2012年10月26日

The integration of old media and new media can often be like trying to mix oil and water. Even when smart media entities have been proactive in approaching the new digital paradigm – the world of smartphones and tablets, social and serendipity – they have failed either through poor decision making or not putting in a full effort.

The CNN Difference
But CNN is different. Where many newspapers and cable companies have faltered, CNN has thrived. A lot of the credit goes to the cable news company’s acquisition of Zite, the makers of a popular iPad news app.

Zite is a social content discovery engine. It uses signals from sources like Twitter and Facebook to determine what a subscriber likes to read and deliver content they might not find otherwise. It began as an iPad appand was acquired by CNN in Aug. 2011.

Many ZIte users cringed when they heard that CNN was taking over. The acquisition had all the hallmarks of the failed strategies that have been replayed over and over in big media since the advent of the Web: aging media behemoth thinks it can innovate by acquiring hot new media startup, then runs it into the ground.

For Zite’s part, it was apprehensive about being acquired in the first place.“To be blunt, we had no desire for Zite to be acquired after what happened at Microsoft,” said Zite CEO Mark Johnson.

Johnson was part of Powerset, a semantic search startup that was acquired by Microsoft in 2008. Johnson notes that out of about 60 people from Powerset that went to Microsoft, only about six of them are left at the company. So when CNN approached Zite about an acquisition last year, Johnson was wary about going in that direction.

A Surprisingly Happy Marriage

The acquisition has turned out well for both parties. Instead of CNN gutting the Zite team and letting the product languish, Zite got its own office in San Francisco and has actively hired more employees. “I had very frank conversations with [KC Estenson, CNN senior vice president and general manager of digital] about what the structure would be,” Johnson said.

On the flip side, Zite has provided CNN with a variety of positive elements. Estenson noted that Zite gives CNN a presence on the West Coast with the ability to “tap the mindset of San Francisco.”

CNN digital has a history of thinking progressively about online news dissemination. Zite gave CNN a distinct mobile discovery engine with backend technology that could be worked into CNN’s homepage. The next phase was to make sure that Zite survived the acquisition.

Estenson was very cognizant of Johnson’s concerns. “We wanted Mark and the team to have the freedom to try new things,” Estenson said.

Zite Kept Growing After The Acquisition

Zite has spread from an iPad-only app to a variety of platforms, including the iPhone as well as Android tablets and smartphones. The company launched branded advertising and a publisher program. Last week it launched its first integration with the parent company, called CNN Trends, powered by the Zite technology stack. CNN Trends pairs original CNN coverage with popular related stories from around the Web. “CNN is what you need to know, Zite is what you want to know,” Estenson explained.

So, why has the CNN/Zite partnership worked so well?

Many people thought that an old media company like CNN would not understand what Zite was doing and eventually force it to bend to the larger company’s will. That has not happened.

To CNN’s benefit, it recognized that it had bought not just a popular news discovery app, but the technology behind it.

Zite started as a group of researchers in Vancouver that had a product called Worio (Web Of Research, Iteration One), which provided serendipitous discovery through a search engine. Worio was built around the concept of personalized search that recognized not just what you were searching for, but the topics related to it. The approach of personalized news and content discovery is what appealed to CNN. Estenson says that topic personalization will be the future of how big media brands need to market content.

CNN Kept An Open Mind

The fact that Zite has survived the CNN acquisition suggests that the cable news giant kept an open mind when it approached Zite. CNN recognized that it needed some skin in the mobile game and Zite has provided that – along with key backend technology to improve CNN’s homepage.

In the end, the combinattin has formed a rare success story in an arena where new media and old media typically fight for eyeballs: a mutually beneficial relationship built on trust and respect.

“There is a deep respect from me and the other CNN execs for the Zite team,” Estenson said. “We are not bullshitting about how much we get along and how well we work together.”

Via ReadWriteWeb

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Pocket for Mac is officially released, and makes viewing multimedia easier, faster, and more refined for those saving on the go.

From commuting to appointment waiting to leisure, people are always looking for different ways to kill time by reading, viewing, and saving things from the Web. Read-it-later apps like Instapaper and Readability have dominated the market, but Pocket — formerly Read It later — continues to push ahead and win over users with its simplicity. If you’re one for saving articles on top of multimedia, Pocket may be your best bet at a beautiful way to save webpages for later viewing, complete with a tagging system to help organize your links. Now that the app’s come to the Mac platform, you can sync your iOS or Android accounts so saved pages can be viewed on-the-go, or saved on your mobile device to be read back on your desktop.

Pocket for Mac is as intuitive an app as you can imagine when it comes to saving pages. To get started, simply copy the link of the webpage you’re trying to store, and click File > Save Item from Clipboard, or shortcut Command+S. Your list of saved pages displays on a vertical screen to the left of the Pocket window, with the content on the right when you select.

