Technology-driven changes in media consumption

It was in the mid-1980s when we purchased our first family computer. We had the first mouse in the neighbourhood and this didn't go unnoticed by our computer whiz neighbour. He excitedly shared with us what we thought were crazy visions about the future: millions of networked computers sharing information about anything and everything.

Apple Macintosh

Our first computer: the Apple Macintosh

We connected to the Internet in the early 1990s and it was a strange melodious device that signalled this connection to the outside world. Web pages with images anything larger than a thumbnail took minutes to render completely. I would sometimes begin to load a page, leave the room and come back later after it had time to finish downloading.

When we eventually upgraded from the 14.4kbps to the 56.6kbps version, suddenly not only did a whole world of content become available to us, but the way we consumed this content changed. As technology has progressed we have experienced many of these connection and consumption revelations – the joy and wonder of the Internet reborn again each time: cable modems, ADSL, Broadband, 4G...

One of the most profound changes to consumption patterns has been driven by digital video. Various technologies for video delivery have lived and died over the years, but nothing really took control over video delivery in the early days like Flash. It wasn't great early on, but the change from real-time to progressive download was the first significant improvement, and it meant users could buffer content and consume later, similar to the way I would load images back on my 14.4 modem. This signalled the beginning of the next change.

One of the greatest improvements in video delivery has been the invention of cacheable, segmented formats: HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) and MPEG-DASH. These were created to deliver video over standard HTTP, segmented into chunks so that users only need to download as much of the video as they wish to watch. Add adaptive multi-bitrate switching and a CDN and suddenly you have a massively scalable video delivery solution and a great end user experience.

We are now sufficiently advanced with mobile devices, networks, codecs and formats that high-quality HD video over the Internet is essentially available to anyone on any device. However, how content creators engage this technology to change behaviour is still evolving.

"Second screen" concepts are starting to take shape, but they still have a long way to go. As more and more people move away from consuming free-to-air television to on-demand content online, the content creators are also shifting to make the most of this change. The implications of these developments on end user consumption trends are still emerging, however the "second screen" will likely to eventually be the TV screen on your wall, and not the "primary" screen in your hands delivering the high-quality video content.

 

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Web Publishing*

One of the benefits of web analytics for publishers is that it is relatively trivial to compare the popularity of content. In the digital world, the success of an article or story is aligned to its popularity: more hits or impressions means more revenue generated through advertising.

Some larger digital publishers (eg. Buzzfeed) have noticed that particular word patterns or phrases in page titles regularly generate more clicks. The quality of the actual content doesn’t really matter in this case as once the user has clicked and the page has loaded, the page view counter is incremented and a virtual “vote” for the link (and the link text) is generated.

One reddit user has analysed the success of some of Buzzfeed’s articles based on the number of Facebook “shares”. First impressions seem to indicate that the more successful phrases are based on a few basic principles:

1. A Finite List

Eg. “[X] Things Only” /  “[X] Things That”  / “[X] Reasons” etc.

I have certainly noticed a trend in my LinkedIn feed for articles with titles like this. The reason for this trend could have something do with the value in knowing that the article won’t be pages and pages of text – you can read it and get back to what you were doing without too much disruption.

2. You

Eg. “You Probably Didn’t” / “In Your Life” / “Reasons You Should”

It is natural for people to want to read about themselves. These patterns play on our ego and desire to read about how we relate not only to the content in the article but the world around us.

3. Curiosity / Fear of missing out

Eg. “Didn’t Know About” / “Probably Didn’t Know” / “Are The Most”

This pattern also plays on our natural curiosity and desire to understand the world around us. There is also some ego in this too as the title can almost be a challenge to see if you did in fact know about whatever it is in the article.

This list doesn’t go to all the way to 5 as the title misled you to believe. It doesn’t really matter at this point though as you have clicked and although no advertising revenue is generated, the page view has been logged and validated the points above: a list(1) about something you(2) didn’t know(3) about is enough to make you click.

Personally I dislike this link baiting tactic. There is a lack of authenticity and journalistic standards feel compromised. The irony of the title of this post isn’t lost on me: I get to have my cake and eat it too.

Splunk & my Twitter archive

Recently I've been having a great time playing with Splunk. Splunk is a big data platform that allows you to search practically any machine data and present it in ways that will give you insight into what you have. It has practical applications for application management, IT operations, security, compliance, big data as well as web and business analytics.

I downloaded the free trial version, installed it locally and played with some personal data sources including phone bills, bank statements, my personal twitter archive as well as some weather data I downloaded from the Bureau of Meteorology.

Below are a few of the interesting charts that came out of my Twitter archive (@dan_cake), along with the basic search query used to extract and present the data in this way. Click to view a full-sized version.

 

Tweets by month

sourcetype=twitter_csv

Tweets peaked in July 2010 when I sent on average almost 4 tweets per day. The first drop in usage is probably due to the birth of my first child and then the subsequent months where there was hardly any usage is due to just being too busy at work and at home.

