Communicating with Pie Charts

Dark Horse Analytics are back with the third instalment of their 'Data Looks Better Naked' series. This time they're improving the pie chart

I don't quite agree with their conclusion because pie charts are a useful communications tool when you want to communicate simple part-to-whole relationships without having to talk through the numbers.

Using charts to tell a quick story

For example, I find pie charts useful when showing the proportion of men vs women in a particular sample set. Or the results of a series of yes/no questions.

Take a look at these pie and bar charts: 

If I was going to use these charts to tell a story during a presentation, I'd much rather put those pie charts up on the screen and say something like: "Most people voted 'yes' in Question 1; about two-thirds voted 'yes' in Question 2; but a little under half voted 'yes' in Question 3". That explanation wouldn't work as well if I had used the bar charts, instead.

On the other hand, if I had wanted to talk about the actual number of yes-vs-no votes cast for each question (or their percentage values), then I'd use the bar charts.

Of course if I wasn't going to show this on a big screen at all, but was instead including the results in a written report, then I might not even use charts. I might just put all those numbers in a table.

Communicating a rough sense of the numbers

The other situation in which pie charts are useful to me is when I want to communicate approximate results for a slightly larger data series but, again, without having to talk about the actual numbers.

For example, every Tuesday at work I email around a social media activity report that tells my colleagues how we did on our various social media channels over the previous week. One of the charts I include in my report is a Twitter sentiment pie chart for various geographical regions. This chart gives you an idea of how people felt about us on Twitter over the previous week.

The thing is: the people I send this report to don't particularly care whether 15% or 20% of people expressed excitement about our brand on Twitter last week. They really just want an approximate sense of how things went. They want to be able to say "a lot of people were positive about us on Twitter last week" or "people didn't like us very much on Twitter last week." And the pie charts I get from Hootsuite (one of the social media management tools we use) helps them reach that single-sentence conclusion pretty quickly.

Here are the Twitter sentiment charts for three of the regions we keep an eye on. The 3-D pie chart plus data table combo in the top row is what we get from Hootsuite (and is what I include in my reports). Below that I've converted this data into stacked 100% column charts and into bar charts: 

Each of these charts tells a slightly different story. The pie chart plus data table combo is nice because you can quickly look at the charts and think: "Okay, not too much dark red or dark green for Region 1; so a mostly average week there. Quite a bit of orange, but no dark red, for Region 2; so people were unhappy, but not angry. And plenty of dark red and dark green for Region 3; which suggests some people were very happy but some people were very upset. And I know that last week we had a great sale but a bunch of flight delays in Region 3 so this result makes sense."

The stacked column charts help you tell a similar story but, in my opinion, it's harder to judge the proportion of one colour to the whole in this type of chart so you're forced to look at the numbers to give you additional context. So you'd look at Region 3's chart and think: "Okay, 24+8 = 28%, so a little over quarter of the people were unhappy. And 21+12 = 33%, so about a third were happy." But now you're stuck comparing 33% green to 28% red instead of just getting a sense of what people thought, and then moving on.

The bar chart at the bottom does possibly the best job of comparing one colour/sentiment with another - but what you're missing here is the relative proportion of that colour compared to the whole. So, for example, you'd look at the Region 2 chart and think: "Okay, light orange is the highest bar so a lot of people were unhappy with us." But then you'd have to add 42% and 17% to see that about half the people were unhappy (though not angry) last week. You could reach that same conclusion with a single glance at the pie chart which shows that it's about half light+dark orange.

In my opinion the pie chart plus data table combo works best. If you just want to get a feeling for the data you only need to look at the pie chart and get a sense of the colour spread. But, if you want to dive deeper it's easy to move on to the table and add the numbers to do a more detailed analysis.

But no other pie chart use

Those are the only two situations in which I use pie charts. In most other situations I'm showing a data trend (as opposed to a snapshot) or a larger series of values - both of which require a different kind of explanation and, therefore, a different kind of chart.

So what I'd recommend is that, if you're ever not sure about which chart type to use, just chart your data in multiple different ways and then try use each type to tell your story. The one that works best (i.e. tells the best story, is the easiest to explain, and has the least chance of being misinterpreted) is the one you should go with. And if this happens to be a pie chart, then so be it. 

Where do I go for News and Opinion?

