Mobile Media: News about mobile & its applications & implications for media. Written by Jeff Sonderman with contributions from Regina McCombs. Suggest a story.

relay-turkish-riots

Web app Relay makes multimedia reporting presentable during breaking news

With Relay, a new platform for live blogging in all its forms, Randy Abramson hopes he has solved a problem for news organizations in need of a central, well-designed hub for multimedia in breaking-news situations.

Abramson is director of audio/video for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and other U.S. government-backed broadcasting organizations. His background includes stints at Newsweek.com and the Star-Ledger.

In his current, more strategic role, Abramson has been able to step back and evaluate how news organizations overall cover breaking news. He said coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings and the Washington Navy Yard shootings convinced him that news organizations are well-prepared for news gathering in terms of staffing levels and reporting tools. But the trouble, he said, is that the presentation is so often lacking, especially on tablets and smartphones. Read more

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Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013

rivetphones

Chicago startup Rivet News Radio echoes Zite and Pandora for audio news

Text-based journalism has Flipboard and Zite. Music has Pandora. Video has YouTube. Tapping into elements of all these services for a different form of media is Rivet News Radio, the first product from Chicago-based startup HearHere Radio LLC, which launched earlier this month.

The Rivet app — iOS only for now — taps into two of the day’s biggest buzzwords in echoing other new media successes: mobile-friendliness and customizability. It occupies an aural space somewhere between podcasts that you deliberately seek out and radio news that you listen to just because it’s on and you’re trapped in traffic during your commute. Read more

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Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013

Sporting News app takes aim at ESPN, but will compete with Flipboard, too

Digiday | Adweek

The latest incarnation of the Sporting News app enters the aggregation arena in a bid to distinguish itself from ESPN’s less open mobile products, Digiday reports. But does its play to be the “Flipboard of sports” stand a chance? Read more

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Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013

Woman hands with smart phone and computer keyboard

Do mobile-friendly redesigns run the risk of frustrating desktop users?

Pardon my contrarianism, but I don’t do most of my web browsing via mobile on the toilet or in bed yet. I do most of my web browsing on a computer — a machine with a keyboard, mouse and no multi-touch display.

So when prominent news organizations like the Wire and NPR launch responsive websites with mobile foremost in mind, it can become a little more frustrating to visit them on my 13-inch laptop.

Take a look at this screenshot from the Wire’s homepage a few weeks ago. It’s kind of a mess, with dead black space, confusing colors and headlines gone haywire (see my annotations):

Here’s what I’m not arguing about the Wire on desktop: that addressing the needs of mobile users itself caused the desktop experience to suffer. Mobile-friendly doesn’t have to mean desktop-unfriendly. But what I am arguing is that, considering how beautiful the site looks on my mobile phone and the emphasis editor-in-chief Gabriel Snyder put on mobile in his introduction to the new site, desktop seems to have been a lower priority.

On the other hand, the Wire’s solution for what to put above the fold when the site is displayed in large windows like those on desktop computers or 10-inch tablets works pretty well. There’s a lot of news to choose from, presented in the carousel-like fashion that subjects in Poynter’s Eyetrack Tablet study indicated they preferred.

NPR, meanwhile, went in the opposite direction. After its summer redesign, the site doesn’t change all that much from your phone’s browser to your laptop’s browser. That means, depending on your browser width, you might have only one story visible to you before you start scrolling. That makes sense on phones, where there’s really only enough real estate to effectively present one story at a time, but on the desktop it feels cumbersome to immediately start scrolling once the site loads if you want to see more content. Lots and lots of scrolling to find content you want on a computer just isn’t as pleasing as flicking your thumb to find more content on a smartphone.

I emailed the Knight Lab’s Miranda Mulligan, a responsive-design guru behind the Boston Globe website who recently led a NewsU webinar on the subject, to see if I was crazy to wonder whether my less-than-optimal desktop experiences are cause for concern.

Her response, which she later tweeted, too, is that I basically am:

Whoops.

Look, I’m not arguing against mobile-first or future-proof web design. But mobile rhetoric sometimes strikes me as a little — a little! — overzealous. Said Mulligan in an email:

If desktop reading experiences are less than optimal, that might have to do more with the fact that no one wants to read while sitting at a desk with ginormo machine. They read on the train platform, on the train or while waiting in line for coffee. They read on the couch. They read while on the toilet or at the doctor’s office.

And tweeted Damon Kiesow, former Poynter fellow and current senior project manager at the Boston Globe, the same morning I was emailing Mulligan:

Sure, but don’t millions of us still sit at a desk in front of a computer at work all day? And don’t some of us sometimes prefer the larger screen and multiple windows of a computer and the precision of a mouse?

