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For several years now, the trend among geeks has been to abandon the RSS format. RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is a way to queue up and serve content from the internet.

Source: The Case for RSS — MacSparky

Geeks might not like RSS, but it’s an essential tool if you monitor news or need to stay up to date with developments in a subject area.

An RSS feed is a way of listing material that’s published online. There’s a feed for this site if you’re interested. It sends out a short headline and extract as each post is published. That way you can stay up to date with everything published here without needing to constantly revisit the site to check for updates.

Separate feeds

Some big sites break up their news rivers into separate feeds. At the New York Times or The Guardian you can choose to read the technology news feed. At ZDNet you can pick subject feeds or selected a feed for an individual journalist.

Sometimes you can also roll your own niche feeds from big sites by using a search term to get a list of all stories including a certain key word.

The beauty of RSS is that it is comprehensive. It misses nothing. If you go offline for a week you can pick up where you left off and catch up immediately.

RSS is comprehensive

The alternatives are social media sites like Twitter or Facebook. They are nothing like as comprehensive or as easy to manage. Tweets go flying past in a blur on Twitter.

All the main social media sites manage your feed. They decide what gets served up. This means you can miss important posts as they get pushed out of sight. That doesn’t happen with RSS.

In his story David Sparks says you need to be on Twitter all the time to catch news. Make that: you need to be on Twitter all the time AND staying more alert than most people can manage.

Universal feed

The other great thing about RSS is the format is so universal. It can be as simple as raw text. You can read it on your phone, tablet, computer or anywhere at any time. You can suck it out and place it on your own web site, for instance.

There are RSS readers built into browsers, mail clients like Outlook and other standard software. Or at least there were. I haven’t checked again lately. One of the most popular readers is Feedly. This is both a website and a series of free apps. You can pay a little extra to extra features such as an ability to search feeds, tools for integrating feeds into your workflows and so on.

The case for RSS was first posted at billbennett.co.nz.

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I’ve a few ideas about new ways of working as a journalist that overlap with the Indieweb movement.

The first is having a syndicated work portfolio. If you like, a single source, feed or river of everything I post elsewhere.

This means linking back to my stories published on mainstream media sites. I want to do this even when those sites don’t reciprocate my links. At the moment I sometimes write a linking blog post on my site.

Here’s one from last year: https://billbennett.co.nz/agility-knowledge-economy-key-for-auckland-as-an-emerging-global-city/

My second idea is to somehow consolidate the comments that fill different buckets at places like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. There are also some on Disqus. There have been times when there are two or more conversations covering much the same aspects of a story. It would be better if the interested commenters could see what others have to say and interact.

Indieweb central repository

Then there’s my unrealised idea of moving to more of a stream-of-concious style of reporting. This is not so much Jack Kerouac style, but more like the daily live blogs you see on sites like The Guardian. I like the idea of writing a post then update it as the story evolves. This would be easier to manage with a central repository.

Last and not least, there’s my need as a journalist to own my work outside of the big silos. I’m not a snob about FaceBook or Google, but I am aware their shareholders get the reward for my effort when my work appears there. It won’t happen overnight, but the Indieweb may hold the key to redressing the balance in the future.

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For years publishers, broadcasters and anyone else in the media business have wondered if Facebook could be their salvation.

The old publishing business model has crumbled. Building mass audiences with entertainment or information then selling advertising no longer delivers rivers of gold.

Some saw Facebook as an answer. Perhaps not the answer, the question is too complex for a single response. And anyway, Facebook has always been part of the problem.

Yet for a moment it looked as if the social media giant could breathe life back into the advertising-lead business model.

Mighty empire

After all Facebook is a mighty empire. It has greater reach and more influence than any organisation in history.

Yet it turns out the emperor has no clothes. Well, fewer clothes.

The Wall Street Journal reports Facebook has misreported its viewing figures for the past two years.

Advertisers have been given numbers that overestimate the amount of time Facebook users watch video by between 60 and 80 percent. This comes after the social media giant talked about the rapid growth in its video numbers.

