Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Category: Media (page 2 of 2)

When monochrome should rule

I was in a deli near work yesterday, and used my debit card to make the purchase. So far, so ordinary. But then something caught my eye. The payment machine was new, shiny, and had a colour screen.

Now that may not seem like a big deal, but what is the demand for colour screens in a device like this? Let’s think about a card payment machine.

– It doesn’t belong to anyone (unless the business owner also runs the till)
– There is no experiential upside – you don’t stop using it because of the interface
– It’s not a “loved” device, like a phone, mp3 player or tablet
– You enter a price (till operator) or a Pin (customer) – that’s it

So why the hell does that need a colour screen?

Is this the end of the monochrome world? Happily not. There are still a lot of basic screens around, in stereos, on the phone in front of me (a Cisco IP phone), on bus stops. There’s a lot of virtue in keeping things this way – these devices convey simple information and have no need of the advantages that colour screens can bring. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they start to change in the next round of upgrades – the march to colour screens feels inevitable.

However, there is one device that seems to be resolutely black and white: the Kindle (and obviously, it’s imitators). I don’t have one, but I like the fact that it started in black and white, and is staying that way. It has a certain old-school charm to it. Plus of course it helps hugely with battery life, which isn’t a concern for the things I mentioned earlier (desk phones, stereos etc).

Amazon don’t release Kindle sales figures, but they are clearly in the millions. This seems to me to be the last non-colour big product release.

And although reading text has a certain logic of staying black and white, television, you would think, has left that all far far behind.

Except according to BBC figures (p22) there are 24,000 black and white TV licences registered in 2009 – from over 200,000 only 10 years ago. It’s an astonishing decline, although I suspect it will be a long tail that could drift for years.

So who are the B&W TV holdouts? I can only think of one group of people for whom it makes sense: the blind. You can get 50 per cent off the licence anyway if you are blind, but half of the full price – £72 or so – is a lot more that £24, which is the half price for the B&W licence.

Except… try buying a black and white TV. I’m sure it’s do-able, but it’s not easy. Currys don’t sell them. Nor do Argos.

Just “pub talk” – is it open season on the web?

A strange day for defamation and the internet. Jane Clift has lost her case against the Daily Mail – where she was trying to get the identities of two commenters on a Daily Mail article to sue them for defamation.

From Out-Law:

Mrs Justice Sharp said that Clift’s case was not strong enough to merit the identification, and that she should not have taken the comments as seriously as she did.

“It was fanciful to suggest that a sensible and reasonable reader would understand those comments as being anything more than ‘pub talk’,” she said in her ruling.

This raises a lot more questions than it answers. In no particular order:

* The Daily Mail has a massive audience of millions. I don’t know any pub that big. How is it not defamatory to post something libellous on a website? If the comments were not defamatory, then let her lose that case in a court of law.

* If the comments were not defamatory, then why has the Mail removed them?

* Is this open season for comments on websites? Do we all just need thicker skins? It’s not like Ms Clift wrote the article herself (or posted a video where someone wrote “this sucks” which happens all the time on YouTube) – she was the subject of an article which detailed a traumatic time in her life. Doesn’t she deserve better?

* Was this a case of Ms Clift looking like too much of a complainer? Slough council put her on some watch-list for complaining about a drunk, she then sued them (and won), and then has taken a legal case against the Mail – who wrote a favourable article about her in the first place. On paper, that looks like a lot of complaining. But then, what are you supposed to do? It’s like a Kafka-esque chain where one (legitimate) complaint has led to another, and to her life being totally up-ended. She’s using the courts, which is what they are there for.

As someone who works in publishing, it’s a ruling that is on one level a relief. Unless, of course, you’re the one being talked about.

Premature obituaries – a closer look at the data

After being alerted by Paul Bradshaw’s tweet that Wikipedia has a fascinating list of people who have had their obituary published erroneously or prematurely, I thought i would take a closer look at the data.

First off, the caveats: it’s Wikipedia. Trust with care. The list is subjective, west-orientated and certainly incomplete.

However, it is fascinating. The headline is that there are far fewer hoaxes and pseudocides then you would think. Most premature obits are basic errors, human and mechanical. News agencies report rumours as facts, other news outlets repeat. And although we might think this is getting worse and worse in the blog-twitter-newswebsite world, it’s not really – this is as old as the hills. There are incidents dating back centuries.

Out of the 180 incidents, faking death and hoaxes accounts for only 41 cases, while accidents and misunderstandings together are just shy of 50 per cent.

The full data is here in a google document.

Accidental publication 52
Brush with death 34
Hoax 30
Impostor 2
Land theft victims 5
Misidentified body 9
Missing in action 7
Misunderstandings 12
Name confusion 18
Pseudocide 11
total 180

All floods are a disaster – but which ones should we care about?

When devastating floods hit Australia this month, it dominated the news coverage. When Brazil’s floods started not long after, the news coverage was minimal, to say the least. Why? Is this a UK problem? We are culturally closer to Australia than Brazil, of course. But no – a quick look at Google trends shows that the Australian bias was across the news internationally.

Australia in red, Brazil in blue

Google trends comparing Australia floods to Brazil floods

Google trends comparing Australia floods to Brazil floods | Source: Google

There was a brief point where Brazil – the blue line – goes over the Australian one, but that is it.

Although it is morbid to equate deaths to newsworthiness, the Brazil death toll of 700+ far outweighs the Australian toll of less than 100 (17 so far, 60 or so missing).

Is Brazil a tiny country with little news impact? No. It’s the world’s 8th largest economy, bigger than Australia in 13th place. Both countries are important in terms of world resouces. They are quite similar in geographical size. Here are the numbers.