While trying to decide whether I’d sign up for a Fairfax Digital Subscription or not (I ultimately decided not to) I thought it would be fun to document my news media consumption habits. (Being a nerd is so much fun!)

Here’s what I came up with.

Breaking News 

Where do I go to get breaking news? 

When a news tory breaks the first site I check is Twitter.

I then move on to Reddit to see what news content has been aggregated and bubbled-up by the online community. There I get both first-hand news and news that’s been collected by various outlets.

Next I check the BBC because they'll always have the most reliable and least biased story.

Finally, I go to Google News because that service quickly aggregates lots of news stories from multiple online sources, covering multiple angles.

If the breaking news is Australia- or Melbourne-specific I also check the Age and the ABC (though, in most cases, their news stories get captured pretty quickly by Google News anyway). I sometimes also check the online streaming versions of ABC News 24 and a few radio stations like ABC NewsRadio, 774 Melbourne, and 3AW.

More in-depth news and editorial opinion

What if I want more depth? 

When I want a little more depth to a news story my first stop is usually the BBC. Those folk not only excel at presenting an overview of what’s going but they also give a bit of background and then flesh out those bits of the story that are important at the time. (I usually follow this up by a few quick searches on Google and Wikipedia if I want more information.)

However, if want a much deeper analysis or some high-quality editorial opinion on a particular topic or story then the sites I go first to are academic news outlets like the Conversation, a bunch topic-specific blogs (I subscribe to a lot of blogs via RSS), and sites with strong editorial voices and traditions like the Guardian and the Economist.

I then visit a bunch of independent news outlets or, categorizing them more broadly, sites from which I get smart, well written, and mature news reports, opinion, and discussion. These include ProPublica, The Global Mail, New Matilda, Salon, Slate, the Atlantic, and a handful of others. 

Aside from those major sources I also read some blogs and feature pieces on the ABC and Fairfax websites (e.g. stuff written by Lauren Rosewarne or Sam de Brito). However, ABC and Fairfax don’t have the depth of coverage that the sites mentioned previously do; nor do they have as many contributors whose editorial opinions I value that much.

Local News & Opinion

What if the story is local? 

When a news story is local my preferred sources are the Age and the ABC (including, as mentioned above, the online streaming versions of ABC News 24, ABC NewsRadio, and 774 Melbourne). Though, increasingly, the Guardian with its new Australian edition is becoming a bigger part of my regular local media consumption.

Meanwhile, 3AW and the Conversation, while good sources, don’t cover as much as the Age and ABC do.

Daily Media Consumption

Speaking of my regular media consumption, these are the news sites I check on the tram both to and from work every day and also on weekend afternoons:

Daily Media Consumption.png

The top four are the important ones: I check the Age for updates on what’s happening in the city and around the country. I check the BBC and the Guardian to find out what’s going on in the world. And, I check the ABC to read more about what’s going on in both Australia and the world.

If I have time left in my commute then I then close that folder and check Reddit (the app in the background in the top left hand corner).

And if after that I still have more time I sometimes check my RSS feeds via NewsBlur and occasionally read the stories I’d saved earlier in Pocket.

As you can see, restricting my Fairfax consumption to thirty articles per month isn't going to be difficult because Fairfax is already a pretty small part of my news media consumption mix. This despite the fact that I check the Age website every morning because, when I do, I only occasionally click-through to read a whole article - I usually just skim the headlines.

So there you have it, my media consumption preferences. What sites do you visit to get news and opinion? 

You Can’t Build a Free Global PR Wiki Like This

MyPRGenie, a social-media focused PR firm, wants to create a “free global PR wiki” that will crowdsource contact information for “journalists, bloggers and media gatekeepers”.

Free global PR wiki to crowdsource media contact details

A crowdsourced listing of media contacts is set to launch, providing the PR industry with a database of information on journalists and media professionals.

Launching out of New York in March, the wiki-style platform will be open to PR professionals who contribute to the community by sharing information they’ve collected on journalists, bloggers and media gatekeepers. By sharing their contacts, users earn points which can then be spent to gain access to the global database.

Interesting concept. Probably won’t be successful, though.

Why?

Free

The only free global wiki that’s ever managed to collect a large amount of quality information is Wikipedia – and Wikipedia is run by a non-profit foundation whose philosophy revolves around cataloguing and freely sharing information.

