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Social Software and Publishers - Gavin Bell - O'Reilly Tools of Change 2007


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A talk at the O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishers conference. I spoke about social software and how to make it work for book publishers, summng up with a core list of activities publishers need to do to engage their readers better.

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Social Software and Publishers - Gavin Bell - O'Reilly Tools of Change 2007

  1. 1. Social Software What is it and what works for publishers? Gavin Bell O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing 2007, June 19th. 1 Preamble (these are my informal speaking notes, they help explain the slides, but they are not a script, I do extemporise around them) June 2007. I’m not a publisher, I design social software for a living at Nature, the scientific journal, though my parent company is Macmillan So I’ll own up, my world is social software / web 2.0 I haven’t looked at every publisher, I know there are some awesome projects I’ve missed. I’m hoping to find more in fact I’ve been adding some to my talk over the last day and a half What I hope to give you is a sense of why social software works and what you can do to make something that works for your readership, not another me too project.
  2. 2. To enhance the web as a means of communication and interaction between people Tim Berners-Lee, 1996 2 one of the aims of the web arguably the main purpose of the web once we got past pretty catalogs and business card websites conversation is what makes our world go round
  3. 3. Social software 3 Social software is a widely defined term for software that allows groups of people to communicate with one another. It is not one to one email and not broadcast nor publishing, but something else by Christopher Allen. Term was popularised by Clay Shirky in 2002, but has been in use since hypertext conferences in the late 1980s Though he now refers to it as “stuff that gets spammed” It is also not corporate groupware like Exchange or Lotus Notes, nor is it intranetware
  4. 4. Social media 4 A very in term at the minute defining the social interactions around user generated media eg photos or videos A shift in our language again Now Jyri Engestrom of Jaiku refers to these as social objects I quite like this expression, it has broader scope Our online interactions often have an embedded context, be it temporal or related to particular content, these contexts are important, particularly if you are looking for long term value.
  5. 5. What is a book? 5 An excellent thing, as I’m sure you’ll all agree. paper, printed, shipped, published, editor, a team effort often I have quite a few, a quip leading to the next slide.
  6. 6. my library 6 This is my library, sorry about the scruffy photo books have immense affordability no batteries usable anywhere lightweight you know how far through a book you are when reading they are fairly cheap, you can lend them often longform but you know this much better than me I think the book isn’t going away anytime soon except in some niches this is a five year view, given technology changes I can see shifts in certain areas, eg technical books, maybe travel guides directories and reference dictionaries especially battery life is a key determinant, the fabled 300:1 contrast ratio is here Though time off away from the “computer” is still a driver, too much Continuous Partial Attention (cf Linda Stone) with computers
  7. 7. Purchase Read Reference Recommend Discuss 7 so what do we do with these books These are the verbs upon which our experience of books exists What ever we offer our users needs to be built on top of these actions Purchase - most people buy books, though some borrow and for some they Collect Reading - we hope people read their books some then work for reference hopefully our books are good enough to encourage people to recommend them finally people discuss books face to face, on the radio, on tv in the newspapers and on the web At each of these junctures we can support the reader, arguably we focus too much on the first one.
  8. 8. Access pattern Consumption Nature Web non-sequential By page Digital Music non-sequential Track vs album Digital Movies Sequential Entire Digital Books Sequential Entire* Analog News non-sequential By story Analog Magazines non-sequential By article Analog 8 As well as looking at the specific relationships that we can have with books, it is worth looking at the type of consumption patterns we have with other media. It’ll be instructive for building a model of how other approaches don’t work for books. The way we consume media differs digital vs non-digital Fiction vs Fact I’m talking about CDs MP3s and DVDs music and video have fixed durations and thus are a more fixed experience repeated listenings Music in many ways is the most consumable media repeat viewings / readings are less common for video and books. Movies and books lead us to thinking about the nature of consumption and our relationship with the media so what is is about movies and books plot is the differentiating factor, once consumed, you can’t put the genie back in the box. However for some films and books repeat viewings do happen, but in general they are consumed once. Whereas music is consumed multiple times.
  9. 9. Spoilers 9 It is easy to ruin the experience of reading a fiction book, yet it is hard to nullify the experience of listening to a piece of music for the first time, a review can only colour your impression, not give the plot away. the combination of the actions we can have with books, the nature of the media and the affordances they offer mean that we have media specific relationships We can not track our relationships with books in the same way we track our relationships with music. A pandora or for books just won’t work.
