Terms and Conditions Apply

We are becoming less surprised to learn of the control that Facebook has over our information, in an ironic twist many use the site to lament its rule but little is or can be done against them. We accept the control of Facebook as a necessary evil to use a service that provides us with the ability to communicate with family and friends who may be oceans away. All too regularly it is revealed to us that Facebook has once again taken control of our data for its own means without properly informing us, these controversies are quickly forgotten until the next update. A Wikipedia page dutifully lists the controversies, but to no real end.

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Humans of New York: A Case Study in Viral Stories

Humans of New York (HONY) has employed many strategies in order to become successful on the web. This photo blog turned social media sensation has over 17 million likes on Facebook and almost 5 million followers on Instagram to date. There is no doubt that HONY is popular, but the purpose of this essay is to understand why. HONY’s basic premise is a simple photograph and a quotation from the subject photographed. But this phenomenon is far from “simple,” and is extremely successful on the web, soliciting sometimes hundreds of thousands of likes, shares, and comments within a day (on Facebook alone). After reading an article by Maria Konnikova about viral stories, I applied her question to HONY: “What was it about a piece of content… that took it from simply interesting to interesting and shareable? What pushes someone not only to read a story but to pass it on?” (Konnikova). Using Jonah Berger’s six tenets of virality from his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, this essay will explore Berger’s principles in relation to HONY, in order to better understand how HONY’s content is consistently viral.


Social Currency

Essentially, social currency is the ability to “make people feel like insiders” (Berger 22). HONY pulls in readers with often very personal quotations by the subject of the photograph. The photographer/founder of HONY, Brandon Stanton, explains that what makes HONY so moving is the juxtaposition of “seeing a photo of somebody that you know nothing about except for this—one kind of very vulnerable or intimate piece of information—is a very powerful combination” (qtd. in Hendrikson “Humans”). This strangely intimate information makes readers feel like insiders, providing them with the necessary social currency. Readers get to know deep details of a stranger’s life, yet they do not need to match the emotional outlay, resulting in personal satisfaction. HONY and Stanton have been widely criticized for this emotional saturation, eliciting comments that his portraits with captions actually gravitate to the “quick and cavalier consumption of others” with “flattening humanism” (Cunningham). But others have stated that HONY can have a more positive benefit to readers, symbolically linking them to those with similar challenges or experiences. Dr. Ellen Hendrikson explains that “HONY offers many things—empathy, validation—but the biggest thing… people get out of it is normalization. If a random stranger shown on HONY does or thinks something you thought you were alone in doing or thinking, it breaks the grip of ‘I’m the only one’” (Hendrikson, “Psychology”). Humans of New York is instantly appealing as we are naturally “curious about humans and hungry for the elements that connect us” (Mirchandani).



Berger explains that for content to go viral, “lots of people have to pass along the same piece of content at around the same time” (Berger 97). To accomplish that, the content needs to be kept in the forefront of readers’ minds, as “the more often people think about [it]… the more it will be talked about” and the best chance for success is to have what you want people to talk about “frequently triggered by the environment” (Berger 23). HONY accomplishes this triggering by thriving within the online environment, producing content specifically for social media. This way, HONY’s content will appear within the social media streams and feeds that its audience is already consuming. Readers cannot easily forget about HONY because it keeps popping up, seamlessly integrating into their social channels. In its early days, Stanton quickly realized that his blog was gaining more and more traffic from social media, so he “removed [his] ‘free-standing’ website, and began hosting 100% of [HONY’s] content on social media” (Stanton). The HONY website still exists, but is merely a placeholder to drive traffic to their social media venues, as evidenced by the calls to action at the top of their webpage.



Berger says that “When we care, we share” and thus “[n]aturally contagious content usually evokes some sort of emotion” (Berger 23). HONY often features emotional content, and the stories predictably go viral because they “are impactful, emotional, short, visual, and engaging” (Corrado). Some, however, have criticized this approach, claiming that Stanton’s “humans are actually caricatures…reduced to whatever decontextualized sentence or three he chooses to use along with their photo” (D’Addario). D’Addario further claims that readers are “emotionally manipulated” by Stanton’s representation of a person’s life and are guilted into “press[ing] the thumbs-up sign” (D’Addario). Or is it that Stanton is simply a good interviewer, knowing what part of a person’s story reflects real raw emotion? Stanton explains that the original blog consisted only of photos, then of short quotations, and then “it turned into 30- or 45-minute interviews… with each subject” as he dug deeper into the narrativizing of the photos (qtd. in Hendrikson “Humans”). Stanton asserts that every single person has a powerful story, and HONY is based on the principle that “there is enough drama and comedy and emotion and love in the life of every person to formulate a story that will captivate millions of people” (qtd. in Hendrikson “Humans”). But not every post is emotional roller coaster; Stanton also features cute kids and puppies, which encourage feel-good sharing with emotional levity.



Since all HONY content lives online, all behaviours associated with HONY are performed in public. Berger explains that “[m]aking things observable makes them easier to imitate, which makes them more likely to become popular” (Berger 24). This means that when people like/favourite a HONY post/page on Facebook or Instagram, or share an individual post on either platform, each action is done in public and produces more visibility for HONY’s content, which in turn perpetuates its own popularity. In reference to Facebook, Berger notes that “[b]y simply clicking the Like button, people not only show their affinity with… [an] idea, or organization, they also help spread the word that something is good or worth paying attention to” (Berger 149). HONY also fits the characteristics of Alexander and Levine’s “Web 2.0 Storytelling” model. The first feature is “microcontent” meaning the using and reusing of “small chunks of content, with each chunk conveying a primary idea or concept” (Alexander and Levine 42). HONY creates a small story package with a photo, and can reuse that content throughout its various online incarnations, though it has been identified that Facebook is HONY’s “native and most comfortable medium” (Cunningham) as evidenced by Stanton’s screenshotting and posting of Facebook-first content on HONY’s Twitter.

The second part of Alexander and Levine’s model is “storytelling” which is described in the digital realm as “a narrated personal story of overcoming obstacles, achieving a dream, honoring a deceased family member, or describing an event” (Alexander and Levine 44). This wide definition surprisingly fits the overall model of many of the stories posted by HONY. Another public action that readers can engage in is commenting on a post, and indeed, Alexander and Levine note that “[u]ser-generated content is a key element of Web 2.0” (47). What is particularly pertinent for HONY is that these comments actually become integral to the HONY experience: these interactions “fold into the experience of the overall story from the perspective of subsequent readers” (Alexander and Levine 47). Various reactions such as sympathy or empathy may be offered through these comments, but overall the effect is engagement, facilitated by the open web, which “inches toward full-blown community” (Hendrikson, “Psychology”).


Practical Value

Berger asserts that humans naturally “care about others and… want to make their lives better” (Berger 177). HONY has proven that it can actually accomplish a lot in terms of helping others through its social media. Heralded as a stunning example of community engagement, HONY is also being recognized as “a model for crowdfunding” (Mirchandani). HONY has started many fundraising campaigns, and has raised millions of dollars for various causes and people not just within New York, but also internationally. One particularly successful example is from within the United States, and it all started off with a photo of “Middle school student Vidal Chastanet… stating his truth about the school principal who inspires him in his rough Brooklyn neighbourhood” (Grinberg et al.). The post went viral, soliciting over 1.2 million likes on one photo alone on Facebook.

An online campaign began a few weeks later to benefit Vidal’s school: the goal was a class trip to Harvard, in order to “broaden students’ horizons and expand their idea of their potential” (Grinberg et al.). Owing to the campaign’s wild success on Indiegogo, raising over $1.4 million (1,418% of their original goal of $100,000!) Stanton announced that the school was “starting a scholarship fund available to the graduates of Mott Hall Bridges Academy” naming it the Vidal Scholarship, as Vidal was the inspiration and would be the first recipient of the fund (Grinberg et al.). This fundraising success could only be done this quickly and coordinated with expert efficiency because of HONY’s popularity on social media, which leveraged its connections and converted many readers into donors.



Humans of New York’s tagline, New York City, one story at a time, emphasizes the most important part of HONY—the stories. Berger notes that in order for content to go viral, it needs to be packaged as a story, as “[p]eople don’t just share information, they tell stories” (Berger 24). When asked “why New York City?” about the choice of location for the project, Stanton replied, “If you’re going to exhibit the diversity of the lives and stories on Planet Earth… I don’t think there’s any single location that would be easier to do that than New York” (qtd. in Miller). Stanton’s original stated goal for the blog at its inception in 2010 was “to create an exhaustive catalogue of New York City’s inhabitants, so [he] set out to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers and plot their photos on a map” (“About” 2016). After many months of creating content with this goal in mind, the blog began to take on a different character, and Stanton “noticed that the stories and quotes were becoming as important, or more important, than the photos” and that the inclusion of stories was the “tipping point” for HONY’s popularity (Stanton). When asked about how we can become more empathetic towards strangers, Stanton foregrounds the importance of learning others’ stories: “it’s the most simple thing in the world: just learn about [others]” (qtd. in Hendrikson “Humans”). He also emphasizes the role of HONY’s online environment, stating that the Internet is creating “sub-communities that reach across boundaries… that allow people to connect” through stories, which has an “inherently… pacifying effect in the world” (qtd. in Hendrikson “Humans”). HONY has also branched beyond the web, with Stanton’s authoring of three successful books: Humans of New York, Little Humans, and Humans of New York: Stories. The first book alone had 30,000 pre-orders, and spent its first 29 weeks on the New York Times best seller list, thanks to Stanton’s careful cultivation and promotion though his many social channels (Corrado).



Stories are the main reason Humans of New York has become so increasingly popular. Berger explains the almost magnetic attraction to reading HONY posts, as “[n]arratives are inherently more engrossing than basic facts. . . . If people get sucked in early, they’ll stay for the conclusion. . . . You want to find out whether they missed the plane or what they did with a house full of screaming nine year olds. You started down a path and you want to know how it ends. Until it does, they’ve captured your attention” (Berger 181). The rapid growth of HONY’s social media channels is precisely because of Stanton’s ability to ask the right questions during interviews and to shape the responses into unified kernel stories with immense impact. Stanton’s savvy as a web strategist also contributes to his success, he explains the journey of HONY as “a constant process of ditching what’s not working, and doubling down on what’s working” (Stanton). Stanton moulded HONY content from a close-ended project about New York to an “open-ended blog about individuals,” moving from photo- and blog-exclusive website content, to reusable social media content with a prime focus on stories (Stanton). Stanton has been able to profit directly and indirectly from HONY: directly through book deals and royalties, and indirectly through his own profile from HONY, which translated to “collaborations, … magazine pieces, occasional speeches” and freelance photography jobs (Stanton). At the same time, Stanton has been able to facilitate the help of others by crowdfunding using the HONY web community and storytelling through social media.