From the sounds of it MyPRGenie’s service will be “free” (i.e. available for you to use) only if you contribute to it yourself; and presumably even then there will be some additional restrictions to what you can access or do once you have that information. Which, of course, means that, unlike the Wikipedia style service they want to be associating themselves with, their service not actually free.

Global

MyPRGenie say they already have a database of over half a million “journalists, bloggers, and content creators” which my guess is they’ll use to seed their wiki. While that number is large I’m not sure this endeavour is a pure numbers game.

When you hire a PR firm to work for you, you pick one based on their knowledge of your industry and the local media market, plus their relationships with various media people. You don’t pick them because they have the largest contacts database.

If I worked for a rival PR agency my argument against using this service would be: “Why would you want to use that? They’ll just send your press releases to a bunch of media and social media people. I’m on a first name basis with the influencers in your specific industry and in your specific market so when I send them something they know it’ll be worth their while.”

PR Wiki

Possibly the biggest problem they’ll face is that I don’t think many PR departments or agencies will want to participate – certainly not major companies with a large contacts databases. Why on earth would companies (or agencies) want to share their PR relationship IP with the rest of the world (which, of course, includes their competitors)?

Wrong Business Plan?

MyPRGenie’s business plan for this service seems to be “build it and they will come (to crowdsource)”. That doesn’t works unless you do things like offer fabulous incentives for sharing IP, have dedicated editors maintaining content quality, and don’t blatantly make money off the data you collect. Now they might actually do all these things and the resulting service might end up being useful to small and medium-sized companies with limited PR budgets and limited relationships with the media. But that’s probably about it.

Basically, I don’t think you can crowdsource this kind of information unless you make it completely free and open like Wikipedia or you run a freemium model like IMDb or LinkedIn in which you get both the demand and supply side to pay for the professional, fee-based version of that otherwise free service.

MyPRGenie seem to be trying a third approach to this information cataloguing problem – one that relies on a few assumptions that I don’t think are particularly valid. It’d be nice to be proven wrong but I don’t think I will be.

Communicating with Charts and Infographics

I love using pictures, charts, diagrams, and infographics to illustrate and explain complex or hard to visualize ideas, concepts, and relationships.

Using Charts and Infographics at Melbourne Water

Since we deal with pretty complex subjects at Melbourne Water it makes sense for us to use well designed charts and infographics to explain what we do and how we do it. So, over the last year or two, we’ve been working with various vendors to produce graphics and animations that help us communicate better. We’ve also been improving our own chart-making capabilities so we can explain things more effectively to our more interested (which usually means more nerdy) audiences.

Here are some of the things we’ve done.

Explaining Systems

To explain how a system like Melbourne’s Water supply network works, you can use a static and somewhat technical map like this:

Melbourne Water Supply System Map - Old

Or you can use an animated map to really show people what’s going on (click through to see what I mean):

Animated Melbourne water supply network map

That animated map has proven to be very popular: over the last year it’s been viewed over 40,000 times with visitors spending an average of two and a half minutes going through it.

You can explain complex systems without animations, too – like we’ve done with our Eastern Treatment Plant’s sewage processing diagram. This diagram comes in two parts. First, there’s a high-level overview:

ETP sewage processing overview diagram

And, then, there’s a more detailed explanation of the steps we take to process sewage at this plant (including the tertiary treatment bit that’s currently being built):

ETP sewage processing detailed diagram

Explaining Relationships

Another important use for graphics is in explaining relationships between things.

For example, the Melbourne Water website gets about about 10,000 visitors per day. However, this figure jumps to 25,000 when it rains and over 40,000 when there’s a big storm in Melbourne. This happens because people want to know what effect the rainfall is having on our water storage levels.

To explain this relationship, we first used a simple column chart to show the basic trend (though the figures in it are from about a year and a half ago):

Web Traffic Depends on Rainfall bar chart

We then drilled down into a more detailed example and plotted the amount of rainfall recorded in Melbourne in August 2010 and compared that to the number of website visits received over the same period. The relationship between the two is quite obvious when you look at this graph:

Effect of Rainfall on Web Traffic line chart

These diagrams were made to be printed, by the way, which is why the text size on the axes isn’t all that large.

Telling a Story

At times, though, all you want to do with a graph is tell a story.

