Quiet holidays with The English Patient

For years I spent the Thanksgiving holidays alone. Solitude always has been a great comfort for me, a form of re-energizing. Thanksgiving weekend 1996 stands out and I oddly comeback to it year after year.

I usually avoided telling people I was alone on Thanksgiving in order to avoid the awkward invitation to the festivities of other families. In 1996 I lived in Norfolk, Virginia. The weather was a cool, damp, gray autumn (or so I recall). That Wednesday night before Thanksgiving I wanted to go to the movies, which I did quite often in that stage of my life. A movie starting that night was The English Patient. I drove out to the Regal Cinema in the suburban city known as Virginia Beach. I always arrive almost anyplace far too early. I sat in the parking lot in my Honda Accord, waiting an appropriate amount of time, probably fifteen to twenty minutes, which is why I remember the weather that evening, though I could very well be confusing it with some other evening in the cinema parking lot.

A few years before when I lived in Knoxville I had read Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient, which I enjoyed immensely despite the complicated plot structure. Upon completing the novel I remarked to myself, “This book can never be filmed.” Obviously I was wrong. But I did not have high expectations for the movie. And it seems on that first night few people did.

In those years I regularly read a glossy movie magazine that highlighted current films. A special edition highlighted movies coming out during the holidays. The English Patient was given small mention but greater attention was given to another period piece starring Chris O’Donnell and Sandra Bullock. I recall the magazine touting that The English Patient had little chance competing at the box office against the O’Donnell/Bullock In Love and War. Perhaps that was a fair assertion, though it seems ludicrous in hindsight. But In Love and War was directed by the acclaimed Richard Attenborough, based on writings by Hemingway, and starred two popular names at the time.

It must be pointed out that I avoid reading reviews of a movie until after I’ve seen the film. Movie reviews just reveal too much. At the Regal Cinema that night, only a small auditorium was allotted to The English Patient, again another hint that large crowds were not expected. But the tiny theater was packed. And now whenever I see that movie again, as the opening credits play, followed by the tinkling sounds of the bottles, I find myself mentally transported back to that night. Almost three hours later I left the theater, having stayed seated through the final credits. I walked out to my car alone and drove back to my apartment in Norfolk.

I would go see that movie again before the weekend was over. During the Christmas holiday I went home to Tennessee and took my mother to see the movie at the old Belcourt theater in Nashville. Back in Virginia I would see the movie even more. I never watch a movie more than once on my own, but that fall and winter I went to see The English Patient at least a half-dozen times. Maybe I had fallen in love with Juliette Binoche.

Focus on the vertical niche

Imagine you’re interested in selling a set of how-to guides as e-books on a particular topic. A few years back you could throw up a Web site & find an audience after an intensive amount of SEO. That might also have involved blogging on your topic. Now it’s a lot tougher to find that audience due to the proliferation of social networks and an over abundance of choices among consumers. People rely less on searching the net and more on recommendations that stream in through social networks. Okay, so you add a social network campaign to your mix by making use of Twitter, Facebook, & even Pinterest. But is any of that giving a reason for your targeted audience to come to your Web site?

Your site’s bounce rate is going to be really high if all you’re doing is selling something to somebody. You need to show that you see others as more than just a person whose money you want to take. You need to be part of the community to which you’re selling. A way of doing that in your niche is by offering a service to that community. If you want people to be interested in you, then you need to be interested in what they’re doing and the common interests that you share. Make your Web site not a long sales page on the value of your e-books but put the effort into developing a community around the topic that interests you. Transform your site into a quality destination for a community of interest. Focus on the vertical niche.

Something’s cooking in Cupertino

Apple observer John Gruber points out that trusted sources are not always accurate…at least, the trust sources of others….but Gruber does state: “Something big is going on with Apple TV in Cupertino, but it’s still being cooked.”

Meanwhile, Apple’s AirPlay technology offers ways to  present apps on iOS touch devices while utilizing a TV display connected with the existing Apple TV. Building on that Brightcove recently announced its App Cloud Dual-Screen Solution for Apple TV, which is part of its App Cloud SDK: a way of building apps with HTML5 and JavaScript. Of course, if you’re building just for iPhone or iPad then you’ll just want to use iOS.

Via TUAW

The Applification of TV

Midway through episode 41 (around the 31 minute mark) of The Critical Path Horace Dediu talks about on the future of TV & apps. In those 8 minutes he forecasts a platform that will be as popular as smartphones and tablets.

The first part is about the value proposition of a disruptive entrant in television and examining what consumers as well as advertisers hire TV to do. Turns out that advertising on TV is largely about branding, “increasing the visibility of their brands”. A challenge is getting brand managers to pay attention to the new mobile medium.

