’t have to limit ourselves to closed systems, we have a vast range of open systems that can support and improve our work. I know that 2008 ended with a lot of anxiety for many journalists, much of it from a sense that our professional lives were out of our control. But by embracing the network, you can start taking back control of your professional destiny.

Friday, March 7th, 2008

Media08: China’s emerging digital culture

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Kaiser Kuo, Group Director, Digital Strategy Ogilvy China (also a rock star)

China’s digital culture shares a lot of features with anglo cultures but also eastern neighbours - mobile culture of Japan and Korea. He is going to take some time to “bust some persistent myths”.

I was born in the States. He has lived in China continuously for 12 years. He is most famous for starting China’s first heavy metal band, Tang Dynasty. He plays guitar in Chunqiu. They think of CDs as name cards. You can’t possibly make money on the sales of physical units. He worked for tech mags including Red Herring. He was bureau chief for China. He is director of digital strategy for China for Ogilvy. He writes the Ogilvy China Digital Watch.

China’s wild, wild web. There are lots of caveats for foreign companies entering the Chinese markets. It is ferociously competitive. Any day now, China will pass the US as the country in terms of internet users. There 210 million internet users, and growth is accelerating. Growth has accelerated to more than 50% on an annualised basis. About half of those people are using broadband. Overall, internet penetration is extremely low: 15% as opposed to 60% in the US. It will not approach the level of the US for another decade.

  • The average age is 32. In the US, that average age is 42. Roughly half are 24 years or younger. 40% of internet use amongst that age group.
  • Predominantly urban, though growth is faster in rural China
  • Relative neophytes: Half of current users not even online two years ago
  • Focused on entertainment, not information
  • Used to be overwhelmingly male, now relatively gender balanced

Instant messaging culture is massively important. Only 14% of internet users do not use IM. In the US, 61% of internet users do not use IM. QQ users send 40 messages a day, as opposed to 15 messages a day for AIM, one of the most popular IM clients in the US.

Chinese use IM as a primary internal and external business communications tool. Do not assume that Chinese staff on IM are not doing their jobs. The IM client QQ is so popular that they named a car after it. You must understand QQ to understand the market. It captures the zeitgeist. QQ facts

  • 86.19% market share in IM
  • 715 m registered accounts
  • 288 m active users
  • 36.2 m peak concurrent users

Internet cafes are extremely important, second only to home use. People go to cafes to play online games. The larger chains have 120 machines per cafe. High end gaming rigs.

Not a lot of UGC use. Newbies on the web are not jumping on many YouTube clones or blogging. It’s undeniable where trend is going.

Chinese BBS culture. There are 3 billion registered BBS users.

Number of mobile subscribers in China: 550 million. That’s 2.5 times the number of internet usres. It is growing at a rate of 7.5 m mobile subscribers per month.

More than Europe or the US, about 35% of mobile users are listening to mobile music.

Problems with mobile marketing:

  • SMS spam has turned off consumers.
  • WAP use rates remain low.
  • Lack of meaningful competition for China Mobile provides little incentive to push WAP adoption.
  • New subscribers are overwhelmingly prepaid with limited use.
  • Fast 3G is slow in coming
  • Mobile ads dominated by content with little brand advertising.
  • There are few cases of compelling ad projects

Without a viable advertising market, development of the mobile internet will be badly hobbled.

Will China’s digital culture look more like Japan or Korea’s or America’s? Probably more like the US.

People say that China copies but doesn’t innovate. He joked about C2C not being consumer to consumer but copy to China. He says that China will become a net IP exporter. Blame the VCs? Venture capitalists are not an adventurous lot. If you are a Chinese entrepreneur, and you want to grab some of the billions.

He highlighted the Maxthon browser. First tabbed broswer. Only Chinese internet company with global footprint. He also pointed to high level of P2P users. Software and digital magazines are being distributed . ZCom, Poco, Vika. 60m users.

He was going to challenge some of the myths about the ‘Great Firewall’ and talk about western media’s obsession with net censorship there, but he ran out of time.

