As you can see, I haven't posted in awhile. I hope to get back to it one day!
I love technology and business conferences that are open-ended and full of surprises. DLD12 really fit that bill, and Munich was a great setting. I attended about half of the events, so I undoubtedly missed some great moments. But this was by far my favorite:
#1 Sebastian Thrun, a former Stanford computer science professor, gave a talk on his experiment in teaching a course on artificial intelligence. In parallel with his usual lecture format, he offered the same course online in a sort of interactive tutorial format that made use of the latest research about how we learn most effectively -- basically in small batches followed by quizzes and exercises at certain intervals that, once mastered, mean the student is ready to move on. By the end of the course, most of his students were not longer coming he the lecture and he had 160,000 people around the world taking the course online. You read that right.
You can watch his presentation here. There is a slighly long intro, which ends after 2 minutes if youw ant to jump ahead.
Thrun had some choice remarks about the high education system, which he described as "taking in a lot of money without having much to show for it."
His plan is to "democratize" education. He left his tenure-track job at Stanford and started Udacity, which he launched the same day as this presentation. Udacity is Strum's first step in his ambition to help make "education free to the entire world." I hope he's right about that. If there is a field that's ripe for disruption, it's higher education, given its wild costs and neglible customer (meaning "student" focus.)
Udacity's first course offering is an intro to computer science for students with no previous knowledge of programming. The courses teaches how to build a search engine. Here is Thrum's intro to the course.
I think I'm going to try this. Really. Igot my start in business working for a search engine company, Infoseek, so it's fated that I give this a try.
BTW, Thrun was also a favorite of Dr. Burda, whose publishing company stages DLD. At a salon-like gathering of speakers at his home after the show last night, Dr. Burda gave Thrun the honored position at his side during interesting discussion throughout the evening.
Apple has done it again. This time it's education, text books and the creation of ebooks.
Make no mistake, this will be as big as for publishing and educations as the iPod was for music. Or the iPhone was for mobile computing. Or the iPad was for ... so many things.
Where to begin? From where I sit, in the middle of creating an iPad app based on hundreds of posts from the GoFISHn site, iBooks Author is the missing link. We're designing a book, but the only option was to design an app because our book was not very iBook like. Until now, creating a content based app or iPad was not super hard but it wasn't easy either. You had to design in Adobe's InDesign (they must be REALLY worried) and then run the file through a bunch of tools and so on. I described the process in a Quora post the other day. Now much of that appears to be redundant. I'm good with that. As Nathan Ingraham's post on the Nieman Journalism Lab points out, iBooks Author is going to unleash all kinds of new ideas about ebooks everywhere from newsrooms, to the university, to fishing sites.
On the education front, we just witnessed the birth of the digital text book, and a far better and affordable textbook it should be. Who know how this will play out for incumbents else, whether it's the upstarts like Kno or the big text book companies. But Apple just stepped to the front of them all.
And to make thing even more interesting, there is iTunes U. now anyone can build and distribute a course app through iTunes U, and the course integrates with textbooks built in iBooks Author. Thinkabout. All the content of the course, for test to assigned reading to lectures to notes in one seamlessly interactive experience. When you combine this capability with initiatives like MITx and Khan Academy, the possibilities are head spinning.
Here is how this will play out. I hope. The higher education industry is just as broken as the music industry was a few years ago. Students (or their families) pay astronomical sums to send their children to one school (more or less) where they are confined to the courses and professors available in any given semester to cover their core requirments or fulfill their major. As a parent paying out a huge chunk of my life savings, I can tell you the system is deplorable because the quality of the courses and the teachers is wildly uneven. But there is no customer sastisfaction imperative, no returns policy. Just be glad you got your credits.
What apple unveiled today will speed the end of that broken system. More students will be educated more quickly and far more economically, and they will be educated by the top professors, regardless of their institution. They may not be live and in the classroom, but for the first time it's possible to take the best professors and the best materials and scale their genius to reach an unlimited number of students (well, at least those with access to an iPad). That is really, really huge. The university system as we know it will change radically for the better, and far more people will have access to the best educators anywhere, regardless of institutions.