  10. 10. Relationships 10 how we form bonds with media varies in fact the whole life cycle can be mapped out we like a particular columnists an author a band our friend recommends a particular book when the media is digital your relationship can be pretty deep there are a lot of data points that can be gathered I’ll show you what I mean
  11. 11. iPod 11 who has one of these ? (show of hands) the iPod is not just a music player it is a data capture device which songs, which artists listening patterns regularity etc
  12. 12. iTunes 12 It has a supporting world of iTunes and its music store. A lot of the complexity of the music player is embedded in the iTunes software those playlists and ratings adding music all forming a longer term relationship experience led design created the ipod not features nor a desire for data they simplified the experience down to the actions (verbs) required in certain contexts, eg the emphasis on playing music on the player and managing in iTunes simple on the player, richness in the interface much easier with purely digital artifacts Sadly this is much harder to achieve with books. I’ll leave you with a thought as we look at some social software examples Q: what aspects of the experience of reading books can we capture data about? easily ?
  13. 13. Social Software 13 quick overview of the menagerie and a quick mention of danah boyd she makes a good point that you cannot create any form of social organisation on the web that does not already exist in the non-online world the web is not magic, you can quicken things, and place and time matter less but the basic social organisation of life is there, so you need to be respectful of social norms and expect normal politeness of your participants. thinking about your social spaces as if they were face to face meetings is important, it makes you think about social graces and stops you trying to create artificial constructs. Analogies of bars, hotels and restaurants are good places to start, where there is good customer service. eg Apple and the concierge ideas
  14. 14. Blogs 14 fantastically useful excellent for starting conversations easy to know who the author is easy to respond to the author Many publishers are out there with a company blog, which is a great thing very Cluetrain
  15. 15. Message boards 15 Good places for getting conversation around a topic they can lead to a slightly in and out experience, as users drop in ask a question, get an answer and never return if well run they can be a great place for reader to reader conversation again I’ve seen publishers out there with active message boards
  16. 16. Wikis 16 I think wikis are good for certain tasks they are a collaborative authoring tool, rather than community forming the core activity is writing about a topic, not getting to know other people (community forms off the back of the social interactions, it is not as explicit a purpose) I think that they can be good, but they can also be off putting and get out of hand the term wiki-gardening is well coined. unmanaged they quickly develop a process of new page creation rather than maintenance of existing pages
  17. 17. e-mailing lists 17 Personally I think that these are really over-looked. Some of my best community experiences have been on mailing lists Like message boards they also need careful attention Different models for how they work, ask and answer or discussion led. They can be tremendously effective, but can overwhelm new people with 100+ messages a day.
  18. 18. Social networks 18 The richest of the social tools I’d argue giving your readers a place on the web to call home often focused around content they can offer the strongest ties between users against that they are the most complex and time consuming to build and run and there are not really any good off the shelf products. this comes from their embedded nature I’ll show you some examples
  19. 19. Web 19 some examples from non-publisher led endeavours for each I’ll try to focus on why I think they work and who they work for. I prefer the term community generated content (from Kevin Anderson at the Guardian) as it reminds the publisher that the content comes from a rich collection of people
  20. 20. Flickr 20 flickr the photo site that came into an entrenched market and offered a richer social experience for photography but not everyone gets it it is for people who enjoy photography it is for people who want to share photos, but really it is about your friends and the pictures they take sharing life experiences so my son is there on the left the reaction of my friends is bound up in the comments that they left to his birth I can’t extract and recreate that experience on a different photography site so I’ve a strong tie to flickr It works when your friends are there, being on flickr without a network of friends misses the point of flickr one last thing about flickr, it is a radically different product to how it started out they iterated hard on getting the social aspect of flickr right and ignored the clamour for printing out the pictures They prospered and created something of value, adding printing once they’d made the rest sing
  21. 21. Twitter 21 twitter is about the most simple social app I know of one question what are you doing share that with your friends it creates a dispersed roughly conversation like interaction. a quiet way to keep in touch with your friends however it could be replaced by the next bright thing all it has is the social network and people are fickle teens especially, danah boyd has done lots of great research into the movements of teenagers particularly with reference to friendster and myspace. they move en mass, often abandoning their profiles and conversations building something with content at its core is more resistant
