The death of NFC and the potential of the new news bundle

Apple Keynote

I ‘watched’ the Apple Keynote on Tuesday as per usual. And yes I plan to replace my 2-year old iPhone 4s. My immediate impression after the event: nice phone, fingerprint authentication is cool, 64-bit is great. But overall an iterative not innovative launch.

On Wednesday, I caught up on my reading. If you have not, check out these three stories:

MONDAY: PayPal unveils Beacon, a Bluetooth-powered add-on check-in device and opens its Mobile In-Store API


WEDNESDAY: Estimote Details iOS 7 iBeacon Support For Its Contextual Proximity Shopping Devices

TL;DR: Ad networks are playing with geo-fencing, but PayPal is looking to use a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) device to actively recognize consumer location and facilitate deals and payments.

Apple is calling their version of a similar tech ‘iBeacon’ and looking to kill NFC before it gains any traction in the U.S. market.

And, a PayPal competitor in this niche took all of one day to announce their in-store device will be compatible with iOS7.

On Tuesday I commented to Josh Benton at Nieman Lab that the fingerprint scanner night be the biggest long-term feature on the new phone. It makes authentication and payment almost frictionless. But the real story is a lot bigger than that.

Om Malik connected a few more of the dots: 

“In the near term, the M7 sensor (a new motion processing chip) essentially opens up opportunities for new fitness applications. M7 will help create a personal computing fabric that will reside on our person — be it wearables such as Nike Fuel band, a smart watch or whatever. Sensor data is a way for apps to get ‘senses.’  …The M7 sensor processor, Bluetooth LE support and iBeacon are part of the efforts Apple is making to push “low power everywhere.”

So what is the message from Apple?

  1. We killed Flash and are coming for NFC.
  2. Smartphones are computers, not phones. (We already knew this thanks to Clayton Christensen.)
  3. The smartphone is a life tool. (More below)
  4. As per #3 utility, not content will be the primary use for these devices.

‘Utility’ is a much-abused term. But in other words, smartphones are quickly replacing or augmenting every task the average person performs in their daily public or private lives from dawn to dusk.

Call it the ‘life support’ strategy: Your phone can wake you up in the morning and warn you of too much CO2 in the house; Track your morning fitness routine and still get you to work on time; Get you deals at Target and check your credit card balance; Let you buy lunch and count the calories; Alert you to breaking news and route you around traffic on the way home; Set your home DVR to record ‘Breaking Bad’ or order and play Season One on Netflix.

Those categories look like:

  1. Internet of Things
  2. E-commerce
  3. Quantitative self
  4. Content

Media organizations are mostly focusing on #4, making content look good on a small screen. That consumer need is a key experience for journalists, but it ignores the powerful potential of the new news bundle.

The print newspaper has comics, classifieds, display ads, sports agate, events calendars, games, coupons and more. The typical news website has some of those features, the typical news app has – news.

This of course is where it gets tricky. How does a media company get involved in remote sensors, e-commerce or fitness apps in a way that serves the community and holds some promise of revenues?

No idea.

But look at the facts. A majority of U.S. adults now own smartphones, and they will soon be using them for everything. Everything. Newspapers are good at one thing and unfortunately journalism needs some help to be self-sufficient.

We can keep working on the things we are good at, or we can learn to do new things that consumers want, and advertisers need. Those lessons probably involve hiring a native app developer and spending some money on research and development. Get used to it.


When conspiracy theories strike, how do you respond?

Simple question: When misinformation is spreading on social media – can it be stopped?

Simple answer: No. As Churchill (edit: apocryphally) said,  “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” But, if you catch it early enough, you can potentially limit the damage.

Along with the tragedy of the Marathon bombing last week came the instant but well-worn conspiracy theories – none of which I am going to link to. Suffice to say, if you can dream up an improbable scenario someone has a webpage and a YouTube video dedicated to proving it is true.

One of particular interest here was pegged to a Boston Globe tweet sent at 3:53pm on April 15, an hour after the bombing:

Due to the vagaries of timezones and a lack of media literacy this was almost immediately seized upon by conspiracy theorists who thought it was sent hours before the actual bombing. (See below for details.) After intermittently responding on Twitter for a day or two, I compiled a timeline in Storify and began somewhat aggressively linking to it.

