How the iPad is Inspiring New Publication Formats

22 03 2010

Even as it it just coming to market, the Apple iPad—and its tablet computer iCousins—is already inspiring designers to come up with dramatic new interactive publication formats. These dynamic formats offer both a challenge and an opportunity to communicators and researchers. Before a discussion of these new  formats, take a look at the demonstrations below to get an idea of the possibilities.

First, a Time, Inc. demo of what a tablet computer version of Sports illustrated might look like:

To see a more artsy approach, watch the demos of  the iPad version of the online magazine VIVmag featured in this New York Times Bits blog post “A Peek at an Interactive Magazine for the Apple iPad.”

Finally, look at Wired magazine’s description of its plans for an iPad version of the magazine.

So, what does this new  interactive multimedia publication format mean for researchers and research communicators? One the positive side, it will offer a platform for dramatic communication of science and technology. Imagine how stunning would be interactive multimedia  iPad versions of articles on Hubble images, genome structure or airplane design.

On the other hand, such  interactivity wouldn’t add much functionality to such research news sites as Scientific American and Science News. And it would certainly add more production expense, as the Bits blog post points out.  For example, each issue of VIVmag will cost $6, and the blog quotes the magazine’s chief marketing officer, Jeanniey Mullen as saying, “It is an expensive process…. It takes the same amount of time to create as a print edition, but we’re creating a living product that is fully dynamic.”

Also, given that tablet computers will not be ubiquitous for some time, it is certainly not cost-effective for research communicators to consider creating such publications now. There’s an old-time term, “play-pretty,” that people used to denote a shiny toy given a child. That term could be applied to these iPad formats. They’re not practical, but they sure are nice play-pretties.

However, as tablet computers proliferate—and as the production software tools come into routine use—these new formats could prove valuable for adding interactivity, drama and flash to the communication of research.





Newsforce Network: a New Force in News

19 03 2010

As readers get more and more of their news online, and as the number of journalists continues to shrink, communicators are developing new Newsforce Network logostrategies to get their online news noticed, such as search engine optimization and the use of social media. The traditional advertorial is evolving online, too, and one of the most interesting new advertorial services is Newsforce Network. Basically, it enables clients to develop editorial content that readers can access from headline links in a special box on the Web pages of major national media. Here’s an example from the Newsforce Network site.

To learn more about Newsforce, I asked Chief Marketing Officer Dana Todd to explain how it works and what it means to research communicators:

How do the advertorials created by Newsforce differ from traditional banner ads?

Our Newsforce “headline units” rotate in the same spot as IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) standard banner ads, so there’s no need to carve out a new box on a publisher template. The difference is primarily in two areas: visual experience and marketer strategy. Visually, we offer a two-part creative: a headline/teaser which looks similar to editorial headlines (but is marked as Sponsored Content)—which then clicks to a micro-site that tells the full story in text, pictures and (optionally) video. In terms of marketer strategy, we find a unique niche with brands that need a longer-format creative to persuade, inform and arouse interest from the public. This might also include communication goals that are typically reserved for PR, such as research publishing, issues platforms, or corporate social responsibility messages. Newsforce advertorials fit that bill perfectly—we combine the sophisticated targeting capabilities of ad serving systems with a unique branded storytelling experience.

What news sites can Newsforce content appear on?

First, let me clarify: we’re not a network per se—we license our technology to news publishers and other networks. That being said, we’ve found a lot of demand for high-quality advertorial like ours. Over 500 websites in the US are now “Newsforce-enabled,” including most major regional newspapers and 100+ broadcast news sites. Some of our sites include Politico, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Investors Business Daily, and New York Daily News. We are actively adding new publisher partners and resellers, and are developing partnerships with key vertical news publishers in Health and Politics.

What are the advantages to the media sites of having such advertorial content?

The main advantages are revenue and inventory differentiation. News is a special type of media, with the highest level of trust among readers—and properly labeled advertorial and sponsored content has long been a successful offering in print, without causing any damage to the news brand. We’re simply helping news publishers automate the process and create more online revenue streams. Banner ads as a rule tend to be commoditized in terms of pricing, with the average banner CPM (cost per thousand impressions) bringing in $1CPM or less. Rich media (animated Flash banners) brings in higher dollars (avg. $18CPM) but is not really an accessible creative type for many advertisers—it’s costly to produce. Newsforce is exclusive to news publishers at this time, is easy for advertisers to produce (they’re already writing content for Web and PR) and lets publishers set their own rates. Most of our publishers are charging $5CPM-$20CPM per headline.