Then Dediu shifts into the applification of TV (his expression). I transcribed most of the talk here since it’s worth a lot of further thought (emphasis added):

The next big thing will be when we start looking at TV…we’re going to see a lot happening with Apple TV…

I think applification is a done thing. It’s going to happen with certainty…what we don’t know is about the timing or subtle differences….i’m skeptical of seeing the APIs announced next week [referring to WWDC, Apple’s developer conference. And Dediu was right. No announcement at WWDC on this topic.]…i think Apple will launch the hardware first and maybe the APIs will be announced the same day…might say, hey, Apple TV will run apps…so without launching new hardware they could say there’s this existing thing [Apple TV] and you have a controller in the form of an iPhone or an iOS device that you can use to control the Apple TV…

It’s where things are going ultimately. Definitely there’s an Apple TV product out there coming…we don’t know the form factor. It will run apps. 100% sure of that…what we don’t know is how much they’re going to open it up…lots of go to market issues…transtioning from where they are today…not sure of how and when it will happen…

It’s going to be another supernova in terms of what developers can do if they [Apple] open it up enough…the opportunity space of this new medium will be as great as we’ve seen on mobile phones…not so much because there will be billions of these in the hands of people in a manner of months or years but because these are going to be much more lucrative…revenue per user ..first iPhone apps at a dollar each..that was a big opportunity…then came iPad apps, which were a lot more valuable and people were willing to spend more on that….that was an incremental or marginal improvement in the economics of apps…now to the level of what would an app look like on a large screen in a different context, meaning either living room or whatever living space you may have in your home. That will change dramatically. And I think it won’t be Apple that will think of the great killer app. I think it will be developers who sort of realize that, hey, it’s not just productivity questions, or I should say, not just entertainment question we’re going to answer here for jobs to be done. We’re going to solve a lot of problems families have overall that can be only solved by a shared screen. And that’s what you’re absolutely going to hammer on. We’re going to see these great apps coming out that are just going to change the way we interact with each other, the way we interact as a family, the way we interact with other families, the way we interact with extended families and friends…and might even change the way an entertainment product is interweaved in that. So the morphing of communications, apps, and entertainment. I’m sure there will be startups galore building up new solutions there. The fact is that it will be very sticky, people will be willing to put that on their credit card and pay significant amounts of money because it’s not about viewing something you’re relating to in your pocket. It will be social . It will be shared. It will be in a completely different context. Context matters. A tablet is a different context….saying an iPad is just a bigger iPod is like saying a swimming pool is just like a bathtub. When you put a body of water in a different size then it’s a different thing. It’s a completely different context. So when you put iOS and apps on a 27 inch or greater thing then it changes character completely. And you feed it completely different kinds of data because you’re not on a mobile network. you’re not constrained by 3G..you’re going broadband, the full bandwidth..it’s going to be very interesting.

Growing old with the Net. Energized once more by apps

For the last twenty years apps have determined my world. Early 1993: sitting in front of a Sun workstation I read an intriguing e-mail announcement from an Illinois college student describing a GUI application for X Windows/Unix that combined Internet protocols (telnet, FTP) with the hypertext of the new World-Wide-Web system. I grabbed the code, compiled it, and was hooked on Mosaic. Within weeks I had started developing Web sites that created virtual exhibitions from text and images supplied by the Library of Congress.

Fast forward almost two decades: as a librarian, avid reader, and co-founder of a book design studio I had stayed very interested in the potential of digital content. E-book reading on Kindle or iPhone didn’t appeal to me initially (though now it certainly does). The iPad was a much more enticing format. But it wasn’t until I saw the History of Jazz app that I really grasped the game changing nature of the tablet. For some time I had wanted to break free of the browser. Apps on tablets are pioneering a path.

Yet, the majority in publishing is on a different path, figuring out how to fit complex multimedia layouts into some variation of ePub formatted ebooks. The reason is pure commerce. It’s more economical to standardize on a format that can work across platforms or be adapted easily to do so. That’s a well reasoned argument for publishers and authors interested in selling books. There remains, however, a call towards custom development of native apps as a type of specialty in which innovative narratives supported by graphic design override standardized approaches.These more artistic books as apps might find a following large or small.

The quest is whether there’s anything remarkable in apps. It’s easy to forget that Web browsers are apps as are e-book readers such as iBooks & the Kindle for iPad. Apps are software and all software are apps. We’re in a time when software development has never been so “easy”. So much of our lives are now lived through apps. Apps are forming the heritage of our culture. That’s too important to leave merely to commerce. We need to find the ways that apps bind to our experience of being human.

Algorithms rather than editors decide my morning reading

Some years ago the computer intruded on my early morning routine. No longer did I open the door for the morning paper. My breakfast accompaniment went from newsprint to digital pixels. E-mail tugged my attention, followed by a sweep of favorite Web sites, though I often forgot which sites I favored. My disorganized nature overwhelmed any attempts at bookmarking as I added hundreds of scattered resources to the list. A casual mention by a friend in 2005, “I’ll add it to my Bloglines”, changed the way I used the Internet.

Sure, a few years later I changed to Google Reader but it worked the same, but only more reliably. And nothing changed until well after I got an iPad. I had been slow to take up Facebook and Twitter, which help me share my life online and learn about others. For myself, social networking didn’t transform my use of the digital world. Neither did the iPad until I explored more apps.

