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Why Periscope’s Latest Announcement is a Big Deal (and Why You Should be Paying Attention)

Periscope made one of the most significant announcements in their short history today – from now on, Periscope videos which are posted to Twitter will show up as playable in-stream content on iOS devices, as opposed to a link.

So, in essence, Periscope links (the majority of which are logically posted on Twitter) will go from this:

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To this:

Pretty slick looking, huh? And as you can also see from the video, Periscope content will autoplay as you scroll through, so your live-streams will be exposed to a whole new audience – while Periscope, as of last check, has around 2 million daily active users (DAUs) who’re consuming the equivalent of 40 years of video content on the platform every 24 hours, it’s 10 million active accounts pales in comparison to Twitter’s 320 million monthly active users (MAUs). Reach is a core problem for live-streaming apps – in order to gain significant audience, there has to be a big enough group of people using the app in the first place to be exposed to Periscope content. Sure, you can alert people via other social networks, but discoverability is at least somewhat limited by people not being active Periscope users – and part of the problem in getting more people to become users of the app is that the content currently posted via live-streaming apps is such a mixed bag, there’s such a huge variance in quality and subject matter that the platform itself is not, for many, a highly compelling experience.

This update changes that, though some may not be fully aware of its wider potential impact.

Live and In Person

Content quality is a key limitation of live-streaming. Yes, platforms like Periscope, Meerkat and Blab provide an amazing opportunities for individuals and brands to connect with their audiences in a real, authentic way – looking people in the eye via webcam is likely the closest experience we can digitally generate to meeting someone in person (at least till VR comes into effect). But as anyone who’s ever logged onto any of the live-streaming platforms will attest, the content mix is very broad. Some would say that’s a good thing, as it gives more people more opportunity to express themselves in a new way. And while I do agree with the sentiment, that wide diversity of content also makes it a less compelling experience, as a platform. Or more importantly, the low quality content outweighs the good stuff, usually by a big margin, which doesn’t inspire visitors to stick around and view more content, or come back another time and view more.

This is why Facebook’s taken a more gradual approach to live-streaming – what Facebook’s done is they’ve introduced their live streaming option (creatively titled ‘Live’) to celebrities and people with verified profiles first, in order to get more of those people to post highly engaging content on the platform and build an audience with the tool. When those celebrities see that they can reach thousands, even millions of viewers, quickly and easily, that compels them to create more content – and because the general public can’t produce their own Facebook live-stream content, it also narrows the audience focus for Live, heightening the value of the each broadcast.

Now Facebook’s slowly opening up Live to all users, but where Facebook’s plan is very clever is that Facebook Live video is now dominated by celebrity content. If Facebook were to introduce a separate platform for all Live content – the way Periscope and Meerkat do with their broadcasts – the Facebook Live content channels would be significantly more compelling, in terms of wide audience appeal. As such, if Facebook were to do this, they’d also be able to generate better reach for Live users, as your Live content could be shown alongside that of celebrities, providing great exposure. Facebook haven’t indicated this is exactly where they’re going with Live yet, but such a move would make sense, particularly if streaming continues to rise in popularity and Facebook decides they want to beat out the other players in the field.

By upping the average quality standard for Live broadcasts, via a mixture of celebrity and everyday user content, Facebook’s working to beat out the quality issue that currently restricts live-streaming reach. Even if they don’t ever create a specific Live platform, Facebook’s already a step ahead, as their Live content appears in people’s News Feeds and autoplays like other video. Rather than trying to filter people to another app, Facebook Live content comes to you, and this is why today’s announcement from Periscope/Twitter is significant. By exposing Periscope content to a wider audience, through autoplay video in-stream in Twitter feeds, more people are going to watch Periscope content.

Likely, a lot more.

Next time you see a ‘Live on Periscope’ tweet, you won’t have to click on a link, it’ll just start playing in your tweet stream. And as it does, there’s a much higher chance you’re going to watch more Periscope content – maybe just for a moment, maybe just to see who it is and what it’s about. The probability of viewers sticking around to view Periscope streams is much higher, as it’s already right there, it’s playing in real time.

That immediacy, particularly in the case of live broadcasts, is significant, and it ups the value of Periscope as a broadcast tool by a lot. And what’s more, most people and brands have a lot more followers on Twitter than on Periscope, a much bigger audience to share their content with. Through this update, Periscope will become more appealing proposition for brands – imagine news reporters broadcasting live, in real-time, on Twitter, at any time. Similar can be done on Facebook, of course, but organic reach restrictions mean that you’ve got no chance of reaching all your followers, at least without paying for it (which could prove difficult to do in real time, either way). Twitter’s also (at least at this stage) still considered the leader in real-time coverage and breaking events, the place people go for breaking news.

The appeal of immediate, streaming content, direct from Periscope, will ramp up as broadcasters see their viewer stats climb with Twitter users clicking through. The emphasis still needs to be on entertainment, of course, on creating engaging, interesting Periscope content, but the audience potential will be much higher, the potential boost in overall viewership is big.

It’s not a game-changing move as yet, but it’s a logical progression, and one which could boost the utility of both Periscope and Twitter respectively.

That is, of course, unless Facebook makes a counter strike.

The Waiting Game

A few months back, I thought Periscope was onto something big when they announced the release of their Apple TV app, enabling viewers to watch Periscope content from the comfort of their couch. This, essentially, could make live-streaming a real entertainment option – theoretically, as you flick through channels on your TV, you’d be able to switch across to Periscope and see if your favourite ‘scopers were on too. Unfortunately, the app didn’t quite deliver on that promise – you have little control over the content displayed and you end up wading through streams of junk to find something good to watch – or, more likely, you just don’t. But the basic idea is still there, there could come a time where live-streaming becomes a viable broadcast option, if done right.

