Media Shifts in a Turbulent Decade

We’d just finished watching a DVD of “The Social Network” on the evening of May 1. Routinely, we checked the news online before getting ready for bed — and learned that America had finally caught up with Osama bin Laden. Like every other American for whom Sept. 11, 2001 is seared into memory, I had a sense of relief and satisfaction that this epic murderer hadn’t died of old age in some sanctuary.

I also reflected, as I watched a streaming broadcast of BBC News on my computer, on the continuing evolution in news over the past decade — accelerating changes in the ways we experience and participate in the flow of news and information in a digital age.

What’s changed most since 2001 are the spread of wireless data communications and the rise of robust social networks, but the outlines of where we were headed were clear even then. The 9/11 attacks brought emerging possibilities fully to the surface, as I wrote in my 2004 book We the Media.

By the turn of the new century, the key building blocks of emer­gent, grassroots journalism were in place. The Web was already a place where established news organizations and newcomers were plying an old trade in updated ways, but the tools were making it easier for anyone to participate. We needed a catalyst to show how far we’d come. On September 11, 2001, we got that catalyst in a terrible way.

I was in South Africa. The news came to me and four other people in a van, on the way to an airport, via a mobile phone. Our driver’s wife called from Johannesburg, where she was watching TV, to say a plane had apparently hit the World Trade Center. She called again to say another plane had hit the other tower, and yet again to report the attack on the Pentagon. We arrived at the Port Elizabeth airport in time to watch, live and in horror, as the towers disintegrated.

Had I been there today, I’d have gotten more than a phone call. I’d have been pulling information from the Net via a mobile device that could provide everything from voice to video. And I’d have been checking my Twitter feed.

For plenty of people in 2011, the news of bin Laden’s death came via Twitter and Facebook, currently the most powerful social networks around. Indeed, rumors spread widely on Twitter before President Obama’s official announcement. But Twitter for me (and Facebook for many others) was a value-adding system once the basic facts were known. I relied, as I increasingly do in breaking news events, on the people I follow on Twitter to provide links to the best coverage from traditional media, as well as links to a variety of other sources.

The best traditional media organizations did their jobs in the usual way as the bin Laden story became the story of the day. They covered the immediate news, found compelling video — the crowds in front of the White House were a favorite — and interviewed experts for perspective.

Back to 2001:

The next day our party of journalists, which the Freedom Forum, a journalism foundation, had brought to Africa to give talks and workshops about journalism and the Internet, flew to Lusaka, Zambia. The BBC and CNN’s international edition were on the hotel television. The local newspapers ran consider­able news about the attacks, but they were more preoccupied with an upcoming election, charges of corruption, and other news that was simply more relevant to them at the moment.

What I could not do in those initial days was read my news­paper, the San Jose Mercury News, or the The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The Wall Street Journal, or any of the other papers I normally scanned each morning at home. I could barely get to their web sites because the Net connection to Zambia was slow and trans-Atlantic data traffic was over­whelming as people everywhere went online for more informa­tion, or simply to talk with each other.

Now here’s real change. We no longer subscribe to those newspapers (apart from the Chronicle and Times on Sundays), because we get most of our newspaper journalism online. The reason is that broadband has become much more widespread and robust, even though it’s lagging in the U.S. compared to the rest of the developed world. The fiber backbones are reaching everywhere now.

I could retrieve my email, however, and my inbox over­flowed with useful news from Dave Farber, one of the new breed of editors.

Then a telecommunications professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Farber had a mailing list called “Interesting People”30 that he’d run since the mid-1980s. Most of what he sent out had first been sent to him by correspondents he knew from around the nation and the world. If they saw something they thought he’d find interesting, they sent it along, and Farber relayed a portion of what he received, sometimes with his own commentary. In the wake of the attacks, his correspondents’ perspectives on issues ranging from national-security issues to critiques of religion became essential reading for their breadth and depth. Farber told me later he’d gone into overdrive, because this event obliged him to do so.

“I consider myself an editor in a real sense,” Farber explained. “This is a funny form of new newspaper, where the Net is sort of my wire service. My job is to decide what goes out and what doesn’t…Even though I don’t edit in the sense of real editing, I make the choices.”

Dave Farber still makes these choices on the IP list. It’s still a must-read source of news and wisdom for me and the legions of people who continue to follow this particular wire service.