Works Cited

About.” Humans of New York, 2016. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.

Alexander, Bryan, and Alan Levine. “Web 2.0 Storytelling: Emergence of a New Genre.” EduCause Review November/December (2008): 40-56. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.

Berger, Jonah. Contagious: Why Things Catch On. London: Simon & Schuster, 2013. Print.

Corrado, Taylor. “Digital Storytelling, Crowdfunding, and Social Media: How HONY Raised $1,000,000 Online.” Blue State Digital. BSD, 30 Jan. 2015. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.

Cunningham, Vinson. “Humans of New York and the Cavalier Consumption of Others.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 3 Nov. 2015. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.

D’Addario, Daniel. “The Problem With Humans of New York.” Gawker. Gawker, 13 Aug. 2014. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.

Grinberg, Emanuella, Lisa Respers France, and Katia Hetter. “Obama Meets Boy Who Inspired $1 Million Fundraiser.” CNN. International ed., 6 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.

Hendrikson, Ellen. “Humans of New York’s Brandon Stanton on How to Talk to Strangers.” Savvy Psychologist. Quick and Dirty Tips, 20 Nov. 2015. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.

—. “Psychology of Why You Love Humans of New York.” Savvy Psychologist. Quick and Dirty Tips, 20 Nov. 2015. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.

Humans of New York.” Humans of New York, 2016. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.

Konnikova, Maria. “The Six Things that Make Stories Go Viral Will Amaze, and Maybe Infuriate, You.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 21 Jan. 2014. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.

Miller, Sharde. “Humans of New York Creator Reveals How He Gets People to Share Life’s Intimate Details.” ABC News. ABC News, 12 Oct. 2015. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.

Mirchandani, Tricia. “What You Can Learn About Crowdfunding From Humans of New York (HONY).CauseVox. CauseVox, 23 Apr. 2015. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.

Stanton, Brandon. “I am Brandon Stanton, creator of the Humans of New York blog. I’ve stopped, photographed, and interviewed thousands of strangers on the streets of NYC.” BestofAMA. Reddit AMA, 20 May 2013. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.

Taking Content Marketing Lessons from “BIG DATA LESSONS FROM NETFLIX”

The web article “Big Data Lessons from Netflix” is a 2014 sponsored content post written by business consultant, public speaker, and seven-time author Phil Simon. Appearing on WIRED.com, it promotes Simon’s sixth technology and marketing book, The Visual Organization: Data Visualization, Big Data, and the Quest for Better Decisions.

The article contains a few interesting points about how Netflix uses big data and data visualizations to optimize content, presentation, and its algorithms, especially some novel notes about cover colours. But as a piece of writing, it is awkwardly unfocussed. Flitting between discussion of big data and data visualizations, and not maintaining a clear enough distinction between the two. This is because it has been SEO optimized, meaning the primary reader is a computer, not a human.

For these reasons and more, the article is most interesting as an opportunity to observe SEO and content marketing practices employed by a self-proclaimed expert. To begin, Simon wisely chose a combination of buzzy terms “Netflix” and “Big Data” in his title.

From the perspective of WIRED, for whom Simon wrote eight sponsored articles from March 2014 to February 2015, these articles help pay the bills. In a world filled with ad blocker and online readers unwilling to subscribe to WIRED’s print magazine, these sponsored content posts may well make the difference between profitability and disaster.

For prolific business authors like Simon, who, judging from his website, makes as much money at speaking engagements as anywhere else, these sponsored posts are a promotional godsend. Indeed, the article promotes his name, book, and website on a major site, increasing the visibility of each on the wider web.

This post in particular promotes Phil Simon’s name by including it at the top and bottom of the post and also in a mysteriously invisible third place that my Chrome browser’s search function can apparently detect. In additions, the phrase “Simon says” appears suspiciously in a heading near the bottom!

The article promotes his latest book by thrice mentioning the title, and using the key title phrase “Visual Organization” as a general term in three additional places, for example: “And, like other Visual Organizations covered in this section, Netflix uses data-visualization tools…” The article also repeatedly uses key terms from the book’s title and content, such as data visualization (5), big data (8), and dataviz (7). All of this is, again, repetitive to read and obviously done for SEO purposes.

Finally, the article promotes Simon’s website by linking directly in two places, including to a book trailer for Visual Organizations. This may be the most valuable aspect to Simon, as it increases the his website’s standing in Google’s search algorithm to have incoming links from a site as widely read as WIRED.

Considering Simon’s books are published by Wiley, primarily a technical book publisher that charges an average of $60 US for his titles online, many of his sales probably come from direct or pre-arranged sales at speaking engagements. For someone like that, whose business model is all about exposure, purchasing content spots like these is as close to a sure bet as you can get. I don’t even need a data visualization to tell me that!

A Read About Online Reading

Hopefully, this article will live a long, healthy life on the Internet; it will begin to garner some reactions in the form of comments, annotations, etc. from my peers, and possibly future cohorts (or not). This article will discuss how putting writing on the Internet invites the public to engage with it deeper than if it were to be in print. However, I will also acknowledge how this can be difficult to accept given online reading behaviours.

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Reader Response to –  “Moneyball for Book Publishers:  A Detailed Look at How We Read”

In detailing emerging reader-data collection start-up Jellybooks in Moneyball for Book Publishers… (March 2016), Alexandra Alter and Karl Russell of the New York Times provide a useful general introduction to the company’s practices. However, while they do lightly call into question Jellybooks’ ethics and the validity of some results, I feel the authors do not go far enough in pointing out and validating the flaws in Jellybooks’ approach.

Alter and Russell do offer a somewhat tepid acknowledgement that Jellybooks’ practices may represent the start of an inevitable slope toward every ebook reader being subjected to excessive big data analysis: “as the book industry gets more sophisticated about how to measure reading behavior and the practice becomes more widespread, real privacy concerns could emerge.”

They also state Jellybooks’ approach, involving providing free ebooks to readers who are informed detailed behavior information will be collected, could undermine the resulting data’s usefulness: “people who sign up for a free e-book service might not represent the kinds of readers who would seek and pay for a crime novel or a nonfiction book on a subject that interests them.”

But I feel they have not gone far enough in raising these and other concerns.

In terms of ethics, it is certainly reasonable and expected in this case that Jellybooks should inform readers that their behavior will be tracked, but the article largely ignores the strong likelihood that such data is already being collected by major ebook platforms like Kindle, et al. This is not a future concern, as they state it to be, but very much a present one. Unless it is explicitly stated that your data is not being collected on any networked device, it is safe to assume it is in 2016. Most likely you agreed to it in the TOS, but who reads those? It is further likely that it is being packaged along with the data of other users and marketed for sale. Stressing these facts might have encouraged more readers to think twice about going digital.

More pertinent to Jellybooks, their data collection model has significant flaws that the article consistently undersells. To begin, the ebooks Jellybooks track are free, likely devaluing these products in the readers’ minds and increasing the likelihood they will fail to read them. Further, it is stated Jellybooks has so far tested only 200 books. Even if all 200 titles were offered at once to a typical reader, which is almost certainly never the case, it is likely none might appeal enough that a given reader would have otherwise acquired it. After all, no responsible bookstore would carry so few titles. So we know Jellybooks readers receive free books they might never have been otherwise attracted to, but we must also consider they are explicitly aware they are being tracked, which likely alters their reading behavior at least somewhat, raising additional serious reliability concerns about Jellybooks’ results.

Certainly, there is valuable data to be collected from ebook readers that might make individual titles easier to market. But corresponding raised concern over excess data collection, especially if properly reported upon, might make ebooks a much tougher sell on the whole.

Online Advertising: Does It Work On Digital Natives?

Most prolific online platforms, including those used by the publishing industry, place a large emphasis on online advertising as a main source of revenue. Indeed, this seems like a logical revenue stream and has proved successful to many. But notice that Vice, BuzzFeed, and The Onion (publications and websites aimed at digital natives) avoid featuring ads. They opt for sponsored content as an alternative. While online advertising works for certain publications, this essay will argue that this advertising model fails to work as effectively for publications aimed at a younger demographic.

To give some clarification, a digital native is a person defined by the technological culture in which they born; this means the individual is born somewhere between the early 1980s and early 2000s. Alternatively, the digital immigrant is someone born before 1980; this person was forced to adapt to the technological developments happening in their surroundings. The latter has always been accustomed to advertising and therefore will not dismiss it when online. Having said that, there are a number of reasons why the same can’t be said for digital natives. While the advertisers might believe this model to be working, the product at hand isn’t properly making its way to the digital native.

Are Digital Natives As Tech-Savvy As We Believe?

To begin with, while digital natives were born into the era of technology, this doesn’t necessarily mean they understand its inner workings; they simply benefit from technology in their personal and professional lives. Russell Potter’s Medium article “The Problem with Digital ‘Natives’” suggests that millennials were born and grew up in an era where technology was at its prime; as such, digital immigrants assume millennials know everything about technology. Potter, an author and professor at Rhode Island College, argues that millennials have developed serious expectations in terms of convenience created by technology. Potter argues that millennials are satisfied with the technology easiest to navigate: “When I polled my freshman writing class last year, I found they were all heavy users of Instagram… none had even heard of other image sites such as Flickr or Hipstamatic, none of them knew how to generate a meme (though they loved reposting them), none had a blog, and none had used Twitter or Tumblr. One student even raised her hand to ask what ‘HTML’ was.” They are extremely well versed in navigating these technologies. Yet, few are actually producing them.

Millennials are dissatisfied with technologies that prove complicated to navigate. They literally immerse themselves in the Internet on their laptops and smart phones. It is not uncommon for a conversation via text messaging or social media to be happening between two people in the same room. They tag their friends and family in funny pictures and posts on Facebook, they like their friends’ Instagram posts, they send each other Snapchat photos, and so on. This is how they communicate; they require interactive technologies. While they don’t necessarily know how to create this technology, millennials have extremely high expectations when it comes to convenience. Jake Wobbrock’s Wired article “How Millennials Require Us to Design the Technologies of Tomorrow” points out that convenience and a slick user experience absolutely needs to be at the bottom line of any tech, especially social media, company’s mandate. Wobbrock further explains that this is important to consider because millennials will soon have more buying power than any other demographic: “Millennials also have different communication habits, according to Accenture, and are way more connected and in-tune with technology and online culture. Growing up with access to information at their fingertips, they have become accustomed to an on-demand lifestyle, expect a seamless shopping experience, and won’t hang around for long if they don’t find what they need.” Wobbrock explains that the main criticism of millennials towards a brand is a poorly designed website and/or a bad social media presence. They expect a perfect and seamless experience, which includes being undisturbed by online advertisements. Wobbrock, co-founder of AnswerDash, a company that enables online businesses to provide customers with answers, has done extensive research and work on the subject of millennials online. He believes that online consumers abandon their search in less than a minute if their question fails to receive an answer. He also believes that consumers, in particular millennials, need to be in charge of their online experience. As a result, they don’t respond to online advertisements, as they don’t have control over what they’re seeing. Instagram’s recent decision to move from a chronological feed to an algorithm serves as an interesting comparison to this statement. Instagram will present its users with the pictures they believe users will find most appealing. A poll conducted by Kevin Shively for his article on the subject indicated that only 6% of users are satisfied with Instagram’s decision. Not only do users already find Instagram advertisements to be a hassle and an inconvenience to their viewing experience, this decision means they have even less control over their experience.