This may well be bigger than the iPod or iPhone. And the social impact is bound to be greatly for the good.
This short piece appeared in the Time magazine Asia/Pacific edition Dec. 12, 1994. It's not online because Time's archives online, while quite amazing, don't have all the stories from all the editions. I'm publishing it here because I find myself referring to it quite often. It's such an amazing story of human endurance. And the fact that we ever heard the story, let alone that Lieut. Cho escaped North Korea, is nothing short of miraculous. It was a stunningly moving interview.
LIEUT. CHO CHANG HO OF THE SOUTH Korean army was listed as killed in action after Chinese forces overran his artillery unit near Inje in May 1951. After the war, his name was inscribed on the national war memorial in Seoul, and he was all but forgotten. Then one day in 1993, his eldest sister, Cho Chang Sook, 73, a retired college dean, received a letter from Cho postmarked Shenyang, China. The letter was vague about his precise whereabouts, but it prompted the sister to travel to Shenyang. She eventually discovered that her brother, now 64, had survived for 43 years in North Korea and wanted to escape. Against all odds, he finally reached South Korea last October.
Two weeks ago, lean and straight-backed, he put on an army uniform to meet President Kim Young Sam and receive his official discharge and the Unification Medal. Later, sitting in the living room of his sister's comfortable apartment in Seoul, Cho talked with TIME about his hellish years in the north. He spoke slowly because a recent stroke had paralyzed the right side of his face, and he often paused in explaining how he had held despair at bay for so many years. ''I was brought up in a Christian family,'' said Cho, a third- generation Presbyterian. ''I always thought the Lord would save me and return me to my family.''
His odyssey began 43 years ago, when his Chinese captors turned him over to North Korean troops who decided he might be of use to them because he spoke English; they assigned him to a reconnaissance unit. His only thought, Cho said, was to escape. After he revealed his intention to an apparently sympathetic comrade, who turned out to be an informer, Cho was court-martialed and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He spent most of his term in concentration camps in the far north, where he and other prisoners were crammed so tightly into rooms that no one could stretch out to sleep at night. He was rarely let out of the cell and received a daily ration of 300 g of corn and a bowl of watery vegetable soup, barely enough to stay alive. ''Fighting over food was constant,'' he recalled, ''and the strongest were kings. I was always one of the strongest.''
He estimated that 90% of the prisoners died as a result of illness, injury or malnutrition. ''No one wept,'' he said. ''No one expressed sorrow, and no one asked how anyone died.'' Cho was released after 13 years, but the local party office assigned him to work in the Hoha coal mine, near Chunggangjin, on the Chinese border. Accidents claimed many workers' lives there, and Cho's leg was shattered when he was pinned between two coal wagons; the mishap left him with a permanent limp, and his lungs suffered severe damage from prolonged exposure to coal dust.
In 1966 Cho married a North Korean military nurse, Paik Kyung Hee, with whom he had twin sons and a daughter. Almost from the start, the couple was harassed by the secret police -- pressure that strained and eventually destroyed the marriage. In 1972 Paik disappeared, leaving Cho with the children. Five years later he lost his job when lung disease left him too weak to work. To survive, he and his children worked a small illegal garden plot in the mountains. Through all those years he never lost his desire to escape, he said, but the opportunity did not come until North Korea opened its border to barter trade with China in the 1990s.
In early 1992 Cho met a Mr. Lee, a Korean-Chinese trader who frequently visited his neighborhood. Lee agreed to mail a message from Cho to his sister. The letter brought her and, later, other relatives to China, where they struck a deal: for ''a considerable sum,'' as Cho put it, Lee promised to organize his escape. The one thing that held Cho back was his children, but the desire to return home proved to be overpowering. ''I hope they are safe,'' he said of the children, ''but no one knows.''