The value of this service — we now tend to call it curation and aggregation — wasn’t as clear a decade ago as it is today, however. We are overwhelmed with information today, vastly more so than in 2001. As I discuss in my new book, Mediactive, one of our most pressing issues is how we deal with that flood of data. Dave Farber is a curator and aggregator. The people I follow on Twitter, especially in special lists I’ve created for people I consider experts in specific fields, are another curated and aggregated space.

One of the emails Farber sent, dated September 12, still stands out for me. It was an email from an unidentified sender who wrote: “SPOT infrared satellite image of Manhattan, acquired on September 11 at 11:55 AM ET. Image may be freely reproduced with ‘CNES/SPOT Image 2001’ copyright attribu­tion.” A web address, linking to the photo, followed. The picture showed an ugly brown-black cloud of dust and debris hanging over much of lower Manhattan. The image stayed with me.

Here was context.

It took almost no time for the Net to tell us about the various satellite images from Pakistan, showing the bin Laden compound and its surroundings.

Back in America, members of the then nascent weblog commu­nity had discovered the power of their publishing tool. They offered abundant links to articles from large and small news organizations, domestic and foreign. New York City bloggers posted personal views of what they’d seen, with photographs, providing more information and context to what the major media was providing.

“I’m okay. Everyone I know is okay,” Amy Phillips wrote September 11 on her blog, “The 50 Minute Hour.”31 A Brooklyn blogger named Gus wrote: “The wind just changed direction and now I know what a burning city smells like. It has the smell of burning plastic. It comes with acrid brown skies with jet fighters flying above them. The stuff I’m seeing on teevee is like some sort of bad Japanese Godzilla movie, with less convincing special effects. Then I’m outside, seeing it with my naked eyes.”

If Twitter and Facebook took on more of this function in 2011, that reflected the immediacy —  the ease of use and especially the social context — of these new services, which didn’t even exist in 2001.

In one sense, the rise of these social networks is a step back. Facebook and Twitter are private companies with their own agendas. While they are superbly engineered tools that provide users fantastic capabilities, what we put into those services is, in the end, owned by those services. Our words and pictures and videos are only part of what we put in; the social connections are even more important, and we don’t own those when we live in others’ universes.

We would have had a much different media experience a decade ago if AOL or Microsoft had succeeded in what they were trying to do in the 1990s: Make our online experience a universal walled garden. Facebook, more so than Twitter, aims to be precisely that in this new era. If we allow that to happen, we will literally be turning over a significant part of our history to a private company that operates in its own best interests, not ours.

The promise of the Internet was flowering in 2001. We saw only the possibilities and the immense freedom of this emerging sphere for communications and collaboration.

The vision we shared then is in some real jeopardy today. Governments and private companies scheme to wrest control from us at the edges of the networks and pull it back into the center, where it manifestly should not belong. They may win.

A decade from now, we’ll surely experience another major event with newer media we cannot even imagine today. I hope we’ll be using tools that renew the Internet’s promise — technologies and policies that honor a simple notion, of genuine freedom to learn, create and collaborate.


Mobile Applications Journalists (and You) Should Have on Your Phone

Updated: I added several resources as well as text to show device support. I also clarified the introduction a bit.

A great discussion began on Quora asking “What apps should every journalist have on their iPhone?” Both professional journalists and recreational reporters jumped in on the discussion with enough suggestions to cover most bases when you need to capture news and publish it quickly from a mobile device. While not all are as useful to non-professional journalists, having some of the same apps available can serve the you well in the pursuit to be an active media participant.

For this post, I’ve pulled from the best suggestions there and have added some of my own. I’ve also added Android alternatives to iPhone-only apps. I’ll be updating the Resources section with more mobile apps and welcome your suggestions in the comments.

Apps that improve phone calls and SMS
Actual phone calls and SMS (text messages) are already the killer apps of mobile. However, they can be enhanced by some useful applications.

  • Skype offers flexibility as an IM and live-voice client, giving options beyond using just your mobile carrier for communication. (iPhone, Android, Blackberry)
  • bnter_examplebnter – Bnter allows you to tell stories by recreating your SMS conversations and publish them to the web. It’s an interesting way to visualize a text conversation. (Any device with a  web browser)
  • Apple’s own FaceTime video chat client adds the nonverbal communication that comes with face-to-face conversation. (iPhone)
  • Fring is a video call and chat client that works as a good Android alternative to FaceTime (iPhone, Android)
  • GroupMe helps you organize and send SMS messages to groups of people. (iPhone, Android)

Apps that improve consumption

Reeder exampleWhile individual news organizations are creating great applications of their own, RSS and Twitter clients are still a great way to customize your news consumption experience.

