News, media & communications

Popularity tracking

We wrote about a company called Virtual Research Associates a while ago. To re-cap, this is a company that analyses patterns and trends hidden in daily newswire stories and then alerts organisations like banks and security agencies to potential trouble spots. In a similar vein (but way cooler) there’s Blogpulse from a company called Intelliseek. Blogpulse mines over 11 million blogs and reports back on what’s hot and what’s not. Simply enter a key word or a short phrase and you’ll get back a graph plotting its relative popularity over time. For example, you can enter ‘Michael Jackson trial’ and see whether interest is waxing or waning. Or you can enter your company’s name and see whether you are gaining or losing critical mentions. Enter Apple vs Dell and you can clearly see that while Dell is the brand leader it’s Apple that’s got the buzz. You can even track conversations between bloggers. Better still, go to the company’s ‘featured trends’ link and you can see an analysis of whether a trend is growing or declining. Uses are almost endless, from gleaning what’s happening long before the traditional media wakes up, to staying ahead of consumer trends.
And yes, in case you’re wondering, it’s free.

Ref: Search Engine Watch (US), 7 June 2005, ‘Tracking trends in the blogsphere’, C. Sherman.


The future of libraries

Imagine if all the books ever written were available to read at the click of a mouse. The idea is not as far fetched as it may seem. Google recently signed a deal with five of the world’s leading libraries, including Harvard University library (US) and the Bodleian library in Oxford (UK), to digitise their books and turn them into searchable web pages. So is this the modern equivalent of the ancient library of Alexandria or is it the moment when free and open knowledge was transferred from the public domain into private hands? For example, one could point to Microsoft-owned Corbis as an early sign of the shape of things to come. Over the last 10 to 15 years Corbis has slowly acquired the digital rights to art from many of the world’s museums and charges people to use it. In other words, much of what was (is) owned by the public is now partly in the hands of the world’s richest man.
This is probably alarmist. Public libraries have happily provided free and open access to books for years alongside private profit-making publishing houses. And without the profit motive it is unlikely that every book ever written will ever make it onto the web (with really old books, for example, you’ve got to translate hand-written script into text). Moreover, once on the web, the possibilities are mindboggling. For example, you could see linkages between authors or books. This is great news for readers but what about authors and publishers? Will we see a replay of what’s happened in the music industry with file-sharing and piracy or will ‘fair use’ be redefined? (Libraries, interestingly, have been always been largely except from copyright law). Moreover, what will happen to the libraries and librarians? The general consensus seems to be: Nothing. With that amount of information on tap people will need more help than ever to find things and libraries as physical spaces seem to be making a comeback too. Library visits in the US are actually growing and the recently completed new library in Seattle (US) was visited by 1.5 million people last year – that’s twice the number of people that live in Seattle.

Ref: Technology Review (US), May 2005, ‘The infinite library’, W. Roush. Links:’s ‘look inside the book’ feature. See also and ‘The future of books’, Technology Review January 2005.


Delivering tomorrow’s paper

If Rupert Murdoch is predicting the end of newspapers as we know them, then we should probably listen. In 1960, 80% of Americans read a daily newspaper. Today the figure is closer to 50% – and falling. Globally circulation is falling too. Between 1995-2003, global newspaper circulation fell by 5%. In Europe the fall was 3%, and in Japan, 2%. Many young people (‘digital natives’ as Mr Murdoch calls them) don’t read a newspaper at all and, if the current trend continues, the last newspaper (probably read by a ‘digital immigrant’) will be thrown into a bin sometime in the year 2040. So what is going on?The explanations are varied and legion. More people are reading news on the Internet, fewer retailers deliver newspapers door-to-door (less children doing paperounds), less people are using public transport (and drive to work listening to the radio instead) and less people are sitting down to breakfast at home (less opportunity to read newspapers). And you can’t just blame the Internet either because the decline in newspaper circulation predates the web. It’s not all bad news though. Some local papers are thriving and in the UK sales of ‘quality’ papers are actually increasing thanks to innovations like compact editions. However, Internet-based news and opinion does have a significant advantage over paper-based products because of functionality and interactivity. Phrases like ‘conversation’ and ‘discussion’ really mean something on blogs because readers can actually contribute. OhmyNews in South Korea, for example, is produced by 33,000 ‘citizen reports’ and read by 2 million Koreans. Add to this developments like photoblogs, video blogs and podcasting (blogging with sound) and newspapers are looking like yesterday's news. Incidentally, to put this piece into perspective, it’s interesting to read in Prospect magazine that in 1892 London had 14 evening papers. Now it has just one (the Evening Standard) plus a free afternoon paper aimed at women called Standard Lite.

Ref: The Economist (UK), 23 April 2005, ‘Yesterday’s papers’, 
See also Prospect (UK), March 2005, ‘End of the standard: could the Evening Standard close and is the Internet finally hitting newspapers?’, S.Jenkins, and The Australian (Aus), 5 July 2005, ‘Power to the podcasters’, D. Frith.


For the masses, by the masses

One of the great features of the Internet is how it allows people who don’t know each other to instantly share things with each other, sometimes enhancing them along the way. Examples include, a photo-sharing site, and spore, a new game to be launched in 2006, which allows users (who increasingly feel entitled to contribute to the design of the game itself) to ‘evolve’ the players (characters) used in the game. These are very significant trends. User-generated content (also known as open source, collaborative design or customer-created content) is changing the debate about file-sharing because these users are not copying content but creating new content themselves. This kind of ‘bottom up’ innovation raises all sort of interesting legal questions about who owns the resulting content or innovation. Or as Jonathan Schwartz, president and COO of Sun Microsystems puts it, ‘we are now entering a participation age … (where) the endpoints are starting to inform the center’. Another related example is Google’s Earth software that allows users to view images of the earth from space. Users can annotate the images to make them more useful to other users. Where is this trend going? Nobody can say for sure, but open collaborate projects are certain to grow which will in turn drive new business models and ways of making money from free or ‘openly’ created content.

Ref: New York Times (US), 29 June 2005, ‘Web content by and for the masses’, J. Markoff.