The internet’s saving the radio star

UK2 Group 2015 – on Midphase

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 13.08.09The internet’s saving the radio star

Gimlet is a startup betting big on podcasting becoming big business. Is this the future of radio?

“Video killed the radio star”, the Buggles told the world in their still-catchy 1978 hit. That was a time when the TV screen seemed the obvious media choice for the future, but by 2015 we’re living in a media landscape far more diverse than the Buggles ever envisioned. In fact, today, the internet is bringing the radio star back to life.

This is what Alex Blumberg is betting, as he’s started a company devoted to creating podcasts. Gimlet raised US$200,000 start-up cash in a matter of hours, as investors figured Blumberg knew what he was talking about: Blumberg was a producer on ‘This American Life’, one of the most successful podcasts of all time.

Ira Glass, Blumberg’s old boss at ‘This American Life’, is probably the ultimate radio star as podcasts are rapidly become the next big thing in the ever-connected media world. Podcasts have grown 105% in the US over the past five years, according to a 2012 study from Edison Research. After all, there are plenty of moments when we can’t look at a screen, such as when we’re driving or walking down the street, or moments when we can’t get the internet but may still like to feel connected, such as on a metro train or airplane.

But audio broadcasting has a lot to offer in and of itself though, thinks Blumberg. He told the Wall Street Journal: “I think audio demands certain things. It demands plot in a pretty straightforward way, or it demands authentic emotion in a pretty serious way, or it demands companionship. So those are the three reasons that I think people listen to audio.”

Another reason why people like the radio is because it lets them feel a personal connection, says Blumberg, which is what the best hosts create when they speak to their audience. Gimlet will aim to scale up the podcasting industry by doing exactly what made podcasts so successful in the first place: letting each of them target its own audience and interact with them in a unique manner. Want to know how Gimlet is progressing? They have a podcast for that: Startup.

Traditional radio is using a lot of the same tricks as podcasts to move into the future too though, with the BBC iPlayer Radio and the TuneIn app among those offering radio on demand. “Personalisation is a major part of the future of radio. Pandora [in the US] has shown how personalised music can make a good product, but good radio stations are more than songs pseudo-randomly thrown together,” radio expert James Cridland told The Next Web. The future is likely to bring us a “hybrid radio”, thinks Cridland – a mix of the best of broadcasting and internet.

Welcome to the Slow Internet

UK2 Group 2015 – on

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 16.52.45Welcome to the Slow Internet
Is the Slow Internet the future? Those of us who remember crackly dial-up lines, watching web pages load at a crawl, may well feel alarmed at this prospect. But the Slow Internet isn’t about speed, rather it is about how we choose to consume content. In the same way that the “Slow Food” movement from the 1980s was a backlash against fast food, this could be the Slow Internet: a backlash against information overload.

After all, too many BuzzFeed quizzes will leave a bad taste, much like too many BigMacs will. Opting for a bit more quality in our internet diets may be the way forward, as it’s increasingly impossible to keep track of everything. 90% of all the data in the world has been generated in just the last two years, according to research from Sintef, and the pace is quickening.

So what’s the solution? Ditch the chicken nuggets and have a steak instead. Be picky in your internet consumption and search for the stuff you love, and ignore the rest. Start with some newsletters from your favourite companies or publications, listen to some podcasts on your favourite subjects, and read some long articles on fascinating topics. This way, the internet is your oyster:

Newsletters are the best kind of email
When it comes to curating your online experience, nothing is more personal than email. In an effort to keep bulging email inboxes from getting out of control, most people reach for that “unsubscribe” button on an unwanted circular pretty quick. But when an email comes in that we actually want to read, we pay proper attention to it. And if there’s something we want to make sure not to miss, email subscription is the best thing – the best newsletters seem to be coming via TinyLetter. Another great thing about email is that it translates great to mobile, plus it’s cross-platform so anyone can access content without needing to download yet another app.

The golden age of podcasts
All of a sudden, everyone is into “Serial’. In the car, while making dinner, on the train, or walking down the street – Serial is in people’s ears, thrilling them with the story of a 1999 Baltimore murder mystery. Podcasts have never been more popular, as people like being able to choose what they listen to, instead of just having to go with whatever’s on the radio. Granted, podcasts aren’t as high in quality as the radio, but they have come a long way over the past few years. Today, there’s so many great ones to choose from, covering every conceivable topic.

The revival of longform reporting
It isn’t really fair to single out BuzzFeed as a villain for bombarding us with all those quizzes, as BuzzFeed is actually doing some amazing work to promote longform reporting. That means putting longer, more heavily researched articles on the web, as the click rates show that people are hungry for quality content on the internet again. Writing and editing more informative or complicated stories takes time, and hence costs more money, but as it turns out, people can’t live on short, snappy lists alone. Sometimes we want to read a story. After years of lamenting the decline of quality journalism, this tentative revival of proper reporting is great news – not just for journalists, but also for readers.