  • Reeder is an iPhone RSS app that connects with a user’s Google Reader Account.
  • Google’s own Reader app for Android.
  • NetNewsWire is an RSS reader with a solid version for the iPhone. It also syncs with Google Reader.
  • Twitter lists are an efficient route for consuming news via mobile device. Make or borrow lists of both individual journalists and publications where you get news.

Apps that improve note taking

While many note applications exist, here are a couple good places to start. Much will depend with personal preference over time, but features to look for are organization, tagging, search capability and the ability to sync to the cloud and other devices.

  • Evernote allows the user to take notes, tag them and then sync them across multiple devices as the notes are backed up on the cloud. (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Palm, Win Mobile)
  • SimpleNote is a popular note-taking application that replaces the iPhone’s standard Notes app. If you’re a Mac user, an open-source application called Notational Velocity adds syncing to Simplenote and the pair are quickly becoming a popular combo. (iPhone/Mac)

Apps for recording

The photo, video and audio capturing bases can be covered with just a few good apps. Here are several to start with.

  • Instagram is a crowd favorite for taking photos and publishing them quickly. (iPhone)
  • Picplz offers some of the same functionality as Instagram, but is available on Android. (iPhone, Android)
  • For audio, both CinchCast and AudioBoo are worth checking out. Each allow for quickly capturing and then publishing audio, integrating with many social sites. (Both on iPhone and Android)
  • Soundcloud commentFor live streaming video, Bambuser, JustinTV, Qik and Ustream are all good options. (All support both iPhone and Android)
  • Soundcloud allows other users to comment on the timeline of published audio files. This is a great feature for discussing long files of breaking news that haven’t yet been edited as users can quickly see the places creating the most discussion and jump right to that point. (iPhone, Android)

Apps for publishing
Many of the recording apps have their own publishing features built-in. However, the apps listed below help you interact with other publishing tools through your mobile device.

  • For blogging, WordPress, Posterous and Tumblr all have mobile applications that allow you to publish to your blog from your phone. (All on iPhone and Android)
  • Disqus offers an application that allows you to curate and respond to comments on your blog as well as comment elsewhere. It integrates with WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger and other publishing platforms. (iPhone, Android)

Apps that do other useful things

  • Dropbox is a file-storage application that simplifies sharing files across devices and sharing them with others. As it syncs to the cloud, it also serves as a backup application and offers a lot of use to those recording in volatile situations where there’s a risk of a phone being confiscated. (iPhone, Android)
  • Glympse screenPhotoshop Express is a nice tool for editing photos and images on your mobile phone. (iPhone, Android)
  • 5-0 Radio is a police scanner application that can be useful for keeping up with local crime and safety on the iPhone. Scanner Radio is a well-rated Android alternative.
  • Glympse allows you to publish your location in real time. It varies from other location check-in apps in that it allows you to specify times at a location and map a path of travel. It has interesting implications for covering a story that changes locations over time.

Many, many more apps are out there with promising journalistic applications. Jump in on the comments and tell us what you’ve found to help you consume and create media.

Facebook’s über-communications platform

This article was originally published on on November 15, 2010.

The social networking giant wants all of your conversations to happen on its site. You should think twice.


Facebook wants you to live, online, in, and it wants to be the main repository for your online identity. Its new, all-in-one messaging system will encourage more people to do just that.

Which is why, despite the overall smartness of the initative, I believe people should be wary about using the Facebook Messages platform. I don’t believe Facebook should dominate people’s online experiences, and the idea of the company becoming the de facto online identity holder is downright scary. Before I discuss why, let’s look at what the company announced on Monday in San Francisco.

Continue reading Facebook’s über-communications platform

Facebook über alles

This article was originally published on Salon on August 19, 2010.

Social networking giant moves swiftly to be the central reality in your digital life

One of the obvious missing pieces in the Facebook data arsenal has been granular location data — knowing where its users are and what they’re doing. The modest but genuine inroads we’ve seen from startups such asFoursquare and Gowalla, among others, proved that at least some members of the latest generation of Internet users are willing to share their location, among many other things, with friends, colleagues and maybe everyone else.

So last evening’s rumor-confirming rollout of Facebook Places, a location check-in service that has a lot in common with what’s come before, wasn’t a big surprise.  Facebook is nothing if not eager to incorporate other companies’ innovations into its own core services.

