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Spammers, spam – and Monty Python

Research explores how key spam players interact.  Canada’s new anti-spam legislation came into effect in July 2014. 

It is estimated that over 14 billion spam messages are sent around the world every day.  Researchers at Aachen University in Germany and the University of California, Santa Barbara explored the three key elements required in a spam campaign – the list of victim emails, the content, and a botnet.

Experts specialising in each of these three elements have emerged, selling their expertise in a ‘prosperous underground economy’ and building their own versions of customer loyalty. By seeking to better understand the relationships between the key players, it’s hoped that researchers can develop more effective anti-spam measures.  (You can download their findings here.)

Meanwhile, Canada has rolled out new legislation that aims to tackle the issue of spam.   The Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL) is outlined in summary here.  Although the potential fines are high, the fact is that any organisation following good practice will not fall foul of the new legislation.  You should have clear unsubscribe processes, and have the permission of the recipients to send them commercial messages.

And of course, the legislation is only relevant for email addresses in Canada (.ca)

And now for something completely different

Spam of the edible kind features in a famous Monty Python sketch (described in this humourless Wikipedia entry).   In July 2014 the surviving Monty Python cast is taking to the stage for the first time in decades.   The 20,000 tickets for their opening night at London’s O2 Arena sold out in a record breaking 43 seconds.

The ‘Tour’ is embracing social media. Fans can follow the Tour on Twitter and appear on the fan wall by using the Tour Hashtags.  They can also treat themselves to a Ministry of Silly Walks app and  join the Python Spam Club.  Which begs the question, what if your spam is about the spam club?

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Chatham House rules! A historical digital archive for the 21st Century

Leading international affairs think-tank has released its digital archive.

Chatham House in London is the home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs which, by bringing together academics, researchers and decision makers, has helped shape and inform policy for almost 100 years. The famous ‘Chatham House Rule’ helps facilitate open and honest communication.

Chatham House Online Archive (1920-2008), published by Gale (part of Cengage Learning) is making over half a million pages available to researchers and students interested in politics, international law, economics and international relations.  The archive features fully searchable documents, transcripts of speeches and audio recordings of world figures including Mahatma Gandhi and Henry Kissinger. The Archive offers “unique insights” into political developments in the 20th century.

The publishers and Chatham House celebrated the launch with a high profile debate on how a deep understanding of the past can inform our understanding of the present and influence decision making.  The speakers (including David Stevenson, Professor of International History at LSE; Anne Deighton, Professor of European International Politics at the University of Oxford); debated whether lessons can be learned from the Cold War (particularly the end of the Cold War) to inform our understanding of the current political upheaval in Ukraine.

The final speaker, Times journalist David Aaronovitch, celebrated the arrival of the digital archive – and digitisation in general.  For him the resources and expertise of Chatham House help journalists get to the heart of the dilemma and are an essential part of the journalist’s toolkit to facilitate understanding of current affairs.

For more information on the Chatham House archive, visit the Gale/Cengage Learning website.

Book publishing – some recent innovations

Book publishers experimenting with new models; books fighting binge drinking in Italy

Netflix models

An article on Wired.com looks at a new online fiction service called Rooster in which a book publisher adopts a magazine model to make itself more like Netflix!  The service uses a subscription based model that sends content to iPhones and iPads.  The daily chunks of content should take about 15 minutes to read and will deliver two books’ worth of content over a month.  Similarly, Waterstones in the UK has announced Read Petite – a ‘rich reading experience for time-poor readers’.

Another innovation learning from the Netflix model is Epic!  This app aims to encourage children to read by offering rewards for completing chapters or starting ‘reading marathons’.  For a monthly subscription, children have access to a library of over 2000 titles and can rate the books they have read.  The app also allows parents to monitor their children’s reading habits.

Book buying and book borrowing and struggling readers

The latest Pew report shows the link between highly engaged library users and book buying.  The report shows that ‘Library Lovers’ – the heaviest users of libraries and about 10% of the US population – are also frequent buyers of books, despite many of them experiencing a drop in income.

