Archive for December, 2008

Apple Dumps Macworld

Apple’s decision to pull out of Macworld is a little like Simon Cowell taking a pass on “American Idol.” Sure, the show will go on, but in what form?

Naturally, the news caused a stir in the blogosphere, with one of the better posts coming from Philip Elmer-DeWitt at Fortune.
 
Although unlike Elmer-DeWitt, I don’t view Apple’s rationalization as “plausible”:
“Apple is reaching more people in more ways than ever before, so like many companies, trade shows have become a very minor part of how Apple reaches its customers. The increasing popularity of Apple’s Retail Stores, which more than 3.5 million people visit every week …”
Let me get this straight.
 
Macworld was nothing more than a vehicle for Apple to hand out sales literature and up-sell Apple Nation?
 
C’mon.
 
Macworld was never about “reaching more people.”
 
Macworld was the one time each year that Apple bonded with its customers with enough emotion to upstage Dr. Phil.
 
And the thrust of this emotion came from the master of storytelling himself, Mr. Jobs. Look at any of his performances from the Macworld pulpit on YouTube, such as the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. (Has anyone got more mileage out of the black mock turtleneck look?)
 

This man knows how to sit around the campfire and tell a story. By the time the curtain came down at Macworld, Steve Jobs had rekindled the audience’s care for all things Apple for another year and pushed their bad thoughts about premium pricing to the background.

 
While I’ve never jumped on the Apple bandwagon – I used to have an iPod but my son’s iPod broke, he snagged mine, and before I knew it my 8 gigs was filled with the likes of NOFX, Dirty Little Monkey and Dropkick Murphys - I do periodically check out their retail stores. A few of the salespeople have got the religion, but the venue doesn’t exactly lend itself to storytelling.
 
Furthermore, Apple has decided to roll out senior VP Philip Schiller to handle the company’s last keynote at Macworld ’09. Now there’s a fun assignment. Talk about drawing the short straw.
 
It could be that Schiller is a fine speaker. It could be that he even has stage presence.
 
But he isn’t Steve Jobs and that perhaps is the message from the Apple.
 
For whatever reason, Steve Jobs won’t be performing a Macworld keynote again. And without the brimstone and hellfire, there’s no point in Apple taking measurements for another booth in 2010.


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The Engima of Business Journalism, The Economist

Cloaked with a veneer of secrecy that leaves readers to wonder “Who the hell wrote that article?” The Economist takes pride in baffling the garden-variety PR person.

Its editorial decisions can at times seem quirky for the sake of being quirky. I mean, do we really need 499 words devoted to ornithology and a bio-acoustic monitor that can distinguish the chirps from 110,000 species of birds from the hiss of a snake?

Yet, contrary to popular belief, this is not some niche publication only serving the British intellectualazzi. Its readership tips 1.3 million with about half of those copies ending up on American doorsteps.

For this very reason, when we supported the announcement of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk a few years ago, we zeroed in on The Economist to tell the in-depth story. It didn’t hurt that our homework revealed that Economist technology editor Tom Standage had penned a book that also took liberties with the same topic, “The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine.”

But more than serendipity, our continued success with The Economist comes down to building the right content that aligns with the book’s approach to storytelling. I touched on the importance of anecdotes using one example from The Economist back in July. 

Taking this a step further, we analyzed the tech-related articles (list of articles included at the end of this post) in The Economist, covering the April through November 2008 issues.

Seventeen percent of the content fell under the anecdotal umbrella.

It just goes to show that even high-brow business journalism depends on the amusing, provocative or downright weird to keep the reader’s interest.