The launch demonstrated a number of Facebook’s qualities. On the positive side, the Places pitch also included the notion that we need to get out from behind our screens, PC and mobile, and join each other in the physical world. Can’t argue with that, even if has been years ahead in the hugely important recognition that one of technology’s greatest values is in bringing people together to collaborate on offline goals.

The company insisted it had made a serious effort to create meaningful and, if desired, somewhat protective user privacy settings, and it does look possible to stay out of the location service if you wish while still using the service’s other features. Yet the bias — as always with Facebook settings — aims to get you to say Yes to sharing, not No.

The breathtaking über-ness of the initiative shone through in what a company vice president, Christopher Cox, described as a goal: essentially to aggregate history itself — or at least tomorrow’s version of it — around users’ locations, doings and what they’ve told each other about both.

And Facebook will be holding it all in its corporate databases, creating a data set that advertisers will surely find irresistable. (In my case, no thanks — but this is a topic for another day.)

Facebook’s not alone in having vast ambitions, of course. Google, for example, has major social-networking plans of its own and no small amount of location expertise. So presuming Facebook doesn’t succeed in its goal to become the Internet that most people use — Internet users will need to figure out that Facebook isn’t really their friend — a healthy competitive marketplace could still emerge. Will it include the innovators who have helped bring location so prominently into the mix?

When Foursquare and Gowalla shared the stage with Facebook executives, you had to wonder what they were thinking. Certainly they seemed to celebrate their new partnership. Maybe it’ll all work out, but technology history suggests other possibilities.

When Microsoft was the despotic ruler of the personal computing software world in the 1990s, it had a strategy some called “embrace and extend” — to develop software that had the functions someone else had already created and then to extend it in ways that would tend to freeze out others. In time, that phrase morphed, according to Microsoft’s rivals, to “embrace, extend, extinguish.”

Maybe the earlier location services have the kind of deal with Facebook that will give them what they need to grow. If I were one of their investors, I would not be betting on this outcome.

I’d be betting more on an updated riddle (which I first heard in the 1990s in relation to dealings between Apple and IBM):

Q: What do you get when you combine Facebook and Foursquare? A: Facebook.


Coverage I liked by other folks:

If social media had been widespread on 9/11

This article was originally published on Salon on June 5, 2010.

We would remember the terrorist attacks differently if we communicated then the way we do now


The Tweet scrolled by yesterday almost before I spotted it:

@ruthannharnisch NYT’s Nick Bilton wonders what we would have learned from the inside of Sept 11 2001 events if social media had been widespread. #pdf10

Unpacking: Twitter user Ruth Ann Harnisch, attending the Personal Democracy Forum in New York, was quoting  the New York Times’ Nick Bilton, lead writer of the newspaper’s Bits Blog. In a panel discussion he’d speculated, if I understood the Tweet correctly, about how we’d remember the Sept. 11 attacks if social media had been more ubiquitous back then.

I’m not sure that the overall impact of the day would have been all that different, except in one hugely important way: Some of the victims would have told the world what was happening to them in the moments before their deaths, or for those who escaped the Twin Towers and Pentagon, their rescues.

Social media are more than online services. In big, visible events, mobile technology is an essential element.

Recall, passengers and flight attendants aboard the planes, and people in the Twin Towers, were using mobile phones that terrible day to make voice calls to their loved ones and colleagues. Today’s mobile phones come with cameras, still and video, and those cameras are connected to wireless digital networks that run at increasingly high speeds. (Here’s anexploration, from my old blog, of the  implications for photojournalism.)

At least some of the people in peril that day would have used social media tools — Twitter, video uploads, etc. — to show us their peril, and their last few moments on Earth. Those highly personal stories would have become not just a part of history, but would have spread fast that very day and given an even more viscerally human immediacy to the violence.

I wonder if America’s reaction would have been different. I was halfway around the world at the time, but just like most Americans I felt an instant bewilderment combined with blood lust. Would the personal images and videos — not just of planes exploding into towers but of some of the victims’ last seconds as the Twin Tower floors gave way underneath their feet, or the last seconds aboard Flight 93 or the planes heading for the towers or Pentagon — have heightened the blood lust? If so, then what?

Videos of these sorts would also become a part of a different kind of history: the forensic record. Take yourself back a bit further, to the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas. In Dealey Plaza that day, one man, Abraham Zapruder, wielding a movie camera (using film; remember film?), captured the horrific sequence. Today, in such an event, we’d have dozens or hundreds of videos; tomorrow, they’d be high-definition. (As I wrote in my photojournalism piece, we would almost certainly know for sure whether someone was shooting from thegrassy knoll, among other things.)