The UK Charity Quick Reads found that reading e-books can be particularly helpful for adults who may be struggling with their reading while 48% say e-readers  have encouraged them to read more.

Binge drinking – books to the rescue!

Sadly Neknominate, the social media drinking game, has spread around the world. In Italy a literary alternative to the game has been developed.  ‘Booknomination’ follows similar rules but instead of drinking, the nominated person must read a passage from a book over a webcam.  The initiative is on Facebook on the hashtag #booknomination.

Sources: Springwise; DigitalBookWorld; TheLocal; Pew Research Center; Publishing Perspectives; Wired.

Youth TV – ‘the need for speed’

The BBC’s youth TV channel to close; but a different story emerges in Belgium

In the UK the BBC has announced that it is to close its ‘youth-oriented’ TV channel and move the content onto its online platform the iPlayer.

Previous proposals to close down radio channels have been revised following public outcry.  In 2010 the BBC announced it wanted to close down two radio stations – 6 Music and the Asian Network.  Neither station was closed.

However, it seems unlikely that BBC Three will be saved.  The Corporation needs to make savings and this move alone could save it £50million a year. Some commentators have suggested the move is short-sighted.  The BBC is funded by licence payers and young people are the licence payers of the future.

In Belgium, VRT, the public service broadcaster has been developing digital projects to engage with its younger audience.  Rachel Bartlett, writing on Journalism.co.uk, describes how the broadcaster developed an internal ‘start-up’ to experiment with new platforms to re-engage with younger viewers.  The broadcaster has been consulting the target audience and is now developing three projects that reflect the way young people use and engage with social media:

  • a mobile video project on Instagram and Snapchat – Ninjanieuws
  • Sambal a Facebook-supported news platform
  • OpenVRT which encourages young people to collaborate with the channel via video, photography and blogging.

Key lessons – ‘the need for speed’

  • Keep videos very short
  • Embed animated gifs into articles – link out to YouTube
  • 15-second long videos helped launch Ninjaniews
  • Tell a news story on a 10-second Snapchat video
  • For the target audience (16-24) – focus on Facebook not Twitter
  • There’s no need for a homepage – Facebook drives traffic
  • Facebook also provides a home for ‘pop-up digital news products’ that respond quickly to certain trends

You can read Rachel’s full article on Journalism.co.uk.

The news behind a paywall – a success story from the Netherlands

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are often cited as paywall success stories.  But how are smaller news outlets making paywalls succeed?

In the Netherlands, a news site called De Correspondent set a world record in crowdfunded journalism.

In September 2013 it took just eight days for 15,000 donors to raise over one million Euros.  The site has over 25,000 ‘members’, each of whom pays 5 Euros a month to access the site.

De Correspondent has succeeded because it has brought a fresh approach to digital only journalism.  Elements of its ‘manifesto’ challenge traditional aspects of news journalism.

  • Commercial model – the site is advertisement-free and has a profit ceiling of 5%.  They want to ‘sell content to readers, not readers to advertisers’.
  • Not ‘readers’ but ‘participants’.  The site was created to enable much more than reader comment.  Instead, it has a focus on building relationships between people and acknowledges the expertise of the community.  ‘Dialogue not ‘monologue’
  • A focus on themes and connections – the site moves beyond traditional news categories such as ‘business’ or ‘international’ and instead aims to make sense of a globalised world
  • Like-minded people – not target audiences
  • An emphasis on fact-checking – and emotion

The power of community has been used to fund the site, and to develop its content.  It is also the way in which the word is spread.  De Correspondent limits its advertising to promoting some articles via Facebook.  All other marketing is conducted by the members who share with their friends and followers.

Further reading:  De Correspondent website; GigaOm

When digital projects go wrong – lessons learned from the BBC

The UK’s National Audit Office has published its report into the failure of the BBC’s Digital Media Initiative.

The BBC’s Digital Media Initiative (DMI) was meant to enable BBC staff to create and share video and audio material on their desktops.  The BBC decided to create its own customised product.  However the DMI failed to deliver on its promise and was abandoned in 2013 at a cost of over £100 million.