Kevin Shively @KevinSaysThings. www.twitter.com.
Kevin Shively @KevinSaysThings. www.twitter.com.

While the inability of digital natives to understand the technology they are using doesn’t directly correlate to online advertising, it does to a certain extent. Millennials use technology blindly; they don’t pay attention to the platform but expect convenience. They need to feel in control of their experience; the traditional advertising model doesn’t parallel this need of theirs. Congruent to Potter’s point, millennials love Instagram, they love reposting memes, and they love being where their friends are (figuratively speaking). They are used to convenience; online advertisements are a hassle. They don’t match up with the seamless online experience Wobbrock makes note of. Moreover, knowing this, online publishing platforms aimed at a younger demographic can no longer rely on traditional advertising as their sole revenue stream.

Getting Advice From The Social World

Secondly, traditional advertising arguably fails to convince millennials because their loyalties now lie elsewhere. Daniel Newman’s Forbes article “Research Shows Millennials Don’t Respond To Ads” suggests that millennials trust the social world because of its sense of community. Millennials, especially the last of them, were literally born in an era in which they’ve always had immediate access to all technologies and facets of the social world. Millennials communicate over smart phones and social media platforms. They have become so accustomed to navigating the web and finding their information as quickly as possible that they don’t necessarily take in the information being advertised. Born into technology and being so accustomed to its various and ever-changing nature, the average millennial spends up to six hours a day online. Millennials feel the need to be constantly connected with their friends. According to Newman, they therefore trust their friends’ advice more so than anyone else’s, including that of advertisers. Because of this, traditional advertising doesn’t serve the same purpose to them. It fails to convince them; rather, it hinders their browsing process.

Millennials expect a different relationship with brands. They assume that every company will have an online and social presence. Yuyu Chen’s ClickZ article “84 Percent of Millennials Don’t Trust Traditional Advertising” explains the concept further. As the title points out, a significant number of millennials claim to be unconvinced by traditional advertising, such as online advertisements. Brands are trying to effectively target millennials and therefore are making attempts to think as they would. Millennials trust their friends and social networks. As an example, Chen suggests Adobe Creative Suite. Apple didn’t rely entirely on online advertising; rather, they enabled a discussion within friends so that instead they would tell each other how great the product was. As noted, millennials like to feel in control; they prefer to have the ability to discover something on their own, regardless of how staged the concept may be, as was the case with Apple. It is interesting to note the extent to which digital natives trust user-generated content. Max Knoblauch’s Mashable article “Millennials Trust User-Generated Content 50% More Than Other Media” provides an overview of the phenomenon. To be clear, peers create user-generated content. Some examples include status updates, blog posts, and restaurant reviews. Millennials much prefer these to an advertisement. This concept seems logical (maybe because of the fact that I myself am a millennial and digital native). A Yelp review proves much more accurate than something generated by the organization itself as a means to sell their product. One reason for this may be that it’s made extremely simple by social media platforms to publish reviews of all sorts.

What’s more, millennials have the ability and the instinct to get informed very quickly. Marie Puybaraud’s Work Design Magazine article “Digital Natives: A Tech-Savvy Generation Enters The Workplace” suggests that digital natives only know research through technology: “This higher level of experience, knowledge and information resulting from consistent use of digital media has also impacted purchasing behaviors, as consumers become increasingly educated and empowered.” If online advertisements do reach them, they won’t be as easily swayed as a generation that isn’t used to having quick access to information.

Digital Natives Biggest Users Of Ad Blocking Software

Finally, millennials don’t want to be disturbed by online advertisements, especially pop-ups, when navigating the web. As such, a large number of them install ad blockers. Indeed, they are among the highest users of ad blocking software. This poses a threat to both the publishing industry and online marketers. One great concern surrounding this matter is the fact that millennials constitute a large part of most publications’ future readers. Millennials are part of an extremely large generation and they are, for the most part, extremely tech-savvy; they have no problem finding ways in which to enable ad blocking software. According to an eMarketer study entitled “Nearly Two in Three Millennials Block Ads,” there are two major reasons why millennials download ad blocking software. The primary reason being that they don’t find the content relevant; the second reason being that there are better ways to target them (which is not really a reason, but there it is). Roughly 63% of North American millennials are using the software; 4% are unsure. Online publishers are forced to seek means to override this problem. Interestingly, when researching this paper, this pop-up came up as a solution to ad blocking.


Gianni Mascioli’s Forbes article “Will Ad-Blocking Millennials Destroy Online Publishing Or Save It?” explains that millennials, the group most inclined to download ad blocking software, also happens to be the group advertisers wish to contact the most. Millennials are entering the workforce currently and will soon occupy important roles within the United States and Canada. As such, marketers are after them. Unfortunately, however, they are forced to find new ways with which to target millennials. The latter has incredible purchasing powers because of their ability to find everything on the web. They do not respond to online advertising, but trust the opinion of their friends and social networks. Facebook, for instance, has proven to be the most successful avenue for advertising in terms of social media platforms. Facebook at its core promotes and explores user participation, which parallels the way millennials are shopping; they are asking other users for advice. Mascioli points out that “millennials don’t want to be talked at. They are used to having control over the information at their fingertips in their day-to-day lives, and their interaction with brands online is no different. They want to control their messaging.” Because of this situation, traditional online advertising seldom works on millennials.

On a similar note, it is worth noting that a page view doesn’t necessarily mean the whole article was read. Jordan Louis’ Online Behavior article “A Web Analytics Primer – What Does It All Mean?” provides a breakdown of what hits and page views mean to online advertisers. Louis explains that most advertisers base the success of their advertisement of unique page views. He defines a page view as follows: “The number of times any page on a website has been loaded in a visitor’s web browser, and the analytics code has successfully recorded the fact that page was loaded.” In fact, for the most part, the reader won’t go past the headline, which means the reader doesn’t necessarily see the advertisement. With this being the only way to determine if a reader has seen an ad, however, the advertiser is satisfied; there are no numbers that prove differently. Visits, on the other hand, generally terminate after thirty minutes of inactivity, which means the advertiser gets a better indication of how long the reader stays on page. Having said that, most online publishers don’t generally offer this information.

To conclude, brands have to change their advertising strategies when it comes to millennials and digital natives, who simply don’t take in information in the same ways as their predecessors. Millennials are used to convenience; they don’t wish to be disturbed by online advertisements. They’re also more likely to trust their friends and social networks as well as other user-generated content. Finally, they are the highest users of ad blocking software. Whether or not brands wish to do so, they have to move to a model in which the content speaks for itself; this enables users to discuss the product over social media and other interactive technologies.

Works Cited

Bilton, Ricardo. “Ad Blocking Is Every Publisher’s Problem Now.” Digiday. Digiday, 7 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.

Chen, Yuyu. “84 Percent of Millennials Don’t Trust Traditional Advertising.” ClickZ. Contentive Media, 4 Mar. 2015. Web. 18 Mar. 2016.

Joy, Oliver. “What Does It Mean to Be a Digital Native?” CNN. Cable News Network, 8 Dec. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.

Knoblauch, Max. “Millennials Trust User-Generated Content 50% More Than Other Media.” Mashable. Mashable, 9 Apr. 2014. Web. 18 Mar. 2016.

Leone, Chris. “Five Of The Biggest Challenges Facing Online Marketing.” Web Strategies. Web Strategies, 30 Jan. 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.

Louis, Jordan. “A Web Analytics Primer – What Does It All Mean?Online Behavior. Cardinal Path, 1 Apr. 2012. Web. 17 Mar. 2016.

Mascioli, Gianni. “Will Ad-Blocking Millennials Destroy Online Publishing Or Save It?Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 20 Sept. 2015. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.

Nearly Two in Three Millennials Block Ads.” EMarketer. EMarketer, 21 Sept. 2015. Web. 19 Mar. 2016.

Newman, Daniel. “Research Shows Millennials Don’t Respond To Ads.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.

Potter, Russell. “The Problem with Digital ‘Natives’.” Medium. Medium, 09 Dec. 2013. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.

Puybaraud, Marie. “Digital Natives: A Tech-Savvy Generation Enters the Workplace.” Work Design Magazine. Work Design Magazine, 31 Jan. 2012. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.

Shively, Kevin. “Don’t Panic: How to Prepare for Instagram’s Algorithmic Feed.” The Simply Measured Blog. Simply Measured RSS, 16 Mar. 2016. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.

Weisbein, Jeff. “4 Major Challenges the Digital Publishing Industry Is Facing.” Business 2 Community. Business 2 Community, 5 Aug. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.

Wobbrock, Jake. “How Millennials Require Us to Design the Technologies of Tomorrow.” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 17 Sept. 2014. Web. 18 Mar. 2016.

Can’t books just be books? The future of books, according to McSweeney’s

The McSweeney’s article “The Future of Books” by James Warner actually had me laughing out loud. Though a facetious and fantastical depiction of the future of books, it actually doesn’t feel that far off from the way we treat publishing now and how we imagine the future going. The prediction for 2020, which will involve “books” – the use of scare quotes is quite apt here – that are “bundled with soundtracks, musical leitmotifs, 3-D graphics, and streaming video” feels very much like an epub3 file, with moving gifs, hyperlinks, and videos, or like other digital reading forms that call themselves books. I can almost hear publishers taking part in meetings everywhere, scratching their heads as to how to entice people to buy more books: “Interactivity!” “Network building!” “Scratch and sniff!” Four years into the future sounds almost too far off; the time for books turning into almost anything but books is practically here already. Part of the impulse to expand books into other forms of media can be attributed to the technology allowing us to do so: we are able to do things we were never able to do previously, and that’s exciting. But part of it also has to do with marketing, a changing social landscape, and an easily distracted populace. Bundling gives “readers” an extended version of the world of the “book” – but like the scare quotes suggest, how far can we go before what we’re making isn’t really a book anymore, before what we’re doing isn’t really reading?