The case for internet anonymity

UK2 Group 2014 – on

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 21.02.43The case for internet anonymity
Trolls may thrive on anonymity, but there are plenty of other reasons for wanting an online pseudonym.

Internet trolls tend to lose their bravado if their anonymity is pierced – at least that’s what happened when professor Mary Beard threatened to forward a troll’s attack to his mother. It’s in all our interest to clean up abusive or threatening behaviour in these internet streets, and insisting on people using their real names is one way to do this.

But there are also plenty of good reasons why people may choose to use an online pseudonym, reasons which have nothing to do with hurling abuse at Cambridge classicists:

“Online, I use my real name for many things. But sometimes, I prefer to use a pseudonym,” Judith Donath wrote in Wired. “I simply want to manage the impression I make, while still participating in diverse conversations and communities.” Donath points out how nothing you say on the internet really disappears, and sometimes it’s nice to have an online exchange that’s more similar to in-person conversations: just a casual chat, and not something that’s tied to your name for eternity.

This kind of reasoning may well be why anonymous messaging app Yik Yak is now valued at US$300-400 million, following three rounds of fundraising over the past year. Yik Yak lets people talk anonymously to others in close geographical proximity, such as college campuses or neighbourhoods. While Twitter and Facebook has cornered the market on spreading news, Yik Yak might be able to fulfil a similar function for local events. Two other apps, Whisper and Secret, have a similar function, but are aimed towards sharing personal confessions.

If it’s truly possible to be anonymous when using a communication app, these could be a powerful tool for political activists in countries with oppressive governments. This autumn, Hong Kong protesters took to off-the-grid communication app FireChat to coordinate their activities. FireChat works by creating its own network between users, relying on Bluetooth or WiFi links to connect users’ phones. FireChat messages are also open for everyone to see, enabling mass communication not dissimilar to Twitter, while at the same time being more secure than the likes of Whatsapp, which is linked to users’ phone numbers.

Though often, internet users don’t actually need to be completely anonymous. We might not mind giving our real name when registering for a service, but still want a screen name for interacting with other users. In the fight against online trolling, this could be a good compromise as it allows discretion, but ensures people traceable if they become abusive.

Earlier this year, Facebook had to backtrack on its insistence that everybody use their real names, after realising people often had good reasons for wanting pseudonyms. Facebook’s policy was aimed at creating transparency and accountability on the network, but an unintended side-effect was that it created serious problems for LGBTQ users:

“The consequences of losing the ability to use Facebook with a chosen name are far worse for some. For trans women, who make up 72% of the victims of anti-LGBTQ homicide, being forced to reveal their birth names can be deadly,” Nadia Kayyali wrote in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Stage performers most commonly known for their stage names were among those falling foul of Facebook’s policy, as well as people who may want to talk about sensitive issues without risking discrimination at work. Kayyali also pointed out how people hiding from abusive relationships often use pseudonyms to seek support on social media.

Facebook has since softened its name policy, and apologised: “The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life,” said Chief Product Officer Chris Cox, adding that the network wants to improve “the safety and authenticity of the Facebook experience for everyone“.

The disappearing internet

UK2 Group 2014 – on

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 22.57.30The disappearing internet
Does information last forever on the internet? It may have seemed that way for the Spanish man who took his case to the courts earlier this year, arguing that Google hits about the repossession of his house in 1998 were far too prominent. The European Court of Justice agreed with him, and Google received over 40,000 requests for to remove “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” personal data in the first four days after the ruling alone.

What may be surprising, as Google starts on the arduous task of complying with the “right to be forgotten” laws, is the fact is that an individual web page doesn’t actually last very long. Estimates vary, but the average lifespan of an individual page on the internet is somewhere just short of 100 days. Of course, the disappearance of a single page doesn’t have to mean the contents is gone, but one thing is certain: as the internet grows older, it keeps changing; just think about how websites used to look ten years ago compared to now.

Those nostalgic for the old internet may be reassured to know there’s a man in San Francisco who’s made it his mission to archive the internet. Brewster Kahle started his work in 1996, and compares the Internet Archive the Library of Alexandria. A device called the Wayback Machine currently contains over 400 billion copies of web pages, and the number keeps growing as Kahle and his team preserves a new version every couple of months. According to Kahle’s own estimates, the archive contains about 15 petabytes of information- that’s about one million gigabytes of data.

“Our mission is universal access to all information all of the time,” Rick Prelinger, president of the Internet Archive board, told ‘The Guardian’. “Digital information is part of our cultural heritage but it’s tremendously volatile. It’s fragile.” One function of the Internet Archive is to preserve documents so it can be proven if they have been changed or removed, as has been the case with sensitive company issues or government websites.

