Browsing articles from "July, 2011"

Tablet journalism and ‘iPad killers’

Jul 29, 2011   //   by admin   //   Media blog  //  No Comments

By Jack Kapica

What does it mean when journalists talk about tablets, such as Motorola’s Xoom and HP’s TouchPad, and use the words “iPad killer”?

I’ve been playing with a bunch of tablets recently — Apple’s iPad, the BlackBerry PlayBook, Samsung’s Galaxy and, more recently, Motorola’s Xoom, the HP TouchPad, and a few I’ve forgotten — and I’ve been struck by a couple of things.

First, tech journalists keep looking at all non-iPad tablets in terms of whether they are “iPad killers.” My annoyance with the “killer” metaphor has been brewing for some time, but now it just has to come out.

The way the word “killer” is generally used in tech writing is to denote a device or software that is expected to be disruptive enough to make a huge difference in the market. But it has gotten out of hand.

In the absurdly competitive tech industry, in which a company can be “killed” in a market because it fails to release its Next Big Thing on a punishing six-month upgrade schedule, the word “killer” seems appropriate. And so it has come to be a metaphor of choice, albeit one that has become so tiresomely overused that it is now meaningless as a metaphor for competitiveness. (If you think it’s overused, recall that the word is being used these days to refer both to iPad competitors as well as Anders Behring Breivik.)

The metaphor has one insidious effect: It has turned tech journalism into a binary competitive event. We expect there to be one winner and the rest losers. Tablets specifically are either iPad killers or they are not, by which we mean that unless they knock the iPad from its commanding market position, they are dead, dead, dead. Unless a tablet can dislodge Apple’s iPad commanding market lead, it is an also-ran, a failed product, and leading tech publications rush to publish lists of 10 reasons why a product, launched just a handful of weeks earlier, “failed” or 10 things an as-yet-unreleased product needs to have to be … well, an iPad killer.

You don’t have to hunt far for examples. Pump “iPad killer” into Bing and take cover. In less than a second of hunting, I found iPad Killer: When You Just Want Apple to Go AwayHP’s iPad-killer slate PC makes an appearanceFive iPad killers, and countless thousands more.

Yes, tech writers find this exhausting metaphor useful, but in such a sloppy, shorthand way that it must be having some sort of distorting effect on the market, leading us to believe that marketing a tech product is a zero-sum game, a kind of Incan death sport in which the losers also lose their lives.Professional wrestling has known this for years: The way many tech writers use the concept of “killer” is astonishingly similar to the rabid ranting of wrestling fans, who want to crown a single winner and the losers to be “killed.”

This mania exists despite all logical evidence to the contrary. Pick any industry and you’ll see that there are many competitors that somehow manage to stay alive — say, among automobiles, soaps, cosmetics, fashion and sports. Hell, even in the hottest and most competitive industry I can imagine — celebrity worship —no one is looking for a “Paris Hilton killer.”

Yes, I know “killer” is just a handy metaphor and not intended to be taken literally. And perhaps I’m making an earthquake out of a verbal tic. But the concept of a “killer” creates unpleasant derivative phenomena, such as those legions of fanboys, most notably those Apple freaks who take no prisoners in conversations. And it creates artificial standards of quality that every product “must have” to survive.

As an aside, I note that Apple fanboys have become quieter recently; I suspect that they were gob-smacked when Apple started using Intel chips a few years ago, rendering the fanboys incapable of sneering ritually at “WinTel” machines. More likely it’s because iTunes, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad have replaced computers as the apple of Apple’s eye — have they in effect “killed” Apple’s computer business? Is the iPad a MacBook killer?

All of this distorts the market and its expectations, which brings me to the second thing that struck me when playing with all those tablets.

