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Cat memes will become less prominent on Facebook

Recent changes to Facebook’s news feed algorithm mean that organizations and companies developing and publishing their own original content are now receiving a significant boost on the leading social media site. Two weeks ago, Varun Kacholia and Minwen Ji, engineering and software managers at Facebook, respectively, posted in the Facebook Newsroom that “we are now paying closer attention to what makes for high quality content…what this means is that you may start to notice links to articles a little more often (particularly on mobile). Why are we doing this? Our surveys show that on average people prefer links to [these kinds of] articles…to the latest meme” about dancing cats or photos marked up with funny captions (as in the example to the left).

The bottom line: “high quality articles you or others read may show up a bit more prominently in your News Feed, and meme photos may show up a bit less prominently.”

Facebook’s move is not a surprise. Traffic from Facebook to news sites tripled in the past year. Facebook is being increasingly used as a news source (much as Twitter has also evolved). So why shouldn’t Facebook’s algorithm promote original news articles? Facebook hasn’t revealed the secret formula for how it will recognize “high quality content” but the Kacholia and Ji’s promise is clear: uninformative over-shared links and tired memes will be demoted.

All of this is great news for Blum Interactive Media clients that have engaged us to create original content to publish on their websites, Facebook pages, email newsletters and other social sharing services. Original content already ranked high in Google’s organic listings; now Facebook is joining the party. Take a look at the home page from one of our clients, Shavei Israel: they treat their website as a mini-newspaper, publishing 2-3 original stories (which we write) every week. The result has been dramatic – on Facebook alone, Shavei Israel and its related pages now have more than 60,000 “likes” and web traffic is up as well.

There’s a sidebar take away here too: trying to create “viral” material online just got harder…and easier. You can spend less time over-thinking and crazy planning what you hope will become the next mega-video hit. Instead, write the best quality content and the social networks will help you out on their own terms.

Facebook - Related articles exampleFacebook will also be showing “related articles” directly below the news feed post. Although you can’t control which articles will appear, our experience using similar products on our own websites indicates that at least some of the time, these will be articles that your organization or company has published. The more content you have out there, the more likely it will appear in this new Facebook section. See the example from Facebook on the right.

If you’re thinking about how to get going with your own original content strategy, keep in mind that it’s not a one-time thing. To stand out on Facebook, Google – really, anywhere online – your organization or company needs a regular stream of innovative articles and multimedia material. The aim is to turn your website and social media presence into a destination; a trusted source of compelling content that make readers want to come back – to subscribe to your newsletter, to like your Facebook page, and to share and forward what they receive.

Now more than ever, you can’t do this with a couple of lines and a cute picture in a blog post here or a press release there. You need to publish new material on a continuing basis. As your content appears more frequently in your followers’ news feeds and in search engine results, your supporters will know who and what you are about, so that when it’s time to ask for donations, or to sell a new product, they’ll already be primed.

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Would Mark Zuckerberg be asked for the password to his Facebook account?

Here’s a trend that seems outright outrageous: asking for a job applicant’s social media passwords.

It’s been in the news for the past few years, off-and-on, especially during the past few weeks. Today, the Toronto Star has an article about a candidate for a law enforcement job who was asked to share his Facebook password with the recruiter. He wasn’t just asked to “friend” the recruiter, and when he offered to show his profile on the laptop in the interview room, the recruiter insisted on receiving the password.

The article in the Star came in reaction to a flurry of reports in the U.S. and U.K. about the occasional use of this distressing practice. Asking for an applicant’s password for a job with the police seems to be the most common – Bloomberg BusinessWeek cites examples from Virginia, Montana and Maryland – while The Telegraph writes about an online retail company employee in the U.K. who was asked to hand over his login details after his employer went trolling on Facebook and couldn’t find any personal details on the worker.

Facebook itself is up in arms about the practice. The Telegraph received a response from Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, who wrote:

In recent months, we’ve seen a distressing increase in reports of employers or others seeking to gain inappropriate access to people’s Facebook profiles or private information. This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends. It also potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability.