Continue reading “Can’t books just be books? The future of books, according to McSweeney’s”

Dark Social: We have the Whole History of the Web Wrong

The term Dark Social was first introduced by Alexis C. Madrigal (the author of this article), senior editor at The Atlantic. It refers to the social sharing of content and information (more specifically links) that happens outside the social media platforms (email, message, online chat) that can be measured by Web analytics programs. Dark social stands for any web traffic that’s not directed from a known source, such as a social network or a Google search.

In his article, Madrigal talks for the first time about social traffic directed from an unknown source (links shared via email or messaging) and names it Dark Social. He states that social media is much about link sharing and bringing exposure to it’s users about external content, however, statistics show that out of 100% of website traffic, 65% comes from Dark Social and the rest comes from Social Media. This proves that the sharing of content links via email and messaging is much more powerful than content shared on Social Media.

The most important factor when one shares content is the content itself. If the content isn’t any good, there will be no sharing despite the fact that the content was optimized, if your content is well written, interesting and intriguing, then it will be shared. Madrigal states that the emerge of social media platforms didn’t create the social web (the social web already existed), but they only structured the existing platforms by the act of publishing and tracking social interactions.

A report released by RadiumOne shows some of the trends in Dark Social sharing. One very interesting fact they found was that 32% of the people only used Dark Social  sharing (email, messages, forums). One other things they discovered, was that different kinds of information tend to be shared in private more than others, some of the top categories are: arts and entertainment, careers, travel, science and education. The last thing that the study found was that click back rates are very high on messaging shared via Dark Social.

I will conclude with a question: Does dark social exist on the back of Social media? When you have a direct link to some site like Buzzfeed, you first found out about Buzzfeed due their highly engaged posts on social media, that were liked and seen by millions. Then you can access Buzzed directly looking for fun content (without having to go onto Facebook), and when you find something interesting you send the link to your friend through a message. Truly, this is Dark Social, but it’s Dark Social generated because of Social Media?

Separate but Complimentary: The Success of New Publishing

Separate but Complimentary:

The Success of New Publishing

Those who study publishing are noticing an overarching theme: publishing is changing and publishers are generally unsure whether to focus on print or digital. It seems that in attempting to publish in both formats, to address production choices for both mediums, and to establish an online presence on new platforms, publishers are trying to do everything. Yet this comes at the cost of quality for the medium that does not take precedence. Publishers are concerned about the success of their business, not necessarily about making innovative design and production choices. Because there is no clear reader preference in regards to print and digital, many publishers are erring on the side of safety.

Most often, books are published with a priority on print. More specifically, ebooks, though possibly important to publishers, still look and behave like print books. Well-designed print books with high-production values stand out in the myriad of books on a shelf inside Indigo. Because this is a standard way of creating an eye-catching book, ebooks fall prey to the same design even though they function very differently. As Baldur Bjarnason states in his article “What Kind of Innovation?”, “Ebooks, compared with most other modern software technologies such as the web and apps, plainly suck and have reliably sucked for more than a decade with little improvement in sight.” This isn’t necessarily a problem with ereaders. Rather, the issue lies within forcing a flowing text to read similar to a physical book, with turning pages and margins on every side of a code-created “page,” when that sort of technology—printed technology— is simply not required on digital devices.

On the other hand, magazine trends tend to be shifting toward a digital preference due to the difficulty posed by shrinking newsstands. The digital content is released more regularly, but the side effect is that the print magazine often releases recycled content and solely exists for the fraction of magazine readers that prefer print. This shift to digital preference was not without trial and error. Previous to this era of magazine publishing, digital magazine editions existed similar to ebooks: as facsimiles of print editions. They shared content with the print editions and even had audible page-turning sounds to imitate the experience of reading a print magazine. They existed for no other reason but to provide ease-of-access to magazine readers who would be inclined to buy magazines regularly. With a change in trends, magazines have turned themselves into brands, offering different experiences in print and online, acting holistically as a part of their larger mission. In other words, the magazine industry has realized an ideology that the book industry should adopt: print and digital should be separate but complimentary. Mediums should exist for different purposes but work together to promote a brand, book, or publisher. This essay will analyse why the separate mediums must work in different ways, examine The Book of MPub as a failure in print, and address how Pitchfork, VICE, and Kinfolk are successful magazines through their use of their various mediums to promote their overarching brands.

In the article “Real Pages are All About Flow,” Steven Miller addresses the idea that in order to have an effective book (or magazine), the subtopics within the book must “flow.” In regards to print books, this is done through page numbers and decent-size margins that allow for white space. The print book is a centuries-old technology that people have perfected based on the limitations imposed upon it, namely its size and readability. A physical book will be shipped and displayed; qualities such as these have always created constraints for print books. On the other hand, the digital medium does not have the same issues. The digital text is not limited to a 5.5 by 8.5 inch page structure; there is the possibility of endless scrolling which eliminates the need for pagination. The way the written word flows digitally is very different from print, and one must therefore question how ebooks could thrive if the overall experience of a digital device is inherently different. Craig Mod refers to this type of thinking as skeumorphism. According to Mod, this “happens when we take business decisions explicitly tied to one medium—no questions asked.” The digital then behaves as the print without the tactility, despite the fact that it should be a completely different technology. An example is the omission of secondary designs for magazine covers, which are very different sizes in newsstands versus the iBooks Store. The result is that the covers tend to look less polished in the iBooks Store due to shrinking. Mod notes, “We use tablets and smartphones very differently than we use printed publications.” In his essay, Bjarnason calls ereaders “sustaining innovations.” In other words, they are a “new” technology that provides little true innovation at all, instead sustaining the exact type of reading that was happening before their inception. Before magazines picked up on digital trends, they were engaging in the same skeumorphic practices, and many book and magazine publishers still are despite the fact that “40% of tablet owners read digital newspapers or magazines, with nearly 10% doing so daily.” Thus, not only is reading digitally a wholly different experience, if magazines want to sell print copies, offering the same thing digitally as in print seems counterintuitive considering the large portion of people who are reading online. Furthermore, readers want a “crystal goblet” experience, in which the format acts as an invisible container for the content. Aaron Miller remarks in his essay “Real Pages are all About Flow,” “[Reading digitally] does change the experience of reading a book. It does make it less like reading a paper book. Unlike pagination on a mobile screen, it doesn’t feel like an imitation of anything else. It just feels like a web page. But it’s a book. And somehow those two things go together better this way… It feels right.” Miller is expressing the feeling of reading a printed book, but also the feeling that arises when reading an infinite scroll webpage: it is natural and intuitive because both formats flow best in these ways.

The Book of MPub, a student project led by John Maxwell at Simon Fraser University in 2010, was a web-first book publishing project created by the cohort of Masters of Publishing students. Considering the Kindle has only been sold since 2007, this project was fairly innovative in its intentions. As Maxwell says in his explanation of the project, “The re-visioning of the book as a web-born entity, as fluid and socially dynamic as other web-based media, presents enormous opportunities for publishers to push the operational, expressive, and social horizons of their businesses.” In other words, a book born out of the web offers an open forum for discourse and improvement upon essays about publishing and its technologies, which change so rapidly that such a topic seems to require consistent updating. The cohort of 2009-2010 created a workflow that would help in the creation of a book of their essays primarily for ePub and PDF formats. Maxwell states the book “was born on the web… has spent most of its time on the web… and continues to live on the web.” One must then, in regards to the innovative nature of the project,  question why they chose to nullify the innovation of a web-based book by taking it to print. In its print publication, it becomes completely ordinary. Because the book form was created as a secondary priority, the quality suffers, and the project itself is undermined.

Similarly, Pitchfork magazine is meant to live online. As a wholly online music magazine, they are able to zero in on their audience and foster a community of music-minded individuals. They strengthen their bonds, and by extension their brand, by catering to this audience and creating events for them. Namely, Pitchfork organizes one of the biggest summer festivals, the Pitchfork Music Festival, held in Chicago. At this event, Pitchfork makes a large portion of their yearly advertising revenue, rather than printing and distributing physical copies of their magazine which would contain advertisements. In fact, Pitchfork sees itself as a holistic brand. On the advertising page of their site, they state, “We regularly partner with brands to develop thoughtful integrated campaigns that leverage our digital, print, video, and event capabilities.” There is no rate card, but instead an invitation to contact them to discuss advertising opportunities, thus creating an alliance between platform and advertiser. On top of their community branding and event opportunities, Pitchfork leverages its online platform in order to create very effective cover stories. In his satirical essay, James Warner predicts the future of books. In 2020, he hypothesizes that “Future ‘books’ will be bundled with soundtracks, musical leitmotifs, 3-D graphics, and streaming video.” Yet, in 2016, Pitchfork is already engaging in these practices in all of their cover stories. Pitchfork adds an optional music streaming component so that the reader can listen to the musician they’re reading about. Furthermore, Pitchfork’s articles integrate videos, GIFs, and single-frame photos of the artists into the text. Ultimately, Pitchfork’s choice to stay digital allows helps them to create a clear audience. They are able to analyze the demographics of Pitchfork readers, in comparison to the anonymous person who would purchase a single-copy newsstand edition of Pitchfork, if it existed. This in turn gives them a wealth of consumer data to help plan and make money off of events such as the Pitchfork Music Festival. Their ability to create a loyal community of music fans strengthens their brand. Because they focus on one medium, they are able to make their feature stories multimodal and reminiscent of truly engaging web 2.0 storytelling.

Similar to Pitchfork, VICE has cultivated an effective brand. They did so by providing print and digital platforms that are complimentary to one another but unique. They know their specific audience and this audience is not one that is inclined to pay for content. For this reason, VICE keeps all of their content free. Online, they have several imprints that provide their readers with different genres of editorial and news. They post new content very frequently and their news imprint is even considered an international news source for many online users. On the other hand, their print editions, although free, seem more exclusive. Readers must subscribe or ask an employee of American Apparel for a copy. This culminates in their community of readers a feeling of being insiders to VICE. Their print edition acts similar to their online imprints because it is an extension of the brand, providing different content than their online platform. Instead, the print magazine organizes its issues based on theme instead of attempting to release a smorgasbord of news each month. This is effective because it gives both VICE’s online and print mediums a reason for existence. They act together to promote the brand but exist for very different reasons. In addition to print and online editions, VICE publishes videos, documentaries, and books, illustrating their stake as a brand rather than solely a print or online magazine. Every aspect of VICE works together to make it a stronger entity.

