Mobile: We are all really in the attention game now!

I was away last week in Santiago de Compostela attending the Circom Regional conference where I heard a lot about the different innovations European public service broadcasters are making in terms of their mobile output.

Listening to the presentations got me thinking about something that hit me a while ago and about which I have been meaning to write – ATTENTION.

As we move more and more to mobile, content makers are in an even fiercer battle for the users’ attention. It’s no longer just about competing against other content websites, ecommerce, email, social media etc. We are all really in the attention game now!

Whether it’s making calls, texting, watching videos, emailing, gaming, reading books, banking, listening to music, browsing the web, IM’ing, social networking etc there is so much to occupy a smartphone user’s attention before they even contemplate checking a media org’s app or mobile website.

Commenting on research released earlier this year the Harvard Business review pointed out that people spend only 47 minutes a month ‘seeking news or information’ only 4% of the overall time they spend on their smartphones. For a media org that’s a scary prospect and surely means you have to find ways to aggressively play the attention game. It’s time to work hard to get the user’s time and attention.

Five ways to go about it:

  1. Go social: incorporate social networking elements strongly into your  offering. Give people ways to interact with each other. Encourage it, stimulate it, devote resources to it.
  2. Gamify: Learn from the games industry and introduce the concepts of competition and rewards.
  3. Personalise: Find ways to introduce as much personalisation as possible – location, interests, peer recommendation/referrals.
  4. Be useful: Place an emphasis on content that people really need – practical stuff that’s required every day. Prioritise this and build a core around it.
  5. Entertain: Use your mobile platform to grab some of that time where people just want fluff, eye candy, humour and distraction.

We are not going to boost the amount of time the smartphone user spends on finding news or news discovery so we must push hard into the other areas that interest them more. It’s essential you are very clear about what you’re building when you are working on mobile platforms. Keep the audience in mind at all times and think of ways to disrupt their current behaviour and gain their attention – otherwise you’re just building follies!

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Interview with New York Times lead tech writer Nick Bilton

Nick Bilton being interviewed by Blathnaid Healy at the Dublin Web Summit

I was reporting for RTE’s digital platforms at the recent Dublin Web Summit. One of the interviews I did was with lead technology writer for the New York Times Nick Bilton. A shorter version of the interview was put out across RTE News Now, RTE.ie etc, but I transcribed the full interview here.

Nick talks about a range of topics including why video games are good for you, what makes tablets so desirable and why big media organisations need to get their heads our of their asses.

Blathnaid Healy: Your book is called We Live in the Future and Here’s How it Works, so tell us how does it work?

Nick Bilton: It works in a lot of different ways but one of the things that I talk about in a very positive light is what the future looks like with technology and devices and how social media is going to create this world of hyper personalisation and all these devices we have are also going to do that. So you can imagine a world where you can watch television with your friends where they’re a thousand miles away and actually comment with them. Or an experience where news starts to follow you around so you have a tablet and an iPhone and a computer and the news is aware of what you’ve read on devices and then can actually distribute the news to you differently. So it’s really this look of having personalised experiences that are really catered to you.

BH: We’ve had a lot of conversation recently about tablets and the mobile market. Where, first of all, are tablets going? Is there a lot of hype around it? Is that hype deserved? And, second of all, we’re all going mobile, where’s it going next?

NB: Well I think one of the things that happened with the computer was that it didn’t really work for a lot of people. Computers were not really designed for most consumers. Even though there were all these analogies between a mouse, a trash can and a desktop it just doesn’t make sense, it’s not intuitive. So when Apple brought out apps and the iPad, and so on, it gave them an opportunity to reach an audience that was scared of computers and is not scared of these devices because there is nothing they can really mess up with them. So that’s why you’ve seen this huge rise in people that have purchased these things and are using them the way they are. They’re replacing their newspapers, they’re replacing their televisions, they’re replacing their radio players. A big part of it is the simplicity. I think when you look at the numbers and the patterns and the research these things are not going anywhere. They are here to stay. And another aspect of that with the mobile side of things, is that companies like Facebook and Twitter they don’t consider themselves services or companies they’ve said in the next couple of years they’ll consider themselves mobile companies.

BH: The web has been blamed recently for people’s lack of concentration, but you disagree with this, you think it’s something that we’ve had for a long time. Can you explain your theory on this?

