Opening Day 2014

The Cubs take the field in Pittsburgh today for the first game of 2014. While the 2013 season largely eluded me I’m excited about the start of a new one, maybe because this winter was so mind-crushingly oppressive.

But the fact remains that so many of the games this season, as they have been for the last 12-15 years, won’t be played during the day. And I’m sorry but night games just don’t work for me and wouldn’t even if I did have a cable subscription, which I don’t. Too many of the games have increasingly been on channels I didn’t get and, quite frankly, I’ve got other things to do in the evening.

Plus, my contention that a reliance on night games on one of a half-dozen cable channels is killing generations of potential new fans remains firmly in place. As I’ve said before, the fandom of myself and my generation was built on being able to turn on the game on WGN-TV as soon as I got home from school every day. If it was a 1:20 game I could still catch the 7th inning or so. It it was a 3:05 game I could catch it starting in the 2nd or 3rd. So I saw almost every home game and many of the road games throughout my entire childhood.

If you’re making games inaccessible – they’re currently not part of WGN Radio’s streaming either – you’re not giving the fans the in they need. Why would I pay $200-$300 for a bunch of us to go to a game – or even for an MLB multimedia package online – if I’m not already invested in the team and the players?

Anyway, media theory aside, today the Cubs take the field for the first time in the 2014 season. The snow has indeed melted away from Wrigley Field, though the team won’t play there until the weekend. The wind will surely be blowing since it’s April in Chicago, though which direction is anyone’s guess. And a legion of fans will get their hopes up that predictions of it being an ugly year are over-stated and that somehow the ragtag team that’s been assembled will at least make things interesting in the NL Central this year.

We live and die by other people’s contracts

This story about the percentage of LA residents who won’t be able to watch the Dodgers home opener is the latest item to make me shake my head at how much of our media diet is dictated not by audience desires but by random contracts that are completely ignorant of those desires.

The shifting Facebook sands

In the latest of what’s become a series of stories – some featuring solid reporting, some anecdotal experience and some based solely on speculation – reports are emerging that Facebook is getting ready to cut organic reach for Pages down to somewhere around the 1% mark. And shortly after that Adweek published this story about how some publishers were seeing massive dips in traffic coming from Facebook.

I asked on Twitter the other day if, given all these changes, people would start a Facebook page for their brand if they didn’t already have one. In other words, has the value proposition shifted enough to make putting work into building a Facebook audience not worth the potential return?

Honestly it’s a question worth asking. If know the return you get from reaching 1% of of five millions fans is going to be less than the return from reaching 25% of 100,000, what’s the incentive to keep working at acquiring new Facebook fans?

If you ask me, the winds just changed and they’re no longer in Facebook’s favor. This is the kind of huge shift that makes brands (including those that provide the advertising revenue Facebook depends on) reevaluate their publishing strategy. How’s Google+ looking these days? Is there an upstart waiting in the wings? These are the kinds of things brand managers are researching right now. I know. I’m one of them.

Radio still the best music discovery tool

If you ask me it makes perfect sense that radio is still cited as being the best way for people to discover new music.

Most recommendation algorithms are based on what you already like or what you’ve listened to previously. But that gives you a whole lot of prompts to listen to familiar stuff, whether it’s artists you already like or stuff that may be similar but which you already know you don’t like. But they never – at least in my experience – have been very good at surfacing just random stuff for me to discover. So I still tune into WXRT on a regular basis and find that to be the primary way I hear about bands and artists I otherwise wouldn’t have.

And the more I think about it, the more I see this as a perfect example of how important professional curation like the kind you find via radio, television networks, newspapers and other mass media remains today. While everyone is going on and on about this app pulls stories from your Twitter friends and this streaming service pulls recommended video from your Facebook friends, the best way to find out about things that would ordinarily fall outside the echo chamber is still to open a newspaper, browse through TV channels or listen to the radio.

We can’t go all in on recommendation algorithms in our media consumption because those algorithms do one thing in particular very well: They almost completely eliminate randomness. And sometimes, especially when it comes to discovery, that’s what’s most needed.

Pew looks at social media news reading

Pew has a new report out on the state of the news media in 2014. There’s a ton of good data in there on staff sizes, revenue models and everything else. But what stuck out at me was the information on how people were using social networks to get their news.

Facebook in particular showed up as a way some 30% of the audience get their news, though additional data shows that’s not actually on purpose – people are seeing news and sharing it while they’re on Facebook for other, presumably personal, reasons. And the study reinforced an earlier story about how visitors who come in via Facebook have much lower engagement rates on-site than those who visit directly.

Other stats show that half of Twitter users discover news on the site, though it’s likely much of that is “I was on Twitter anyway” type of discovery much like Facebook. Other studies have shown, though, that in breaking news situations people are more likely to turn to Twitter for updates than they are Facebook.

History of the movie trailer is a great watch

I’m extraordinarily late to this, but the “History of the Movie Trailer” video that recently made the rounds is absolutely worth watching. Here’s the full write-up with background notes if you want to fully geek out over it.

The History of the Movie Trailer from on Vimeo.

On Medium: Innovation Needs To Address Some Real, Not Imagined, Problems

Originally published on Medium here.

This morning when I went to the airport, the apps on my phone played a big part of the trip. I was able to check my flight status on one, Check traffic between my home and the airport on another. Respond to emails on another, share a photo from the airport on another and so on and so forth. If I wanted to broadcast my arrival at the airport I could do so through any number of tools/platforms.

