Posts filed under “Disruptive Technology”

Flipboard and the Reading Revolution

As a contributor to The Mark News, I recently wrote about Flipboard and its implications on reading as a social activity. Here is the article below:

Magazines like Vanity Fair are struggling to adapt to digital readership. Applications like Flipboard can help.

As we continue to consume more and more online content, we seek an increasingly interactive browsing experience. The prevalence of smart devices such as BlackBerrys, iPhones, and iPads is creating new online behaviour patterns, with sharing and commenting becoming a normal part of digesting information. Magazine publishers are still struggling to evolve their products to service this new digital readership. Enter Flipboard, an iPad application offering a promising alternative that blends personal and professional content together to create a dynamic reading experience.

Many heralded the launch of Apple’s iPad as salvation for print publishing, a chance to breathe new life into a struggling industry. A few months later, readers are still waiting for their revolution. Publishers have released applications for their magazines, for example Condé Nast for Wired, GQ, and Vanity Fair, with mixed success. Plagued with criticisms of a clunky interface, such applications are making many questioning paying $4.99 for what one user described as a “glorified pdf.” By not simply converting their content and putting it online, publishers are missing on an opportunity to engage with readers on two levels.

One is multimedia experience. I downloaded the Vanity Fair application a few weeks ago and was disappointed with the multimedia offerings. While the application contained a handful of videos, they seemed to be sprinkled throughout the issue as an afterthought. The medium has evolved, but the content clearly has not. Surviving in the digital marketplace will require a fundamental retooling of the strategic approach currently used to create and distribute content. Multimedia needs to be integrated as an essential tool that supports the existing content and allows users to engage with the issue at hand in a variety of ways. The iPad’s ability to rotate the screen to alternate between horizontal and vertical viewing makes it the perfect device to seamlessly switch between video, photo, and text content.

The other is social integration. Social optimization site Gigya recently reported that web users are increasingly using their social network credentials when surfing the web to access content, but use different sites for different purposes. When accessing entertainment sites, 52 per cent of users opted to log in with their Facebook accounts. However, for news sites, Twitter appeared to be the most used site; 45 per cent of users selected the micro-blogging site to quickly share and spread news items. Both networks allow people to quickly disseminate information amongst their social circles and to comment on the postings of their friends. Many magazine applications don’t have this ability, making it difficult for readers to interact with each other around the content.

Does Flipboard offer a new hope? The newly launched iPad application aims to bridge these gaps and offer readers a new online reading experience. The free application, which aims to be the “world’s first social magazine,” uses your Facebook and Twitter accounts to aggregate content posted by your network, displaying the results in a magazine-like layout. With the scroll of a finger, you can turn the pages to browse, share, and comment on articles, videos, and photos. Tweets, status updates, and Tumblr posts (to name a few) get a visual makeover and are attractively arranged on each page. Clicking on a specific item enables you to see which of your friends have commented, retweeted, or “liked” it. One of my favourite features is the ability to hide any contacts who are overly aggressive in their posting (or prone to over-sharing details you’re better off not knowing!)

Complementing this personal stream of information, Flipboard also offers a list of categories that users can add to their application homepage, covering everything from news and technology to fashion, food, design, and celebrity gossip. The result is a perfect blend of personal and professional content that combines all your important information streams in one place. Now you can browse the latest news stories from the BBC right alongside that photo album of your nephews. Flipboard also supports Instapaper, which allows you to make “Read Later” bookmarks, so you can read articles offline later.

The interface currently holds nine content sections. More sections will be made available with future releases, along with the option to create more customized streams. I was impressed with the application’s beautiful design and intuitive navigation. It’s the best effort I’ve seen so far to come close to what the next generation of publications should look like.

Hopefully, publishers will take note of this type of application and incorporate some of its features into their own digital offerings to improve the overall quality of the industry. From a reader’s perspective, I would offer publishers the following advice:

  • Linking social networks into content driven apps should be a standard feature. People want to discuss and share the interesting stories they come across online. In addition to simply forwarding links, commentary is becoming an increasingly desired feature. As a reader, I don’t just want to share a link with my friends, I want to know what they thought of it as well. Providing an environment for people to discuss content will increase the overall value of the site. Blogs have been encouraging reader comments, and the most successful have a vibrant community that engages in thoughtful debates. To me, this additional discussion adds more value to the original post or article.
  • Design with offline in mind. As much as we would like to be connected all the time, sometimes we simply don’t have access to the internet. At the very least, applications should have a cache feature enabling readers to access their content when offline. This is especially true for video content, which should be hosted locally on the application. I was very frustrated that I couldn’t access any of the videos in the Vanity Fair application while I was on an airplane.
  • Create an interactive experience that breaks down silos between online and offline. What I hoped to see in the Vanity Fair app was a mix of their magazine articles and blog posts. Publishers should incorporate all their content streams into one place. The shorter and more informal posts are great counterparts for the serious articles published in the issues. I encourage publishers to break down external barriers and start linking to other sources online. As we careen into the age of information overload, there is an area of opportunity for magazines to curate and identify the most interesting pieces of content, even if they were authored by someone else. Magazines shouldn’t be afraid of linking to other publications or resources that add to the conversation. Doing this consistently provides credibility and earns a reader’s trust. If a magazine is constantly providing me with articles of interesting and meaningful content, I will keep coming back.