Once again, the way I used the Internet changed as I opened up Flipboard and Zite. Google Reader dropped from my daily regimen though, like Facebook and Twitter, those RSS feeds play a large role in the articles that these more visually appealing aggregators offer up to me. Algorithms rather than editors decide my morning reading.

Software as a collaborative art

As computer usage shifts from desktop to smartphones and tablets the role of software is resurfacing through apps that are a stark contrast to web sites encased in a browser. Apps offer a broad range of interface options limited mainly by the capabilities of the developer. Of course, that same flexibility gives developers enough rope to hang themselves in a mesh of confusing buttons, swipes, and taps. How to avoid that trap? Appreciate that creating software is a collaboration formed through the judicious thought of individuals. While there are sole-developer shops, most apps are crafted by many voices:programmers immersed in code, graphic designs pinpointing visual details, UX specialists fine tuning interaction, and entrepreneurs passionate about ideas and concepts.

Apps are not only about chasing sales and maximizing revenue. For users apps are not about that at all. We experience apps. The excitement of apps rests in the tactile and visual elements.

While apps will become simpler to produce there always will exist a leading set of apps implementing the latest functionality found in devices. Innovation requires coding. Generally, that requires a team.

In design there’s an adage that good design is invisible. The same goes for software. An app needs to work but, at the same time, should provide a sense of joy and satisfaction in its use. The possibilities within app development will only be brought out through creativity. Dialog among a team caring about the same product and users is always better than one guy working alone in a room. App development is a collaborative art. But as such, the process must be carefully nurtured.

The next big thing is Internet TV, but what does that mean?

The potential impact of Internet  has grown stronger over the last year. But what does Internet TV even mean? And TV 2.0 certainly isn’t any clearer. Even the word television is difficult. What do people mean when they say television? Are they referring to the huge screen in their living rooms or the shows offered by networks?

Television signifies both dimensions: device and content. Likewise, Internet TV carries forward both definitions.

   * Internet TV is a display device that connects to the net either directly via built-in components or indirectly via an intermediate set-top box, e.g., Apple TV, Google TV.
   * Internet TV are traditional TV shows supplemented with on-demand viewing and access to the broad range of Internet resources.

Without a doubt access to the Internet via TV sets is already here. Even in Buenos Aires, where new tech gadgets are not easily purchased due to high tariffs and import restrictions, electronic retailers are selling TV sets with WiFi.

Internet TV is not so much about hardware. The access & content-based definitions will have the greatest impact. I’ll extend that definition:

   * Internet TV disrupts traditional network programming with new content channels based on apps.

That disruption phase will not be fulfilled completely in 2012, but it’s coming. Is that hype or is the genie out of the bottle? The prediction has been cast every year for a long time now. But in this decade TV and cable networks will face tumultuous challenges similar to those shaking the publishing, newspaper, and music industries.

Internet TV is the next big thing and an entirely new breed of companies will emerge offering services and content for what is the most dominant screen in almost every home. The topic intrigues me and most of my blogging efforts here this year will be tracking and analyzing the shifting reality of television.

20 years back, 20 years forward

When I was thirty a friend named Alice told me, “You know you’re getting older when you can say, ‘I remember twenty years ago.’”

Twenty years ago I was the twenty-something eagerly telling everybody in the room about the exciting thing called the Internet (capital “I”, please). Except for fellow library school students, eyes glazed over at mention of telneting to library catalogs and downloading weather reports via FTP.

I regret not possessing a sense of entrepreneurship in my youth, but the knowledge did equip me for a very good career in academic librarianship for fifteen years before I quit the library world in frustration.

We all know the digital story of the last decades: the Web took off in the mid-90s and almost twenty years later here we are in this post-PC age. Somewhere not long ago was the brief period termed Web 2.0.

For startups time moves very quickly: months, a few years for most before it’s on to the next opportunity. The institutional nature of libraries force a much longer perspective. Every decent manager knows you can’t project forward more than two or three years. But there are large-scale movements shaped by technological shifts that take a decade or more to play out.

The music industry is an obvious example, though it has found ways to survive in a form other than the sale of albums in stores. Newspapers and publishers are battling other pressures. And that next big shift?

It’s bound to be those big screens sitting so prominently in our homes, with some houses equipped with two, three, or more screens. And it’s not just the TV sets but those desktop monitors, too. The change will come gradually, but it will arrive. We can sit back and watch it happen or play a role in the future of home entertainment.

Twenty years from now we’ll still have large screens in our homes, but they’ll function a lot differently than today’s passive box. More exciting will be the emerging industry that provides content for all those TVs. The seed of that future is in the apps of today.

What are Endless Hybrids?

From The Language of New Media Lev Manovich presents the compelling argument that the “database becomes the center of the creative process in the computer age”. Databases and narratives are “two competing imaginations, two basic creative impulses, two essential responses to the world. Competing to make meaning out of the world, databases and narrative produce endless hybrids.”