10 Ways to Make Video a More Interactive Experience

I love my iPad. One of the reasons I love it is that it's a great device for watching video. Some mainstream media integrate video very nicely into their iPad applications. However, it seems that all this slickness comes at a price: The conversation with the people formerly known as the audience is often non-existent. It seems that the potentially-messy-but-genuine conversation with
the community is being shifted to Facebook and Twitter.


The iPad (and similar products) is potentially a disruptive device, empowering people to publish not just blog posts or status updates but also their own books and magazines, as the example of Flipboard (left) demonstrates. There is a danger, however, that traditional media won't understand this and will revert to its old ways by producing slick end products that broadcast without actually engaging in a conversation.

You can see this tendency at work online in the videos produced by newspapers. Yes, you can (often) embed their videos, share them on Twitter and Facebook and via email. But often you can't participate in a discussion about the video. Sometimes you can't even leave a comment. Too little effort is being made to evaluate and integrate interactive and community aspects into video.

For example, have a look at the impressive video production on WSJ.com. The videos are well done, but the integration of community interactivity is underwhelming. We're struggling with this at my own newspaper as well, but we're in the process of applying some of the solutions I suggest below.

10 Suggestions

In order to help media organizations do a better job of making video interactive, here are 10 suggestions for integrating video into a wider discussion with the community.

  1. Enable people to leave comments on a video. What I often see on YouTube, however, is that the producer or uploader of the videos do not participate in the discussion. The same rules apply here as for text articles: If you don't respond to comments, there is a risk that people will consider the comments to be akin to graffiti on a blank wall, and not participate.
  2. When interviewing colleagues or experts in a video, provide a back-channel so the audience can chat along and add to the discussion. For example, Livestream.com and Ustream.tv offer a chat and social stream next to the live video. Ustream also does this rather well in its iPhone App.
  3. It's also possible to integrate video into a text-chat module, such as the previously discussed CoverItLive. A word of caution: Most people are not good at being a talking head on video while simultaneously chatting -- it tends to give clumsy and boring results. So let the live video host focus on her job.
  4. The same rules apply as for a regular chat session: It helps to have a fixed schedule for conversational sessions, and to provide an introductory article or post to provide context and discussion material, thus enabling people to ask questions in advance and to prepare for the discussion.
  5. You can invite community members to have a video conversation by using their webcams to appear directly on camera. I've done some experiments with Seesmic video and will note that some psychological and technical barriers stand in the way of doing this well. Which means we need more experimentation.
  6. Especially when it comes to local news coverage, it could be interesting to invite your community members to contribute their own videos. In my previous post about immersive journalism, I mentioned Stroome as an interesting platform for collaborative video editing.
  7. You can easily build a virtual studio in Second Life and invite guests to participate in a live discussion with an audience of avatars/community members. Second Life enables you to combine audio (for host and guests) and chat (for the audience/community members), and a video stream all in one. You can do this for guests who would be hard to convince to come in person to your newsroom for a live discussion. To see this in action, have a look at the Metanomics show. You can find other related practices in the aforementioned immersive journalism post and the comments on that post.
  8. Do not underestimate the importance of text. It could be interesting to have three live streams: 1) The live video stream of an interview; 2) the chat channel; and 3) a live blog. The live blog enables people who missed the live event to quickly find out what the chat was about. During the event it helps those who are hearing impaired, or who are in office settings and can't watch the video.
  9. A very simple but effective technique is to announce a video interview in advance and to ask the community for input in terms of questions or topics for discussion. This seems very straightforward, but it's mindboggling how reluctant journalists are to ask the community for input.
  10. Along the same lines, there are many ways to ask for help when preparing for a video interview: You could use a wiki, a collaborative mindmap, or let people vote for the best questions. But in my opinion the good old blog post does a great job because it's conversational and not technologically intimidating. Just explain what your intentions are for the interview, what the context is (as you would do for your newsroom colleagues), and ask people to react. A follow-up in the video or in a separate blog post would be nice. Be sure to mention which community questions made it into the interview -- and make sure you tell your guest when a question comes directly from the community.

Those are my ideas. Please share your own suggestions for turning video into a community experience below in the comments.

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

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Experts Weigh Pros and Cons of Social Media

OurBlook.com has been conducting an ongoing interview series on the current and future role of journalism and social media. In previous posts for PBS MediaShift, I shared some of the insights we've gathered about the future of journalism, and the skills that will be required of future journalists.

