I was looking into some of the newer social apps the other day when I came across Keepy. Keepy is a mobile app where parents can post art work and projects that their kids have created, then get comments and praise from friends and family. This app puts the use of video commenting front and center. Leaving a comment in a video format as opposed to a written or voice format is beginning to be accepted as a normal way to communicate on the internet and over the phone.
The process of using video in comments and posts is simple. A person uses their video camera on their smart phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop to record themselves talking. A video of a head talking. That’s it.
I believe this dead simple use of video is going to be a huge game changer for how people experience the web. Video email, messaging, commenting, and posting will transform the internet into a more personal and heartfelt vehicle for communication. A few examples should illustrate this point very well.
Example #1, A simple invitation:
Instead of a written email invitation, we receive a video from our friend inviting us to her party and telling us how much it would mean if we were to attend.
Example #2, The wedding:
A newly married couple posts pictures from their wedding on a social network and asks the attendees to comment on the wedding. Instead of written comments, they receive video comments from friends and family talking about the wedding and expressing their happiness to their friends.
Example #3, Recovering at the hospital:
Let’s say you are recovering at the hospital from an illness or some sort of surgery. Throughout your stay you receive video messages from loved ones wishing you a quick recovery, telling you jokes, and cheering you up.
I could go on and on with examples of the many ways video will make communication over the internet a much more intimate and meaningful experience. This type of communication will be much more expressive and alive than the emails, and voice messages we now receive. At present the thought of communication using video may seem strange and uncomfortable; but not far in the future it will become an accepted and welcomed way to receive messages from others.
All the talk these days in the computing world is how mobile is taking over the home computer, and how the bulk of computer usage will be going over to mobile. I feel that this talk is a bit myopic and short-sighted. Computer and device technology is developing so quickly, that the very idea of what is a mobile computer and what is a home computer will soon loose its meaning.
I predict that the tablet will eventually be able to do most or all of the things people now do on their laptop and PC, and the smart phone will become more and more like a tablet. The distinctions between these different types of computing devices will shrink as the technology evolves.
Let’s look at the functional differences between a smartphone, tablet, and desktop/laptop, and how these differences may change in the near future. The characteristics I will talk about are screen size, ease of keyboard use, and the use of a mouse or fingers for navigation. These are the main things that determine how portable a computer can be.
New technologies that will increase the screen size of smartphones are now in development. On the web you can see prototypes of pull out screens and flip screens that increase screen size by double or more. Increased screen size will dramatically change the smart phone experience, pushing it closer to that of a tablet.
I personally know a number of people who almost never use their desktop anymore in favor of their tablet. The larger size of a tablet screen over a smart phone, coupled with touch navigation is in some ways more convenient to use than the desktop.
We are already starting to see huge screen tablets like the Asus The Transformer AiO, the Dell XPS 18 Touch, Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon, and the Sony VAIO Tap 20. These giant touch screens blur the line between a tablet and a PC. I myself look forward to the day when we will have cardboard thin, newspaper size, touch screen computers, so I can read the newspaper during breakfast like I used to.
I also see a future with more mirroring of your smartphone or tablet with TV screens, wall screens, and large desktop screens as a way to increase usable real estate. By doing this you could get closer to having the large screen desktop/laptop experience. Nothing beats a very large screen or two or three, that enables multiple applications to be viewed and worked on at the same time. It is hard to imagine a phone or tablet ever being able to reproduce this benefit.
Keyboard Convenience & Obsolescence
Where the desktop/laptop excels in function is with their keyboards, which are much easier and faster to use than either the phone or pad keyboards. Yes, I do see a lot of people using keyboards with their tablets and even phones, which essentially turns these devices into a kind of laptop.
But even keyboards might eventually become extinct. In the near future, when voice dictation becomes more accurate than an average typist, we will probably see a gradual change from using a keyboard with a mouse to either, using a mouse with voice dictation, or finger touch with voice dictation. I could easily see myself speaking into the computer instead of typing while I highlight and move things around with my mouse to edit my text. This would be much faster than having to go back and forth with my hands from keyboard to mouse. Would this development kill the desktop? Well, maybe not, because having the ability to use a large screen will always be a huge advantage. But then again, when does a huge screen tablet become a desktop? You see how device definitions start to blur?