But another function is how the project is preserving a cultural heritage. One piece of internet history which is fading from memory is the web-hosting service GeoCities, which Yahoo shut down in 2009 – but not before it was copied by the Internet Archive. Maybe the contents of GeoCities doesn’t seem all that worthy of preservation today, but it’s not hard to imagine that in 100 years from now, historians will be thrilled that someone went to the trouble to keep the first versions of the internet, an invention that is slowly and surely changing the world.

UK2 Group

UK2GLogoI blogged about technology innovation, the cloud and trends in internet life for web hosting company UK2 GroupSamples:

* Welcome to the Slow Internet
* The dirty secret of wearable technology
* Is SnapChat pointing the way to the future of news?
* The disappearing internet
* The vital presence of social media ghosts
* The case for emoji in work communication
* Is technology ruining storytelling on screen?
* Big Data: Why technology’s biggest hype is still the real deal
* What happens to virtual spaces after the people have moved on?
* Why simpler is better for technology innovation
* The secret to viral videos
* Comments are dead, but we’re talking more than ever
* The internet is saving the radio star!

Where the internet lives

Aquila Magazine (for children aged 7-12) – June 2014. Original article.

upintheair-0614uWhere does the internet live?
What is the internet? We could compare it to a giant library, except we can get to any page in any book immediately. Or we could compare it to a post office, except letters are delivered right away. It’s a shop too – we can buy pretty much anything we want from almost anywhere in the world, and it will be delivered to our homes a couple of days later. And lately the internet has been turning into a great big playground, where we can talk to each other, play games, look at pictures together, and learn about life in other countries by talking to people who live there.

We can see all these things on our computer screens, but that’s just a window into the vast global network that makes up the internet. So where exactly is the internet? What does the internet actually look like? If you have seen the insides of a computer, or even a simpler electronic device put together with lots of wires and chips, this will give you an idea what the internet looks like. Except, of course, the internet is a lot bigger and much more complicated.

The electronic library
Just like we have bookshelves for storing books, all the websites with all the photos, text and videos need to be stored somewhere too. The internet is stored in massive stacks of electronic memory boards and magnetic discs, located in big buildings called datacentres. These are placed all over the world and look pretty boring: just rows and rows of cupboards, linked by millions of wires. Websites have to pay rent for the space they use in a datacentre, and the more space they need the more it costs. This is because datacentres run on electricity, they generate a lot of heat so they need cooling down, and they need to be kept secure so no one can break in and steal the data. Avoiding “blackouts”, which would mean people can’t get to websites, is incredibly important for datacentres, so they need backup solutions in the event of equipment failure or power cuts.

The data that makes up the internet is led away from the datacentres by cables that go into the ground, and we can access these in our houses by hooking up them like we do with electricity and water. The cables that transport the internet are made from fibre-optics, which mean they work by light pulsing through bundles of many tiny cables, each the width of a human hair. This is faster than metal wires over longer distances, which is important when considering that internet cables also run between continents, buried at the bottom of the ocean.

Transport by light
Today’s fibre-optic cables are a big improvement from the first transatlantic cable, which was a copper wire laid in 1858. The first message was sent from the US president to Britain’s Queen Victoria, and it took 17 hours to come through. This was pretty good at the time, considering the alternative was sending a letter by boat. The US president called it “a triumph more glorious, because far more useful to mankind, than was ever won by conqueror on the field of battle”. A lot has improved since then, as data from a website in America or China now travels in the blink of an eye to load on a computer here in Britain.

It’s even more impressive when we consider that the internet is often used without actually plugging a cable into the network. When we look at websites on mobile phones, the data is coming in wirelessly through the phone network. Wireless internet, or WiFi, is popular in homes as well as cafes, as it lets us connect many mobiles, laptops and tablet computers to the network without cables. WiFi works by taking a signal that comes in through a cable, and converting it to a radio signal for devices can tap into. On a big scale, a similar method lets us use internet satellites to get internet connections out to remote areas, or to ships at sea.

Over shorter distances, Bluetooth technology lets us send data without a cable by creating a mini network between two devices, so we can do things like sending a photo from a computer to a printer. More and more devices are being networked so we can control them from a distance, such as TVs, cars and refrigerators. It’s already possible to turn on the heating before we get home by sending a signal via the internet, because heaters are being installed with networked control panels.


WWW: A common language
The internet was first invented in the 1960s by the US Defence Department, who called it ARPAnet. It became popular among universities who found it useful to be able to share data with other schools. Still, it wasn’t until 1991 that the internet as we know it now was born, when Englishman Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. WWW became the common language for the whole internet, making it possible for anyone to access any page. Instead of just being for researchers or governments, Tim Berners-Lee wanted the internet to be a social medium, a place where everyone can share ideas with other people and work together.

internet lives