Monthly Archives: June 2009

The Creative Commons Conundrum (on Flickr)

Over the last little while, I have been mentally battling with the usage of Flickr images by commercial media organisations. There is something particularly pertinent about this issue. If media organisations are trying to slash budgets, surely it is folly to ignore a giant pool of potentially “free” material.

Is it giant? Yes. Creative Commons recently reported that the number of CC-licensed images has passed the 100m mark. Of these images, almost a quarter are licensed for commercial use. This isn’t quite touching the big image libraries (Corbis, for example, has over 70m images) but it is significant.

Is it free? Here’s where it starts getting tricky. According to various freelance charters, such as the Guardian’s, it is very bad form to use anything for free. Even if you have asked for permission, even if it is commercially-licensed under CC, even if they beg you not to pay them. You are exploiting them even if they ask to be exploited. As a freelancer myself, I am well aware that voluntary exploitation is inevitable- I’ve dabbled in it myself in the past- but it sets a dangerous precedent.

But if a media organisation decided that they were fine with using images that have been CC comercially-licenced, or indeed images for which they have individually sought permission… they could find themselves saving a lot of money, albeit at a moral expense. But as things stand, the way I understand it there is very little stopping Nike using a Flickr image as the cornerstone of their next ad campaign, as long it had been CC-licensed for commercial use, and was attributed as requested (which, by the way, is another ad hoc can of worms).

Is it safe? Another issue. You can trust the recognised agencies, like Corbis, Getty, the AP and so on. But can you trust bumgrapes65237? What if they’ve just scanned somebody else’s work and claimed it as their own? News organisations may wish to safe themselves the hassle.

What is interesting is that very little seems to be formalised, legal departments don’t seem to know what to do about it, and neither do the majority of journos. I have a feeling this one will run and run. Twitpics are another issue altogether, but let’s not go there yet (the Guardian picture desk are currently searching for Twitpics coming out of Iran, and have found a number of agency images amongst their number).

Image: openDemocracy (probably) / Some rights reserved (in a way, but possibly not)



Why Augmented Reality could change the way we travel

Brief explanation: Augmented Reality is the combiantion of the real world and the virtual world: with computer-generated data overlaid onto images and video of real things. The video below will explain it visually… but bear with me.

In a recent blog at the Guardian, Kevin Anderson asks “Does augmented reality have a market beyond sci-fi fans?” The post is pegged on a new video doing the rounds on an AR app for Wimbledon, that shows match data, the location of refreshment stands or tell you if the line at a cafe is particularly long.

My answer to his question is yes, hopefully. And that market is travel. The following video demonstrating the Wikitude application for Android phones is one of the coolest things I’ve seen all year.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Wikitude AR Travel Guide (Part 1)“, posted with vodpo

The application uses geo-tagged information from the Wikipedia and Panoramio APIs, and overlays it onto camera views from the Android.

But imagine it was overlaying geo-tagged data from Lonely Planet’s API, or TripAdvisor, or indeed the Guardian’s?

You could get off the train in a city, turn your phone on, point it in front of you, and see what it recommends in your eyesight. Or, indeed, beyond it. Hungry? Click on the “food” tab, point your phone at a restaurant, and let the phone tell you what’s on the menu.

Of course, this stuff is a long way off yet. There are many hurdles to jump before anything like what I’ve described above exists. In the post mentioned above, Kevin sums this up:

The real proof will be in the user experience. I think Wimbledon is a great place to show off this technology. You’re dealing with a finite space and a relatively limited amount of information. When you scale that up to the wide world, it becomes a lot more complex, and I worry that the experience won’t live up to the promise

But if it does… I’m betting that it changes the way we travel. Got the bug? Here’s a bunch of videos about AR.


My take on Simonseeks, and UGC

simon seeks

The brand new UGC-site, developed by founder Simon Nixon, has been getting a fair bit of media attention. Intriguingly, it offers reviewers a share of the revenue they generate. Here’s my take, as published in an “Expert eye” opinion piece for Marketing Week:

“Sites relying on user-generated content need users, and Nixon’s idea of incentivising participation is a clever way of achieving a critical mass quicker than other start-ups. It might not be the best way. Offering a cut of clickthrough commissions is offering a cut of a very small cut: as with the site itself, generating personal revenue will be a numbers game. It won’t take users very long to work out whether it is worth their time.

Incentivised UGC entails a number of problems. First, if users are racing to write as many reviews as possible, it may also encourage “fake” reviews gleaned from the huge variety of other reviews on the web. As money is being made by the writers, however little, monitoring validity and plagiarism could become a legal strain. Simon Seeks will also face a challenge in converting hits and reviews into revenue. In an increasingly saturated market, and in tight economic times, holiday makers are painfully aware of value. I frequently look for well-reviewed hotels on a UGC site, and then shop around on price comparison sites to see who can offer me the best value.

Finally, the biggest challenge facing Simon Seeks is UGC itself. The market is dominated by TripAdvisor, which is becoming a victim of its own success as users strain under mountains of content backed by a dearth of validity or trust. Do we really need another rabbit hole?”

