US elections: convergence of social and big media coverage
The 2008 elections will be the first major test of the tentative convergence of social and big media coverage. As US elections in essence have become campaigns in the micro management of narratives, the potential impact of the social media component shouldn't be underestimated.
The New York Times is planning to begin running citizen videos about the US presidential primary elections on the paper's web site in the next couple of days. The videos will run on the Op-Ed section of the site until February 5, so-called 'Super Tuesday' when a large number of US states hold primary elections.
Meanwhile, ABC teamed up with Facebook and MTV will be launching a “Street Team” comprised of 51 young, amateur journalists from each state to cover the election. Members of the Street Team will begin appearing in January on a new mobile site as well as the existing MTV Mobile, ThinkMTV and other websites as well. The content will be a conglomerate of blog entries, videos, photos, podcasts, and animation. A middel of the road or 'pro-am' initiative is "Off the Bus".
Google created a gadget for the personalized homepage iGoogle tracking the elections. You can select the candidates you want to read about, and then toggle between YouTube video news, mainstream news via Google News, blog coverage, and a Google Maps tab. Part of the gadget data is coming from Slate.com, which also features a section on campaign ads analyzes.
Techpresident.com is doing good overall work covering "How the candidates are using the web, and how the web is using them", social media data/stats included.
Mobile Podcasting – The Road Ahead
The cellular industry has repeatedly attempted to port popular consumer services to the mobile environment. Despite the investment of billions of dollars in data networks, spectrum, devices, and marketing campaigns, very few services have ported successfully.
Yet digital music and podcasting prove that users will go to great lengths to mobilize entertainment, including actively connecting a media device to a PC and transferring to it content downloaded from the internet. But can podcasting become a cellular service enjoyed on handsets? Given the prevalence of mobile phones, coupled with the ability to deliver content directly to the handset without any user action required, the mobile industry might be hard-pressed to explain a porting failure. This post outlines a few of the critical issues that must be addressed if mobile podcasting is to see even minimal mass-market penetration.
The manner in which mobile users discover and receive content will have a huge impact on the nature of the service. There are two alternative models: network-based solutions and client-based solutions. Network-based solutions like WAP offer podcast menus on the Operator's Portal. Users, locate the appropriate podcast, then initiate a download.
WAP has failed to appeal to the mass-market user. The click and wait, menu-intense experience of Mobile Internet has proven unappealing. Furthermore, given the relatively large size of a podcast file, adding a lengthy download wait to a cumbersome Portal experience will kill the experience all together.
Podcasts can also be streamed off the Portal. Here, however, in addition to the cumbersome Portal-Pull issues, the user-experience becomes dependent on consistent and sufficient data transmission during the stream. A user listening to a podcast while commuting by train will frequently lose coverage. Securing bandwidth in peak-hours or in congested areas is very difficult. Thus streaming can not deliver an acceptable level of service.
Whether downloaded or streamed, obtaining content via pull assumes that a user will regularly poll for content. Not only does the active user concept runs counter to the Podcast model of automatic content delivery, but a compelling mobile experience must be simple and automated. One must consider that the potential mass-market mobile user is not as "early-adopted" oriented as a current podcast user. Thus, the user-experience on mobile user must be as good, if not better than the iPod experience for the mass-market to accept it.
Client solutions reduce the amount of browsing and provide a more immediate, user-friendly experience. The first type of solution involves a client that displays a catalogue-list of available podcasts. The user scrolls down the list and selects one, which initiating a content delivery session. Content discovery is easier than in Network-based solutions, as WAP browsing to the portal is avoided. However, real-time delivery is required, which means consumption delays. Also, a consumption decision must be made daily.
The second type of client solution involves automatic, subscription based podcast delivery without any user involvement, for example overnight. Fresh content is available for immediate consumption with no network access required.
People are clearly taking their entertainment with them. Will the mass-market, which holds mobile phones rather than other media-devices, be willing to adopt and pay for services which deliver personalized audio content to them? One barrier might be the perception that podcasts are and should be remain free. Whether users are willing to pay for podcasts on their mobile will depend of factors such as easy of use, content quality, and price. But it is quite likely that people will pay a small premium in order to receive Tier 1 content.
One thing is certain: the operator is keen to see the success of such operator-provided services. First, from a revenue perspective, operators subsidize the handsets, yet see no revenue when a user transfers music to it from the PC. Second, should the mass-market adopt iPod-like devices as their device of choice for media consumption, the mobile handset will be marginalized and viewed only as a tool for voice-calls. As these competing devices develop Skype-like internet telephone functionality over WIFI, operators will lose voice as well. It is thus imperative for the operator that the mobile phone claim a stake as a media device.
Mobile podcasting, however, poses a few challenges to the operator. First is the fact that mobile networks are inefficient in terms of data transmission. Transmission rates are slow and there is much less overall capacity. Thus, cost to the operator of transmitting data is high. While a user might pay 20 Euro/month for unlimited internet on the PC, the same user might be charged 1 Euro/MB for mobile data. As the average 30-40 minute PC-based audio podcast approximately 15 MB, the operator can not justify charging of a few Euros a month for a mobile podcast service, when a single Pull-downloaded video clip can generate a Euro or two.
Mobile podcasting can be made more efficient. First, content files can easily be reduced in size by simple content transcoding. A 30 minute podcast can be reduced to 1.5MB, without impacting sound quality. Furthermore, the delivery frequency of a podcast service can be reduced. (Delivering shorter podcasts is an option, but Tier 1 podcasters will not create "mobile-versions" of their programs unless it makes economic sense).
Second, the podcast files must be delivered during off-peak hours, ideally overnight. During peak hours and in congested areas, the cost of data delivery is at its highest. Delivery of large data files to a moderate number of users during peak hours will chill operator enthusiasm. Conversely, during off-peak hours, the network is empty, minimizing the cost of data transmission. This requirement would appear to point to a push service model, with scheduled off-peak delivery.
One final issue is that of billing and revenue. Mobile users will only adopt podcasting if the pricing structure is clear and reasonable. A transparent monthly subscription fee for the service, without any additional data charges, is mandatory. In terms of additional operator revenue potential, one point worth noting is advertising. As audio and video advertisements are easily included in podcasts, the potential for generating advertising revenue is significant.
Now it remains to be seen whether attractive services are deployed and enjoyed.