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The Siren Song of China

27 February, 2009

The Venetian Hotel in Macau (where this is coming from) is a huge hotel, thousands of rooms, marble everywhere, massive casino, theatre, canal, at least five restaurants – miles and miles of corridors. It is also pretty soulless, exists to serve the gambling community that comes here and is tucked on a strip of land which is clearly so industrial – a walk (in the murk) is unappealing. But Macau is, of course, a special territory of China (own passport control, own currency, own rules). And at this conference, there is a mix between being able to really talk about what is happening in China (as long as you don’t give too much away) and the clear (salivating) desire of western companies to find ways to get in there to make money.

An excellent overview presentation from Charles Gillespie of wsn.com (World Sports Network – a betting and gaming company who has license in China) is worth repeating some of the figures. So, here is a snapshot of the digital world in China.

To start with, you need to be an Internet Certified Practitioner (ICP). To get ICP, you have to have a Chinese partner (well you can provide without being an ICP, but there are some issues and you can be closed down). To do major internet business of any kind – you need to be a better ICP (ie, your Chinese partner is the major shareholder). Interesting how countries seek to secure their entrepreneurs by making foreigners partner with them – I wonder if this works as a model?

Some stats as from the end of 2008:

  • Internet users: 298m
  • Increase: up 41.9% since 2007 (Note: this includes mobile phones!!)
  • Internet penetration: 22. 6% (slightly above world average of 21.9%)
  • Penetration in major cities: well over 60%
  • Broadband users: 270m
  • Mobile users: 117.6m
  • Hours online per week: average of 16.6

There has been a change in the age range also. In the 2007 survey, the fastest growing (and largest group) was 20-29. However, in the 2008 survey, the fastest growing group was 10-19, with a dramatic increase also in the 40-49 age bracket. So, like lots of countries – the older are getting tech savvy at a similar rate to the younger.

In terms of what they do with digital, these are the percentages that use content or download:

  • Music        83.7% (down 3.3% on last year. A slight drop in piracy?)
  • News        78.5% (down 6.2%)
  • Inst. Message    75.3% (up 8.1%)
  • Movies        67.6% (up 13.5% – the new target for piracy?)
  • Games        62.8% (down 5.5%)

Top sites are Baidu (nor surprising); QQ (described as ‘the Yahoo of China’, with sports, news, blogs and social elements. There are more QQ accounts than online citizens, so we know that people have multiple accounts); Sina.com.ca; Google and TaoBao.com (the ‘eBay of China).

Advertising: CPT (monthly tenancy advertising) is most common; CPM is rare, but happens; CPC/CPA – almost never.

There was some discussion about the ‘Great (fire)Wall of China’, to which Charles pointed out that the internet savvy always found a way around this, especially in the cities, and the this was more of a problem for a less educated, less internet savvy (mainly rural) online audience. Mind you, he put about 8m in the first group and 290m in the second – so I’d say censorship and internet control was still a major issue for the majority!

I’ll finish on one final point I took away which was reiterated a few times. In walking around Macau while I was there, I really felt the truth of this:

    Don’t treat China as though it is a different culture, it’s a different civilization.

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May the Force (of old media) be with you

21 February, 2009

I’m sitting here with a copy of Brad Howard’s article in Digital Media entitled “Print Strikes Back”, about how digital is taking a very long time to kill of the print industry. I do think that the death of newspapers at the hands of online was always a tad exaggerated. I think that even more when tucked up in bed of a Saturday morning with Herald and a cup of tea.

But I still think that too much value is placed on heritage media format, and sadly, often by other forms of legacy media. Is that a kind of ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch your’ I wonder.

