Thursday, 26 September 2013

Parliament reports on the creative industries and on broadband

Today (Thursday) has seen two reports from the powerful (if somewhat mysterious) UK parliamentary committees: part of the checks and balances of our democracy.

The one that has made the news is on rural broadband rollout. The Commons Public Accounts Committee says that consumers have been "ripped off" due to government mismanagement and that BT, who are the only contender for the money available, haven't been transparent on their costs. The government and BT disagree with this of course.

Are you 'rural'? I find myself in a rural place these days. Whereas my previous Surrey homestead was within range of BT's fibre to the cabinet (FFTC) broadband with its tens of megabits, my current Northamptonshire ranch is totally dependent on copper, albeit with a respectable 6 megabits from ADSL 2+. That's not really my problem however, since BT's broadband isn't an option for me as they don't have a suitable home-office package (I need a fixed IP address) and my otherwise good provider (Demon) does not, as yet, 'do' fibre ... which is apparently leading to many customers jumping ship (if you believe the conversations on the user forums).

Personally I'm not surprised that BT were the only provider willing (or able?) to provide rural fibre. They are a very able company after all and this is 'what they do'. We also seem to forget that fibre is also the future of voice, since before long all telephony will happen over broadband IP circuits, and it's not just thieves who could make good money from selling old copper cable. Ironically, those odd communities who have jumped the gun and sorted out their own rural broadband (such as the innovative Rutland Telecom just up the road from me), will be excluded from any subsidised BT rollout since this is only available where there isn't already a broadband supplier. I'm not clear how this squares with encouraging competition.

We're in the business of electronic communications and the IT Crowd are encouraging us to put 'stuff' in 'the cloud' but you can't really do that unless you're well connected. When you're choosing where to move your office to, what are your priorities ... how far up them is access to fast broadband. Even in cities this is an issue since you may well have other Buck Rogers options such as wide-area ethernet. So there's always a choice ... of some sort.

Report number two comes from the DCMS Select Committee, chaired by the estimable John Whittingdale MP. They've just published a report on Supporting the Creative Economy and since we're in that economy I recommend you have a read (of the summary at least). It doesn't just deal with intellectual property (the bit I went to first) but also includes Olympic legacy (or is it 2012 sustainability?), piracy, taxation and education. Did you know that the IOC's contracts for suppliers forbad them from publicising their involvement? Neither did I. The report also fires two barrels at Google, asking why they don't respond as robustly to copyright infringement as they do to child pornography, and saying that the agenda underlying current government thinking on copyright is partly driven by technology companies including Google and "if pursued uncritically, could cause irreversible damage to the creative sector on which the United Kingdom’s future prosperity will significantly depend."

What is interesting to me is that the committee's stance on copyright often conflicts with that of the Hargreaves Report and they ask whether there is sufficient evidence to justify the new exceptions to copyright being put forward as well as the tendency for them to be bundled together so they can't be discussed independently. They ask the question as to whether the UK needs a champion for copyright but stop short of suggesting that the UK Intellectual Property Office be moved from the business ministry to the culture one. As the Music Ally blog says, "The report represents one long win for rightsholders in terms of convincing the Committee of their arguments. Whether it brings the changes they desire is considerably more open to debate." Spot on!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Usability, Return on Investment (ROI) and iMedia

From time to time we take a look at how usability features are progressing and take a view on their possible impact on the way we work. So here we are again. It’s been a hard slog for usability to make its mark. It’s taken stronger definition of the ROI for using usability principles to convince clients to invest in it. But now usability experts understand the key to defining the ROI, things are looking up.

Business Daily recently featured a concise article by Jon Celeste, Five Ways to improve usability in your web design on a budget (5.9.13). These are noted as: simplify your navigation, focus on readability rather than the ‘wow’ factor, break up text, be mindful of load times, and give every page a clear purpose. Jon uses this article to try to balance SEO spend with design spend to increase the effectiveness of web sites.

That’s sound general advice. In Venn Digital’s blog Lucy Clarke reports on Ad Tech (12.9.13), ROI and content marketing from a speaker she listened to. She points out that content is not a direct sales tool as such. It is a way of communicating with your audience where good communication equals brand buy-in and loyalty. Content should be spread across types of communication and will affect the SEO but that in the end understanding your audience first is all important.

The emphasis on knowing your audience is taken even further in the social media article, 7 Key Elements in a Social Media Strategy, by JKconsultancy in Business Zone (8.9.13). JKconsultancy recognises the importance of knowing the audience, but also looks at the reasons the people are using that particular channel – why do they commit time and effort to it? Then you need to mimic their actions to be part of the culture if you are to be believed. This means being sociable, being focused on what you want from the channel, building long-term relationships, dedicating time and effort, being prepared to share and follow.

Behaviour changes according to fashion. That means that to reach your audience you need to continue to monitor what is happening across technology as well as channels. Netimperative (12.9.13) draw attention to Brightroll’s 3rd annual UK Advertising Report where the rise in the use of digital video and mobile is featured. The key thing here is the switching of buying spend by advertisers from TV to digital video distributed via other more interactive technology channels. It is because they see the rise of people viewing in this way and can target them specifically. But, it’s no surprise, that they want to have better measurements of ROI from the use of video in this way.

As iMedia channels fragment across platforms, more can be gleaned about the users of each type. With this information, design and advertising can be targeted more effectively. It’s just a question of how, and how can this be measured?.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Metadata Report

I've written in the past about photographic metadata on web sites. There had been some grumbling in copyright circles about how metadata was routinely stripped from photographs, especially on news sites, denying a credit to the photographer.

