Exploring brave new e-worlds for writers

Community Managers, data and storytelling – the key themes of social media sessions at SXSW Interactive 2013

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By Kaye Blum

It has taken me months to get around to publishing the remainder of my SXSW posts…that’s down to bouncing from Austin to LA to San Fran to Melbourne then driving 1,800km to where I am now; plus three trips to Sydney and one to Brisbane since the drive. Excuses done; now on with the posts! 

The Austin Motel - embracing the Austin weirdness for SXSW2013

The Austin Motel – embracing the Austin weirdness for SXSW2013

Unsurprisingly, this year’s SXSW Interactive had a heavy focus on social media, in the form of both panels and workshops. Community Management was one of the buzzwords – or should I say phrases – and it’s a rapidly growing occupational title in the States. I attended three workshops and several panel sessions to get the low-down.

Social media panel sessions

 The first panel session I caught was presented by OMMA (Online Marketing Media Advertising), titled What marketers should ask themselves about social.

CEO, Chairman & Founder of the Dachis Group, Jeffrey Dachis was also the founder of Razorfish, an innovative digital agency that created the first banner ad and first web animation (the infamous blue dot) 18 years ago (my how time flies).

Dachis couldn’t initially figure out how social media would matter to marketing. Then it dawned on him: DATA. Social could be huge if we could capture all the data.

“The democratisation of the tools of self expression have enabled us to express our ideas in a way we’ve never seen before,” he said.

“It’s a huge shift in the way we communicate our ideas… the largest shift in communications in the history of mankind. We are going to re-boot the way companies market.”

He stated that there is a shift from mass communications to massive communicators.

“With digital and social we have the power to engage audiences… we are shifting from advertising to engagement,” he added.

Author, commentator, and advertising and marketing analyst Bob Garfield concurred: “If you’re using blanket advertising to get your message across, you’re doing it all wrong. The world has changed.” The industrial revolution increased scale; the digital revolution has decimated scale.

I completely agree with Garfield: I believe the traditional model for marketing and advertising has been flipped on its head. We are now operating in an entirely different media landscape – one that keeps shifting and evolving. Social media is still in its infancy and we are slowly feeling our way through, trying what works and what doesn’t.

After doing the rounds of the SXSW trade show, I dropped in on Sustainable storytelling from disposable content to hear how creative people are “experimenting with storytelling across digital and interactive platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr, to tell stories that sustain engagement and evolve as their audiences grow.” It was a great insight to some fascinating work by the likes of Kenyatta Cheese, Paul Octavious and Sarah Kramer.

A cleverly titled session – How to measure social media – pulled in plenty of punters keen for a solution. It was presented by Nicole Kelly who recently published a book on the subject. She raised some valid points:

  • CEOs think marketers don’t have influence, can’t measure ROI
  • We need to redefine ROI – from return on investment to return on influence, or return on engagement
  • While there are currently no tools for measuring social media data available online, the fact that it’s online means it’s measurable.

Using the Sales Funnel diagram, she showed where social media aligns with brand awareness, lead generation, retention; suggesting that it should align with just one of these values rather than all three. She had additional tips on the path to sales conversion, but I wonder if her book will become quickly outdated as tech companies and the major social media players plug away at providing more direct metrics and tools.

Social media workshops

I attended three workshops on social media, including The Community Manager: enter the C-suite, with Lead Social Strategist at LiveFyre Nick Cicero, BrokenOpenMedia Founder & Lead Strategist Natalie Rodic Marsan, and The Huffington Post Community Manager Tim McDonald. The promo blurb claimed there is little support or understanding of the Community Manager’s role; so this session aimed to present a brief overview of the role, then focussed on participants collaborating to create a Community Manager Manifesto. The final manifesto can be found here and below. It was useful to hear how other Community Managers from a range of industries defined their roles, given there is often limited support or understanding of the role across organisations. In Australia, times that by 100(000).

The workshop titled How to get fans to spread your message proposed to walk attendees through step-by-step instructions on how to create, customize, execute and measure a social media program. However when a substantial amount of time (but probably not that long – I’m relatively impatient) had been spent on asking the audience to define an advocate, I took my cue to head off to another session.

The workshop I found most significant was called Storytelling – the next wave of social media marketing.