NB: Well there’s a couple of things. One is when we say kids who play video games – it’s bad for them. I think it comes down to the amount of time people spend on these kind of things. If I literally read just print books every day and didn’t go outside, that would be bad for me too. But if I read books for a couple of hours a day that’s fine and if I play video games for a couple of hours a day that’s fine too. A lot of the neuroscience research show video games are very very good for kids and for their brains and for adults too. A perfect example is around research that was done for the game Tetris, where you drop these cubes and you have to line them up. Researchers in the US actually followed people who had played Tetris before and after. And after playing for a couple of months their brains re-wired themselves in completely different ways where they had better hand-eye coordination, better long-term and short-term memory, a whole list of things. Another really fascinating research project that happened at NYU was the students who were studying to be surgeons, they found that half the students were 60% faster and 40% more accurate than the other half and they couldn’t figure out why. After months and months of research they finally realised that the group that was better had played video games as kids. So video games are actually very very good for us and not bad for us and you can see that all this research that applies to every different type of technology that we use.

BH: So if you’re a kid and you want to be a doctor, what type of video game should you be playing?

NB: Believe it or not, two different types. One is Wii video games like golf and things like that, but the other is first person shooter video games because the reflexes and the way you learn to use your hands and your fingers wire your brain in a way that other experiences can’t. So we assume that they are bad for us, but in reality they’re not. The other thing that I found too with my research, was that we have these fears of technology and we’ve had them forever. We were scared of the telephone, we said people would never leave their homes again. We were scared of trains, we said that people who travelled on trains at over 20 miles an hour, that their brains could explode and we’re now going through this with technology and the internet and I think it’s about finding a balance.

BH: You’ve spoken a lot about the area of newspapers and newspapers being more of an experience, people paying for the experience and not for the paper itself. What do you think it’s going to take for people to pay for that experience online. What type of an experience do news organisations need to give people?

NB: I can go online and find news. Lets just say that Yahoo’s stock crashes tomorrow, I could go read that at the New York Times or I could also read that on a blog or I could read that anywhere. I don’t have to pay for it on the blog. So I can’t say to someone, ‘hey you have to pay for this content’ because it’s available anywhere. I have to create an experience that is better than that. Whether it’s creating a community where I talk to the readers or creating interactivity. Whatever it is I have to be able to say to them ‘this is something worth paying for’.  When you look at the analogy with paper, we pay for that because we know it arrives on our doorstep at six in the morning, we know that the photos are going to look beautiful and that the headlines and the typography, all these things that are going to be there ,that are worth paying for and it’s not just the words on the page it’s the entire package and I don’t think we’ve solved that problem online yet.

BH: What do you think a news organisation can do, to give them that similar experience. Something that you can feel it, you can see it. What do you think they can offer?

NB: The experience of paper that we paid for was the tangible aspect of it. That feeling of sitting there in the morning with your cup of coffee and your sandwich and having this newspaper and developing an experience that flowed around that. Online it is very different because we’re jumping into that experience on different devices throughout the day. But one of the things that I believe you can do is create community. So I know as a technology reporter for the New York Times, my stories have to be vetted and have to go through an editor and they sometimes take a little while to end up on the website. A blog that I compete with like Techcrunch or Mashable or something like that, they can literally post a press release and a headline and that’s breaking news. So what I try to do is create a community with my readers. I respond to them on Twitter, I go on to Facebook and discuss things with them and I also go on to the website nytimes.com and have a conversation. And so it drives people back because we have this kind of rapport with them where we engage with this type of experience together and that’s something that maybe someone will pay for. Creating interactivity and graphics and all these other things. Creating things that your competitors can’t do is creating an experience that people will be interested in.

BH: Do you think the New York Times sees itself now as a media organisation or a newspaper?

NB: It depends who you ask. I don’t tell people, necessarily, that i work for a newspaper. I tell people I work for the New York Times. I write for a blog, I do videos for the Times, I do stories for the paper that end up online. It’s definitely moving to being a fully multimedia organisation. You have multimedia graphics, you have a video department, you have a radio department that creates podcasts, you have writers, you have all these different things, interactive slide shows. So I don’t necessarily think it’s a newspaper anymore. I think it’s a full-fledged news organisation.

BH: It (New York Times) recently announced good results in terms of its digital subscriptions, following on from this metred paywall that it has. Is that a model that can be rolled out to other news organisations?