The most alarming of these practices is the reported incidences of employers asking prospective or actual employees to reveal their passwords. If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends. We have worked really hard at Facebook to give you the tools to control who sees your information. … That’s why we’ve made it a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password.

The ACLU warns that employers or recruiters asking for social media passwords are entering a legal gray area that may potentially open them up to both privacy and discrimination lawsuits. And if the employer is the government, “they may be violating your Fourth Amendment rights,” Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU, told BusinessWeek.

Canadians may have it better than job seekers elsewhere. The Canadian publication TechVibes quotes Paul Cavaluzzo, a Toronto-based labor lawyer, who says that laws in Canada are more stringent than in the U.S. with regards to protecting private information. In an interview with CityTV he noted that, while there aren’t yet laws dealing specifically with social media, Canada has “always respected privacy rights.”

Cavaluzzo adds that “if an interviewer demands your password, feel free to call them out. Or just ask them for their house keys in exchange; the differences are negligible.”

A version of this article appeared yesterday on the AIM Group blog, a publication I write for regularly.

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A poster for the interactive movie "Turbulence"

“All filmmaking is based on a lie,” says Israeli Professor Nitzan Ben-Shaul. “In the narrative structure of a movie, it appears that there is only one possible ending – that the way it’s presented is the way it has to be. But in life there are always options.”

To demonstrate his argument, Ben-Shaul of the Film and Television Department at Tel Aviv University has created the world’s first, fully interactive feature film where the viewer gets to decide at various points, in real time, how the action will progress. “It’s nothing short of revolutionary,” he says. “It has the possibility of turning every one of us into potential film directors.”

Ben-Shaul is not a technologist – he teaches classes in cinema studies at Tel Aviv University and has written several books including Mythical Expressions of Siege in Israeli Films and Hyper-Narrative Interactive Cinema: Problems and Solution. So to create his interactive movie, he partnered with Guy Avneyon who built a sophisticated patent-pending movie editor and standalone player.

The technology is still under construction, as is the company. Turbulence (also the name of Ben-Shaul’s interactive film) is just now being incorporated and seeking angel investment. For Ben-Shaul, that’s less important. His focus is the process of thinking through the making of an interactive movie.

Ben-Shaul points to the Gwyneth Paltrow hit Sliding Doors which presented two alternative paths that intersected, diverged and eventually arrived at a single conclusion.

Turbulence the film is similar, except that the viewer controls the points of departure. The 83-minute suspense/thriller is about three friends who meet by chance in New York 20 years after they participated in a demonstration in Israel and were arrested. At the time, the police pitted the three against each other, which led to accusations of betrayal. There is also a love story that is rekindled.

The interaction takes the form of “hot spots” that glow when the viewer can make a choice. At one point, for example, one of the Israelis has written a message to his lover on his cell phone. The viewer can click “Send” or “Cancel”. If the viewer hesitates too long, the action continues according to a pre-determined narrative path.

Unlike previous interactive attempts, the transitions in Turbulence are seamless, which means there is no point where the movie stops and a flashing button appears with big icons to click. Once a choice is made, the film immediately cuts to a new scene. “That’s the language of movies,” Ben-Shaul explains. “There could be 4,000 cuts in a film, but if you cut on motion, people don’t see the transition, they just see the flow.”

While viewers make choices throughout the viewing experience, the film regularly returns to the main narrative. This means the writers don’t have to create 10 entirely different scripts (although in Turbulence there are several alternate endings).

Ben-Shaul is adamant that interactivity is not a gimmick – like the first attempts at 3D in the 1950s and 1960s. But he warns that interactive films must be carefully planned to avoid the errors of more primitive experiments in the past.

These mistakes include what he refers to as the ‘computerization trap’. “Computers can generate endless possibilities, but that doesn’t help the viewer in terms of drama. It interests computers, but not humans!” he says. Good interactive drama, he adds, is actually about “option restriction”.

Interactive movie producers should also not try to emulate the gaming world, he cautions. “It’s not about scoring and puzzle-solving,” Ben-Shaul says. “It’s about creating real, life-like situations.”

