Is Web Media Ready for Prime Time?

I've been listening to podcasts for years and currently subscribe to a total of 32 podcast series.  As you know, I also create two podcasts myself.  I think that I'm hooked on this type of media.  As most people do, I prefer my podcasts in audio format because I'm usually doing something else with my eyes while listening to podcasts like driving, running, or doing the dishes.  I still subscribe to video podcasts but mostly listen to the audio track only.  I occasionally find that I need to turn on my iPhone to view the video when video is critical to the subject matter.  This usually happens on TED.com Talks and sometimes on GeekBrief.TV.  I listen to practically all of the podcasts on Leo Laporte's This Week in Tech (TWIT) podcast network but rarely even feel the need to watch the video.  I occasionally turn on the video to see what a new guest looks like but that's about it.  Leo is a real pioneer and tends to push the technology envelop and is usually successful with it.  He's one of only a few professional podcasters making good money in the field. His latest push is into streaming video and making video podcasts and YouTube replays available.  Others that have done this have adopted the a studio model and while still relatively informal, still making the video content look professional.  Leo, on the other hand, makes video available but up until the last week hasn't paid any attention to the professionalism of the video stream content.  Shown in the picture here is a regular guest on the flagship TWIT show.  Having a massive microphone dangling right in front of the guest's face isn't perhaps the best way to produce web-based video content.  Leo and his other guests also usually wear large headphones.  So, my vote thus far is that although it is technically possible to create video content on the web, those producing it aren't quite ready for prime time.  The last episode of the TWIT show did include a discussion of smaller microphones but there wasn't any mention of not having them cover the guest's face nor any discussion of getting rid of the headphones in favor of the discrete ear buds used on TV which I also use when I use video conferencing at work.  I should point out that there are video podcasts that have good production values and, thus, are ready for prime time.  However, the most popular tech podcast network doesn't yet appear to be.    

Websites for SmartPhones

As I mentioned in a previous post, we're witnessing a dramatic increase in the use of SmartPhones in doing core daily tasks. Couple that with the increase in the use of the browser as the mechanism for accessing information, and we see the need for addressing the question of what default user interface should be shown when access a website using a SmartPhone. To determine what people prefer in this regard, I created a poll and asked followers of my Twitter accounts to respond to it.  The poll asked, "What should come up when you access a website with a SmartPhone?"  The responses were interesting. As shown in the pie chart on the right, 65 percent preferred "a version of the site optimized for a mobile browser", 25 percent wanted "the regular site and a button to access a mobile version", while only 8 percent wanted "the regular site - there's no need to for mobile versions".  A write-in comment preferred, "the mobile version with a button or option to access the regular version" so the opposite of option two above.  These results indicate a clear strong preference for some type of support for a mobile version of sites with 90 percent of respondents wanting a site tailored for SmartPhones. The vast majority of those respondents preferred a special mobile optimized version of a site to appear by default when a site is visited by a SmartPhone.  Interestingly, most websites don't do that today but will have to in the future to satisfy users' preferences.  The number of respondents to this poll is 48 thus far and I'd like to see a substantially bigger number given the importance of this question so if you'd like to contribute to the poll you still can and I'd really appreciate it if you would take the poll.

Moved Site to SquareSpace

My site has been on Blogger since October 17, 2006 and I've been really pleased with it as a blogging platform. I hear people snickering when Blogger is mentioned much like they do when people mention Hotmail, Razr, or MS-Bob. These products work perfectly well but they're not fashionable.

I pride myself in seeing the value in products and not necessarily simply moving with the fashion for its own sake. However, I do move when I see value in a new product. I've just done that with my blog. Although I was happy enough with Blogger, the added features and design of SquareSpace won me over.

I'm writing this post using the SquareSpace iPhone app. It's really slick! I also like the fact that I can design and build an entire site not just a blog using SquareSpace. I've heard the commercials on many of the podcasts I listen to and I also recently recommended it to my son.

I have more to do on the site and more to learn but I've been really pleased with SquareSpace thus far. The only aspect of SquareSpace that is inferior to Blogger, other than the price of course, is the image handling in the editor. I'd love for that feature to be on parity.

I must also apologize for the use of Flash in the podcast player used on the site.  It is the only player currently available from the hosting service I use for my podcasts.  As soon as I find a non-Flash version, I'll make the change.  My goal is to be 100 percent Flash free on the site.

I'd appreciate any thoughts and feedback you may have on the new site.