Neat additions to the Mac version of Pocket is definitely the one-key shortcut, such as A for Archive and F to Favorite. You can also tag each page so they’re easier to search the more you accumulate saved links. Videos also translate nicely onto Pocket, especially if you already have Flash installed on your Mac. The app allows you to view the video straight out of its interface, otherwise requesting that you download necessary plug-ins to play multimedia. I personally haven’t run into file type errors, as most publications will post videos from YouTube or Vimeo anyway, and those seem to work just fine.

If you want to share a link after already viewing the content, the Item > Share button also does a good job of sending the item out to Twitter, Facebook, Evernote, and Buffer. It’s even got a tweet attribution when you send it from Pocket, which is a small but useful touch.

Overall, Pocket does a good job recognizing pictures in an article, article link, headline, byline, and publication. One function I wish was available is the ability to rename files, such as a photo I saved from a blog that didn’t have a get an assigned name, according to Pocket. Between constantly traveling and attempting to save things to read later, Pocket makes a nice alternative for those who enjoy minimal design with multimedia capability, and the willingness to learn some cool shortcuts and make saving for later quick and painless. Pocket for Mac is available now for free via the App Store.

Via Digital Trends

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With less than three weeks until the election, even the most enthusiastic political pundits and hobbyists might be feeling a bit burned out. Not only is this the first “Super PAC election,” resulting in an unprecedented number of television attack ads, it’s also the first social media election. Every time you check Facebook or Twitter, it’s hard to avoid your uncle’s birther ramblings or your cousin’s “9/11 was an inside job” nonsense.

Thankfully, there’s Unpolitic.me, a Google Chrome extension that does its best to block all political content from your Twitter and Facebook feeds and replace it with… cat pictures. It was developed by Buzzfeed’s creative director Chris Baker and modeled afterUnbaby.me, which Baker helped develop to rid your feeds of infants (which makes me wonder: do we only like cute pictures of babies when they don’t belong to our friends and family?)

On Facebook and Twitter, the extension is a useful tool that may lose its novelty after the election. But on Buzzfeed’s site, Unpolitic.me is put to a much more fascinating use. It exists as a button that lets you effectively turn on/off all political content. And there are few sites better-suited for its implementation than Buzzfeed, where investigative journalism is often presented on the same page as baby animal pictures, a juxtaposition not every publisher is comfortable with. When Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti sat down with PandoDaily’s editor in chief Sarah Lacy, he said, “You can say, ‘My site will only publish serious stuff,’ but the New York Times is going to be right in that (Facebook) news feed next to the cute kittens, and that’s where people are going to see it. They’re gonna all be mashed together. So our thesis is, why don’t we do that at the source, as the publisher.”

But with this button, Buzzfeed could be embracing a third way: we’ll give you all the content we have, but you can turn off the content you don’t want to see.

As news organizations are expected to cover more and more subjects to attract as many eyeballs as possible, the question of how to organize this information isn’t easily solved. The Huffington Post has gone the “endless vertical” route, diving its content into dozens of sections from “Weird News” to “Divorce.” Atlantic Media has taken a different route, dividing its properties into different brands on different domains, from the Atlantic Wire to the Atlantic Cities to QuartzFast Company has done the same thing with CoExist, et al.

Others have looked to “news personalization,” delivering content tailored to each individual user (see MySlate and Mashable Follow). But that forces the publisher to compete with the Twitters and Zites of the world, which allow users to curate their own feeds with content from the entire Web, not just your site.

But if Buzzfeed were to add on/or buttons for all content categories (cats, memes, sports, etc.) it could provide an easy personalization mechanism for its readers that requires no prior algorithmic analysis of their tastes. It also doesn’t require users to “follow” certain topics or writers like Mashable Follow. When you’re forced to follow things, there’s always a drive to follow everything for fear you might miss something. And that point, it’s easier to just consume the whole site without any personalization.

For my part, I read content from most of Buzzfeed’s verticals already, but I know a lot of people who don’t care for the listicles but love the politics (and vice-versa). I’d love to take it one more step: let’s see a “Lindsay Lohan” on/off switch for the New York Daily News. Or a “Kickstarter news” on/off switch for Boing Boing. And is it too much to ask for a “months-late Brooklyn trend piece” on/off switch for the New York Times?

Unpolitic.me could just be another one of Buzzfeed’s clever election gambits, faded from memory as quickly as it appeared. But I hope it isn’t, and that we see more experiments like this in how to manage and organize content on mega-sites. That way, increasingly-addled readers get the best possible experience and maybe even stay on your site for more than one article.

Via PandoDaily

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Apple’s eBook platform for iOS is getting its first significant update in nine months. iBooks 3.0 will arrive in the App Store later today, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced this morning at the event where Apple’s new iPad Mini was introduced.