Advertiser fears

There’s a growing fear among advertisers that Facebook and Google hide too much of this kind of information. That’s ironic, because one reason advertisers tell traditional publishers they prefer online media is ‘accountability’.

This isn’t the only bad news Facebook has for traditional publishers. In June there was an algorithm change which saw Facebook prioritise material from human accounts while decreasing the number of posts users would see from media companies.

Those publishers who depend on Facebook to deliver readers get less traffic as a result.

Many publishers feel they have no choice but to throw in their lot with Facebook. After all, it is the largest source of traffic for most big media companies. And Facebook has consistently pushed itself to publishers in a bid to fill its pages with their, free-to-Facebook, material.

Fickle, unsympathetic

Yet Facebook has proved a fickle and unsympathetic partner. Its relationship with traditional media is asymmetric.

It’s not clear if Facebook’s recent misreporting was deliberate or accidental. The difference doesn’t matter much to publishers, either way they suffer.

Facebook’s business is all about building compelling services that win large audiences. It then sells that attention to advertisers. Google is the same.

Scale

In many respects both are following the traditional media-advertising model, although there are huge differences of scale and neither invests heavily in producing original material. Instead they let other people do the heavy lifting.

You can see this as a parasitic way of making money. Despite all the goody-two shoes rhetoric about extending the reach of the internet into the poorer areas of the world or bringing people together, the pair are vast empires that care little for what goes on down at the grass-roots level.

Facebook is not the answer to publishers’ prayers, it is yet another nail in their coffin.

Wired ad blockers

 

If I used an ad blocker Wired’s pop-up screen would be annoying but deserved. Publishers need to sell advertising. Ad blockers undermine their business. You can’t argue with the logic.

Sure some publishers abuse readers. They serve inappropriate, even offensive advertising. Many ads overstay their welcome. Others disrupt viewers with noisy video. Or they get too much in-your-face.

Online ads can make reading an ugly, disjointed business. And yet they pay the bills.

Wired isn’t guilty of those bad things. Or at least not in recent memory.

Journalism is not free

It’s reasonable for publishers to ask for readers to contribute something in return for journalism. That something could be seconds of attention to an online ad or it could be a form of pay-per-view.

But here’s the other thing Wired, I don’t use ad blockers.

My browser doesn’t have one installed. If Wired let me past the front gate, I’d see its advertising in all its glory. From that point of view, I’d be a good reader. Maybe even a lucrative one, because I read a lot of tech stories. Back in the day I’d buy the printed version of Wired if the cover story appealed enough.

I may not have an ad blocker, but I do use a browser extension to block intrusive data collection.

There’s a Ghostery in my house

At the time Wired’s pop-up message appeared, I was using Ghostery. I’ve switched since to Disconnect.

These extensions aim to stop companies from collecting data. I’ve no objection to Wired knowing I’ve seen a page or an ad on its site. I’ve every objection to the commercial snitches watching all my online interactions then selling that data to bottom feeders so they can make my life a misery.

When Ghostery was installed, I didn’t use all its blockers. I customized the settings first to protect against possible malware injections and second to stop tracking firms I’ve never heard of from spying on me. I also object to Facebook knowing what I’m up to away from its site.

But that’s it. So it appears Wired’s pop-up message is doing something naughty.

Zealous

Either it is over-zealous and springs into action at the merest whiff of a user taking back control of their online experience. That’s the benign interpretation.

Or, it’s more evil and Wired has a commercial arrangement with one of the nastier data collection outfits and damn well wants to intrude on my privacy if I visit the site.

The other option is Wired’s coders are incompetent or its business managers are too clueless to discriminate against different types of blocking activity.

Whatever the reason, it’s not good business to punish your customers. No doubt I’ll return to Wired again, but until this is fixed, it’s going to get less, not more of my traffic.

When Apple’s iOS 9 landed, a new Newstand folder appeared on the first screen. Inside were four options: The New York Times, Businessweek, the Australian and the New Yorker.

Whatever their merits, none is a natural choice for New Zealand readers.

It’s the latest example of how international media doesn’t think for one moment about New Zealand needs.