And this is where Facebook could really start to create some waves. A patent posted recently outlines how Facebook has (or had) plans in the works to further integrate Facebook into people’s TV viewing experience – with Facebook comments from friends shown on screen, the ability to recommend programs, even an option to prompt your pals, via Facebook, to switch channels and see what you’re seeing.

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This is all controlled by a ‘social TV dongle’ that sits in between your set-top box and your TV.

socialTVSuch a system would effectively integrate Facebook directly into your TV viewing experience, bringing Facebook more in-line with how Twitter users multi-screen and participate in TV related discussions via show-specific hashtags.

Honestly, I’ve no idea how far along this project is, or was – the original patent was filed in September 2015 – but even seeing that Facebook has considered such options provides perspective on their possible, wider plans for live-streaming, and the potential capacity for The Social Network to make their live-streaming option a more powerful connective device.

Much like Apple TV, an integrated Facebook TV system could provide alerts when your favourite celebrities, or even your friends, were streaming on Facebook, which would, in effect, make Live it’s own TV channel. TV advertising’s long been the pinnacle of audience reach – imagine being able to generate that same reach via Facebook, cheaper (in terms of both production and promotion), more responsive and available at any time. Suddenly, you’d see attention on live-streaming ramp up, every brand would take notice, every business would be considering how to do it. DIY celebrities would have a whole new outlet, niche talk-shows could go massive, many internet stars would be born. This is what live-streaming advocates are talking about now, the coming future where streaming becomes a real entertainment option, when they’ll have the upper hand due their on-platform experience and audience. Right now, they sit at something of a middle ground where streaming hasn’t crossed over yet, but an innovation like Facebook TV could tip it over, updates like Periscope’s further integration with Twitter moves the needle closer to this next stage.

It’s not there yet, but it could be on the horizon, and every significant move in live-streaming moves it closer to this possibility.

While today’s announcement may seem small in isolation – it only relates to iOS (Periscope notes that the functionality is coming to Android and web soon), it just means Periscope content will play in-stream, no big deal. But the wider context of such a move is significant, because even if it doesn’t lead to any significant boost for Periscope or Twitter, it still pushes the wider case for live-streaming a little further, which likely boosts the value of the offering just that little bit more. And every time the value increases, so too does the potential for real money to be generated by the offering – and when real money’s involved, the bigger players pay more attention. That then increases the evolution of streaming, and that then moves us, again, closer to it becoming a more valuable tool, for both individuals and brands.

Maybe it’s not there yet, but the competition is heating up. It’s a segment worth paying attention to.

Here’s the thing…

Here’s the thing – the situation involving ISIS, Syria and any number of radicalised groups and individuals around the world is extremely complex. It dates back thousands of years, it’s rooted in a culture that most of us simply have no way of understanding. Not even the most informed international political experts are able fully get their head around the best way forward to resolve the conflicts at the core of the current issues. As such, the delineation between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – or at least, what we can do to bridge the divide between the two – is very unclear. But even in that scenario, there’s one thing that we know won’t resolve it and won’t lead us towards unity and, ultimately, a solution. And that is hate.

ISIS is fuelled by hate, bolstered by fear. They’re an organisation that thrives on chaos. The people who are sympathetic to ISIS’ cause are people who are lost, who are looking for meaning, and who subsequently go on to find it in whatever twisted doctrine ISIS provides. These recruits have no faith in what they’ve seen in the world, they’re looking for a new way. Many of these people are likely victims of previous battles in which Western nations have been involved – this is not to make a judgement on what’s been done, but you can imagine how someone who’s family has been devastated by war might be feeling alone and lost, and how the ‘brotherhood’ of ISIS might be able to fill that void, that need for family, and how they could stoke the fires of hatred to help further their own mission.

Given this, it makes perfect sense that ISIS is looking to attack western targets, or any targets where they can get the most attention and cause the most disruption. Because people see this and they’re scared. We see this and we want answers, we want to know what we can do to keep our families safe. So we need a bad guy, people need to point the finger at something. So we blame religion. And that’s an easy link to make, even logical to a degree, given ISIS is founded on religious principles. But by choosing hate we’re only doing what ISIS and other extremist groups want. In hate, we marginalise religious communities, we point the finger at people who’ve had nothing to do with any such attacks and who abhor them as much as we do. We subject innocent people to judgement and criticism and violence. And what happens to those people then? What happens to the person who sees no answer, has no faith in the good of humanity. What happens to the person who’s looking for another way?

By choosing hate, we only make ISIS stronger. If anyone were in a state of mind where they might be ‘at risk’ of radicalisation, we’re only going to push them further by showing them anger instead of empathy.

While fear is understandable in such a situation, and frustration is to be expected, we need to work to make ourselves rise above judgement and hate and consider new ways to move forward. Because if we don’t we’re only helping ISIS – and the next radical group, and the next one after that – in their ongoing mission to divide us and solidify their numbers through segregation – religious or otherwise.

Unity and community is the way forward in this battle. Understanding, not blame. While we’ll never be able to completely eliminate the risks of radicalisation and extremism, we’re only going to fuel them by justifying their beliefs in our actions. There are some who’ll never agree, but we can lessen their impact through acceptance of such differences.

I don’t claim to have an in-depth knowledge of the situation at hand, but I know that hate is never a constructive response.

My thoughts are with all of those who are suffering or have suffered in this conflict.