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Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Reuters-Nokia Mobile Journalism Toolkit and mindset

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Last night, Suw and I went to Reuters headquarters in Canary Wharf for an Online News Association event. Reuters was talking about its MJT - mobile journalism toolkit (they used to call it MoJo for mobile journalism but for some reason aren’t using the term any longer). Reuters partnered with Nokia to develop the toolkit after working with the handset maker on a mobile Flash-lite application to highlight their content on the N95. Nokia is trying to understand the needs of journalists in the field and how that might drive development of special applications for consumer-oriented mobile phones like the N95. Reuters is exploring what is possible with the current generation of phones (and networks) while doing some experimentation with what types of story-telling this might allow.

The basic toolkit includes:

  • a standard Nokia N95
  • a Nokia Bluetooth keyboard
  • a Sony digital mic with a bespoke adapter for the phone
  • a special tripod
  • a solar charger
  • a Power Monkey supplemental charger

They also have slightly modified the RSS output from the phone’s production app and Wordpress’ RSS intake to allow for some additional RSS elements that Reuters needs in order to handle content correctly. Video is uploaded direct to their hosting service and text goes straight to the blog platform, and an editor is automatically alerted that content has been sent for review and publication. The material can then be published to various platforms.

The discussion was lead by Ilicco Elia, Mobile Product Manager Europe; alongside Mark Jones, Global Community Editor; Matt Cowan, European Technology, Media and Telecommunications Correspondent; and Nic Fulton, chief scientist for Reuters media. Ilicco gave an overview of how Reuters and Nokia decided to work together.

Nic said that they decided to work on multi-horizon strategy, looking at what they could do right now, what they could do in the near future and aspirational things they might want to do a lot further down the line. Right now, the N95 takes 5-megapixel stills, near DVD-quality video and works on 3.5G data and WiFi networks. But Ilicco is already looking to the future:

We see in five years, HD video, extremely powerful CPUs. You might say it’s a laptop, but it will still be a personal, mobile device.

They worked directly with Timo Koskinen, the project manager for Nokia’s research centre. Matt Cowan talked about his experience with the toolkit, showing video he shot of Vint Cerf at the Media Guardian’s Edinburgh TV festival. My colleague Jemima Kiss has an overview of the experiment and talked with Matt about the toolkit for the Guardian’s digital content blog.

Before joining Reuters, Matt worked for Canadian CTV covering California. There he did work shooting and editing his own pieces, so he had experience with multimedia reporting. Matt said that he fed back his experiences directly to Nokia. The phone is a bit difficult to hold steady, which isn’t surprising - it’s not like balancing a hefty traditional TV camera on your shoulder, which provides some stability.

I’ve experienced this same problem myself, first hand, doing a video journalism project for the BBC in 2003. I used a Sony PD150, a ‘pro-sumer’ digital video camera. Doing handheld work takes practice because the light camera is much easier to shake, despite built-in motion compensation.

Other downsides:

  • unreliability of 3G networks (Ilicco said they had spoken to Vodafone but didn’t seem very pleased with response)
  • battery life, although this improving
  • it takes six hours for the solar panel to recharge the phone
  • the brutal costs for data roaming charges

Matt talked later about this would allow journalists to develop relationships with the audience.

There were slightly predictable questions about quality. One of the journalists said “cutting quality is a fancy way of saying cutting corners”. One of the shots, an opportunity shot backstage at a New York fashion show was a bit jerky, and one person asked what the point of the video was.

What I really liked from the Reuters team was this spirit of experimentation. Matt said:

I don’t think that this will change everything overnight. It is an incredibly exciting tool. It will change how we report certain stories. … It’s not ‘I’m here in front of this building, and this happened 10 hours ago’. You have immediate interaction, an intimacy. You’re in the environment.

As Howard Owens recently said after widely circulated comments from Rob Curley about the difference between mindset and skillset, having the right skills doesn’t mean that someone is open to innovation and entrepreneurial ideas. Owens calls it the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

The fixed mindset might say something like, “I got into this business to be a writer, not a videographer.” The growth mindset might say, “Video? Cool! Let me give it a try.”

And I think he puts the ‘quality’ debate in perspective:

You don’t make “quality” a religion and refuse to try new forms of reporting because it doesn’t immediately meet your quality standards. You are willing to try and fail, and keep trying until you get it right, and you don’t resent others doing the same.