Could a university, government or corporate laboratory target placements to specific media sites or to topic-relevant pages within a site?

Absolutely. That’s one of the exciting product differentiators between us and a syndication company. With a digital advertorial service, you’re paying for extended and higher visibility and you can target not only the content on the page, but also the person reading it! We can target against profiles such as demographics (region, gender, age), political party, lifestyle, job seekers, alternative health, you name it.

What can content consist of?

We typically like to see a well-written and interesting story, 400-1000 words, with plenty of hyperlinks throughout the story for people to click on. We also allow a logo, up to two pictures w/captions, and can embed YouTube videos or other multimedia links. You can see a sample page here of a thought leadership article by a tech company. We’ll be expanding our story templates in the future to try different layouts and branded content styles.

Is there evidence that viewers perceive Newsforce content differently from banner ads?

Absolutely. they’re more likely to “skim” our headlines because they’re in reading mode, gathering the news quickly at a scan and filtering what they want to explore further. We see a significantly higher visual interest in long-form sponsored text links than other types of ads, both banner and text-link ads such as Google Adwords and Yahoo links. We did an extensive eye tracking study early on to determine whether or not people were interested in our headlines. Newsforce headlines, which are of high editorial quality, got an 8x attention from readers over banners, and a 3x attention over traditional contextual text link ads.

How would a client go about creating content for Newsforce placement?

Tell a great story—or even better, a series of stories so you can test reader interest on each. We all make assumptions in our storytelling about what’s interesting, but we’re not always right. There’s higher click activity on personal interest stories, health, lifestyle, and anything with numbers (research) or a local interest. People are most interested in the things they think could affect them or their community (geographic and business community).

How expensive are Newsforce advertorials?

We have regional partners who will sell small packages of $500, and our national buys start at $10,000 per month for an order—it’s very similar to planning and buying premium banner space. Most campaigns run at least 90 days so that you can test properly and get a decent share of voice. If your audience is familiar with CPM pricing, the range is $5-$20 CPM, depending on the targeting options and sites.

Under what circumstances would research institutions consider syndicating content via Newsforce?

Well of course we’d like it to be all circumstances! But we understand that not every storyline merits a promotional budget underneath it. By the way, we don’t call our service a syndication service. Syndication is low-cost and a great option for many PR activities, but it’s relatively passive in terms of providing controls. When companies want to “supersize” their exposure and guarantee its visibility to a particular audience, that’s where Newsforce is a valuable service. You’re not dependent on pickups from journalists—you’re speaking directly to readers.

How do you measure the impact of posted content?

We track everything, and we support third-party tracking tags on our links so that advanced analytics can be employed for follow-on conversion tracking and visitor behavior modeling. It’s certainly the most granular feedback anyone has ever gotten before, compared to traditional PR methods.

How would you say Newsforce represents a trend in online media relations?

There’s a significant and continuing fragmentation of what we consider to be “media.” With over 40,000 journalists laid off just last year, and the emergence of thousands of competing news sources and blogs for people to read, it’s not as simple as just picking up the phone and getting someone from mass media to help you get the word out. Those days are over. Most PR firms are gravitating towards social media as their next tool, since it feels more comfortable and similar to activities they did in traditional media relations (find influencers, pitch them stories). More aggressive and experimental folks in the digital marketing space are taking over a lot of the digital PR activities, and are trying out things like optimizing press releases and other content for search engines, building co-branded content with publishers, and building their own syndication channels. We feel that Newsforce gives companies a “big stick” to wield that helps replace the mass media voice they used to have, and allows companies that aren’t Apple or IBM to have the same chance at getting national attention for their stories.





NSF’s “Science360” Offers a Panorama of Science

17 03 2010

The National Science Foundation’s Science360 News Service Web site and daily e-mail news feed offers an engaging selection of interesting science and also a great opportunity for scientists and communicators to highlight their work. Anybody can subscribe to the news feed by just entering their email address in a box on the site. To learn more about Science360, I interviewed Dana Topousis—acting division director for public affairs in NSF”s Office of Legislative and Public Affairs:

How did the idea for Science360 originate?

NSF decided to create the Science360 News Service in 2008, when we realized that science coverage in the national mainstream media had dwindled.  Most of the remaining science reporters were covering space and health, and NSF funds basic science and engineering across the board. We also began discussions with public information officers (PIOs) at universities and institutions around the country whose researchers receive NSF funding. We wanted to find ways to collaborate with those PIOs to help promote research results across all aspects of science and engineering.  We wanted to create a service to draw reporters’ attention to the amazing discoveries being made every day that they may not have time to track themselves.