NB: I don’t know. I think the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and places like that are in a different league but at the same time there are other pathways for news organisations. I think the question other news organisations need to ask themselves is, if I were to start my company today, would I have a printing press? Would I deliver a newspaper every morning? Would I put my video out on broadcast television and have to pay the fees that go along with that? And when you look at blogs that set up they start with a couple of people sitting in their bedroom reporting stories or blogging or whatever it is that they’re doing. So that’s what these big news organisations have to compete with. And I think it’s about finding the balance between how much you should be paying for the content you’re creating and how much you create that is a much less investive experience than you’ve had to in the past. I mean if you think about the New York Times, for example, there’s printing presses there’s delivery trucks there’s literally millions and millions of dollars that go into creating this piece of paper that goes out into the world every day.

BH: Massive legacy costs make it difficult to compete with a start-up companies. Looking to the future for big media organisations, do you have much hope for them?

NB: No, I have a hope for them, but I think they kind of have to get their head out of their ass. Look at some of these organisations that refuse to put their content online still. Look at Simon and Schuster, for example, which is a book publishing company. They do this thing call windowing. When they get a big author that they know people are willing to … you know they really want the book, they will actually hold the book in digital form for three to four months because they want people to go to the store and buy the print copy. It’s ridiculous. It’s like telling somebody ‘here buy this digital camera but we won’t let you see the photos for three months later’. It doesn’t make any sense. I think that these organisations, rather than trying to push consumers in the opposite direction, have to embrace what the consumers want and figure out a way to work with them because they can’t control what they are going to do, they’re going to do it anyway.

What I’ve been up to lately … #ge11

This is a long overdue post but better late than never.

I was the project manager for RTÉ’s web coverage during the recent Irish general election.

We covered the election on RTE.ie, mobile, News Now, Aertel, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms.

It was a hugely challenging couple of months pulling things together, but it was also an extremely exciting project to work on. We covered the election using stories, features, blogs, live blogs, live streams, videos, audios, galleries, graphics, tweets, status updates, wordles, audioboos etc.

We tried out some new things out – one of these was setting up a temporary social media desk staffed by some great people including Adam Maguire, Dave Molloy, Fearghal O’Connor and Lisa O’Carroll. From this desk we ran the RTE_Elections Twitter feed, resurrected from its humble beginnings during the local and European elections in 2009. We dipped our toe into Facebook with a dedicated elections page, while several election videos also found a home on YouTube.

One of the most challenging aspects of our coverage, but also, for me, one of the most rewarding was setting up 43 new Twitter accounts – one for each constituency. Journalists going to count centres were given Twitter training and headed out – some using Twitter apps, others Twitter.com and for those in 3g-deprived areas …  SMS. We had all 43 up and tweeting during the count – providing constituency-level news feeds that not only served Twitter but also each individual constituency page on the website.

In the lead up to the election our reporters and correspondents blogged their way through the campaign trail and we live blogged each day from base.

This is just a taste of how we covered the election online.

Demand for content was huge over the count weekend. RTÉ’s digital platforms attracted almost 23m views over the three days. On the website alone, there were almost 19m page views from 1.1m browsers (devices) – double the performance delivered during the 2007 General Election.

It was great to work with a really committed team to deliver such comprehensive digital election coverage … but hopefully we’re a good five years away from the next one.

-Blathnaid

Read All About It – some news, links about mobile

First off, very interesting research yesterday from Pew, which found that 59% of American adults go online wirelessly (using a laptop or mobile/cellphone), which is up 8% from 2009.

Pew gives a breakdown of ‘non-voice’ cellphone application usage. Interestingly, the percentage of cellphone users accessing the internet on their devices has increased from 25% to 38%. However, in the 18-29 age group that internet access figure jumps to 65%.

Plus more than half of all cellphone internet users access the internet every day from their devices, according to the research.

Read the full report also eweek has some good coverage, which focuses on the ethnic breakdown of cellphone usage.

Next up,  Apple’s advertising platform iAd has debuted and the results, according to this article, are initially looking good. The article by thenextweb.com says click-through rates are five times higher.

Turning to video, YouTube said yesterday that it is serving up 100m videos a day on its mobile website, which it re-launched at m.youtube.com, according to Janko Roettgers at newteevee.com.