Turbulence can currently be viewed on either a Mac or PC. But Ben-Shaul is most excited about the red-hot Apple iPad. With its touch screen and media consumption emphasis, “it’s the perfect device. The iPad is a main target,” Ben-Shaul says.

Behind the scenes at Turbulence

The technological secret behind the film comprises an editor that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever created a movie, with a timeline, audio control, and multiple tracks. There are various additions such as a library of clips and hot spots that can be easily inserted.

The aim is to sell a standalone version as well as plug-ins for professional editing systems such as Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere and Avid. Ben-Shaul and his team are also developing a scriptwriting tool that will ease the creation of a hyper-narrative.

Both grassroots and professional filmmakers should be empowered. “We’re not aiming toward automatic storytelling,” he says. “That’s like robots today, which are so far off from what humans can do.”

Turbulence isn’t the only software company making interactive movies. Israeli alternative rock sensation Yoni Bloch owns a company called Interlude, which is moving in the same direction. Earlier this year, Interlude produced a music video by pop singer Andy Grammar that includes seamless interactivity. YouTube also has its own very simple interactive functionality.

Ben-Shaul acknowledges the competition but says his system is further along, not to mention patented. Turbulence also gives viewers the ability to actually move an object on screen (for example, to slide a letter out of a drawer) rather than just click or touch a point on the screen.

The idea for Turbulence was hatched in response to one of Ben-Shaul’s courses about the “siege mentality in Israeli cinema.” The professor explains: “Israeli movies are very close-minded. It comes from the society and the political situation; from war and ethnic tensions. Interactivity and giving people options is the opposite.”

Interactive movies are primarily intended for an audience of one. But Ben-Shaul says it’s possible for an entire audience to get in on the fun. Turbulence was premiered at the Berkeley Film Festival this year where it won the prize for “best experimental feature.”

In a demonstration of the interactivity at the showing, Ben-Shaul’s wife (who also works at the company) canvassed the audience at each decision point. Ben-Shaul then clicked the viewer’s choice from his computer backstage.

In the future, Ben-Shaul would like to build a system where everyone in the audience has a controller, allowing the movie to move in the direction dictated by a majority vote. In the meantime, Ben-Shaul says the showing at Berkeley was “very successful. People loved it.”

Ben-Shaul hopes to show Turbulence in Israel, perhaps at one of the country’s Cinematheques, though nothing has been finalized yet. For now, interactive movie fans will have to visit Ben-Shaul in his office at Tel Aviv University or watch a TV news clip and interview with Ben-Shaul on Israel’s Channel 10 which provides a hint of the richness of interactive moviemaking.

Beyond entertainment, interactive video might even help to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ben-Shaul suggests. Interactivity, he says, “develops thinking for people who are in what seems like an intractable conflict. It can be a real therapeutic tool.”

This article originally appeared on Israel21c.

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AIMGroup LogoLast week, I published 15 links to articles I wrote for AIMGroup.com about the the classified advertising business which I covered for five years. I chronicled hundreds of companies – from startups to established classified pure plays.

Here is part two of my list. And if you want to know more, visit AIMGroup.com for the latest headlines and analysis.

Atlanta newspaper: turn your computers off on Sundays and read us in print!

10 reasons you’ll miss print newspapers (parody).

Most people wouldn’t care if their local newspaper folded. Oy!

Tips from WSJ on how you can charge for content online.

Tweet your notes to the Western Wall.

YouTube is bleeding money – can it survive?

Survey: surfers don’t mind pop up ads…much.

Columbia University J-school head thumbs nose at social media.

Using social media when the news is bad.

Hearst sourcing content from Helium.

How to get people to pay for online? Black out all web news for a week.

Nine tips for alternative business models for struggling newspapers.

The future of the Internet in 2010 according to Pew.

How much time are you wasting online An irreverent new website tells you.

Car dealers upping Internet marketing spend as sales continue to drop.

