RSS and the Art of Packaging

November 30, 2006

I read about Blastfeed, a new feed filtering service at Read/Write Web. It made me pause, especially in light of the Bear Sterns Report recently released. The report states that filtering and packaging has become critical as more and more user-generated-content is created. I think there may be a connection between what Bear Sterns concludes and the continual sophistication of RSS filtering mechanisms that can be applied to create a packaged viewer experience.

First, feed filtering is a concept I’ve always found of interest. Now that Marhall Kirkpatrick has come out with his methods for breaking stories using RSS and alerts, my interest has morphed. Marshall, by the way, is one talented blogger but he is equally skilled in how he discovers the news. He represents a new breed of journalism where breaking stories come from primary sources, but equally as important, from a filtered network of blogs where the freshest and most relevent news rise to the top.

Marshall, who has become quite a good friend here in Portland, has provided me with a new perspective about RSS.  He’s taught me about the use of alert services like zaptxt and other feed filtering services like FeedRinse. These tools represent a new era in syndication; RSS is now a packaging tool, integrated with user context such as ratings, comments and other methods for quantifying the relevance of the media. Google seems to be heading in this direction. I think the Beet.tv interview with Hunter Walk is testament to the direction the search giant is heading.

A logical next step in filtering and packaging user generated content is to actually present the RSS search query results directly in media players for people to immediately consume. In this model, RSS is completely “behind the scenes”, as it should be; people don’t understand XML, enclosures, media formats, etc — they just want the content. The producer packages the news and information that they have filtered and serve it back to the viewers, who may then take that media and remix it and package it in their own way for others to learn from, watch and enjoy.  No geek know-how required.

It’s all about how media is presented in a world where abundance, not scarcity, is the rule of the day.

And that’s a big part of what we are doing with SplashCast: providing super easy tools for people to filter and package the best and most relevant user-generated-content, and then share it with the world.


We’re Sponsoring Reload

November 28, 2006

Reload is this coming Thursday night. We’re a sponsor. It’s our first event sponsorship. And we’re pretty excited. The evening starts with the San Francisco Podcast Meet Up at the DNA Lounge. It’s the largest podcast meet up in the US. As one podcast executive said to me once: “You can’t throw a dead cat in San Francisco without hitting a podcaster.” I like that kind of town.

But it’s after the meet up when Reload goes into high gear:

Performing live:
Halou (celebrating their new iTunes-exclusive EP)
Fancey
DNA Prototype (live Second Life performance)

We’re a drink sponsor for Reload (click here if you’d like to be on our guest list). Here’s how it works. When you show up at the DNA Lounge, you get your choice of wrist bands. Choose our drink and you get a wristband with Splashcast written on it. Head to the bar and say Splashcast. The bartender will pour you our drink. What’s our drink? Margarita…a blue margarita. I’ve actually never had a blue margarita. But our logo has a touch of blue. And apparently, tequila is a favorite among a few of the Splashcast crew. :-).

Corey Dennis is throwing the Reload gig so you know it is going to be a show. Plus, it looks like all my pals will be there from Podcast Hotel. That party includes Corey, who came with the IODA team last February. Eric Rice of Slackstreet Entertainment and Hipcast is doing the Second Life show. Eric played a huge role in making the Podcast Hotel happen.  Kiptronic is sponsoring so that means CEO Jonathan Cobb, another Podcast Hotel alumn, will be there, too.

It should be a grand time. We’ll hope to see you there Thursday night.


Thanksgiving, No Improvement Needed

November 23, 2006

As Dave Winer says:

Here’s a toast to Thanksgiving, and a prayer that no one tries to
improve on it. The version we got is just fine, thank you. “;->”

Thanksgiving — some things don’t need changing.

Thanks to everyone who have been so good to me over the years.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Pew Study Shows Need For Sophisticated, Flash-Based Podcast Players

November 22, 2006

Pew Internet & American Life Project study shows that 12 percent of internet users have downloaded a podcast but ony 1 percent download shows on a daily basis. Here’s the download of the full report.

This shows the real need for quality, flash-based players that pull files and syndicated information into the show for the viewer to see. People are not downloading shows on a regular basis. Studies show that most people just watch or listen to the show from the web page.

RSS is a foreign concept to most people. Just as most do not know what a widget is or does. But RSS information can be fed to a large group of people who are unfamiliar with the idea of subscribing to feeds. Instead, the podcaster can act as the one supplying the feeds for a person to view in a flash-based environment. That’s the similarity to widgets in a way. The producer feeds the information to the widget environment. That information may be RSS feeds. the viwer does not care. They just are there to watch or listen to what the producer is presenting.

This is exactly what we are working on at Splashcast. Providing a mixed media platform for syndicating media to a flash-based player network. Feeds can be imported directly into the player. The viewer gets the show. They get the feed. People may then susbcribe to the channel and place the player on their site for others to watch. In the meantime, the data is being measured. More on that another time.