Mouse, Finger & Voice navigation
The mouse is still the best way to select items on the screen and move them across large areas and multiple screens. I find that doing these tasks with my finger on a tablet is quite clunky. I don’t see fingers/touch navigation as ever being better than a mouse. With my mouse I can right click, left click, center click, and easily place the cursor exactly where I want it, and highlight areas with ease. The mouse may be around for a long time, although I could see some sort of hand-held stylus becoming a viable future competitor. (There are a number of people who prefer using a stylus on their tablets instead of their fingers.)
The real world reality is that some things we do better with our fingers, some things we do better with a pencil or pen, and some things we can do better using a computer mouse. So, most likely, these three ways of controlling our computers will be around for a long time, used in various combinations.
Of all the things I am talking about here today, probably the one that will be eliminated first will be the keyboard. Interaction with our computing devices will most likely be with a combination of the voice, touch, and the mouse.
An increase in screen size, along with improved mirroring capabilities between smartphones and tablets, and larger screens, may even lead us to the day where we only need one device that acts as a smartphone, tablet, and desktop depending how we want to use it.
The very near future will bring a lot more integration between smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, and large screen TVs, to the point where present distinctions that now exist will disappear. The current battle between mobile and desktop computing is a brief blip in the history of computing.
There is a phenomenon on the internet that is rarely written or talked about. It is the phenomenon of self-censoring. It often occurs when we post something on the web, whether a typed post, a picture or other type of content.
At times, the type of self-censoring that we practice is obvious and makes complete sense. If we send an email to a business client, or post something to our LinkedIn account, it is obviously going to be limited to topics related to business. Its tone might be more formal and its length concise and to the point. With this type of interaction we would tend to leave out personal information, and to not use a loose, personal writing style.
The self-censoring above happens almost automatically, is completely appropriate, and serves us well. But there are other times when the process of self-censoring is more hidden, and has consequences that are less than satisfying, or even bothersome. So, it turns out there are two types of self-censoring behavior, the kind that you practice on purpose, for legitimate and useful reasons, and the kind that limits and frustrates the connections you want to have with other people.
There are a number of different factors that affect the way we self-censor ourselves in our online communication. These are:
1) The physical tool used to create and send the communication, like a phone, tablet, or computer. The type of tool we use to communicate determines the style of the communication and convenience of the communication. Our behavior adapts to fit the tool. For example, it is much faster to type on a computer keyboard compared to a phone. Hence, content we post using smart phones tends to be much shorter. Our behavior adapts accordingly.
2) The software or application that is used for the communication, like texting, instant messaging, video calling, email, sending pictures, videos, blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, Snapchat etc. These venues determine the form and tone the communication will take, and sets the limits of the communication. Deciding whether to send a message through twitter, by email, or with a picture will affect what we say and how we say it. Our behavior adapts accordingly.
3) The type and size of audience that the communication is directed toward. This includes a general interest or specific interest audience, a public or more private audience, and then the number of people in your audience. Our communication behavior is greatly affected by these audience characteristics.
4) The relationship you have to your audience, and who receives the communication. This includes close friends, family, general friends, work associates, acquaintances, and people you do not know. This, perhaps, affects our communication style more than the other items I have listed above. Sensitivities about privacy are often at play in this area.
Each of the four factors above determine what we choose to say and not say. They make us self-censor our communications either in a mandatory way, like the 160 character limit of text messages, or by personal choice, as when we decide to limit what we say to co-workers compared to what we say to friends.
The issue of self-censoring gets really interesting when we look at how it affects the way we experience the web. The reason my company, Eight Stages Inc., is now working on a new type of social website, is because of my own frustrating experience with the self-censoring effect. For the past five years I have been searching for a way to share in-depth posts, about my specific interests, with those of my friends who share those interests. None of the internet tools that I was using let me do this in a way that I found satisfactory. Their self-censoring quotient was too high for my needs.