Social media in the more standard way we use it today would have been swamped on both of those days. We would not just be watching TV, though we’d all have the TV on in our homes and offices or wherever. We’d be talking with others online, with friends and others we follow whose perspective and wisdom we’ve come to value. On 9/11 and the days after, I went from blogs to news sites to mail lists and personal e-mails, looking for understanding. Today, I’d be following and joining conversations, seeking not just knowledge but community.

UPDATE 1: A number of commenters here and elsewhere, starting withScott Rosenberg (a friend and a Salon co-founder), have correctly noted that there already was online community back in 2001. I certainly didn’t mean to imply otherwise; in fact, I’ve been participating in a variety of online communities since the early 1980s.

But online conversation had not permeated our culture anywhere near to the extent that they have now, and a number of the tools and services that we now take for granted — mobile phone video cameras; YouTube; Twitter and so many others — hadn’t yet arrived on the scene.

UPDATE 2: Several people are appalled by the my reference to “blood lust.” I’m certain most Americans felt some serious rage at first, and then took some deep breaths. My immediate fury was tempered by all kinds of other emotions, including the fear that America would make some horrible decisions — including a headlong abandonment of civil liberties — and said so in my newspaper column that ran the next morning. I wish I hadn’t been right.

Facebook founder sweats it out

This article was originally published on Salon on June 3, 2010.

Zuckerberg’s evasions about FB’s evolving privacy policies raise new questions about the company’s intentions

Some of the tech-world buzz today is about Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s astonishingly poor showing onstage at this week’s Wall Street Journal conference, All Things Digital. Make no mistake: His fumbling, rapid-fire, sweat-drenched appearance was probably the most cringe-inducing at the D gathering since Jerry Yang and Sue Decker, then CEO and president of Yahoo, spent many minutes several years agofailing to explain what business Yahoo was in.

On Wednesday afternoon, Zuckerberg repeatedly ducked some fairly simple questions about Facebook and its notoriously evolving privacy policies — rules and default settings that have led many, including me, to mistrust the company and its intentions. In fact, his fast-talk evasions deepened my sense of unease.

What attracted much of the notice, especially from media covering the event, was his extreme perspiration, which more than a few commentators called Nixonian. (This is a reference to a TV debate Richard Nixon held with John F. Kennedy in 1960 when they were running for president; Nixon’s sweaty, shifty appearance in the first-ever event of its kind is widely seen as one of the reasons he lost the election.)

The Nixon comparison is, of course, a big stretch — and it distracts from the much more serious issues.

For one thing, Zuckerberg’s panic attack — which is the most charitable explanation I can come up with — raised more than a few questions about his fitness as CEO of one of the biggest companies on the Web and, increasingly, one of the most important companies on the planet.

The “he’s young, give him a break” folks have half of that right. He’s young, just 26 years old, and has the obvious smarts (and a solid senior team) to get his P.R. efforts in better shape. But give a break to someone who wields such influence? Not likely.

I don’t know Zuckerberg personally. Several people I know well, and who know him well, say he’s deeply thoughtful about what he and his talented team at Facebook are creating. And his admission of having said and done regrettable things when he was a much younger college student — Facebook was founded at Harvard, where he was an undergraduate — was at least a sign of some self-awareness.

But I absolutely do not trust him or his company’s intentions. Facebook’s P.R., and Zuckerberg’s recent statements on privacy, claim a deep concern for users’ privacy. Their actions tell a different story. Repeatedly, Facebook has expanded the user data and postings it makes public by default, as this compelling visualization by IBM’s Matt McKeon shows. The evidence suggests that the company’s policy is to push and push the boundaries, roll back when enough people complain, and then keep pushing.

This is worrisome enough. But consider, among many other Facebook aims, its goal to essentially own personal identity on the Web — identity that you use to sign into all kinds of other sites. If Facebook becomes the default user ID for the Internet, it will have a power that no single company should own, period.

Facebook’s legions of fans, and most of its users, plainly find this line of thought silly. They keep signing up and using the service for more and more of their activities. They may regret their info-promiscuity someday, but maybe Zuckerberg is right that people really don’t care, and maybe there will be no consequences for not caring. Although we all need to cut each other some slack about the foolish things we all say and do, especially when we’re young, I’m also convinced we need zones of genuine privacy, and that we should not turn over our Web presences to a single company, even one we might trust. (I’ll be writing more about this in an upcoming post.)