Flipboard is a positive step towards the next iteration of publishing. Let’s hope others follow to provide readers with a beautifully designed and easy-to-use customized reading experience.

Cross-posted on The Mark.

Well Played: @oldspice wins the hearts and minds of the web

Ok I really should be packing for my trip tomorrow, but I am getting such a kick out of these videos that I couldn’t resist a quick tip of my hat to one of the funniest social media campaigns to come along in a while.

Step 1: Establish Familiarity Through Series of Hilarious Commercials

It all began with the Old Spice Guy (now referred to as O.S.G.) commercials showing women “The Man Your Man Can Smell like:”

and finally the most recent:

Step 2: Personalized Engagement to fans and Targeted Influencers

In the last few days, the O.S.G has been responding to fan’s tweets with personalized videos. In particular, he has been targeting celebrities including Alyssa Milano, Kevin Rose and blogger Perez Hilton.

To date there are over 100 videos varying in length (from 30 seconds to about two minutes) answering all types of questions. Mashable recently reported that the O.S.G even helped someone propose to their girlfriends. (She said yes.) And who could resist with this video?

Digital Media Lessons:

1) Content is still king.

The videos are creative, funny and compelling to watch. By providing unpredictable answers, users are entertained enough to watch several of the videos giving Old Spice more exposure and brand awareness.

2) Limited availability = increased frenzy of response

Everyone understood that it takes time and effort to produce personalized videos. For us non-celebrities, to get O.S.G’s attention requires something witty and clever. I’ve noticed several tweets going by of questions and comments aimed at O.S.G, that made me laugh out loud. This increases the creative quality of the entire campaign and gets people interacting with the brand even if they don’t get a personalized response.

3) Evolution of Ego-Baiting Influencers: The Video Stage

In our culture of celebrity endorsement, getting the thumbs up can go a long. O.S.G. focused personalized responses for several highly visible twitter users. In the case of actress Alyssa Milano, the O.S.G. created two videos for her, both of which were re-tweeted to her +900,000 followers. At the time of this post there were already 300 RTs.

Ego-Baiting is a common practice on the web. Why? Because it works. Most people who are in this space (myself included) have Google Alerts and other methods to monitor when something is written about us. If I see a blog post where someone has mentioned my name, I always go and check it out. I think it’s standard procedure in today’s age of “personal brand management.”

While this has usually been done via text based means (twitter/blogs, etc.) it’s interesting to see the method evolved to now include videos. Customized video responses that address you personally are impossible to resist and share.

4) Supports Existing Media Channels

One of my favorite aspects of this campaign was the seamless way the social media initiatives support the traditional media channel, namely the television commercial. The campaign didn’t assume that social media would replace what they were already doing, but found complementary ways to support their goal of increasing brand awareness and exposure. Strategically, this was flawlessly executed.  To date the original old spice commercial has more than 12 million views on the Old Spice YouTube Channel.

Some thoughts:

1) Limited Scalability:

I wonder how long the O.S.G can keep this up? I’m interested to see how many videos are created in total and how many days this campaign runs. While still probably cheaper then a television ad placed during prime time, I wonder how much it costs to have an Actor respond to these tweets on an ongoing basis.

2) Can it be replicated?

This campaign benefits from being the first one to engage consumers in this way. I do believe these types of campaigns can be replicated, as long as the content is funny and engaging. However, eventually it will reach a point where consumers get bored. How many products can we tolerate sending us personalized messages?

3) O.S.C and future brand association AKA Miley Cyrus Syndrome

The O.S.C has now become firmly entrenched in our minds as representing the Old Spice brand. I wonder if they are planning on keeping him as a regular fixture for the time being, or if this is a limited time engagement. I feel that this might be the kind of thing that sticks to actors reputation. He will forever be known as the Old Spice Guy. Which means that in the future, if he does anything shady it will be indirectly associated with the Old Spice brand.