What is the editorial mix for the service?

We seek breaking news, fresh video and audio content, engaging images with a brief caption, science blogs, and current highlights from science journals and publications.  Most of our submissions come from public information officers and other federal agencies.  We seek any science-related content, and we don’t limit the News Service to only NSF-funded research news.

What kind of distribution does it have now?

Our distribution list includes mostly journalists, freelance writers, and public information officers, all of whom are welcome to use the Science360 News Service content for ideas or for use on their respective websites and publications.

What kind of impact on science communication do you believe the service has had?

We’ve seen an increase in both subscribers and contributors, and we’ve seen content from Science360 News Service carried on websites such as Popular Mechanics, U.S. News & World Report and LiveScience.com. Each item in the News Service has an RSS feed attached, and we’ve seen items picked up on Yahoo News, Twitter, and other outlets.  We also post some of our News Service content on NSF’s Facebook page.

How are the articles, releases, videos, podcasts and blog posts chosen?

Every day, we receive submissions from public information officers and federal agencies. We also look through EurekAlert! for fresh content. Our editor reviews science coverage and news items to see what topics are popular or what gaps we might fill. We choose our blog posts from Discover, Scientific American, scienceblogs.com, public information officers and researchers.  We also have a multimedia editor who contacts public information officers and federal agencies on a regular basis about submitting video and audio content; some of that multimedia content is from regular-running series. Every Monday, we feature a new episode of Science Nation, a video series that NSF creates—in collaboration with the former CNN science and technology team—that highlights innovations in science and engineering.

Do you do some of your own production?

Yes. We produce video and audio slideshows, videos, and podcasts. We also write our own press releases and feature stories.

How do you choose those stories?

We select our stories based on current news items.

What advice would you  give communicators about developing the best content for Science360?

We look for fresh content and content that showcases the vast array of science and engineering research. We also ask communicators to provide us as much advance notice of their upcoming stories as possible. And we welcome communicators to write to editor@science360.gov if they have any questions. That email address is also how communicators can submit their stories for consideration.





Communicating Research in 3-D Virtual Worlds

5 03 2010

Today you write news releases and feature stories, produce videos and podcasts, and use social media to disseminate research news; but in the near future you could also add 3-D models, interactive simulations, and immersive virtual environments to your communications toolkit. Given that we humans are naturally perceptually three-dimensional, you can imagine how such media could add to the impact and information value of your communications.

The major force driving communications into an online 3-D world is that important audiences are already there. For one thing, a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that more Americans already get their news online than from newspapers or radio, although both still lag behind television. And another survey showed that more than half of all Americans play video games of some kind, undoubtedly in 3-D.

The education community is already using immersive Web environments, adapting existing 3-D interactive virtual worlds such as Second Life; and there are extensive materials on use of Second Life in education. Basically, the environment enables students to attend virtual lectures, move around in the cartoonlike world as avatars, and communicate with one another—frankly capabilities that don’t seem to add much value to the educational experience. Indeed, “the virtual world has not lived up to the hype,” writes Jeffrey Young in a critical article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. He reports that

Moving around in Second Life can be so clunky that some professors and students have decided that it’s just not worth the hassle …. If all you need to do is chat with far-flung students, there are many easier ways to do it…. Plus, a lot of decidedly nonacademic activity goes on in Second Life, and it’s difficult to limit access so that only students can enter a classroom there.

And while there is a new project called OpenSimulator that aims to improve educational uses of immersive environments, it still does not offer particularly new interactive capabilities.

Writes Young, “It turns out that virtual worlds are at their best when they look nothing like a traditional campus. Professors are finding that they can stage medical simulations, guide students through the inside of cell structures, or pre­sent other imaginative teaching exercises that cannot be done in a physical classroom.”

This promise could be realized by a new flexible open-source system called OpenCobalt. Watch the video below for an introduction:

As the video shows, the OpenCobalt environment enables users not only to naturally interact and collaborate with each other and with traditional videos and Web pages; it also enables them to play with 3-D objects and simulations in an engaging and informative way.

Users of OpenCobalt will not be limited to the usual keyboard and mouse, but can also interact with the environment using multitouch screens, as this video illustrates. To me at least, the authoring system —as illustrated in this video—is intuitive enough that designers can master it well enough to work with communicators to create effective interactive environments and other products.