The Web is Becoming Less World Wide

Remember when newscasters would say things like the "World Wide Web" and the "Information Super Highway"? In that time period, people also used to spell out addresses starting with "h, t, t, p, colon, slash, slash, double u, double u, double u, dot". Most people don't use these terms anymore nor the "http://www" to start a site address. We refer to "the web" instead, having dropped the "world-wide" part. Is this just semantics, a desire for parsimony, or an advancement in browsers which no longer need the "www" explicitly specified? Of course, it's all of those things but it's also more in my view.

When the internet started and after that, the web, it was truly world-wide and it had the promise of transcending national boundaries. I consider myself to be a citizen of the world and don't find much use for borders. In fact, borders and fights over them have pervaded human history. The web had the promise of making borders irrelevant in important ways. Despite its early promise, I'm finding that the web is getting less world-wide every day.

Much has been made of the controversy over censorship of the web in China but restricting access to specific web content goes much deeper albeit for commercial rather than political or cultural reasons everywhere else in the world. I'm writing this while the 2010 Winter Olympic Games are going on and am able to view the games streaming in my browser from a Canadian site but others elsewhere in the world aren't able to access it. My friends and colleagues in the US have been able to watch television on hulu.com whereas nobody else in the world can. My friends and colleagues in the UK have been able to watch amazing content via the BBC iPlayer but again nobody else in the world can.

The lack of worldwide access isn't restricted to video content, it is also pervasive for other online content like books and apps. Audio books offered on audible.com aren't available universally and free offers are usually restricted to the US. Amazon similarly has a different collection by country and also offers other products in the US than it does elsewhere. Apple's iTune store creates the most frustration for me lately because it is the most US-centric, especially regarding apps. At least half of the time I hear or read about a new app coming out only to find that it isn't available outside of the US. It doesn't help that the majority of the tech media and pundits are US based and have a worldwide reach but don't typically acknowledge that fact and only talk about what is available "in this country" which means "the United States".

I'm sure you're thinking that there are ways around these electronic national borders involving the use of proxy servers but that just reinforces my point that we have to pretend we live in another country in order to have access to their content. We have to pretend to have gone to that country in order to access content on their worldwide web.

So, what's the underlying problem here? When the web initially became popular most websites were little more than online brochures about a company. Most companies had very little problem sharing their brochures electronically. In fact, it made things much less expensive not having to create as many glossy brochures. The next phase of the web involved doing actual commerce via sites. Many of the products sold online during this period were physical things such as computers and as long as you could figure out how to deliver them, things still weren't all that different. The real change came when everything went digital and almost overnight companies that sold music, books, movies, newspapers, applications and the like had to adapt not only to the challenge of copies of their material being made available for free but also the challenge that most of their business was governed by agreements that are country based. It used to be the case during the second phase that websites would have to be clever in how they showed the cost of products in different currencies. The third phase that we're in now has given up on that and simply created separate websites per country. Amazon has an entirely separate website per country and so does the iTunes store. Have a look some time to see how different the iTunes store is for various countries. I sometimes check these sites for comments that have been made about one or the other of my podcasts. In order to see them, I have to go to each country's iTunes store and, interestingly, a number of countries don't actually offer any podcasts and other countries don't provide access to any apps. If you live in your own country's version of iTunes you'd never be aware of that fact.

So where is all this going? Without any attention given this, I think we're going to see an ever increasing balkanization of the web. With the increasing use of geo-location, we could even see more filtering of content in search results and even social media serving personal and commercial interests. However, this will further reduce the worldwide nature of the web.

So what's so wrong with not being worldwide? Well, that's what we were before we had these technologies and I happen to think that the world would be a better place if the web were more worldwide. I think tensions between the peoples of different nations are lessened if they are better connected with one another. I think the sharing of news, media, and culture fosters the sense of a global village. If we all feel more like citizens of the world, we're more likely to collectively care about it and prevent its destruction. If you think that sentiment expressed in the previous sentences in the paragraph is too soft and idealistic, then let me make the point too that ensuring that the web stays worldwide will mean vastly larger markets for the companies on it. We need to fix the antiquated contracts, distribution rights, and laws so that companies will be able to derive the huge benefits of a worldwide market.

Part of the reason why I wanted to write this post is that I'm not sure how many people are aware of these changes happening to the web. If you live in a country like the US, you'll have heard of filtering and lack of access in countries like China and Iran regarding political issues but you likely haven't heard of the filtering and lack of access right across the globe for largely commercial purposes.

Sorry for the length of this post. I hadn't intended to write this much. I'd like to now turn it over to you to ask you to start the conversation on this by contributing your thoughts via comments to this post.