On the night of Oct. 3, in a driving rain, Cho met Lee by a raft hidden on the North Korean side of the Yalu River. Soldiers who normally patrol the bank had taken shelter from the bad weather. ''You could not see an inch in front of you,'' Cho recalled. ''It was clearly God's will that it was raining like that. Otherwise, we might not have got through.'' He crossed into China but discovered that Chinese and North Korean police were looking for him. With help from sympathizers among the many Korean Chinese in the region, Lee and Cho made their way to the port of Dalian, about 300 km from the border.
The final leg of the escape had been worked out in advance between Lee and Cho's relatives, who by now had contacted the South Korean government for help. They arranged a rendezvous between a Chinese smuggler's boat and a South Korean government vessel. The first attempt, on Oct. 16, failed when the smugglers turned back because of high seas. A week later the vessels made contact about 130 km southwest of Kunsan, a southern port city. After two hours of maneuvering in rough water, the smugglers managed to heave Cho onto the deck of the South Korean vessel. Cho is at home now with his sister, a widow. The remote television tuner befuddles him, and the Seoul streetscape is so confusing that he needs a guide to take a walk. He attends the same Presbyterian church where he worshipped as a youth and gives thanks for his good fortune. Four months ago, at the orders of local officials in Chunggangjin, Cho laid flowers in front of a statue of Kim Il Sung to show his ''grief'' over the Great Leader's death. Now he is a free man. ''I am back where I am entitled to live. I would have no regrets,'' he said last week, ''even if I were to die tomorrow.'' -Edward W. Desmond/Seoul
Yusuf Jameel was a young, local reporter in Srinagar, Kashmir in 1989, when the troubles began. I was the same age and the bureau chief for Time magazine in south Asia. We worked together on many occasions, and I always knew that when I left town for home and the safety of New Delhi, Yusuf was going staying behind, right in the middle of all the violence and mayhem. He had to live with the contending forces in the valley, none of whom were satisfied with his efforts to simply tell the truth about events. He was even more in the crosshairs than others because his main gig was with BBC. Hardly anyone read Time magazine in Kashmir, but everyone listened to the BBC Urdu service, and Yusuf was their main reporter on the ground.
As Yusuf explain in this lengthy and deeply moving interview in Kashmir Walla magazine, he faced constant threats from all sides, was illegally detained by the Indian army, and faced an assassination attempt when a "renegade" militant brought a bomb disguised as a book to his office. It killed his close friend, news photographer Mushtaq Ali, and severely injured Yusuf.
After a long convalescence, Yusuf is back at work as a journalist in Srinagar, where he lives with his wife and three daughters, all of whom, he says, want to be journalists. He regrets nothing and speaks confidently and inspiringly about the importance of the work he and his colleagues, especially the local reporters, did in the service of their calling as journalists. This interview is a great reminder of courage and sacrifice of journalists covering difficult, violent stories, especially the ones who stay behind.
Like most media types, I worry endlessly about what traffic bus I might have missed. When Google+ came along, I thought, ok, I didn't catch Google's Wave and that was the right move. I'll just wait and see what happens to Google+ before I give it much thought.
In mid-December, I had heard enough to think, hmmm, I better create a G+ page for my biggest site, GoFISHn, to see what happens. Check it out here. Then I did nothing for a few weeks. When I looked in on the page this week, I noticed that a couple dozen people in the fishing biz had already located the page and were following it. I knew most of them. They are among the most active, self-directed online marketers in the category. I guess that's no surprise.
But the real shocker came when I did a poll of GoFISHn fans on facebook to ask if they used Google+. We have a 174,000 fans, and got 71 responses, which is probably a just barely valid sampling. Anyway, 36 said "yes," 17 said "no," and 12 said they didn't know what Google+ was.
When I posted about this on my own Facebook page, a few friends, all very sophisticated types, chimed in that they were not using Google+ and it wasn't important to them. I've heard and read various forms of the sentiment in lots of places. Google+ = yawn. That made me wonder: could we be seeing an inversion of the usual bright shiny new things adoption demo profile? Maybe the technorati are less inclined to jump in (speculate why here) than say, small business owners.
As I thought more about this, a pretty simple explanation came to mind. The early adopters I found on GoFISHn's Google+ are all very proficient at SEO and social media. It's natural for them to jump on Google+ because it represents a new and compelling opportunity for free promotion. Facebook caught on. Twitter did too. Get in early on Google+.
And it's not just the social opportunity. It's SEO too. Guess what? Google+ pages turn up very high in Google search results. Our GoFISHn Google+ page ranks sixth in a search for "gofishn", just below our Twitter page. That's awfully strong considering that the page is only a few weeks old and has only a few posts. Pretty amazing, but not really, right? On Bing, by the way, our Google+ page is nowhere to be seen. As any numbers of experts, including John Battelle and Tom Foremski, have pointed out lately, Google's search results are no longer the pure wind-driven algorithm they once were. Google advantages itself, and Google advantages its big brand customers. It stands to reason that anyone who plays ball with Google+ will do well in Google search as well.
I'm now posting on Google+ every day.
I posted that question on Quora and got no answers, sorry to say. But in the meantime I was researching the answer in connection with the creation of an app based on GoFISHn.com, which is a user-generated content site about fishing I started two years ago.
We're calling the app, "The Best of GoFISHn 2011," and we're building it from the best of the more than 10,000 posts members made on the site. It's gorgeous and unlike anything that's ever been tried in the fishing media world. The app (think interactive magazine, or picture book) has about 50 sections, and they feature the images and video from some great fishing guide members of GoFISHn as well as sections we dreamed up based on compliations of great posts in areas like world records, celebrity, danger, disasters, invasives, and more. Below is a sample screen layout from an early prototype.
We've learned a lot in the past two months putting this together and working with Dmitry Paperny at Cohere Studio, so I wrote up my own answer to the question. It's not comprehensive, but it's a good starting point. I hope it saves some time and effort for folks on the same track.
I am beginning to understand how moblie,and tablets in particular, will change everything.
From Hearst President David Carey's 2012 letter to his colleagues: The ambition to see 1 million new PAID subs across all digital platforms EACH month is impressive. But so is the push into HTML5 (hurry up, Adobe) and data and sales efforts. Hearst is on a roll.
"Our target is to reach more than one million paid digital subscribers per month via iTunes, Zinio, Nook, Amazon and Next Issue Media. We will fast-track the transition to HTML5 for all our sites, which allows for a far better user experience on mobile devices. iCrossing’s “connected brands” strategy, now bolstered with a more robust data platform, positions Hearst to grow its leadership position in digital marketing services. And CDS Global, our second largest business in the U.S., will continue to add more technology solutions to serve its increasingly diversified client base."
I can't resist making this addition to the Kim Jong Il catalogue of craziness.
Everyone knows he was a movie nut, right?
I confirmed that first hand in 1995, when my employer, Time magazine, sent me to Pyongyang to negotiate a visit by what we called the Time News Tour, which was a big news junket the company organized for prominent CEOs to visit off-the-grid places they might never reach on their own. The tour had never touched down in the Hermit Kingdom, and the Time Inc. CEO at the time, Reg Brack, really wanted it on the itinerary.
I was the Time magazine bureau chief in Tokyo, and it fell to me to test the waters in Pyongyang. I made two trips, which were both fascinating, because journalists rarely get to visit North Korea, and uncomfortable, because the North Koreans would want something in return for hosting our entourage.
The first trip started badly when my handlers drove me straight from the airport to the central square in Pyongyang that surrounds a giant bronze statue of the big man, Kim Ill Sung, Kim Jong Il's late father. With television cameras and lights ready, they jammed a bouquet of flowers into my arms and practically shoved me forward to lay flowers the the statue's feet. Somehow I managed to dig in my heels and resist.
There were many such strange moments on my two visits, but I it was not until the end of my second that I felt the drama building for the big "ask" -- what it would take to win Kim Jong Il's approval for the Time News Tour visit? My two handlers, both well educated gentlemen, grew a bit more intense than usual and asked if it was correct that Time magazine was owned by Time-Warner. I replied that it was, and then one said, "We have a special request, from the dear leader himself. He requests that you bring this on your next trip to Pyongyang."
He paused, and I looked at him blankly, wondering what I would say when the request was something impossible, unethical, or both.
"The Bridges of Madison County," he said.
"What," I asked?
"The dear leader would like an original reel of the film The Bridges of Madison County. Can you do this? It is a Warner film."
To be honest, I don't recall what I said. I was too stunned. What was Kim's deal? Did he have a thing for Streep? Eastwood? Was he into pulp romance?
I conveyed the message when I returned to Tokyo. Kim Jong Il never got the reels as far as I know. Not long after I left the North Koreans passed word that they would not welcome the Time News Tour.
Maybe the dear leader found a bootleg copy of the film. I'll never know.
The Fugees lyrics came to mind when I got off the phone with a young media buyer from an agency that handles a lot of business for companies in the sportfishing world.
In a five-minute call, he embodied why it's so difficult to run an ad-driven media business online.
"We found your GoFISHn site on Quancast and think it's really cool and your audience numbers are great."
Liked the sound of that.
"But your CPMs are really high. They must scare a lot of people away."
Oh-oh. I tell him we can do better on price. What's he looking for?
"It's too early to talk about price. What we'd like is as much as of your inventory as you can give us for six months for free."
"Yeah, then we can assess what the click-thru rate is and decide if we want to buy anything."
In other words, after six months, you will tell me that the click-thru was disappointing and you are either a) not interested or b) would be willing to continue the test if we change x, y and z for another trial.
When I respond that I won't go that low, that there are other benefits to advertising besides clicks, he'll tell me that his agency will buy my site through an ad network, probably Google's Ad Sense, and get my inventory for pennies. I know the drill.
I managed to remain polite and promised to think over his proposal. But I have not really given it any thought. Instead I've been reflecting about how the deck is stacked against media companies online.
This young buyer is not really to blame, if blame is the right word. It's Google that invented our online advertising world and its metrics-driven mindset. No click, no value. It's what people do, not what they see, that you can measure, tie into mareting ROI, and essentially "prove out." It's a computer scientist's world view, and one that ad agencies have righteously embraced.
A few years back, Google's Eric Schmidt used to love to tell media executives that Google was going to make the free, ad-supported model work for everyone. Just make it free, he'd say, and Google's Ad Sense machinery will handle it all --including the (small) check in your mailbox. What he neglected to say was Google would establish the price for your goods, not you. And almost no one, except truly huge sites with low overhead, could stamp out their media widgets at that price.
The young agency ad buyer is Schmidt's inheritance. He named his price: free.
No wonder media sites online struggle. As Gawker's Nick Denton once famously remarked, success leaves you feeling like you are just atop a "dung heap."
There are only two ways of escape. Hit massive scale, do it affordably, and figure out a premium ad sales strategy. This is hard, but not impossible. Established brands that can monetize content in more than one way (say print + online) and afford switch-hitting sales teams to make this work.
The other approach, which is increasingly combined with the first, is to create a content that consumers will pay for. The Wall Street Journal, of course, always understood this. The rapid dawn of the mobile + tablet era has also stirred a growing interest in this route as success stories like the FT and come to light, not to mention tablet results at Hearst and Conde Nast.
If there is a silver lining in the world Google made for media online, it is this: media has to get really good, good enough for consumers to pay, in order to succeed in a really rewarding way. And when the content and the experience is that good, advertisers will shake off that Google inheritance and want to be there too.