08 July 2014

What does the closure of Orkut mean for social networking?


On 30th June 2014, Google announced that it was closing down its ten year old social networking platform, Orkut. What does that mean for social networking?

Orkut was among the first social networking platforms and became popular in Brazil and India. i.e. two of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) which were identified by investors as the four fastest developing and powerful economies in the world, which have recently been joined by the 'MINT' countries (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey).

Orkut's popularity reflected the developing internet infrastructure in Brazil and India, as well as their growing middle classes which could afford the technology to get onto the internet.

Orkut's popularity has waned in recent years. Nonetheless, some users were saddened by its demise, if you are to believe their Twitter posts:

Platforms are back


Meanwhile, in June 2011, Google launched another social networking platform, namely Google+, to compete with Facebook and other 'platforms'.

Platforms are expensive to build and to run. The costs come from hosting vast amounts of data in the form of photos, videos, text, conversations and live streaming.

Of course, Google can afford Google+, much as Microsoft has kept its Hotmail (now Outlook.com) platform free for all these years. The benefits they gain from hosting all of that data which users put on it for free is worth the cost, as long as they have scale (i.e. lots of users uploading lots of data).

With scale, Google will benefit from being able to market other products and services to its users and be targeted about the messages it helps advertisers convey. This is exactly what Facebook does.
Orkut's closure was inevitable. Why keep two platforms running when you can migrate all those users over to a single social networking site? Google+ has over 540 million users. It is likely that with Orkut users migrating over to Google+ will increase the latter's user base by several million, maybe 10 to 20 million.

It's not just the cost of the platform either. Orkut has been facing a number of legal problems in Brazil because of some groups set up on the site. Google looks like it is trying to minimise these problems by getting control back of its users who may have to sign a new agreement to use Google+.

Above all, the closure of Orkut will help to develop Google+ and to make its competitive position stronger in a world where social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook are fighting like 'cat and dog' to keep people using their sites by keeping them up to date with new tools and lots of interesting, user generated content.

07 July 2014

Portable Power


Technology has revolutionised journalism and the working life of journalists and editors. But, without power, you cannot work.

A couple of weeks ago, I was out of the office for four at a conference and on a press event visit to a factory in France. I had packed my digital SLR (It's a Nokia D3100 and I love it!) into my case, along with my iPad, bluetooth keyboard, iPhone and their respective chargers, except for the D3100.

Cutting to the chase, I opened my camera up on the first day out and saw the battery was nearly empty. The power button had been knocked in my case. No charger, no camera, no high resolution photos. It was a stupid mistake which could have been avoided by removing the battery and bringing my charger.

And, that is why keeping your smartphone, digital SLR, tablet PC, laptop or mobile internet device charged is a constant challenge to most people, not just journalists.

The weight of charging

Despite the lightness of most of the kit I use, the weight of the chargers, and their bulkiness, can be a pain. The chargers take up space in my laptop bag, so I usually carry them in a suitcase. Fortunately, the iPhone and iPad use the same charger. But, I need different chargers for the other devices I have. The cables are not really a problem, the adapters are the bits that weight most and are the most awkward to carry.
That is why something like the PortaPow Quad USB Wall Charger is so handy. It cuts down on the number of adapters you need which cuts out excess weight.
You can plug in four devices at once or two if they are more power hungry. Not a bad solution for cutting down on weight and bulk.

Solar power

What about other methods of charging your batteries while on the road?
Solar power is becoming increasingly easy to use and cheap to buy. For under £20, you can buy something like the PowerBee Elite Solar Phone Charger which will charge smartphones and tablet PCs. Use the sun's energy during the day and charge your devices at night.

Extra battery power

One of the simplest methods of keeping charged up is to use a 'battery charger'. For smartphones, the Anker Astro Mini 3000mAh Ultra-Compact Portable Charger is a tiny, lipstick-sized charger which will provide a 'full charge' for your smartphone, which costs around £14. For a tablet PC, the EasyAcc Ultra is a well thought of device for charging up iPads.

There is no reason to be without power when out and about. For very little money, you can be switched on for longer and more productive as an editor, comforted by the knowledge that you will nearly always have power.

06 July 2014

Sponsored video: Being a mobile editor

Mobile editing and journalism
Mobile editing

Being an industry editor inevitably means you are often out of the office visiting factories, attending press events and participating in conferences.

That also means you spend time on trains or in cafés writing articles about the events you have just attended or catching up on emails and calls.