Demo will be ready to show in the next week or so. Give me a call or drop me a line if you are interested in Splashcast’s applications for podcasters.

Alex Williams
alex at splashcast dot net
503-473-6237

Micro Persuasion: Pew: 12% Have Listened to a Podcast, But Only 1% Download Daily

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My Widget Predictions For 2007

November 21, 2006

The Wall Street Journal (subscription only) has a story in today’s paper about the growing popularity of widgets and how Paramount, in particular, is using widgets to promote its new film, “Freedom Writers,” starring Hilary Swank.

You know widgets are the next big thing when the Wall Street Journal starts writing about widgets. Expect more of the traditional media to cover widgets over the next several months. Case in point, Steve Rubel will appear on CNBC ON The Money today at 7 pm EST to talk about the rising use of widgets for marketing.

With all this talk about widgets, here are my predictions for 2007:

  • A national consumer magazine will feature widgets as their cover story
  • Widgets will fuel RSS as people start consuming feeds without even knowing it
  • Most people will have no idea that the cool stuff that appears on their web page or desktop is actually called a widget. A study will quantify this information and bloggers, pundits and the rest will go on and on about what this means for the Internet and humanity.
  • Widgets will take on text ads as a way for micro publishers to make money off their web sites
  • CPM rates for banner ads will drop to all time lows as widgets grow in popularity for advertisers
  • Widgets will raise issues about syndication and copyright protection
  • A widget aggregator, such as Widgetbox or snipperoo will be bought by a big media company like Yahoo! or Google
  • Widgets, coupled with the video sharing phenomena, will change how brands are positioned. More brands will start replacing traditional advertisements with humorous or informative media that people will post to their blogs and web sites through widget players
  • Widgets will change how we we publish to the web. Widgets will become a platform for personal expression as much as blogs or podcasts
  • Thankfully, we will not see a conference called “Widgetpalooza.”

Update: Widget office suites will emerge in 2007! Add it to the list. Yes, componetized web apps on an Intranet could be very handy.


Beet.tv

November 20, 2006

I spent some of my weekend going through video interviews Andy Plesser does at Beet.tv. Have you checked out the video interviews Andy does? They are informative. Andy stays out of the way, letting the interview subject do the talking. The interviews are usually less than five minutes.

Here are a few I checked out:

Mike Arrington, TechCrunch

Mike Arrington, known for his critical views on traditional media which I agree with for the most part, has a few strong words in this interview that Andy did at the TechCrunch party. Heh. Watch through the end of the video. I guess I am a fan of Beet.tv. So is Mary Jo Foley. I like that kind of company!

Here’s what Mike had to say about traditional media:

“You know I think that there are a lot of things wrong with traditional media and they’re going to have to sort that out on their own time. I think there won’t be many of them left standing once it is sorted out. And you know it’s very cheap to run a blog these days and for certain types of journalism it’s very effective so I think blogs will continue to do well.”

Mike Hudack, founder, blip.tv

A few weeks back, Andy Plesser interviewed Mike Hudack, co-founder of blip.tv. Hudack is not as blunt as Arrington. But he makes the point, which is right on, that the laws of scarcity are over and abundance is now the working proposition.

He points out that all these great videoblogs and video files that people upload to the Internet are starting to get consumed on TV. People are hooking up boxes like Akimbo and watching online shows on their television sets just like they watch show from CBS or NBC. More so, the number of people who watch the Internet on their TV sets is morphing, growing at a rate faster than people adopted VCR’s and DVR’s.

Bambi Francisco, Marketwatch

Bambi says Brightcove is going after a lot of things all at the same time. No disagreement there. She makes the comparison between Brightcove and Google. She says much like Google, Brightcove is a destination site, an aggregator and a distributor. But then she starts talking about advertisers. Her  attempt to explain Brightcove’s advertising play is a bit complicated. I had to watch it a few times before I think I grasped what she is saying. If you do watch the video, I’d be curious in what you come away with after watching it.

She also talks about the potential problems ahead, as Brightcove’s business strategy looks so broad that it may end up serving as competitive to its partner interests. Beet.tv:

She thinks the new destination or public portal strategy is a good one — but she wonders if aggregating all that content to a Brightcove destination will alienate BrightCove’s many corporate publishing and broadcast clients.

Brian Havens, Forrester Research

Brian Havens discusses how their own research is showing that pre-roll adverising in online videos are annoying to consumers. They want a direct experience. Fifteen second ads are just too much for people when they are online. With TV, consumers really have little choice. They have to wait. But online, the interaction is provided in the experience, which entirely alters the viewing perspective. And you have the issue of rocket speed consumption. People do not seem to mind as much the ads going alongside the video. But it needs to be contextual.

Recentlty, advertisers have turned their focus to become the producers, actually making informative and humoruous spots. These are advertisments but packaged as spots people like to watch. This reminds me of my days in Paris when I’d go to the cinema. I went a lot. Paris is one of the great film centers of the world. In Paris, there are two start times for a film. The first time represents when the ads run. The second time is when the actual film begins. I’d try to get to the cinema early to watch those ads. They were often humorous, romantic or adventurous. They were ads. But they were stories, too. They were French. Ahhh…les jolies filles!