Let’s look at the numbers: In September, for instance, 35 percent of visits to Forbes.com came from phones and tablets. That’s a lot (an increase of 10 percentage points from the year before), but so is the 65 percent that still visit the site on desktop and laptop computers. The folks at NPR told me over the summer that a 50/50 split was on the horizon. ESPN reached that milestone in September. About 40 percent of Wire readers visit on mobile devices. In all these cases, mobile is growing, and will likely continue to grow, but should we assume desktop is going to zero? Should we assume desktop is heading for a small enough reader share that optimizing for desktop should be a lower priority today?

Mulligan cautioned against focusing on current numbers, saying publishers should “try to read the tea leaves and look to make a decision based upon the direction of the trend.” She likened desktop to old bulky cordless phones: “Do we still use the Zack Morris phone?”

I’m not arguing that newly responsive sites are ignoring desktop — certainly not to the extent that previous designs ignored mobile. Too many sites are late to the game and have yet to implement meaningful mobile strategies, so changes to the Wire and NPR that offer better navigation and eliminate irritating pinch-to-zoom are a net positive.

But mobile-first talk that’s altogether dismissive of the desktop experience strikes me as almost too forward-looking. Just as the Orange County Register’s Eric Spitz has counterintuitively argued that some newspapers late to acknowledging the digital revolution ultimately overcorrected and weakened the print product too quickly, I wonder if we’ll see some sites overreach with mobile, prematurely accelerating the decline in desktop readership.

No question news organizations have been too slow to hop on the mobile train, but once on board I hope they don’t speed away from desktop too quickly while readers are still there.

Related: Atlantic Wire rebrands, launches responsive site targeting mobile | NPR’s new redesign aims to create a less overwhelming reading experience Read more

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Friday, Nov. 29, 2013

Press members photograph the Nokia Lumia 1020 during a Nokia event in July (Photo by Diane Bondareff/Invision for Nokia/AP Images).

What mobile journalists should have on their holiday shopping lists

Here are a few ideas for the mobile journalist’s holiday wish list as news production increasingly relies less on expensive, high-end cameras and laptops. Read more

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Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013

Dalton Caldwell is CEO of app.net, which introduces a new app today allowing publishers to send alerts to readers' mobile phones.

With ‘newsletter for mobile,’ Dalton Caldwell wants to make your native app obsolete

Dalton Caldwell is CEO of app.net, which introduces a new app today allowing publishers to send alerts, called “Broadcasts,” to readers’ mobile phones.

“Imagine if you had to download a different email client for every email newsletter you subscribe to.” That’s the analogy offered by Dalton Caldwell, CEO of app.net, for the state of push notifications on mobile devices today.

News organizations want to reach readers on their mobile phones to alert them to breaking news or big features, but that requires push notifications, which in turn require apps. The result: If I want alerts from the New York Times, USA Today and the Chicago Sun-Times, I need to download three separate apps.

In Caldwell’s estimation, the ability to reach readers with push notifications accounts for 85 percent of the reason publishers enter the mobile-app space to begin with over settling for mobile-friendly websites. That’s why a new platform from app.net, launching today on iOS and Android, aims to make it easier for publishers to push stories to readers — and for readers to find out about them.

Here’s how it works: Publishers use app.net to create customized Broadcast Channels for readers to subscribe to. Then, publishers — news organizations themselves or individual journalists — compose alerts to be pushed to readers’ mobile devices. The alerts include a headline and link and can also include a brief message or photo.

If this sounds like a spammy marketing tool, keep in mind that readers will only receive alerts — app.net calls them Broadcasts — from channels to which they subscribe. Before subscribing, readers can see how often the channel pushes alerts, and app.net encourages publishers to limit themselves to fewer than one to two per day.

That’s a big departure from the status quo on sharing platforms like Twitter and Facebook, where Caldwell says “you’re incentivized to create a user experience of infobesity — the more push notifications you can send them, the better.” That amounts to a race to zero as those readers face information overload, Caldwell told Poynter via phone. “I understand why people are burnt out on push.”

Broadcast gives readers control over their push notifications, echoing the move by Breaking News this month to allow users to customize alert topics.

But whereas Breaking News is a publisher itself, Broadcast is a platform for publishers, from big media properties to individuals. Already signed up at launch are journalism.co.uk, a few New Yorker blogs, “The Big Picture” by the Boston Globe, and Kara Swisher of AllThingsD. (Broadcast is also geared to users like musicians who want to announce tour dates and creators of web comics who publish sporadically and want to let readers know when new content is available. It also offers utility-based channels like weather updates for every county in the U.S.)

