All 50 entries tagged New Media

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September 01, 2008

Developing Your Blog 1: Search Engines and Linking

Developing Your Blog 1: Search Engines and Linking

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Introduction

For some time OCR A Level Media has been encouraging the creation of web design and making basic websites as part of its coursework portfolio in both foundation and advanced production. Other level three media courses will be offering similar production units. I have noticed that there is little emphasis on how to develop and maintain audiences and the text books don't seem to be dealing with issues such as marketing the websites / blogs and discussing the increasingly sophisticated business tools available. In many ways this understanding is far more important than learning at an extremely basic level how to use Flash or  Dreamweaver. To learn these programmes properly takes a lot of time and effort and they are not generic skills. By comparison  learning about how web business are actually operating through the use of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Web Analytics tools is very important for an A level student.  One reason for learning about media studies is to gain an underlying understanding  of how things work so that you are not fooled by things which is very easy when it comes to media related things.  You may never do these things yourself.

SEO & Web analytics combined are essential tools for reaching the target audience of the site and are absolutely fundamental to the success of any website whether or not it is trying to sell advertising/ products / services or a combination of these things. At its core media is a business which depends upon attracting audiences and is usually paid for by subscription, advertising or in the case of the BBC a licence fee which is very like a subscription in reality. Together SEO and Analytics drive company websites and even individual websites. Of course content is important but you can have the best content in the World on a site which is useless if nobody ever gets to find it. Marketing and promoting your site are essential ingredients of success. If you don't like doing it then you need to find a company / person that does.

Search & The Web

Let us assume you have got the content of your website sorted out and its great and the design looks amazing and all the links work well and it is easy to navigate, in short it is the perfect website. You have taken months to learn the programmes to create it and lots of time to write and research the content, take the photographs record the sound and the video. You put the site up via your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and because you want to be able to at least pay the service provider you decide to put adverts on your site.  Once your site is up you search for it typing in different search terms. If like most people you don't go further than page two on a Google search you will probably be disappointed. You will have to persevere and go a lot further.

This blog has what I consider to be some pretty good pages but they don't even appear in the first 20 pages of a Google search. That page is pretty much dead in the water unless I do something to try and push it up the search engine rankings. Sometimes this can take months. One page on this site has developed a successful search engine ranking after a few months. It is called A Chronology of European Cinema. According to the Firefox browser it has a Google ranking of 4 / 10.  The reason why this page is powerful is because there are an enormous number of external links and some internal links to what I consider are the best available web pages on individual films publicly available. Over time the page has attracted users. The combination of these things gradually pushes the content up in importance. The number of hours to research the page is enormous and it is still ongoing. By comparison a reasonably useful page on Keira Knightley gets nowhere on the Google page ranking indicator. The page isn't in the first ten (probably 50) on this search term which got 9.3 million hits from Google. No surprises there then! The point is that to your site / pages will have to fight their way up popular search terms. Because my entry has a tag and some links to The Duchess starring Keira Knightley and about to be released a search of the term "The Duchess Film" found my page on page 9 of a Google search - not bad but not nearly good enough! you need to think about a range of relevant tags which might attract some users to your page.

Please note during searches I have found that pages which have come out without registering in the Google rankings can come very high on the actrual search whilst other pages with higher rankings can come in a couple of pages lower. for example one search turned up a British Film Institute Screenonline entry which was justifiably in the top three of a British director search yet the page wasn't ranked by Google. There were no external links though because that it the policy of the site who want to control their content. This almost certainly reduced the search engine ranking but had no effects on the results becuase it was obviously a very popular page. Screenonline has a great institutional critical mass which no blog or small website can hope to emulate.

As you can see from the above example the first thing you need to do is to make your site and your pages attractive to search engines. Search engines like Google are the most important web tools in existence. Without search facilities the web simply couldn't function. There are tens if not hundreds of millions of websites, blogs etc. there has to be a way of accessing them. Google has been the most successful search engine to date because it managed to develop algorithms which searched the web more effectively than other search engines. Search engine technologies are continuously developing and they also try and ensure that the content of the site / page matches the search term. In the 1990s website designers used to add lots of irrelevant meta-tags to their sites. As a result you would get an Australian Scuba diving outfit as the first search hit when you were searching for a French film which happened to have diving sequences in it. Search has improved a lot since then becuase it was very frustrating for users and held back the development of the web.

SEO: Using Links to heighten the Page / Site Profile

SEO is a bit of a 'black art' with Google using around 200 different parameters as it works out its rankings, which are inherently dynamic and therefore change conitnuously. This means that a website needs to be managed. Just because it is high in the rankings month doesn't necessarily mean it will be in a few months time. One reason for this is that people might come along with better pages on the same subject which means yours might get pushed down the rankings. The web is a cpmpetitive place even though collaboration through links can be mutually beneficial!

I have just discovered this useful page which seems to accord well with the experience I've had with the 'Chronology of European Cinema' page I used as an example above when it comes to increasing the profile of a page or site. I wish I had discovered it before however I seem to have worked out quite a few of these ideas for myself. On this site I'm trying to make entries better than other websites that I have discovered whilst researching the pages. Alternatively if I have not time to write a totally individual entry I try to put in a really good set of links to other relevant sites. The next step would be to annotate these sites. In that sense this is rather like providing annotated bibliographies in the hard copy world. Keeping these up to date howver is a serious problem as sites get bigger. In the real world of business based sites and blogs where people are seeking an income keeping these link pages up to date in the dynamic world of the web requires more human resources, unless somebody has developed a programme to do it for you. Even then that is difficult because it requires personal judgement based upon knowledge. Anyway here is Blogstorm's list of things to do:

It isn’t going to be easy but if you really want to linkbait in your industry then the path is quite straightforward:

  • Find all pages on Wikipedia that relate to your niche
  • Write more detailed versions with better images
  • Email all the people who link to the Wikipedia pages and gently point them to your new page
  • Find subjects where Wikipedia doesn’t have a page
  • Create a quality page on these new subjects
  • Use your existing link equity to help the new pages rank
  • Wait for people to find and link to these pages