To expand slightly on the final point: I’m increasingly unconvinced in UGC as a stand-alone medium. For me, the ideal platform for travel advice combines UGC and expert advice; a blend of citizen journalism and professional journalism. If nothing else, over-reliance on UGC is laborious. I usually don’t have the time to scan through 438 reviews; I want an expert to pick me a hotel, and then I’ll cross-reference it with some UGC, just to make sure it isn’t a stinker.

The idea of UGC sites becoming a victim of their own success- and girth – is something brilliantly described in this article from last year, on “The travel site with a black mark against every hotel”. Here’s the key point:

The First Law of TripAdvisor is this: no matter how wonderful somewhere may be, how highly recommended by friends or guidebooks, somebody on TripAdvisor will claim to have spent the worst night of their life there. Which gives rise to the Second Law of TripAdvisor: if you book a room anyway, that bad review is the one that will prey ceaselessly on your mind until you get there.



Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Winterwell“, posted with vodpod

I always thought space was quite far away. Turns out it’s in Gloucestershire.

Keep your eyes out for Norman Jay MBE. He’s the one dressed as a giant orange spacehopper. The Queen really knows what she’s doing when she puts together those honours lists.

The band at the end is Metronomy. They were superb. (the password is “outer space”)


Links of the week: 12-19 June

• The best entrance, anywhere, ever.

The most informative article I have read on Iran yet, written by a former Tehran resident [Guardian]  which picks up on a number of themes I mentioned in my post on Iran’s demographic timebomb.

Amazing stories and images of abandoned places around the world [DirJournal Info Blog]

A state-sponsored guerilla art gallery on Istanbul’s former “Wall Street”… especially interesting, as I’ll be there next week. [NYT Globespotters]

An old Vice video on the barmy “Independent republic of” Kanzantip festival on the Crimea in Ukraine.  Mafia, sex, alcohol, music, public porn. [VBS.TV]

Journalistic pace, and why quick and slow aren’t mutually exclusive

Three recent thingies about journalistic pace, and the ‘difference’ between bloggers and the MSM:

1) This piece in the New York Times, Get the Tech Scuttlebutt! (It Might Even Be True.), in which the blogger’s obsession with getting in first, regardless of validity, is damned with faint praise. One quote has been knocked around ever since, courtesy of the irrepressible Michael Arrington:

“Getting it right is expensive,” … “Getting it first is cheap.”

2) This video by The Daily Show, including another memorable line, when the reporter Jason Jones stumps an NYT editor:

“Give me one thing in there [a print copy of the NYT] that happened today?”

3) Arrington goes on On the Media to defend himself against the NYT piece, citing his early breaking of the Google aquisition of YouTube

“I got a tip from – I mean, The New York Times would horrified by this – but I got a tip from an entrepreneur who said that he’d heard [LAUGHS] that Google was buying YouTube….so I wrote a story…four days later the acquisition was announced at that price.”

In short: 1) Blogs are too hasty and often prioritise speed over quality. 2) Newspapers are too slow, and are damned by their fundamental, day-after format. 3) Bloggers are often on the money before anyone else.

Reductive thinking

But the NYT piece and the Daily Show stitch-up are too black and white. The two methods – knee-jerk blogging and diligent, fact-checked newspaper articles- needn’t be mutually exclusive, and aren’t. There are numerous examples, every day, of both happening within the same news organisation, such as the New York Times.

The best of both worlds

When something happens that is newsworthy, a dual process should take place. The first process deals with the immidiacy and can only exist online… report it, twitterfall it, stream the live video and images, live-blog it. Be open about what you know, and what you can’t confirm. Be beta about it.

Simultanously, get started on the second process: definitive accounts, and working out what it all means. This should take as long as it takes- to source, to interview, to research, and to fact-check. And, while there’s still a demand for print (which there is, and will be for decades yet), save this stuff for the next day’s print edition. Each medium does what is expected of it, and sticks to its strengths. There is no reason why they shouldn’t coexist in the same house, for now.

(***A side note: Arrington’s early breaking of the Google-YouTube story provides an interesting retrospective comparison for the relationship between Robert Peston’s blogs and the run on Northern Rock. Both were criticised for making the news rather than reporting it. Another pertinant issue, as this tweet from Labour MP Tom Watson to Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger demonstrates, but we’ll save that for another time.***)

Le Cool in Lisbon, and Simonseeks

Two bits of Benj on the Guardian today…

A video of Le Cool taking me around Lisbon.  And a map too.  If you don’t know about Le Cool, you really should.  They are the world’s most beautiful guidebooks, no messing.   Impeccable taste too.  Here’s the Eccentrics’ Guide to London from a while back– extracts from the London book, edited by Mat Osman, the former bass player for Suede.  The London mailing list is pretty handy too.  ***Side note: the whole Le Cool franchise is run out of Barcelona.  They have no advertising on their newsletters, nor in their books- which are high on production, and deliberately low on circulation.  I have no idea how it survives.  I really hope it does.***

• The bloke from has launched a new UGC site that offers reviewers a share of the revenue they generate.  I’ve written a critique of the site for this week’s Marketing Week, whcih I’ll link to when it’s up.