Finally, in this blog post, Adrian Hon says the iPhone 4 may be the ‘last major advance in mobile phones we’ll ever see’, which is a fairly bold statement. After reading quite a lot of coverage about its faults, it’s an interesting big picture perspective.

Seems to me the mobile space is getting more and more interesting.

If I were running a news organisation, I’d be spending on my mobile website and apps,

B

Media 2020 Conference – Twitter Stream Highlights

I wasn’t at the Media 2020 conference in Croke Park, Dublin, today.  But using the Twitter hashtag #Med2020 I could follow many of the main points, which were highlighted by tweeting conference attendees as they were made by the speakers.

Here is the summary of points I have picked out from the stream, which I think are relevant for journalists and content producers.

I’ve broken it down by speaker (not all speakers are included) and used one tweeter per speaker to avoid confusion (each point is an individual tweet from the stream). Thanks to all the tweeters for keeping everyone updated!

First off, some overview points that seem to be coming back a lot from the #Med2020 twitter stream:

1) Experiment, cheaply, quickly, if you fail do it fast and learn from it
2) Mobile is going to be massive
3) Revenue models are not clear yet

By speaker:

Maeve Donovan, Former Managing Director, The Irish Times
Tweeter: Niamh Smith (@niamhsmith)

-Can newspapers make the necessary changes? Maeve believes they can based on her 30 yrs experience in the industry

-Roles of newspapers to make the most of the immense opportunities offered by emerging technologies

-Digital revolution has much broader implications than its effect on newspapers or tv

-Hardest words to say are ‘I don’t know’ – and she doesn’t know for sure the future of newspapers

Jonathon Moore, Guardian News & Media
Tweeter: Hugh Linehan (@hlinehan)

-Guardian Eyewitness iPad app: very simple app publishing one photo a day. Video: Jobs sings its praises

-You live or die by user recommendations on the app store

-Big traffic spike on Guardian app at 10.30pm. Technology changing how and when people consume content

-Moore: We expected migration to our app would cause fall-off in use of web browser. Hasn’t been the case

Mark Little, Storyful
Tweeter: Gareth O’Connor (@garethoconnor)

-#Med202 hears from @marklittlenews that basic reporting skills still needed by curators and super-users in new age

-New business opportunities for storytelling @marklittlenews tells #med2020

-@marklittlenews tells #med2020 that 2010 marks turning point in journalism

Ronan Higgins, Local, mobile social software start-up
Tweeter: Niamh Smith (@niamhsmith)

-Apps store – a new walled garden. iTunes-simplicity, quality, speed-applied this ethos to iPhone

Matt Locke – C4 Commissioning Editor, New Media & Education
Tweeter: Hugh Linehan (@hlinehan)

-Facebook picks up tiny snippets of attention and rolls them up into something gargantuan

-Very intelligent stuff – but a bit depressing that the experimental groundbreaker cited is Embarrassing Bodies. Blecchh

-Bingeing on cult content – four or five episodes at a time (I think I recognise myself in this presentation)

-Cult content. The Wire first TV series passed around like a 1970s rock album from friend to friend. User content around Lost

-Events-driven initiatives like ITV’s election debate worm – broadcasters comfortable with that

-What broadcast does well is events. So we’re seeing the eventisation of TV, from talent shows to Lambing Live (!)

-Locke: broadcasters used to own the audience. But with new technology, old platforms have to learn what it is they really do well

Múirne Laffan – Executive Director, RTÉ Publishing
Tweeter: Eoin Purcell (@eoinpurcell)

-Laffan: 3.5 million uniques a month for rte.ie and 1 million of those are overseas!

-Laffan: RTE has a hub and spoke model. Create content in hub and reuse as much as possible

-Laffan: Boundaries to entry are very low. Global opportunities. But getting to market quickly is important. Mobile is huge

-Laffan see every tv connected to the internet in Ireland in 10 yrs!

-Laffan: Consumer expectations are through the roof

Note: Compiling this post this evening has reinforced my feeling that Twitter streams are much easier to follow live and are hard work to use as an archive – looking forward to some journalists’ and bloggers’ analysis of the conference.

**Update – Two good pieces about yesterday’s conference: The Irish Times’ Hugh Linehan (including video of Minister Eamon Ryan) and Fin O’Reilly.**

-B