Kinfolk is another example of a magazine with a focus on their readership community and brand. The success of Kinfolk resides in the fact that, unlike The Book of MPub, their content and the way it is published fits with their ideologies and mandate. Kinfolk is about “slow living,” aesthetics, and minimalism. For this reason, it makes creative and logical sense that their priority would be a beautifully-designed magazine with high-production values and a particular aesthetic. Their presentation is centred on community; they use minimalistic photographs of food and friends to illustrate this basic ideology. The core of Kinfolk stands in opposition to the way the web in general works: whereas the web offers an overwhelming amount of information and a temporary nature, Kinfolk seeks to create something lasting. This opposition and the choice to prefer print in spite of digital’s continued growth is why Kinfolk’s brand is so strong. In an interview with Hemlock Printers, the editor of Kinfolk, Georgia Frances King, said, “We don’t try to recreate the printed publication for tablets, or online… the content is available to read on our website, along with our popular Instagram feed, the digital community we create really works to encourage people to order the printed piece.” Thus, the physical book becomes more relevant than just the content alone, which is why Kinfolk does not attempt to prioritize their online magazine. The brand is about community, and part of community is a social self: a portrait of a person who clearly reads Kinfolk. Thus, the printed book acts as a book that is meant to be showcased. Kinfolk is about a way of life and those who share in the desire to “simplify their lives, [cultivate] community, and [spend] more time with friends and family” are the type of people to share and engage with beautiful Instagram photos and purchase high-quality, relatively expensive magazines. Part of the brand of Kinfolk is the social persona it helps create. King says, “A Kinfolk magazine sitting on your coffee table says something about who you are.” A highly visual brand, therefore, places value on a highly visual, tactile, lasting medium, which when done well and with integrity, stands very strong and unique in a sea of online content.

As illustrated in these examples, print publishing and digital publishing can coexist; however, they must work with each other. They cannot both be prioritized equally if a high quality of either is desired. They should be separate but complimentary, adding to the overall brand of a book, publisher, or magazine. Munro Smith states, “Lack of innovation or providing a poor product is far more likely [to kill print].” Print and digital have very different purposes, flow, and feel; publishers cannot resort to skeumorphic thinking if they want their product to thrive. They must find a way that print and digital, or perhaps only one medium, can work effectively and engagingly instead of creating digital facsimiles.

Works Cited

“Advertising.” Pitchfork. Web. 13 March 2016. Alderson, Rob. “Why does Kinfolk Magazine seem to Split Opinion so Much?” It’s Nice That. 19 March 2015. Web. 1 March 2016.

Alexander, Bryan, and Alan Levine. “Web 2.0 Storytelling: Emergence of a New Genre.” EduCause Review November/December 2008: 40-56. Web. 19 February 2016.

“Amazon Kindle.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 12 February 2016. Web. 20 February 2016.

Bjarnason, Baldur. “Which Kind of Innovation?” Bladder Bjarnason’s Notes. 3 May 2013. Web. 1 March 2016.

Bridle, James. “From Books to Infrastructure.” Domus. 4 June 2012. Web. 1 March 2016.

Hooper, Mark. “Who Says Print is Dead?” The Guardian. 3 June 2012. Web. 1 March 2016.

Houpt, Simon. “Rogers Pulling Flare Magazine From Newsstands Next Year.” The Guardian. 30 October 2015. Web. 13 March 2016.

K., Richard. “Hemlock Brings Print & a Pint to Seattle.” Inklings. 1 October 2014. Web. 5 March 2016.

“Kinfolk (Magazine).” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 25 February 2016. Web. 13 March 2016.

Klinkenborg, Verlyn. “Books to Have and to Hold.” The New York Times. 10 August. 2013. Web. 1 March 2016.

Maxwell, John. “Ebook Logic: We Can Do Better.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada 51.1. Web. 1 March 2016.

Maxwell, John and Kathleen Fraser. “Traversing The Book of Mpub: an Agile, Web-first Publishing Model.” The Journal of Electronic Publishing 13.3 (2010). Web. 1 March 2016.

Miller, Aaron Steven. “Real Pages are all About Flow.” Medium. 31 October 2013. Web. 1 March 2016.

Mod, Craig. “How Magazines will be Changed Forever.” CNN. 21 October 2012. Web. 1 March 2016.

Mod, Craig. “Subcompact Publishing: Simple Tools and Systems for Digital Publishing.” The Sputnik Journal. November 2012. Web. 1 March 2016.

“Pitchfork Music Festival.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 26 February 2016. Web. 13 March 2016.

“Vice (Magazine).” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 10 March 2016. Web. 13 March 2016.

Warner, James. “The Future of Books.” McSweeneys. 24 March 2011. Web. 1 March 2016.

Woodier, Sarah. “Indie Publishing: How They Define the Balance Between Print and Digital.” Digital Publishing. Bath Spa University: Creative Writing and Publishing. 12 January 2015. Web. 1 March 2016

Navigating the Future of the Mobile Web


 As consumers and producers of published content, we live in a period of significant disruption being driven by explosive, worldwide growth in the use of smartphones, the fastest-spreading technology of all time (Mlot, 2012). Smartphones have changed the way we access, process, and absorb information as a society, and consequently have even physically rewired our brains (Baral, 2014). With smartphones, the user has instant access to information and entertainment at all times and in nearly all places, along with access to mobile applications that have reinvented diverse daily behaviors. More importantly for publishing, smartphones are changing the way we access the Internet, shifting users away from the original model of searching and browsing sites and toward navigating within social media content streams. This disruption is also far from over. Upcoming advancements in mobile publishing will include faster-loading proprietary pages within social media applications, increasing dominance of voice-based artificially intelligent search functionality, and virtual reality headsets using smartphones to display everything from video games to journalism (Lichterman, 2016).

Mobile computing is rapidly changing the Internet experience, perhaps at a faster rate than our ability to assess the wisdom of implementing each new change, especially assuming our ultimate collective goal is the retention and protection of our fair and open society. To successfully navigate our immediate and long term futures, publishers and consumers of smartphone content must actively shift from the current default of gleeful adoption of each new mobile experience and move toward nurturing genuine concern for the threatened social good.

The Rise of the Smartphone

The adoption rate of smartphones, beginning with Apple’s original iPhone in June, 2007, has been swifter than for any prior advanced technology. Whereas home computing in the US took sixteen years beginning in 1975, mobile phones took thirteen years beginning in 1983, and web use took seven years beginning in 1991 to reach twenty-five percent market penetration (below), smartphones reached sixty-eight percent in eight years (Anderson, 2015). In reality, the speed of this adoption is not entirely unexpected. It follows a clear pattern of technology adoption speeding up markedly over time in the United States, as the graph below demonstrates:

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 8.35.27 PM

With Internet access now sitting at eighty-four percent of all US adults and ninety-six percent of those under twenty-nine years old (Duggan & Perrin, 2015), it’s clear we are now living in an Internet age. And increasingly, that access is mobile, with US smartphone screen time first overtaking combined desktop and laptop screen time in 2014 (below), a difference that would surely be more stark if work-related desktop use were removed from these statistics:

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 8.56.31 PM

This trend is even more impressive when considered as an international phenomenon. There are an astonishing 2.6 billion active smartphone users in the world today, or approximately one in three people, and that number is projected to reach 6.1 billion by 2020, or over nine billion when including all mobile networked devices in the growing Internet of things (Lunden, 2015). How is this possible? To start, smartphones are actually a relatively inexpensive technology. Many who have purchased a luxury-priced iPhone or high-end equivalent would likely be surprised to learn that a perfectly serviceable smartphone, the Freedom 251, can be purchased in India for just four US dollars (Joshi, 2016), while seventy-four percent of major Chinese smartphone retailer Xaomi’s profits come from devices priced under two hundred US dollars (Wang, 2016).

Part of what makes this possible is the fact that a mobile phone is not nearly so powerful a computer as it often appears. Rather, it is often operating as a mere conduit or display tool for cloud-based super computers reached over the internet. This makes it possible to sell smartphone devices cheaply while still delivering impressive capabilities. For example, Apple’s popular Siri voice recognition tool does not actually process human speech on the device in your hand. Rather, the raw computing is done far away on much more powerful server computers, often collectively referred to as the cloud (Nusca, 2009). In addition, much of the data we access on our phones is also stored on the cloud. This type of technology, which offloads much of its storage and processing needs to other computers, can be referred to as a thin client.

Clearly, many of us find utility in the use of smartphone technology. The question, however, becomes whether society’s willingness to adopt new technologies has advanced past its ability to consider the potential impact of those same advancements. For example, largely as a result of the rise of mobile computing, one in five Americans today, and nearly two in five under the age of thirty, report being on the Internet “almost constantly” (Perrin, 2015). Meanwhile, research also suggests frequent internet use may be causing us to offload responsibility for our own knowledge and memories onto computers, in a move perhaps shockingly similar to that made by our “thin client” smartphones (Wegner & Ward, 2013). All the various ramifications of these changes are, of course, only beginning to be understood.

The Rise of Apps and Streams

Clearly, smartphones have changed the way we access the Internet on a global scale, but they have also altered the way we navigate the web. On smartphones, we are much less likely to access the internet through a browser with search functions that raise the potential for accessing less trafficked corners of the open web, such as smaller sites or personal blogs. Instead, we spend nearly ninety percent of our web-connected time within applications, or apps (Bosomworth, 2015):

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 10.03.23 AM

In terms of publishing, particularly of short video and journalistic-style written content, one type of media application that has emerged as particularly dominant on smartphones is the social media stream. Characterized by a never ending scroll of content posted by one’s peers and often curated by the social platform in use, it is typified best by Facebook, but is also seen in various forms within the Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat user experiences, among others. The clear market leader in social stream content delivery is Facebook (“Leading Global Social Networks,” 2016), which uses a complex algorithmic sorting process to present each user with the social posts and advertisements it believes will be most relevant to them. The published content stream experience has become incredibly successful at maintaining user attention and is now the primary way that many users experience the Internet, increasingly replacing the search and homepage based surfing style of the nineties and early 2000s. Once more, smartphones are leading this shift with seventy-six percent of all US social media use occurring on smartphones, and seventy percent in both the UK and Canada (Bolton, 2015). Since social media has dominated smartphone Internet browsing to such a degree, no major media company can afford not to have comprehensive social content and likely also social advertising strategies. It is no longer typical to wait for consumers to come to you based on quality content, sometimes called the “pull” approach; instead, content creators must now widely disseminate, or “push” onto consumers, anything they hope to have discovered.

The Future of the Mobile Web

 There have been significant disruptions in online publishing in recent years, due to the rise of smartphone computing and social web browsing, but the companies playing the largest roles in defining this new era in web publishing, Facebook, Apple, and Google, are continuing to push forward into newly disruptive frontiers. Some of this continued change has been driven by the rise of ad blocker technology on smartphones. Partly because an ad blocker was included in the fall 2015 update to iOS 9, Apple’s latest iPhone and iPad operating system, it is now used by thirty-eight percent of all web users globally (Chandler , 2016). The result has been significant disruption of the advertisement based business models of online publishers of all sizes, who can no longer depend on ad revenue or must demand that users unblock the ads on their sites. Clearly, the public is tired of seeing online ads, so the latter option is likely to be met with some resistance.

