Let’s get Semantic

February 18, 2008

Just spent a great couple of days at the SemanticCamp in Imperial College. Firstly a big shout out to Ashok Argent-Katwala and Tom Morris for organising the event, and for everyone else who came. Data is at the heart of most of the web ideas I have, particularly personal data. This event was fascinating in that it allowed me, a non-techie, to really see under the hood on the different technologies that are making these things possible.The RDF vs. Microformats debate carried on in various forms, with no real winner, but an acceptance that they are both useful tools which will, probably, converge. The eventual winner being the Semantic Web as a whole.I’ll be laying down some more thoughts later – shame I had to cancel a trip up to Scotland to go there. 

The Guardian does a great Flash piece

January 15, 2008

If you want to see some good multi-media then please look at The Guardian’s piece on the Mercian Regiments battle in Garmsir.

Combining interviews with soldiers and great representation of the battlezone, I learnt a lot about the reality of war from it. Lovely use of Flash and video – I’d be interested to find out how much it cost.

How to create a free searchable listings site

June 20, 2007

It is a constant source of annoyance to me that I have to pay for TimeOut, the London listing magazine, and they don’t have all their listings on the web. So I’ve been thinking for a while on how a newspaper could create a free listings and reviews site. I think this could be done very easily by introducing your community of bloggers to microformats. Don’t worry, it’s not complicated, here’s how you can do it.

Obviously you’ve already engaged the bloggers that write about your community. Bringing bloggers into the fold is nothing spectacularly innovative. These people should be your eyes and ears, reporting on things you can’t get reporters to, and providing leads for stories.

Now you want to aggregate the events that your bloggers are going to. After all they have been chosen as thought leaders and taste makers in your community. If you’re able to pull it together in a nice way – hey presto! – free listings. The problem is that simply searching blog posts and lumping them together will not produce a format that is as easy to use as the TimeOut listings page.

Luckily this problem can be solved by microformats. With microformats information is entered in a certain computer recognisable format that makes it easy to search and display. (The whole formatting of data is linked to Web3.0 and the semantic web – if you like using annoying zeitgeisty words). Let me explain how this would work:

i) Your approved blogger is writing about which band they will see in a week.

ii) As opposed to just writing a post about it the blogger also enters the information into an ‘Event’ microformat. Imagine it as an online form you fill in, with certain boxes for certain information.

iii) This information is entered under a certain format. Now, as opposed to searching for information by key word, your aggregator can simply can bring back all information labelled ‘Event’. Standard data to be entered could be Date, Location, Band, Genre, Preview, Band website.

iv) As this data is entered so clearly it can now be retrieved by a machine in a far more easily searchable, flexible and readable format.

v) Users can now search by Date, Band, Genre as the machine can splice and display this information easily. Want to search all bands in your area in the next week? It could display the information by Location. You get the picture.

vi) Reward bloggers who enter content in this way. You might have to give them cash, though recognition and traffic might be enough.

The ‘Event’ microfromat doesn’t yet exist, but it could be very similar to hCalendar. This is already used by some bloggers to format event information they put on their blog. It doesn’t have the Genre or Band website labels we spoke about, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be that difficult to change. (By the way, I have run this idea past Stew our developer guy and he says it makes sense).

This would be especially easy if blog platforms incorporated microformats within them as most bloggers don’t know HTML, but I’m sure there could be a way round this.

And there we go – a TimeOut killer.

ps. If there are any sites out there that already do this, then apologies, but I haven’t seen one.

Blogging : less can be more

May 14, 2007

A quick thought to share. Some of the bloggers I read most eagerly are those that post less often. Neither Danah Boyd, Mike Manuel, Will Sullivan, or Rob Curley are daily posters. This means that I know I’ll only have a post or two to read, and not 100+, which PaidContent can rack up in an afternoon. With the rise of RSS feedreaders the audience you’re writing for shouldn’t disappear, as long as you provide them with a point of view they value however rarely you post.

24 hour personal broadcast : or, Uscream.tv

May 14, 2007

Anyone who works in the web will occasionally get asked “What’s the next big thing?” ( You get asked this often if you get very excited when the internet is mentioned, which I do). Annoyingly for my bank balance I don’t know that answer, however, I think I can see a next big thing. A future is Justin.tv and Ustream.tv.

These two sites have technology that allows users to video broadcast their every move. Justin now has a camera on his head transmitting his every move in San Franciso. Heck, even Jeff Jarvis’ son was able to rig up something that broadcast from his backpack. This makes blogging, vlogging and twittering seem like tools for the shy and retiring personal broadcaster.

I haven’t even watched that much of Justin.tv, but it is hypnotic. He’s cooking eggs. He’s walking. I’m watching. Why? Because human behaviour is fascinating. So if you’re not involved in a super neat Economist web innovation unit so can’t do anything about this, here are some things you could do :

i) Find 6 interesting people in diffferent fields and follow them as they interview artists, musicians, politicians and whomever.

ii) Or go niche. Find 6 intereting people who all do the same thing as they report on everything in music/politics/you get the idea. Remember, niche works.

iii) Find 6 socially stunted people who most definitely will not get on and make them live together and perform various taxing tasks. Yes, it is an even more hyper-invasive Big Brother with an out in the real world element.

Whatever, you do decide to do Mrs. TV Producer, do it quick. Because Big Brother is only Big because it got there first.

An amusing sidenote to this is that at the beginning of Project Red Stripe we did some thinking around potential future scenarios. Here’s one I doled out before either of these two sites came up (forgive the Terminator 2 style apocalyptic rhetoric) :

The Rise of The Connecteds

In 2012 there arises a group called The Connecteds. Emerging initially in South Korea, San Francisco and Finland this youth culture constantly records, broadcasts and diffuses their lives. They become multimedia centres that not only create output but constantly scan shifting tides of information in many different forms.”