What’s Happening in Star Wars Episode VII: ‘The Force Awakens’

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Warning: ultra-nerdy fanboy post about Star Wars ahead, please excuse this indulgence

The new Star Wars trailer came out last week, bringing with it a wave of euphoric nostalgia, the likes of which the web has never seen (it’s already broken pre-sale ticket records and the trailer has been viewed more than 48 million times). But one of the most amazing and skilful aspects of the new trailer – along with the preceding two – is that it tells you virtually nothing about the actual story. For all the droids and wookiees and light saber poking out the sides of the handles, there’s little-to-no linkage from one scene to the next – no one has any freakin’ idea what’s going on. And what’s more, with the film-makers noting that all the extended Star Wars universe comics and novels are not officially part of the new universe of the films, really, anything could happen. Ultra-fans are as in the dark as everyone else.

But of course, being a massive Star Wars geek, I can’t help but try to piece it together and think through what the story of Episode VII might be. Where is Luke Skywalker? Who is Kylo Ren? What’s that dude from ‘Attack the Block’ doing? Here’s what I think might, possibly, be the storyline of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’:

In the preview we see that The First Order, or the new Empire, have a heap of soldiers and vehicles – there’s no way these guys are in hiding with that much stuff, right?

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That’s a lot of stuff…

My speculation is that The First Order is re-establishing the Empire, and is winning the battle in taking over the galaxy by force and placing themselves into a new position of power. The events of the original trilogy – now thirty years past – were a major setback for the Empire, but there’s obviously many who believe they need a uniting authority to oversee the galaxy. Chief among them is Kylo Ren, whose effectively the new Darth Vader.

So who is Kylo Ren? You’d think he has to be associated with either Luke or Leia, as they were the last living links to The Force that we know of, so the assumption would be that Kylo Ren is either Luke’s or Leia’s son. I think he’s Leia and Han’s son and, for whatever reason, he’s decided to go to the dark side – that’s why we see Leia looking upset in the trailer, and how Han, Leia and Chewbacca end up getting tied into the new storyline. There has to be a reason for them to come back into it, they don’t just rock up for something to do. I think Han is coming back to try and reason with his wayward son, but that he also knows his son is beyond logic. This leads Han and Chewie to the new characters – Rey and Finn.

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I don’t think Rey or Finn are linked back to the original characters – some think that Rey saying ‘she’s no one’ in the trailer is an indicator that she’s trying to hide out in the desert, and that she must be Leia or Luke’s daughter, but I just don’t see that family ‘hiding’ another kid after the trauma they went through by being separated from their father in the original trilogy.

My speculation is that Rey is no one, but like Luke in the original series, she dreams of getting out of the desert and doing something more. I think Rey runs into Finn, who’s crash landed (as per the trailer) and wants to help him because Finn represents adventure. Rey shows Finn the wreckage of the old Empire, the old Star Destroyers and such, and in amongst that wreckage they come across Luke’s lightsaber – this is one of the original story notes JJ Abrams said would trigger the events of the new films, that someone would find Luke’s hand (which Darth Vader cut off at Bespin) and his lightsaber. I think that discovery is the ‘awakening’ mentioned in the second trailer.

Why is that an awakening? As noted in the latest preview, the people of the new Star Wars universe seem to be under the impression that the Jedi and the events of the past are something of a myth, they don’t believe they actually happened. This, I think, may be how the First Order is gaining power, because the people don’t believe they can fight back – resistance seems futile because The First Order has all the power, and they have this mystical, intimidating leader in Kylo Ren who simply seems undefeatable. As such, I believe this is what is enabling The First Order to re-establish the Empire, by sheer force and fear. But what if those old stories were true? What if the Jedi really did exist and there were a way to defeat this growing evil? Maybe the discovery of a lightsaber – a rumoured weapon of these mythical legends – would confirm their existence, and thus, empower the rebellion, or new rebellion, to believe they could actually win, giving them a massive boost. It’s like in ‘A Bug’s Life’, when the crickets note that if the ants ever worked out they out-numbered them, they’d be able to defeat them. Maybe a similar psychology is at play, and the confirmation of the existence of the Jedi would be enough to fuel them.

This is why it causes a disturbance – an awakening – and this is why we see Kylo Ren coming at Finn, who clearly has no idea how to use a lightsaber, in the preview. Kylo Ren’s come to take the lightsaber back and ensure no one knows about its existence.

This then leads to the wider journey of the story, where Han takes Finn and Rey with him on a mission to find Luke, because is the only one who can save them. Luke, meanwhile, has dropped off the face of the… universe. I’m not sure why, but he appears to *possibly* be on Mustafar, the volcano planet where Darth Vader originally fought Obi-Wan and lost.

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For whatever reason, Luke has opted to stay away and go into hiding, like Obi-Wan and Yoda before him. But now, with Kylo Ren getting deeper into the dark side, and The First Order taking hold, Luke is their only hope to stop him, to talk sense into him to keep him from becoming the next Darth Vader.

Eventually, they find Luke, but so does Kylo Ren and here’s where the big conflict will happen – in order to stop him, Luke has to face off against his nephew, Kylo Ren. And Ren wins. This would then set up Ren as the key bad guy for the next three films, the key presence. The question then is how do they challenge him? Who’s left, with knowledge of the Force, to oppose Ren and Co. on their destructive path?