In 18 months this strategy will probably give you enough links to outrank Wikipedia for every term you target. (My emphasis: Blogstorm Linkbait entry

There are some things to note here. Firstly  the comment about 18 months. You are not going to develop some super website / blog overnight. The whole thing needs to be considered as a process which develops. Patience and steady ongoing development work is essential! It may be rather time consuming to track down and email Wikipedia users

The idea of using Wikipedia as some sort of benchmark is a good one because Wikipedia pages frequently have a high ranking. Despite the problems of Wikipedia it is continually developing and entires are only likely to improve. The may well be pages that aren't linked to by Wikipedia and you need to search for these as well. for example in the world of British cinema the Screenonline site has many excellent entries. I frequently link to these until I get time to write a better one. As the quality of these is usually very high each page is hard work, however the point is to continue to add value to both my site and by implication the web as a whole. This is the importance of the idea of Web 2.0, sharing and developing information and ideas. This is one reason why search engines encourage sites to make links.

The question of linking out (to other sites) from mainstream media sites is subject to research  to see if this creates more links in.  There does seem to be  some correlation between the two figures indicating that providing outgoing links  can benefit even large mainstream media companies.


What is Linkbaiting

Well I hadnt' come across this term until today however the underlying meaning is pretty straightforward. Here is a useful article from the About Weblogs site on linkbaiting (Google page rank zero at time of writing).

Tagging Blogs

The way that search engines work to update their information is by using programmes called called webots or webcrawlers which search sites and even read some of the content to check it against  the  tags  which have been used by the web publisher. Another system that helps find blogs is the Technorati search engine. you can 'ping' technorati with you tag and then it will be entered into its search engine. It is obviously useful to enter as many systems as you can to help people find your blog:

Tagging is a software tweak that's already used on photo-sharing site Flickr.com, for example. Here's how it works: As the site's users post their photos for everyone on Flickr.com to see, they tag a photo taken in, say, Iraq, with a tagline, "Iraq." A blog search engine called Technorati.com uses these tags to retrieve search results. If you entered "Iraq" into its search dialog box, the engine would serve you up with news stories, blogs -- and photos tagged with "Iraq" (See this article on Salon.com for other examples of tagging).

Such tags could completely change the way we blog and communicate, believes Glenn Reid, who, while at Apple, created iPhoto. In a recent blog entry, Reid gives a great example of the possibilities: All reader comments on all blogs could, potentially, be linked up based on their tags, so that, instead of following individual blogs, people would be able to follow conversations on specific topics (such as Iraq) conducted on hundreds of blogs. (Business Week: The Future of Blogs )

Websites and Metatagging

Websites work slightly differently to blogs and the way to encourage them to be visible to the serch engine web crawlers is to create metatags in the HTML:

Meta tags are HTML codes that are inserted into the header on a web page, after the title tag. They take a variety of forms and serve a variety of purposes, but in the context of search engine optimization when people refer to meta tags, they are usually referring to the meta description tag and the meta keywords tag.

If you are making a website using a programme such as Dreamweaver you will need to plan your metags carefully.

Please now go to the entry on content

Webliography

Webstorm SEO and Webmarketing Blog. This entry on 'Linkbait'

SEO Wisdom - How Great Content Brings Top Rankings

15 tips to increase Blog Traffic

The Three C's of Blogging

Linkbuilding versus Linkbaiting

Help Search Engines Find Your Blog by Letting Them Know Where It Is

SEO is Dad: The 30 Easiest Ways to Get Links and Exposure (I think you need to take some of these with a pinch of the proverbial salt, they can be quite time consuming. I still think excellent content is key for long-term development.

Online Media Studies Centre: Improving content with Web data and analytics

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August 31, 2008

Web 2.0 Opportunity For Entrepreneurs: The Huffington Post

Web 2.0 Opportunity For Entrepreneurs: The Huffington Post


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Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington by Cummings FT


I almost always find something of media related interest in the Financial Times Weekend and this weekend was no exception. There was an interesting article by Joshua Chaffin on the rise and rise of the Huffington Post an extremely successful blog based "online-newspaper" in the US. It is run by Arianna Huffington whom some of you may remember from the 1970s as the infamous anti-feminist Arianna Stassinopoulos.


In many ways Chaffin's article supports some of the points I was making in a discussion of the issues being raised by some media analysts around the need for Media Studies 2.0. My argument then was that the present user generated content from blogging and similar types of new media associated with Web 2.0 would eventually fragment into work which was being done professionally / semi-professionally and a more leisure-based hobby based type of approach. The latter being very much a virtualisation of small scale hobbyists, magazines etc. These might generate small amounts of advertising for relatively small niche markets. For the more serious bloggers the aim is to make a splash and also to earn money through the enterprise because to blog seriously and to research the content would be pretty much a full time job and the rest. This means that inevitably the best bloggers will either re-prioritise their time to do something else, be highly succesful at blogging so that they generate sensible amounts of advertise revenue / sponsorship to make a living or else they will build a user base which might conceivably be seen as 'added value' if a fully fledged media company decides to buy them out and use the virtual real estate and pay a salary for the generation of future content.


The Huffington Post and Arianna Huffington don't quite fit any of these models. She became a born again blogger early on and, given her past, is extremely well connected at higher levels in Californian society. As a result she has beeen able to gain professional advice, as well as venture capital from people like Alan Patricof to help establish her political blog. According to Chaffin's article it is receiving in the region of 4 million unique users per month. The blog was founded in 2005 and is now one of the most popular political blogs.