The new iBooks app will feature better integration with iCloud, continuous scrolling and support for dozens of new languages. Apple is also whittling away at its own walled garden a little bit by letting readers share passages via Facebook and Twitter.

Apple has been baking social networks more deeply into its operating systems, and this update is a nice touch. The inability to share short excerpts with friends was a palpable shortcoming in iBooks until today.

It’s not just eBook readers that are getting new features today. Apple is also pushing out a new version of iBooks Author, the drag-and-drop publishing tool used to create books for the iBookstore. iBooks Author features new templates and embeddable fonts.

A new push in education

In January, Apple took aim at the education market when it launched iBooks 2 and started offering digital textbooks in the iBookstore. While iBooks 3 is a more subtle update, Apple is emphasizing the growing role iPads play in education and has some numbers to tout. The iBooks platform now covers 80% of the core curriculum in U.S. high schools and more than 2,500 classrooms are using iBooks textbooks, Cook said.

Apple also addressed one common criticism about the iPad’s viability in the classroom this morning: the price. Alongside the fourth generation iPad, the company unveiled the iPad Mini, a $329 tablet with a 7.9-inch display.

The lower price point will make the iPad Mini an attractive option for cash-strapped school districts, while also pushing the competition in a way that is sure to impact the tablet market overall.

Via ReadWriteWeb

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The Japanese Kindle Store is opening tomorrow, and since Amazon isn’t a company to do things at the last minute they rolled out a couple updates today to support their new customers.

Amazon has released new versions of both the Kindle for Android and Kindle for iOS apps. Both apps now support vertical text required for some Japanese ebooks, but each also got new abilities that the other did not.

You can also now email files to Amazon from inside other Android apps. For example, You could select a DOC file in ES File Explorer. When you press and hold on the file a menu should pop up with a number of options, including one which will let you email the DOC to Amazon so it can be converted.

Cool feature, but it’s balanced by the fact the file got huge (17MB). This feature also does not work for me on my Galaxy Tab (Android 2.3). The Kindle Android app now has improved support for the Nexus 7 as well as other tablets running Android 4.1.

The iOS app will likely never get similar email functions (Apple would never allow it), but today the app did get a useful ability as well as a couple prettifications.

Amazon added a new font choice, Caecilia, and you can also read the book in the publisher suggested font(s). Assuming the publisher is smart about their font choices, this should add to the reading experience.

But the more important feature for the iPad app is the new X-Ray for textbooks. Do you like how you can look up a character’s background in a Kindle novel? Now you will be able to do the same with textbooks. X-Ray for textbooks gives you instant access to the most important terms and concepts in a book, including glossary definitions, links to relevant textbook pages, and related content from Wikipedia and YouTube.

This feature seems to only be available for the Kindle Print Ready textbooks. KPR is Amazon’s PDF format, and it’s a nod to the fact that page shaped slivers of content still works for some material.

And even in a limited form, X-Ray for textbooks is bound to be useful to students. I’ve played with similar features in the Kno and Inkling iPad apps. This does add useful information which students often need.

iTunes

Google Play

Via The Digital Reader

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eBooks are increasingly being thought of as works in progress. In the past Pearson has announced early releases of time-sensitive programming books, O’Reilly has published an unfinished ebook, and now that iBooks 3.0 makes it easier for publishers to push out new content it’s clear that ebooks aren’t regarded as the finished product their print forbears were.

But as useful as the impermanent nature of digital content might be, ebook publishers are still casting about to find the best way to make use of it. I was reminded of that this week by a recently updated ebook.

O’Reilly is a technical publisher who is well known for selling DRM-free ebooks, and one of the eboks I have bought from them is called The Global eBook Market: Current Conditions & Future Projections. As you can tell from the name, it summarizes the global ebook market.

This is the type of book which will quickly go out of date (6 months or less, IMO), so it’s a good thing that O’Reilly has released an update a few days ago. Or it would be, if I could tell what had been changed with the new edition.

There’s no clear indication in the ebook where new content has been added, nor can I see where the existing content has been edited to include corrected facts or other details which only came to light after the previous update. There isn’t even a change log for the update, so I don’t even know which sections were edited.

Here is where ebook publishers could take a lesson from app developers. It’s more common than not for app developers to post a list of what had been changed whenever they release a new version of their app. While the changelog is not always complete or accurate, it is better than not having one at all.

And yes, I do realize that I am preaching to the choir, given that a lot of digital publishers work with/beside/for app developers. On the other hand, O’Reilly is not posting these kind of details and if one of the more innovative digital publishers isn’t then chances are they’re not alone.

And besides, having this info in hand would really help readers, and that is the whole point.

Via The Digital Reader

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