For example, in May, D.C. Douglas, Geiko’s voice spokesperson, made an inappropriate (though funny) call to the Tea Party. The story was picked up by the news, and the Geiko brand was constantly mentioned, even though the actor didn’t actually make a physical appearance in any of the commercials.  I call this Miley Cyrus Syndrome which is what happens when you box a person within the two dimensional parameters of a brand.

I’ve emailed Proctor and Gamble some questions and we’ll see if they get back to me.

Ps: Since I’ve started drafting this post there are 1682 additional tweets referencing @oldspice.

Haiti: The Role of Social Networks and Open Data in Crisis Response

Last week, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti ravaging the country’s capital Port-au-Prince. The International Red Cross is estimating that at least three million people were impacted by the quake, with Haitian government officials citing that up to 200,000 people have been killed. Major infrastructure damage was also reported including the destruction of Parliament and the Presidential Palace.

The Internet community quickly rallied around this cause and provided an excellent case study of how social networks and open data can help in crisis response.

1) BREAKING NEWS: Up to the minute information flow



Within hours of the quake, Haiti was a trending word on Twitter and users in Haiti provided live coverage of the earthquake including sending pictures, and information about damaged areas. In addition, some users are using their twitter feed to provide the names and conditions of survivors and coordinating rescue efforts in saving people who were still trapped in the rubble.


On Facebook, over 250,000 people have joined a group called Earthquake Haiti. Members are using the social network to post pictures of missing family members, as well as exchanging information on how to locate survivors, donate money and  offer words of comfort and support.


The Haiti 2010 Wikipedia Page was created within seconds after the quake and according the HuffPost, the page has received over 168,000 pages views and lists over 106 article sources. Smart Phones have also allowed Haitians to upload footage of the wreckage to sites such as Youtube, Vimeo and other video sharing sites. The day after the earthquake, over 4,000 Haiti related videos were uploaded to Youtube.

2) Coordinated Donation Efforts: Viral Advertising + Easy Call to Action

In addition to quickly disseminating information about the unfolding crisis, social media also provided a powerful platform to let people know how they could help. Users quickly shared information about fundraising campaigns and directed people to links where they could easily donate funds.

The American Red Cross launched an SMS  campaign enabling people to donate $10 right from their cell phones. The campaign proved immensely successful and raised a record $7 million within the first 24 hours.   In Canada, the Canadian Red Cross reported over $15.4 million in donations, with 85% of donations coming in online.

I don’t think it was just the increase of information available, but the fact that we were witnessing this disaster unfold through the eyes of those living it that made such an impact. The human element combined with an easy call to action made it simple and intuitive for those who wanted to help.

3) The Tech Community and Global Disaster Relief

Both Google and Facebook launched in Disaster Relief pages.



Facebook recently launched their Disaster Relief Page. According to the official Facebook blog this page is for:

“…the more than 350 million people on Facebook can educate themselves and find out how to help not only in Haiti but wherever disaster and misfortune may strike.

Every minute, people have been posting more than 1,500 status updates on Facebook that contained the word “Haiti.” People have contributed thousands of dollars through the Causes application on Facebook, and groups including the American Red Cross, Oxfam America and Partners in Health have mobilized supporters through their Facebook Pages and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the last 24 hours alone.”

Currently, the group has over 100,000 members and the Causes features has raised over $95,000 to date.


The search engine giant has also created a Disaster Relief page that allows people to easily donate and stay up to speed on breaking events as they unfold. In addition to donating one million dollars to the cause they are also offering free phone calls to Haiti via Google Voice.

Most interestingly, they have released a new data layer for Google Earth that allows users to see satellite images of Haiti post-quake. They have made this feature available via plugin, which you can get here. Users are encouraged to upload any information, pictures or footage and tag it through their Google Map Maker feature.

4) The Need for Open Data


Many news organizations have created “Peoplefinder” sites, a way to enable people to find information about missing family members. Boingboing published an open letter from Christopher Csikszentmihalyi, Director of the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, on how to make these initiatives more effective by opening their data:

“In the response to the earthquake in Haiti, many organizations worked to create sites where people could find one another, or least information about their loved ones. This excellent idea has been undermined by its success: within 24 hours it became clear that there were too many places where people were putting information, and each site is a silo.

We recognize that many newspapers have put precious resources into developing a people-finder system. We nonetheless urge them to make their data available to the Google project, and standardize on the Google widget. Doing so will greatly increase the number of successful reunions. Data from the google site is currently available as “dumps” in the standard PFIF format (on this page), and an API is being developed, and licensed through Creative Commons. I am not affiliated with Google — indeed, this is a volunteer initiative by some of their engineers — but this is one case where their reach and capacity can help the most people.”