For example, we used this simple graph to explain the how Melbourne’s dams staged a remarkable turnaround in 2010, jumping from 25.6% full in July 2009 to 53.7% full in December 2010:

Melbourne's dam levels in 2009 and 2010

And we used this graph to explain that Melbourne’s total system storage depends a great deal on how full Thomson Dam is (because Thomson is almost 60% of Melbourne’s total dam capacity):

Melbourne Dams as a Percentage of Total Capacity

More generally, we use this graphic to explain to Melburnians just how big Thomson really is:

Thomson dam is twice the size of Sydney Harbour Bridge and 628 the size of the MCG

Showing Cause and Effect (i.e. Explaining More Complex Relationships)

Recently, though, we’ve gone one step further and have used a couple of charts to explain what, at the face of it, seems to be a strange result: rainfall for spring 2011 was 28.5% above average but water flowing into the dams (i.e. streamflow) over the same period was 22.4% below average. This happened because of what we call the ‘sponge effect’ and we used this graphic to explain what happened:

Effect of spring rainfall on streamflow - Spring 2011

Now this type of graph isn’t for everyone to read and understand but, that’s okay – we know that a lot of our website visitors are water nerds just like us and that they appreciate the extra effort we make in explaining these results to them.

Hopefully, this use of charts and infographics to explain complex things is something Melbourne Water continues to do in the future. I know I certainly will.

ConnectNow 2010 – Thoughts & Notes (Part 2)

connectnow logo I gave a quick overview of the ConnectNow conference in Part 1. Here are my thoughts and notes – along with links and other information – on each of the talks given during the first two days of the event.

Photo of Gavin Heaton Gavin Heaton

  • Topic: Lead Generation, Community Management, and ROI (blog link)
  • Website: http://www.servantofchaos.com
  • Twitter: @servantofchaos
  • Big ideas:
    • 10 years on and the Cluetrain Manifesto is still relevant and is still not accepted business practice
    • There are different types of social networks and these are used by different types of people, of different ages, at different stages of their lives; see Groundswell’s Social Technographics report that talks about 6 types of social media users
    • There are 5 impacts of new/social media (read Gavin’s blog post for details)
    • There is a convergence of markets: there used to be just the consumer market (mass production) and the enterprise market (custom-built) but now there are enterprise-level products and services available at lower prices (e.g. Software as a Service) and the consumer space is being extended into the enterprise (e.g. smart phones like iPhones in the workplace)
    • You need to have a continuous digital strategy (details in blog post)
    • You need to share the message, but own the destination (case in point: I’m sharing Gavin’s message but sending you to his home base, which is his blog, as the source/message destination)
    • Social media is not about influence, it’s about trust (details in blog post); your trust and reputation can have a ‘fat value’ (details in blog post); 75% of your “fans” are already connected
    • From the Q&A session that followed, a good idea: Consider converting your company’s brochure content into a series of YouTube videos that tell a great story and can also be shared

Photo of Katie Chatfield Katie Chatfield

  • Topic: Do You do your Best Work at Your Desk?
  • Website: http://katiechatfield.wordpress.com
  • Twitter: @katiechatfield
  • Big ideas:
    • Human behaviour is a function of a person in their environment (Lewin’s Equation); you can change behaviour by changing the person (very hard to do) or their environment (easier to do)
    • Before you can get into social media, you need to have a more social business
    • Giving people a tool doesn’t make them craftspeople; i.e. it’s about the people, not the technology
    • Remember that competent people resist change because it makes them less competent
    • Short form stories (3 minutes long) are a great way for employees and teams in an organization to tell each other what they’re working on [“If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough” – Albert Einstein]
    • In those short stories, you should tell people: (a) what it is you’re working on; (b) why you think it’s awesome; and (c) why it’s useful for them to know about it

Photo of Tara Hunt Tara Hunt

  • Topic: Yes, I do Mind the Gap
  • Website: http://www.horsepigcow.com
  • Twitter: @missrogue
  • Big ideas:
    • There tends to be a gap (sometimes a big one) between what businesses and communities value
    • If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they'd punch you in the face - hugh macleodFor example, truth, beauty, freedom, and love are not usual business values; though notable companies like Google, Apple, Craigslist, and Zappos (respectively) present exceptions
    • The businesses that share more community values tend to do better
    • Most businesses are online community tourists: they watch, but they don’t participate (they’re not from there; they’re just looking at the ‘natives’)
    • Watch Barry Schwartz’s TED Talk on the loss of practical wisdom
    • Many businesses create strict guidelines to follow, thereby instilling robot values over human values into their staff; why?
    • We need to de-robotize; we need to start the human revolution
    • From the Q&A session: Why not ask your fans what’s important to them? What do they value?