At this moment, all of the tablets I’ve been looking at are, well, pretty much alike, or at least as much alike as four different operating systems can allow (Apple’s iOS, BlackBerry’s QNX, HP’s webOS and Google’s Android). But now tech writers have revved up their confusion machines by referring to all the Android operating systems using Google’s in-house code names for them. It was hard enough to remember which was which by version number, but even harder when writers kept referring to them as Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, and, soon to come, Ice Cream Sandwich. (They go in alphabetical order. If I want to buy one, should I hold out for Zabaglione?)

In an example of what I’m talking about, eWeek’s columnist Don Reisinger published his reasons why Motorola’s Xoom suffered market disappointment a scant month after it was released. In his column, called Motorola Xoom: 10 Reasons It’s Failing and How It Can Be Rescued, Mr. Reisinger reported that an industry analyst estimated the Xoom to have sold about 100,000 units in its first month, which, when Mr. Reisinger compared these sales to the sales of Apple’s iPad, were indeed poor.

I read Mr. Reisinger’s columns a lot —I subscribe to the eWeek newsletter — and I like and trust his writing. But I fear he has inhaled too much of the toxic atmosphere of tablet journalism.Among a bunch of recommendations to fix the Xoom, he suggests that Motorola “needs to stop competing against Apple” because “to even consider Apple’s tablet a real competitor is a bit of hubris for Motorola.” This comes a few paragraphs after he himself compares first-month sales of the Xoom and the iPad.

How can he say this when just about every tablet maker would give his eye teeth to wrest market share from Apple? And how can he say this when the tech press overwhelmingly talks in terms of the “iPad killer”? I searched eWeek.com’s own website for the phrase “iPad Killer” and found 242 instances of that phrase; Mr. Reisinger himself used it 17 times.

Frankly, I like the Xoom, even though I did not test its battery life and did not think to put it through stress tests to count crashes. I’m not too crazy about some of the flourishes that Motorola added to the interface — some were confusing — but if I had forked over the $500 that the Xoom sold for in Canada, I would, as a market-watcher, fully expect to get fixes for its operating system sooner or later, or I’d be upset. I’ve had worse experiences with new cars, and they cost tens of thousands of dollars more. Hell, I have a TomTom GPS unit that I got last October and I’m still waiting for a software update that will allow me to download a voice that speaks both English and metric for use in English Canada.

A similar story involves the release, in early July, of Hewlett-Packard’s TouchPad, which is running webOS, HP’s entry into the iPad-killer business. Its most interesting feature is its history — it’s a derivative of a mobile operating system developed by Palm in 2009. HP bought Palm a year later with the intent of using webOS to anchor smartphones, printers and netbook computers to capitalize on the industry craze for cloud computing. But HP never did release a computer running webOS because it had decided to make a tablet to compete with Apple instead.

As with Android before it, the industry speculated endlessly on whether webOS would be an “iOS killer,” but it was not to be. Sales have been underwhelming, and the company sent a morale-boosting memo to its troops, which was leaked to the media after HP’s TouchPad was found to be wanting in comparison to the iPad. The memo, which was obtained by PreCentral.net, tried to comfort HP’s wounded TouchPad team by reminding them that after all, even the Mac OS X operating system itself was released to mixed reviews.

Mr. Reisinger’s comment about Motorola’s hubris in comparing the Xoom to Apple’s tablet should have been amended to include everybody else. If it’s hubris for Motorola, shouldn’t it also be hubris for every other tablet maker, including HP, BlackBerry and Samsung?

Apple’s iPad Might be the elephant in the room, but the room is pretty big. And we don’t have to kill all the other elephants that want to join the party.

This guest post was written by Jack Kapica and was originally published on Digital Journal.

Pixazza rebrands as Luminate, looking to make images more interactive

Jul 27, 2011   //   by admin   //   Blog, Media blog  //  No Comments

By Chris Hogg

The company formerly known as Pixazza has rebranded as Luminate and they’re launching a new platform today that changes what you think of when you hear the word “images.” Instead of being static photos, Luminate turns images into mini applications.