For now, when I watch Facebook, I hear echoes of Silicon Valley in the late 1990s, when the standard of behavior changed. What was acceptable was what you could get away with. That’s a corrosive way to do things.

Digital Media Lessons from the Game Developers Conference

Last week I attended the Game Developers Conference and kept my eyes open for topics related to media literacy. Thoughts on media consumption and creation show up in the multitude of lectures, panels, bootcamps and roundtables dedicated to the study and creation of games. Here are some things I gleaned:

Serious Games Summit
Redistricting GameSeveral interesting things came up at the Serious Games Summit, which is the session track for examining games used for purposes other than entertainment (not that entertainment isn’t a worthy goal itself). Here are the highlights:

  • Soren Johnson contrasted game theme with mechanic in a talk titled “Theme is not meaning.” This is an important breakdown when it comes to games literacy as game mechanics tend to deliver the real meaning in a game. Johnson’s thesis was that a game’s window dressing was just that unless the mechanic matched. The Redistricting Game was offered of a solid example of matching theme with mechanic as the player is tasked with literally drawing new voting district lines to win needed votes. The discussion goes much deeper and Chris Dahlen writes more about the talk here.
  • Borut Pfeifer has been working on a game about crowds in the Iranian Election. Named The Unconcerned, the game pulls the player through the streets of the Iranian election by putting her in the shoes of parents looking for their daughter. Pfeifer’s talk covered prototyping and the many iterations along the way to figuring out what played well. The biggest takeaway here concerns creation. Traditionally, creating media involved getting one’s ducks in a neat row before creation began. However, games and other digital media find success in testing and getting feedback on many rough drafts along the way. I’m going to hunt down some links for the best practices for iterative design for the Mediactive Tools section.
  • While the talk strayed more into digital entrepreneurship, Jelena Godjevac presented a case study of Blossom, a game that places the player in the role of a small business owner. Blossom came out of Micro Enterprise Acceleration Institute (MEA-I) as a game-based way of furthering local micro-business. They’re looking for new ideas for games that teach entrepreneurship and are teaming up with HP in a design contest. I’d love to see submissions related to digital media entrepreneurs, like starting a local news site or training citizen journalists.

Game Writers’ Roundtable
Several worthwhile tips came out of a roundtable of both professional and amateur game writers. Here are the ones that apply well to digital media creation.

  • Show don’t tell – In an interactive environment, show a story before using words. Figure out what you can say with other forms of media. This applies to even something like blogs. Can you set your stage with a good photo or video? Does a link or a podcast say it better than you can?
  • If you can’t tweet it, you shouldn’t write it – This came up in the context of dialogue and text in midst of play. The same could be applied to captions, explanations of mashups and even one’s YouTube video descriptions. There are excellent uses for long form, but if your creation is multimedia, don’t burden it with text. Err on the side of brevity.

Social games were a hot topic at the GDC this year, both for the massive jump in people playing these games and for their lucrative nature. I sat in on a session with Mark Skaggs of Farmville where he explained the game’s development process. Farmville itself has been a bit of a phenomenon and a rather controversial one.

Most interesting for Mediactive’s purposes are the rapid creation and development of Farmville. According to Skaggs, the initial team was composed of less than ten people and was developed in five weeks. From the point of release, the game acquired about 1,000,000 new users per week, an above-expectations rate. This critical mass gave the team lots of data, which informed the design going forward. Skaggs explained “fun” as something hard to measure, while behavior could be tracked by clicks. When strawberries received a large number of clicks, the team created “Super Berries” and the resulting popularity nearly crashed the server. This is just one example, but every game action and click was evaluated for new direction in content.

I see a couple lessons here that apply to digital media:

  1. Release quickly and design based on data and user feedback.
  2. Data-driven design requires greater discussion when it comes to news. Lots of clicks can tell you if a story is popular, but a click can’t tell you if the reader was informed. As well, a click may tell a creator if people enjoy content, but not the impact of that content. For example, a reader may spend more clicks in a day on what celebrities are wearing, but one click given to a long form political story may have the greatest impact on a future vote.

Beyond what I’ve covered here. I ran into some interesting tools for media creation, which I’ll be testing and posting to the Tools page. Games and interactive environments are ripe for experimentation when it comes to new media and I’m excited to see what emerges over time.