Photo of Hau Man Chow Hau Man Chow

Photo of Brian Solis Brian Solis

  • Topic: The Human Network in an Interconnected World (presentation notes)
  • Website: http://www.briansolis.com
  • Twitter: @briansolis
  • Big ideas:
    • All we know about social media is based on opinion; it could all be wrong
    • Executives don’t usually get into social media because of an ‘a-ha’ moment; they often get into social media because of an ‘uh-oh’ moment (read ‘Championing Change from Within’)
    • We – the people in this room – need to be the conductors of our organization’s social media
    • Who in an organization owns social media? Everyone.
    • Your organization needs a style/brand guide for social media
    • Talking back and forth with people if fine, you need to show that your organization has empathy
    • Become the people you want to reach and inspire
    • Conversation is bigger than any social network; check out the Conversation Prism
    • Social media is more about sociology and psychology than it is about technology; we’re becoming digital anthropologists
    • Check out the Brand Dashboard

Photo of Laurel Papworth Laurel Papworth

Photo of Jim Stewart Jim Stewart

  • Topic:  Video for SEO and Inbound Marketing
  • Website: http://stewartmedia.biz
  • Twitter: @jimboot
  • Big ideas:
    • Watch the video, ‘How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer
    • Old media missed lots of opportunities with online news; such as reporting on local trends, creating time-sensitive local ads on the web, and real community-building
    • Video creation isn’t very complicated or expensive: light it up from above ($20), mic it up ($100), frame it up, use good software (free to $300 for screen capture software like Camtasia Studio)
    • When making a video: (a) tell a story, don’t ready a script; (b) try to have a point
    • Distribute content far and wide via services like TubeMogul (which is good, but still buggy)
    • Make sure your video includes a call back to your home base
    • Make sure you transcribe your video

Photo of Darren Rowse Darren Rowse

  • Topic: Blogging for Dollars – Do You Have What it Takes? (presentation notes)
  • Website: http://www.problogger.net
  • Twitter: @problogger
  • Big ideas:
    • Blogs often make money indirectly (i.e. not through straight ads or affiliate marketing)
    • There are ‘4 Foundations of a Successful blog’ (details in blog post; also see presentation notes)
    • But, if you want a long shortlist: you have to (1) listen; (2) identify goals; (3) build a home base; (4) build trust; (5) be useful; (6) build community; (7) be personal; (8) tell stories; (9) be unique; (10) build a network before you need it; (11) leverage what you have; (12) craft your content well; (13) be playful; (14) be transparent; (15) be accessible; (16) be passionate; (17) promote yourself, but not too much; (18) be prolific; and (19) persist
    • Remember: sometimes the money comes later; don’t just make money from your blog, but because of it

Photo of Gary Vaynerchuck Gary Vaynerchuck

  • Topic: Crush It! Cash in on Your Passion and How to Use Social Media to Grow Your Business (presentation notes part 1, part 2)
  • Website: http://garyvaynerchuk.com
  • Twitter: @garyvee
  • Big ideas:
    • The cost of entry to build a brand has collapsed; e.g. to build WineLibrary.com, it cost $4m in advertising over a number of years while, to build WineLibraryTV.com, it cost almost nothing
    • The value of content has never been higher; “When your content is shit, you’re fucked”; that said, monetizing content is tougher than ever
    • Spend time in communities; you have to love your community before they’ll love you; this is the thank-you economy
    • Customer service via social media is key; the price of your product can get neutralized by caring
    • The cost of entry is: (a) caring, (b) social media customer relationship management
    • The only three things that “move the needle” are: (a) price, (b) convenience, (c) customer service
    • Social media spokespeople for your company need to know your brand story cold
    • Two ways to solve the personal vs. corporate brand issue for company spokespeople and customer service people: either (a) don’t let your people develop a personal brand and become heroes or (b) become a platform to make heroes (under your logo) and attract increasingly better people when/if current heroes leave the organization
    • How do you convince people (e.g. in an organization) to do something (e.g. participate in social media)? Don’t spend any time on selling to people who don’t want to do it. Spend all your time and effort on people who want to do it and then promote them. The rest will come around.
    • Focus on social trends and culture shifts; the big trends these days are virtual goods and currency (e.g. via Facebook); smaller and more mobile is better (because we’re lazy); geo-location
    • The money these days is in restrictions (e.g. Apple and Facebook)