In response to the rise of ad blocking, platforms and publishers have moved together to address slow loading times on the mobile web, which is one major problem that ads have historically caused (Kapko, 2015). One major way mobile web platform owners, like Facebook, are doing this is by providing content producers with new tools to create web articles that load faster, can be monetized easier, and frequently look better than those on the publisher’s personal mobile web pages. However, these articles often exist only within that application’s platform. One of the first of these services, launched in September 2015 by Apple, the world’s most profitable smartphone maker, was an in-app news site called Apple News. Built on the same stream browsed, algorithm directed approach as major social media sites, Apple News is another clear sign that closed online applications are angling to dominate the future of smartphone web browsing. Notably, Apple now sells native ads within Apple News (Campbell, 2016), suggesting their previous move to block ads on the mobile web was largely motivated by a desire to control more of the total revenue on their platforms. Another emerging in-app form of online news is the Facebook Instant Article. These are fast-loading, visually pleasing web articles that exist entirely within Facebook, but which the content creator can monetize directly with their own ads and, at least for now, retain all of that revenue. Recently, Facebook moved to make this content option available to all publishers, following testing for most of a year with a select group. Finally, another major contender in the lightweight smartphone content race is Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) option, which is vocally supported by many periphery social content platforms, including LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter. AMPs are open source web pages that are fast and smartphone optimized, just like Apple News or Instant Articles, but which carry no imposed terms and can be hosted anywhere online.

In addition to faster loading and visually pleasing formatting, there is reason to believe these new platforms, in which video often loads faster and plays instantly, will be used to deliver high-value multimedia content. A concern, however, is that, especially in the case of Apple and Facebook’s offerings, this will further move the web within controlled, closed environments, often called “walled gardens.” Even Google’s AMPs cause some concern. While they are free and open to use, they will nonetheless require significant technical proficiency in order to make outputs look appealing (Kapko, 2015). This suggests increased difficulty for less well financed content producers to get noticed online. Indeed, the fact Google will effectively prioritize AMPs in their search results casts doubt over the ultimate fairness of this open platform, while many view AMPs as merely a way for Google to protect its interests by encouraging a resumed search-based use of the mobile web (Baker, 2016).

Another major development that content publishers should be aware of in smartphone computing is artificially intelligent, voice activated search functionality of the type offered currently by nearly every major technology company including Apple’s Siri, Google Now, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, Facebook’s M and arguably the most intelligent, though with less search-based functionality, IBM’s Watson, among others. As these virtual assistants become more capable, they raise significant concerns for content publishers and consumers. For one, they are increasingly able to eliminate the need for site visits on the open web, by steering users in predetermined directions online. This is potentially a challenge for publishers who would prefer their content to be discoverable in a transparent and equitable fashion. These AI tools, like most mobile applications, also raise privacy concerns regarding data collection, which are amplified by worry their capabilities may be hacked or misapplied to record human conversations unrelated to web searches.

Additionally, there is the looming technological advance of virtual reality (VR) content for smartphones. Depending on the application, some VR content will need be processed by more powerful computers, such as home gaming consoles, but for many lighter applications smartphones alone will suffice (Lamkin, 2016). It’s almost as though, having fallen so deeply in love with smartphones, human society has now declared the next logical step to be strapping them directly to our faces, while a better analogy for psychically shutting one’s self away from the outside world could scarcely be imagined. Regardless of symbolism, publishers will soon need to reckon with VR, as headsets from Facebook, HTC, Sony, Samsung and more will arrive this year (Kuchera, 2016).


The world’s unprecedented adoption rates of smartphone technology will continue into the near future and the integration of smartphones into daily life will only become increasingly multifaceted. As such, publishers and consumers of smartphone content must remain mindful of at least two primary concerns that the sheer speed of this development engenders. The first concern is over the actions and intentions of the major technology companies that currently control access to this content, especially their practices are regarding data collection and the subtle censorship potential inherent in their increasing control of the discoverability of mobile web content. Second, we need to remain conscious of the effects increased smartphone computing may have on our biological processes, psychic states, and day-to-day lives. As ever, the key to navigating the future will be education. By ensuring increased awareness of these issues in the general population, modern society should be able to mitigate the worst abuses of this new technology until we are better able to integrate it into the free, safe, and independent societies of our ideal future.


Works Cited

Anderson, Monica. “Technology Device Ownership: 2015.” Pew Research Center Internet Science Tech RSS. N.p., 29 Oct. 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. <http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/10/29/technology-device-ownership-2015/>.

Baker, Dillon. “The Mobile Web Sucks. Is Google AMP the Solution?” The Content Strategist The Mobile Web Sucks Is Google AMP the Solution Comments. N.p., 15 Mar. 2016. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. <https://contently.com/strategist/2016/03/15/mobile-web-sucks-google-amp-solution/?utm_source=TCS-newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=amped-on-google-AMP>.

Baral, Susmita. “How Your Touch Screen Smartphone Is Rewiring Your Brain.” IDigitalTimes.com. N.p., 29 Dec. 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2016. <http://www.idigitaltimes.com/how-your-touch-screen-smartphone-rewiring-your-brain-403307>.

Bolton, David. “Smartphones Are Now The Dominant Driver Of Social Media – ARC.” ARC. N.p., 16 July 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. <http://arc.applause.com/2015/07/16/social-media-consumption-on-smartphones-2015/>.

Bosomworth, Danyl. “Mobile Marketing Statistics 2016.” Smart Insights. N.p., 22 July 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. <http://www.smartinsights.com/mobile-marketing/mobile-marketing-analytics/mobile-marketing-statistics/>.

Campbell, Mikey. “Apple Outlines News App Ads, Includes ‘native Ads’ That Display Directly in Content Feeds.” AppleInsider. N.p., 14 Mar. 2016. Web. 16 Mar. 2016. <http://appleinsider.com/articles/16/03/14/apple-outlines-news-app-ads-includes-native-ads-that-display-directly-in-content-feeds>.

Chandler, Michele. “Ad-Blocking Jumps To 38% Globally After Apple IOS Move, Report Says.” Investor’s Business Daily. N.p., 04 Mar. 2016. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. <http://www.investors.com/news/technology/ad-blocking-jumps-to-38-globally-after-apple-ios-move-report-says/>.

Duggan, Maeve, and Andrew Perrin. “Americans’ Internet Access:2000-2015.” Pew Research Center Internet Science Tech RSS. N.p., 26 June 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. <http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/06/26/americans-internet-access-2000-2015/>.

Joshi, Sonam. “The World’s Cheapest Smartphone Is Cheaper than Expected, Launches in India for $4.” Mashable. N.p., 16 Feb. 2016. Web. 16 Mar. 2016. <http://mashable.com/2016/02/17/world-cheapest-phone-freedom251/#r55c8lIBbOq3>.

Kapko, Matt. “Google Takes on Apple News, Facebook Instant Articles with AMP.” CIO. N.p., 14 Oct. 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. <http://www.cio.com/article/2992634/consumer-technology/google-takes-on-apple-news-facebook-instant-articles-with-amp.html>.

Kuchera, Ben. “The Complete Guide to Virtual Reality in 2016 (so Far) (Update: February 2016).” Polygon. N.p., 15 Jan. 2016. Web. 16 Mar. 2016. <http://www.polygon.com/2016/1/15/10772026/virtual-reality-guide-oculus-google-cardboard-gear-vr>.

Lamkin, Paul. “The Best Smartphone Headsets for VR Apps.” Wareable. N.p., 8 Feb. 2016. Web. 16 Mar. 2016. <http://www.wareable.com/vr/best-smartphone-headsets-mobile-vr-apps-1655>.

“Leading Global Social Networks 2016 | Statistic.” Statista. N.p., Jan. 2016. Web. 16 Mar. 2016. <http://www.statista.com/statistics/272014/global-social-networks-ranked-by-number-of-users/>.

Lichterman, Joseph. “Report: 2016 Will Be Critical for Growth of VR in Journalism.” Nieman Lab. N.p., 13 Mar. 2016. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. <http://www.niemanlab.org/2016/03/report-2016-will-be-critical-for-growth-of-vr-in-journalism/?utm_source=Daily%2BLab%2Bemail%2Blist&utm_campaign=ae7f125557-dailylabemail3&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d68264fd5e-ae7f125557-396001269>.

Lunden, Ingrid. “6.1B Smartphone Users Globally By 2020, Overtaking Basic Fixed Phone Subscriptions.” TechCrunch. N.p., 2 June 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. <http://techcrunch.com/2015/06/02/6-1b-smartphone-users-globally-by-2020-overtaking-basic-fixed-phone-subscriptions/>.

Mlot, Stephanie. “Smartphone Adoption Rate Fastest in Tech History.” PCMAG. N.p., 27 Aug. 2012. Web. 14 Mar. 2016. <http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2408960,00.asp>.

Nusca, Andrew. “How Apple’s Siri Really Works | ZDNet.” ZDNet. N.p., 3 Nov. 2009. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. <http://www.zdnet.com/article/how-apples-siri-really-works/>.

Perrin, Andrew. “One-fifth of Americans Report Going Online ‘almost Constantly'” Pew Research Center RSS. N.p., 08 Dec. 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. <http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/12/08/one-fifth-of-americans-report-going-online-almost-constantly/>.

Wang, Yue. “Low-Cost Chinese Smartphone Brand Xiaomi Goes After The Wealthy.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 29 Feb. 2016. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/ywang/2016/02/29/low-cost-chinese-smartphone-brand-xiaomi-goes-after-the-wealthy/#345aedf92cf9>.

Wegner, Daniel M., and Adrian F. Ward. “The Internet Has Become the External Hard Drive for Our Memories.” Scientific American. N.p., 1 Dec. 2013. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-internet-has-become-the-external-hard-drive-for-our-memories/>.


From Reading to Social Computing, Literary Studies in the Digital Age

At first, this article let me look at the relation between technology and content in the digital age from a fresh view point. From Web1 to Web1.5 and then Web2.0, an increasingly number of people are involved in t content creation and Communication process. The improvement of technology is mainly on the interaction and sociability. Each link in digital information communication turns into a two-way operation from a single way. Before I read the article I though content and technology as two highly independent entities and always wanted to come to a conclusion that in the digital age, content and technology, which one is more important. In other words, which one should be our first priority. In fact, you do not have to sacrifice any of them. Instead, we can see them as a whole. Both of them help each other forward. In this article, the author has two points that Social Computing as an Object of Literary Study and Social Computing in the Practice of Literary Study. Social Computing rely on technology while Literary Study based on content. If we expand this opinion, technology can be used as a tool for content study and the development of content can also bring a good opportunity to upgrade technology. And I totally agree that the author recognizes that much of what provoked her to turn to literature in the first place —— vital, daring, and meditative expressions of human experience - is there. We just need to consider them together more tightly.