This is where the ‘the force is calling to you – just let it in’ line comes in. Maybe Rey is somehow more ‘open’ to the force due to some… thing I can’t think of. I believe Rey will become a Jedi, somehow, and will be the driving force behind the new resistance, with Finn at her side. But Rey will be the next Jedi, the leader, of sorts. It’d be an interesting twist, to have a female protagonist in such a major movie – and somewhere, maybe, there’s some link revealed between her and the previous trilogy, don’t know what that is yet. But that’s why I think Luke’s not featured prominently (because revealing anything about him might signal that he ends up in the ultimate battle with Ren) and why we’ll also see Luke go out like Obi-Wan only to be a guiding spirit in death (‘strike me down and I’ll become more powerful than you can possible imagine’).

There’s obviously other elements in there to tie in also, but that, I think, will be the main storyline. Either way, I can’t wait to see it play out.

The Best Films of 2015 So Far…

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It’s been a bit of a lean year for quality cinema. Or at least, I haven’t seen a heap of great things. When I sat down to think about my top films, it was a bit of a struggle – the main couple stood out, but it was hard coming up with even five that I thought were memorable. There were a couple that were okay (‘Inherent Vice’, ‘Kingsmen’) and a few that were really bad (‘Focus’ – so bad), but I had to rack my brain to come up with a good, five deep, list of my top films. Maybe I missed something, maybe I’m not in the loop on some of the good stuff. I don’t know – what I do know is that, of what I’ve seen, these are my top films from the first half of 2015.

  1. Ex Machina

Really, Alex Garland’s ‘Ex Machina’ is so far out in front, it’s not even close. The story of a guy winning a competition to spend time at a brilliant, but eccentric, billionaire’s secluded mansion – which turns into something totally different – is an brilliantly executed story, and one which forces the viewer into the very moral quandaries being faced by the narrator. It reminded me of Denis Villenueve’s ‘Prisoners’ and Gregor Jordan’s ‘Unthinkable’, films that force you to question what you would do in the same situation, how you would respond. It’s smooth, methodical and compelling, keeping you held there till the last. Definitely worth checking out.

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road

I really don’t understand the fuss about the early Mad Max films. I’d watched them many years ago and not fully understood them, being too young to get the complexities, but they were recently re-run in a late night slot on Australian TV. And I still didn’t get them. They’re overly stylistic, there’s not a heap of story or character development. Yet, people are drawn to George Miller’s post-apocalyptic world. With all that in mind, I wasn’t expecting a heap from Fury Road – and really, there’s not a heap to it, in terms of storytelling complexity. But it’s just so good, it’s so enthralling and crazy and it just keeps coming at you. As a friend noted, it’s basically a two-hour car chase, but the fact that your heart’s still beating fast right through to the end is a pretty big endorsement for how well it’s put together. Just, madness, some of the best examples of modern special effects, tied together with a story that’s basically “we need to get from here to here”. That’s it.

  1. Interstellar

I think Interstellar may have come out last year, but I definitely only caught it in 2015, so I’m counting it. I’d heard and read a bit about the film before I saw it, I’d seen debates about its scientific accuracy and such. I don’t know much about all that, but I do think that the ‘science’, within the world of the story, works well enough to pull it together. Mostly. Either way, it’s a compelling story that really draws you in as it gains momentum – and some of the emotional peaks are very well done. Similar to Nolan’s other big, non-Batman film, Inception, there are things that don’t quite fit, particularly in retrospect, but he certainly knows how to put together an entertaining film.

  1. The Drop

This is a lesser known one, I think, or at least, I haven’t seen many people discussing it. The Drop is about a bar tender who’s involved in organized crime money drops, one of which has gone wrong. Fingers are being pointed, threats are being communicated in non-verbal cues, while the guy at the middle of it all is just a normal guy, trying to get out without any trouble. Kind of. Tom Hardy’s better in this than he is in Mad Max, though similar role, in that he doesn’t say much, plays the quiet type (in fact, that’s him in every movie). Written by Dennis Lehane, the story rolls along at a good pace and develops the main character well. It’s a well done crime drama, above the normal, popcorn cinema type fare.

  1. The Jinx

Due to the aforementioned drought of good films, I’ve actually gone with a TV series in slot five. But in TV terms, The Jinx is certainly one of the most cinematic experiences you’re going to get. The Jinx tells the story of Robert Durst, a billionaire who may or may not have killed his ex-wife. And his housemate. And some other woman, and a former friend and… the list goes on. But he’s not in jail. The documentary series, which runs over six episodes, highlights the power of money over all else, how a rich man can, apparently, get away with pretty much anything. In case after head-shaking case, Durst subverts the law and goes on his way, left to his own, questionable devices, when it’s pretty clear that something’s not right. If it weren’t true, no one would believe it – it’s just too much. But it is, and it’s amazing.

Hopefully the second half of 2015 brings some better stuff our way, but these ones were good, they’ve definitely stuck with me after seeing them. And there is, of course, Star Wars on the horizon, a film which has millions of hardcore fans both stupidly excited and supremely nervous at the same time. I’m pretty sure that, at least, will be great. Probably. Hopefully.

Facebook Instant Articles Have Arrived: The End of Publishing as We Know it?

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After much speculation, Facebook’s Instant Articles are here. Instant Articles gives publishers the opportunity to post their content direct to Facebook, in a move that some are proclaiming as ‘selling their soul’ to the social giant. The concern, given Facebook’s history of changing the ground rules, is that while the initial offering from Facebook on Instant Articles is good, the other shoe will eventually drop once the process has become embedded and publishers are reliant on the new practice. Like Darth Vader, the expectation is that Facebook will alter the deal, and once it’s become a key part of publishers’ overall strategy, they’ll be left with no choice but to simply pray that Facebook doesn’t alter it any further.

How does it work?