There has apparently been much talk about expansion of the blog with the intention of establishing new sections. She is hoping to raise another $10-20 million dollars to back this expansion. some people are speculating that the site could be worth $200 million however this could be rather an overestimate for as Chaffin notes cautiously:

...the site is not consistently profitable .Bloggers have not yet proved they can convert traffic into advertising dollars. (Chaffin  W/E FT  p 11)

Naturally this argument was of interest because anybody trying to raise $10-20 million for a blog is redefining the meaning of the term which originally signified slightly geeky people whipping out their thoughts to the world which for the most part ignored them. Here Web 2.0 is turning into a serious media venture. OK the model doesn't precisely fit but it shows that there is venture capital money out there backing likely looking ventures and trying to establish new audiences interacting with media in different ways, which accords with the spirit of my argument. Certainly Jeff Jarvis has been impressed as Chaffin has noted in the FT:

"They laughed when Arianna sat down at the keyboard, but she was right, and she's built something pretty incredible," said Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at the City University of New York who also writes a media blog, BuzzMachine.


So how does a site like this make money and how does it build its audience? these seem to be the critical questions for new media enterprises which makes them exactly the same as so-called old-media. Everything must change so that everything remains the same to paraphrase Lampedusa in The Leopard! Chaffin put it very clearly in an earlier FT commentary in 2007:

These days, Ms Huffington and her partners tend to recoil slightly when the Huffington Post is called a blog. To them, blogging is merely the latest technology tool to transform the news industry - just as cable television yielded CNN and the 24-hour news cycle. While that tool may be central to their success, their aim now is to expand the Huffington Post into a mainstream media business - a path that other blogs are also pursuing as the once-fledgling medium becomes more professionalised.


What Happens at the Huffington Post?


The Audience

Well, with 4 million unique hits per month its a little hard to define the audience however to put the numbers in perspective the Guardian released its figures a couple of weeks ago and the numbers were in the 18 million range with the Daily Telegraph lagging not too far behind. Obviously a key difference between these well established British dailies which have developed  parallel web-based facilities is that they have already got a brand name, a well developed regular readership and a well developed peripheral readership who probably buy / read the paper on an intermittent and possibly regular basis. I usually get a Monday Guardian for the media pages for example but the Weekend FT and the Independent occasionally as well. Yes they are available online but I actually like a hard copy especially on the train if I'm travelling that way.

Both the Guardian (8/10 Google ranking just for the blogs page ) and the Daily Telegraph (7/10 just for the blogs page)have developed blogs from some of their regular correspondents. So has the Financial Times (6/10 Google ranking) although the FT has a more sophisticated system for registering and providing online services primarily targetted at business users. There is then a parallel subscription service as well as the online advertising model that they all use. The BBC Blog Network (7/10 Google ranking) is a recentinitiative by the BBC to centralise all their blogs as well, to date people have been accessing them independently via links on the current newspages for example. Doubtless the Google ranking will rise as more people discover the page full of links to all areas of the BBC. As a regional paper the London based Evening Standard blogs page gains (6/10). Even a much smaller paper such as the Coventry Evening Telegraph blogs and forum page gains a Google 5/10 ranking. This quick research of the web based aspects of older media organisations shows that many if not most of them are in the process of making well organised transitions to a web based format runnng in parallel with the main services previously offered. With the exception of the BBC (for obvious reasons) all seemed to have a healthy balance of adverts, so advertising too is making a good transition to the web. None of the sites mentioned seemed to suffer from irritating pop-ups.

Obviously potential advertisers will be given access to at least some of the key analytics benchmarks in terms of not just number of hits but regulararity of use, and the most accessed columns and pages and how long users stay on them. The cost of advertising can then be worked out in a similar way to hard copy. Furthermore the greater the use the better the quality of advertisers drawn in which means better graphics, more amusing adverts etc. In reality good adverts provide users with a far better media experience and can prove to be an attraction rather than an irritant if they are well used.

Audiences for mainstream media sites in the UK seem to be strong. Remember 4 million hits per month is in the region of 120,000 hits per day and the problem with measuring who "unique" users are is difficult if people are not logged into the site's own system as then a regular visitor could be using the site from different computers. Chaffin reports that Huffington's site has 4 million unique users  as measured by the analytics system but these  cannot be totally accurate and it may be possible to "cookie" the books:

Authentication, either active or passive, is the most accurate way to track unique
visitors. However, because most sites do not require a user login, the
most predominant method of identifying unique visitors is via a persistent cookie
that stores and returns a unique id valu
e. Because different methods are used to
track unique visitors, you should ask your tool provider how they calculate this
metric.


A unique visitor count is always associated with a time period (most often day, week,
or month), and it is a “non-additive” metric. This means that unique visitors can not
be added together over time, over page views, or over groups of content, because
one visitor can view multiple pages or make multiple visits in the time frame studied.
Their activity will be over-represented unless they are de-duplicated.


The deletion of cookies, whether 1st party or 3rd party, will cause unique visitors to
be inflated over the actual number of people visiting the site
. Users that block
cookies may or may not be counted as unique visitors, and this metric is handled in
different ways depending on the analytics tool used. Ask your tool provider how
blocked cookies are managed in their tool: it is important to understand how this
impacts other metrics with regard to these visitors.
(Web Analytics
Association Standards Definitions
. My Emphasis)


What Future for the Huffington Site?

Huffington has been a social networker for decades gradually moving from right to left in the political spectrum, opportunism  eclecticism  if not 'me-ism' are the core values I suspect. Here's what one interested blog critic has to say:

The very things she has been mocked for over the years—her ability to shift swiftly from topic to topic, her swashbuckling political rhetoric, her penchant for attention-getting—are what the online world is all about. She’s found her home in the blogosphere.