  22. 22. typepad 22 Typepad a platform for blogging, livejournal and blogger are too creating a blog as part of a community a nice space to hang out on, they provide tools to do a lot of the hard work
  23. 23. Linkedin 23 professional network huge now useful for a large swathe of people slow high value interactions, changing jobs, marking people I’ve worked with some nice touches in their interface the profile completeness is clever
  24. 24. MySpace 24 works because of the music, other people flock there because of the music quite a teen profile, heavily studied, loosing out to facebook over the installable apps
  25. 25. Facebook 25 facebook, taking my world by storm since they added geographic networks. notable for the news feed, they added this well after launch and it was seen as privacy disclosure issue people were happy to have their details and activity on the site, but to have it shared with everyone in their network was a step to far they have added additional privacy management tools now On a +ve point they have added a way for other organisation to enhance facebook via an API recently and there are now hundreds of them visually very clean compared to myspace, but without the core content area of music, so potentially vulnerable in this respect, however the multiple network aspect is strong
  26. 26. Last.FM 26 music as a social experience the collected listening habits of a few million users is what CBS bought recently very nice app, as it tracks consumption, the person really has listened to these pieces of music simple social layering on consumption, just not feasible with books given current technology
  27. 27. The Guardian 27 collected commentary of the guardian on a single website readers can comment on the commentary has some excellent features, but has some flaws comments from the public responded to in further print columns no commitment from columnists to engage with public not contracted to do so no profiles for users, so encouraged heated debate from a small percentage of the users leading Polly Toynbee reflected on this in one post which asked quot;Who are you all? Why don't you stop hiding behind your pseudonyms and tell us about yourselves? At the Guardian they have an active audience of commenters, but maybe not at the level they wanted. they are and have been moving rapidly to address many of these issues
  28. 28. BBC News 28 The BBC blogging about programmes they are largely programme based giving editors of programmes a space to talk around the issues coming out of audience feedback and encouraging feedback prior to segments going out. this is newsnight, the issue is a harsh interview with a politician lets look at the comments
  29. 29. 29 post moderation, which is the only realistic option. Both financially and editorially they also track external feedback on other people’s blogs known as “track backs”
  30. 30. Publishing examples 30 A lot of these examples are travel based, but it is an interesting market to examine
  31. 31. DK travel 31 on top of the glossy upmarket guidebooks that DK have been making for a decade or more they have introduced personal guides created by users
  32. 32. dk detail 32 they offer paid for printing and podcast of collected guides user rating and profiles they are doing a lot of things right There are many other competitors in this space too the guardian are here too and the micro content rating of hotels eg trip advisor I like the personal guide approach, though, it is quite rich and has a decent amount of sell through potential also taps into their core audience in a really positive way seemingly getting yourself into print
  33. 33. sawday 33 Alastair Sawday is another travel publisher approaching community generated content he is taking a slightly more conservative approach to collection using essentially pre-moderation on his comments. A great way to get field research though for new editions of his books.
  34. 34. Rough Guides 34 Rough guides taking content reuse to the far end they put pretty much the entire content of their guides online taking the risk that laser printing costs more than buying the guide and that the affordances of a book out way the costs of getting the content and printing it out. they have a message board along side it, but they could do with stronger connections between the two.
  35. 35. rockfax 35 OK, last travel example, though this one is more of a sport example it is about climbing. This is the text description of a climb in England they have thousands of comments on the individual climbs and have been doing this since 2002. The grades of the climbs are revised in response to climber feedback and this feeds back into the next edition what they don’t give away for free are the maps of each cliff, though users are free to upload pictures of themselves climbing on each route so they retain value in people buying the book. Also they have a really strong community would be wary of driving rockfax out of business as they provide the best guide for allowing them to find routes to climb A nice example of a closely tied community and publisher.
  36. 36. Radio3 36 Change of scene This is Radio 3, a classical music station from the BBC. the page represents a single programme, it shows the series of programmes the episode is part of and collects repeats onto the same page. It is an example of the level of content modelling that you need to do to get fine grained enough to allow tracking of conversation about programmes. They could add comments to these pages and track mentions of the programme elsewhere.