Instant Articles translates publisher content via HTML and RSS into good looking, easy to consume content, available direct on Facebook. There’s also a range of additional publishing options exclusive to the new platform to boost the presentation of content in the News Feed, things like auto-play video and interactive maps, all of which will function smoothly within Facebook’s mobile news feed. It’s worth noting that Instant Articles are only available via the mobile app right now – trying to access the same content on your desktop PC will take you to the normal, mobile web version of the article (though Facebook specifically notes ‘for the moment’ as a qualifier on this).

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Instant Article posts load much faster than normal links, which is one of the major pain points Facebook is seeking to resolve with this option. The average mobile load time for an external link from Facebook is around eight seconds. Now, that seems like nothing, right? Eight seconds isn’t long to wait for an article to come up, but on a wider scale, when you consider how many people are using Facebook each day, that time is significant. Facebook has 936 million daily active users, if each of those users opens just one link per session, that eight seconds load time equates to more than two million total hours that people around the world are waiting, each day, for posts to load – time those people could be spending doing other things. Like reading more content on Facebook. From that perspective alone, Facebook’s move has a significant pay-off, even if they maintain the current ad revenue split, which, at present, looks pretty appealing for publishers.

How do publishers make money?

One of the biggest concerns about publishers posting first-run content direct to Facebook was that they’d be surrendering their own audience in favour of Facebook’s. If people no longer need to visit your site to view content, that’s going to result in less traffic, and by extension, less opportunity to monetize your audience. Facebook’s worked to alleviate this by offering publishers the ability to display their own ads within their Instant Articles, with all revenues from any such ads going back to the publishers. Facebook will then fill any unsold ad spots, and will take a 30 per cent cut from any revenues generated by those ads, with the rest going back to the publishers.

Facebook has also worked with comScore to ensure Instant Article views within Facebook’s app will count as traffic for the original publisher, not Facebook. So while publishers are ceding control to The Social Network, they’re getting a pretty good deal on advertising and losing nothing in audience stats. Facebook will also provide performance data on Instant Articles, better enabling publishers to work out what’s resonating best with their Facebook audience and make improvements.

Sounds like a pretty good deal, right? And considering many publishers are already significantly reliant on Facebook referral traffic anyway, partnering with the network via Instant Articles makes sense, as it’s likely (despite Facebook saying this is not the case) that Facebook’s algorithm will give preferential treatment to Instant Articles over other posting options. Though that, too, is where publishers hesitate in shaking Facebook’s outstretched hand and look down at the feet to see if their standing on the trap door.

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What’s The Issue with Instant Articles?

The problem with Facebook’s new option is not what Instant Articles are now, but what they may become. Major players posting direct to Facebook is a fundamental shift in the publishing process. While, right now, the deal looks good, and it seems as though Facebook has done a lot of negotiating with their launch partners to ensure the deal beneficial for all, as with the many changes to the News Feed algorithm, Facebook has the right to change the game whenever it sees fit.

If publishers don’t sign up to Instant Articles, will that see eventually their content de-emphasised by the algorithm, making it harder to reach potential audience on the platform? If Instant Articles are given preferential placement in the News Feed, will that further reduce the reach of all other content as there’ll be less News Feed real estate remaining as a result? If Instant Articles are a big hit, and publishers become reliant on that as a new source of revenue, will Facebook re-configure the advertising split, leaving publishers with no choice but to take the hit and give over more money to the social giant?

Obviously, there’s no way of knowing how it will play out, but it’s generally agreed that building a reliance on ‘rented land’, in social networks or any other platform of which you don’t control the back-end, isn’t sustainable practice in the long-term. But maybe Facebook is, as they say, only seeking to improve user experience. Maybe eliminating that load time results in more people spending more time visiting other areas of Facebook or direct posted articles further enhance Facebook’s status as a key source of information, increasing time spent on platform, and thus, opportunities for Facebook to serve ads, and that, in itself, is enough reason for Facebook to maintain the system as is. It seems unlikely, in the long term. The initial deal being offered seems a little too good to be what it will in its final configuration. But it sure is appealing. You can imagine many publishers would be willing to sign-up to get better reach to Facebook’s 1.4 billion users.

Instant Articles is definitely an interesting development, and one everyone in the content, media and publishing space will want to keep a close eye on.

The Apple Watch is Going to Be a Huge Failure. Maybe.

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The Apple Watch is coming, and many are already decrying it’s demise. Think it’s gonna’ be a loser? The tech giant’s definitely had it’s fair share of doubters over time:

“Mark my words, these new ipods I think they’re calling them are just the latest fad, and will soon flounder and disappear along with other bad ideas like DCC, Eight-tracks and Betamax videotapes.” – “iPod: 7 Reasons Why Apple’s Walkman Knock-Off Is Doomed To Fail”, What Culture

“I question the company’s ability to sell into a tight consumer market right now at the iPod’s current price” – “Apple’s iPod Spurs Mixed Reactions”, CNET, October 23, 2001

“Great just what the world needs, another freaking MP3 player. Go Steve! Where’s the Newton?!” – “Apple’s New Thing (iPod)”, MacRumours, July, 2001

“Prediction No. 1: The iPhone will be a major disappointment. The hype has been enormous. Apple says its iPhone is “literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone.” A stock-market analyst says, “The iPhone has the potential to be even bigger than the iPod.” I think not. An iPod is a divergence device; an iPhone is a convergence device. There’s a big difference between the two. In the high-tech world, divergence devices have been spectacular successes. But convergence devices, for the most part, have been spectacular failures.” – “Why the iPhone Will Fail”, AdAge, June 18, 2007