There were some comments about how we would see “Bloggers doing this in a year’s time”, but as Suw said last night, bloggers have been doing this for years. I often say that keeping an eye on bloggers and other grassroots media is a good way to find inspiration for new ways to get the story. I still remember at the 2000 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles seeing an IndyMedia reporter  backing up as mounted police moved towards him. He has carrying a PowerBook with a webcam and an early wireless modem strapped on it, sending live video from the streets to the net.

But one thing that was refreshing was to hear Reuters talk about community and bloggers in such a positive way. Mark talked about Reuters’ community strategy:

My role as community editor to create a bit of identity around editorial talent and be more open to the audience. We also want to be open to the web including the the blogosphere and build networks around our journalistic expertise.

Reuters have their own blogs and their YouWitness user-submitted photo and story effort. They have invested in Pluck and its Blogburst aggregator service. They also partner with multi-lingual blog community Global Voices, including on their Reuters Africa project, and they have a carbon trading community.

And Matt said that he saw advances in mobile technology as an even bigger boon to bloggers. He knows the founder of eco-community TreeHugger who used to have to trek to internet cafes to feed his site but now can do it almost anywhere. Bloggers can “build a brand with their own thoughts.”

In 1999, I covered Hurricane Floyd as it made landfall in North Carolina for the BBC News website. I filed throughout the night, but after the storm passed, it knocked out electricity and phone lines throughout the eastern third of the state. I wasn’t able to file a number of pictures I had taken because I simply had no way to get them back to the back to base. Within months after the storm, I had a data cable for my mobile phone. As the mobile technology got better, I could do more in the field. In 2006, on a trip for the BBC’s World Have Your Say, I was able to use a 3G data card in the US to set up a mobile WiFi hotspot and keep us connected when standard communications channels failed.

Mobile technology lets journalists stay closer to the story and connected not only to our office but also to our audience. The news organisations that experiment now will be best placed to take advantage of the journalistic possibilities that ever-advancing mobile technology allows.

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Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

X|Media|Lab Melbourne: Liz Heller, Buzztone

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Sincere apologies to my fellow mentors for not getting some of my notes up sooner, but without WiFi on Friday and the mentoring all weekend, I usually ended up posting late at night. Friday, I stayed up until 130 in the morning. I did as much as I could in between sessions on the weekend, but being a mentor, I wanted to do justice to the groups who came to discuss their projects. As for continuing the late night blogging, exhaustion prevented me from doing more over the weekend.

Liz Heller started out in sociology, and she is fascinated how people travel in ‘groups and loops’. They formed a company called Buzztone, which “creates award-winning lifestyle, pop culture, urban and guerrilla marketing campaigns”. She went on to describe social motivations to keep in mind when thinking about social software and services:

We share a lot in common. We want to be a part of something. We want to share what we love. We all want to be just a little famous. We all want to think that we are the first to find something new. We all want to have friends.

People want to stay in touch with friends they already have. Social networks are seen as ways to deepen existing friendships not supplant them. (Bravo Liz. I couldn’t agree more. Media always cover online social networks as if they supplant not supplement real world social bonds. For most of the people I know, it’s just not so. And Liz added a new word my vocabulary: Frobligations, friends referrals through other friends that you feel obligated to befriend.)

Her work revolves around marketing campaigns that relied on some of these social needs. They used a social club and lots of social outreach to connect women to French wine. They used feedback from the members to feed back into the social club. (Again, I think this is a key thing that most ’social marketing’ companies forget: Feedback. Most of the time, they focus only on seeding their message in social networks, not using those social networks to make their products better and their companies genuinely more responsive.)

They also developed a student network for Microsoft called Spoke. It was the first social network for tech students. It was global and regionalised. It helped to change student perceptions of Microsoft.