“Wonderful stuff can happen when you move away from the page metaphor,” asserts Duke researcher Lombardi, one of OpenCobalt’s architects, in an article on the Duke Research blog. “We’re living in a 3-D world. We need to interact with each other and with information in 3-D spaces.”

Certainly, such immersive environment platforms as OpenCobalt are still in their infancy. And, there is an element of trendiness that leads Young to comment that “Maybe 3-D online environments are just one of those technologies that sound cool but never fully materialize, like personal jetpacks.”

But there does seem to be legitimate communications value in such 3-D interactivity. And, of course its flashiness can attract eyeballs. So, it’s not too early to at least begin considering how to use virtual environments to not only communicate research more effectively, but make your communications stand out in the tidal wave of information inundating today’s Web.





AAAS Slidecast: Using Multimedia to Advance Your Research

21 02 2010

Here’s the narrated slidecast of my presentation “Using Multimedia to Advance Your Research,” given at the 2010 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Besides the slidecast itself, I offer tips I learned to producing better slidecasts from your PowerPoint presentations.

Using Multimedia to Advance Your Research

In creating the slidecast from my PowerPoint slides, I realized that I couldn’t just record the live session and use that as the audio narration. Live sessions include noise, interruptions, audience questions and other extraneous audio that reduce the effectiveness of the slidecast.

So, I had to do a special narration in a quiet room, using a standard digital recorder. Then I could upload that as an mp3 file and synch it to the slides. However, I also discovered that I coudn’t just exemporize my narration. Such an off-the-cuff narration — complete with pauses, stammers, and uhs — comes across as less than professional. So, I had to write out a formal script and recite it as the narration. Scripting actually helped my live presentation, because it crystallized my phrases and made the presentation smoother.

Also, unlike the live presentation, SlideShare presentations do not allow embedded video. So, for the slidecast I substituted still images of the videos with links to the video on YouTube or other sites. Which brings up an advantage of doing a Slideshare slidecast: that you can embed both text and image links in the slidecast, so users can explore the sites you discuss.

If you do a lot of slidecasts, you might also take advantage of Slideshare’s new branded channel feature, which enables you to produce branded channels.

I should emphasize that Slideshare is by no means the only game in town. There are also myBrainShark, Slideboom, and authorStream. In fact, according to this review of slide-sharing sites, they are superior to Slideshare. For example, myBrainshark enables uploading of narrations via telephone. And, you can add images, video, and quiz questions. So, I will likely be migrating my slidecasts to myBrainshark in the future. See the reference section of Explaining Research for a full list of such sites and resources.

Finally, here’s a whitepaper that covers the use of lecture capture technology in academe, which concludes that that

Lecture capture now falls into the “need-to-have” category. The relatively new breed of lecture capture solutions, which refers to any technology that allows instructors or presenters to record what happens in their lecture hall and make it available digitally, is changing how higher education thinks about technology while also changing the competitive landscape.

Although  the whitepaper covers much broader issues than just slidecasting your own PowerPoint presentations, it does show that you’ll likely be doing yourself a favor by learning to use slidecasting technology.





Snagit: a Great Tool for Screen Captures

30 01 2010

If you’ve done screen captures like I’ve done in the past, you probably just hit the “Print Screen” button (PrtScrn) to copy the whole screen to your clipboard, then inserted it into your presentation or document. Or, maybe you used the simple snipping tool in Windows Vista and Windows 7.

But now that I’ve discovered Snagit that’s all changed. It’s an incredibly useful piece of software for selectively lifting  all or part of a Web page or other screen segment and sending it to Excel, Word, PowerPoint, e-mail, or just about any other program. You  can capture images, text, screen video and even a Web page, complete with active links. In fact, I usedSnagit home page graphic Snagit to capture the image of the Snagit home page graphic on this post. You can even record animated sequences of interactions with a Web page, showing cursor movement and the effects of clicking on links.

When I created a recent PowerPoint presentation, I used Snagit to record such an interaction, as well as capturing and editing logos, selective chunks of Web page and other visuals to make my PowerPoint presentation look much more professional. You can also add arrows, speech bubbles, labels and other explanatory elements to the captured images. And if you want to emphasize a particular section of a Web page, you can even blur out the whole Web page except for that section.

Try the free 30-day trial. I can just about guarantee you’ll end up buying it. At $49.95, it’s a bargain. I should add that there are other screen capture programs out there, including  CaptureXT, CaptureWizProFastStone, and !Quick Screen Capture. They may work well, too, but I chose Snagit because it received the best reviews.