Walking into the offices of the Huffington Post, I have a dizzying flashback to 1995: It’s an airy dot-com loft that—unlike, say, Air America, whose corporate cubicles we’d visited that morning—feels exceptionally well funded. Bright Pop Art splotches adorn the walls. Twenty-five-year-olds huddle on sofas eating takeout. There’s an MTV-logo-shaped fish tank in the lobby and a massive portrait of Muhammad Ali and, of course, a pool table.
(Adam Ash Blog 2006)


As a consummate networker and has somebody who keeps churning out books over the years Huffington has gained something of a brand name and being an 'early adopter' along with some financial backing and a business plan has helped her to gain an online presence and she is clearly trying to compete with established media forms. The reality is that if one visits the Huffington Post  site it is rather more than just a blog but laid out professionally with tags across the top and a range of pages dealing with things such as entertainment, business etc. Huffington on today's visit has her latest blog comment posted., with enough of her own characterful interpretations of whatever to attract a certain audience. The 'blog' is effectively an online newspaper which provides a range of links to other news sources. The front page has developed an excellent Google weighting of 8/10. This is only one point behind the BBC Online News Front Page which is currently 9/10. However these figures could exaggerate the Huffington site's importance because of the way search engines work.

Google reportedly has over 200 parameters when it assesses the importance of sites and pages within them via is web-bots. One aspect that Google values as good web 2.0 promotion is lots of linkages. It may well be that a more detailed analysis of the Huffington Post pages shows strong attention to this, certainly as something which is more parasitic in terms of largely acting as a hub and organising links this site's importance in real terms could be exaggerated. It is quite obvious that the web weighting by Google of Huffington Post is skewed when compared with the BBC. I don't know if the BBC release their web useage numbers broken down to the public but as it is probably one of the largest sites in the world if not the largest with thousands of pages available online. I strongly suspect that being based in California Huffington has a couple of smart tecchies working very hard on web optimisation, probably from an SEO optimisation consultancy. This would certainly fit in with Huffington's overblown real world persona.

Chaffin reports that The Huffington Post relies almost totally on news collected from other links although he managed to find an example of somebody who managed to upstage the professional news reporters. The reality is that Huffington swans around and a bunch of minions who know something about specific areas such as fashion, business or green issues sort out linkages. There are a few other bloggers on the site who presumably are regulars. Some bloggers will write for nothing as guest posts into order to advertise their own blogs. I suspect this is what Huffington gets, success berreds success and it drives down the cost of her content:

Sell Your Guest Posting Services:

Most bloggers write guest posts for other blogs for free as a way to promote their own blogs. However, you can also offer your guest posting services for a fee. (Make money blogging)


If that is the case it largely bears out my theory that the best bloggers will get sucked in to something else.  Some advertising is via Google and others appears to be sponsored links. The site itself is keen to get registered users and the temptation to become registered is increased by some web marketing which offes lots of freebies, but you need to register first to access information about these!

Overall then overheads appear to be quite low compared to the sites of conventional organisations, in that sense it is a sort of parasite as it appears to contribute little to the public sphere as such merely act as a sort of hub and as an advertising vehicle. Whether this will prove to be a feasible new media business model remains to be seen. My interests are firmly in the range of already existing news organisations which are already developing excellent web based and new media systems. If I want continual updates I can connect with an RSS feed anyway.

My own suspicion is that once the intitial palaver about Web 2.0 / Media 2.0 dies down, things will gradually default to the mainstream media unless people like Huffington can compete for the highest quality analysts currently employed by the BBC / Guardian / New York Times etc. This though would mean money to put people into the field otherwise it hard to discern what the Huffington Post offers that can't be gained usually for nothing.


Once the hype is stripped out of the notion of Web 2.0 the issues of having the time to undertake all this possible interaction becomes paramount for most people. As for the Huffington site, well venture capitalists are usually working to a tight business plan. Real world businesses usually take 5 years on average to move into consistent profit, and the Huffington Post has been going for three. When venture capitalists are involved they are usually looking for an exit at a very high rate of profit (Return on Investement or ROI) and they are not known for being altruists. As with much about the web there is much hype and speculation. They are probably trying to get the revenue streams and user figures up in order to exaggerate the value of the site and then sell it on to some other media firm making a quick exit. This looks as bad an investment as ITV for the long-term, I quite simply don't believe it. I've more confidence in Second Life.

Please note I haven't put a link into the site quite deliberately, I don't want to push it further up the Google rankings and add "virtual value" to what is largely puff.


Webliography


This morning's Media Guardian is carrying an interesting article on yet another business model for the record industry in the digital era. You too can become a venture capitalist. Well at least it could be more fun than being an investor in Northern Rock :-). (Health warning this isn't a recommendation).


Web Analytics Association

Blogs get the old-media habit. Joshua Chaffin Financial Times

Deals Pioneer Gets Second Wind. Joshua Chaffin in Patricof the venture capitalist behing the Huffington Post and other technology start-ups


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January 28, 2008

The Model of the Music Industry Continues to Crumble

The Model of the Music Industry Continues to Crumble

There is no doubt that online piracy and file-sharing has decimated the recorded music industry, which has been struggling to find an alternative business model in order to meaningfully survive. Interstingly the Jazz and Classical markets appear to be less affected when it comes to downloading. Usually the audiences are olde, better off and fussier about the music quality. Currently there are few sites that allow customers to download music files which provide even the equivalent quality to CDs. Linn the hi-fi company is one of the few. It can even offer studio quality masters at a price. 

Global Music sales in 2007 fall by 10%

Leona Lewis
Leona Lewis helped boost online music downloads
Global music sales fell by an estimated 10% last year, despite the growing popularity of the digital music market, according to an industry report. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) said. This is despite the fact that music downloads rose by 40% in 2007.  

The organisation blames music piracy for the shortfall. It is calling on internet providers to disconnect people who repeatedly download illegally.

The (Music) Empire Fights Back  

Today was meant to see the launch of Qtrax which is an online only site which is going to allow visitors to listen to any of up to 30 million trqacks perfectly legally. This content would be paid for by advertising. Before every track ordered can be listened to the listener must undergo a barrage of advertising. Qtrax claim to have got the support of all the big four record companies:

But Warner, EMI and Universal all say they have not licensed their music. (BBC article)

Qtrax screen

Despite the hype Qtrax failed to meet its great opening on the announced day. checking it site today only got a beta version as announced in its logo.  There is a lot of opposition out there not least from Apple who do not wish Qtrax to become compatible with its iPods.