“The Apple phone will be exclusive to one of the major networks in each territory and some customers will switch networks just to get it, but not as many as had been hoped. As customers start to realise that the competition offers better functionality at a lower price, by negotiating a better subsidy, sales will stagnate. After a year a new version will be launched, but it will lack the innovation of the first and quickly vanish. The only question remaining is if, when the iPod phone fails, it will take the iPod with it.” – “Why the Apple Phone will Fail, and Fail badly”, The Register, December 23rd, 2006

“[The iPhone’s] virtual keyboard will be about as useful for tapping out emails and text messages as a rotary phone. Don’t be surprised if a sizable contingent of iPhone buyers express some remorse at ditching their BlackBerry when they spend an extra hour each day pumping out emails on the road.” – “The Futurist: We Predict the iPhone Will Bomb” – TechCrunch, June 7, 2007

“The iPhone is nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks” – “Apple iPhone Will Fail in a Late, Defensive Move”, Bloomberg, January 14, 2007

“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It’s a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I’d prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, “CEO Forum: Microsoft’s Ballmer having a ‘great time‘”, USA Today, April 30, 2007

“What Apple risks here is its reputation as a hot company that can do no wrong. If it’s smart it will call the iPhone a ‘reference design’ and pass it to some suckers to build with someone else’s marketing budget. Then it can wash its hands of any marketplace failures… Otherwise I’d advise people to cover their eyes.” – “Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone”, MarketWatch, March 28, 2007

“Yes, [the iPad is] a sharp piece of technology, and given Apple’s track record, it’s going to be fun to use. But other than satisfying a lust for new gadgets and shiny things, can you think of a real need for a device like this?” – “10 reasons the iPad could fail catastrophically”, Games Radar, January 29, 2010

“Tablet PCs suck. They’re underpowered, only marginally portable, and awkward to use in anything but a traditional seated position, with a desk to support them.” – “Why Apple’s rumored iTablet will fail big time”, InfoWorld, December 22, 2009

“In the end, I think that the iPad will eventually be regarded much like Apple TV – a product that Jobs should have left on the drawing boards.” – “Why the iPad will fail to win significant market share”, TechRepublic, February 23, 2010

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Still confident the Apple Watch is destined for the scrap heap?

Do You Have to Produce Video Content to Succeed in Social Media?

Facebook video

 

 

 

 

So, if a social media expert, or someone going under a similar moniker, comes to you and tells you that absolutely have to create video content, it might be time to look for a new advisor. Video is powerful, no doubt, and it’s a great way to generate engagement and build your brand online – the expanded capacity of our mobile networks and the evolution of apps and social platforms has enabled a new age of video communication. But if you’re only producing video content in order to make videos, to ‘do video content’, it’s quite possible that you’re missing the point, and will struggle as a result.

A Question of Quality

The thing is, bad content is bad content. It won’t matter if it’s video, audio, performance art – if no one likes it, it won’t get shared. Actually that’s not true, maybe people not liking it is what you’re going for, and that leads to people sharing – if it’s not sparking an emotional response of some kind, it’s going nowhere. And this is the biggest risk in the new wave of video content – while everyone should consider and be encouraged to think about how they can utilise video, if you don’t have an original or interesting idea, it may not be worth doing. The increased emphasis on video is seeing people make video content for the sake of making it – I’ve seen people post video of themselves holding their new products as they wave a description card along the bottom of the screen. I’ve seen content like this, from Mike, who, evidently, buys golf clubs:

Okay, bad example, that’s actually been shared a heap of times, but you get my point – making video for the sake of making video is probably not the best way to go. I mean, it won’t cost you a heap – the array of video recording and production apps these days enable anyone to make good quality video at low cost – but the problem is, if the quality of video content, overall, starts to drop, and people’s news feeds get flooded with average quality posts, users will rightfully complain. And complaints lead to algorithm shifts.

“And Like That… He’s Gone”

Facebook, above all else, values user experience. This has been debated over time, whether they care about users or money, but Zuckerberg’s line has always been that user experience is their number one priority. And it’s hard to argue it isn’t, almost every major Facebook algorithm shift has been triggered by user feedback; users said they didn’t like clickbait, so Facebook altered their filter; users didn’t like overly promotional posts, so they were de-emphasised by the algorithm. Facebook knows that, above all else, their power is in audience engagement on the platform. And they also know that people can and will migrate to other platforms, the social landscape can change very quickly. They know this, of course, because that’s how Facebook supplanted MySpace. In social media, if you lose the crowd, you lose, a fact that all the major platforms are acutely aware of, and as a result, they tread more carefully than ever when rolling out updates and features.

So what happens when people start seeing an increase in content they don’t like? They complain, and Facebook is forced to re-evaluate how that type of content is distributed. Right now, native video content is getting the highest organic reach of any post type, but that could change, and that change could literally happen overnight. Currently, Facebook’s distribution algorithm is pretty good at filtering out low quality content – organic reach is, of course, at the lowest it’s ever been, so it’s pretty hard to reach a significant audience either way, and their ad filtering works on a quality scoring-type system to reduce the reach of ads that no one’s responding to. Low quality content, in whatever form that may be, degrades user experience and forces Facebook to re-evaluate how they distribute content to satisfy the needs and expectations of users. Making bad video content is bad overall, as you’re not only potentially hurting your own reach (in terms of post performance influencing future content), but you may also be contributing to a wider resistance to video posts, overall.