Economist Articles Analyzed:

Green iron

November 14, 2008

 

Moving images into the future

November 5, 2008

 

A stitch whose time has come

October 29, 2008

 

A really secret ballot

October 22, 2008

 

Spinning a good tale

October 15, 2008

 

Bug-busting

October 8, 2008

 

An order for disorder 

October 1, 2008

 

Silence, please

September 24, 2008

 

Spot prices

September 17, 2008

 

Thanks for the memory

September 10, 2008

 

Speaking in tongues 

September 2, 2008

 

Automated twitching

August 27, 2008

 

Every move you make

August 20, 2008

 

Tailpipe power

August 12, 2008

 

The computer says no

August 5, 2008

 

Brew your own

July 30, 2008

 

Whirlybirds go green

July 23, 2008

 

I, human

July 16, 2008

 

Liquid logic

July 9, 2008

 

Virtual fencing

July 2, 2008

 

Gas, gas, quick boys

June 18, 2008

 

Making no waves

June 11, 2008

 

Meshing together

June 4, 2008

 

The FAST track to better health

May 28, 2008

 

Enlightenment at last

May 21, 2008

 

Cores of the problem

May 14, 2008

 

Blowing at sea

May 7, 2008

 

Detecting T-rays

April 30, 2008 



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When Competing News Helps Your Story

Everyone recognizes the benefit of steering clear of major media events when making an announcement.

It’s safe to say that January 20 is not the time to roll out a new line of laptop computers.

But there are scenarios when news relevant to your story hitting in roughly the same timeframe works to your advantage.

Take the well-crafted story by BusinessWeek‘s Steve Hamm, titled “Making Computers Based on the Human Brain.” The story kicks off with the classic BW anecdote:

When Lloyd Watts was growing up in Kingston, Ont., in the 1970s he had a knack for listening to songs by Billy Joel and Elton John and plunking out the melodies on the family piano. But he wondered, wouldn’t it be great to have a machine that could “listen” to songs and immediately transcribe them into musical notation? Watts never built the gizmo, but his decades-long quest to engineer such a machine has finally resulted in one of the first commercial technologies based on the biology of the brain.

Hamm goes on to explain that a startup venture called Audience has created a chip that’s somewhat sensory.

Here’s the rub: The story also features the Pentagon’s DARPA passing $4.9 mil IBM’s way to fund research on building intelligence into computers and Jeff Hawkins of Palm Pilot fame striving for software that takes on the characteristics of the cerebral cortex.

I’m sure Audience wasn’t thrilled at sharing the stage.

Yet, the serendipity that landed all three vignettes on Hamm’s desk at roughly the same time provided the collective heft that enabled the piece to run in the print edition.

Otherwise, the piece maybe makes the online version. 



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MIT Takes on Quantum Physics, RFID … and Storytelling

The brainiacs behind electronic paper, the $99 computer and making money at blackjack have decided to take on new terrain: Storytelling.

The MIT Media Laboratory recently created what they’re calling the Center for Future Storytelling.

Demonstrating the science behind the power of storytelling can only advance the cause, even if it’s from a technical bent:

By applying leading-edge technologies to make stories more interactive, improvisational and social, researchers will seek to transform audiences into active participants in the storytelling process, bridging the real and virtual worlds, and allowing everyone to make their own unique stories with user-generated content on the Web. Center research will also focus on ways to revolutionize imaging and display technologies, including developing next-generation cameras and programmable studios, making movie production more versatile and economic.

While I’m dubious of the concept of transforming user-generated content into stories, one can’t argue with the meshing of storytelling and the Web 2.0 world.

Frank Moss, the Media Lab director who will spearhead the effort, states in the official MIT announcement that “storytelling is at the very root of what makes us uniquely human.”

Good stuff, but Frank goes on pontificating:

But how we tell our stories depends on another uniquely human characteristic — our ability to invent and harness technology. From the printing press to the Internet, technology has given people new ways to tell their stories, allowing them to reach new levels of creativity and personal fulfillment.

Huh?

Technology provides terrific vehicles to package and deliver stories. But calling the ability to invent and harness technology as “another uniquely human characteristic” is like saying the dialog on Captain Kangaroo paid homage to Shakespeare.

I suppose you can’t blame MIT for plugging its sponsor, Plymouth Rock Studios, which threw $25 mil into the kitty.

Still, it’s tough to be optimistic about an undertaking that believes technology will reinvent the movies (their words not mine).  



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