The big difference is in GDP per capita. Brazil has 195m people to Australia’s 21.5m – and at $9,000 GDP per capita to Australia’s $53,300, it’s simply a lot poorer – more than five times poorer in fact.

And at their search peaks, “Australia floods” was 4.8 times more popular a search term than “Brazil floods”. Go figure.

Facebook: is the party over?

In all the hoopla surrounding the Goldman Sachs investment in Facebook, one thing seems odd.

It isn’t the money – Facebook made $2bn in revenues last year, apparently, which isn’t bad (although we need to remember that revenues aren’t profit – finance 1.01).

And it isn’t the ambition – Facebook is making itself the de facto log in for half the web. Nor is it platform issues: people look at Facebook on iPhones, Android phones and so on.

It’s the traffic.

Facebook is first and foremost a network. And the laws of networks mean that the more people join, the more useful they are, and the more connections are made. It’s exponential – just think of the moment when 2 people are on a network, and a third person joins – the number of possible connections doubles each time.

Now look at these charts – they are from Wolfram Alpha, who use Alexa as their source.

The number of users just keeps growing:

Facebook users, 2010

Facebook users, 2010

But the traffic doesn’t:

Facebook pageviews, 2010

Facebook pageviews, 2010

You would think that the traffic would mirror the user growth. In fact, given the network effect, it should outpace it.

So what’s going on? Either Facebook’s new users are dud accounts, or the older users are getting tired. People are either spending less time on the site, or are turning up less frequently. According to Alexa, the time on the site is relatively static too, but the daily pageviews per user are falling:

Facebook pageviews per user

Facebook pageviews per user

But this should be a worry for the company. They aren’t in the business of charging users, and may never be if the right revenue model comes along. So usage is everything. Facebook’s growth may seem relentless in terms of the numbers of people signed up, but boredom is a very dangerous thing for a network. When was the last time you logged into MySpace?

Goldman may have made a great investment, or they might just be turning up to the party as all the cool people are leaving. We’ll see.

Predictions for 2011 and beyond

It’s that time of year. Everyone is at it. As any reader of the Black Swan knows, predictions are a fools game. The real interest is in showing what we think now, not really saying “told you so” in 2012.

But there are two tipping points coming in 2011-12, which will have huge ramifications for media and technology.

The first is when mobiles overtake desktop as the main access point to the Internet. This is due in the next 18 months or so. The second is when most content online goes from being free to paid-for, and the “link” economy starts to die. They are related – the app-culture of the iPad and forthcoming competitors will make it easier for publishers to charge for content, but these apps are increasingly going to be walled gardens.

The wake-up call in media will be startling. Newspapers are only just getting the difference between regular readers / subscribers, and people who just glance at your content in passing online. As the web splinters into a smaller and smaller set of content aggregators who try to circumvent paywalls and content publishers who move to a mixture of paid-for delivery methods, linking and search will become more and more passé (with implications for Google). Expect more law suits over copyright online.

The tech market changes will be profound too. As Google’s desktop search becomes less important, Facebook and other network-based recommendations fill the gap. This isn’t a new idea, but the next 1-2 years will see it happen. As the mobile internet overtakes desktop, the devices become more crucial. Nokia will lose more ground in smartphones, and will either have to squeeze every last drop out of the emerging markets, or come up with a new idea. Someone will push hard at the basic phone market, attracting tech-phobic people who want a simple, cheap, non-Internet phone that does calls and text and little else. Nokia will miss a trick and won’t do it. Apple and Google will continue to dominate mobiles.

Google is by no means finished, but its main business of desktop search advertising will start to decline. Its services (gmail etc) will still be hugely popular, but the replacing the revenue from web searches with mobile search and other services will be tricky.

So, key years for content providers, Google and Nokia. But obviously something else will come along utterly unexpected.

Just don’t be yourself

It’s sometimes welcome advice: “Just be yourself.” And it’s quite often well-meant and even useful. But not really for actors, who, lest we forget, are supposed to act.

I have no idea where it started, but you can see the recent path. There was Being John Malkovich, a fantastic surreal film starring John Malkovich as himself. Then there was Curb your enthusiasm, where Seinfeld creator Larry David plays himself, and lots of celebrities also played themselves, undermining their prima-dona egos – and it was one of the best comedy series of all time.

Now the British are in on the act. There was Extras, with Ricky Gervais and friends. Kate Winslet played herself being obsessed about winning an Oscar – that kind of thing. There have been a few similar-ish comedy shows along the way, but now we have The Trip, staring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, on a trip, talking, driving, and eating. That’s the extent of it. How much is real and how much is scripted I have no idea.

Extras was on one level acceptable. The celebrity actors were themselves, but the core team were fictional: Andy Millman and co. And it was cringingly funny, and awkward, and rather good.

But The Trip is a stage further on the journey to self-referential hell. Coogan and Brydon are themselves, and that’s it. They mock their own insecurity (or what they think the press and public perceive to be their insecurities), and hope to come across as jolly good sports for being the butt of their own jokes.

But they aren’t that funny. It rambles, goes nowhere, and feels like a tedious Sunday anecdote from a dull uncle. I’m sure they think it’s edgy, but it’s not.

In all these shows there is a point when the clever-clever self-mockery and the postmodern irony of playing yourself playing yourself on screen slips into what is basically laziness. The Trip has crossed the line.

One final thought: Who has appeared in all three of Curb, Extras and the Trip? Step forward Ben Stiller. How long before he has a sitcom where he plays a slightly neurotic actor who wants to be taken seriously called Ben Stiller?

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