Panelists included Principal of Big Deal PR Inc. Carri Bugbee and Director of Social Strategy and Content Programming at LiveWorld Mark Williams. LiveWorld is an expert storytelling company for brands. Mark calls himself the “forest gump” of social media because he has been around since 1999, developing online communities and social media campaigns and strategies for Fortune 500 brands.

He explained that storytelling has always been the core of smart marketing. People remember stories, not messages. “The stories customers tell about your product are not necessarily the same stories that the brand is telling.”

Think of a telco or cellphone company – they’re selling their coverage, but customers might not agree that coverage is the benefit (or even that great, especially in regional parts of Australia). What the telcos should be telling is what their service is good for, what the phone or service can do.

He noted that Facebook had recently acquired Storylane, a storytelling platform. This shows the direction that Facebook is heading.

Social storytelling puts your customers’ stories as part of the brand story, he explained. There are solid business reasons for doing this, including raising ROI.

Carri, whose flight to Austin had been delayed and had Skyped into the packed auditorium on the big screen, raised the Old Spice campaign. There were no tracking tools, so the creative team were using basic excel spreadsheets,  she explained. They didn’t know what they were going to do with the data when they started collecting it, just thought it might be important.

They continued the workshop with their top 10 tips for social storytelling, with a couple of key points I highlighted:

  • Use each social media platform to its best advantage
  • Create stand-alone platform experiences that are enhanced by cross-platform participation
  • Ensure you have team members who really know your platforms – tech and community expertise
  • Tell your story in pictures (including video) as well as words
  • If you don’t have storytelling talent on your team, get outside help and develop an internal team (may take a while) or hire experienced writers/storytellers for project work.

The rest of the workshop delved into some of the principles of storytelling, with a valid reminder that social networks by their very nature are storytelling mediums, invented for people to tell their stories. The end. (Almost…)

Personal observations

What I found most surprising after attending these social media sessions was that no-one made a direct reference to social media as the digital evolution of old-school direct marketing – or relationship marketing, as it was often defined. Coming from a background as a DM copywriter, I see distinct parallels. Amongst other things, it’s about fostering relationships with brand advocates – and that’s one of the most powerful tools any marketer can utilise.


It’s all systems go for SXSW

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By Kaye BlumNeon-DontLiveHere

So much for my wild notions of blogging every day from SXSW Interactive – it’s Day 4 and I’ve hardly had a chance to catch my breath. No matter how many tips you read or advice you get on preparing for this mammoth conference, you just don’t realise the scale of it until you’re actually right here in the thick of it!

Highlights so far:

Lean forward, lean back: tablet news experiences (Friday March 8, 2013)
Sara Quinn from the Poynter Institute generously shared their research and statistics on tablet reading behaviours and presented other relevant factoids. Maria Garcia from Garcia Media and Dave Stanton from Smart Media also shared their well-researched and relevant insights on tablet design for news. Notable takeaways: every study they did shows that eyes first go to photos on a tablet page; and no-one wants a tablet news app that looks like a newspaper.

Show and Smell 2: marketing experiences beyond visual (Saturday March 9, 2013)
These happy science boffs gave a great presentation of the latest tech developments in gadgets and devices that enhance the senses. From ‘the scent of your city’ to projected sound beams, it was a fascinating and entertaining presentation. Notable takeaway: non-visual brand cues are often stronger than we realise…Plus, a demo of a tiny wee Instagram image projector that works like an old-school slide projector but is small enough to hide in the palm of your hand. Their presentation can be reviewed at http://www.tmsw.com/sxsw2013.

Exploring place with cross-platform storytelling (Saturday March 9, 2013)
This panel session showcased transmedia and cross-platform film projects that explore place using technologies such as geo-tagging, augmented reality and interactive video. Michel Reilhac’s transmedia project combines scenes from Paris locations in classic films with actual locations in an app with themed walks around the city. It allows you to re-make the film scene and upload it, access information about the film and the location, and more. It is scheduled for release in June 2013 and will be syndicated to cities such as Rome, Berlin and New York. Mike Knowlton from storycode.org MC’d the panel and provided his own valuable insights. Favourite takeaway from this event (a quote from Mike): “All the technology in the world doesn’t mean anything if the story stinks.”