On the other hand,the significance of digital publishing also becomes different. Digital publishing not only lead to a change of readers’ habits, but also help Social Computing through interactive experience.


In addition, I also have some problems about literature in the digital age. As Internet deepens daily life day by day and becomes ” the fourth kind of media “, its influence to actual life is prominent day by day too. It fuses the functions and characteristics of almost all other media and it is a typical multi-media.  In this media, living space and the way of existence of Literature are changed completely. What kind of role digital media play in the literary production? Some people hold the view that digital media has all-round infiltrated in literature production process and lead to the development of network literature and the transformation of traditional literature directly. However, others believe that as a kind of “language art”, literature has its unique development way. The influence of digital media play is limited.


Another problem is the boundary between network literature and traditional literature. Writing technique, communication process and the existing form of Network literature are totally different with the traditional literature. When online authors create their literature, they break some rules of basic writing method, intentionally or unintentionally. But there is no denying that they are increasingly close in content. will the differences of technology lead to the boundary between the network literature and traditional literature? And where the boundary is?


Is Google Making Us Stupid? (Hang on a sec, I’ll just look it up.)

The title of this piece immediately drew me in, to which last week’s readings would say bravo. Is Google making us stupid? I had to know. While an answer was not immediately forthcoming, I connected with Carr’s lament that his mind is… changing. He can no longer think the way he used to think, or read the way he used to read. His concentration drifts, he gets fidgety, loses the thread, looks for something else to do. He feels as if he’s always dragging himself back to the text. He’s also managed to perfectly articulate a change I’ve felt in my own reading over the past few years. Even keeping my attention on a reading about struggling to pay attention was difficult, and I felt a twinge of guilt upon reading that a study has shown that people often save long articles, but don’t actually ever go back and read them. My ‘to read’ bookmarks folder tells a tragic tale of articles gone by. And of course, Carr’s explanation is that the internet has become our main source of information, and as a result radically changed how we experience and consume information.

In this, a trick in the title is revealed, where ‘Google’ is actually a stand-in for the internet more broadly, with its bottomless pit of content, links upon links and super efficient search functions that take you to exactly what you need. I think ‘stupid’ is a stand-in for something else too; the loss of a skill. Those who use the internet as our primary source of information and entertainment are reading more than any humans in history, and as a psychologist in Carr’s article points out, reading is not an instinctive skill for us. We have to learn it very deliberately, and I think the way in which we have learned it for decades has been contingent on reading being a kind of finite activity. Pre-internet, a text had a beginning and an end, and while they might be strung together in sequences, they were contained. Manageable. The internet has changed that drastically, with an ostensibly infinite pool of texts, and it has introduced countless other distractions into the mix (links, notifications, shiny things in the corner of your eye). I enjoyed the mention of Nietzsche’s typewriter, and how a machine affected his thought processes, and how the introduction of clock time made time a rational sequence removed from the human experience. I think these highlight that the skill of reading (or writing, or thinking, or measuring) has been evolving over time as technology has evolved. You could pick any period in history and consider how the available technology shaped how people read. Ours just comes with multi-coloured overlords and a little blue link.

Jokes aside, the shift from finite to infinite reading is the biggest change we have possibly ever faced, if only because it has happened so quickly. In so many ways we are still in the early transition period where a completely different way of reading is well within living memory. So if we consider reading as a learned skill, how we’ve been taught it and continue to teach it is quickly becoming outdated. But I wouldn’t say obsolete. The sensation Carr detailed, of skimming information and struggling with deep reading, as well as his caution over the glorification of technological progress, and still seeing innate value in the poor old human brain and the “undistracted reading” of a book, led me to two thoughts; firstly, we need to take back control of our brains and consciously learn how to read for the internet – effectively and efficiently; and secondly, we need to relearn how to read the ‘old’ way. Neither of these are simple tasks, nor will they happen quickly. But both skills serve unique purposes, and have their own value. At Carr’s behest, I am skeptical of his skepticism, and maybe deep reading will soon become a relic, but at least for the foreseeable future while we figure this thing out:


Being a better online reader

I have always struggled to properly read online content, being it an ebook (on an eReader), news article or just a short text published online. I felt as though I could not focus well enough as I was focusing when I was reading an actual book. I could hear people around me saying that they can actually focus more when they are reading online, so my explanation to the fact that I wasn’t reading online well enough was that throughout my school years I learned how to read and write on paper, I wrote essays by hand on paper, and all my homework was written by hand on paper.

Konnikova’s article “Being a better online reader” addresses this issue and gives us a guide on how to become a better online reader.  It is interesting to read what researchers say about online reading and hard copy reading and why people read differently online – their opinions are different, however the conclusion is always one and the same, people don’t read the same way online as they read on paper. According to this article, some researchers say that online reading encourages more skimming behaviour, as when the reader scrolls down, he/she tends to read more quickly and less deeply, and they tend to look for keywords and read in a more selective fashion.

People seem to be less focused when they read on a digital device, due to the constant change of screens, layouts, colours, and contrasts and this affects the understanding and analysis of the text. Other researchers, like Wolf, considers the fact that online reading affects the “deep reading”, which is the “sophisticated comprehension processes”.

Patricia Greenfield, a psychologist from University of California, Los Angeles found that the comprehension of the text was not affected when they read online, but what was affected was the quality of the report to summarize the text they read and that was because the reader is required to multitask when on the Internet.

Wolf states that people can effectively read online content if they are thought how. This is shown by a study where an interactive annotation component helped improve comprehension and reading strategy.

A study that was undertaken at the Coast Guard Leadership Development Center in 2015, shows that people who read on paper will accurately recall information better than people who read on paper. The study also revealed that people who read online tend to comprehend the text better.

To conclude, research shows that when you are an online reader you tend to comprehend the text better but remember it’s contents less. Perhaps that is why I felt the need to print this article, and read it on hard copy.

Ah, Internet writing. What does one call thee?

What does it mean “to publish”? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as when one makes information available to the public. In A Writing Revolution Seed Magazine written by Denis Pelli and Charles Bigelow at Seed Magazine, the two make claims around what publishing means today. Yes, what they consider as contemporary publishing is supported with graphs and statistics, conveying that the Internet is making it even easier for anyone to essentially publish (make things public); however, I’m not so entirely on board that what they are describing is called “publishing”.

Continue reading “Ah, Internet writing. What does one call thee?”

Deep Reading & Digital Literacy

Maryanne Wolf is one of the foremost scholars on reading and the brain, with other academic interests including dyslexia and psychological studies, as well as global literacy and poverty. In Proust and the Squid, published in 2007, Wolf goes through the history of human development on reading. In neurological research, scientists started to change their hypothesis of the ‘static’ human brain and developed the idea of neuroplasticity—the notion that the brain adjusts its connections and programming with use or disuse. Wolf says this is how we, as humans, learned to read—by training our brain to recognize a symbolic code of visual and verbal cues. Unlike human vision, oral language, or cognition, there is no genetic equivalent for learning to read.

Although Wolf considers up to the 21st century, her book is now nine years old, and the article in the New Yorker is already two years old. “In the seven years it had taken [Wolf] to research and write her account, reading had changed profoundly” states Konnikova. Fortunately, according to Wolf’s most recent bio, she has two books forthcoming in 2016: What It Means to be Literate: A Literacy Agenda for the 21st Century (Oxford University Press) and Letters to the Good Reader: The Contemplative Dimension in the Future Reading Brain (HarperCollins).

Continue reading “Deep Reading & Digital Literacy”

Special Tips for Publishers – How to Become an Authority on the Web

by Kathleen Burckhardt – Student, writer, dancer, and photographer.


Q: If I told you that I had a PhD. in Web Development, published three books in print and over twenty research essays in well-established print journals, would that give you faith in my authority or credibility in discussing issues concerning the web?

professor(Is that me?)

Q: How about if I said I have been a blogger on the web for the past ten years and developed a following of over 140,000, although I had no high education? Would you still consider my work of considerable weight?

woman on computer(Or is that me?)

Q: What if you recognized my name as someone with a huge YouTube celebrity status?


All of these questions bring up the larger issue of what determines authority and the perception of quality and credibility on the web. In so many ways, this is a grey area and answers to the above questions might vary depending on whom you ask.

Before I go much further, I want to acknowledge that it can be difficult to quantify quality and authority. In this article, I will be using “quality,” “authority,” and “credibility” throughout. Determining quality is closely tied together with authority. You need authority to produce something of high quality. So an examination of quality cannot go without mention of authority. Similarly, credibility comes into the mix here too. With authority comes credibility for without credibility, a text or person would lose authority. So for purposes of clarity, I will define each term here (definitions from the OED):

1. Authority: something accepted as a source of reliable information or evidence or having the power to influence the opinions of others because of recognized knowledge, scholarship or expertise.

2. Quality: of positive characteristics or general excellence or an ability or skill in some respect, the most difficult to define and pin down of these three terms.

3. Credibility: the quality or state of being credible; capacity to be believed or believed in.

Clearly, all three of these words attempt to describe the same phenomena: a gained respect, something that demands people listen and take in what is being said, perhaps even change their opinions because of it. I will be mostly using the terms authority and credibility in this essay but keep in mind these broader ramifications of all the terms. It is in the hope of shedding some light on how one gains authority and respect on the web today that this piece is written.

I will attempt to outline and demystify some of the determinants of quality and authority on the web and argue that in order for publishers to gain online authority of any kind – whether it be as an ebook publisher, online journal or magazine, or just as a recognizable brand or presence in the age of technology – they must pay close attention to certain elements that will increase their credibility.

A general knowledge of web authority as outlined here can help inform publishers as they hone down their digital strategies. We know that as publishers we no longer can rely on an assumed credibility that print often provided. This assumed authority is not directly transferrable onto the web, even if an established publisher publishes online. The web has developed new expectations, and it is these that we need to navigate well.

In the spirit of online writing, the second half of this article will be in the tradition of a “how to” blog article, giving some practical advice to publishers.


Rapid change on the web means innovators must be ever adaptive to remain authorities

Early authority on the web

In the early days of the web when there were way fewer websites out there and search engines were far less sophisticated, authority within the world of the web was in some ways easier to gain. The basic rule was that early adopters became online authorities and were respected for the very reason of being present in the early days and establishing the way the blogosphere and web was used. Today people cite these early adopters as key turning points in blog and web history, indicating this respect they have gained (Thompson). If you began your website or blog in the 90s or early 00s, just by the fact that you started engaging with the technology early on provided you with a certain degree of credibility (Chapman). For a great visual and interactive history of the web, explore this site.