  37. 37. Scholastic 37 harry potter message boards message boards are a great place to start doing social software you can simply install one of a number of packages, pretty them up and off you go. However they tend to be a bit isolated from your content. they also don’t integrate will with one another, so you end up with a single message board site or multiple sites and force your users to have multiple logins.
  38. 38. Kids lit 38 teenage books message boards from 3rd party non-publisher Our most enjoyed feature is our Author Visits where authors visit our community as a featured guest for two-week periods and our members get to interact directly with them. collating interested people to gether to presumably sell them further books. Publishers can host this kind of thing more easily
  39. 39. simonschuster 39 Standard message board, again appealing to niche genres it is also useful in that it shows the ratios between reading and contributing, look at the views to replies ratios most people read, getting them to signup and through the registration process is a significant hurdle many people get lost at the check your email stage... 1 10 100 100 signup 10 read 1 contributes so the story goes, the numbers vary but many of your readers will never come back again after their first look around
  40. 40. sf - lovers 40 the original “social software” the first mailing list, which even predates internet email showing people like their niche genres
  41. 41. LibraryThing 41 One of several “I’ve read this, this is my library” type sites nice concept, but quite a lot of work to maintain for a user hard for a publisher to run though I do think that publishers could do more to tap into the energy behind the users of sites like this. they are after all tracking your books. reach out to them
  42. 42. penguin blog 42 good that they are on typepad, already reaching out to an existing community spinebreakers looks like an interesting initiative
  43. 43. gothamist 43 slight tangent, but publishing nonetheless gothamist and the rest are a good example of community publishing community driven features, using flickr for photos, rating send us your story, sense of belonging based on Movable Type, similarly Serious Eats
  44. 44. wiki penguin 44 back to Penguin A challenging attempt to get a bunch of people off the internet to write a novel together more or less empty page as starting point too much rewriting of early pages made it impossible to continue brave and thought provoking, but perhaps not quite the right approach, as penguin acknowledge in the blog accompanying amillionpenguins
  45. 45. collaborative writing 45 gamer theory from the Institute for the the future of the book starting with a draft collaborative reviewing pre-publication they published 1.1 and are working on 2.0 Pragmatic programmers and O’Reilly have been exploring this area too beta books and rough cuts They tend to lead to stronger books and a good community following.
  46. 46. nature network 46 To give you a little of my own provenance this is from Nature it is a social network platform to support scientific collaboration The core of it is a connected series of discussion boards Lots to talk about on here openness - you can see the most popular tags are about what to do next with the site profiles anyone can create a forum Allow your users to invite people in, it is a surprisingly powerful mechanism
  47. 47. 47 tagging is the new classification people like tagging, if you encourage them to tag things then you can find out more about them. they define the tags for themselves, but then given enough context other people will understand what the tags mean via the person eg Library means something to you, but it means two things to me a code library and a place for books. Yet despite this opportunity for confusion people seem to get along fine A small step most publishers could take would be to find out if and how people are tagging their books.
  48. 48. Authors 48 two views of authorship those who have been published those who want to be published lots of initiatives in this space eg booktour from Chris Anderson which launched at this conference.
  49. 49. Macmillan new writing 49 a pretty successful drive to get new authors from Macmillan. my parent company not true social software but community based at least so what do authors get up to?
  50. 50. peter f hamilton 50 Peter F Hamiton one of the UK’s best selling science fiction authors he runs with a fellow reader a site about him and his books Q: how could he be better supported by his publisher (pan mac) What would make him move to a space with other fellow authors ?
  51. 51. wikipedia 51 Wikipedia seems to be the place that most authors have their most complete profile. this is social software of a different ilk, collective profiling of authors, often in complement to the authors own personal site and whatever the publisher provides.
  52. 52. Reading groups 52 attracting those people who have actually bought your content supporting their reading experience
  53. 53. collins 53 simple and effective but doesn’t get you to know the people lightweight I think there are stronger tools that can be built to support this experience
  54. 54. Involvement & Pro-Am 54 The pro-am movement people who are amateur, but carry out their interest to a professional level they are also the people who buy your books, especially the “advanced” ones These are the 5+ books a year segment as identified by Brian Murray. The ones worth chasing How deeply involved can the reader get depends on subject this is reflected in published books
  55. 55. Photography 55 Lots of collections of pictures Lots of books on how to take pictures Specialist subjects - garden, macro, wildlife Very few books on lens design So how to and pictures are dominant there are two levels for this community and a very small professional group who make the tools. This pattern follows through many industries, eg cookery vs cookers.