Photo of Deborah Schultz Deborah Schultz

  • Topic:  It’s the People, Stupid (earlier presentation version; presentation notes)
  • Website: http://www.deborahschultz.com
  • Twitter: @debs
  • Big ideas:
    • There is a blurring of our work and personal lives; social media is becoming our ‘third place
    • The social web is not about information provision or telling and selling, it’s about relationships, people, and making connections
    • We’re weaving the social web together; it’s an explosion of the personal in an online environment
    • We live in a culture of sharing, and sharing is easier than ever before
    • We live in a relationship economy in which transactions are by-products of healthy relationships
    • Through the social web, we’re seeing the death of the grand gesture; e.g. companies will ignore you all year till they launch their seasonal/annual advertising campaigns, after which they’ll ignore you again
    • There’s a new framework for the new social web: (a) organic over static; (b) emotion over data; (c) relationships over transactions; (d) continuums over grand gestures; (e) intentions over attention
    • We’re all becoming, looking for, and aspiring to be Tummlers (also see TummelVision podcast)

Photo of Stephen Johnson Stephen Johnson

  • Topic: Social Media Monitoring and Building Brand Advocates
  • Website: http://arcanelogik.com
  • Twitter: @huxley
  • Big ideas:
    • The first and most important thing to do when you get into social media: listen
    • Do you know what motivates your customer?

Panel discussion at ConnectNow 2010 Panel Discussion

Big ideas:

Huffington on Journalism, Response to Murdoch

If you don't keep up with large traditional media's continued efforts to remain both large and traditional you might have missed Rupert Murdoch's latest thoughts on the topic. Here's what Mashable's Pete Cashmore had to say about them:
Microsoft and News Corp in Discussions to Remove Newspaper Content from Google

Yes, really. Rupert Murdoch’s crusade to blame Google for the failing newspaper business model continues today, as it emerges that News Corp has conducted talks with Microsoft about de-indexing the company’s sites from Google and (presumably) being paid to include them in Bing instead.

The concept makes sense only if you buy Murdoch’s claims that Google is "stealing" content rather than simply helping people find it.

A number of people have responded to Murdoch's proposed (threatened?) business model but Arianna Huffington really hit the nail on the head in a talk she gave at a recent journalism conference in the US.

In responding to Murdoch and traditional media, she said:
In most industries, if your customers were leaving in droves, you would try to figure out what to do to get them back. Not in the media. They'd rather accuse aggregators of stealing their content.

[..]

Thinking that removing your content from Google will somehow keep it "exclusive" shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the web and how it works.

[..]

In his speech this morning, Rupert Murdoch confused aggregation with wholesale misappropriation. Wholesale misappropriation is against the law -- and he has legal redress against that already. Aggregation, on the other hand, within the fair use exceptions to copyright law is part of the web's DNA. Period.

She then went on to talk about what the future of journalism will (and is starting to) look like:
We hear lots and lots of talk these days about saving newspapers -- Congressional anti-trust exemptions, perhaps? -- but we mustn't forget: the state of newspapers is not the same thing as the state of journalism. As much as I love newspapers -- and fully expect them to survive -- the future of journalism is not dependent on the future of newspapers.

Indeed, the future of journalism is to be found, at least partly, in the rapidly growing number of people who connect with the news in a whole new way.

News is no longer something we passively take in. We now engage with news, react to news and share news. It's become something around which we gather, connect and converse. We all are part of the evolution of a story now -- expanding it with comments and links to relevant information, adding facts and differing points of view.

In short, the news has become social. And it will become even more community-powered: stories will be collaboratively produced by editors and the community. And conversations, opinion, and reader reactions will be seamlessly integrated into the news experience.

It's an excellent speech that's well worth the read.