“Images are the center of the Web,” Bob Lisbonne, the company’s CEO, told USA Today. “But until now, they didn’t do anything. “We want to put little apps at the bottom of the image, so that there’s interactivity, there’s information, there’s functionality…behind every image you see online.”

So how does it work? When a user mouses over an image, they’re given a number of ways they can interact with it, such as shopping, sharing, commenting and navigating. For example, using the image above, when a user clicks on the Luminate icon in the corner of an image he or she is given options to see more details about the dress in the image, including links on where to buy it:

You can also share directly with friends via social networks; find out stats about athletes within photos; there are links to related info online; users can tag images based on geography and more.

The ability to layer product data onto images is not new, but Luminate promises a streamlined, simple process with a very reach feature set.

The company has racked up 4,000 publishers who now use the technology, including US Weekly, Hearst Digital Media and Access Hollywood. In addition, Luminate delivers ads seen by more than 150 million unique users per month — triple the numbers the company saw at the start of 2011. The new platform is expected to deliver even larger audiences across categories such as commerce, information, social, organization, advertising, navigation, public service and presentation.

Luminate has raised nearly $20 million in funding and competitors include Stipple, Image Space Media, GumGum and others.

[Cross-posted from chrishogg.me]

How willful blindness infects corporate culture across the world

Jul 27, 2011   //   by admin   //   Media blog  //  No Comments

by David Silverberg

An expert on willful blindness explains why companies, such as News Corp, have a difficult time rooting out poisonous practises harming their brand. Margaret Heffernan also suggests a few tips for cleaning house.

When the Murdochs appeared at a British hearing to face the phone-hacking questions in person, James Murdoch was asked if he heard about the term “willful blindness.” He stumbled over his words and asked if there was a specific question about the phrase. He wasn’t sure how to answer. Here was a quick way to summarize the News Corp scandal and the Murdochs were having none of it. Were they being willfully blind to, well, their own company-wide blindness?

I spoke spoke to Margaret Heffernan to learn more about this epidemic in corporate culture. The author of Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, Heffernan often comments on the many disgraces befalling businesses across the world.In large organization like News Corp, the problem goes beyond personal failures.

It’s structural, she points out. “It is impossible as chief executive to know everything going on, but it’s part of his responsibility to ensure what is important comes to top.”

She believes News Corp was surrounded by yesmen. Very few staffers could have felt that they had power or the prerogative to ask some hard questions, Heffernan adds. “Everyone was dependent on the Murdochs. That doesn’t create an environment where someone will bring you bad news.”

Willful blindness is not just severely affecting a transparent workplace in the West. Heffernan says companies across the world have always turned away when they saw under-handed activities, whether they’re Chinese factories making dangerous products or genocides spreading across Africa. “I’d love to point out a place immune from willful blindness but I can’t.”

How does this blindness spread so widely? Heffernan refers to a psychological theory called diffusion of responsibility – lots of people see what someone else sees and figures “Surely someone will do something, but I don’t have to.” Also called the bystander effect, we see it often during public crimes, but also in any industry you can name. Who wants to out themselves as the whisteblower, right?

Says Heffernan, “Speaking up takes courage and with the rise of social media it’s easier to be a whistelblower, look at WikiLleaks. But companies can save themselves grief by approaching their employees and listening to their problem.”

Combatting willful blindness is surprisingly simple, she points out. She likes what Anita Roddick did as CEO of The Body Shop: when staff were first hired, she gave them a red envelope and told them to write anything in the envelope that made them uncomfortable. It could be anonymous if they preferred. Roddick assured staff she would read everything sent to her in red envelopes…and she did.

“This is more than a symbolic gesture,” Heffernan notes, “Roddick implemented an easy way to identify the problematic processes and individuals within her company.”
News Corp could steer itself in the right direction by opening their eyes and ears to their internal complaints. It won’t be pretty. But it’ll be worth it. “These companies need to solve problems before they get out of hand,” she says.

“If companies can create processes and an environment to allow people to speak up, they are limiting the risk of things going wrong but they are also surfacing problems they wouldn’t see any other way,” she says.