Key stages in the project

  • The vision – the DMI would combine production features, a digital archive and a new archive database.
  • Project approval processes – the project was approved by the BBC Trust in January 2008
  • Consultants appointed – Siemens were granted a £79 million project in February 2008
  • Siemens contract terminated in September 2009 and the project was brought in-house – a new delivery date of February 2011 was set
  • In May 2012 a whistle-blower contacts the BBC Trust with concerns they are being misled about project progress
  • Work is halted in November 2012 pending a review and permanently halted in 2013

Too much focus on the technology – not enough on changing working practices

If the DMI was to achieve everything the BBC stated, it should have placed more emphasis on changing working practices with regards to archiving and production processes.  Instead, the project reporting processes focused almost entirely on the technology rather than considering changes to business practice.  Differences between the expectations of future users and those developing the technology were unresolved.

Poor governance and project management

  • When the BBC brought the project in-house it failed to appoint a senior project ‘owner’.  Instead, responsibilities were split across divisions.
  • The executive board applied insufficient scrutiny to the project when its attention was fixed on other major projects including the London 2012 Olympics
  • When the project was brought in-house there was little time left in the project plan to meet deadlines.  Neither did the BBC properly assess the value for money or risks of bringing the project in-house
  • Reporting processes were ‘not fit for purpose’.

The full NAO report is available here.

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Paper and digital archives – preserving the present for the future

Germaine Greer, the author and academic, has sold her personal archive for £1.8million.  She is to donate the proceeds to support a rainforest charity.

The archive will be housed by the University of Melbourne in Australia and contains over 150 filing cabinet drawers of correspondence, manuscripts, videos and audio tapes, lecture notes, letters and diaries. Over the years, Greer has corresponded with some of the key thinkers, politicians, writers and actors of the age (Margaret Atwood, Indira Gandhi, Warren Beatty).

Germaine Greer herself has said about archives that they are “the paydirt of history… Everything else is opinion. At a certain point you actually need documents.”

The University of Melbourne archivist (Dr Katrina Dean) said that Greer’s archive had been “meticulously maintained” and some of the correspondence represented “a rich vein of social history on social, sexual and intellectual challenges and changes”.

In a piece for the Independent newspaper (31st October 2013), author Simon Garfield wonders whether this is the last of the great ‘paper-based’ author archives.  Salman Rushdie’s archive, which has been held at Emory University in Atlanta Georgia since 2010, is a mixture of digital and hard copy files.

The University of Melbourne is working to ensure Greer’s archives are available to future researchers and academics.  In 2012/13 the British Library was contemplating the 100 websites it felt should be preserved for future generations.  The websites it chose to preserve would somehow provide a state of the nation/way we live now resource of inestimable value to future researchers and historians.

One of the sites chosen was Blipfoto, a photo journal website which encourages members to take and save one photo a day – with accompanying explanatory text. The website now holds thousands of authentic pictures and stories.  It is, as Hazel Hall has written “…a collective record of human history”. It is images with context and meaning, which sets the site apart from the millions of images being saved (with no metadata) every day on other social media sites.

For a visual of how the size of curated photo collections compare with the mass of photographs on Facebook see the wonderful photograph taken by Starr Hoffman of the CEO of Blipfoto speaking at Internet Librarian International. 

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Open access: academic libraries and article processing charges

Despite challenges, the new emphasis on OA provides librarians with a positive platform to re-establish their role in the research process.

A new report published by SAGE explores the current – and future role – of academic libraries in helping implement OA processing charges.  The report explores the current state of the art, and shares recommendations.  Although librarians support the goals and principles of open access, the OA mandates from funders are creating many challenges.

Institutional policies – still evolving

  • Although some participants reported full OA policies were already in place, the majority of policies are still ‘evolving’
  • Libraries at every participating institution are involved in OA policy development
  • Institutional repositories are an essential element
  • Participants expressed concern at possible shortfall in funding for author pays (‘gold’) OA publishing (RCUK is currently making some funds available)
  • Some institutions are making up the shortfall; others are not

What roles and tasks are librarians undertaking?