On both Saturday and Sunday I missed several sessions (mostly with mobile themes) due to queues stretching around three quarters of the venue’s block, which was hugely disappointing. There is so much to choose from with so much going on simultaneously – and just so many people – organisers and locals encourage ‘going with the flow’. I’ll give it a shot… But right now I’m off to a panel called How to Measure Social Media, then to my next workshop called Storytelling – the Next Wave of Engagement.

Written by Kaye Blum

March 10, 2013 at 12:49 pm

On the road again: heading to South by South West

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By Kaye Blum


After a year’s hiatus, ewritersjourney.com will soon be back on the road (by air, natch) to Austin, Texas for this year’s SXSW conference with Platinum Badge access to Interactive, Film and Music sessions.

Scouring the schedule has been no easy task – there are over 5,000 sessions. I’ve already spent several days trawling through and I’m still not even half-way! Choosing what to attend is presenting quite a dilemma, with as many as 40 sessions listed in the same time-slots.

Naturally, as part of the ewritersjourney.com research, my focus is on mobile, tablets, convergent media, transmedia, locative media and social media. There are not many sessions on interactive film, however there is one Australian group (Epic Films) presenting a case study of their interactive project http://www.wasterlanderpanda.com which I’ll try to catch.

As well as doing my own research, I’ll also be reporting for several industry publications (soon to be announced).

The music line-up is going to be spectacular with over 40 Australian bands attending this year, including a couple of my favourite Melbourne bands – Alpine and Hiatus Kaiyote – along with Sydney folksters Georgia Fair and stalwarts The Audreys. I’ve just read on http://www.noise11.com that Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds will be showcasing so if that’s true, exhausting myself for 10 days of back-to-back workshops, panel sessions and gigs will be well worth it 🙂

Written by Kaye Blum

January 24, 2013 at 11:56 am

MWF’s Stories Unbound app – a world’s first?

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By Kaye Blum

Don't be afraid of the sadness

An image from my Ambient Literature series.

Researching emerging technologies as part of my Masters/PhD can really suck sometimes. Technology changes at such a rapid pace, it’s a challenge to stay on top of it. So ideas formulated and documented but not yet developed can very easily get pipped to the post by those with greater means (read: ‘money for development’).

This happened to me not so long ago as I was perusing the Melbourne Writers Festival program in search of sessions addressing new technologies. A tiny little article on page 26 titled iPhone apps announced two freebies. One was the “official MWF2011 app” which enables ticket purchase and program browsing directly from an iPhone. The other was called Stories Unbound, which the article claimed as “the world’s first social platform for stories”, enabling readers to access geo-tagged stories and writers to publish their own stories.

A loud sigh escaped when I read about the second app. It sounded quite similar to the one I have planned as part of my creative project. I headed straight to the iTunes store to check them out. I found the MWF2011 app (which proved extremely useful throughout the festival). But I couldn’t find the Stories Unbound app anywhere. This was on July 31. I posted a comment on MWF’s Facebook page enquiring about it, but got no reply. I signed up to their Twitter feed to watch for future announcements.

It wasn’t until 5th September, the day after the festival finished, that I stumbled upon an article on The Guardian’s technology blog reviewing 10 new apps, including Stories Unbound.

So I checked iTunes and there it was. The published release date was 31st August – six days into the festival and long after I’d given up on it actually existing at all. I searched back through the MWF Twitter feed to see if I’d missed an announcement, but found nothing. Then I went through my emails and found buried at the bottom of the Day 9 e-news bulletin (2nd September, two days before the festival’s end) a little news item titled Stories Unbound… Forever? It introduced the app as “the world’s first social-media platform for writing, publishing and of course, reading stories.”

Dammit I must have missed that article altogether. Or possibly didn’t even open the email.

Ironically, the Stories Unbound app was created by JWT Melbourne, an ad agency I’d done a long freelance stint at quite a few years ago. Obviously there must have been major delays in getting the app launched in time for the festival, which is a real shame.

It’s an interesting claim that Stories Unbound is a “world’s first”. I conducted extensive research last year to compile a list of locative media poetics and found projects such as textopia (Løvlie 2009), a mobile app which enabled the user to walk through a city and access literary texts relevant to certain places; Ourplace (Hamilton 2009) which converged locative media and online participation; and Neighborhoodnarratives (Iversen 2009), which used mobiles and the web to produce stories reflecting a particular city or neighbourhood. But these are not the only ones. I’m finding more all the time.