“If you have something that’s inherently low-volume, say it’s long-form journalism, say you’re a podcaster, say you’re someone elite who blogs once per month — holy cow, people are going to miss my news, they’re going to miss what I have to say,” Caldwell explained. That’s where Broadcast steps in — what if you could only see the best tweet or two per day from only your favorite writers or news sources? And what if they could be pushed directly to your device in real time?

It’s a free service, Caldwell said, with potential for monetization down the line when power users want access to advanced analytics. The Broadcast API will allow a newsroom developer to add the alerts system to its CMS, and it’ll also be integrated into Hootsuite in an effort to keep news organizations’ social workflows streamlined.

Could Broadcast be app.net’s breakout app? It depends on how quickly it can corral a large base of users on the publishing side — and it could also depend on whether Twitter and Facebook make moves toward selective push notifications, too. The company’s relationship with media properties from earlier apps has facilitated some significant early gets, like Swisher of AllThingsD, whose scoops Caldwell says are appealing to readers who want to know about her stories fast but don’t want to risk a tweet dropping off their timelines before they can see it.

More immediate than email and more selective than Twitter — that’s where app.net is placing its bets.

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Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013

Google Play Newsstand, a new platform from Google for Android devices. (Google.com)

Is Google Play Newsstand a viable alternative to standalone Android apps?

Google introduced its latest platform for consuming news on Android devices today, suggesting that news organizations’ native apps aren’t serving readers well — even as those apps continue to be offered in the Google Play Store.

The new Google Play Newsstand replaces Android’s Magazine and Currents apps and promises one central home for magazine and newspaper subscriptions on smartphones and tablets.

But fear not: This has nothing in common with Apple’s much-maligned and same-named Newsstand, which is little more than a forced hub for certain news apps. Rather, the Google Play Newsstand is an app itself, a Flipboard-style reader with content from major publications like the Chicago Tribune and free blogs like the Verge. Crucially — and here’s how it separates itself from Currents — Newsstand allows for paid, subscription-based access, bringing paywall publishers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal into the fold.

It’s a nice, simple way to consume newspaper and magazine content on Android devices, and it aims to learn what kind of content you’re interested in so it can help you customize which feeds you see. Still, it’s not quite the one-stop shop for news that it purports to be in a blog post:

“Staying up on the news can be a daunting task. You have to go to a different website or app for each of your favorite magazines, newspapers and blogs. One place to read and discover all of this would be a lot simpler.”

But here’s the thing: Those separate apps still exist inside the Google Play Store, and some of them, like the Journal, offer more robust features than Newsstand does. Moreover, some news organizations, like the Chicago Sun-Times (where I used to work), haven’t joined Newsstand yet, so you can only get its content via apps or the web.

Viewed on a 2012 Nexus 7, the Wall Street Journal in Google Play Newsstand, left, and in its native Android app, right.

So what’s the play here, if you’ll pardon the pun? Is Google hoping to steer news organizations away from native news apps altogether and bring all news content under one roof on Android?

As it stands, the different roofs are confusing. If a reader sees Newsstand and assumes that’s where she should search for the Sun-Times, she won’t find the newspaper’s native app, which only appears if you search the entire Play Store or only the store’s app section. Meanwhile, a reader looking for The Wall Street Journal sees two options: one in the Newsstand section and another in the apps section.

Michael Rolnick, head of digital at Dow Jones & Co., told Poynter via phone that the big advantage of Newsstand is that a large audience can stumble upon Journal content and sample it without downloading a separate app. If the Journal converts those readers to digital subscribers, it can point them to other products, like the app.

In that sense, the two platforms could be complementary, especially because the Journal’s app — which mimics print in terms of story selection and design — offers an experience distinct from what’s offered by Newsstand (although the Journal’s app is a much clunkier experience on lower-end Android tablets than it is on the iPad).

Viewed on a 2012 Nexus 7, the New York Times in Google Play Newsstand, left, and in its native Android app, right.

The New York Times in Newsstand, meanwhile, mimics the Times app to the extent that it nearly renders the app redundant. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Times abandon its native Android app in favor of a strong presence on Newsstand, which has the advantage of being a default app on new Android devices. And I’d expect smaller newspapers like the Sun-Times to start feeding content to Newsstand as well.

Why devote resources to maintaining a native app if Android offers a built-in platform that achieves much of the same functionality?