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AIMGroup LogoFor over five years, I covered the classified advertising business for AIMGroup.com. I was the beat reporter for real estate and automotive, and I chronicled hundreds of companies – from startups such as Zillow and HotPads – to established classified pure plays including Realtor.com, AutoTrader.com and Cars.com.

We covered social media extensively, but the main story was how newspapers had let these online competitors, not the least of which was Craigslist, decimate their classified advertising business, (hence leading to the dire straights print papers are in today) and what they could do to recover.

An often told if somewhat apocryphal story is how the Boston Globe once had the opportunity to buy recruiting powerhouse Monster.com but declined, saying in essence “hey, we’re the big bad Boston Globe, we don’t need that little pitzkele site.”

If watching the classified advertising shake down is of interest, I recommend you visit AIMGroup.com. In the meantime, I present you here with links to some of my more evergreen blog posts for the site over the last couple of years.

There are a lot of links, so I’ll publish these in two posts – here’s part one.

Thanks for permission to post these from my erstwhile editor Jim Townsend and publisher Peter Zollman.

If the NYTimes dropped print and distribution and gave all its subscribers e-Readers, it would actually save money!

Short attention span theater: new data – 10 percent of viewers leave an online video within 10 seconds.

85% of Gen Y-ers participate in social networking. Do you?

“Digital immigrants” vs. “digital natives” - with Facebook, you’ll never have to “get back in touch” again.

Google to newspapers: “grow up” (it’s not that hard to block Google indexing).

Profile of 2 Israeli startups shaking up writing and news: Iamnews and WeBook.

10 tips on how to make hyperlocal work.

If you want to trash your ex online, do it in Texas, not Colorado.

Teens don’t tweet. How come? Here’s what a teenage analyst has to say.

Consumers will pay 62% of what they pay for a print newspaper to access online news sites.

Why international users are draining Facebook’s coffers.

Creepy hookups – Google Maps and Craigslist personal mashup.

Social networks trump email for content sharing.

It’s not the newspapers, it’s their owners for print’s problems.

The first all-tweet newspaper – social media vanity press? Meanwhile, blog-to-print newspaper fails.

More next week…

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Get a New Logo for $30

by Brian Blum on March 31, 2010

in Advertising,Resources

NameProsI want to let you in on one of my biggest – and most cost-saving – secrets. Did you notice the new logo I posted awhile back on this site – the colorful “Blum Interactive Media” with the interacting squares? Now take a look at the new logo I have on my personal blog – “This Normal Life.”

How much do you think I paid to have each of these logos designed? A reasonably priced graphic designer here in the Jerusalem area told me that to create a logo, I needed to conduct a full branding endeavor that would run a minimum of $700. From what I’ve seen, that’s actually pretty cheap in the world of corporate creative.

But I didn’t pay $700. Not even half of that. I paid only $30. How did I do it? I went to a website called NamePros. The site is mainly about buying and selling domain names, but there is a section in the bottom of third of the page called “Design Contests.”

Visually, the site is nothing to write home about – it’s essentially just a big bulletin board where you start a new topic and then people post their responses. But don’t let the simplicity fool you – this is a powerful tool.

Here’s how it works: you start a new “contest” by writing a description of what you’re looking for, including any specifics, such as dimensions, colors or concept. You indicate a price and a time frame – contests can run no longer than 10 days. Most are priced between $25-$50.

Designers then starting posting their ideas to the board. Now this is what’s key about NamePros: the logos are displayed for everyone to see – you and all future and current design competitors. The artists expect your feedback and then come back and post revised versions.

At the end of ten days, you could have dozens of different designs and their iterations. Some are amateurish, to be sure, but many are truly top quality. Posting on NamePros represents a radically different experience from other freelance design sites such as eLance where you have to pick a designer first before you see what they’ll come up with.

The one rule you have to follow: at the end of the contest, you must pick a winner and pay them, even if you haven’t received a design you really love. If you don’t ante up, you get banned from the site. But at $30, think of it as a couple of falafel rather than a major investment.