Self-Censoring #1: Email – I first tried writing long and detailed emails to friends, but I found the structure of email to be unsuited for what I wanted. Since I was spending a lot of time writing a detailed post, I wanted them to be viewable over time by my friends. Emails do not last over time. They get stored in a vast archive and are rarely referred to once read. I also wanted to create conversation, so I wanted my friends to be able to read and respond to comments to and from each other. Email comments are not maintained in a consistent thread. The get split up. I went back to writing quick and short emails.
Self-Censoring #2: Forums – I then tried getting friends involved with forums that were related to our shared interests. This did not work. Not only was it difficult to get friends to join a forum, but for each of my interests I would have to join a new forum. This approach was too unwieldy. I saw that forums are for like-minded people, but not really set up to bring friends together. I limited my use of forums to occasional posts and questions.
Self-Censoring #3: Facebook – I thought Facebook might be the place that would take care of my needs. But, I quickly saw that the purpose of Facebook is to communicate to all of your friends at once. I saw that most people who use it, do not get very specific and detailed about any topic. Most of the users of Facebook self-censor themselves by keeping their posts very general, and brief. It is not a place for in-depth discussion, it is a place for short form sharing, announcements and light commenting. My audience on Facebook was the least common denominator group of all my friends.
Self-Censoring #4: Blogging – For a while, I considered starting a blog. Then I realized that it would not work to use a single blog to express all of my varied interests. With a number of my interests, I have only a couple of friends who share my passion, so these posts would not have been interesting to many of my close friends. I decided that I would most definitely self-censor myself in blog form also.
When I speak to people about this issue of self-censoring on the web, they are at first, not really aware how strongly it effects their online sharing habits. But after a little thought, they immediately see that it is often the reason they will like or not like a certain communication tool or website. Many people experience vague annoyance when using certain communication tools. They might not be able to put their finger on what dissatisfies them, but they still feel it.
The internet, as a tool for communication, still has some major limitations that discourage millions of people from expressing themselves. As online tools become more sophisticated and powerful, this issue of self-censoring will become a more important factor in determining which tools will be used. People will choose to use communication tools that enable them to express themselves in just the way they like. The less unwanted self-censoring people experience, the happier they will be.
Whenever I am in New York City I usually visit the MET, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, up on 86th Street. Some people believe it is the finest art museum in the world. It is my favorite place to go in the city. Even after years of visiting I always see something new and discover a corner of the museum I hadn’t noticed before. It is truly a deep content museum.
Paul Revere Silver Bowl
Many times while walking the galleries of the museum, I have become overwhelmed by the great expanse and beauty of the art surrounding me. During these moments I become fully aware that I am walking among the greatest treasures of creativity that have ever been created by human beings. The feelings that overtake me are a combination of good fortune, inspiration, thanks, and awe.
One day I experienced a connection between going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and browsing the electronic halls of the internet. The question occurred to me, what if the people who build and manage websites had the same attitude towards the content they create and post, as the curators and directors of the MET have towards the art in their museum?
The people who run the Metropolitan Museum of Art curate the contents of the museum with a loving hand. Each piece of art in the museum is carefully chosen, mounted and lit for the appreciation of the public who walks its halls. What if website creators treated their content with this same reverence and respect?
Even though the holdings of the MET seem vast, the quality level is top-notch. I believe it is this combination of the tremendous amount of art, coupled with its superb quality that precipitates my overwhelming feeling of emotion. The sheer volume of immense beauty pushes my senses to the max. I would love to have this experience when surfing the web, but I don’t.
Now, the internet has no problem presenting huge volumes of content. It has mastered the concept of large volumes of information. It is in the area of quality that it could use some work. We need to have more websites that are curated like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I am sure that the workers at the MET feel a moral obligation to present to the public, the best art possible. If web site creators adapted this same attitude, the internet and the world would be a better place. As the internet becomes larger and even more overwhelming than it already is, it will be the highest quality websites that people will flock to, just as they flock to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In the last blog post I wrote about the importance of reviewing and rating content. I briefly mentioned all the problems that Amazon had been having with fake reviews. This problem caused Amazon to receive a lot of bad press, and one wonders if the result of this bad press cut into their bottom line. Authors write their own fake reviews, their friends and family write fake reviews, and some pay others to write fake reviews.