Qtrax Logo

More online shopping for music: not all deals are "good deals"!

Amazon has announced the international rollout of its digital music store. Already operating in the US customers can download music without any digital copying protection. Soon millions of songs will be sold without Digital Rights Management (DRM) software, allowing - for example - customers to burn their own CDs freely. Amazon says it is the only retailer to offer DRM-free MP3s for the four major record labels as well as thousands of independent record labels.  However this offers no real advantage over buying a CD  and has the disadvantage of  being recorded at a lower level of quality than a CD.

How far are the Music Industry's "Problems" of its own making? 

Perhaps the music industry needs an even more radical overhaul than just finding alternative models of making as much profit out of music as before. We have now entered the era of user generated content. Very high quality recodings of  music can be made relatively cheaply as the price of sophisticated recording technology continues to drop. But with most music downloads being listened to on inferior sound systems there seems to be little point in making huge efforts to provide such high quality original sound and "adding value" i.e. trying to put up the profit margin. People quite literally aren't buying into it. Sell a lot more music a lot more cheaply and have more bands working and cut out the super star celebrity bit. Instead lets just get back to the music and the culture that surrounds that music. 

The music industry has for decades being accusing the very people it relies upon for its existence as being 'pirates' or thieves. If people weren't feeling so ripped off and if music was sold at a fair price then it wouldn't be a problem.  Popular music by its very nature is ephemeral it belongs to the moment it is part of the Zeitgeist. Making more of it more available as the Zeitgeist moves would help profit, help the industry and provide audiences with what they want. The Music industry has failed the great test of all media enterprises: keep your audiences happy. what the media consumers are regualrly being accussed of thievery?

The shake up at EMI promises to cut a lot of the fat out of the music industry, it will be leaner, fitter and all the better for it, but it is still at its heart a celebrity / star model of music selling.

Branded Bands?

15 Jan 2008 - Could EMI's latest idea to get specific sponsorship for bands change the face of music in the future?The new boss of EMI, Guy Hands, has announced job losses of up to two thousand which is about aiming to save the label £200m a year. EMI was taken over by the private equity firm, Terra Firma, last summer but this new development about sponsorship suggests brands could become more involved with music. (My emphasis BBC)

Webliography

(Sorry this is work in progress at present)



January 10, 2008

What is Web 2.0?

What is Web 2.0?

Well Sean Carton below has a thing or two to say about it with a raft of other elements before this final bullet-point whic is a powerful statement: 

Web 2.0 is about doing stuff on the Web that can't done in any other medium. Functionalities that have generated so much Web 2.0 hype are all things that wouldn't be possible without the Internet. Period. Much of Web 1.0 tried to shoehorn old media models into the new technology, often with bad or even disastrous results. All the bad thinking of the past decade or so revolved around the misperception that the Web is "like medium X, only different." The Web isn't TV with clicking. It isn't print with the ability to link and embed multimedia content. Podcasting isn't radio you can download. Sean Carton,

Webliography

BBC News: What is this thing called Web 2.0   

Guardian Web 2.0 Weekend Edition


December 23, 2007

Piracy and Downloading

Piracy Downloading and the Entertainments Business

For those of you doing music downloading within new media technologies this is a useful recent link:

BitTorrent search site loses case



The Size of the Internet


The Size and Growth of the Internet

Netcraft ran its first survey about the size of the internet in 1995 the year that Amazon launched.

1995: 18,957 websites 

2000: 19,800,000 websites

2005: 74,400,000 websites The year of its biggest growth

In its October 2005 survey, Netcraft found 74.4 million web addresses, a rise of more than 2.68 million from the September figure.

2007 (November) 149,784,002 websites

Netcraft Size of the Web

Netcraft estimate that in 2007 there has been an increase of 40 million sites since the start of the year:

Much of the growth in sites this year has come from the increasing number of blogging sites, in particular at Live Spaces, Blogger and MySpace.

If this estimate is right then it shows how important the development of Web 2.0 has become as a user generated publishing phenomena. In reality one can argue that this represents an increasing fragmentation of the publishing market.  


Growth of the Blogosphere

The Growth of Blogging in 2007

What is Blogging? 

Please go to BBC Webwise site if you are unsure. 

In 2005 a survey found out that:

Research conducted among taxi drivers, hairdressers and pub landlords - backed up by conventional market research of more than 1,000 adults in the UK - has found that seven out of 10 people don't know what a blog is. Nine out of 10 don't know what podcasting or flashmobbing are. ( Blogging v dogging)

By 2006 the BBC World Affairs Correspondent Paul Reynolds had this to say:

I regard the blogosphere as a source of criticism that must be listened to and as a source of information that can be used.

The mainstream media (MSM in the jargon) has to sit up and take notice and develop some policies to meet this challenge. (Bloggers: an army of irregulars)

The November figures from the Netcraft organisation suggest: that in 2007 there has been an increase of 40 million sites since the start of the year:

Much of the growth in sites this year has come from the increasing number of blogging sites, in particular at Live Spaces, Blogger and MySpace.

Web 2.0 is clearly making a phenomenal difference to the lives of literally millions of publishers. This is a phenomenon which is really without precedent. The Gutenberg revolution was obviously a massive step in human development but how what we are witnessing now will be considered in a few decades time is liekly to be seen a huge leap forward in the development of humanity. In terms of culture as well as wealth and methods of education and doing politics interactivity is the way forward.

Webliography 

One blog created 'every second'

Blogs vie with news for eyeballs


December 16, 2007

Podcasting Equipment Update

Podcasting Equipment  Update


Introduction  


Below I'm giving some links to some basic podcasting equipment which will enable anybody with a computer and the internet to get going. Since I  last posted something on podcasting some months ago I've managed to get the budget for a couple of Marantz PDM 660 semi professional audio recorders. They are semi professional because they record to compact flash cards which have a higher spped of data transfer rate than SD cards. The other main feature is that they have phantom power and XLR microphone inputs which should allow you to use them with unpowered condenser microphones. I have to say I have been very unsuccessfu l with this using the Rode NT2 mic and their Broadcaster mic.

