News Alert: NYTimes online story is an eyetracking nirvana

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 9.58.08 PMWow. Was just wrapping up presentation for Wednesday night when I saw a reference to the New York Times amazing online piece from Sunday that seems to invisibly adhere to all the findings of eyetracking research in an unprecedented way for traditional-style journalism. I encourage you to take a look.

Poynter weighs in with a writeup.


Seeing the mind’s eye


From the time I first became aware of eyetracking technology, I have always thought of the Borg, that cybernetic alien race in the Star Trek universe that tries to assimilate other species into its collective – by whatever violent means necessary (“Resistance is futile!”). Of course it was a visual association with the contraptions that eyetracking research has required in its most common form in recent years (research subjects don eyeglasses that have cameras mounted on them). But after reading these four articles (and doing some other research for my presentation on Wednesday), I wonder if the association isn’t a little deeper.

772px-Martin_KnollerCiceroKnollerLargeBecause what is eyetracking trying to discover? How we see and what we see with the idea that if that can be ascertained, researchers have a better idea of how to communicate with us. Or, in some cases, even understand us, apparently, as the introduction to eyetracking article made a fascinating mention of how scientists are using the technology to gain a window into the brain. Was it Cicero who said the eye is the window into the soul?

I was already pretty familiar with content in the two Poynter articles due to my job in the news business: The 2007 Poynter study comparing print and online presentations of newspaper content and the 2012 study on news content viewed on a tablet.  In the context of this class, I find them a great case study of applied research for a particular industry. The 2007 study feels very much like a product of its era, as newspapers were trying to understand web readers as extensions of print readers rather than wholly separate products – and they had not yet seen the dramatic drop in display advertising revenue for their print products. Six years later, that has changed dramatically. The tablet study in 2012 reflects very much the latest evolution of trying to understand the platform for delivering a product.

The Google map white paper felt a bit more generic in its applicability, and informative for all industries trying to leverage SEO efforts. The upshot: If you aren’t ranking at the top of Google+ map searches, get yourself some social media links or reviews because they make a difference in eye traffic.


1. Does the Google map research jive with your own personal use of such search functions? Were those heat maps your heat maps?

2. The 2007 Poynter study found people, once they commit to a news story, actually read further online than in print. I remember when those findings came out and I assumed that was at least in part due to a click of the mouse is easier than refolding a newspaper to find the jump. But do you think the findings are still even true six years later? Or are we all just serial scanners? When do you spend a lot of time on text?

3. Before this week’s readings, were you familiar with eyetracking? If so, in what context?

News alert: So do you think Hertz will respond?

Stumbled across this in my Facebook feed this morning from someone who had to strand a Hertz rental car in the Colorado flash floods and was none too happy with how the company has handled it:

“…You’d think when the President declares a natural disaster, Hertz management might take some measures to address it, let alone not embarrass themselves. And the thing is—I’m almost positive this is all covered by insurance. Help me help you, Hertz. Cut the Kafkaian Mobius Strip bullshit and help your customers work things out, so we can all move on to the important things, like you screwing the insurance company, and me getting screwed by it. “

Read the full blog post here. I’ve bookmarked the page in case we find out Hertz responds.

Barack to JAM: Crowdsourcing in the modern era


Applicability, connection and authenticity. That’s how I would sum up this week’s three articles about crowdsourcing, a trend inconceivable in most of the last century and now the norm for sites like Wikipedia. I was familiar with a the ideas noted in the Wired Magazine piece highlighting different case studies — but had no idea the level to which some industries are playing, including figuring out how to get fluoride to stick to toothpaste, apparently! I’m also struck, however, by the parallels of some of these examples and the multiple ways that Barack Obama basically counted on crowdsourcing to expand his campaign message (vs. relying on traditional media or paid staff) during his first (and second) presidential election.

The power to connect students from around the globe to tackle some of the biggest issues of its generation  was clear in the IBM Jam session. But I must say I was left underwhelmed by the final product. It seems they did a great job establishing a baseline of knowledge for a farflung group of people, but it seems to me the next step would be establishing microcrowd groups to actually tackle concrete efforts. Nonetheless, I can see the power in this approach. And as  the study noted, in using this kind of technology to connect constituents in a given political area to solve and brainstorm problems.

