I spent this morning at the Association of Online Publishers annual conference, held at Grosvenor House in London - for pretty obvious reasons. Publishers have infrastructure, brands, and a desire to sell content: if they can identify what's appropriate for mobile distribution, package it up into friendly, robust products and integrate with operators to sell it, they stand to make money. This is obviously a service that we offer.
Thanks to the bastard fucking trains taking 2 hours to deliver me from Brighton to central London, and my own incompetence at navigating across town, I managed to miss all but the last 10 minutes of Dan Gillmors keynote: but what I did catch sounded excellent. He had obviously talked about blogging earlier, and was now going into "Remix Culture" and Creative Commons licenses ("some rights reserved" rather than "all rights reserved", as he put it). I was mildly surprised to hear someone talking to Serious Publishing Types about weblogs: I mean, only a year or two back there was a lot of sniffiness and hostility from the traditional media at the gumption these net-heads had in thinking they'd have any effect on publishing.
Dan also took a few questions and spun these into some interesting points, a few of which I scribbled down: when asked how he deals with the volume of conversations that his online work generates (and by extension, how larger brands are supposed to scale up to engage in 2-way conversations with the public), he said: "you just make time", and pointed out that taking the time to respond to people meant you were learning from them, which justified the process in his book. He also touched on the collapsing of the news cycle, from hours down to mere minutes, and on the "echo chamber" effect of people just seeking out media which confirms their existing points of view. A habit of his that he recounted, which I must try and take up, was to read things which made him angry - so that he would at least understand those who disagreed with him.
This was followed by a talk on "The Challenges of Media Neutral Content", with a panel of folks from a few publishers: the BBC, Telegraph, EMAP and IPC.
Richard Deverell of BBC New was up first, and spoke of the chief advantage to have media-neutral content: that you could add support for a new platform at minimal cost and thus experiment more. He talked about kinds of content well-suited to neutrality (e.g. news stories) and those less well-suited (e.g. video), game a demo of the content management system the BBC use internally, and showed off how the same new story appeared in various media: the web, iTV (two variations), mobile, Ceefax, email alerts, and even public LCD displays.
Richard Burton of the Telegraph was next, and concentrated much more on the need for differences in tone between the web and print versions of the same content. Online, for instance, suited less use of idioms and colloquialisms. I liked his analogy of the web and print readers to cats and dogs respectively (dogs being loyal and faithful whilst cats just pretend to love you because they want something), and his comment that "newspapers edit for space, [online] we edit for interest and accessibility". Though as a questioner pointed out later, this means that his content isn't neutral after all.
Carmel Hayes of EMAP ran through how they use online and print to complement one another, with particular reference to teenage girls and womens titles: the magazine is read monthly, the web site daily, and mobile 24/7. It was great to hear of a publisher thinking of mobile as a distribution mechanism (as opposed to just instantly associating "mobile" with "SMS alerts") - and to hear her talk about mobile being a completely different medium. Hooray for someone who gets it! She also spoke about B2B publishing, and how online is rapidly becoming the primary channel for some of these publications. Content creation is also important to EMAP: the example cited was of an online survey resulting in data which was used to seed a 2-page article in the print magazine.
Finally, Paul Lomax of IPC talked about the problems of moving content from online to the magazine, and the need to add hindsight (as print is set in stone once you've published). Interesting, but he seemed to focus a lot on minor technical problems (e.g. the difficulty of searching content containing accents - which really shouldn't be that difficult).
Chris Bunyan of NTL then took the stage and chatted about how broadband would change our world. I kinda thought it already had, but he threw out some interesting stats, and crystallised the different models that publishers have for making money. I suspect this was more useful for an outsider like myself than it was for some of the folk in the audience.
I skipped "Will search kill the web", because I'm sick of reading about bloody SEO and the question seemed as nonsensical as asking "will roads kill the car", then left. Shame I couldn't hang around for the afternoon sessions which looked really good - maybe Mike will cover them...?