One example of this kind of early success is the blog Boing Boing. Still considered today one of the most popular and powerful blogs on the web, it started as a print Zine in the cyberpunk subculture in the late 80s and was a very early adaptor of the blog platform (Jatain, 2015). It became a website in 2000 and soon became a web-only publication.

BoingBoingA screenshot of BoingBoing back in 2000

Since their move online, Boing Boing has gained respect, and yet their content is by no means in-depth journalism, at least on the surface level. As a Guardian article pointed out, “no one has done more to promote pointless, yet strangely cool, time-wasting stuff on the net than the editors of Boing Boing” (Aldred).

However, underneath this façade, there is an ultra-liberal agenda, “championing the web as a global medium free of state and corporate control” (Aldred). By doing this, Boing Boing therefore helped to establish the political blogosphere and remains royalty in a world where technology meets and greets world politics.

By being an early pioneer of this kind of online platform, they have established themselves as a credible source with a popular authority as tangible as it can get on the web.

Katherine_Hodgson_photo_credit copy

At the same time, when the web was in its infancy, print was still king in terms of defining degrees of authority. Even Boing Boing was originally a print publication and gained traction on the web only after having established a print following. For centuries, having anything from a statement to a complex argument published in print, automatically gave that idea a sense of authority that orally acquired knowledge didn’t seem to have.

The actual accuracy of what was written in print was backed up through citation of other print publications, but beyond linking to other print published works, the real source of the great faith we had in a printed text is hard to pin down. There was an almost intangible faith in the printed word.

In the age of the web, new parameters for authority and credibility had to be built. It was the early adaptors like Boing Boing and the blogging platform Blogger that began to set these standards. They were the authority by being the first and by modeling what credibility on the web might look like. Blogger, started in 1999, is largely credited with bringing blogging to the mainstream (Chapman).

The traditional publishing establishment was spoiled in that it was central in the world of the assumed authority of print. Since the early days of print in Europe, the credibility given to print gave publishers of those works a particular place of power and status as gatekeepers of trusted knowledge.

However, once we entered the age of the web, publishers had to stop taking their authority for granted. The new rules of online authority must now be taken into consideration as publishers establish themselves online as digital publishers but also just as voices of authority in our modern world. The following section will address what authority and credibility looks like online today.

The elements needed today to have authority on the web

As mentioned in the introduction, there are many different elements that establish authority on the web today and what is or is not credible can sometimes seem almost arbitrary or at least create some confusion. This is a great grey area to navigate when it comes to establishing yourself as an authority online. However, there are some ways to boost your respect and trust.

According to a study conducted by Rieh at the University of Michigan, web users paid attention the institutions behind a given website, such as government or academic sources, and responded that they felt these sites had more authority (Rieh, 9). In addition, users, “took into account the affiliation of the author/creator, assigning higher levels of authority to professional experts such as professors, doctors and librarians” (Rieh, 9).

Yet Rieh acknowledges that even this changes depending on who is evaluation the authority, whether it be another professional, a student etc. as well as what kind of information this is, whether it be in the academic realm or not. So clearly it is not clear-cut. The following are some tips of ways to boost your credibility.

Payment Required to Pass:

One of the ways that users determine authority has to do with the cost of what you are offering. According to the Rieh study, “Web-based information that is not free, in that it requires purchase or subscription, tends to be viewed as credible” (Rieh, 12).

This is a phenomenon we see in other realms as well. Once monetary value is attributed to something it often tends to take on authority that something that is free does not have. For instance, in my hometown in Switzerland when I was growing up, the large pharmaceuticals companies had completely chemical-free and highly nutritious waste that was great for gardening. They attempted to give it way to the public instead of dumping it all in the public composting system, but no one wanted it. As soon as they placed a price on it, 500 francs per truckload, the demand went way up. Putting a price on something can often make it more valuable to people.

However, the web is packed with free accessible materials that still maintain great authority, so this is not the conclusive answer to online authority either.

DOI as a Badge of Distinction:

For academics and academic publishing this is key to digital publishing. DOIs give a particular article a tangible stamp of authority that follows that article no matter where it is posted or archived on the web. “DOI” stands for Digital Object Identifier. These are unique strings connected to a digital object to identify it beyond a doubt anywhere on the web. Academic publishers assign DOI strings to individual articles as unique identifiers that can be searched for similarly to a search engine search, but with even greater precision.

As Yarkoni states in his article, “Historically, DOIs have almost exclusively been issued by official-type publishers: Elsevier, Wiley, PLoS and such. Consequently, DOIs have had a reputation as a minor badge of distinction.” Citing other DOIs even further bumps your credibility within this world. A DOI is a stamp of approval that once received, won’t go away, it will always be associated with that post/publication.

Therefore, in academic publishing, these have become important (although also debated at times, but that is beyond the scope of this essay). It can be challenging to consistently implement DOIs and integrate this into the existing workflow of publishing. However, non-academic use of DOIs in any significant manner or on any great scale is not common. So how do we create stamps of authority outside academic publishing and across a variety of platforms?

Early Adoption & Trend Setting:

As we began to outline in the previous section, early adoption often provides websites and online personalities with the biggest authority. However, this isn’t something you can engage with in retrospect. If you weren’t an early blogger or website developer you cannot go back in time and plant yourself there.

However, trend setting and being at the edge of technological development can be a productive goal. Do you want to be considered an authority in innovative book technologies? Start experimenting and putting yourself out there. Be creative and take risks. Amazon was an online retail pioneer in this way. They decided to push the boundaries of ecommerce and now have become the standard that everyone else tries to compete with (Wahba, 2015).

But you don’t have to be on track to becoming an online giant to start to raise your profile. Be creative in your area of publication and you might hit upon something that will later be seen as igniting a new technological trend.

Citation and Linking is King:

Left over from print, citation or backlinking of other works, trusted websites, bloggers, social media, even video content etc. highly influences your level of credibility on the web (Lee College guide & Rieh). Not only is this one of the main factors in the success of your search engine results (on which page you appear when someone is searching your area of expertise), your credibility among the academic realm, but it also connects you to other authorities that can then engage in discourse with you (Kumar).

In a similar way, content on the web that refers and links to the information source is seen as far more credible. This is the backbone upon which standard SEO is built (Olenski).

The Simple yet Powerful Presence of an “Author”:

Something that might seem obvious yet isn’t always considered when establishing oneself online, is making sure to have an identifiable author on a website or publication. This is more second nature to publishers than any other web users, but is still important to note. According to Rieh’s study, some users care about the author’s level of education, particularly for more academic uses, so it is important to cite this too, but many other users on the web really don’t care about the author’s education and employ a huge range of markers to determine credibility in its place (Rieh, 10). Either way, including the author’s name is essential.

It also helps to create networks of work by that author across the web. Don’t forget that it is very likely that your author or brand will be Googled. According to the website, internet live stats, over 40,000 search queries get processed every second on Google (Internet Live Stats). So make sure plenty of credible information and other references to that author or business can be found elsewhere online because the chance are you will be searched in order to confirm your credibility.

Social Media assingment use

Chart from Internetlivestats.com of the increase in the use of Google Search over the years.

In addition, never neglect to have an “about” section on your website – often the most viewed page – and make it easy for users to determine what you as an author or a publishing entity are about (Zomparelli, 2016).

Frequency of Updates Matter:

Another practical and simple indication of authority and credibility on the web today, is the frequency of updates and the date of publication (by the way this articles has been updated, three times already). The frequency and speed of social media and news updates greatly impacts the importance of the date of publication as well as the frequency of engagement when determining authority. If you stop publishing online for a few weeks, your authority on the topics you engage with will quickly diminish because it will be assumed that others discussing similar issues more recently will have a fresher take on that area of expertise.

Celebrities Rule the Roost:

Today, we cannot forget to mention the huge part that celebrity status plays in establishing credibility online. According to a recent sensation article by TIME, some of the most influential people on the web today include Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, Joy Cho, Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Gwyneth Paltrow, Yao Chen, and Shakira to name just a few (Time, 2015).

These are famous people, people made famous for things they did not necessarily start on the web, and yet they have become the most influential people online in terms of mass appeal and reach. Even though this is not the same kind of authority that a well-published academic online would have, it still means that people listen to what they have to say. Beyond the quality of the content, celebrity status makes people listen to you.

When competing in a world where celebrities are regarded with such credibility, publishers and writers trying to gain traction, have to acknowledge that gaining some kind of celebrity, even if on a small scale, is sometimes the only way to rise in the deep ocean of the world wide web. It is undeniable that celebrity status now plays into credibility in ways we have not entirely grasped but are definitely influencing anyone involved in online engagement.

Conclusion: What are the Ramifications for Publishers Today?

As Rieh establishes in his study of credibility frameworks, the issue of coming up with a reliable set of elements that work together to establish authority is very challenging. Credibility is determined through so many factors that individuals and companies pick and choose from when looking at a site, brand or online presence of any sort (Rieh). Web design, linking and citation, DOI, education of the author, and even celebrity status and the “going viral” phenomena all play into it in various complex ways.

So what can publishers take away from all this in order to apply practically to their digital strategies? There are three main areas I would like to emphasize: SEO, gaining celebrity on the web, and keeping abreast of technological advancement.

The importance of SEO and remaining at the forefront of technological innovation is undeniable. Because the methods of establishing authority are not set in stone, and can change and vary from one day to the next and from one corner of the web to the other, it is essential that we keep a finger on the pulse of the changes that are occurring around us.

SEO practices such as backlinking and providing consistent and frequent content online in a given area with certain keywords can help us gain some credibility in our corner of the web, yet even SEO is changing. With voice searching and much of what is popular on the web getting there through social media sharing, creating user-centered content that is sharable is what is important in 2016. But next year this might shift again.

Traditional publishers have often been invisible carriers of content from the writer to the reader. The general public is more often than not unaware of the imprints that provide them with the content they read. I argue that going online requires that you establish yourself as a recognizable brand.

Even though it isn’t your business but what your produce as a business that is most important, in order to be successful, you must increase your profile as a brand. With celebrity status making such a big difference online, establishing your business so that it can gain status and visibility is of utmost importance. You must encourage your writers and contributors to increase their web credibility as individuals through the ways mentioned above.

Let’s make it so that the top hits when you Google “Top publishing brands” actually have something to do with the publishing industry and aren’t Forbes articles on branding.

Thanks for sticking with me to the end!

And by the way, this is the “real” me:


… and I have studied….


… and I do dance…


… and I have given lectures…


…… ( well sort of) …..




So do you believe in my authority now?




Okay, you can stop scrolling now. Thanks again!



Aldred, Astell, Behr, Cochrane, Hind, Pickard, Potter, Wignall, Wiseman. “The World’s 50 Most Powerful Blogs” The Guardian. March 2008. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2008/mar/09/blogs

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Zomparelli, Daniel. Class presentation. January 2016. SFU Master of Publishing.