Brad’s article (worth the read) talks about the 10% rule – newspaper circulation accounts for about 10% of readership, but online activities account for only about 10% of revenue (hat tip: Scott Karp). That said, it seems that old media still has the credibility and, as I’ve blogged before, is definitely seen as where the money is…

I’ve got a couple of particular cases I am grappling with right now, which I won’t got into, but I am struggling with how to get people to let go of traditional media- and take the plunge. In one case, a major brand is thinking of a beautifully targeted reality TV series. Talent is organised, audience (nicely niche) is assured – but they want free-to-air TV and not subscriber TV. In reality, 35,000 dedicated viewers who will shop in their store is a lot better than being shown to 120,000 uninterested people – but they want the ‘reach’ of FTA (who, sadly, aren’t interested because it is too niche!).

Another: when going after a target market of 35+, would you rather a three page spread in a magazine in a Saturday paper (circulation figures are 600,000+ – if you can trust them); or front page mentions, full page coverage and links from all over one of Australia’s most popular celebrity/lifestyle portals (Unique Viewers more double that of the print publication). Sadly – the online coverage is second to the legacy coverage, even if the right audience is more likely to be online.

There is a great chart I found on an Amnesia presentation which highlights this from an attention angle really well. I don’t have their permission (sorry, boys), but am hoping the liberal mentioning of their names will make them go gentle on me:

Media consumption across Australian's online (ht: Amnesia)

Media consumption across Australian's online (ht: Amnesia)

What it basically says is that we spend 18.7 hours on average on the internet, and only 3.7 reading print media. In the target market of 35+, online is still 17.7 hours versus 3.65.

I love old media. New media would be so boring without it – but isn’t it time we really started to think about where our audience is (and how we might reach them)?

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Who the Tweet are you?

21 January, 2009

I was told I had a new follower by Twitter today (I’m JenWilsonSydney if you weren’t across this).

 In the good manners of reciprocal social, I clicked on their link to see who they were so I could chose what I would do. Generally, if I’m being followed by a real person, who has any shared interests with me or who has shared friends with me, or who has some interesting posts (even if a newbie) – I’ll follow them. If they are a marketing scam, spam or zealot of any persuasion – I will block them (so they can’t follow me any longer). If they are in between – such as a blog update I am not sure I want, a newbie who doesn’t yet step up to the mark or a product – I will often ignore them (and hopefully review this status later). My particular gripe is with people who sign up to Twitter, start looking for people to follow, but don’t both to tell me who they are by leaving the description field blank.

 This morning, I had two new followers who were heading for the ‘ignore’ category. One was what looked like an application or service wanting to following me (what? So I’ll follow back and get spammed by product updates?) and the other was someone with about 20 followers, but absolutely zero description of who they were or where they lived.

 In the case of the product – it was interesting enough for me to head to the blog site listed as part of their description (an excellent start) and check them out. It was an interesting product and the blog was broader than just product updates – including a post on them trying to get Twitter to deliver more for them. (Yes, dear reader, I did leave a constructive comment – setting the brain cells off and leading to this post). So I am now following Mapanui.

 In the case of the individual, I was about to ignore them when I noticed, in their Tweet stream, a reply to someone I follow. So, mutual friends criteria met – I followed this newbie (five posts to date). But it did really bring up the importance of the description we supply to these states.

 Laurel Papworth rightly (and obliquely) criticised me a while ago for using Digg, but not using Digg. Basically, I went there at Laurel’s prompting to help Digg something she has written which was rocking up the ranks, but when Laurel went there and checked out who was supporting her – she found no description, no image and no activity from me. (I’ve since fixed that – but as confess, as minimally as possible.) My only excuse was that Delicious and StumbleUpon are more home to me that Digg, for some reason. But consistency says that if I am going to use social media (even to advance a friend), I need to play fully.

 So, if any of you are thinking about signing up to Twitter or extending your online identities to any other social forums – please, please, please make sure that you take the time to identify yourself a little, to say why we should be interested in you and provide something about the individual behind the handle.

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Is a Change in Social Capital/Currency Afoot?