Abandoned laptop

Lugging about a laptop seems like the obvious choice of technology to use for an industry editor to take when out of the office. But, laptops are often a lot heavier than they look and can feel cumbersome after a short time, making them less than ideal for a 'mobile editor'.

Therefore, I have abandoned my laptop when 'on the road' in favour a using a tablet PC with a bluetooth keyboard, in conjunction with a 3G mobile dongle for internet access as my 'mobile editorial kit'.

The primary benefit is the lack of weight. My tablet PC/bluetooth keyboard combination is light and compact, which means I barely notice the weight when carrying them about in my laptop bag.

Elbow room for writing

Also, being compact as a set up means that I can write articles with the tablet PC and keyboard when they are sitting on the fold-down tray when sitting in a train, or while sitting in a press event.

A bulky laptop is often just too big to be able to work on while on the go. There is no 'elbow room', literally, for me to be able to work because laptops can be too wide. Tablet PC's are, simply, smaller and, therefore, can be used more easily when on the go.

Apps and integration

Another joyous aspect of tablet PC's is the number of 'apps' and tools which make editing and journalism more manageable than with a laptop.

The integrated camera in my 'tablet' makes it easy to take a quick photo or video of a product, person or activity at an event. This can then be inserted into an article or post for my website in an instant.

Writing apps I use create files in several different formats so they can be used on different platforms. For example, the writing app I use on my tablet PC can export documents in 'Markdown' format, which is great for then converting into HTML for the web. Or, it can export in Word format which I send to designers to use for print magazines.

Better hardware

Hardware is improving all the time, becoming faster, lighter, sharper and with larger storage. As the hardware improves, so does your efficiency with getting things done on time.
ACER Iconia 4
Take, for instance, the new Ionia W4 tablet PC that ACER has asked me to look at. It sums up just how quickly hardware is improving.

Let's take weight as a measure of the improvements for a start; the Iconia W4 weighs about 430 grammes. Apple's iPad 4 WiFi version weighs 652 grammes. That weight makes a big difference when you are carrying your tablet PC about all day or holding it up to take photos. The Iconia 4 is light enough to hold in one hand comfortably.
ACER Iconia W4
On size alone, the Iconia 4 is 135mm wide x 219mm high and 10.8mm deep. The Apple iPad 4 is 241.2mm wide x 185.7 high and 9.4mm deep. That means the Iconia W4 is a third smaller than the iPad in area.

That makes it a lot less bulky to carry around, which is important to me as a 'mobile editor'.

You can watch the video about the Acer Iconia 4 below:

(By the way, this is a video sponsored by ACER, but all these views are my own).

I have not written about the usual things about tablet PC's here, such as the processor power or screen resolution (which are important), purely because space and weight are the aspects of being a mobile editor which you regret if you ignore them. Performance is vital, but not at the expense weight and bulk.

Power to the people

But, the one topic which is an obsession when out of the office and editing or writing, and that is power. Being without charged up batteries is a living nightmare for an editor or journalist.
I will cover that more in my next post.

15 June 2014

6 Tips For Having Press Releases Published

Being new to editing print magazines but no stranger to setting up, populating and editing websites, I am perplexed by the aged format of press releases which come my way each day.

'Traditional' press releases come in a set format which should to make it easy for an editor or journalist pick out facts, figures and details. However, I find of them difficult to read, full of jargon and, frankly, boring.
I know it is difficult to put polish onto a piece of news from a business which might, by its nature, be dull. But, that is the job of the PR professional and what they are promoting should be a interesting to their niche, as long as it is well communicated .

Furthermore, the writing style of some press releases is so stilted and 'corporate' that I glaze over within seconds of opening it. The 'message' is indecipherable which, of course, is going to make it tough for any editor or journalist to consider using it.

Press release
A typical press release
Many companies will publish their press releases onto their websites, and send the same piece of content out to the newswires and to the media, sometimes using a service which sends them out automatically.

A significant number of press releases come to me which are irrelevant to my readers which means I treat them as 'spam' because the PR professional has not done their research about the publication. These, generally, come from the automated systems, in my experience.

Press releases and the internet

Furthermore, the internet has changed the nature of the press releases and their effectiveness. Google, for instance, will look for the uniqueness of online content, as well as its quality, amongst other aspects, to assess whether a news item or article deserves to be high up in the search results.
But, the concept of uniqueness still appears to lost by some PR professionals that send out traditional press releases.

To help PR professionals stand a better chance of successfully having their press release used by at least on trade editor who has come from a blogging/web publishing background, here are my suggestions for grabbing my interest:

1. Understand the audience

Basics, I know, but spend a little time understanding the readers of the trade publication.
They read the magazine in their breaks and also look at the website on their mobile phones.
A two minute check will help you pitch the content to the type of reader correctly.

