web analytics

Virtual reality winter

In The VR winter Benedict Evans writes about virtual reality and its failure to take off:

We tried VR in the 1980s, and it didn’t work. The idea may have been great, but the technology of the day was nowhere close to delivering it, and almost everyone forgot about it. Then, in 2012, we realised that this might work now. Moore’s law and the smartphone component supply chain meant that the hardware to deliver the vision was mostly there on the shelf. Since then we’ve gone from the proof of concept to maybe three quarters of the way towards a really great mass-market consumer device.

My first encounter with virtual reality was in the 1980s. It was so bad it was laughable. Then again it had a second run of interest in the mid-1990s. There were consumer plays which were only a little less awful than the 1980s experience. Huge unwieldy headsets and odd gloves were all part of the deal.

Silicon Graphics teased journalists with a vision of how the technology might work for business analytics. It sounded convincing at the time.

The idea went something along these lines:

“Imagine you are standing in a field and all the waves of grass are blowing around. Each blade represents a data point – maybe the sales performance of individual outlets or even counter staff working for a multinational retail chain. One or two blades are, perhaps, a different colour. You walk over and investigate these. The purple blade is your best performance sales person. The red one is your worst performer.

And so on…”

Ridiculous

While this sounded plausible to the audience in 1995, in hindsight it seems faintly ridiculous. Although there may be many powerful data analysis applications of immersive three-dimensional worlds, finding employee of the month this way seems daft when the results would leap out of an everyday spreadsheet.

A more practical and topical use of immersive three-dimensional graphics might allow researchers to walk around and explore a giant model of, say, a virus to help identify weak spots that medicine or a vaccine could address.

In his story, Evans works through most of the reasons why virtual reality never took off. In part it was always too niche. He offers other reasons, but I think he misses something in his story.

I’ve yet to see a VR experience which is not so bad that I’m embarrassed for the people who made it. There was a VR presentation at an Auckland press conference a year or so ago. Apart from feeling slightly sick and disoriented during the presentation, it was, to say the least unimpressive.

Three years ago at Mobile World Congress a slew of mobile handset companies showed VR systems based on phones. There were at least seven displays, but between them there were only two pieces of content on show. Most shared the same roller coaster ride VR demonstration.

At the time I noted that the fact so many huge names had to show the same content at one of the world’s biggest tech events implied there’s precious little worthwhile content. At last year’s Mobile World Congress, the most visible VR content was the same demonstration. The technology may or may not have been better. Either way it left me cold. Yet the companies pushing it hadn’t bothered to invest in creating the content to show it off.

Virtual reality killer content

There is a chicken and egg here. Put aside for one moment the clunky graphics, the fact that movement isn’t smooth and the possibility of toppling over or vomiting from VR sea sickness.

For VR to take off it needs killer content, but creating immersive, high resolution content is expensive. Far more expensive per minute of content than the cost of a blockbuster movie. And yet almost everyone can watch a blockbuster movie. Only a handful of people can watch VR. Not enough to make it worth creating that blockbuster content.

So until this is resolved or until someone creates a mainstream business application using the technology, VR going to remain a backwater. Every so often the idea will get dusted down and presented again before it’s put back in the too hard basket.

Mandatory code being developed by ACCC will create ‘level playing field’ in media landscape, Josh Frydenberg says

Source: Facebook and Google to be forced to share advertising revenue with Australian media companies | Australian media | The Guardian

From the original story:

Facebook and Google will be forced to share advertising revenue with Australian media companies after the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, instructed the competition watchdog to develop a mandatory code of conduct for the digital giants amid a steep decline in advertising brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

This is the same steep advertising decline that has New Zealand media companies in a tail spin. Things have been tough for nearly 20 years. Depending on which set of numbers you read, Facebook and Google take as much as 85 percent of the advertising revenue that media companies once made.

Media extinction event

Elsewhere pundits have described the Covid-19 pandemic as the extinction trigger for traditional media. The comparison is with the meteor that wiped out most dinosaurs.