And in the near future I’ll be able to do even more. My refrigerator is getting up there in years and in all likelihood when it comes time to buy a new one there will be options that will include the ability to tell how cold it is inside, show me how much mayonnaise I currently have (indeed it will likely be able to alert me when I need more) and provide a host of other data points. My toothbrush will one day be able to alert me, via an app, to early signs of gingivitis. And my thermostat will help me save power by telling me there’s no need to have the air conditioning on that high, jerk.

But also on the way to the airport this morning I was driven (I took a taxi, because come on) through lots of traffic, over bumpy roads that *weren’t* under construction and through plenty of *actual* construction to both address current road conditions and widen certain streets to allow for even more traffic, something that’s necessary because the current infrastructure was absolutely not built for the population volume that now resides in my area.

And therein lies the issue that I can’t get out of my head. All of this innovation is being poured into solving problems I didn’t know I had — I’ve previously been able to tell how much mayonnaise I had myself and, if I ran out, well then guess who’s going without for a couple days — while there seems to be little work being done to address the problems we all know we have.

I don’t need a smart toothbrush. Quite frankly that sounds terrible, like something that will overburden me with knowledge. If my smart toothbrush doesn’t tell me a cavity is developing I’m not going to assume everything is fine and no, I don’t have a cavity. I’m going to assume it’s not working correctly and I probably have a cavity and I’m going to lose all my teeth and everyone will make fun of me.

What I need — what we all need — is someone to come up with a better way to build a road. Concrete and asphalt, quite frankly, aren’t cutting it. Right now after so much cold and snow, driving in the Chicago area is one big game of deciding whether it’s better to drive through the three potholes up ahead or hope oncoming traffic is light enough you’re able to swerve into the other lane to avoid them. These potholes will be filled, the patch will settle to a point where the street still isn’t level and in five years the city will get around to redoing the whole section of street, inconveniencing everyone and starting the whole process over again.

But where’s the innovation on this front? Where’s the innovation on better mass transit solutions to avoid congestion so road expansion isn’t necessary? Where’s the startup incubator that specialized in finding solutions to lessen our reliance on gasoline, oil and coal?

These aren’t imagined problems and they’re certainly not ones that are going to be solved with an app. There has to be a better way to build a road, one that uses sustainable materials, allows for better water drainage, isn’t as susceptible to extreme temperatures and is all in all better for everyone involved. There has to be a better way to transport tens of thousands of people from their homes to their places of business, wherever they are. Something that reduces the number of cars on the road while providing an experience that doesn’t feel quite so dehumanizing as current mass transit systems seem to.

Over 50 years ago President Kennedy challenged the United States to go to the moon before the 1960s ended. And the best and brightest in the nation took the challenge and did it, despite all odds. It’s time for a new challenge. it’s time — past time, actually — for the smart people out there to stop looking for ways people can more efficiently order Chinese takeout anytime they want to anywhere they want and start focusing on building an infrastructure that’s usable, pleasurable and sustainable for the long haul. That’s the real need.

Me, getting a little drunk with power at work today



When location falls to the background, UX wins

There’s an interesting story here about how Foursquare flounder Dennis Crowley sees his service evolving in the near future. But I think the whole location check-in game is heading in a different direction.

Eventually, I think, location-awareness will fall into the background and Foursquare, in some way shape or form, will become a meta-data provider to the rest of the internet. This will be functionality that’s baked into Twitter, Facebook, CNN, Digg, Circa and everything else. Heck it may even be baked into future versions of iOS or forked versions of Android so that “Enable Location” is something that’s done not within app settings, but at the OS level, kind of like how you can let some apps access your photos and so on, all with Foursquare using its data to make those apps smarter by pushing recommendations and so on in various ways.

This is speculation, sure, but considering how things have changed so drastically over the last few years, it would be much easier for me to, if I wanted, enable Twitter to access my location and have that location tagged in the meta-data of everything I tweet from, say, O’Hare Airport. And with Foursquare powering that meta-data, Twitter can then pull offers for a restaurant in Terminal 2 and serve it to me when I’m on my phone.

The problem with Foursquare – and there are other apps like this – is that it takes *part* of the publishing process and break it out from others like Twitter and Facebook. But if these location-awareness apps can become part of the backend of those networks it unlocks lots of potential for all parties.

Bookmarking readers are more loyal than social visitors

Publishers may see traffic spikes from stories they share on Facebook and Twitter, but that’s nothing compared to the loyalty engendered among those who have bookmarked their site and come back to it frequently according to a new Pew study.

That’s particularly apparent when you look at time on site, pages per visit and overall number of visits per visitor; in other words all the metrics that matter for online publishers. People who have bookmarked a site over-index in all those categories.

The study said those engagement metrics were important for not just those who bookmark a site but all those visit via “direct” methods, meaning any visit that doesn’t have a referring site.

So what does that mean for publishers? It means that those vaunted Facebook and Twitter visitors are important for drawing eyeballs to a single story, sure, but they aren’t good at creating any sense of reader loyalty. Those visitors have little to no interest in digging any deeper into the site’s archives or related stories. So as important as it might be to convert those Facebook fans into readers, it’s even more important – for page views, ad revenue and other important business metrics – to convert those single-visit readers into long-term readers, people who have an affinity and loyalty to the site and its content.