Heffernan is next working on a book about the U.S. banking collapse, due out in 2013. She’ll investigate why competition doesn’t pan out like it’s supposed to in this sector. And if she continues to write books on the endemic problem of willful blindness, she won’t be running out of material anytime soon.

This article was originally published on Digital Journal [Link]

reddit to introduce branded communities, redditors urged to offer feedback to companies

Jul 25, 2011   //   by admin   //   Media blog  //  No Comments

by David Silverberg

The popular online community reddit will soon launch various “branded communities” in order for companies to interact with customers and learn how to improve their products, according to an interview with reddit’s general manager.

“reddit has a very opinionated and technologically savvy community who believe in fixing problems when they see them,” says Erik Martin. He says these branded reddit sites may be private or public, depending what the brand requests. Working with Sequentia Environics on this initiative, Martin says the project will launch “sometime later in 2011″ but wasn’t able to give a specific date.

Martin envisions the sites as ideal venues for brands to engage with customers who are unafraid to share their opinions. Also, reddit members flock to the site continuously – one-third of redditors visit the site 200 times a month, Martin says. It attracts 1.2 billion pageviews a month.

What brands will be involved in this project? Martin doesn’t list specific companies but says “interest has been high”. He said sectors ideal for these communities include financial and travel services, consumer electronics and media.

“This will truly allow people to talk to brands directly, instead of conversations on Facebook and Twitter,” Martin notes. He says when a brand’s community manager reads a tweet about their product, then what? Replying to people is all well and good, but he views those efforts as “marketing disguised as conversation.” Martin thinks curating conversations on reddit will harness the community’s passion and dedication.

What about potential backlash if the reddit community don’t like seeing companies touching down in their online hub? “Redditors want to share their opinions so we’re making it easy for them to do that,” Martin says. “But we never know, branded communities could raise some hackles on reddit.”

Jen Evans, founder and Chief Strategist of Sequentia Environics, explained why her firm is working with reddit: “We are excited to partner with reddit to give their members opportunities to influence the leading companies in every industry, and give these companies a direct dialogue with the reddit community.”

(Photo courtesy Erik Martin)

Journalists listed as ideal targets by Oslo gunman

Jul 25, 2011   //   by admin   //   Media blog  //  1 Comment

Anders Behring BreivikBy KJ Mullins (Guest Contributor/Digital Journalist)

Journalists were one of the targets detailed in the manifesto by Anders Behring Breivik, Norway’s alleged gunman of the Friday murders in Oslo and Utoya Island.

Just hours before the worst mass murder in Norway’s history, Anders Behring Breivik released a video on YouTube entitled “2083: A European Declaration of Independence.” Breivik credited the name Andrew Berwick in the release.

In his manifesto under “Category A, B and C traitors,” Breivik stated that annual gatherings of journalists in Norway were the most attractive targets for large-scale attacks.

A conference held by Stiftelsen for en Kritisk og Undersøkende Presse (SKUP) that promotes investigative journalism was identified as a perfect target.According to the manifesto, journalists are to be viewed as “multiculturalist political warriors and overwhelmingly left wing political activists.”

It now appears that Norway’s Prime Minister’s offices were not the prime target in the Oslo bombing Friday. In fact, the building that was hit houses the largest newspaper of Norway, VG.

SKUP published a portion of the manifesto on its website that detailed the way to attack a group of journalists using a primary and then secondary attack. The first attack would use one to three detonations followed by an assault using flame thrower, assault rifles or grenades to execute any survivors.

“This just emphasizes the madness of the tragedy that took place on Saturday,” said SKUP chairman Heidi Molstad Andresen. “Pointing out a political organization or a journalist conference as targets, is a direct attack in the core of democracy and freedom of expression. SKUPs thoughts goes to all the victims of the terrorist bomb in Oslo and the massacre at Utøya and their relatives.”

This article was originally published on Digital Journal [Link]

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