It is tough to quantify the success of those efforts. But, I did learn a few things along the way. These specifically apply to Twitter, but can extend to any platform.

First, I found five different types of users who were discussing the myth. Roughly categorized they were:

  1. Passers-by
  2. Questioners
  3. Trolls
  4. Accusers
  5. Conspiracists

Passers-by were people who simply got caught up in the conversation of friends and had little or no passion about the topic. Questioners had no particular reason to believe in a conspiracy, but were troubled by what others were saying about it. Trolls are just trolls – tough to say if some of them actually believed in anything aside from causing trouble. Accusers were the easiest to spot and respond to. Their tweets typically read  “@BostonGlobe why did you <fill in the blank>?” They tended to be skeptical of any answer, but may be reasoned with. Conspiracists were probably the smallest, but most vocal group. They are also the least likely to believe any evidence that contradicts their world view. They often responded with “Yes, but what about <link to conspiracy website> that was confirmed by eyewitnesses?”

In every case, the key is to respond honestly and directly and to stay on topic. Aside from some fairly amusing reactions (one person tried to report me to the FBI for spreading the myth) the effort seemed to be worth it. There are no fewer conspiracies floating around, but this particular one seems to have at least lost some traction. If there is a next time there are a few tips I would follow from day one:

  1. Before you respond, have something (in this case Storify) you can link to that tells your story.
  2. Track @ responses, but also check for keywords (in this case Globe, controlled explosion, drill)
  3. Prioritize responses to users who have large followings or numerous retweets
  4. Engage with individuals – but assume innocence. Some people are honestly confused and are just trying to make sense of events.
  5. Respond carefully, stay on topic and stick to the facts, avoid ANY extraneous detail.
  6. Humor does not work, sarcasm does not work. Use a few short words and a link.
  7. Everyone gets one back-and-forth but then disengage. This is fact-sharing not a debate. Stop while you are ahead.
  8. Don’t expect people to respond, correct their mistake, or even RT your link. The best you can hope for is they stop spreading the myth further.
  9. Look for allies already arguing with the conspiracists. They will be more likely to retweet the link and fight its spread for you.
  10. In the face of abusive responses say, “Thanks, sorry I could not be of more help.” or something similar. Then block those accounts as necessary.

You certainly can not “win” in these situations. There is no gatekeeper available to make a ruling on truth vs fiction. Some people will continue to believe whatever they want to believe. But, we can’t pretend that the spread of misinformation is not worth fighting. The more people that believe in a fiction, the fewer people will believe anything factual we do report.

Links are the currency of the Web. By staying out of these arguments we cede the field to the fantasists. By specifically addressing the truth (which many have this week) and then spreading the message on social media, we can fight fire with fire. We won’t convince everyone, but we can at least assure that a Twitter or Google search of the subject provides some facts, not just the fantasy.




Mobile-First Journalism : a Top Ten list

This discussion originated at Poynter’s Mobile First workshop last week and is slightly edited from suggestions gathered on the Mobile Journalism group on Facebook. And yes, there are 12 items and probably a few good ones still left to be added:

  1. Your website is responsively designed with smartphones as the core case.
  2. Your executive editor/general manager/publisher uses your mobile site daily.
  3. Staffers have smartphones and both consume and report news with them.
  4. Special project planning starts with a discussion of mobile elements and presentation.
  5. Mobile performance is included in staff goals.
  6. You have newsroom and business leaders with ‘mobile’ in their title.
  7. When the mobile site/app breaks at 2 a.m. phone calls are made to get it fixed.
  8. Your advertising team is selling mobile-first and ads are targeted to devices and locations.
  9. Your CMS has multiple content channels allowing different headlines and summary text (etc.) on mobile and web.
  10. You have an API that allows ‘data first’ development for current and future devices and partners.
  11. “User Experience” and “User Centered Design” are key concepts in your product development process.
  12. Fifty percent of your traffic comes via touchscreen devices.

News reading metrics: One big game of “telephone” and average errors

I am building a presentation on mobile metrics, so most any data-related tidbit catches my eye. This from Mathew Ingram crossed my stream on Saturday:


The post linked to and lead me to re-read a piece by Google’s Hal Varian from 2010. I was shocked to be reminded how little time people spend reading news online:

…visitors to online newspaper sites don’t spend a lot of time there. The average amount of time looking at online news is about 70 seconds a day, while the average amount of time spent reading the physical newspaper is about 25 minutes a day.