14 January, 2009

I am not a daily reader of the stars, but I do think astrology often has interesting things to say. I’ve had too many coincidental things happen (and too many scarily accurate astroligical readings) to not pay some mind to this. Let’s add two personal facts to this: I am a Sagittarian,  and the first group I ever joined on Facebook was “When I was your age, Pluto was a planet” (a real testimonial if ever there was one). So of course, I am talking about the transition of Pluto from Sagittarius to Capricorn.

The short paragraph on the astrology side:
Pluto in Sagittarius was about (amongst other things) excess, consumerism and adventure. Pluto in Capricorn is about reality, value and the real worth of things. Very simplistically, the whole Global Financial Crisis is really about the end of the Sagittarian excess and we are all expecting that we’ll get a dose of (financial) realism, expectation of honest value and maybe a little less excess in our corporate greed.

Ok, regardless of astrology, the whole GFC is also altering our mindset in many ways. I know a lot of people who are questioning values and what they stand for and invest in. People are increasingly interested in local food (locavore); organics, real value and tangible good.

One of the things that I think this might affect is a classic GenC interest – celebrity.

If we look for real value, we are unlikely to look for it in the more vacuous famous faces; the YouTube 15-minutes-of-fame types; or the excessive party-boy with no redeeming features. GenC is still likely to be looking for role model images (every generation prior has also done that) but I think we might see a shift in them looking for real value in these images – real talent, real skills and real quality, rather than just the sheen of celebrity.

And, that makes me wonder if we will, as a result, see a slight shift in the role of social networks and media. If we are after real value, then social currency might start to lose some of the gloss. Tangible assets such as communication, quality of response, thoughtfulness and responsivness are likely to come to the fore are critical components of creating social capital. Not that they aren’t important now, just that other things (such as numbers of friends, looks, sarcasm and ability to waste time and/or money) seem to have as much importance. Add to this that it is generally well understood that a key value in social networks is the presentation of the image we want to show (whether real of not) and I think we might be ready for a little reality collision.

Whether you think it is the stars, the GFC, or just a maturing of the social environment – I am betting that we will be seeing less of the “celebrity in her own lunchtime” stars, and more of those with real value (and likely more positive values). And that this may, just might, start to change the way in which we use social networks, what we say and what images we portray of ourselves.

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Rights that are Wrong

9 January, 2009

I’m currently working on a White Paper (read: conversation starter) on the issues for Screen Content Producers in getting more engaged with the digital environment. I’m close to finished, but determining when enough is enough is hard.

When talking to film makers and other producers of screen content, the issues that really came up for them were two-fold. The first key point was that many makers of heritage (linear or non-digitally consumed) content simply don’t get the online/mobile/interactive world: the language is different, the concepts are different, and the expectations are different. The second issue that came up was rights: rights required to be approved to place material online, right required to be approved to go digital, rights of people to get access to content (paying or not).

So the paper really has two parts – a fairly simple overview of the three main areas of education for digital (distribution, audience and monetising); and a section on what the issues over rights are, and what some of the solutions might be.

I’m not a lawyer, which is a good and bad thing here. It means that I ask big questions (like “why can’t we….”) but it also means that the reasons take a lot of investigation so I can understand them. Here are some of the issues and things that frustrate me.

  • music isn’t a single thing. There is incidental music and theme music and published music and recorded music
  • and then there are synchronisation rights that let you ‘synchronise’ the music with you content

There is a film in the US (Sita Sings the Blues) which uses recording from the 192o’s which went into the public domain years ago. However, to use these in the film, the producer needs to pay synchronisation rights. Sadly – the record companies are demanding more for the music than the whole film cost to make.

  • Australia didn’t keep particularly good records years ago when we first started making movies and documentaries
  • But none of these can go online until the rights in all the elements are cleared by everyone concerned
  • And we often don’t even know who those people are…

So about 15 years of video content that tells Australian stories in documentary, film and other forms of narrative is going to be destroyed because it has “no value”. I’d love to see this, and I don’t think I’m alone, but unless all the rights holders can be firstly identified, and their approval given – it ain’t going to happen. And it only needs one of them to say ‘no’ and the content remains unseen. Add to this that some documentaries including footage from news items and all these people need to be found also – and the problem just compounds.

