The Grey Lady, New York Times, Gets New Look

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | @ChiefKMasimba | January 08 2014

The Grey Lady aka The New York Times unveiled a new digital look – its first since April 2006 – which incorporates native advertising today. Native advertising is a form of advertising that mimics content. The emerging advertising method is still surrounded with controversy.

Some analysts have accused The Times of going lowbrow in adopting this type of advertising which blurs the traditional demarcation between editorial and advertising. According to Times CEO, Mark Thompson, native advertising will help to shore up its digital ad revenue. Continue reading

Are Native Ads Good or Bad for Digital Journalism?

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor-At-Large | January 01, 2013 | @ChiefKMasimba

Late last year, The New York Times announced that it will be going big on native advertising in 2014 raising questions about authenticity, particularly on what is and what is not journalism.

Native advertising, described by AdAge as the hottest new form of advertising, is a web advertising method that employs content to lure readers. That’s a very basic definition. According to Sharethrough, a company which specializes in the medium, native advertising is a form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed.

On January 8, The New York Times will unveil a new digital look which incorporates native advertising and will be more stronger on visuals such as video and photography.

The New York Times, a lodestar of journalism the world over, will feature the native adverts – first on the newspaper’s website and later on its mobile platforms – as way to shore up revenues in an industry hard struck by technology. Other large publishers such as Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Buzzfeed are already rolling out native advertising which promises greater interaction with users, albeit at the risk of breaking the separation between advertising and editorial content.

There are fears that consumers may be duped by the nature of native advertising – a hot topic in digital publishing – with consumers expected to distinguish between what is paid native advertising versus editorial content. Native adverts are made to be cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels that they belong, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). Put simply, the ads are supposed to look similar to the surrounding published content

Native advertising seeks to deliver content within the context of a user’s experience with formats including  features like a color bar and the words “Paid Post” would enable readers to identify material as advertising content.

“There is a renaissance underway in digital advertising that is driving brands, publishers and consumers to communicate with each other in more personal and natural ways,” said Patrick Albano, Vice President, Social, Mobile and Innovation Sales at Yahoo, and Co-Chair of the IAB Native Advertising Task Force. “Native advertising is an important piece of this evolution.”

According to IAB, native advertising has emerged both as an exciting new way for digital markets to engage with the consumer, and as a new source of advertising revenue for publishers. If you have been on a web page with branded content, you probably know how intrusive and distracting such content is to user experience. Because such content is formatted just like an news article, users can potentially be waylaid.

New York Times publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr, was quoted in a letter to employees as saying said that features like a color bar and the words “Paid Post” would enable readers to identify material as advertising content. He added that there would be “strict separation between the newsroom and the job of creating content for the new native ads.”

But whether readers will be able to figure out the difference between editorial content and paid advertising is shrouded in controversy. The seamless integration of branded messaging into consumers’ content experiences in order to acquire attention maybe regarded as an art of deception.

The Time quoted Edith Ramirez, chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission critiquing native advertising saying at a conference last year.

““By presenting ads that resemble editorial content, an advertiser risks implying, deceptively, that the information comes from a nonbiased source,” she said.

If readers don’t fall prey to the deception of native of advertising, it’s difficult to see how the ads will succeed.

“I firmly believe that advertising on the modern internet will be defined by meaningful content, not standard ads. There’s a movement happening, away from interruptive, traditional ads, and towards thoughtful brand stories — and native ads are the most potent and effective distribution strategy for content-based advertising,” said Dan Greenberg, Founder and CEO, Sharethrough. “For advertisers, native, content-based advertising is the translation layer between the modern internet and traditional TV.”

In his letter to employees, Sulzberger acknowledged that native advertising is “relatively new and can be controversial,” but is necessary to help “restore digital advertising revenue to growth.”

A Question of Social Media Etiquette

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor-At-Large | January 01, 2013 | @ChiefKMasimba

Many a time I find myself thoroughly outraged by social media. My blood boils. I cringe, gritting my teeth. My frustration is not at the technology itself but the way some users post half-formed, uninformed, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, narcissistic, splenetic comments. Even if you try to comment, what I have realized is that many of these postings have little engagement value or quickly degenerate into rants.

To save myself, I breathe in and out – slowly. Thank God, social media’s ephemerality helps to calm my nerves.  I don’t mean to be censorious. It’s just that I find myself scouring the social web for discussions of value, spending precious amounts of time, to only come up with zilch. As a firm believer in freedom of expression, I am aware of the deep and sweeping vista of opportunity to free expression opened up by social media.

In fact, the power of social media has been evident in dislodging dictatorships and giving goose bumps to those cloistered in corridors of power. With social media information is moving at a faster pace making the world flatter. It’s a great connector. It has helped me to connect with friends and relatives, some of whom had fallen by the wayside.