Finally, the research paper on Wikipedia — perhaps the most successful but still unreliable crowdsourcing initiative everyone has heard of. And while I understand the founder’s notion that to keep this pure you keep PR sources out, it seems to me he is trying to apply an old-school rule to a new-school technology potentially for the detriment of the user and the truth. Would it not make a lot more sense to allow the PR/communication professional editing but clearly denote it as such? Wikipedia seems to want to operate under the illusion that information can be neutral because the crowd will make sure it is when in fact, particularly when it comes to crowdsourcing, the integrity is further undermined by barring/censoring some one’s people’s input. Better to cite the source and let the reader decide.


1) How do you use Wikipedia? Do you trust it? Have you ever contributed/edited an article?

2) If your local government was to set up a JAM type event, would you participate? And are you more likely to do that than get involved in other ways, such as voting, attending/watching public meetings, etc?

3) Do you know anyone who has made money off crowdsourcing work? What did they do?

News Alert: Obama’s tweeting, twerping machine

Reputation management? This Wall Street Journal column from Daniel Henninger post late Wednesday basically makes the case of how President Barack Obama leveraged Twitter over the last 16 days to do a number on the GOP and argues that Republicans failed to respond effectively. I thought it parallels nicely with our lecture last night about the need to match/respond to social media directly in its own form vs. old style communications.(If you can’t access the link (you may a digital subscription) but want to read the full article, let me know in comments below and I can send you a link via email from the site.

“…Want a look at how a pro is spinning the Washington mess? Punch into and type “Barack Obama” into the search window. Click on “Barack Obama,” next to the “End This Now” logo. The Obama tweets the past week have been fairly amazing. As in the presidential campaign against Mitt Romney, the Twitter feeds going out in the name of the president of the United States are virtually wall-to-wall propaganda.

Barack Obama: “If the debt ceiling isn’t raised by Thursday, America could face an economic shutdown.” This from the man who accuses the GOP of “manufacturing crises.”

Everyone recalls the 2012 campaign’s carpet bombing of “the wealthiest,” even after they’d been shelled with a tax increase. Barack Obama has found—actually, it was handed to him—a scapegoat analogous to “the wealthiest” and “the banks” for his campaign to suppress votes for GOP candidates in the 2014 elections. It’s “tea party Republicans.”

Barack Obama: “Tea Party Republicans are threatening an economic shutdown. Tell them to #EndThisNow.”

Barack Obama: “The #TeaPartyShutdown is harming small businesses. Say you’ve had #EnoughAlready.”

Wednesday’s first Obama tweet: “Day 16 of the #TeaPartyShutdown. This can’t continue—Congress needs to #EndThisNow.”

This isn’t routine partisan noise. The Obama Twitter account lists 38,258,000 followers. Unless some of these are fake, that’s nearly 30% of the total popular vote in 2012. All through the week, this number rose as the site poured forth boiling oil.

Virtually every Obama tweet demonizes the tea party. Last week, within minutes of the collapse of the Obama-Boehner talks, the tweeting robot called “Barack Obama” had hung the collapse on the “tea party.”

Wednesday morning (with even the New York Post cover depicting Uncle Sam going over Niagara Falls on the “Brink of Disaster”), the machinery that runs @BarackObama rolled into view. It’s the former Obama re-election apparatus, which has shape-shifted into a 501(c)(4) group called Organizing for Action.

From the Barack Obama Twitter feed at 10 a.m.: “Be a part of @OFA’S Twitter takeover and tell Congress to #EndThisNow.”

Republicans complain constantly that the media “lets him get away with it.” The media is floating down the electric river. No, they—the message-impoverished Republicans—let him get away with it. The Washington GOP is now a political Gulliver, tied down by tweets and twerps…”

News Alert: Google getting aggressive with your opinion

In case y’all haven’t seen the news in the past few days: Google joining Facebook in trying to  profit off your opinions of advertisers.

“Google on Friday announced that it would soon be able to show users’ names, photos, ratings and comments in ads across the Web, endorsing marketers’ products. Facebook already runs similar endorsement ads. But on Thursday it, too, took a step to show personal information more broadly by changing its search settings to make it harder for users to hide from other people trying to find them on the social network…”

Full article from New York Times here.