Digital needs to mean thinking differently. Digital and online means we need to consider that public access is actually the prime requirement. Digital should recognise that theft of a car (a tangible object which is lost) is different to digital piracy (where the item still remains). Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely believe that authors should be recognised and rewarded for their work. I just think that we need to find ways of doing that that don’t limit what we can access.  In particular, I don’t want our inability to find new ways to address rights to means that years of fascinating video footage, part of our history, is going to be denied to us.

Some rights are just wrong. We need new rights that recognise contribution, that have the potential to reward creators, but that do not result in the public being denied our stories.

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Social networking: Collaboration, Aggregation or Disintermediation?

6 January, 2009

This last year has been a year for the rise of the social network aggregator, or, if not a tool, the rise of aggregation through collaboration. I discovered this to my own horror when I realised that my Twitter posts were appearing as Facebook status updates. I had done this so that I could appear more active in places where I wasn’t (really). Cheating, I know, and a lesson that I learnt. When I was Twittering a conference I was at in early December with about 45 updates over the course of an hour, my Facebook friends were spammed with status updates from me including hash tags that meant nothing to them, about something that wasn’t of interest. I am still in the process of disconnecting all these networks from each other.

So – lesson one – don’t take the short cut on allowing one social media service to update another without thought. The audiences are different, the purpose is different, and in the end, what I realised is that that Facebook is for friends and Twitter is for followers – and they aren’t the same group of people.

Now, thinking about Aggregation and Disintermediation. Disintermediation is one of those great words that are always a contender for “what does that really mean”. It means taking out the intermediary (the middle man) – in this case the social network service itself. But first, aggregation.

We’ve seen a huge number of social media/network aggregation services arise. These are aimed at allowing us to keep tabs on what our various friends are up to on the various networks that they might play in. In theory – through a single interface, we can follow what people are doing/saying on Twitter, Flickr, Digg, Facebook, Twine, MySpace, Bebo, Qik, Mashable etc. Many of these also work on mobile phones – so in theory we have a single site/application that allows us to keep in touch with all of our networks all of the time. Some examples: Plaxo Pulse (nice one), Friendfeed (from ex-Google peeps), Xumii (on mobile), Flock (browser based), Profilactic (one of the first) and a range of others. For a good overview/review, see Fabric of Folly’s great review at http://www.fabricoffolly.com/2008/03/review-of-social-aggregators.html.

So, in 2008, there were a few sites that heralded social aggregators as the big thing of the year. I wonder if 2009 will be the year of social disintermediation rather than aggregation. We are seeing this in a few sites already – often, to me, incorrectly named as aggregation. I’ve written about this before – the concept of social network as ‘feature’ not ‘function’. Yahoo integrated this last year, and there are a host of sites that are coming up that include some form of social media/network within them.

My experience in with collaboration really brought home the idea that there are different networks for different purposes for good reason. What I want to do is often determined by where I am, and what I am doing. So, when I am loading pictures in Flickr – I’m interested in what my friends have been up to in Flickr and would love for Flickr to tell me what my friends have done there recently. When I’m reading the news online, I would love it if I could see what my friends had be commenting on, rating or tagging on that news site; when I’m in iTunes – that same – what are my friends buying, listening to etc. To my mind, this is exactly what I think Facebook does. When I am in Facebook, I am interested in what my friends have been doing – so all their updates are relevant to me at this time.

I suppose that what I really would like is context with my social aggregation. I want to be able to see what my friends have been doing online that is relevant, wherever I am at the time. I want to see the footprints they leave as they travel across the net, so I can walk down some of those same paths. I also don’t want to have to go somewhere special to see this (the aggregator) but want it bought to me where I am right now and where they actions in this space are relevant to what I looking at/listening to/doing.