On this basis I would recommend using microphones with their own battery power source as a safer bet. I haven't had a chance to research these properly, however, Sony used to have a good mini-jack input one with battery power apparently used by the BBC. This would be very useful with the new Marantz digital recorders I have just ordered. Which I am providing links to below. I have also spotted some useful looking gaming headsets from Sennheiser which look just the job and the students might have fun using those and Audacity. 


The Marantz PMD 620 Stereo Recorder


Marantz PMD 620


According to one online retailer: The main features of the Marantz PMD 620 include (I suspect that nobody has invented a 2 terrabyte SD card yet but dream on):

  • Powerful and feature-laden Portable Audio Recorder that accepts up to 2 TB (my emphasis)SD Flash memory cards
  • Records WAV audio in 44.1/48KHz at 16 or 24 bit resolutions
  • Records direct to MP3 at three different quality levels
  • Includes 2 internal condenser mics, a 3.5mm (1/8 inch) external mic input, and a 3.5mm (1/8 inch) line input
  • First Marantz recorder to use SD flash memory with support for cards up to 2 TB
  • One-touch record engagement with red highlight illumination
  • OLED display for low power consumption
  • Powered by 2 AA batteries
  • Configurable screen with 2 font sizes
  • Do basic non-destructive copy and paste style editing directly on the device
  • Transfer audio to your PC via USB 2.0
  • "Skip back" feature lets transcribers review audio recorded from 1 to 60 seconds previously
  • Level and Peak LEDs
  • Display can be set to show time remaining, elapsed time, or other important numbers


Transom.org do a thorough review:


I have recently discovered this very useful site whilst trawling for reviews of the Marantz PMD 620.

This is the Transom Home page .

Marantz 620 in the hand


Here is an image from the Transom Marantz review.  As always there are pros and cons, nevertheless I have gone for some. This review does make some useful things clear about microphones which may apply to the PMD 660 mentioned in the introduction. This review is a very thorough one and you are urged to read it if you are in the market for a digital handheld recorder.


An excellent feature of this review is that there are downloadable tests with some external microphones. The Marantz according to this review has the lowest level of background hiss Transom have tested for in the small handheld recorder range.  


Getting One For Xmas?


Getting this Marantz for Xmas is a tempting prospect. The advantage of it being a recorder with a headphone output means that there is a playback facility as well. With 1 GB SD cards now being very cheap it would be easy to take a few loaded with music around with you in MP3 or even Wav format. This beats even the iPod! 


Tripod mounting

Something which might come in useful is the ability to mount it to a tripod which could be useful in certain circumstances as the Transom review points out :

The 620 ships with a cradle with two connectors on the back: a belt clip and a standard photo tripod socket that allows the recorder to be mounted in a stable position. It's plastic and flimsy-feeling, but effective, and allows access to all important controls.


Marantz PMD 620 on Tripod



Audacity


I see that it's time to upgrade my version of Audacity  the free audio editing open source software. This software is an excellent package to start editing with and will fit especially well to the educational environment where low budgets are the norm. Students can also get a hands on feel for editing which combined with a USB headset - which many gamers will have anyway - can get you on the road to making your own content. There are versions available for Linux and Mac as well. Audacity screenshot of envelope tool


Find Audacity here 



Headsets


The last time I looked at headsets was several months ago when I ordered myself the USB Beyer MMX1. Since then I have noticed some models from Sennheiser which look as though they are more flexible. They have the facility to be used as a USB and with their own built in soundcard can be used with any computer even those without a sound card. The other thing is that they have an adapter so can be used with line input soundcards. I haven't tested them yet but in an educational environment where one might be swapping rooms and have an institution full of machines with different specifications this could be a powerful advantage.  


Sennheiser pc155 USB Stereo Headset Mac User Review from 2004 giving it a 5* review. This  appears to still be available one outlet had it for £61-95.

Below is a Sennheiser P166 Headset. The USB connection can clearly be seen. This can be disconnected and the headset can be plugged into normal souncards. With upmarket soundcards there may be better quality sound. 

Sennheiser pc 166 Headset


Below you can see how neatly the cable is dealt with:


Sennheiser pc 166 close up of cable arrangement


Apparently these headphones can be found for £60 - £90 so look hard before you buy. Trusted reviews is positive at prices below £70 in terms of value for money. Techgage too was also generally positive recommending the use of a good soundcard for better quality. 


Behind the Neck Multimedia Headsets 


Some users may prefer to wear their phones / mic combination behind the neck rather thanover the head. In which case the Sennheiser pc 145 multimedia set is a possible choice. For Mac users there is a version specifically designed for Mac.


Sennheiser PC 145 Behind neck set


Rapid technological developments


It can quickly be seen that the market place for equipment to create user generated content is rapidly improving all the time. Thye euipment is also becoming easier to use and cheaper. This is helping to fuel the revolution which is turning the media world if not upside down then putting the media moguls on the back foot.


We certainly are living in the midst of a mass media revolution  in which the 'mass' part has changed from being relatively inactive consumers to active producers of content which can often challenge or very effectively complement the professional organisations. This is genuine competition for the media companies and they are being forced to adapt!


November 30, 2007

Facebook and Social Networking

Facebook and Social Networking

Introduction


At the beginning of this week when doing an introduction to the New Media Technologies Unit for OCR I asked a class of about 24 AS media students how many of them used social networking sites, almost all used one. It seems clear that this is very much a generational phenomena and one can expect these current users to be users in 10 or 15 years time. For them it is a normal means of communication whilst for older people including many parents, teachers and lecturers it isn't a normal means of communication. 