Ultimately, creating data silos will not do anyone any good. We need to have open and transparent data that can be easily accessed and shared by various NGOs, governments and other interested parties who (like Google) can use it to create applications that can help and add value in a time of crisis. The New York Times has already indicated it would make it’s data available to Google and I hope more news organizations will follow suit.

While still in its infancy, I am happy to see that social media is creating opportunities for large groups of people to quickly share information and mobilize in support of those who are in need.

Image: CC United Nations Development Programme

#IranElections & Acts of Corporate Good

It is evident that the role of social media and digital communications play a critical role in sharing information during environmental disasters or times of political unrest. These tools help spread information, share news and level the playing field in a way that (at least for now) traditional governments can’t seem to stop, and not for lack of trying.

Using social media sites to organize and mobilize groups of people is nothing new. What I am finding particularly intriguing as I watch the Iranian Election crisis unfold, is how some of these social networks are making decisions as corporate entities that are evolving their roles from neutral platforms to powerful players within a new digital narrative. It’s no longer about USERS leveraging a site’s features, but organizational decisions which are adding a new variable to social media’s role in impacting global change.

For the first time, tech companies like Twitter, Facebook & Google are taking direct action in response to an unfolding crisis and are having a big impact. I’m trying to puzzle out the corporate agendas behind these acts as well as thinking of the implications that these decisions will have on driving the development of governmental IT policies and the creation of emerging digital rights legislation.

1) Twitter Reschedules Maintenance after US Government Appeal

The US State Department asked Twitter to reschedule its maintenance in order to keep the service available to Iranians so they could continue to share up to the second reports of the unfolding situation. A CNN blog post reported that US Government officials are pushing to ensure that they (and the rest of the world) continue to receive as much information as possible from social networking and content sharing sites. With this request coming from the US Government, it is clear that social media channels are being monitored by the Obama administration which has no diplomatic relationship with Iran. The content they are receiving through Twitter, Facebook and Youtube is an invaluable source of information.

Twitter made the corporate decision to change their maintenance date to provide the Iranian people the opportunity to share information at a critical juncture.

On to Facebook & Google


War in the Middle East Pt.3: Understanding Both Sides

This is the third part of a blog mini-series that is tracking the unfolding events in Gaza through the use of New Media tools. In this installment I’m going to list some helpful resources for people who are looking to educate themselves through sources beyond those of traditional media.This is especially important since members of the media have been granted only limited access to the war torn region. We need to hear these people’s stories.

As to how I picked the sources below, some I came across accidentally, others I found because I was looking for perspectives that support non-violent resolutions. Frankly, I don’t care who started what, launching rockets at civilians is as intolerable as mass bombing civilian populations. I have nothing but compassion and sympathy  ALL the people involved in this conflict, and but I don’t  believe that a military response (from either side) is going to ever bring peace to the region.










Some Interesting Articles:

Haaretz, one of Israel’s Newspapers has some great articles including these:

If you (or I) were Palestinian by Yossi Sarid

The IAF, Bullies of the clear blue sky, Gideon Levy

Here are some other sources I’ve come across during my readings this past week:

Israel Targets Hamas Orphenages , an in-depth look at how Hamas garners civilian support through a massive network of social institutions such as schools, mosques and medical clinics. Sheds insight onto why they have so much local support.

Operation Cast Lead- A Familiar Story in Gaza by Hugo Foster from the Daily Banter, shows the futility of a military operation against an aggressive insurgency.


Leila El-Haddad, a Palestinian journalist and mother blogs about her daily struggle to survive with her family in Gaza

Body On The Line A blog by Dr. Marcy Newman a professor in Palestine.

Palestinian Blog Aggregator

Non Profits:

The Electronic Intifada

Palestinian Red Crescent Society

J-Street a Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace Non Profit.

A good video:

This was a powerful video because it brought together Palestinians and Israelis in a talk to try and understand each other’s perspective. If only the two parties involved could talk to each other like this they would find that they have a lot more in common with each other. This video made me hopeful that little steps like these will one day lead to peaceful negotiations.

Good News Sites:

BBC Middle East Page

Huffington Post World Page

From the Web

Mashable had a great post recently about tracking Gaza crisis with social media tools. Highlights involve using:

  • Crisiswire – An aggregator that creates a single page around issues combining photos, rss feeds, news and more. The Gaza page can be found here.
  • WhosTalkin, a social search site covering 63 social media sites that were handpicked to deliver a well rounded result for users.

That should be enough to keep you busy for a while! Here are the previous installments in this series for those of you that missed it:  Part 1: Conflict in A Connected Age, Part 2: Moving at Twitter Speed.