The magnitude of fake reviews on the internet almost defies believability. A New York Times article from August 25, 2012 tells about the people who write fake reviews and the people who buy them. One author spent $20,000 on review services.
A Guardian article from January 25, 2013 claims that fake reviewing is taking place “on an almost industrial scale, with companies paying offshore contractors to post [fake reviews].” The article goes on to explain the details of the world-wide fake review industry, which can be found on websites like Freelancer.com.
Gartner, an information technology research company, came out with a research report in September of 2012, that claims by 2014, 10-15% of all online reviews will be fraudulent. 15% equals 1 in 7 of all online reviews. And then there is the problem of fake Facebook Likes, which I am not even going to get into in this blog post.
So, what’s being done about all this deception and lying? Companies like Amazon, Hilton, and Trip Advisor are hiring researchers who have developed software to spot fake reviews. A team from Cornell has come up with an algorithm that can spot fake reviews 90% of the time (New York Times article 8/20/2011). Software engineers at the University of Illinois have developed a program called GS Rank, or Group Spam Rank, that targets groups who write fake reviews. And yet another approach has been developed by a team of researchers from the Stage University of New York at Stony Brook. You can read about their work here.
On Yelp’s blog page, the company lays out their anti-fake review strategy, which uses shaming sting operations, and automated software called the “review filter.” TripAdvisor also uses software to spot fake reviews and then marks the guilty businesses with a Red Badge that warns users that the reviews may not be genuine (see blog.reviewinc.com).Algarvedailynews.com reports that about 13,000 of Trip Advior’s reviews “fall into a questionable category every day.” The Advertising Standards Authority ordered TripAdvisor to remove the slogan “reviews you can trust”, because so many of their reviews are fake.
With all these problems from user generated reviews, you would think that the best solution would be to avoid them all together. For some websites this is obviously not an option, but with other websites, where customer reviews do not make up the core value of their service, using other rating methods may be more accurate and less controversial. I will talk about some of these methods in future blog posts.
Perhaps fake reviews can be eliminated some day, but for now and in the foreseeable future, they remain a huge problem and a constant challenge for websites that rely heavily on customer reviewing.
One of the more interesting and challenging aspects of creating Deep Content Websites is in the area of rating and prioritizing content. It is one of the items that make up The Three Main Areas of a Successful Deep Content Website. Sites that contain a lot of content need to have a way to sort out the wheat from the chaff, delivering high quality content quickly and efficiently.
These days everything from books, business, movies, articles, videos, reviews, blog posts, pictures, Tweets, and Facebook posts are rated. Indeed, rating and prioritizing content has become the way to bring the most popular and highest quality content to the attention of users. The less time website users spend searching around for what they are looking for, the more time they have to enjoy and use your website.
Rating content is a bit more complicated than it first appears. The desired goal of a successful content rating system is to serve your users by providing high quality and relevant content. Delivering relevant content saves your users time, and builds trust, so they keep coming back to your site. There are a variety of ways to approach the problem, all with advantages and disadvantages:
1) Content that is rated and reviewed by users.
Having your users rate and review content with star ratings, likes, comments, and so forth, increases your user’s involvement with your website, which is always a good thing. Many people trust ratings from a large number of everyday folks like themselves, over ratings from professional reviewers. But, this approach can be fraught with problems if not designed and curated properly. It has the potential of being easily manipulated by those who create false reviews. News articles abound about these problems. Amazon.com has had huge problems with this issue and loads of bad press as a result. Forbes did an entire series just about Amazon’s fake reviews. (Article 1,2,3,4,5,6)
2) Rating content behind the scenes using analytics, and other techniques.
Another way to go about rating content is to do it behind the scenes using human and technological methods. Analytics, looking at user behavior, can identify how often, and for how long content is viewed. The amount of sharing via email, Twitter, Facebook and other sites can be kept track of, giving a good idea of the popularity of a certain item of content. The New York Times actually has a page that identifies their most emailed, viewed, blogged, and searched news articles.
Rating of content by actual people can be used, but this ability is limited by the staffing size of a company. Some websites let some of their members, who are proven and serious users, review and rate content. This increases the amount of people curating the content, while still keeping the quality of the results high.