That social networking isn't seen as a normal means of communication and one that is growing in importance is problematic for many educational institutions. Many of their networks have a total block on the system. It is even difficult for students to research specific sites because as soon as they put a search term such as Facebook into the search engine then there is an automatic block set up.  Lecturers must now create resources to be viewed remotely from the institution.  For those of us working in the media and communications arenas this is making things particularly awkward and this is a case of a combination of technologies combined with cultural desires which are outstripping the abilities of older institutions to adapt quickly enough. Those teaching on A level media courses will have by now have noticed that the new specifications on several of the exam boards are increasingly geared towards the world of 'New' Media - although nowadays it isn't so new. This is shown by the fact that large and even giant media institutions are taking stakes in these emergent areas. Below I start to look at some of the issues which are arising as these "new" areas of media are becoming subsumed into conventional media channels albeit creating new and emerging models of audience and profit creating from those of 'old media'. Rest assured the main issue of profitability is not under any threat!

From an educational perspective it is now extremely important that colleges and schools work towards opening up their networks to social networking sites. With parents often being entirely ignorant of the dangers as well as the enormous potential of these sites lecturers and teachers need to start coming to terms with the implications of them. It is far better to learn about these things in a moderated and supported environment than to allow students to participate in ignorance. That is a recipe for danger and disaster for the more naive. This issue is covered briefly below. 


Media Institutions: Who owns it & what do they get out of it?


When dealing with media institutions whether in the world of 'old' or 'new' media one of the first things to get students to ask is "Who owns it?", "What do they get out of it". 

Rupert Murdoch  was as usual ahead of the game and incidently must be considered as a media entrepreneur still at the top of his game as he invested heavily - to much derision from competitors and media critics - in the social networking site MySpace. I don't think many will be laughing now, being a bright shade of green instead!

Google followed this lead about a year later with the acquisition of YouTube. This acquisition although worth $1.65 Billion was mainly done through a stock deal and not by cash! The owners of YouTube being rewarded with Google shares which have seen a  steady increment in value. google are still working on a way to 'monetise' of create YouTube as a profitable enterprise, however I'm sure they will crack it in time and in the meantime they have brought into a huge and growing audience.

The new Kid on the block is Facebook. Started by a Harvard graduate its initial audience was largely University students and younger lecturers however it is in the process of expanding exponentially. You will find architectural celebrity Zaha Hadid on Facebook for example. The success of Facebook has created interest from megacorporation Microsoft  who have bought into the company. This is another step in Microsoft's shift into a horizontally integrated company in a multimedia environment gradually turning from a software company into a mutli-media comany.  Apple are doing  a similar thing and this process will be covered elsewhere in due course. A BBC report from October 2007 notes Microsoft's move into the market:

Microsoft has paid $240m (£117m) for a 1.6% stake in Facebook that values the hugely popular social networking site at $15bn (£7.3bn).


BBC Video of Facebook founder.


Audiences & Social Networking




Facebook Screen

Facebook allows you to create a profile of "Friends". As the number of friends is available is virtually infinite this might mean that more precise definitions of 'Friends' is required. Friends and acquaintances network anybody?










Some key facts about Facebook from 2006 below. Writing now at the end of 2007 rest assured it has a considerably larger membership as well as having Microsoft as an important investor. 


  • Founded as an online social directory by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004

  • 7.5m people registered

  • Seventh most popular website in US

  • "Facebooking": checking someone's Facebook profile before meeting them

  • "Facebook official": really going out together

The website works around individual institutions. So if you don't have an e-mail account from the University of Oxford, you don't get into the Facebook for students at Oxford.(This BBC story posted in June 2006 gives us a sense of the recent history of the social networking site). 


Recent figures on Facebook usage  from The Times Online

Facebook is now the clear No 2 worldwide, with around 50 million active users, just below half of MySpace’s level. A year ago Facebook, which began life as a networking site for American students founded by Mark Zuckerberg, a college drop-out, had 12 million active users. The growth allowed it to raise $240 million (£117 million) from Microsoft, based on a company valuation of $15 billion.(My emphasis figures from the Times 13th December 2007)


As the Times article points out the audiences for Facebook have in the past been primarily amongst students however as the stories below (Aug & Sept 2007) indicate, Facebook appears to be moving into a new phase of expansion.

Kent Council Workers are banned from Facebook:

Workers at Kent County Council (KCC) have been banned from using the social networking website Facebook.

Certainly social networking sites have become popular at work. Use of the internet for non-working activities is on the increase. As a result institutional networks are become more controlling in terms of who is allowed access. Whilst we can criticise the NHS workers for wasting taxpayer money and not doing thier best for patients  this story  from  the BBC on Kent NHS highlights the popularity of these sites amongst adults as well as students and provides a clue about how the phenomenon of social networking is spreading. It isn't clear how far this is intergenerational from this story. 


Facebook and New Social Movement Theory


Social networks can be used as powerful cultural and socio-political tools. This story from the BBC points out how students organising via Facebook managed to change the policy of HSBC one of the World's largest banks and a player on a global scale:

Students putting pressure on bank


Instead of using leaflets and loud-hailers, this student protest is gathering support through Facebook, with the Stop The Great HSBC Graduate Rip-Off group so far acquiring almost 3,500 members - an increase of about 1,000 since the weekend. (Taken from story linked above August 2007).

Social networking and the ability to mobilise sentiment possibly at a global level in a viral form leaves the possibility of new highly fluid political movements which are extraordinarily dynamic. With climate change increasingly dominating the global political agenda it will be intersting to see whether and  how social networking sites are able to mobilise and utilise people's sentiments in entirely new ways with limited objectives being applied at any given moment. This means that new chapters will need to be written in the social theory of New Social Movement theory and Resource Mobilisation theory. 

The IDRC (International Development Research  Centre) has a useful but heavyweight summation of these theories here. The Wikipedia explanation is briefer but still helpful.


This Guardian Blog suggests that there is a dark side to the political activity on Facebook with the British National Party becoming involved in a big way. It certainly attracted some BNP supporters in the comments box too!


Here's an extract from the Open Democracy site. It seems to think that there needs to be a 'civic hacking' application. Perhaps the social networking sites are this application... 