Often, I see press releases which are too 'academic'. Not that the readers are not able to read it. It is just that they won't bother and an editor will not want to spend time rewriting it for their audience.

I understand that the press release often comes from the 'top' within the business, but the message needs to be for the audience and not about the boss who wants to get the news out.

2. A great headline and interesting summary

GOTCHA headline in The Sun
The Sun's infamous headline 

It goes without saying that a catchy headline is going to stand a better chance of being noticed by a journalist. But, that needs to be supported by a concise summary to get beyond mere interest from an editor.

There are books about this topic alone but it does not have to be daunting. Just get creative and think about how to catch an editor's attention, who face hundreds of emails per week or day. This is where the starchy approach of traditional press releases fails. If the headline is wrapped up in too many formal aspects which mention the company, say, then the headline is likely to be missed.

3. Attach a photo or image

Ground loop being fitted for heat pump system
A good image helps the chances of being published

Words alone will not get your press release through the morass of an editor's inbox. A decent photo or image will help to get the point across quickly.

It is surprising how many press releases come through without an image and it is an opportunity lost.
Include a link to where other photos can be found.

4. Forget the format

Bowler hat businessman
Formality is not always necessary

Formal press releases aren't necessary. The news can be in a Word document attached to an email, or within the email. No need to spend hours formatting it into a 'press release template'.

5. Uniqueness is vital

Editors these days are thinking about search engine optimisation too, which means that they need to make sure the content they publish online is unique. Gone are the days when press releases could be published directly online by an editor verbatim. If they do that, not only is it lazy but it will not be unique.

To put it into context, if other editors are publishing the same news item online without making changes to it, then Google will regard that article as spam or less valuable content at best. That's not good for anyone.
Therefore, PR professionals need to work out how to make sure the content is unique to each publication they are targeting. Online editors will look more favourably on your press release if it is unique to them.

6. Stop chasing editors to see if it was used

RSS feed symbol
RSS feed symbol

Finally, the most irritating aspect of my job is being chased by PR professionals to see I have used their press release. I realise that your income can rely upon where they can get their piece used.
I can't always let everyone know if I have used their content unless I have commissioned it specifically.

If you want to know if your article has been used, subscribe to the RSS feed or email list for the publication.

Last word

The world is less formal today. A press release has its place, but a diminishing one by way of its somewhat stuffy, formal style.

Editors need content. Your press release stands a better chance if you pay attention to how it will be most easily used by an editor or journalist.

26 March 2014

Who should run the internet?

Image representing Edward Snowden as depicted ...
Image via CrunchBase
Two news items on the BBC website caught my attention this week which raise the question about who should run and control the internet.

What does Bill think?

The first news item concerned ex-President of the USA, Bill Clinton, who said that the United States should retain control of the internet because it had and will continue to keep the net "free and open".

The news that gave rise to his concern about the potential loss of freedom and openness available through the internet was that the US is to hand over control of the internet to an “international multi-stakeholder group” which is coordinated by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).

This is what ICANN said about the change:

"We are inviting governments, the private sector, civil society, and other Internet organizations from the whole world to join us in developing this transition process," said Fadi Chehadé, ICANN's President and CEO. "All stakeholders deserve a voice in the management and governance of this global resource as equal partners."

Bill Clinton is not convinced that this new ‘group’ would be exactly what it set out to be:

"I just know that a lot of these so-called multi-stakeholders are really governments that want to gag people and restrict access to the internet."

It will be interesting to see the impact of the US government’s intention to relinquish control of the system which assigns domain names and numbers to the world.

What does Jimmy think?

Jimmy Carter runs the Carter Center, an organisation which campaigns for “human rights and the alleviation of human suffering” around the world.

"I feel that my telephone calls and my email are being monitored, and there are some things I just don't want anybody to know."

This statesman is so concerned that his email and phones calls are being monitored by his own country that he has taken to communicating with people through handwritten letters to keep prying eyes and ears out of his business.

Who should control the internet?

Edward Snowden has pointed out that the activities happening in the USA within their security services so it is not as though the Americans are a beacon of trustworthiness.

On the face of it, the move from the US to the ‘group’ managed by ICANN appears to be one which could make the control of the internet a more democratic affair. But, committees or groups are prone to disagreements and discussions which slow down the process of change and improvement which, in the high tech world of the web, could result in no action at all, at worst.

Whatever happens, we should be able to scrutinise decisions being made by this new group so that the internet does stay free and open to all.