CES and the watershed moment

I am sat in Merida, Mexico at the moment when perhaps I should be in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show, but even so I have been keeping an eye on matters each morning thanks to my Internet connection.

I watched the iPhone announcement online (encapsulated review: about time someone rethought how we interact phones, but just because the iPod is great, that doesn’t mean the iPhone will be – a phone requires a hell of a lot more, and more varied, computing).

I scoured a few blogs to find out what was new. But this morning, following a link from the BBC’s blog to a walk-through of the conference centre posted by Robert Scoble on his blog, I had another of those glorious moments you get with tech journalism – I suddenly saw the enormous possibilities stretch out before me into the horizon.

You don’t need to look much further than Scoble’s blog really, although there are many other examples out there. Now, blogs covering the IT industry do, for obvious reasons, tend to be the most sophisticated. They are also deeply technical which, despite being an IT journo, I find for the most part to be quite boring.

But just look at the raw potential there! The site is ugly, the wording slightly over-chatty, the video slightly amateurish and poorly edited – but just look at it – on one page is a mountain of intriguing content that covers an event hundreds of miles away from me.

They’ve set up a Blog Haus – presumably somewhere in the morass of the venue – and done a variety of interviews with the various IT execs about. No huge and expensive TV cameras, no massive post-editing suite, the huge advances in electronics has meant all you need is the will. This is extraordinary. It is impossible to imagine this sort of fast immediate access (available to anyone in the world with a fast Internet connection incidentally) at any other point in history.

And, of course, tech execs know the value of it. The world’s richest man is there on screen for chrissake, having a chat. It’s not the most fascinating interview, but it *feels* right – Bill Gates has popped in – and not the faked popped-in that TV presenters are also claiming happens. This was a quick arranged meeting, recorded and posted online.

Also the heads of a number of huge companies. And it’s all there. Click it, listen, watch. I don’t know what it is but something clicked on in my head this morning – this is a watershed moment.

BBC/Guardian ahead of the game

To its credit, the BBC has got this as well. And it has also got the fact that you need a bit more professionalism and journalistic know-how applied to these new technologies. But, unfortunately, by insisting that its video pieces are only available through the BBC’s separate player, something has broken down somewhere and I can’t access them – it gives an error message. So Robert Scoble’s quick, embedded interviews have drawn my attention instead.

The Guardian has also got it and Bobbie Johnson and Charles Arthur are providing exactly what you need – brief summaries of information and then knowledgeable and careful analysis and review. I see Bobbie has also figured out the increasing importance of video. I can see he is experimenting – I’ve done exactly the same thing with podcasts. And the hardest part is talking animatedly without sounding like a prat.

I’ve also figured out what it is that has got me excited – once you have a spot with intriguing content – snippets of news, links to more info, click-clips of interviews, everything else — all the traditional news stories, even the attempts by media organisations to be more modern with blogs and so on — feels out of date.

I don’t need to read about how the iPhone scroll feature works when I can click and see exactly how it works on my computer screen. I’ve seen whatever the writer has seen and formed my own opinion. And I would much rather see a very short clip of a real person giving their reaction to it than read an edited quote from them.

An example of the media losing track

I don’t really want to read lots of extraneous information. For example here is the first para of a San Francisco Chronicle story about the iPhone. “Apple CEO Steve Jobs ushered in a new era at the Cupertino technology company he co-founded more than 30 years ago, jumping into the cell phone market Tuesday with the highly-anticipated iPhone and cementing the company’s part in the rapidly changing digital media landscape.” This is all information I don’t need. I have a video clip here that tells me that and much more besides.

Next para: “Jobs, speaking at the Macworld conference in San Francisco, unveiled the iPhone, which marries the iPod, cell phone and Internet handheld into one slim, portable device. He also announced the Apple TV, formerly known as the iTV, moving music, photos, television shows and movies from the computer to the living room.” Don’t need that either.

“Both products signal the broad shift the company has made in recent years from computers to consumer electronics, as it aims to become the core element in the digital life of the future.” So what?

“To commemorate the move, Jobs announced that the company was dropping ‘Computer’ from its corporate moniker. ‘From this day forward we’re going to be known as Apple Inc.,’ Jobs said before a roaring crowd.” Yep, heard it on the video.

“With the iPhone, some 2½ years in the making, Apple dives fully into the cut-throat, mobile phone market” – the first bit of actual useful information in the story – way down in the sixth paragraph.

“‘It’s the best iPod we’ve ever made,’ said Jobs. ‘No matter what you like, it looks pretty doggone gorgeous.’ Weighing in at 135 grams with a 3.5-inch touch screen, the iPhone looks like an iPod without its well-known scroll wheel. It has no conventional buttons, instead using a finger for navigation.” And again, all this information is contained in the launch video-clip plus lots of other information that wasn’t fitted into the story.

Change is afoot

My point is: this information is extraneous when a far more arresting way of picking it up is to click – just click – on a video and watch the whole thing happen in front of your eyes. Journalism – especially tech journalism – is going to have to adapt and change very quickly if it wants to stay relevant.

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