The advantage of finding MWF’s Stories Unbound app is that it’s not just research, it has been released to the big wide world and it’s actually local, unlike other publicly released apps which rely on a location across the globe to activate. So I can give this one a thorough road-test. Here goes…

As a reader, I have several options on how to choose a story. I can enter a title or author into the search box; or select the Search icon at the bottom for options such as searching by most popular, most recent, nearest me. Or I can filter by genre or writer. A quick way to find stories about my current location is via the pin icon, which brings up a Google map with book symbols denoting different stories. There’s also a list icon which enables you to scroll through story titles. Readers can rate stories out of five stars and share them via Facebook or Twitter, but can’t leave comments.

To write and upload a story via the app is relatively easy, reflecting a well-designed user interface (UI). A character count keeps tabs on the 50 character limit for the title and 4000 character limit for the body of the story. The only drawback: entering a story that’s a couple of hundred words or longer. A 4000 character limit is around 700-800 words – a decent length for a short story. But who wants to spend hours tapping in 4000 characters with one finger? Not me. I’d prefer to touch-type on my laptop and upload it from there. So I go to the Stories Unbound website to see if that’s possible.

From my laptop I discover lots of issues with the website’s UI and I can’t seem to upload my story. I switch from Chrome to Safari – same deal, so it’s not a browser issue. After a few hours of fiddling, it seems several scroll and submit buttons fall below the fold, which I can’t access on my laptop even though I have the screen open as wide and long as I can get it. Frustrated, I abandon my mission and decide to try again the next day when I can access a bigger computer screen to see if that resolves the issue.

It does. Well, most of the UI issues, anyway. I’m able to upload my story, but sorting out the location proves difficult.

Curiously, the world map on the website isn’t a Google map and the country and city names aren’t shown. So dragging and dropping the book icon becomes a little like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. I tried going back into the app to see if I could modify the location with the more detailed Google map, but edits aren’t possible from the app – you can only edit from the website. So I tried again on the computer, opening a Google map to try matching up roughly where Frankfurt might be in the great black land mass of the Stories Unbound map. I’ve almost got it, but it’s still not accurate and it took ages.

There are a few other glitches with uploading from the website, such as selecting the genre. I did this several times, trying travel, then memoir, but it kept defaulting back to Children and Young Adults.

Overall, it was a great experience to try it and I really like the app. I just hope they can get the UI sorted for website access via a laptop to encourage a few longer stories to be uploaded. In terms of how it compares to the app I’m developing, there are several key differences. To find out what they are, keep an eye out for future posts J. And if you find any similar apps, please be kind and share – just leave a comment.

(c) 2011 Kaye Blum.

Bookcamp: the story of the future @ MWF2011

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By Kaye Blum

Retired content delivery devices find a new purpose.

Retired content delivery devices find a new purpose.

Describing itself as an ‘unconference’ with a mission to explore the future of new book technologies, this day-long session on Friday 2nd September was the highlight of the MWF program for me in terms of e-writing and e-books. Presented in partnership with if:book Australia, speakers included Kate Pullinger (author and co-creator of Inanimate Alice) from the UK, Kassia Krozser (booksquare.com) from the US, and Hugh McGuire (LibriVox, PressBooks) from Canada.

Facilitated by if:book’s Simon Groth, the ‘unconference’ format enabled participants to help decide the topics for discussion and set the agenda for the day. With three rooms available at the Wheeler Centre, sessions were divided by topics and designated a room.

For the first session, I decided to attend non-linear narratives, a topic set by participant Jeni Mawter, a writer and teacher. It was a lively discussion with participants providing some interesting examples of existing interactive and non-linear narratives. I’ve since connected with Jeni on Digital Book World’s forum via LinkedIn, where I found a robust discussion from a range of writers interested in this field, whether it be transmedia, multimedia, or interactive.

There was a 15 minute break allowing participants to choose their next session and make their way across three levels to the appropriate room. I chose a session hosted by Hugh McGuire, titled Why the internet and books will merge. McGuire has been researching and working in publishing and digital media for many years. He’d had a profound epiphany and once tweeted “the distinction between books and the internet is going to disappear” which created a tweeting backlash. He informed us that around 20% of the book market in the US is now e-books; in Australia it’s still only about 4%. While he acknowledged there is a different perceived value between a printed book and an e-book, “e-books are just html shrunk-wrapped into a different format,” he said.