Maybe social media’s global capacity to connect everyone is also its source of banality. As New York Times’ columnist, Frank Bruni, puts it, “it feels at times as if contemplation has given way to expectoration with speed overtaking sense and nuance exiting the equation.” He even suggests reading fiction as a counter to the rit-tat-tat nature of social media conversations.

Lack of civility and decorum in many social media conversations is certainly undermining the medium’s value as a connector, town crier or public square. Instead of serving the common good, social media has fast become a poster for a rapid succession of inconsequential conversations, escapism, pandering to the base and vulgar. At  worst, it provides a false sense of participation – a voyeuristic fetish – in causes that more often than not need foot soldiering.

Even the role of social media in the Arab spring was not merely in relentless postings and rants but in people taking to the streets to fight for a new political order, risking life and limb. Everything happens too quickly on social media, maybe a tad too quick for sensibility which is essential for engagement.

As long as its used a megaphone for self-centeredness, rants and diatribes, social media’s full potential will never see the light of day. That is why its important to have a sense of decorum next time you make a posting social media. A bit of etiquette on your part can help to build a social media universe that advances humanity.

Twitter.com Stock Seen As Overrated

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | December 30 2013 | @ChiefKMasimba

The 140 character-limit micro-blogging platform, Twitter, which launched on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to much aplomb in November has been in the news headlines recently for being overrated with its rise seen as largely a product of speculation.

There are fears among analysts that the company’s shares, currently trading at $60.27, are overpriced. Twitter’s stock has been on an upward trend ever since it went public on November 6 at $26, reaching a high of $74 before taking a huge shed.

“At $45 billion, the company may have the highest market value of any firm that isn’t generating any earnings since the dotcom bubble of 1999-2000,” New York Times quoted Barron’s, an investment advisory publication.

It is estimated that are 230 million active users on Twitter who post an average of 500 million Tweets every day but questions abound over its rating ahead of other tech companies with more robust models.

“Twitter, which has triple-digit revenue growth but no profits is trading at a much higher valuation than proven Internet powerhouses like Facebook and Google. The company has released no major news or financial information since its initial public offering that would shape invest or perceptions about the company,” New York Times reported.

Because Twitter is mobile friendly, there are expectations that it will benefit “from the shift of the Internet use to mobile devices and the migration of television advertising budgets to the Internet.” There is expectation that Twitter’s best days are still ahead; it is regarded as a potential advertising behemoth.

Created in 2006, Twitter is a global real-time communications platform with 400 million monthly visitors to twitter.com.  With that number of users and growing daily, Twitter is sitting on a goldmine, that is, if it can deliver advertising in a way that does not irk its huge user base.

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Security Versus Privacy in Tech Age

By Masimba Biriwasha | OpEd | December 29, 2013

When you make a telephone call, just remember you’re not alone. It’s not really a surprise, when you’re on a telephone network, you can never be sure who is listening in.

In the US, there is a growing storm over revelations that the government harvests information about every telephone call to, from or within the country. That information otherwise known as “metadata”, includes the phone numbers involved, when the calls were made and how long they lasted.

It’s a pretty daunting and amazingly breathtaking task at best. At worst, it invokes images of Orwellian prying. Think, Big Brother is watching you.

The rationale is to prevent acts of terrorism, either in the US or somewhere else in the world. By sifting through huge troves of telephony metadata, patterns can emerge and suspects hunted down or preventive actions put in place, so the argument goes.

In the era of big data, it is becoming increasingly difficult where to draw the lines between personal privacy and security. US’ National Security Agency’s collection of huge troves of telephony metadata in the name of security revealed by the agency’s estranged contractor Edward Snowden hits at the nerve of how much government snooping ought to be in line with civil liberty, in this case, the right to privacy.

While the idea of maintaining security is noble, what is frightening is the “unknown unknowns” which the data can be used for. The bulk storage of telephone records by the government is antithetical to privacy, and without privacy there can be no democracy.

As the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, succinctly put it: “Without the right of privacy, there is no real freedom of speech or freedom of opinion, and so there is no actual democracy.”

The ultimate challenge is not so much that the US government should not collect information but how to define the parameters of how this is done. Is it necessary for government to engage in what New York Times refers to as ” … a daily, indiscriminate sweep of hundred of millions of phone records?” Or should that data be kept by private providers or by a private third party and only accessed if there is a court order.

At the least, there is a debate about this in the US but one shudders to think what some pariah states with call-log technologies can do to silence opponents and further aggrandize their powerbases all in the name of maintaining security.

Whatever the case, it is clear that advances in technology – instead of furthering progress – have a potential to erode human freedoms that we have for long taken for granted.