News outlets are excused from a requirement to credit in the UK's moral rights legislation. This omission, which dates from the 1988 act, clearly predates the web and comes from an era where to give a credit would mean taking up precious page real estate (although this wasn't the only reason). In an online electronic world this should no longer be a valid reason since metadata can always be included in an image. I should note that the Guardian (if not others) do find space to credit photographers ... but what about web sites?

I thought it would be interesting to check out a few of the major news web sites to see whether any creator information was encoded in the images. I realise this is a straw poll and won't apply to absolutely every image on a site.
  • The Times are including their URL as source metadata but nothing else. They also include a text credit including one for the photographer.
  • The BBC news web site includes a creator metadata item as well as a burned-in credit.
  • The Guardian gives both text credits and includes a fair amount of useful metadata, although it's in a Photoshop namespace rather than the expected places so you may have to look at the raw XML to find it.
  • The Express occasionally has burned-in credits but I couldn't find any metadata.
  • I couldn't find any metadata in the images I checked on The Mirror web site.
  • Briefly venturing overseas ... Reuters and the New York Times do give good text credits as, usually, does the South China Morning Post but I could find no metadata in the photos I checked.
  • Finally the Daily Mail. Many of their online images not only include creator metadata but can also include a substantial amount more. This is on top of always having a visible credit 'burned' into one corner of the image. One image, illustrating a story about a child being taken away by social services, included a legal warning that the family must not be named and that the case was subject to court proceedings ... in the metadata. A front page story today about the raising of the Costa Concordia featured a large image from Reuters, with again a substantial amount of metadata which I assume originated with Reuters. Unfortunately not all the images on the web site (that I looked at) include metadata but I have to give the Mail credit for including such extensive metadata when they do include it.
So on the basis of this straw poll I believe that, in most cases, news web sites are finding space to credit the sources of their images on the page but few seem to realise the usefulness and importance of metadata. The Times makes use of it to point out that the image came from their web site, which is a variation on a theme, and I have elsewhere seen source or creator metadata that only said something like 'other' or 'record company' and agencies are mentioned far more than the photographers. So on the whole there is room for improvement.

We should all try to include metadata in images published on the web. I certainly try (and usually remember). I've looked at news here simply because of the moral rights exemption (which I'm glad to see most are ignoring) but if your web site isn't news then you may well have no excuse.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Dipping into Industry Insights

The beginning of each chapter in our book, Managing Interactive Media: Project Management for Web and Digital Media, started with an industry insight relevant for the chapter content. Re-reading them, they are still relevant. Where would you tap in to such insights today? Who are the respected ones? In what areas? I thought that things would have firmed up quite a lot over 5 years, but not so, apparently.

Because the iMedia industry (incorporating e-commerce) is still not recognised as a whole entity for its contribution to GDP – although digital platforms, digital media, digital marketing and social media have become more accepted as part of general business – it is still hard to find people to join the dots across the fragmented whole. After that, it becomes a question of who do you listen to in what area. Take digital/social media production, digital marketing, digital visualisation, digital usability, digital project management, digital law, digital testing and digital team management. Can you name a person or persons that you would choose to listen to in each area?

It was interesting to find that LinkedIn have developed their version of ‘the respected ones’ by choosing their ‘thought leaders’, as part of their initiative called the Influencer Program. Did you know about this? Ross Avner, from a digital gaming background, decries this as betraying the LinkedIn principles where readers themselves are meant to select by choice who to listen to rather than have others make the selection. See a list of LinkedIn thought Leaders at and Ross’s commentary, ’Thought leaders’ take LinkedIn away from its roots (4th September 2013)

Just taking a segment – mobile – the buzz of prediction of where this is going teases out quite a lot of insight sharing. The key is in watching and learning from consumer behaviour. Many involved are using different ways to try and interpret data about behaviour from multi-channel analytics, from reports on behaviour like the joint effort from the Mobile Marketing Association and Vserv. Mobi about mobile behaviour in South East Asia, or from interviews from leaders as in Marketing Week.

What do you think of these snippets from the interviews?
  • Orla Barrett (Styloko) ‘Technology can not only expand your customer base and enable market research, it can also improve the day to day workings of a business...’
  • James Foord (mySupermarket). ‘Convincing internal stakeholders that have not grown up with some of today’s tech is difficult as it involves investment and a leap of faith.’
  • Alison Sagar (Paypal) ‘As retailers think about how consumer behaviour is changing and how they can connect the online information they have about customers with their shopping behaviour in-store, technology – and in particular payment technology – can really help join those dots.’
  • Lorna Westwood (Pandora) ‘From an ecommerce perspective, retailers need to start developing a stronger mobile presence and a user experience with simple, secure payment options to take advantage of the potential of the mobile commerce market.’
  • Peter Wright (IKEA) ‘mobiles are becoming the primary platform from which to access information ...We therefore have to consider mobile commerce in all aspects of activity, ensuring that our ecommerce site is compatible with mobile devices, while also providing unique and inspirational content.’
And, on the question of ‘content’ what about the conjectures of why Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezo bought, a newspaper. Hamish McKenzie, 3rd September 2013, Pandodaily, interprets Jeff’s comments as an endorsement for talented storytelling whether print or digital. Let’s not throw the baby... Core skills are core skills?