So, a sensible strategy would start on this principle. But the people it should be connecting are not citizens and parliamentarians, or voters and civil servants. It should be connecting ordinary people with other ordinary people. And there should be applications that help these people to help each other. A programme supporting civic hacking can do this.

This should become the ethic of e-democracy: mutual-aid and self-help among citizens, helping to overcome civic problems. It would encourage a market in application development. It would encourage self-reliance, or community-reliance, rather than reliance on the state.

Facebook and Cultural Studies Research


The phenomenon of Facebook and social networking in general is becoming so widespread in advanced industrial countries that it is beginning to become an importan area of cultural and social research. The comments below from this Nottingham 3rd Year student doing Geography (presumably Human Geography are indicative in this regard:

Facebook has become a phenomenon at Nottingham University, so much so that I've decided to do my geography dissertation on it. Am in the process of just starting, and was worried that Facebook would just be a fad and my dissertation would be left high and dry, but it looks set to stay. Let's just hope I get to talk to the right people concerning it.
Sally, Nottingham
( Comment left on this BBC story)


How Dangerous are Social Networking Sites?


One of the key issues surrounding social networking sites is the rank naivety by allowing oneself to be recorded in a 'candid' situation. This BBC story makes it clear that there are dangers that potential employers can search for applicants on the web. This can lead to severe set backs for some people and raises the issue of changing models of social surveillance:


Here is a link to the Information Comissioner's Office (ICO) dealing with protection for young people. The ICO  is an important regulatory institution which has recently developed to deal with data protection and the rapidly increasing social and cultural moves into Networked Society. In the Webliography there is also a link to the ICO's data safety 'toolkit' which is a PDF that social networkers should consult carefully.
This BBC story below about Oxford University using Facebook as a surveillance tool to identify unruly behaviour amongst its students also shows that these new media tools are 'double-edged'. If you are being posted up or doing it yourself beware!!!

Above the dangers of silly or even criminal behaviour being recorded and becoming used as evidence against you are highlighted. There are of course other dangers within  the social networking environment.  Moral panics aside the possibility of these sites being used to organise bullying / harrassment are possible and have been used to these ends as the screen below displays.

Facebook bullying


Facebook used to bully Librarian  

I have dicovered a useful blog which discusses the issue. In the comments box the subject of the bullying who was actually a postgraduate student provides more information about the experience. What is particularly worrying is that Facebook did NOT actually respond immediately and remove these students:

Facebook DID NOT close the group. They told the University of Kent that they did not accept complaints from institutions, only from individual members.

Of great concern as well is the continuation of the report which cites University of Warwick Students doing the same sort of thing. something that all civically conscious users of any social networking site should be doing is haranguing the site to ban those who act irresponsibly. Facebook has other criticisms to face which will be dealt with in a later posting. But it is very difficult to unsubsribe from and potential users of the site should be aware of this.

So as we can see real society is of course represented with its good and bad faces. It is up to users to self police where possible but this should be backed up by repsonsible policies from the site owners and ultimately there should be a good independent regulatory body. 

As with any other form of social networking individuals of all ages are exposed to a variety of social risks which need to be managed. Just as people need to learn to get 'streetwise' so they need to learn to get 'cyberwise'. There are always opportunities for the opportunistic and unscrupulous within any social and cultural environment. Taking sensible precautions should obviate these. 

Conclusion


This posting has begun to cover some of the issues associated with social networking sites with a particular focus upon Facebook. Topics have coverd social cultural and political research and usage of these sites, the 'dark side' of the sites and some initial comments on the audiences for these sites and the links to larger media instituions which are developing as the importance of these sites increases at an almost exponential rate. Some introducroy comments are also included about the need for educational institutions below university level to take a more proactive stance towards this new forms for to block them arguably leaves students at greater risk than by teaching about these environments. Furthermore responsible institutional useage in monitoring student activity on them can reduce the potential for the dark side to emerge.  


Webliography 

Protests force Facebook to change

Information Commissioner's Office

Information commissioner's Office (ICO) Data Safety Toolkit (PDF)

Thinkuknow Teachers and Trainers Area

BBC story on student protests against HSBC


See Can We Escape from Facebook on this blog for analysis and links to the people behind Facebook.


November 19, 2007

Video–Games: Genres and Markets

Video-Gaming Genres

Introduction

For all the hi-tech mumbo jumbo and huge investments going on in the video gaming world we are still stuck with the same old populist genres which aim to make a bit of money out of people by 'shocking them'. The story below is a typical case of wrapping the same old junk in new clothes. I'm not a fan of horror I'm afraid, who needs it in a World full of wars, genocide, malnutrition and disease as well as the usual poverty. It's exploitative rubbish but astonishingly it gains a big enough audience to keep going.  Why can't the puerile watchers of this stuff do something useful with their time? (Especially postmodernists!)



Manhunt 2

More puerile populism? An image from Manhunt 2.



Manhunt 2 was developed for the Wii and PS2 boxes. The game wasn't awarded a certificate by the BBFC (British Board of Film Censors) whose director David Cooke said:

There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game.

A spokesperson for Rockstar the production company of Manhunt 2 as well as other controversial videogames commented: 

The adult consumers who would play this game fully understand that it is fictional interactive entertainment and nothing more.(My emphasis).

Of course for the word  "adult" read "total moron". Why is it that the most puerile or unpleasant forms of "entertainment" are described as "ADULT"? They also seem to be defined by a threatened masculinity.

The video game Manhunt 2 was rejected for its "unrelenting focus on stalking and brutal slaying", the British Board of Film Classification said.

Below we see the result of some "ADULT" activities 

The original Manhunt game caused huge controversy and was blamed for the murder of Stefan Pakeerah.

The boy was stabbed and beaten to death in Leicester in February 2004.

His parents believe the killer, Warren LeBlanc, 17, was inspired by the game.

Webliography 

Censors ban 'brutal' video game

Banned video game is 'fine art'


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