Catching Up

I haven’t been blogging much these last few months. That’s because three months ago my wife and I moved into an apartment that has no land line and only a satellite cable TV connection. (We didn’t think to ask about the former before moving in here because, really, when was the last time you heard of a house that didn’t have a land line connection?) What this means is that, till just recently, we didn’t have Internet access at home; certainly not cable and ADSL, but not even dialup!

What Happened Then?


It took Telstra (the only phone company that services this area) about six weeks (yes, six weeks) to give us a connection from the telephone exchange to our apartment building. However, we don’t have an outlet in the wall for a phone jack so we can’t actually use that line. Even worse, the electrician who came in to install that outlet couldn’t find where in the wall our telephone wire was so he wasn’t able to connect us. That was about a month ago and, since then, we’ve been waiting for our real estate agent to do something about this – specifically, getting the building plans from the owners and giving them to the electrician – but nothing’s happened yet.

I finally got sick of the situation so, a couple of weeks ago, I went and got us a mobile broadband connection from 3 (specifically, a USB wireless modem) and that’s what’s letting me access the Internet now. We then went a step further and bought a wireless router for the modem so now both my wife and I can access the Internet at the same time. It’s slow, but at least it works.

What about blogging from work, you ask? Unfortunately, work has been really busy (though incredibly enjoyable) so I haven’t had the mental energy to do any writing in the evenings (whether at work or offline from home). The only blog posts I have managed to finish are the ones I wrote on a weekend and published from the office the following work week.

So, Catching Up…


What all this is leading up to is the fact that I have lots of catching up to do. The way I’m going to do that is by giving you a bulleted list of all the stories I’ve wanted to talk about these last few months but haven’t been able to discuss. The stories range from basic, on-the-ground advice (and lists) to more high level discussions on a particular topic. They’re all good to read, though.

Jobs, Careers, & MBA



Social Media



Online Design, UI



Online Marketing



General Life Advice


Upcoming Conference: Journalism in the 21st Century

The University of Melbourne’s School of Culture and Communications is hosting a global conference called ‘Journalism in the 21st Century: Between Globalization and National Identity’:

Journalism in the 21st century is being rapidly transformed, not only through the globalization of media and new media technologies, but also through the growing ubiquity of the Internet. These 'transforming' agents are reshaping newsgathering processes, and redefining the role of national news media in the context of a new transnational news space.

The conference will thus provide a broad platform for the discussion of these emergent issues, issues that are having an effect upon journalistic practice not only in Australia, but in the international context shaped by globalization and the 'network' society.

The conference’s plenary speakers include some big names:

  • Nick Couldry, Goldsmiths College, University of London, UK
  • Philip Seib, USC Annenberg, California
  • Sarmila Bose, Oxford University
  • Michael Delli Carpini, Annenberg School, Philadelphia
  • Malek Triki, Al Jazeera, London
  • Christoph Lanz, Deutsche Welle, Berlin
  • Christoph Wimmer, SBS, Sydney

Overall, it sounds really exciting and I’m hoping I’ll be able to attend. Further details on the conference (e.g. how to register) will be posted to the website soon. Right now all we know are the conference’s dates (16-17 July), registration cost ($150), and venue (the University of Melbourne’s Parkville campus).

BBC News Starting New Show Containing User-Submitted Content

The BBC has just announced plans to launch a new weekly show, called Your World News, that will feature the best of user-submitted news content (mainly photos and videos):

Thousands of videos, pictures and emails are sent in to the BBC every week and we are now choosing the best ones to make it onto a new show called Your World News.

So what do you have to do to make it on the programme? Quite simply, get out there and send us what's happening in your world.

I hope that, like CNN’s iReport, they also make this content available on the web once the show has been broadcast.

This new initiative sounds really exciting and here’s hoping it’s a big success.

MBS's Online Presence

Speaking of Melbourne Business School, I've been very impressed with the way MBS has been building its online presence over the last few months. For example, I was immensely pleased when I found they'd uploaded audio clips of the talks given at the Dean's Circle launch event that I attended last month.

I've already mentioned on this blog the SouRCe student newsletter that is now available online. Here, then, are two more things you can find on the MBS website:

  • MBS Leadercasts: These are videos of recorded presentations by MBS faculty members on the various topics of expertise that they possess.

  • MBS Today: This is the monthly newsletter that MBS publishes for "alumni, past faculty, and friends in the government, corporate, and community sectors".