Social networks are a filter. She pointed out MoveOn.org, OurChart (a social network for lesbians from the popular programme The L Word), Block Savvy (a niche urban-focused social network) and a number of others. (When people ask me about how I stay on top of developments in digital media and journalism, and one of the best tools I have is a the dozen or so digital journalism experts who blog in my RSS reader. They are my filter, my radar, my early warning trend watchers. Now, seeing all of these social networks developing, I must say that it reminds me slightly of the late dot.com boom when sites took an e-commerce model and chased increasingly small sales niches. Remember all of those pet e-commerce sites? I think there is value in focused communities online, but that is value to me as an end-user. I’m not so sure about value in terms of a sustainable business model. However, I can see the justification if you’re looking to build a social network around a marketing campaign, even if that isn’t my particular focus.)

Groups and loops for causes. She showed stopglobalwarming.org, a social network following on from Live Earth and Zaadz. Social media encourages face-to-face engagement. Houseparty.com and reunion.com all encourage real world events. (Again, it was really good to hear someone counter the media-driven myth that online social activity creates a world of anti-social people. Whether it’s Twitter, Flickr, Dopplr or my blog, these things reinforce my real world social interaction. They helped jump start my social life when I moved to London a couple of years ago. But as Suw says, Twitter gets her out to the pub to spend time with friends.)

I liked the ideas Liz was presenting. The marketing-sensitive consumer in me was possibly too aware of commercial purpose of some of these projects, but Liz wasn’t just talking about trying to infect social networks with marketing messages, which seems to me the purpose of some viral campaigns. Social marketing campaigns that don’t listen, aren’t social, even if they are targeting social spaces online, and her emphasis on using feedback from the community is often missed by many digital marketing companies.

And I really liked Liz’ emphasis that there is a symbiotic relationship between online and offline community. It’s a myth that online community is a parasitic drain on real world social interaction, and it’s great to hear someone like Liz challenge conventional wisdom.

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Saturday, August 11th, 2007

X|Media|Lab Melbourne: Martin Hoffman, Moko and Loop mobile

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Martin Hoffman is with Moko, a mobile-only social network, not using mobile as an extension of the PC experience as Bebo and MySpace are doing. Social networks have their own metrics, looking beyond page views and looking at the length of user sessions. Moko boasts 72 minutes per user visit.

Mobile social networking really is about communication, and he pointed to the development of SMS. Last year, SMS generated $70bn of revenue worldwide. He said that SMS really took off when the networks interconnected, but the carriers still haven’t learned this with data and web services. Bebo has done a deal with Orange. MySpace has struck a deal with Vodafone. Mobile data is not as open as the internet. The handset manufacturers add another layer of complication. Nokia and LG might want different user experiences on their handsets.

Nokia bought a small social network called Twango. Imagine that Dell had spent $100m to buy a social networking. If you use a Dell, a Mac or any other PC, you don’t think about buying a computer to access a social networking site. The challenge for mobile is that you can have great services but can’t get access to users. And he said he didn’t even want to talk about data charges.

The mobile phone is the most profound platform out there he said. But it’s clear that carriers and handset manufacturers have not learned the value of openness.

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Friday, August 10th, 2007

X|Media|Lab Melbourne: Tom Kennedy with Belong

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Broadband is driving significant social change, said Tom, the director of digital at Belong. He rubbished the state of broadband in Australia, but he pointed to how his daughter and his wife were laughing in their living room as they watched video from YouTube.

• We are being saturated with new channels of information, and people are trying to adapt/shoehorn old media models into new realities.

• Consumers are now at the heart of the proposition. They are active not passive.

• The business of media is seeing rapid changing. TV still dominates, but it’s adapting. Newspapers and radios didn’t die as television started.

• People want to belong. They want to be part of something.

Mobile handsets now have 100% market penetration. Growth in the next five years will be from 3G services, and in the next few years 33% of users will be using 3G. The mobile phone is now a portable computing platform. It is more than a phone. You can browse the web, take pictures and shoot video. You can send e-mail and even do instant messaging.

Mobile is primed for personalised marketing, but permission-based marketing is key in mobile. You can’t interrupt people when they don’t want to be interrupted.

‘Intimacy’ of communication fuels communities. The devices are all interconnected.

It is not about the technology. It is what people are using the technology for.

Even though Big Brother’s audience in Australia went down 15%, voting went up.

The barriers to this is the high cost of data on handsets. It is killing each of our business models. He called data charges criminal. Consumer bill shock is real. The walled garden approach still dominates on mobile.

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