The actual reality, is that most websites use a combination of all of these techniques. Whatever methods are used, the more your website takes responsibility for this process, the happier your users will be. You need to sort it out for them, so that they can spend more time enjoying your website, and spend less time searching on the site. In future blog posts I will be looking at specific rating techniques used by websites, analyzing their advantages and disadvantages, and how well they succeed in delivering high quality content to their users.
Often, when I search the web for detailed knowledge regarding a particular subject, I find the most thorough and interesting content written by self-appointed, non-professional experts who have created their own websites, or post their content on themed websites. This user-created content is often far more detailed and informative than anything created by a professional website or an expert in the field.
I love classical music, and I especially love the cantatas written by J.S. Bach. There are about 209 cantatas, a huge amount of music. So figuring out which ones to listen to, and which recordings to buy is a bit of a challenge. It turns out that the most useful information on the web regarding the Bach Cantatas is written by non-professional music lovers.
On www.classica.net, Simon Crouch, has written an introduction to the cantatas, and has rated all 209 cantatas according to quality. The ratings are incredibly useful in determining which cantatas to explore. Simon is not a musician or a musicologist, simply a passionate lover of great music.
Aryeh Oron has created the Bach Cantatas Website as a collective, that has encyclopedic information about the Bach Cantatas. The content is written by all the members of this collective; completely user-created. There are no ads or sponsorships on this website. Its existence is purely for the appreciation of the Bach Cantatas.
After identifying which cantata recordings I may want to buy, I head over to Amazon.com to make my final decision by reading the informative and knowledgeable reviews, also created by users. My entire online inquiry into this subject has been satisfied by reading user-created content. Indeed in this case, user-created content was the only way to get a detailed view of this subject.
On the other hand, all of the articles written by professional music writers I discovered are basically brief, general overviews of the Bach Cantatas, or a review of a specific concert. Good information in another context, but not useful for my current inquiry.
There are certain situations where user-created content is not as useful. If I am looking for factual news articles, then I look to reputable news organizations. If I am wanting accurate medical information, I will trust medical websites more than opinions from average users.
But for many subjects, user-created is the gold standard, and provides the most detailed, impassioned, and interesting information available on the web.
There is a frenzy that has taken over the internet in the last few years. Gone are the days when the web was simply a useful resource of tools and entertaining websites that took its place next to our other activities. It was there when we needed to use it, but not at the forefront of our lives.
Smart phones and tablets, along with the explosion of applications that address every life function, has changed all this. The iphone and the App Store was introduced in July 2008. In September 2008, there were 3,000 apps in the App Store, now there are 800,000. There were 1 billion downloads the first year of operation, by September 2012, there were 35 billion. In October 2008, Android Market, now called Google Play, opened its doors. There were 2,300 apps available in March 2009, now there are 800,000. By September of 2012, 25 billion downloads had been done on Google Play. These figures show the progression of the internet from a handy, part-time resource to something that has become like a third hand for many people.(Statistics from Wikipedia)
The explosion of a mind blowing variety of uses for smart phones, tablets, and personal computers, coupled with the near universal adoption of the internet by media, news, business, and cultural organizations, has set the stage for what I call Deep Content Craving, the desire to have a richer, more satisfying life experience through the use of personal computing devices.
The adoption and expectations of new apps and websites has reached a near ravenous state. Websites and apps like Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Whatsapp, Kik and others are adopted by users with increasing speed. Millions of new users flock to these sites with the anticipation of a deeper, more entertaining personal experience. Users know that we are just in the beginning stages of this technology and that more amazing apps and websites are just around the corner, so they are constantly on the lookout for anything new.
The combination of new devices, new technologies, and universal adoption has created the perfect storm for the state of Deep Content Craving.
Deep Content Craving is:
- The desire for excellent content and easy access.
- The desire for improved usability and user experience.
- The desire for more advanced communication tools and new uses of technology.
- The desire for greater self-expression.
The process of Deep Content Craving is in its adolescent stage right now. Simple apps are becoming more complex. Usability is improving and becoming more integrated. Function is being combined and consolidated. Technologies continue to push the envelope of what is possible. Expect to see even faster adoption rates, and many cool new websites taking center stage and springing up out of nowhere.