Both are good though the MBS Leadercasts -- much like the University of Melbourne's Up Close Podcasts and Visions Video Podcasts and a little like TED talks -- are lots of fun to watch. I highly recommend them. (I was actually going to tell you my favourite three videos but I can't narrow it down to just three!)

Apple & Netflix: Different Markets for Online Rentals

Saul Hansell wrote a good, "hold your horses, there"-type article in the New York Times on the apparent all-out war between Netflix and Apple's online movie rental offerings. In the article he explains that, while both are technically in the online movie rental business, they actually cater to different markets: Netflix concentrates on having a large collection of older movies as an add-on to its DVD rental business while Apple is going after the latest releases and is positioning itself as an alternative to DVD rentals. And, though there is an overlap, for the time being both companies should be happy in their own niches.

Of course, there's also the issue that Netflix's service doesn't work on the Mac while iTune's service works on any OS as well as on Apple's portable media devices (Apple TV, iPod, etc.). Again, that's not too much of an issue since they are catering to different markets. People who rent DVDs are probably not the type who'd want to watch a movie on their tiny iPod screens. Of course, Netflix is still missing out on the small proportion of users who own only a Mac, but I guess adding a Mac-compatible offering of an already add-on service isn't all that high in its list of priorities.

Apple & Netflix: Online Movie Rentals

So a couple of fun things have happened in the online media landscape over the last few days.

First, in anticipation of the announcement that everyone was expecting from Steve Jobs during his Macworld keynote address, Netflix ditched its online movie viewing quota. Steve O'Hear from Last100 explains what that means:
As of today, all subscribers except those on the most basic two DVDs per-month plan will be given unlimited access to the 6,000+ movies available as part of Netflix’s Internet streaming option, dubbed "Watch Instantly". Previously, subscribers were offered a limited number of Internet viewing hours based on which DVD rental plan they were on.

This is really cool, especially since Netflix has a subscription model and doesn't charge on a per-movie basis.

Second, as expected, Steve Jobs announced Apple's entry into the online movie downloads space during his keynote address yesterday. To see how this stacks up against Netflix's model, O'Hear compared the two based on (1) content, (2) pricing, and (3) convenience.

Each offering has its pros and cons: Neither has the upper hand in content, Netflix has better pricing (subscription model), while Apple has greater convenience (great hardware-software coupling and the ability to watch the downloaded movie on multiple devices). Of course, both are still limited by telecommunications infrastructure (especially Apple's movies-in-HD offering for Apple TV) and the reluctance of movie studios to fully embrace the online rental concept. And though the market for online movie rentals is still small, it is growing (thanks, in part, to the writer's strike).

So, at this time, it's not clear how things will go. What I do know is that 2008 should be a fun year in online movie rentals.

Wikipedia

Earlier today Tim O'Reilly wrote an excellent article on how Wikipedia is the new face of publishing. Fundamentally, he writes, Wikipedia is much like any other publishing organization because it has both "a large network of contributors and a core of committed regulars". That is why it puzzles him when publishing houses scoff at Wikipedia's content generation model. After all, they use the same model themselves.

This is just as true of any publishing company. Did Bloomsbury's editors invent Harry Potter? No, it was a welfare mom who dreamed up the idea while riding on the train.

What has changed, though, is the technology that brings contributors and publishers together and the speed at which all this happens.

Why the US News Media is, well, Crap

John Hockenberry, a former NBC Dateline correspondent, writes a fascinating article in the January/February 2008 issue of MIT's Technology Review in which he talks about how the US news media actively chooses to go with emotion-centred news stories (that appeal to as many people as possible) as opposed to more relevant, hard-hitting, and (dare I say) real news stories.

Networks are built on the assumption that audience size is what matters most. Content is secondary; it exists to attract passive viewers who will sit still for advertisements. For a while, that assumption served the industry well. But the TV news business has been blind to the revolution that made the viewer blink: the digital organization of communities that are anything but passive. Traditional market-driven media always attempt to treat devices, audiences, and content as bulk commodities, while users instead view all three as ways of creating and maintaining smaller-scale communities. As users acquire the means of producing and distributing content, the authority and profit potential of large traditional networks are directly challenged.

It's a long article, though, so if you want a quicker version, read what Jacqui Cheng has to say about it over at Ars Technica. Both are great to read, by the way.