Good gossip, bad gossip: Doing business in the Internet age


All I could think about, reading this week’s readings, was how incredibly careful companies in sensitive industries have to be in hiring the individual(s)  or media firms who are the designated responders to social media. The best proactive campaigns would seem to me to be those that are nimble, clever and quick — without being stupid or making a faux pas. And the PRNewswire piece was a reminder of how sometimes the best response is to do nothing and wait it out. So just how do you train those communicators when “learning on the job” could be disastrous? Or do companies have a baseline “editor” situation set up to protect them from such errors (i.e. does anyone do a backread before a Tweet goes out? — Perhaps you saw this horrendous example this week out of the White House)? Or is it easier than I expect given we now have a generation raised on social media who may be far better than me about anticipating how certain efforts would be received?

I was also struck by how relevant (yet dated) the 2000 article by Bunting and Lipinksi (Drowned out?) was. Some of those examples seem so extreme today and is that because in general we have gotten more used to such antics of Internet sabotage or because companies have gotten more sophisticated about handling them so they make less waves? Or is it that social media has matured to such a point that many people just ignore a lot of noise?

Finally, the MITSloan article on building an Online Reputation System really hit home to me how building loyalty for your site/company online is more than baseline marketing, it’s corporate defense. You are trying to season a band of brand ambassadors. Hadn’t quite thought of it that way before, but I also thought about how little time I have for following/joining any company’s web community. How to measure return-on-investment? 


1. Does your company have a system for editing/backreading social media responses before they are sent out? 

2. Can you think of a recent case of Internet sabotage on a corporation that made headlines or you became aware of? 

3. What is your preferred way for complaining to a company? (Personally, I like email because I have a record and I’m not stuck on a phone — and I’ve never anticipated that social media would work…)


The haystack is getting bigger


Needle in a haystack.

That’s all I kept thinking this week as I read through the Cisco forecast for mobile traffic. Why aren’t we all network programmers? Job security for at least the next decade! The numbers are mindboggling, but in some ways, the challenges are exactly the same as now: How do those of us on the other side of the bandwidth find the needle in the haystack – i.e. the audience for whatever we are trying to sell or provide on the Internet? Which of course, gets us back to analytics or perhaps more succinctly, the ability to use metadata to find and track your potential/returning audience.

In that vein, QR codes are almost a quaint notion of how to do it: Convince a potential customer to take the time to scan a code. But I still find QR codes flawed. Designed to be more convenient, it actually can be more time consuming than just typing in a web address. And personally, after using QR codes a few times and being disappointed by how unremarkable the “get” was, I find I barely utilize them at all anymore. I was ready to write them off until I saw this column from the Tampa Bay Times showing how a retail outlet is using them in a way that makes more sense. For now it seems like the technology being offered by Apsalar and other developers seems much more likely to help find that needle in the haystack.


Just as a point of reference, QR codes were an improvement over a reader-engagement model the Dallas Morning News tried back in 2000 when tying Internet content to the morning paper was a lot more nouveau. But the CueCat (a barcode reader) never took off, in part because technology eclipsed it and as the Wall Street Journal’s Walter Mossberg noted, “In order to scan in codes from magazines and newspapers, you have to be reading them in front of your PC. That’s unnatural and ridiculous.” QR codes may have fixed the mobility issue of the CueCat but it still hasn’t delivered.  I think the local Bluetooth technology Richard highlighted in his blog post is the likely next generation “CueCat” solution.

1)   What’s the mobile device-to-person ratio in your home? Do you see that growing by 2017? Why? (Personal disclosure: We have five- mobile-equipped devices in our house between two adults and a child — two smartphones, two laptops, one tablet. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before we acquire at least one more device for my daughter, age 6, which would take our ratio from 5:3 to 6:3 – no wonder there will soon be more mobile devices than people).

2)   What is your favorite function of your mobile device? (For me, it’s online banking, for example – huge timesaver) And do you see a niche for a product you want on your mobile device that isn’t being fulfilled?

3)   Would you consider employing a local Bluetooth-type technology for your own home? Would you like lights to come on when you approach your house? The oven to start cooking dinner, etc?