An interesting statement, but I’m not sure I agree with it. I again mentioned the concept of ‘lean back’ and ‘lean forward’ technologies, which I believe is a major point of differentiation between e-books on tablets, compared to the web as viewed on a static desktop computer. Like smartphones, tablets have mobility and portability. They also have the ability to utilise GPS – locative media. This is one of the core aspects of the creative project for my Masters/PhD candidature. But more about that in upcoming blog posts.

The next session was titled Why do we read and what do new technologies offer stories, hosted by Kate Pullinger, co-creator of Inanimate Alice and Flight Paths. As an author of several printed books, she has been looking at new forms of narratives online for some time. Researching new technology has motivated her to ask: why do I read?

“I want a good story, good writing, to be taken away from myself – to be connected to the writing in a personal way,” she said. “It is something intangible, profound… This is the space I want to take you as a writer and where I want to go as a reader.”

She described a p-book (printed) as a content delivery system. I think that’s an entirely appropriate term for the printed book format; but I consider an e-book to be content and the e-reader or tablet as the delivery device. (Incidentally, I find it a little absurd that there isn’t yet a consistent way of spelling ebook, Ebook or e-book.)

Pullinger suggested asking: “When you move beyond the p-book, what are the elements that make it work?”

The discussion opened up to questions, with various threads on multimedia, non-linear narratives and aspects of gaming being raised.

“I am not a gamer,” Pullinger said. “I don’t want to make choices when reading, I want to be told a story.” This seems to be a significant point of differentiation between adult readers and the children’s book market. Children love the gaming element of interactive. Many adult readers want the immersive experience of reading a book without any distractions.

She explained that Inanimate Alice and Flight Paths were both collaborative processes. As she’s also an author of several p-book novels (her last one took her 12 years to write), she likes the contrast of collaboration when working on digital projects. But the creative process is different: “you have to get the script right first before you start making it,” she said.

Pullinger stresses the most important issues to consider are:

  1. How do you connect with your readers?
  2. How do you find your readers?

In retrospect (and because I’m writing this up over a week after the event and my hand-written notes are sometimes crap), I’m assuming this applies to writers, self-publishers, and publishers grappling with the new digital realms.

I found this session to be the most insightful, with valuable knowledge generously shared by a writer who has a wealth of experience both in print and digital media.

It was difficult to choose which room to venture into for the fourth session. Out of sheer complacency I stayed on in the same room for The value of interactive/ personalisation of stories. It was a reasonably interesting discussion which digressed in many directions, but my notes are sparse. I think I did more talking than writing in this one.

The final session for the day re-united all participants to discuss their findings. A valuable point was raised about education institutions and creative writing programs lagging behind in terms of new media. Actually I think the description was “they’ve got their heads stuck in the sand”. Given that I’m researching in this field at a university that’s supposedly pro-technology, my opinion of this is, well, varied. While it’s certainly not the case for journalism and communication courses, I think in terms of creative writing, it’s probably not far off the mark.

Another issue raised was the lack of enthusiasm or interest in digital/new media from mainstream publishers. There were no representatives from the majors at this conference. No surprises there.

IfBook is doing a great job of facilitating further conversations on the future of storytelling. They did a great job of organizing the day’s ‘unconference’, too. While I am still left with some of my core questions unanswered, I’ve realized over the past week that I’m not the only one. On that note, I’ll finish with a quote from another conference participant: “Every person in this room is the future of digital publishing.”

(c) 2011 Kaye Blum.

Information overload at MWF2011

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By Kaye Blum

The Forum Melbourne Writers Festival

The Forum, Melbourne, overlooking the site of the Melbourne Writers Festival. But the real forum for the festival was happening on Twitter.

There were quite a few panels featuring Jay Rosen at MWF2011 and most of them had, naturally, a journalism focus. While this is of interest to me, my research is more concerned with the impacts of new media technologies on writers of longer form non-fiction or fiction; and how specific groups can connect. But the MWF blurb for the session titled Information Overload got me in:

Has the endlessly ballooning internet sacrificed quality of information for quantity? Net culture researcher Suelette Dreyfus (Hacker), citizen journalism advocate Jay Rosen (Rebooting the News) and Jeremy Goldkorn (danwei.org) discuss the limits of helpful data and whether the net, while changing lives, is also changing our social structures. Chaired by Jeff Sparrow.