Where are the designers from? All around the world. I’ve had submissions from Malaysia to Maryland. My latest winner lives in Greece; before that, Pakistan.

Tip of the hat: I would never have known about NamePros if it were not for my friend and social media colleague Akiva Fuld. Thanks Akiva for saving me hundreds of dollars!

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Great Deals or Hidden Scam?

by Brian Blum on February 21, 2010

in Entrepreneurs,Media,Products,Startups

Free Israel logo 2The courts have ruled that the service is legal, but it still leaves a muddled taste in my mouth. I’m talking about Free.co.il, a popular Israeli auction site that works more like the Lotto than eBay.

You can’t help but be drawn in by Free.co.il’s home page which promises a Sony Playstation for NIS 99 ($26), a MacBook Air for NIS 299 ($79), and even a brand new Mazda 3 for a steal at only NIS 899 ($237). Who wouldn’t want to play with deals like these?

At first, it would be hard to distinguish Free.co.il from a traditional eBay-style auction site: you place your bids on items for sale and the highest bidder within the auction’s time frame wins. Unlike eBay, though, you have to pay for your bids. The cost of each bid varies; for the MacBook, it’s NIS 20 (about $5). It’s higher for bigger ticket items.

So, let’s say you bid 20 times to win that MacBook. You’ll pay NIS 20 x 20 or NIS 400 ($105). Then you pay the price of the unit, plus shipping of NIS 75 ($20) – written in tiny letters on a separate page you have to click to see. Your total cost: NIS 774 ($206). That’s still way less than the retail price of NIS 8,899 ($2,400) at Apple’s Tel Aviv outlet, but it’s not the NIS 299 that was initially advertised.

And what if you don’t win? Then you lose the NIS 400 entirely. That’s how Free.co.il can offer such low prices.

Still, if you place your bids right (and there is a whole section on “bidding strategies” on the site), and you’re willing to stick with it and spend hours aggressively placing last minute bets, you will win eventually (hopefully for an item you actually want). So, even if you wind up spending NIS 2,000 bidding on several items before winning one that’s valued at NIS 10,000, you’re still getting the product at an 80% discount.

There’s one other trick Free.co.il has up its digital sleeve. If two people bid the same amount, both bids are canceled. That means that the highest “unique” bid wins. You can see who’s placing what bids, their initials and even where they live, but not the amount they’re spending. So you never really know if your bid is being burned or not.

Free.co.il is entirely in Hebrew, but there’s a thriving market of overseas competitors. Is this a good business? Investors seem to think so. One of Free.co.il’s rivals, Swoopo, has raised an astonishing $14 million. Another – BigDeal – has a $4 million war chest and some Silicon Valley luminaries at the helm.

It’s certainly compelling – who wouldn’t want an iPhone at a tenth of the retail price – though I don’t think I’d have the stomach for it (I usually chicken out and click the “Buy it Now” button on eBay). And it peeves me that Free.co.il buries those hefty shipping fees in hard-to-find small print – it makes me wonder what else are they hiding.

But if you’re willing to play by the rules, and you enjoy the thrill of the game, Free.co.il could be the 21st century version of “The Price is Right.” All we need now is our own Israeli version of Bob Barker.

This article originally appeared on the Israelity blog.

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Television_remote_controlInteractive video has been one of my passions since I worked as a “multimedia producer” in the early 1990s creating CD-ROM titles in edutainment and healthcare. In 1994, I led a team that produced “How Multimedia Computers Work,” an immersive interactive environment that plunged viewers into a virtual 3D computer. We followed that up with “How Your Body Works.” Both were co-published in a book-CD package by Ziff-Davis Press.

In recent years, interactive video has been used very effectively for advertising and marketing. Carnival Cruise Lines employed it to help bring a cruise ship alive for would-be (and high-paying) passengers. Mars created an entire mini-commercial called “Get the Girl…An Interactive Love Story (Sort Of)” for its Twix brand where the viewer gets to choose what happens next. Even The New York Times got into the act with an interactive David Pogue sharing insights on consumer electronics.