Specialization of Sites


Almost a year ago I decided to integrate my podcast sites into this single blog site. The thinking was that I would eliminate the other sites over time and have everything I do integrated into this site. I would provide an overview of the podcast episode and a widget for playing the podcast right on this site. I've been doing that but I didn't get rid on the other sites and ended up simply doing more work and perhaps not providing much value to you the readers/listeners of my stuff. I also observed the communities that interact with the two podcasts and on this site and determined that they are to some degree quite different. While the UXDesignCast podcast has listeners who are in the user experience design set of disciplines or planning to be, the Life Habits podcast has an amazingly diverse audience of listeners only a small portion of which overlap with the audience of the UXDesignCast one. Although I'm the common denominator, the two different audiences shouldn't necessarily hang out at the same place nor would they want to. It's like throwing a party and inviting all of your friends even though one subgroup of friends has very little in common with those in the other subgroup. I think we need to start to think about social sites like this not only with regard to the information they provide and the users consuming that information but also the community or communities who provide input and share their own information as well.

I'm now planning to back to reserving this blog for true blogging and keeping the podcast show notes sites for the specific communities who listen to those shows. So, the Life Habits podcast can be found at lifehabits.net as well as on iTunes and the Zune Marketplace. The UXDesignCast podcast can be found at uxdesigncast.com as well as on iTunes and the Zune Marketplace as well. In addition, we now also include the UXDesignCast podcast episodes on the ibm.com/design site as well in the resources section. In the end it may well be less work for me and simpler and more enjoyable for you. I also still have the UXDesignCast and Life Habits podcast latest episodes available on this site in the right column.

As always, I'd greatly appreciate any thoughts you may have on this.

Is Blogging Dead?


I was shocked when I realized that I hadn't blogged here since November 6th last year. Of course I've mini-blogged via Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and audio-blogged via UXDesignCast and Life Habits podcasts. I've even hosted a webcast or two. The problem is that I always argue with others who say that blogging is dead having been replaced by these newer alternatives. I argue that we still need the longer format so that you can express deeper, wider, and longer thoughts than a 140 character space affords. However, my own behavior has betrayed me.

I refuse to give up on the concept that blogging is important for the following reasons.

  1.  Bloggers need to write the material that everyone else can write tweets and Facebook updates about. It's bad enough that we seem to be losing investigative journalists who can spend time to get into depth and truly investigate a story. If we lose bloggers, we'll have even fewer sources of original material. I did some investigation some years ago into the practice within academia of citing journal articles without actually reading them. I tracked down the original article that virtually all journal articles in a particular research area cited and found out that it didn't say at all what people thought it said. I then proceeded to do the actual research properly and published it in a prestigious journal and now that paper is often cited at least as often as the original. My point is that we now have many, many people on these social networking sites looking for things to communicate which is great if there is enough source material to communicate about. With newspapers decreasing and if blogging also declines, there's is very little source material left. What are we left with then? Celebrity gossip. Argh.
  2. We need original thought and a mechanism to express it openly using as many characters, words, and paragraphs that are needed. I often listen to podcasts that are longer versions of radio programs. I don't listen to live radio or TV for that matter. I find it interesting that the hosts point out that the full interviews are available only in the podcast form. I prefer to hear the whole story, not some edited down few minutes. I listen to audio books and always download the unabridged version. I can't imagine not wanting the whole book. That's how I see blogs - the full, unabridged version. I still like to read tweets or Facebook updates that point me to interesting blogs - that's how I now find them by and large. I also still use an RSS reader but don't use it as much for getting pointers to blogs to read.

So, blogs are still important but there's still a problem. There are still only 24 hours in a day (although a Facebook friend showed me how to increase it to 26 hours BTW). If you're tweeting, Facebooking, podcasting, and reading tweets, Facebook updates, and listening to podcasts and audiobooks, when do you have time to blog? The answer is one that I give regularly in episodes of my Life Habits podcast: determine your priorities and plan your time accordingly. I sometimes load up my iPhone with an episode or two of my own podcasts, particularly the Life Habits one and listen to my own advice. I'll do that in this case too and, in turn, devote some more time to thinking, writing longer than 140 character thoughts, and thus contributing to the content others can tweet about.

 

As always, I'd greatly appreciate your thoughts on my thoughts using the comment capability of this blog or via Twitter, Facebook, my podcast shownotes sites, or wherever you'd like.

Thanks for doing your part in contributing to the survival of the blogosphere.

Blasting the Myth of the Fold

Designing for the browser always brings up a discussion of designing above the fold. Well, this article sites some interesting research that questions the fixation many designers have on the fold. The author points out, "there is an astonishing amount of disbelief that the users of web pages have learned to scroll and that they do so regularly. Holding on to this disbelief – this myth that users won’t scroll to see anything below the fold – is doing everyone a great disservice, most of all our users". Select the article below to read more...

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