Sure, this is only a small country. We’re the last stop on the few international air routes that reach these islands.

There aren’t many of us.

You can see why we might be overlooked in the boardrooms of New York, London or Cupertino.

Our business is only a rounding error on the balance sheet of global giants.

Foreign publishers want your eyeballs, not your brains or engagement

And yet, international publishers want our business.

They want our eyeballs to view their advertisements. They’d like to earn New Zealand dollars for their print or paywall subscriptions.

They want us. Sometimes they even pay lip service to woo us. They often list New Zealand as a market they service. Yet when it gets down to considering our needs, we’re lucky if we rank as a bolt-on to Australia.

In practice this is more annoying and frustrating than ignoring New Zealand altogether.

The Guardian

The Guardian is a good read and an alternative voice that stands out from the pack. It’s one of the world’s top online news websites. There’s intelligent coverage of international issues that you might not find elsewhere in the English-language press.

While the headquarters are in the UK, The Guardian now has editions in the US and Australia.

As it turns out, this is a problem. When you load The Guardian app or go to The Guardian website, New Zealand readers are, by default, sent to the Australian version.

The Australian edition fills gaps in that country’s media. From a parochial Australian point of view it does a reasonable job. If you want to know about domestic Australian issues you’re well served.

Little for NZ readers

But there’s little in the Australian edition of The Guardian for New Zealand readers. It’s not even the best place to get a big-picture view of what’s happening across the Tasman. Nor is it great on Australian business news, which can often be relevant here.

And anyway, it’s not as if local media ignores Australia. Fairfax’s Stuff is often packed with Australian stories. Sometimes Stuff selects the most relevant Australian stories for New Zealand readers. But not always.

As an aside, Stuff is guilty of running overseas stories as if they were local copy. There is often no hint in the headline you are about to read foreign material.

That’s because Fairfax is another foreign media company. Given the company’s investment in New Zealand, it can have a deaf ear to our needs. But that’s another story.

Almost every New Zealand reader choosing The Guardian will be looking for international news, the cultural pages, sport or long-read features.

A few weeks ago the Australian edition led with a story about Bendigo Council. That might be relevant to five or six people in New Zealand, but whoever makes editorial decisions for the Guardian served it up here anyway. Nothing better illustrates that no thought has gone into what we get.

To be fair to The Guardian these annoyances can be fixed. You get around the problem by registering, then choosing a different edition. The app also allows you to change the fixed home page in its settings.

In the great scheme of things The Guardian’s hamfisted approach to New Zealand readers isn’t a big deal, but it illustrates how foreign media companies marginalise our country, culture and identity.

PC Magazine website

For much of the last 25 years or so PC Magazine has been a great resource for serious PC users. It takes a professional line and largely focuses on business and productivity.

I was managing editor of both the New Zealand and Australian editions of the magazine when ACP printed seperate versions in both countries in the 1990s.

Today PC Magazine is online only. There’s a US parent website and a satellite in Australia. They don’t look the same and they don’t have the same content, nor do they serve the same advertisements.

New Zealand readers are forced to the Australian site. Most of the time this doesn’t matter. While the Australian site may feature products that are not on sale in New Zealand, online shopping means locals can usually fill in the gaps.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 8.27.16 PM

This doesn’t always apply. PC makers like HP might sell similar, but distinct version of their laptops in Australia and New Zealand.

Guess which country’s versions never get written about in the Australian PC Magazine?

Some reviews and features don’t make it from the US edition to the Australian site. There have been times when I’ve seen glimpses of the story I want on the US site in, say, Google search. Clicking the link takes you to a generic Not Found page on the Australian site.

The automatic redirect is draconian. I’ve tested it, not methodically or scientifically, but enough to understand that it detects your location and redirects.

Type an explicit US URL, you’ll get redirected. Find something through search that is only on the US site and you’ll get redirected. Change browsers, or browser settings and you’ll still get redirected. The only way you can be sure of reaching the US site is with a VPN.

Presumably this redirection is all about serving up NZ eyeballs to Australian advertisers.