Frydenberg said it was only fair that media companies that created the content got paid for it.

“This will help to create a level playing field,” he said.

The communications minister, Paul Fletcher, said the decision was about a strong and sustainable news media ecosystem.

If we are realistic, it is too late to talk about a “strong and sustainable news media ecosystem”. Today’s game is all about survival.

Level playing field

Likewise “level playing field” is a nice idea, but we’re talking about a playing field where one side has 85 percent and the other has 15 percent.

Yet Frydenberg is correct when he says it is only fair that the media companies that create content should be paid for their work. The same goes for small publishers and individual journalists.

It’s correct to say Google doesn’t take much material from media companies. Often it isn’t much more than a headline and an opening paragraph. Although that is where most of the gold sits in a news story.

Google gives something back in the way of a link to the original story. Yet often, once a Google reader has seen the head and the opening par, the incentive to click a link has gone.

It’s more complicated with Facebook. Sometimes people cut and paste entire stories into Facebook posts. That means when someone reads the story in that timeline, Facebook gets to sell the advertisement, not the publisher.  It means Facebook gets rich on someone else’s work. But then that is the Facebook business model.

Dependency

The flip side of this argument is that media outlets are dependent on Facebook and Google to deliver those links to help readers find stories. It’s a form of dependency that means relying on the parasite that is eating you to also continue feeding you.

Australia’s approach may not be the best way of tackling the problem. Yet it is good to recognise that there is a problem and to attempt to tackle it.

If recent history is any guide, the big social media firms will resist. They will spend a fortune on legal and lobbying attempts to overturn the decision. By the time that fight draws to a conclusion there will a quite different media landscape.

“Some storytellers and influencers are also migrating from personal sites toward individual channels on Medium, Blogger, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube. But there’s a risk here — those creating and sharing unique content on these channels can lose ownership of that content. And in a world where content is king, brands need to protect their identity.”

As you might expect, Morrison is keen on changing the downward trajectory for domain name registration, but he has a valid point – why would you put the fate of your business in the hands of a platform owned by someone else? Sure, use Facebook etc to engage with your customers, but why not maintain control over your own brand? It baffles me, especially as creating a website is so much easier than it used to be.

Source: Why businesses aren’t picking domain names | ITP Techblog

At ITP Techblog Sarah Putt sees the issue of using Facebook or another social media site as a matter of branding.

She is right. Branding is important.

Yet the issue doesn’t stop there.

A site of your own

Not owning your own domain name, your own website, means you are not master or mistress of your online destiny. It’s that simple.

If you place your trust in the big tech companies, they can pull the rug at any moment.

This isn’t scaremongering. It has happened time and again. In many cases companies have been left high and dry. Some have gone under as a result.

The big tech companies care no more about the small businesses who piggyback off their services than you care about the individual microscopic bugs living in your gut.

Media companies learned this lesson the hard way. A decade or so ago Facebook and Google have made huge efforts to woo media companies. They promised all kinds of deals.

Many of those companies that went in boots and all are now out of business. Gone. Kaput.

Pulling the plug

Google pulled the plug on services like Wave and Google+ almost overnight after persuading media companies to sign up.

Big tech companies change their rules on a whim. Some of those whims meant cutting off the ways media companies could earn revenue.

Few media companies ever made any much money from the online giants. Those who managed to survive in a fierce and hostile landscape had nowhere to go when the services eventually closed. Many sank without a trace.

Sure, you may have heard stories about people who have made money from having an online business presence on one of the tech giants’ sites. You may also have heard stories about people winning big lottery prizes. The odds are about the same.

Yes, it can be cheap, even free in some cases, to hang out your shingle on Facebook or Google. But it is never really your shingle. It’s theirs.

The case for your own domain name

On the flip side, starting your own web site is not expensive. You can buy a domain name and have a simple presence for the price of a good lunch.