I think that shows that either that i) if you ask me to think five years into the future I’ll be able to tell you what will happen next month ii) the web moves fast so move your ass .

Attention all wannabe journalists : Great internship on offer

May 3, 2007

Do you know anyone who wants to be journalist? Or are you a student looking to get into it? I ask because there’s an internship on offer at The Washington Post Interactive with multimedia news legend Rob Curley. If you can think of anyone this might interest then please pass the news on. For one the Curlmeister sounds like a pleasure to work with. Anyone who has “what we really want are self-motivated bad-asses” in a job description is alright by me. And secondly, it will be a chance to see what the newsroom of the future looks like.

Spread the word.

Apologies for corporate sucking, but my boss is great

May 2, 2007

I know this might qualify me for a Private Eye Order of the Brown Nose (I might even nominate myself) but I really did enjoy reading this article on Andrew Rashbass’ performance at MIX07. I’ll not dwell on it too long because singing the praises of your intelligent, handsome publisher looks cynical. So he was taking part in a debate on the convergence of marketing and content, however, as opposed to banging that drum he kicked off with this peach:

“It’s kind of funny to hear Robbie Bach [Microsoft's president for entertainment and devices] giving a talk on advertising and monetization when he just lost $300m in the last quarter.” (Link)

I won’t take out anymore highlights as it really would look too craven and sucky. Read the rest of the article, it makes some good points. The thinking is familiar to me as I heard much of it from Andrew on my third day of the job. Coming in all starry eyed about the web, only to realise that The Economist magazine format is sort of working (10% growth year on year for some time). Being a n00b I also made the mistake of asking Mr Rashbass what he did at The Economist…nice.

Site design is the new editorial

May 1, 2007

Just came across a nice little piece on why the comments you see on Slashdot are generally of a higher standard than the one’s on Digg. As your comments are now your content it shows nicely how site design and moderating systems are the new editorial.

Atthe base the problem is that Digg’s moderation system makes it easier for bad comments to show up, as they have to be voted down five times to disappear. Most people can’t be bothered to vote down one lame comment in a sea of lame comments, abbreviations and insults, that rarely happens.

However, at Slashdot the set up is different. Your comment can be hidden more easily, therefore you’ll put more effort into it, as “OMG this is lAme!!!!!11111!!!1111!” will not get shown. By creating the right incentive system for users, you will increase the quality of the content they provide. Maybe pay them. (via 25HoursADay).

- I do realise I have been away from this blog for a while, without so much as an explanation. I quite like it like that, as though Lord Lucan just wandered back into his kitchen one day and asked for a cup of tea. Needless to say we’ve been very busy and PRS is getting extremely exciting.

I’d be worried if I sold TV advertising

April 10, 2007

There is a simply excellent ariticle by Bob Garfield in AdAge. It is called Chaos Scenario 2.0 and presents a realisitic scenario of the end of TV advertising. If you think that it won’t happen then read this TechCrunch post on where to watch free TV. In between that and catching up on the hilarious machinima Red vs Blue I can tell you I don’t see many TV ads. Am I allowed to say that in an office at AMV BBDO?

Project Red Stripe will push it to the limit

March 29, 2007

I feel incredibly bad that I haven’t posted for a while. That’s the online equivalent of the Pope forgetting to pray, but here’s an exciting status report. We’re getting a lot closer to coming up with an idea of what we’re going to do, and it won’t really touch on The Economist. How we got to this place is very interesting.

Imagine, to begin with, that we could do anything. Imagine the difficulty of having such a wide brief. What we set about doing was cutting it down so we could find a smaller thing to concentrate on. We decided to concentrate on The Economist Group, because that was the asset that differentiated us from 6 guys sitting in a garage thinking “Um, what shall we do?”. Concentrating on The Economist Group gave us the greatest opportunity to make a large impact.

However, even that could be seen as a bit too large. We refined it again to The Economist. This is the largest section of the business, the most well known, and one which we could still do a ton of things for. I mean, I’ve been thinking about webbing up Economist.com for a year now. I pretty much had a to-do list for the site.

Last Thursday something changed. We decided to do something that was not even on The Economist’s radar. Why? It was partly brought on by there being a new publisher of Economist.com. He was clearly brought in to add pzazz to the site, meaning that anything we did on Project Red Stripe might be something that would just happen a year down the line anyway.

For that reason we decided to look to the edges. To look at the crazy things that just wouldn’t happen otherwise. We’ve discussed some pretty exciting things and I hope one day all of them get done. But for the moment we’re just trying to pick one.

Unfortunately I’ve had to shelve my dream (one so real that I could almost taste it) of making Economist.com the coolest site in the world. Like Rick kissing good bye to Ilsa on the runway of Casablanca, I get the feeling it was not meant to be, but it would have been beautiful.

As I’m not going to be able to do that, instead I’m going to share my playbook, with a series of posts on what I think a news site should do.

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Update : re-reading my post I’ve seen that it might give the impression that the ideas we’ve collected will not be used. Nothing could be more wrong. The quality of the ideas is such that we’d be a fool not to use them. And besides, as we’re now probably looking to go a bit further out there than we thought at the beginning, we might even be able to use more. However, just because we might well do something a bit different, it doesn’t mean we’re going to go totally wild. We’ll not, in Stew’s great phrase, ‘build a sheep with a dog’s foot for a heart’. Whatever we’ll do will still have a connection to The Economist Group, it just might be a bit of a surprise. Glad I cleared that up. Have a good weekend.

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Please note that I am putting in the Scarface clip for the song Push it To The Limit. Project Red Stripe will, almost certainly, not sell drugs on the web.


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