Tweets per hour of day

sourcetype=twitter_csv | stats count BY date_hour | chart sum(count) By date_hour

Most tweets were sent between 9am-5pm but there is an dip around lunchtime and an interesting smaller increase in usage between 9pm-11pm. What really surprised me about this was the volume of tweets sent between 1am and 5am. Drilling down into the data is seems that some of these are due to issues with the timezone of the device I was on.

Tweets sent by Twitter client

sourcetype=twitter_csv | rex field=client "<*>(?<client>.*)</a>" | eval client=lower(client) | top client

Also I was surprised by this. I know I have been searching for the perfect client but had forgotten just how many I have been through!

The search query involved stripping some HTML tags from some of the client values with regex as well as matching on lowercase to get around inconsistencies with the same client having different capitalisation.

Speed up your KeyRepeat rate OSX

defaults write NSGlobalDomain KeyRepeat -int 0

You'll need to log out and log in again to see the change

Slow localhost on OSX Lion

It seems with the Lion operating system update the addition of support for IPv6 addresses really slows down any localhost resolutions. As usual, a great answer on StackOverflow supplied the solution, capturing the IPv6 lookup as well as the standard IPv4. Thanks to guns for the solution.

Basically you need to add a value of ::1 for every localhost value:

127.0.0.1 mydomain.local
::1 mydomain.local

With regards to overriding domains in the hosts file, I have found that in some circumstances, Lion queries the IPv6 address for a domain if it senses that a domain is unreachable over the IPv4 network.

I discovered this when I noticed some ads that I had never seen before on Snow Leopard because I had redirected the ad domains to 127.0.0.1. I fired up wireshark and noticed AAAA (IPv6 DNS records) queries following the IPv4 A queries (IPv4). The ad servers indeed have IPv6 addesses and were able to serve me their content.

The solution to this is have a

::1 mydomain.com
entry for every

127.0.0.1 mydomain.com
entry in your hosts file.

Interestingly, if you happen to have a local webserver running on 127.0.0.1:80 and your browser receives a response from the webserver (error or otherwise), no AAAA query is issued, as it seems to be satisfied that a TCP connection was at least possible.

Link

Adding WordPress plugins

Recently I had some issues trying to add WordPress plugins through the dashboard. It seemed at first like a permissions issue but apparently with the latest version of WordPress you need to add a line of code to your wp-config.php file to enable this

define('FS_METHOD', 'direct');

This forces the file system method and enables you to add plugins again.

Change of content

Well it has been over a year since my last post, and in that time a great deal has changed. I moved countries, changed jobs, had a baby boy and bought a house!

Also during the last year my work focus has broadened away from being a Flash and ActionScript specialist. As Digital Director of a local agency I now manage all web projects covering a broad range of technology. This means that the posts I've been inspired to write are not really relevant to the existing content of this blog: "ActionScript Scraps". I have decided to continue blogging here, but will change the tone of the blog with new posts.

From now on I hope to be blogging on a wider variety of topics including all web technologies. Going along with this change I feel it is time for a design refresh which will be happening over the next few weeks.

Flash “Allow” webcam button not working – Firefox

I recently came across this problem with a small AR project I was working on. Sometimes the webcam would work, but other times the SWF would seem to freeze when the Webcam Flash Player Settings window would come up. I could still "tab" around the settings window but I couldn't select the "Allow" button to enable my webcam. This was pretty frustrating until I came across this helpful post on stackoverflow:
http://stackoverflow.com/questions/3003724/cant-click-allow-button-in-flash-on-firefox

It seems that it is a bug within the Flash Player Settings that occurs when the window width isn't a whole pixel, and the CSS for the window is set to margin auto. With a bit of javascript trickery you can make sure that you won't have this problem again.

Site Launch: How Much Carbon…?

This project was another fantastic visualisation for David McCandless of informationisbeautiful.
http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/

It is the second visualisation we have worked on, and it was even more fun than the first.
The data is coming in live (as a CSV) from a Google Docs Spreadsheet http://bit.ly/tonsofcarbon.
The application is built in Flash using ActionScript 3.0 and the PureMVC framework, with SWFAddress and a small amount of XML.

You can read more about this project on David's great blog here:
http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2011/how-much-carbon/

link

Flash Builder 4 / Subversive / OSX / SVN

Recently I had to install the Subversive plug-in in Flash Builder 4, but was unable to due to consistent errors during installation.

FlashBuilder -> Help -> Install new Software
http://download.eclipse.org/technology/subversive/0.7/update-site/

I'm not sure if this is a bug in FlashBuilder 4, but this link just was just giving me errors during installation. If you are also having this problem, you can try another location that worked for me:

http://download.eclipse.org/releases/galileo/

thanks to http://www.flex-tutorial.fr/2010/03/30/flash-builder-4-installation-de-subversive-et-connecteurs-svn/ for the tip