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Friday, Nov. 01, 2013

90mm

New iPad Air comes closer to all-in-one reporting device for mobile journalists

Mobile journalists — those who report on the ground and file stories at Starbucks, for instance — should be tempted by the iPad Air. While it’s unlikely to revolutionize on-the-go computing, it definitely brings us a step closer to having an all-in-one reporting device.

If you’re in the market for a new tablet or your news organization is moving in the direction of outfitting you with a tablet rather than a laptop, here are some advantages of the new iPad Air:

Weight/size

The new name reflects one of the bigger selling points of the device — it weighs just a pound. At 1.4 pounds, the last-generation iPad was already lighter than hyper-mobile laptops such as the high-end 11-inch MacBook Air (2.38 pounds) or the low-end HP Chromebook 11 (2.3 pounds). Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Surface 2 tablet weighs in at 1.49 pounds, while the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 weighs 1.25 pounds.

The iPad Air’s lightness is an asset for reporters who might hold it to record short videos, record audio or do voice dictation while in the field. It also has a narrower frame, making typing with both thumbs while holding the device with two hands a little easier, notes Jim Dalrymple of the Loop. That might not be the best way to take notes all the time, but in a pinch the iPad Air could stand in for the old-fashioned notebook, with the advantage that the notes are already digitized when you’re ready to write.

Improved audio and video

The iPad Air adds a second microphone to help cancel out background noise, clearing up audio from an interview on the street or in a busy office, for instance. (See the comprehensive iPad Air review at AnandTech for a side-by-side comparison of audio quality between last year’s iPad and the new one.)

If you’re a reporter, that’s added incentive to bring an iPad Air along for an interview. It’s easy enough to prop up the device on a desk or table with a case, and you’re virtually guaranteed to get some useable interview video to accompany your text. Plus, an advantage of the iPad Air’s large 9.7-inch display over the forthcoming iPad Mini’s new retina display is that it offers that much more screen real estate for video editing on the go after you’re finished shooting.

Free apps

New iOS devices now ship with a suite of free apps, including iPhoto, iMovie and Pages, letting users edit photo, video and words on the go. While it might still be difficult — not to mention silly-looking — to shoot photos and video on an iPad, there’s a real advantage to having that content immediately editable and ready to be filed to web editors via Dropbox or another sharing service. Or, if you’d prefer to shoot photos and video with the much smaller iPhone, iCloud sharing beams that content directly to your iPad — assuming it’s connected to a network — with its larger editing window.

Limitations

That said, there are disadvantages to the iPad Air that might make mobile journalists think twice about abandoning their comparatively hefty laptops.

Apple still hasn’t released a physical keyboard attachment for their tablets — such an accessory is the calling card of the Surface, geared toward users who want a tablet that can function at times as a laptop. Apple has left keyboard cases to third-party accessory makers, but Apple’s Bluetooth-enabled keyboards can of course get the job done, too.

If it’s crucial that you file stories directly to a newsroom CMS, you might be out of luck if that CMS isn’t browser-friendly. It’s still clunky to switch from app to app in iOS, and users can’t run apps simultaneously. That makes the iPad a poor choice if you want to stay connected to your editor via a Google Hangouts chat window or go back and forth between your word processor and web browser to research a story. (Writing this blog post on an iPad would likely have taken twice the time it took me on a laptop.)

Still, every time the iPad’s content-production capabilities grow while its weight decreases, it becomes a more appealing component of the mobile journalist’s toolbox.

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Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013

Unique visitor traffic for ESPN from mobile devices exceeded that for desktops in September. (Depositphotos)

ESPN’s unique mobile visitors surpass desktop: ‘We’ve seen this coming for years’

ESPN

Mobile edged desktop 47.4 million to 46.1 million in unique visitors to ESPN in September, dealing the desktop site its first loss to long-time underdog mobile.

It’s a milestone already reached by Buzzfeed. BBC News saw majority mobile traffic for two days in July. And LinkedIn expects to get there next year.

Unique visitors isn’t a perfect metric for readership, and ESPN users still spent more time overall on the desktop site than on mobile. But the fact that the number of visitors to ESPN’s apps and mobile website now surpasses visitors to the desktop site helps validate the company’s belief in mobile, said Rob King, ESPN’s senior vice president for content, digital & print media, via phone. Read more

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Friday, Oct. 11, 2013

Esquire app on an iPad

Why news organizations shouldn’t write off tablet magazines

Jon Lund in GigaOM recently declared tablet magazines a failure.

That’s true in the sense that they haven’t substantially impacted overall magazine circulation. Using Alliance of Audited Media numbers, Lund lists the percentages that “digital replica” paid subscriptions, such as for tablets, contributes to the total circulation for 25 magazines. They ranged from a high of 38 percent of total circulation (Game Informer Magazine, a noted outlier) to 2 percent (People magazine).

