Archive | Technology

Apple, Textbooks and the Future of Reading as Living Experience

English: Steve Jobs while presenting the iPad ...

Photo by Matt Buchanan. Image via Wikipedia.

Apple today announced that it would reinvent the textbook, disrupting the traditional textbook industry by developing interactive, digital versions of textbooks for students. Apple also introduced new software that helps authors and publishers create digital textbooks.

This is really interesting to me, because, like everyone else, I’ve been reading Walter Isaacson‘s biography of Steve Jobs. I’m reading the hard-cover copy of this book, which some people may find surprising. I’m an avid e-book fan, and I read them on multiple devices: my (2) Kindles, my (2) iPads, my (2) MacBooks, and even on my iPhone, which is always available because it never leaves my person.

But some books deserve to be bought, read, and displayed in hard cover. I’d read Walter’s bio of Ben Franklin (highly recommend) and, well —  I know it’s probably not obvious — but I also belong to the cult of Mac. (We do have one lonely Windows laptop in our house; but its owner, my son, knows that just one more slip-up — and it’s gone.)

Anyway, I’ve been reading this book in bed each night before lights out. But what I’ve discovered is that it’s not strictly a reading experience. It’s a multimedia experience. When Walter writes about the October 1983 Apple Sales conference in Hawaii:

 At that moment, a screen came down from the ceiling and showed a preview of an upcoming sixty-second television ad for the Macintosh. In a few months it was destined to make history…

“Hmmm,” I think. I’d really like to see that commercial again. Ah! The iPad is snuggled next to me, so:


Not only did I find this, but I also found a video of Steve introducing the commercial at the sales meeting. Suddenly, I’m watching a young Steve Jobs and following along with the words in Walter’s book! (I presume that Walter watched this “ad nauseam,” probably also on YouTube, sitting in bed with his iPad.)

A few nights later, I get to the part in the book about the 1984 shareholders meeting:

“We’ve done a lot of talking about the Macintosh recently,” he [Jobs] said. “But today, for the first time ever, I’d like to let Macintosh speak for itself.”

Wow, I think. I’d like to see that. So, back to YouTube (start at the 2:20 point, that’s where it gets good):

So reading, even in hard-cover, is now a multimedia experience — and a faster one at that. No searching around the house for the DVD (if you have it). And yes, it’s true that Kindle and iPad already enable readers to enrich their reading experience direct from the device.

But I’m quite sure that these YouTube videos are not embedded into the text. They should be. What’s more, the text should be constantly updated and annotated with more current information, opposing opinions, and links to reference materials, such as maps and CIA Factbook info.

This goes beyond what Kindle and Nook are already doing in allowing you to bookmark, annotate, and highlight passages. For example, this episode of This American Life aired on January 6, 2012, after Walter’s book was published.

Here is a unique perspective on the impact of Steve Jobs and the tech industry. As a reader of Walter’s book, would I be interested in listening? Absolutely!

Anyone who has furiously checked the shipping status for their new iPhone will recognize the Shenzhen name. It happens that I’m a regular This American Life listener. But what if I wasn’t?  If the book was living, it would automatically be updated with this rich information.

That’s what I expect for the future of ebooks, and what I think Apple’s announcement heralds. Reading as a living experience.

Diane Thieke is contemplating buying the e-book version of Walter’s book, so that she can read it on the train, but not break her shoulder carrying it around. Follow her check-ins on Twitter.Enhanced by Zemanta

Against SOPA and Piracy

Image representing Wikipedia as depicted in Cr...

Today, many major Internet companies, including Wikipedia and Reddit, have gone dark in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, a House bill, and its Senate sister, Protect IP Act, or PIPA. SOPA and PIPA are backed by the entertainment industry and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

It’s virtually impossible to find an unbiased, objective description of SOPA and PIPA on the Web, although this one from CBS does a fairly decent job describing each side’s positions at a high level (the Huffington Post link is actually better but far more detailed). You can read the full text of the bill yourself, but you’ll likely need a couple of lawyers to interpret what it means.

Everyone seems to have taken a side, and I agree with Green in the CBS article, it is a battle between old and new. I’ve been in digital media since the early days, and as a former media industry employee, I can understand both sides. I firmly believe that copyright owners have the right to be paid for their work, and the law needs to put in place protections for these owners.

Throughout my career, I’ve advocated for copyright protection, while also recognizing that disruptive technologies were changing human behavior – and these changes did benefit the flow of information overall. I’ve always contended that the media and entertainment industries are complicit in the liberal content sharing economy we have today.

If the media industry truly believed that content had value, we should not have given it away for free when the Internet became commercialized in the mid-90s. Doing so changed human expectations for all kinds of media, not just print.

Still, that’s only one cause. The other is that technologists, for all the talk of innovation, haven’t really been enthusiastic about creating technologies that help protect copyright. There are notable exceptions, including iTunes and Spotify, but other than paywalls, where are we?