It doesn’t have to be hard work. You don’t need something fancy. And let’s face it, most Facebook companies pages are nothing to write home about either.

Use WordPress. It is not expensive. There’s plenty of help around to get you started.

The important thing is the site is entirely your property.

I often hear one argument in favour of working with Facebook. It goes somewhere along the lines of ‘fishing where the fish swim’. It’s true, your customers probably are on Facebook. There’s nothing to stop you from going there to engage with with them… just make sure you direct them to your independent web site.

Hear me on this week’s NZ Tech Podcast. I talk with Paul Spain about Huawei teaming with Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi as a defence against Chinese phone makers being locked out of Google’s Android services. We talk about the incredible progress made by New Zealand’s games developers who have doubled revenues in two years. We also discuss Telsla’s latest moves and a plan to test flying taxis in Christchurch.

You can listen to the podcast on the site or use one of the download services.

“Here’s the bad news: No one is coming to save you. No business is going to swoop in and provide sustainable funding for newsrooms. No new technology is going to transform the way journalism supports itself forever.

No big, incredible deal is going to build a strong foundation for the news. There isn’t a single magic bullet that will work for everyone. Even producing groundbreaking journalism isn’t going to suddenly turn your fortunes around.”

Source: Use the tools of journalism to save it » Nieman Journalism Lab

Ben Werdmuller has a sobering and realistic take on today’s journalism. It looks grim, yet there is optimism of sorts here.

A conversation

He says journalists need to recognise the internet is not a broadcast medium but a conversation. This echoes a post on this site from 11 years ago. More on Twitter journalism looks at the way many journalists use Twitter as a broadcast medium. They see it as a way to draw in readers to their newspaper, radio or TV channel websites.

This still happens. But many New Zealand journalists have learned how to engage with readers online. We focus here on Twitter because that’s the only social media I use these days. One reason for picking a single social media channel is that I can concentrate my firepower. This makes sense for a one person freelance journalism business. And it is a business, not a job.

In the earlier story I write:

“Most use it as a broadcast medium – like an RSS feed. A number have Twitter accounts, but say little of value. Perhaps 40 percent can be said to be serious Twitter journalists.”

Without digging around and doing a lot of research, I’d say that number hasn’t changed much.

Twitter as a conversation

What has changed is many of New Zealand’s higher profile journalists have regular active Twitter conversations. Go and dig around, you’ll see many of the best-known names engaging with their audiences. It can be hard doing this among the snark and antagonism.

One innovation that I’ve been working on at this site is to integrate Twitter comments with those left directly on my site. I’ve used a couple of IndieWeb tools to capture tweets responding to my posts on stories. I’ve done this to boost the conversational aspect of my work. My plan is to add to this over the coming year.

The linked story from this site ends with:

“Until publishers encourage reporters and editors to engage with their audiences, they are going to miss out on the potential of Twitter.

Of course, the journalists who do this best will become media brands in their own right, which will worry the bean counters. But that’s another story…”

This is working well 11 years after those words were written. Many of us who still work as journalists are now mini-brands. Publishers and editors hire journalists with a good brand. Freelancers like me get work on the back of having a brand.

This doesn’t come naturally to older journalists. We were taught to keep ourselves out of the story. That’s not how things work today and it definitely isn’t how blogging works.

Community

Werdmuller has a different take on what amounts to the same idea. He writes:

“Instead of thinking in terms of having an audience, you need to think about building and serving a community. Instead of informing, you need to be listening. The opportunities to learn the nuances of your community and to serve it directly are unprecedented — but it takes work.”

It does take work. One of the skills journalists pick up is to be excellent at listening to sources. In the past we’ve not been so good at listening to our audiences. It took me a while, although judging by my earlier posts, I was onto this 11 years ago.

The point here is there hasn’t been a clear dividing line between sources and audiences for many years now. Likewise, there is less of a division between journalists and audiences. We are, as Werdmuller puts it, communities. He is right when he says this takes work, but boy, it can be rewarding.