I wanted to take my iPad to all MWF sessions to take notes, but because I find it impossible to touch-type on its keypad, I stayed old-school with my notebook and pen. So here are some of the most relevant points I gleaned from my notes on this session (held on 28th August 2011 at Federation Square)…

Rosen quoted someone whose name I missed (sorry!): “There’s no such thing as information overload, there’s only filter failure”. He named Google, Technorati and Google’s blog search function as key filters. “It comes in waves,” he added; “the technology, the tools, the flood of information, then the filters.”

He commented on one of the things that is radically changing the world – the falling cost of like-minded people being able to find each other, share information, pool what they know and publish to the world. “The internet is extremely efficient at doing this. That’s powerful. When they discover they’re not the only ones, that’s liberating.”

It’s this last statement that has resonance for me. When I was a teenager (in a pre-internet era), music on the radio was my window to the world. Sometimes I found song lyrics that created a connecting moment and made me realize I wasn’t alone, wasn’t the only one feeling this way. A few books did the same thing, but the school library was fairly limited.

These little connecting moments, even if they come from across the world, can be a lifeline for some. The internet turns these connecting moments into real dialogue, real connections.

As Rosen noted, social revolutions can happen now that people can connect with other like-minded people. “Information is a measure of uncertainty reduced” he said. I tweeted that last line and got some challenging replies.

Speaking of Twitter and connections, #MWF2011 was the first time I’ve engaged in this platform during a conference and I found it an enlightening experience. It was invaluable being part of the festival community through this channel and I met many like-minded people as a consequence. But the event’s Tweeting Award goes to Charlotte Harper @ebookish – her supreme two-finger typing on an iPad provided a constant Twitter stream of awesome quotes from every event she attended.

Another unexpected delight from tuning into Twitter was scoring a free ticket (thanks @kateyharc) to the MWF session, A Long Way To Go: Why We Still Need Feminism. Sophie Cunningham’s fact-loaded essay was both frightening and fascinating; but also inspiring. You can watch it here thanks to SlowTV.

By the end of the festival, I found myself suffering a serious case of information overload. I’ve been obsessively addicted to reading Twitter updates to the point that it has become a major distraction. I’ve pretty much ignored Facebook, my usual social media platform of choice. But now I’ve had to switch off all channels so I can try to get some work done. On with it…

A summary of Bookcamp – The Future of Storytelling is up next.

(c) 2011 Kaye Blum.

Written by Kaye Blum

September 6, 2011 at 5:41 am

A newbie’s quick road-test of The Age newspaper’s iPad app

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By Kaye Blum

Attending yesterday’s Cool New Toys session at MWF2011 has provoked further reflection on some of the comments that were made by the audience, including myself, regarding Fairfax Media’s newspaper apps for tablets.

I only recently bought an iPad2 and have barely had the chance to give it a thorough road-test. I did, however, download the free app for The Age from iTunes. I didn’t really know what to expect but I was very pleasantly surprised. With sponsorship from Telstra, they’re offering a free trial (for a limited time) of the daily plus weekend editions and most of the supplements. There’s no indication of how long the free trial lasts or when users will be asked to subscribe, so I’m making the most of it and am thoroughly enjoying the experience as an iPad newbie.

I’ve never been a daily newspaper reader – too time-poor, broadsheets too big and difficult to read on a packed peak-hour train – but I do love browsing the weekend editions. When I’m living in Melbourne, I also buy The Age on Thursday for the Green Guide, an excellent supplement with a critical guide to the week’s television programs; and the EG (Entertainment Guide) in Friday’s paper which provides a comprehensive listing of all the live music gigs and other interesting happenings in Melbourne for the week.

I was impressed to find both supplements provided in the iPad app. However, the Green Guide doesn’t provide the full TV guide that comes in the printed version, which is disappointing. Yet the EG provides a full gig guide listing as per the print version. As a live music fan, this really got me in.

