Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bringing advertising back to the future

There is a growing sense that advertising will soon be dead as a major way to fund news and many other content services. I suggest that reflects not the true direction of media technology, but just a temporary gap in such technology.

Today's conference on "Creating a New Model for News and Information" had a very interesting discussion by luminaries in the news business addressing the apparent reality that advertising could no longer support their media, and how new models are needed.

That is a major issue in the short term, but advertising will be reborn as a key source of funding as technology improves.

The problem is that current "new" media do not present ads in a way that effectively serves the reader. Screen real estate is limited, and there is no place to include ads that are rich and informative without seriously detracting from the content. But what is forgotten is that that will change, as technology improves.

Unlike Web pages, newspapers and magazines were able to present very compelling ads adjacent to content, without detracting from the content.
  • Their weakness (as Wanamaker is famed to have noted) is lack of targeting. Targeting is still reasonably good in special interest sections and trade magazines, but such special interest content has heavily migrated to the Web.
  • I have always been struck by how in trade magazines and special interest magazines, the ads can often be as valuable as the content. Even on TV, ads can be better than the content. In visual media, advertising is not necessarily a negative -- it can be a positive to the viewer.
  • Internet media have greatly improved targeting (look at Google), but have lost richness, at least on the surface (look at Google). They match (and even add) richness only when you bother to drill deeper by clicking a link (or doing a mouse-over).
How will technology change that?
  • Think back to newspapers and magazines: They have enough real estate to let content and rich ads have effective adjacency, while still conveying a substantial message.
  • Think about emerging screen technologies: ever larger screens, ever lighter and more flexible -- literally more flexible, as OLEDs enable large screens that fold up -- that will mimic newspapers and magazines within a few years.
  • (My suggestions for "Coactive TV" also provide expanded real estate in the form of a second screen that can be coordinated to show ads related to the first screen.)
Once we have such screens, we can revive rich ads, plus add a new layer of personalized targeting that print media never had. When that happens, ads can be immediate, relevant, interesting, and informative -- more than ever. We will have targeting, immediate surface richness, and hyperlinked depth. With that, ad-funded distribution will again be a powerful engine for revenue -- and a desirable experience for users.

Of course the media need to survive in the short term with less (or no) advertising, but don't be blindsided when ads are reborn!


Full Frontal Reality: how to combat the growing lunatic fringe

There is a growing problem of polarization of the public into lunatic fringe groups that are losing touch with reality. This is fueled by new forms of media, and I suggest a need for media to enable a new kind of direct frontal attack on this problem.

Today's conference on "Creating a New Model for News and Information" had a very interesting discussion by luminaries in the news business that touched on the problems of the Internet and "The Daily Me" in which people increasingly filter their news sources to support their viewpoints. This is a technology-enhanced form of "confirmation bias."

Perhaps this can be countered using the same technology to find ways to create, direct, and select materials coming from contrary viewpoints that are tailored to directly counter such bias in constructive ways.

The angle here is that confirmation bias is very easy and comforting, but reality usually offers more survival value.
  • Systems that can find complementary information and demonstrate that it offers survival value could be very influential, at least to the subset of holders of extreme views that have not totally severed contact with reality.
  • The idea is to encourage them to reality-test -- to seek serendipitous exposure to balanced and well-reasoned antidotes to the biased material they usually see, and to demonstrate the practical value of more balanced viewpoints.
One thing this needs is content creators willing to speak to the heretics, and not just preach to the choir, or even to the middle. Extremists on both sides of any issue generally seek to reinforce their base and to convert wavering middle of the roaders to the extreme. An underexploited counter strategy is to speak directly to those who are moving toward the extreme, but not fully committed to an extreme mind-set, to demonstrate in a non-threatening or off-putting way that reality is not so extreme (or so black and white). This method is underused because it lacks a way to reach the audience that needs to see it.

So the other thing needed is a smarter delivery service, a new media filtering tool that specifically aids in bringing such materials to those who need to hear them.
  • Filters that give you food for thought, in a way that is constructive, interesting, and not threatening
  • Services that demonstrate the folly of extreme views

With such tools, when you personalize your "Daily Me" to know what you want, it will also give you some of what you need, stuff you don't know you want. Some people will have no interest in that, but some will find it valuable and stimulating to get a breath of fresh air that does not reek of the biases of the opposite side.

...If there are already delivery services developing with this aim, I would be very interested to hear about them.


Friday, July 03, 2009

User-centered to the limit

While arguably off the topic of user-centered media, I had to publish this incident observed by a friend:

In the early 1970's when the Jaguar XK-E was still in production (the quintessentially sexy sports car that Enzo Ferrari called "the most beautiful car ever made"), my friend told me of the time he passed one parked on the street as two small boys marvelled at it.

He overheard one say, "Boy, wouldn't you love to have a car like that?"

To which the other replied. "Have a car like that? I'd like to be a car like that!"

I offer this as too classic to remain unpublished. The incident was reported by my late friend Walter Ensdorf, who was always a very keen observer of the world.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Smart Money of Crowds, April 7, 2009, NYC, MIT Enterprise Forum Symposium

Collaborative Investing Startups

Can we exploit the Wisdom of Crowds on Wall Street? -- especially now that the "smart money" no longer looks very smart?

Historically individual investors have been a good indicator for what not to do -- Can the Social Web make them smarter?

I am assisting David Teten organize this event, and we have a very interesting panel. Come on April 7 to learn from a group of innovative startups that are leveraging the Wisdom of Crowds to provide investment counsel you can believe in - or so they claim.

Register at