News, media & communications

Swarming media

If you're not familiar with the blogging phenomenon we suggest you get up to speed pretty quickly because blogs (short for weblogs) can boost your business or destroy it almost overnight. In the last few years no less than 8 million blogs have been created and one survey estimates the number of blogs currently being created to be about one every 3 seconds. Admittedly most of these blogs seem to be written by sixteen year old girls talking about Britney Spears but there's also a serious side - 32 million people potentially talking about bad experiences with your product. One micro-pundit has even suggested that companies should employ someone whose job it is to put the word 'sucks' after their brand name and enter it into google to see what people are saying. The best known example of how a swarm of bloggers can ruin your company is Kryptonite bike locks. In the space of just 10 days a posting on a blog saying that the company's product was defective was spread virally and seen by 1.8 million people. The result was a crippled reputation together with a forced product exchange that cost the company US $10m. On another occasion bloggers claimed the scalp of a CNN executive who allegedly claimed that the US was targeting journalists in Iraq. These examples are interesting but the bigger picture is fascinating - people are getting fed up with what's on offer from the mainstream media so they're creating their own.

Ref: Fortune (US) 24 January 2005. 'Why there's no escaping the blog'. The Australian 17 February 2005,'Blog pundits claim CNN scalp'. R. Eccelstone. See also:

Lost call

Will VoIP do to telephones what the PC did to computers? It's still too early to say but the quick answer is probably yes. The idea is staggeringly simple. Voice is just data and therefore there's no reason on earth why you can't send it over the Internet - which means that telephone companies and their closed networks of pipes and cables are technically redundant. So the question is not when will VoIP become the dominant technology but how and when. Moreover, the idea that you need a single dedicated circuit for each voice transmission has been the paradigm for as long as the phone industry has existed. Not anymore. If you analyse the disruption even further there's nothing to stop anyone from Apple to Wal-Mart from entering the phone business. Or to put it another way, what's to stop Microsoft from buying AT&T or Tesco from buying British Telecom? According to AT&T 43% of multi-national companies are either already using Internet telephony or they're planning to do so within the next 48 months due to cost savings. Or how about the fact that 21 million people have downloaded Skype's free software that enables two users to talk to each other for nothing while in Japan 10% of all domestic phone calls are made through the Internet. And you 'aint seen nothing yet in terms of product innovation either. VoIP opens up all sorts of possibilities including always-connected lines.

Ref: Newsweek (US), 24 January 2005, Signal Lost, R.Foroohar.

Mobile phone fads, trends and innovations

If you believe that any technological fad that's hot in Japan eventually shows up everywhere else get ready for dangling mascots attached to phones (currently a fave rave with Japanese school girls) and plastic finger nails that light up when you have a call coming through. Other Japanese favourites include stick on jewels to customise casings and screen blockers to prevent people reading your text messages. At the more serious end of the mobile phone spectrum. Samsung has just launched a phone that can send vibrations alongside text messages. The innovation is a development of technology used in video games like PlayStation 2 to add the sensation of 'feedback' from, for example, steering wheels. At present the sensations are limited to what feel like handshakes and slaps across the face but in theory the idea could be developed a lot further in the future. For example, there's nothing stopping manufactures developing ways for people to virtually 'touch' a cashmere jumper or experience a kiss on the cheek. If you could then add smell and taste you have all five senses packed into your phone. Ridiculous? Not really. Scientists from the St John's Innovation Centre in Cambridge (UK) are working on mobiles that can sniff out explosives or dangerous chemicals, while in the US the Livermore National Laboratory is working on radiation sensors that are small enough to be put inside mobiles.

Ref: New Scientist (UK), 26 February 2005. 'The touchy feely side of telecoms', C. Biever. The Daily Telegraph (UK), 22 January 2005. 'With a wink and a mod', M.Fitzpatrick. The Sydney Morning Herald 29-30 January 2005, Nano detectives.

E-paper is on the books

The idea of paperless (electronic) books has been around for almost as long as the idea of the paperless office, but neither has ever really caught on in a big way. But this might be about to change as Japanese rivals Sony and Matsushita have unveiled a couple of gizmos that could in theory make paper books obsolete. What's new about both of these devices is that they use what's called electronic ink which changes colour from white to black when a small electrical current is applied. This is a significant innovation because the device only uses energy when a page is turned. This allows the user to look at 10,000 pages using just 4 AAA batteries and the device can store up to 20 different books. Will it catch on? There's certainly a small market for clever gadgets but we suspect that these innovations solve a problem that doesn't exist. Paper books are a very efficient way of communicating ideas and even if e-books can be made cheaper and more user friendly they will never be able to replicate centuries of tradition or the sheer pleasure of touching or writing on paper. Or to put it another way, can you seriously imagine curling up in bed with a computer?

Ref: The Australian 4 January 2005. E-Paper is one for the books.

The haves and the have nuts

It might not be the biggest publishing phenomenon in Britain but Nuts magazine could well be the most significant from a sociological perspective. If you've not heard of it, the magazine was launched a little over a year ago and has a circulation of 300,000 copies every week. Not much admittedly but quite a lot for a weekly men's magazine. But what's really interesting about Nuts is that if magazines liked Loaded and FHM defined the interests, attitudes and sensibilities of 'New Lad' culture in the nineties, Nuts has its finger on the pulse of the typical British bloke in the noughties. For one thing the title is totally enthusiastic and does nothing to make its readers anxious or insecure. It also steers well clear of anything that could be regarded as an opinion that could offend anyone. However the real genius of the magazine is very simple: it doesn't put too many words on a page. Does this make Nuts a dumbed down read? Well yes but that hardly matters. There's a kind of fraternity in stupidity these days and the magazine has also found another formula that works - do what the successful tabloid newspapers do but get rid of the boring news. The world's gone totally nuts.

Ref: The Observer (UK) 23 January 2005. 'Why is this the biggest selling men's weekly? It must be Nuts. T. Adams.