  • Entering into publisher OA agreements
  • Allocating funding for individual papers – including one library which split its total funds into equal quarters for the year
  • Most reported a low take-up of APC requests by researchers – many librarians are working to educate and advise researchers
  • Working with publishers to administrate the cost – a task which many reported as frustrating or overly-complicated

Recommendations

  • Funders should provide clear guidance on reporting and measurement
  • Publishers need to better communicate copyright options and which of their publications are RCUK policy compliant
  • More robust systems for managing APCs are needed
  • Cross-industry initiatives and international standards should be developed

The report Implementing Open Access APCs: the role of academic libraries summarises the round table discussions of a panel of academic librarians and other interested parties and is available for free download here.

[Follow Val Skelton on Google+]

e-content and e-reading

Is our long history with writing for and reading print on paper affecting the way we create and publish content on digital and connected devices?  Are many of us still struggling to ’forget the paper paradigm’?

The increased ownership of mobile and smart devices means we are already adapting our content publishing processes and there will be even more change in the future - wearable devices; smart TVs; speech-based interfaces let alone new devices and channels we haven’t even begun to imagine!

Content breaks free!

In a fascinating post for Harvard Business Review, Karen McGrane explores the new models we should be using to help us move on from the print-focused content.  Her advice includes:

  • Stop thinking about ‘pages’  - focus on content ‘chunks’
  • Content ‘chunks’ can be  assembled in different ways for different channels
  • Don’t focus only on text - the new content is a mixture of graphics, video and interactivity
  • Because content presentation will change with each platform, content must be separated from ‘form’
  • Content creators need to understand how digital publishing is different from print

e-books vs. paper – a blending of the best

The growth in e-book adoption and innovation has been well recorded here and elsewhere.  Several initiatives are looking to take the best of these different reading experiences to enhance the user’s experience.  Springwise has noted the launch of the Booke app which sets out to combine the best of paper and digital reading.

The app allows readers of a physical book to upload a picture of the front cover (or the ISBN) and search for keywords (using typed or spoken commands); save comments, notes and sections of text and share their activity with others.

The app reflects several key trends in reading including social/shared reading.

[Follow Val Skelton on Google+]

Digital consumers – the rise of the digital multi-tasker

KPMG has been researching consumer media behaviour for over five years – during which time we have seen social media go mainstream, the introduction of smartphones and tablets and the rise of digital delivery consumer companies such as Spotify and Netflix.

KPMG’s latest ‘Digital Debate’ report looks at the rise of the ‘digital multi-tasker’ and outlines action points for content providers.  Over 9,000 consumers in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Singapore, Spain, the UK and the US were asked about their media consumption patterns.  The report’s key findings include:

An insatiable appetite for media

  • Consumers split their time between traditional and digital/online media
  • People still spend marginally more time offline than online
  • People spend more of their media budget on ‘traditional’ media

However:

  • Spending for every type of digital media in the last year has increased
  • Spending on CDs, DVDs and video games has decreased
  • Ever increasing numbers of people watching mobile/tablet/streaming TV (30+% in Singapore; 14% in the US)
  • These ‘digital multi-taskers’ are interacting with TV in different ways, using second – or even third – screens.

The coming wave of online consumers can accelerate the digital shift

  • An emerging class of ‘mobile first’ media consumers.  Preference for online media is much stronger among the emerging mobile-centric class – particularly prevalent in emerging markets such as Brazil and China.
    • In China most consumers are getting their media via smartphones, tablets of laptops – very few rely on print media

Media and technology companies should cooperate to address this new wave

  • Cooperation across multiple industries is vital if effective new business models are to be found
  • Effective partnerships will ensure everyone will value from the arrangement – including the consumer

The report concludes with some lessons for advertisers that truly resonate for the information professional:

Embrace the new worldsome traditional models may still be working (TV may still be making advertising revenues from such big events as The X Factor or major sporting fixtures) BUT that doesn’t mean TV companies can ignore the new digital models.

Use customer metrics – make the most of the digital information available to you to really understand your customers and create stronger relationships

Get to know your digital multi-taskers – and focus on transforming their second screen experiences.

The report is available to download here.