But the Holy Grail for we interactive pioneers was always marrying it with broadcast television. It was the late 1980s, though, and technology never kept up with our creativity. Now, though, with the advent of social media, that day may have arrived. But with what consequences?

I wrote in my earlier post about Jeff Pulver’s “140 Characters Conference” which paraded a veritable cavalcade of social media luminaries on stage to talk about all things Twitter and Facebook. One of the panels at the event was on “social TV.”

Veteran Israeli media consultant Dror Gill described how TV and Twitter are already mashing up. A growing community of users are tweeting while they watch the tube, he explained, sending their comments, theories and criticisms into the social ether for others who are following the same program at the same time to reply to or re-tweet.

Gill called this phenomena 2-screen interactive TV (there are cable operators that have already integrated similar social media tricks into a single screen).

The experience, Gill explained, in some ways recreates a bit of what was for me an integral part of my childhood: sitting together as a family, laughing at dead parrots and silly walks, or cringing at another one of Mary Tyler Moore’s insecure faux-pas’s.

These days, it’s rare for members of a family to even find time to eat dinner as a cohesive unit. Twittering together, apparently, is the next best thing…even if your fellow schmoozers are on opposite coasts (or even different continents).

Conference host Pulver related his own social TV experience. A big fan of the NBC show Heroes, one evening, Pulver found himself away from the TV trolling the aisles for canned corn or some other delicacy in his local supermarket.

Distraught over missing his favorite guilty pleasure, he pulled out his cell phone and was able to follow the show by scrolling through the real-time tweets that neatly summarized the main plot turns.

How Pulver got his shopping done I don’t know…I also have to wonder why the one time founder of VoIP giant Vonage didn’t just TiVo the show, or at least watch it later on Hulu. But that wouldn’t have made for such an illustrative story.

Despite the fact that a number of the participants at the conference praised social media for making the post-modern world a little less lonely, the entire experience seems to me to be exactly the opposite. Where once we gathered in a shared space, we now sit alone opposite our 42-inch plasma screens tapping away to strangers thousands of miles away.

But for advertisers, this real time web can perhaps be seen as a hopeful trend. Broadcast television has been inching inexorably towards time shifting. The number of viewers watching a show at the hour it’s actually aired has been steadily declining in an online world where you can instantly stream that same program on any number of sites or – heaven forbid – download it for free.

The social media interactive experience, by contrast, requires participants to watch live. Tape delay ruins the whole thing. Moreover, not only can’t live viewers fast forward through the commercials, TV Twitterers may be less likely to jump up at a commercial at all. With all the real time excitement, a social media conversation may actually evolve about the ad itself. That puts the onus on the advertiser to make sure that what they’ve created can withstand the withering comments of a live Twitterverse.

The game for advertisers, as a result, gets even more complicated than it already is in a globally connected world. Companies must make sure they have assigned a staff person to monitor Twitter and other social media channels whenever their ads play in primetime. Because, when the masses won’t put down their keyboards even during the once sacred passive TV experience, the necessity to remain vigilant, to jump to attention and enact damage control if the need arises, becomes an integral part of the job.

It’s been said before by techno-luminaries far more prolific than me, but social media can no longer be seen as a “nice to have.” This makes it at once both terrifying and a terrific opportunity. But it’s one that must not be ignored.

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$10 for Crying Out Loud

November 23, 2009

Outbrain is a company I like a lot. It has a seemingly simple product that provides some very useful functionality: content rating and recommendations for blogs. Follow the easy installation instructions and Outbrain will allow your readers to give your latest post a 1-5 score. Then, based on Outbrain’s massive database of reader tastes and […]

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7 Reasons Why You Don’t Need to Blog Every Day (and Maybe You Shouldn’t)

October 14, 2009

I’ve always felt that I’ve been an under-performer when it comes to updating my blog. Unlike some of my more prolific colleagues, I’m in general  a once a week poster, both on this blog and my personal site. I like to take my time, collate references, and create a thoughtful 800-word essay. I suppose it […]

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