There Can Be More Than One…

The argument here is not video or Facebook-specific. – there’s an inherent risk to over-emphasising any one type of content. If you force people to create video – or blog, or post infographics – making people focus on any one type of content will inevitably lead to some people struggling to produce quality work. I love blogging, I write all the time, but I know plenty of people who struggle with it and I’ve seen them post average quality work which, understandably, is getting little engagement, and this is frustrating for them because they’ve been told they absolutely, definitely have to blog. But maybe they’d be better off focussing on something they can do confidently – it’s possible that they could have massive success producing live streams for Periscope. Maybe they’re no good at writing, but really good at conversation – Hangouts on Air or Twitter chats might be a better focus. Definitely, written content is a key element, particularly for SEO purposes – and outside production assistance is always an option (cost prohibitive) – but you might also be able to also utilise transcripts, Storify logs – there are different ways to ensure you’re ticking all the content boxes.

To say anyone needs to create content of any specific type is potentially risky, and with so many options now available to connect, it may be keeping them from their best option to generate interest and engagement.

What’s Good for Them is Good for You

So what content should you focus on? The best way to make content your audience will love is to listen to them. Analyse what your communities are talking about, look at the key interests and topics being discussed amongst those most likely to buy from you or your business. You can use apps like Social Crawlytics to establish where and what content is driving the most social referrals to your site, or BuzzSumo to search for what content is being most shared amongst those in your industry. If you don’t have enough content to go on, run your competitors’ websites through those apps and see what’s driving the most engagement for them – if they’re seeing a heap of engagement with image posts or quizzes, maybe that’s what you should do too.

If you can identify trends or commonalities amongst your audience, you can let those fuel your ideas for content – this will enable you to work with what your audience is after, what they’re most likely to respond to. And of course, this is not to say you should be afraid to try or resistant to testing out what can be done with any type of content – video is generating great response and there’s a wide range of tools available to experiment with. But you shouldn’t be making video for the sake of making video. There’s no point to that and you’re likely not helping your brand any by posting video content that lacks passion, purpose or any spark of creativity. Content is crucial, but what type of content you create should be driven by what your audience is responding to and what’s within your capacity to provide.

But then again, it’s always possible that your worst idea might end up getting the most attention. Now, I’ve gotta go find some old golf clubs.

Will Meerkat Survive?

Meerkat

So Meerkating is now a thing. The immensely popular live-streaming app Meerkat has timed it’s rise to prominence in alignment with the annual South by Southwest Festival, leading to a perfect storm of Meerkats streaming from every talk, launch and dinner event. And it’s fun – it’s amazing to have such a level of access to the festival and it’s participants – the closest many of us, particularly those of us in other parts of the world, will ever get to actually being there and experiencing the event as it happens. I’ve loved jumping onto a Meerkat stream and getting Brian Fanzo’s perspective or Gary Vaynerchuck’s insight, all happening right there, as I watch. There’s a lot to like about Meerkat – but it’s time in the sun may be short-lived.

Up Periscope

In January, Twitter purchased Periscope, a video-streaming service that offers the exact same capabilities as Meerkat, and then some. Twitter’s been working with Periscope since November 2014, and was reportedly polishing the beta version when Meerkat – which was built in just 8 weeks – was released into the social sphere. Reports thus far have indicated that Periscope operates in much the same way as Meerkat – it will function as a separate app and enable Twitter users to create live streams, the links to which are tweeted out to your Twitter followers (or to selected users). Periscope will also give users the chance to view live streams or watch previously recorded ones, something not on offer via Meerkat. Another point of difference is that comments posted on Periscope won’t show up in your Twitter stream – not sure if this is a positive or negative at this stage. While it is odd seeing half messages or seemingly random interactions show up in your Twitter stream – which are actually responses to a Meerkat that user is watching – those conversation fragments can also spark interest in checking out the link yourself – time will tell if this has any effect on viewers.

Reports have suggested that Periscope is a far more polished and functional affair – which makes sense, given the short dev time for Meerkat – but has Periscope missed the boat and enabled Meerkat to establish a following?

Riding the Blue Bird

There is one other thing working against Meerkat – it’s been built on the back of Twitter’s network. As stated in the Meerkat documentation ‘everything that happens on Meerkat happens on Twitter’, and this could work against them as, effectively, a competing service. Already, Twitter’s moved to restrict Meerkat’s access to it’s social graph. While it’s unlikely Twitter would cut Meerkat off completely, building their network on Twitter’s land could prove problematic when Periscope does, eventually, get released – though some have also noted that this strategy may end up working in Meerkat’s favour.

The Race or the Service?

There was a question posted in a SXSW event over the weekend – an event I was watching via Meerkat – and it somewhat gets to the heart of the questions over the future of Meerkat and whether the app will exist long-term. The question, posed by Bryan Kramer, was:

My response to this is that the functionality of Meerkat is an extension of social connectivity – it brings everything another step closer. That’s really the ultimate goal of social media, to facilitate connections between people and groups and enable everyone to be part of the wider conversation. That’s the ethos that Mark Zuckerberg stands by, the mission to connect everyone and harness the power of collaboration to bring about real connection and, ideally, real change. In this vein, Meerkat is a perfect extension of such capacity – it’s the next step, allowing anyone to broadcast easily and in real-time to the rest of the world. And in that sense, the platform itself isn’t really the thing.