Like Lund, I’d discourage any new publication from focusing solely on tablet apps, stored deep inside iPad folders or in the dreaded Newsstand, far from the dynamic reach of social media and the Web.

But sometimes it’s nice to retreat to a dark, quiet, closed-off space on a tablet. And magazine apps are contributing enough to circulation figures that we shouldn’t write them off as worthwhile components of our larger digital strategies — especially if publishers are smart about how much they invest in producing them.

Lund cites The Daily, which failed not only as a tablet-only publication but also as a tablet-only publication granted lots of free publicity by virtue of its status as an iPad pioneer. That’s a useful example in the argument against interactive magazines as digital media panacea.

But consider two of my favorite digital magazine apps: The New Yorker and The Atlantic Weekly.

The former, despite its irritating recent switch from paginated content to breathtakingly long scrolls, offers the cleanest, most convenient way for me to read New Yorker pieces. And it takes advantage of the tablet form without resorting to flashy interactive design. Short videos and poems read aloud by authors enrich the content without requiring lots of extra production resources.

The Atlantic’s foray into weekly publishing, meanwhile, also presents a model for tablet content that doesn’t profess to be a game-changer but fits nicely alongside the company’s other digital products. The Atlantic Weekly bundles pre-existing content from the Web that readers might have missed during the week. It collects only a few stories, presenting them all in the same simple design template.

Although these relatively simply apps certainly cost something in terms of staff and publishing-platform fees, Atlantic editor-in-chief James Bennet told Poynter in an email: “We do put a good deal of work into The Weekly – we wouldn’t be asking readers to pay for it if we didn’t – but we’ve been pretty rigorous about scoping that work to keep the costs in line with sales,” Bennet said.

The Atlantic Weekly requires work from four primary staffers: an editor, copy editor, designer and producer, none of whom work on this product full-time. He didn’t disclose sales figures but said they’ve exceeded expectations. Three-quarters of readers are monthly ($2.99) or yearly ($19.99) subscribers; single editions cost $1.99.

While it’s true that The New Yorker’s digital edition only accounts for 7 percent of total paid circulation, we tend to frame print circulation drops of 7 to 10 percent as pretty significant. If 10-percent circulation drops inspire feelings of doom, shouldn’t the prospect of 10-percent circulation boosts thanks to digital editions inspire feelings of hope?

Lund’s point that digital magazines suffer from lack of social connections is a good one. So is his point that phone and tablet users spend most of their time with only a few essential apps, and it’s better to meet them where they are — on Twitter, Flipboard and the like — than to hope they’ll remember to keep visiting your app, buried among dozens.

Yet the strongest media brands can meet readers everywhere; they don’t have to choose between having a website and having an app. That’s what makes initiatives like The Atlantic Weekly so fascinating — they recognize this notion that, sure, most of the time you just want to focus on your Facebook news feed and manage your email. But when you want to pull back from those demands on your attention and just read some good stories distraction-free — even if it’s just for the 20 to 30 minutes a week when you think to open the app — the Atlantic Weekly will be there.

Tablets are multifaceted — it’s pretty amazing that I can retreat from the chaos of the Web to a book or magazine or TV show on the same device that was overwhelming me before. (Remember: e-books, while no longer booming, have carved out a nice place in our modern lives despite being as disconnected from the social Web as digital magazines.)

Still, I’m concerned about some apps, like the sensational interactive Esquire. According to mobile editions editor Mark Mikin, it takes three designers, an in-house Hearst Digital Media post-production team and four editors to produce the magazine app. And that’s not all: “Every ‘print’ editor and every ‘print’ art director and photo editor contributes ideas for interactivity and multimedia,” Mikin said via email. “We really all sit down in one room with the intent of figuring out how to make every idea on paper something unique and engaging on the iPad.”

That all-in effort makes for a tremendous product, but it requires significant staff resources to reinvent so much print content. So I’m with Lund in one respect — it’s hard to look at the numbers and feel confident that a major investment in heavily interactive magazines will pay off. The many challenges — zeroing in on workable price points, figuring out how to bundle apps with other digital content, publishing on various operating systems, asking readers to routinely download large files, integrating app production into a publication’s overall workflow — make the task even more daunting.

Pages from The Atlantic, The New Yorker and Esquire

But that doesn’t mean publications should stop experimenting with apps completely — at least not until the Web becomes so robust that apps lose their advantages in bundling, design, and interactivity and this debate becomes moot.


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