I’ve used The Age app the most often out of the 20-odd apps I downloaded in my first week with an iPad. The interface is reasonably intuitive; I love the scroll and swipe format and that I don’t need my glasses to read the text. I appreciate the occasional video content added to a story which is relevant and enhancing rather than superfluous and unnecessary. I also like that I don’t have to go to the shop to buy the paper and that I don’t have to deal with a broadsheet blowing in the wind or taking up too much space on the coffee table. And no more inky fingers. The advertising is minimal and unobtrusive (so far). Then there’s the whole environmental can of worms of not using paper; although I’ve raised the issue of energy consumption for the production of e-books at previous conferences and there doesn’t seem to be a cut-and-dry comparison of the environmental impacts of e-publishing that I’m aware of – I guess it’s still early days.

So, at yesterday’s Cool New Toys session, I expressed my enthusiasm for The Age app and asked Stephen Hutcheon, tablet editor of the Sydney Morning Herald (sister publication of The Age), how they managed the formatting process from print to app on a daily basis. He said they’d retrained some of their print designers and they work from 6pm until 2am re-formatting the print content into the interactive version for the app.

Another audience member completely disagreed with my enthusiasm, stating that the app didn’t seem to have all the content of the paper version and was not updated as quickly as the website. So in his view, as a news source, it was disappointing and he was not interested in subscribing. In my view, the app isn’t meant to be the kind of instant news source that the web delivers. Tablets are a ‘lean-back’ device (as opposed to leaning forward to view and interact with a computer). This term was used by a panelist yesterday, but I first heard interactive media specialist Jennifer Wilson use it several years ago at a new media conference in Byron Bay.

I’m using my tablet on the couch and in bed. I don’t use it for writing – the keys are too sensitive; the return key is where the colon key should be which I keep hitting by mistake. I can’t type fast enough on it. I was hoping it would replace my notebook in lectures but I’m not sure I can master touch-typing on it, so for now I use it mainly for reading. And I love it for just that. Any serious research or work can be done much quicker on my laptop, with two hands. For now, my iPad is a ‘one-hand’ device: tap, touch, swipe. My other hand is free to sip my cup of tea. As William Powers said yesterday, it’s difficult to multi-task on the tablet and that actually allows us to focus more on the material we’re reading. I see that as a real plus for my easily distracted attention-span.

Today I’ve revisited The Age iPad app with a more critical eye. I’ve chosen an article from the Daily Edition, Editor’s Choice. Two taps and I’m there. The article is from the Good Weekend supplement and is titled The Old Spice man cometh. Written by Bernard Lagan, it’s a feature article and interview with the video director of last year’s viral marketing sensation for Old Spice, Tom Kuntz. At the top of the article is video footage – a snappy show-reel of Kuntz’s most prolific commercials, including the Old Spice man ad; another award-winner, the Cadbury Eyebrows ad; and a few I haven’t seen before. Excellent – I get to watch these entertaining clips in crisp digital quality without having to leave the app.

There are four photographs accompanying the article. Three are stills from some of the video clips, the other is a shot of Kuntz on set filming his latest ad. They’re reasonably small (about 3x4cm) and I want to see a larger version of the Kuntz image, which is quite an interesting but busy location shot. I tap the screen hoping it will enlarge. It doesn’t. Disappointing. Tablets provide a stunning platform for good photography so it’s a shame it isn’t enhanced in this format. But I guess there’s only so much a small team of designers can do to turn a daily paper into an app overnight.

In the article, Kuntz’s website is mentioned but there’s no hyperlink. I’m assuming this is an editorial decision to prevent readers from leaving the app. If I want to check out his website I’ll have to jot down the URL (or copy and paste it into a memo) and check it out later. It’s probably a good thing – I’m not distracted from the article, I keep my focus.

At the end of the article there’s no ability for readers to leave a comment. This was a point raised at the panel session yesterday by an audience member. But it seems this is another feature that newspapers are choosing to leave to the web. The iPad app enables me to share the article via email, on Twitter or Facebook and I can even add it to a list of my saved articles which is easily accessible back on the main menu. Is this enough? It is for me.

Do I think it’s worth a subscription fee? Absolutely. The reading experience is enhanced and I will actually consume more content in this format than if I had to go out and buy the printed edition.  So now I’m going back to bed to enjoy reading the weekend papers on my iPad, without the inky fingers.

Have you road-tested any newspaper apps on a tablet device? Let me know what you think.

(c) 2011 Kaye Blum.

Written by Kaye Blum

August 27, 2011 at 7:01 am

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