Whether it’s Periscope or Meerkat – or something else we haven’t even heard of, Meerkat’s live-streaming functionality is exciting and innovative – and it’s already got of the world’s best social media minds enamoured and thinking about how to utilise it in new ways. While I anticipate Periscope being being a great product, even if it does succeed Meerkat, time spent learning and seeing what you can do via Meerkat won’t be wasted. And maybe there’s room for both apps in the market – maybe some people will better align to the DIY-feel of Meerkat and refuse to use Periscope even if it is better. It’s likely that this window of opportunity Meerkat’s been afforded will enable it to establish a loyal audience of some kind – but regardless of how it pans out, the important element to note here is the functionality, the new capability and capacity being offered by live-streaming video. Network capacity of the past would’ve meant such innovation was simply impossible. But now, you might get the opportunity to experience celebrity events from the front row, live streamed by your favourite celebrity him or herself, access you’d never have dreamed of – and a powerful vehicle for engagement and building community.

Rather than worrying about who’ll win the race, take a moment to take in the spectacle of the event. It’s a fun ride that’s worth getting onto.

Google Re-Connects to Twitter’s Firehose – What it Means for Digital Marketing

Twitter Firehose

The announcement of Twitter’s new deal with Google, giving the search giant access to Twitter’s firehose of real-time tweets, once again highlights the micro-blog giant’s determination to advance and evolve into new avenues of profitability. While the latest Twitter numbers showed user growth is still slowing, revenue numbers have continued to increase, indicating that Twitter is on track to produce significant profit in the near future. Through increased advertising options and steps taken towards monetizing every aspect of Twitter’s audience, there’s a lot to like about the company’s future, and those innovations, many of which have come in quick succession, underline its place as the real-time social network of choice – but what will the Google deal actually mean?

The Rise of Social Search

This isn’t the first time Twitter and Google have combined their powers. Between 2009 and 2011, Google indexed tweets, till there was a disagreement between the parties and the relationship ended. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, in the company’s Q4 earnings call, made it clear that the new deal with Google was not the same as the previous one, meaning it will likely be more sophisticated and complex, which makes sense, given Twitter’s growth since the cessation of the previous pact. For Twitter, it gives them exposure and access to a whole new audience of ‘logged-out’ users, which the company estimates increase its reach by some 600 million people in addition to its ‘logged-in’ user base. For Google, it helps them maintain the battle for search eyeballs, with an increasing number of people turning to social for search purposes. This was underlined in by Facebook’s search upgrade in December 2014, enabling users to search for content posted by friends and people within their extended networks. The evolution of social search no doubt has Google slightly spooked, as the pervasiveness of word-of-mouth is significantly more compelling that product reviews and hand-picked testimonials. The deal makes perfect sense, but the make-up of the actual functions will be of significant interest, particularly to those in the SEO and digital marketing arenas.

The Possibilities of Innovation

While the enhanced indexing of tweets is, in itself, significant, it’s likely, also, that tweets will be given a different prominence in search results. Google’s indicated that a new version of ‘Google Real Time Search’ would be unlikely, but what we may see is more innovative integration of tweets into search streams. A break out option, for example, where you may see a clickable indicator in your Google search results saying ‘there have been X tweets about this subject in the last 24 hours’ to provide additional context around a search term’s popularity and link users directly to that conversation. Options like this would give Google users a more expansive view of the topic they’re investigating, providing additional context and giving them access to that important word-of-mouth insight. Google Trends too will benefit from having access to tweets – rather than tweets having their own separate search function, a new option in Trends could better enable specific Twitter data searches. Such functionality is essentially already available through apps like Topsy, but Trends might be able to do this with more oomph, more expansive data mapping functionality, powered by Google.

It’ll also be interesting to see if there’s specific integration of Twitter data into other Google properties, like Google Maps. We’ve already seen the power of Twitter data in highlighting sentiment across different regions – visualisations like those available on Twitter’s #Interactive showcase, mapping the popularity of sports teams or the details of election results, are extremely popular and effective in communicating the expanses of Twitter’s data insight. While the more complex elements of such analysis will always require expert input (likely through Twitter’s own Gnip), there may be ways to integrate Google and Twitter data to give users to ability to map their own correlations, specific to their region. Of course, these are just possibilities and speculations, but the opportunities of an improved, enhanced, Twitter/Google partnership are exciting, and may help strengthen both companies in the battle against Zuckerberg’s towering behemoth.

The SEO Factor

And then there’s SEO. The integration of Twitter data into search results, likely in ways we’ve not seen before, could make Twitter a key element of the SEO process. Giving tweets more prominence already points to this, but a new Twitter indexing process could put more emphasis on the importance of brands being active on Twitter generally. What if someone goes searching for your products or services and a tweet from your competitor appears, high in the search results, with a message that resonates with that customer? You may have just lost that sale by virtue of not being present or not engaging via tweets.

At present, the main motivator for Twitter in this new deal appears to be the ability to show more ads to casual users and provide more incentive to get new people active on the platform, but as noted by Danny Sullivan in Marketing Land’s FAQ on the new deal:

Partnering fully with Google will make it likely much more of Twitter’s relevant content will appear before Google visitors, sending Twitter lots of traffic that it can use to convert into new Twitter users or to show ads.”

If relevant tweets are more likely to appear to searchers – customers seeking to inform their purchase decisions via Google research – the need to have your content appear high in those results will also be more pressing. If your brand isn’t active on Twitter, this may be a new element to consider in your SEO process.

Twitter’s noted that it’ll take several months for any changes to appear, and we’ll obviously hear more when the time comes, but it’s interesting to consider the possibilities and motivations behind this move. Either way, Twitter’s latest changes, and the speed at which they’re implementing new processes and innovations, bode well for the future relevance of the platform. Maybe nothing major comes of the Google/Twitter deal, but all indications are that this will be significant. How significant, exactly, only time will tell.