But as I tweeted last week:


Basically, digital metrics are as much art as science. However, print metrics have been around a lot longer and are even more ‘artsy.’ Not to mention, never trust anything that reports an ‘average’ without explaining the details.

So, where does the ’70 seconds vs 25 minutes’ data come from?

The Slideshare deck from Varian’s talk includes a bit more detail on the digital numbers:

Online for month of June 2009
Unique audience: 70 million
Web page views: 3.2 billion
Sessions: 600 million
Pages per person: 49
Sessions per person: 8.5
Time per person: 38 min

Somewhat surprisingly, one of Varian’s sources for the statistics is a story by Martin Langeveld on in 2009. Langeveld was making a specific point (as evidenced by the headline Print is still king: Only 3 percent of newspaper reading happens online) that despite the hype around digital – a lot of people still like print. Fair enough.

Luckily, he does provide some context on the print readership numbers:

How much time was spent with printed newspapers?  NAA doesn’t offer a study providing an average, nor can I find one elsewhere, but I’m going to use 25 minutes Monday-Saturday and 35 minutes on Sunday. Multiplying this out, we get 96.5 billion minutes per month spent with printed newspapers.

In the comments and a postscript, Langeveld points out that the numbers can be disputed. But he links out to a 2006 report on the Newspaper Association of America website to support the print time-spent estimates.

Now that we have a source, the problem is a bit clearer. The NAA data is the result of field work by Scarborough Reseach done in late 2005 using a 23-minute questionnaire of 4,594 respondents. Seventy-four percent were regular (once weekly minimum) newspaper readers, 26% were not.

And that is the catch. The study (as far as I can tell from the PowerPoint) did not measure daily readership – it analyzed weekly engagement. So, among the 74% of respondents who read the paper at least ONCE in the previous week, 45 percent spent more than 30 minutes and 21 percent spent as little as one minute during their most recent session.

Among 4,594 repondents, 3,400 read a newspaper in the past 7 days
Among readers:
1,530 spent 30 minutes or more
1,156 spent 16-30 minutes
714 spent between 1 and 15 minutes

Since we have no idea how often these 3,400 people from 2005 read the paper we have quite a range of “time-spent” per day. The calculations are largely pointless, but we can easily generate averages from 2.5 to 40 minutes daily. A realistic range is anywhere from 4 to 30 minutes per day – among those who read newspapers regularly.

So while the original research methods were legitimate, they were not intended as a measurement of monthly time-spent.  And even as far as their intended purpose, the NAA numbers are still just a guess. There really is no way to track how many people (the pass-along rate is important) read the printed paper, how many pages they read, how many stories on each page they read, and how long they spend reading each story.

Plus, that was 2005.

So, lesson learned. Readership metrics are open for interpretation. And once a rumor gets started like an old game of telephone: from Scarborough in 2005 to NAA in 2006 to NiemanLab in 2009 to Hal Varian in 2010 to a random blog post in 2012 – the original meaning gets a bit lost.

Of course, a fair question might be – does using old/unintended numbers really change anything in the Web’s favor readership-wise? Not really. Print is still very popular and the news media possess only a small portion of the digital audience. But more importantly, we still have a three percent problem. That challenge has more to do with competing against Google and Facebook for attention, not against print for advertising revenues.

To end on a happier note, when you are measuring Web traffic, and reporting averages — you are going to end up with very low averages compared to actual reader behavior. That’s because 40-50% of visits are probably from fly-by consumers arriving via a Twitter or Facebook or Google. They are not your customers, and while they drive up page view and unique visitor numbers, they drive down average time-spent and ad click-through-rates.

So, if the NAA/Scarborough print engagement study can filter out non-customers why don’t we do the same on the Web? Go check out the numbers for your loyal visitors (10+ visits per month) and see what they look like. Of course, unless you are Facebook you are not going to end up with 30 minute reading sessions on average, but then in reality neither does print.


Public media & newspaper API

There must be additional media companies with public-facing APIs – these were just the obvious ones that showed up in a Google search. Interested though in who has developed internal APIs that are used for product development, not public use?

New York Times
The Guardian
USA Today
Associated Press (subscriber only)
Huffington Post Polls