I expect this trend will continue where the advertisers will become storytellers, mixing their brand into short ads that are humorous, informative and in context. I’d far prefer this to pre-rolls. These ads should be part of the flow, the river of video that we watch.

We are smarter than we once were. TV ads don’t work online. There is so much to watch on the Internet. Compelling creations by advertisers are welcome because they are respected for the work that they are.

So many more videos to watch! Go check them out at Beet.tv!


TechCrunch Party Wrap Up

November 17, 2006

Well, I’m back at the hotel after a night at the New York TechCrunch party. I saw at least six demos, collected a load of business cards and talked with dozens of entrepeneurs, venture capitalists, bloggers and others.

Demo of the night has to go to Snap.com, who just launched Snap Preview Anywhere, an example of how widgets are changing the web. The service allows bloggers to put a link preview image that pops up when you hover over the link. Some may find this a bit too much but I like it for the simple reason that it gives me a glimpse of where I am going. Sometimes, it’s a bit like blind fatih when you click on a link.

BED worked out well as a venue for the party. Demo stations were set around the space, giving attendees the chance to mingle and check out the product demos. People are far more relaxed in a space like this than on a conference floor. It doesn’t always work but tonight it did. I had a good perspective about what the sponsors offered. That’s not always the case at conferences and events.

And there were companies trying really hard to make their mark, doing stunts. A guy dressed in drag hammed it up for HitTail, playing off Mike Arrington’s statement to the crowd that people in Palo Alto are so much more polite than New Yorkers. You can imagine how this crowd of New Yorkers responded.

The guys from Flek wore white suits and carried pens, asking people to Flek them, in other words, sign their jackets. Flek is in the web annotation business.

Fun party. Good to see Jean Logozzo and Jennifer Rice, who did a great job putting the party together.

Glad I made the trip.


Beta Testing in the Web 2.0 World

November 15, 2006

beta test
n.

The final stage in the testing of new software before its commercial release, conducted by testers other than its developers. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/betatest

I’ve been involved in the IT space for many years now, and the definition above was clearly supported in the traditional software development lifecycle. It seems like every product I run across now has a Beta disclaimer on their site. A Beta test obviously doesn’t have to be non-public anymore either. The entire world can now be considered Beta testers. And when is a product not considered Beta anymore? A product can be in Beta for several months, if not years. If we are now moving into the Web 2.0 world, should Web 1.0 be considered as one really long Beta test?

Why am I pondering this? The SplashCast crew is currently conducting internal QA testing and, as Alex mentioned yesterday, we will be ready for “Beta testing” soon. What does that mean to us? Well, the first few weeks will be very limited and available only to a small group of invited testers. This will allow us to get very personalized feedback and enable us to correct or change anything in the product that we missed or is not quite as intuitive as it should be. This fits my definition of a Beta test.

Then, we will open up our “Beta test” to a much larger group of “Beta testers” that have signed up via our web site. Given the nature of the SplashCast product, this essentially means the product is now public. Granted, it will be under continuous improvement based on user feedback. So when does it stop being a Beta product?

What does Beta mean to you? I believe a new lexicon is desperately needed. Any suggestions?


Nick Douglas Has Earned Star Status…Snarky Style

November 14, 2006

Nick Douglas just earned star status. He left Valleywag. He has joined the leagues of Amanda Congdon (who has her own news today) and others in the Internet circle of fame. Nick just launched into a world where his every move will raise speculation about his allegiances, his enemies and what really happened between him and Nick Denton. It’s not quite on the same par as Amanda’s departure from Rocketboom but the chatter is evidence of a changing world where the stars of the new Internet culture are talked about, debated and analyzed.

I should have know sonething was up when I was in on a conversation about Denton coming into San Francisco last weekend. Why was he coming into town after the Web 2.0 Summit? I guess in hindsight the reason was pretty obvious. Douglas was on his way out. And Denton was in town to tend to the clean up.

The other significance? It’s evidence that people like Douglas, Congdon and others like Ze Frank are getting discovered for the media that they create online. They are getting their big breaks for the media that they make. And that in turn is evolving into what we do with all our stars. We examine them, debate their strengths and weaknesses and speculate about what is next. That’s the saucy side of Internet fame. Sure is fun, huh? ;-)

Good luck, Nick Douglas. I love your snarky style. May you find a new home where we can get your latest takes on love and fame, valley style.


TechCrunch Party

November 14, 2006

TechCrunch 8 is in New York Thursday night and I’ll be there. I hear these TechCrunch parties get going. The cops shut down the TechCrunch gig at August Capital. They had crashers. The party in New York is at a place called BED. It should be interesting.

I will be on the look out for bloggers, podcasters, folks who work with social networks. Let me know if that fits who you are and I’ll be sure we meet at TechCrunch 8.

See you in New York!


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