In summary, I guess what I want is contextually relevant social media that is given to me where I am, rather than making me go and find it.

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Buying an iPhone? Don’t buy it from Apple

13 November, 2008

My first generation iPhone recently turned up its heels (but that is another story… and one Apple seems reluctant to comment upon). So, into the glorious glass and customer service edifice that is the Apple Store, Sydney.

I made an appointment to tell someone the product was broken (don’t see why I needed to do so, but did…). They confirmed said malfunction, and told me I’d need to fly to the US to get the phone replaced (and proposed Hawaii as good this time of year). Rather than pay the airfare, I figured I would buy a new (3G Australian approved) phone.

Ok, I figured, I’ll go to Telstra and buy it from there, but when I suggested this they told me I was better off buying it from them as they would set it up correctly for me (definitely implying that Teltra wouldn’t. Experience led me to beleive this was possibly correct!). So, I said, I was to buy a phone now. This is where the fun started.

“You need to make an appointment.”
“To buy a phone I need to make an appointment?”
“Yes, that’s right. we can fit you in tomorrow.”

 Suffice to say that I started to go ugly at this (I’m trying to be a paying customer, remember! and they’d just convinced me I should buy from them) and so they found me a sales person. Magic.

Pleasant. Got me phone. Pulled up my Telstra customer record (which was at least 9 months old, but she didn’t seem to mind that) and off we went. Of all the things I was most concerned about – I wanted to make sure that i didn’t lose my Memo service (Telstra takes messages for you and sends you and SMS) and that the phone was set up correctly. I was reassured at least three times that the Memo service would be untouched. Even when I pointed out that form said “Vidoe Voicemail” I was reassured that thsi was for video calls only and my memo service would be fine. A few minutes later – ‘bingo’ she says, all done.

I decided to access the Apps Store and – what do I find – my login is only valid for the Australian Apps Store and yet for some reason, my phone has connected me to somewhere else! Apple person not in the least worried, tell sme to go home and synch and all will be fine. Somewhat suspicious, I do so.

After some false starts and a complete reboot of the PC, I synch my phone. Only to discover that it has not be ‘set up correctly’ at all:

  • timezone still Cupertino (all appointments out by a good few hours!)
  • software not updated to latest version
  • internet setting not set up correctly for carrier

and then, the worst thing! I got a message saying I had VOICEMAIL!!! I don’t do voicemail. At all. Ever.

So, back to Apple (yes, I made ANOTHER appointment so they could do what they hadn’t done right the first time). And, after a bit of a wait, get told a) sorry we didn’t set that up right b) oh, well you can do that at home c) well, it’s working now atht you’ve fixed it up isn’t it. As to the memo vs voicemail – got politely told that was nothing to do with them and I’d need to go to Telstra.

Long story short – I did. Telstra took their usual half hour and 2 supervisors to explain what memo is to the salesperson and I am back happy there. Went home and upgraded the software myself and now I think I can say ‘bingo’ – I have a properly working Aussie legal Telstra connected 3G phone.

If you’re thinking of buying and iPhone – can I strongly highly and forcefully recommend that you get it from you carrier? It might not have been set up correctly for me (which I ended up doing myself anyway), but at least one bunch of setting (carrier related) wouldn’t have been screwed up. I confess, I should have realised that something might not be the way it should when Apple’s carrier records were almost a year old.

Apple – you need better care and attention to this! How about:

  1. no appointments for people buying a replacement product because you can’t fix/replace the broken one
  2. don’t promise to set up my new product correctly and then completely fail to do so
  3. don’t be complacent when I point out that it isn’t set up correctly
  4. don’t reassure me about settings that you cannot control or don’t know about
  5. don’t give me ‘genius’ staff who have to get other people to help on the product that I booked for (one genius clearly was not iPhone savvy)
  6. do something more than look superior when you stuff up