  56. 56. Cookery 56 Everyone eats Some people cook from a recipe Some people combine recipes Some people write their own recipes A few people do food writing lots of people buy cookery books there are levels of expertise - you can tap into this exchange
  57. 57. Celebrity 57 many read the glossy magazines People emulate them People want the money and fame, but not the intrusion So the curve stops It is hard to become famous too! there aren’t the expert level books on celebs not a pro-am area community works best in pro-am areas AFTER THOUGHT Or perhaps community on celeb culture will work, but not as an experience led culture, it is ad led about with sell through, it is still a different culture from pro-am
  58. 58. Amazon 58 the killer app scope across all publishers depth of customers though they lack the fine data for digital media they have as good as it gets in terms of books. they are getting to grips with social apps too, on you can have a profile page, wishlist, list-o-mania etc but you have more depth google mops up the seldom readers (not our concern, Brian Murray)
  59. 59. http:// 59 A quick word about URLs These are the hidden design task They are vital The give names to objects Think of your friends, books, cars, your house, your office your pets they all have names yet we let our software decide the names of our webpages. Kind of like you’d let your books be known by their ISBNs so design them make them short meaningful memorable predictable persistent unique ie one and only one url for a piece of content Naming a thing gives it a soul. Naming a thing gives you power: like tryng to control demons.
  60. 60. Content 60 Some points to sum up on For it to have longevity and ownership it needs to start with content there needs to be something for the social interactions to take place around Ideally this is something that you can let people link to and see This is easiest for non-fiction publishing. Who’ll be the “publisher” for your area in 10 /20 years - wikipedia, hobby website, leading retailer is there still an “editorial role” or will people make do with Google / Yahoo search results how much can you afford to let people play with for free (all of it, most of it bar a key diagram) general fiction is really hard I think there is little binding force to a publisher, it is with the author I’d argue you can attempt to generate this with imprints, but I’m not the right person to recommend that How can you help authors, how can you help authors help one another? generating repeat sales on the basis of one of your books is a good goal for a website.
  61. 61. Readers 61 once you have some content with depth You need to reach out to a core group of people, ideally people with a long term investment in the area long tail - your content might work as microcontent, what is the shelf life? architecture of participation, you want to create a space in which collaboration amongst known individuals is possible, friendship formation is a strong bind network effect - if you can enable these then you might trigger a network effect, the site gets better as you use it gaining growth, interest energy from the interaction between your published content and its readers What this turns into is up to you - revised editions sell through eg I’d love to see a decent DIY site with how tos and reviews of tools just like DK are doing with travel lastly give your users a space on your site, a profile page, you don’t have to give them a blog, let your users find one another and get to know each other,
  62. 62. Partnership 62 starting a community effort is hard you do not have the right staff in house it is not a sales role finding existing communities on and offline and supporting them Hobbies good, as collections of content they appeal to core groups already Fiction, niches easier TV / internet companies are waiting to take over in the reference hobby world role of editor diminishing being off the net is starting to hurt amazon already are the reference point, luckily for buying your books.
  63. 63. Integration 63 make your content available in different forms you want to be part of the web, not just on, inside it use microformats to allow your content to be aggregated and appear elsewhere you don’t necessarily need to build a space for people to come to you can go to them - go onto facebook or twitter find tools and people who are using / referencing your content already, make use of it tagging, tell people what is being used, once you have single urls then find mentions via technorati, use the amazon apis to find people linking to the sell through pages on amazon and link back to them, if it is a blog maybe trackback them. reach out is the key message, the web is a series of connected conversations, they do not all need to take place on your site / properties. the more that is spoken about your books the more likely people are to buy them
  64. 64. Software 64 the strikethrough is deliberate you are not making software, you are creating a community, so start small and make something that is focused on the activity of keeping your readers talking to one another. iterate hard, making software is not like publishing a book this is hard to get, what I mean is 40% of the spend gets you to launch the rest follows the needs of your users, but not the noisy ones build to support focused activity, don’t feature add for the sake of it You go to a bar for the conversation, not the decor or the furniture
  65. 65. Thanks me at 65