I don’t think blocking entire web domains is the answer. We need a combination of technologies and smart laws. One of the problems of SOPA/PIPA is that it was developed without much input from the big tech players. Perhaps we’re overdue for that kind of collaboration?

In the meantime, here are some views about what SOPA/PIPA means for everyday users of the web, PR pros, and content providers.

Simply Talk Media will not be going black today, but welcomes a dialogue about this issue on our pages. Just mind your links.

Digital Media Marketing and Privacy Protection in the Age of Big Data

There it was again: the expression of fear that we’re in danger of losing our online privacy. I hear gasps popping like bubbles around the room, which is filled with students learning the secrets of digital media marketing. Actually, I think to myself, we lost our online privacy a very long time ago.

Yesterday, Nick Bilton of the New York Times came to the same realization (he must not have kids or have attended the New Jersey State Police’s talk about children and internet security). His Bits Column, Disruptions: Privacy Fades in Facebook Era, demonstrates how easy – and fast – it is to uncover someone’s identity online.

I’m a bit of an early adopter, and loss of online privacy has me less freaked out than some of my peers. It doesn’t mean that I like it. It’s just that I realized long ago that the train had left the station in the middle of the night, when we were all sleeping.

I saw the future of privacy a little more than 15 years ago, when a public records vendor came to pitch its product to our business development team. The rep plugged my name into the database. Just my name, nothing else.

Up popped all of the places I’d previously lived, the names of all my current neighbors, their telephone numbers, and what they paid for their homes. But  the connections it made unnerved me: it linked me not just to all the members in my family, but also to a relative’s ex-husband and all of his family. And they’d divorced 10 years earlier.

Those details were unwittingly served up by all of us when we applied for mortgages and purchased homes. They’re a matter of public record, under law.

Today, our details become public for a variety of reasons. The new culture of sharing is one. More sophisticated technology is another. Every time you scan a bar code at the grocery store, visit a web site, read an article, or listen to a song, it’s possible for it to become part of your personal profile. The era of big data is here.

In some ways, I think this is great. Obviously it’s wonderful for marketers, who have a better chance of finding precisely the right audience for their product. But big data used responsibly can be great for consumers too. Personally, I want a filter. Show me ads that are relevant to my interests: the latest Apple toys and deals at Target, not Budweiser beer or hunting rifles.

As a digital media marketer, however, I need to walk that ever-thinning line between effective marketing and privacy breach. I want enough data to target my buyers with high-value content, but I also don’t want to violate their trust.

There are organizations, like EPIC (which is behind the FTC’s settlement with Facebook), that fight for safeguards. But marketers and technologists also must take a lead in developing policies and technologies that protect privacy. After all, we all suffer and benefit from these vast stores of “personal” intelligence.

Diane Thieke is now posting furiously on Facebook about her three kittens, in the hopes that Purina will send her some good bargains on ProPlan. Follow her at @thiekeds.

Keeping the Technological Pace

When I was a child, I read a short story in a children’s magazine about a student’s interaction with her teacher. The story captured my imagination because the girl’s instructor was not human. It was a computer.

Given that science fiction writing often imagines the future, it’s probably not surprising that this story is now a reality, as anyone who has attended online training can confirm. What is remarkable is that it ceased to be fiction so quickly.

This speed of change is why I think the new ebook, “Race Against the Machine,” by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, should be required reading for anyone in business today, anyone looking for work, or anyone still in school.

The authors argue that humans aren’t keeping pace with the machines: “Digital technologies change rapidly, but organizations and skills aren’t keeping pace. As a result, millions of people are being left behind.” We are facing technological unemployment.

I’m only halfway through this ebook (originally downloaded to my Kindle to Mac, but now reading on my just-out-of-the-box Kindle Touch), so I can’t yet comment on the authors’ conclusions. But I’m familiar with the picture they paint.

I’ve been in digital media for more than 26 years – a very long time. (Mark Z. was an infant when I was angling for my first job at a digital news service.) I know from experience that technology development has very much followed Moore’s Law, and it continues to progress at an exponential rate.

Let’s just look at its impact thus far on the way we communicate. By the mid-90s, email had replaced the paper memo. By the mid-2000s, cellphones, particularly the BlackBerry, were untethering workers from their desks. Laptops were doing the same. SEO was on the rise as a way of lifting your marketing website above the noise. By 2010, the focus was on marketing through social media. People now base buying decisions on opinions broadcast through these channels by their friends. Today, we talk about social SEO, but that’s unlikely to last long, because now we have Siri, which will change what  information we consume on the go. (A good read about this is: “How Apple’s Siri Could Destroy Local SEO.”)

There was a point where we thought technology changed our environment every 18 months. There are days now where I think things change by the minute. It’s as hard to grasp as running water.

It’s fun to imagine where we might be in the next five years. I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be using voice commands to do everything from starting our cars to programming our appliances for cooking a turkey.

But what I’d really like to have is a pet language translator, so that I can understand what my cat has been saying for the last hour and to have her understand why I don’t want her eating my office plant.

What communications innovations do you predict or would like to see?