In the past PC Magazine’s main rival was PC World. For years PC World published in New Zealand. It was the last big local technology publication to sell on bookstands.

PC World

PC World New Zealand still exists. It has its own URL. What it doesn’t have is any New Zealand content or flavour. It only just manages to have any New Zealand relevance.

You can take it as read the front page of the .co.nz site is identical to the .com.au website. A few recent visits confirmed that.

PC World New Zealand

Last night two of the four main stories on the front page slider were dinky-di Australian:

  • Labor MP slams Turnbull’s NBN as Aussie broadband speeds fall behind
  • Win 2 tickets to Call of Duty World League in Melbourne

There’s nothing wrong with this, but passing off the website as PC World New Zealand is, at best, dishonest.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 8.08.51 PM

You’ll notice from the Google screen shot you can read stories by PC World’s Auckland staff. The top, presumably the most recent, story there is How to buy … a Digital Camcorder from 2006.

This is treating New Zealanders with disrespect. It’s not in any way a New Zealand site.

 

Headphones music sound audioPodcasting arrived on the scene more than a decade ago. The name tells you that. It comes from the words iPod and broadcasting. Ten years ago iPod was a name to conjure with.

Every so often podcasting goes through an up cycle. One is on now. It started last year when US President Barack Obama appeared on a podcast and there was a surge of interest in the digital audio format.

Podcasting is personal and public at once. For the last two years I’ve been a regular guest on the New Zealand Technology Podcast with Paul Spain.

This is a popular weekly show with a strong and loyal audience. At least as many people tell me they know my voice from the podcast as tell me they have read my writing.

When I’m on the podcast I speak personally with my own voice, expressing my own ideas. My journalism training tells me to be objective and stay in the background. Podcasting isn’t like that. Not at all.

Spain is the organiser of last week’s Asia-Pacific Podcast Conference in Auckland.

Although the event was on for two days, I only made it to the Saturday session. As a journalist I often go to conferences as an observer, reporting on what takes place. I still did that — my instinct it to watch, not take part directly. Yet I’m also intimate with the subject, so, just as when I’m on a podcast, it was hard to maintain professional distance.

What I saw was a mix of inspiration, business advice, advocacy, thinking about the mechanics of podcasting and some peeks behind the veil with the occasional what-does-it-all-mean questioning.

Usually I’d write a report of the conference, picking out highlights and newsy ideas. This time you get a handful of impressions and ideas I came away with:

The podcast conference vibe is collegial like, say, WordCamp. It’s friendly and co-operative. Even people who might compete with each other collaborate and share. There are people who are interested in the mechanics of making podcasts and others who focus on their messages more than how they get out. I noticed a lot of one-on-one help and support taking place in the background throughout the day. The overseas keynote speaker, Cliff Ravenscraft, was approachable and took time out to speak to anyone who approached him.

One panel session looked at collaboration between podcasters. The simple lesson: “Take time to refer to other podcasters when appropriate, they are not your rivals”.

Twice on Saturday the idea that podcasting was not just about old, white men was mentioned. Women were well represented on Saturday: two out of the three main speakers were female and the panel sessions were mixed.

There are many types of professional podcasts and some are damn good. Kaitlyn Sawrey from the ABC talked about professional quality podcasts she produces for the Australian broadcaster. Her production values are as high as broadcast radio. I was so keen to listen to these I downloaded examples while Sawrey was speaking.

On a side note. Sawrey’s ABC podcasts are often shorter than many others. Some of the ABC science podcasts only ran to 17 fact-packed minutes. This discipline pays off: less is more.

The attrition rate is horrible. Overseas keynote speaker Cliff Ravenscraft says: 80 percent of podcasters don’t get past their seventh episode.

Also from Ravenscraft: Quality is a key focus. He says: “No-one wants to listen to bad audio”. Podcasters invest in software, tools and equipment to get a good sound. The last session of the conference was a quick masterclass running through the tools and technique. Almost all the material here was new to me.

Good advice from Natalie Cutler-Welsh: “Extract quotes, the gems, from your podcast to share on social media.”

Lastly, this observation: