Erik Sundelöf

entrepreneur, thinker and Swede

The Human Story

150 150 eriks

I thought of something this morning. Every morning when I walk to the train along University Avenue listening to music I see a few homeless people in the streets. Usually they sit in the sun to warm up. One has always caught my attention as he usually sit and write on a notepad. Sometimes he is numbering the sheets, sometimes he is writing. I am not sure what he is writing and what his story is. It however makes me curious. I want to know more. I also want to know how he ended up where he did.

This is really what media should be all about. For all topics. The human element. The human story. The personal, tangible, relatable touch from another person just as you and I. For all stories. With the context the story lives in presented. It is about presenting that human element of the story… It is about turning the concept of media upside down. Show the individual story with the context around it. Showing the diversity, yet giving it a voice. Giving room for humans, yet using traditional media aspects to provide the context.

Think of concert with Bono. Think of a demonstration on the squares of Minsk, Belarus. Think of the stories from Kenya during elections. Think of the stories from the streets around the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad. Think of the stories from China during the olympics. What really makes a difference is to hear those individual voices. That regular voice. Hearing the whispers on the streets. Feeling it. Think of it as being in the ultimate reality show where you participate, observe and experience it through the eyes of the people there. Only better as this is really real. Now that is cool.

To tell these human stories we will have to turn to multimedia, in particular photography and video. Why? Visual story telling is possible even for illiterates. The main issue with audio is the language barrier. If you do not know the language, the message is lost. Text is not a suitable medium of obvious reasons – langugae, illiteracy and also notoriously hard as most of us are not great writers. Sorry, guys and girls. I know we all want to be, but we are not. There are a few masters out there, but most of us are not. However, I am not saying that photography and video story telling is easy, but it is better media for the common person to tell their stories. The visual language is universal, more relatable and tangible for most people.

The really cool thing is that we have all the pieces – for instance cheap cellphone and digital cameras, 3rd party sites for videos and pictures, cheap and simple editing software and a cascade of publishing platforms. The pieces are there. The opportunity is there. Now let us see who will be the first to capitalize on the opportunity.

Sunday

150 150 eriks

This weekend I went to the Green Gulch Farm in the mountains north of San Francisco. It is a Zen Buddhistic temple as well as an organic farm. I from time to time go there. It is an amazing ride over there, and a very peaceful place to be in. During the summers we go to the beach right after. It feels like childhood being at our country house in the summers. It also brings back memories from when I got confirmed and we went to a mediation center. (Imagine being thirteen years old ad having to be quite for two days. It was a challenge for sure.) Every time I am up at the Green Gulch I end up feeling like a little boy playing in the grass in the country during the summers, or eating cheese sandwiches and drinking O’Boy under the apple trees listening to sound of nature and horses. Showering with the cold, cold water from the spring. Or building Indian cottages in the forest near the house.

This Sunday, it was this amazing morning with the sun shining and the air was clear. It is something about early Sunday mornings. They are peaceful. The best part of the whole day was to sit on a bench after the meditation and lesson, sipping a nice Earl Grey tea with honey and milk in the sunlight. The company was amazing. The weather was amazing. The surrounding nature was incredible. Sometimes you would like time to just stop… Halt. Sometimes twenty minutes in the sun listening to the nature and enjoying the company is just timeless and priceless.

Life is incredibly good those days. You wish you could stay in that environment forever.

PageRank – The Natural Choice?

150 150 eriks

I have been thinking of the concept of content ranking lately or specifically the constant struggle between diversity and singularity. Maybe the paradox is us as humans. Singularity is simple. It is transparent. Diversity is not. It creates this twilight zone reality where you do not really know what is the true or false. The easy, simple answers disappear. PageRank… The amazing algorithm that disrupted a whole business and market. It gives us what we need. Or does it? Really? PageRank works (simplified of course) very much like biological evolution. The strongest (or here most reputable) survives. The strongest win. They concur the weakest. The alternative voices such as the extinction threatened species are not heard. They are lost in the noise. Is this right? Or is it “just” the natural choice? Hard question right. Maybe we all are programmed to obey the nature of the evolutionary laws. In every aspect of our lives.

Just to make it a bit more tangible. The best user interfaces are singular in their nature. Take Google for instance. One search box. That’s it. You can say the same thing about the essential objectives behind YouTube and Flickr. They do perform one task and they do it really good. It is one objective really. Making uploading of videos and photos respectively dead simple. Nothing else shadows the major objective. I do not want to go into greater detail, but I will assume you at least kind of get what my point is.

Maybe humans are after “the” answer. They want that ultimate, simple, neat little answer. The this-is-how-it-is answer. That neat little package of how things are and especially how they are not. But are things really that simple? It makes life very easy. All search engines I have seen have been designed that way, and even worse most media companies. But the matter of fact is that the reality is not singular. It is diverse. It is complex. It is human. It really is diverse. It is the twilight zone where you do not really know what is the answer. You just have to accept it for what it is. I love it, but I gather most don’t.

There are so many tangents we can go into. The concept of an ever increasing universal entropy. Or the fundamental concept in quantum mechanics were there is not a concept of a neat little single answer. The answer only lies in the future there.

However…

Ever since I saw the movie EPIC 2014. ( Yeah, I know. Get over it, Erik! I promise I will someday. :-) ) The key question from that movie is whether what we (believe) we want really is what we want. That is a hard one as no single person can answer it. Even more mindblowing. If it is not what we want, why do we want it? How can we shape a media where we get what we want, yet provide the diversity we seek but not seek? How do we shape it so that we see all issues yet do not feel like we get things stuffed down our throats? That is in my eyes one of the biggest challenges for the media industry as well as our society in the future.

Specifically for the media business: Is PageRank type solutions really what we want or is it what we believe what we want? I do not know. What I do know is that we collectively have to decide. Maybe we reach some answers, maybe we do not. But we should think some of it.

Again. The time for media is amazingly exciting these days. The possibilities are endless. Welcome to the party!

The Media Arena of The Future – Key Characteristics and Participants

150 150 eriks

The state of the news industry resembles the music industry when file sharing emerged. The social media sites are creating a disruption that makes the traditional players all fumble when it comes to how to merge the traditional news coverage with citizen coverage and opinion. Undoubtedly we are in a place in time where the media industry is as exciting as ever, yet we will see new players on the market constantly come.

The essential characteristic of media right now is content packaging and promotion, not content distribution or content creation. The trend towards such will only increase as we move forward. The main disruptions here have been the open-source content management systems and blogging platforms. Putting up a website now is as simple as a few clicks. You are up and blogging in no-time and can start to share your opinions. There are an enormous amount of sites providing possibilities for social bookmarking, multimedia upload and integration with your own site which will help you in the promotional part. In all honesty I would have to admit that learning content promotion is the toughest part and the biggest challenge for any blogger, photographer, video maker or any other content creator.

The main issue for user generated content is validation, quality assurance and trust (especially for unknown and alternative voices). I will not here get into too many details here as it is a pretty broad and slightly complex topic, but the main issue are:

  • Digg voting type of solutions leads to group fractioning. I have also seen too many solutions where you give the power to a few selected users, why you still have an issue to get the less strong yet very valid voices heard. The super editors in Wikipedia is another example here of a model that has proven insufficient, as one of their super editors turned out to be a fake. The issue is not that he was a fake but that it has been claimed that all super editors are prominent member of field of expertise they cover there. It creates a distrust of the system which projects over the quality of the content on the long term.
  • PageRank type solutions lead to the survival of the strongest and/or reputable. The hierarchy has been set which makes it very hard for new entrants in the space and for new, unknown voices to be heard. It is perfect for information seeking, but is non-functional for news and opinion.
  • Reputation of the single user is an interesting factor to build trust, but not solely sufficient. We have seen examples in the media industry before. For instance the tampered photos of the bombings of Beirut in Lebanon 2006 of a well-known Reuters photographer and the made up news stories by the New York Times journalist Jason Blair. You need to have a counter force here too.

It is obvious that the right, sustainable solution will be a combination of these three ranking attributes. Such a combination will be much more scalable, much more robust, completely technology based and still adequately resolve the ranking of user generated content than any human based solution. This is especially true for the long tail market where the amount of content is just too big for humans too handle – both practical and consistently. Think of it as a simulation of the traditional newsroom process. That is pretty cool, right?

The media arena today is highly competitive why the shrinking profit margins calls for a technology based solution with community support to cover a bigger piece of the cake and monetize that part. Keeping the cost structure very low, yet keeping the quality high with an increased engagement and entertainment value for the consumers. This tendency we have seen in another parts of the web already – YouTube did it for videos. Flickr did it for images. Facebook did it for social networks. (Ok, MySpace has played some role here too, but I still think Facebook has a better and broader solution here.)

The key skill sets of the participants of the new media arena:

  1. Consumers
    • Information snacking
    • Broad interests
    • Geographical breakdown
    • The question “why” is increasingly becoming more important
    • Engaged, and entertained
    • Relatable and tangible presentations necessary
  2. Creators
    • Multimedia more important
    • Text as a medium is dying, or at least becoming less important as the story telling media type.
    • In-the-field reporting increasingly important
    • Knowing and closely interacting with their readership very important
  3. Producers
    • Fast consumption calls for a fast medium of distribution
    • The globe as a market calls for a web solution
    • Diverse distribution mechanisms
    • Multiple reporting entries (cellphone, web, email)
    • Multiple media types (text, audio, pictures, video)