In this installment, experts weigh on the impact social media has had on the media industry, and the way that journalists relate to their audiences. Overall, experts agreed that social media helps journalists:

  • Have more frequent two-way communication with news consumers, and thus develop stronger relationships with their readership.
  • Promote themselves by creating their own personal brand.
  • Find an array of news sources and information in real-time, and stay updated on new developments.
  • Easily promote content across multiple platforms, while at the same time reaching a wider audience.
  • Do on-the-spot reporting by making video and photography more accessible and inexpensive.

Experts Weigh In

"I can't understand why so many sectors are going kicking and screaming from the industrial age. News organizations have been reporting the change for decades, so what's the surprise? There is no shock that newspapers and magazines are failing; the model of printed news is being transformed into a new relationship model of information. Consumer markets, political conversations and everyday decision-making are being driven more and more by content in social media. Did news not get the memo that everyone wants to be a reporter?" -- Val Marmillion, president of Marmillion + Company Strategic Communications

"Social media are value neutral; their main virtue is the promise of democratic communication. This brings along with it all of the difficulties of democratic society...incivility, bullying, bias, prejudice, privatization, power struggles. These problems aren't a reason to dismiss or fear social media platforms; they're a challenge to each of us to fight for parity, transparency, access and openness." -- Jessica Clark, director for the Future of Public Media Project for the Center for Social Media at American University, and MediaShift contributor

"Twitter's brevity, its inherent capacity to reflect and create chaos, and to do so instantly and without verification, does not suggest that it has the power to create the kind of narrative that sustains real revolutionary action." -- Trevor Butterworth, editor of STATS.org


"Too much information bouncing around at the speed of thought leads to too much information erroneously being 'reported' or accepted as 'fact.' This has only accelerated the pressure to be 'first,' often at the expense of being 'right.' But perhaps even more dangerous is that the increasing proliferation of choices means that news consumers can choose to focus exclusively on 'infotainment,' and thus disengage from serious coverage of critical issues." -- Matt Hinckley, assistant dean for journalism and student media at Richland College

"At a joint National Press Club/Atlanta Press Club event a while back, I asked this question of the panel: In the future, how will people know what is a journalistic story and what is a paid, biased or fictitious post? I said I was concerned that young people may not know the difference. The panelists' answer was to encourage journalistic literacy programs, which is a good idea. But the most telling moment came when a journalism student approached me afterward and said young people can tell the difference; he's more worried about people in the older generation like his mother, who can't tell a scam email from the real thing." -- Terri Thornton, owner of Thornton Communications

"I strongly disagree that social media represent a dumbing down of America. It's the opposite...it's a way for us to become more informed, more connected and overall less ignorant. It's a way for us to experience different lives, different worlds and different points of view in a way that's never been possible, quite literally, in the history of the world. To call this tremendous capacity and facility to share information a 'dumbing down' is to miss the forest for the trees." -- Sasha Pasulka, blogger and founder of EvilBeetGossip.com

Rob Salkowitz.jpg

"People who approach political discourse from the perspective of reading blogs and engaging in online debates via social networks -- Twitter and so on -- tend to value authenticity in those interactions, and are less patient with the niceties of the one-to-many broadcast model of communication...Members of the millennial generation in particular find the pomposity and stuffiness of traditional media less engaging than the give-and-take of social channels" -- Rob Salkowitz, author of "Young World Rising: How Youth, Technology and Entrepreneurship are Changing Global Business."

"One particular advantage of social media is that they help a reporter see the intellectual and social network of a source. For example, in Twitter I can see whom you are following and who is following you. I can see what you have re-tweeted and what links you have selected. Therefore, I can understand more fully your social context." -- Jerry Zurek, professor of English and communication department chair at Cabrini College

"This is a new way, an emerging way, and now a pervasive way. So when you jump in this pool, you have to jump in all the way. And that means, you have to listen, you have to participate, you need to contribute value as part of those relationships. And the reason you have to do that is because if you are not, your competitor probably is." -- David Kissel, partner of the Zocalo Group

"Social media is a good tool for publishers to expand content reach, but it won't save the fundamental business model of journalism at its core." -- Mitch Joel, president of Twist Image, author, and social media expert.

"Social media isn't a fad; it's changed the way people share and consume content. The web has allowed people to create their own online neighborhoods and elect leaders to speak for them. That's something journalists are going to have to really take into consideration. It's a new audience." -- Lisa Barone, chief branding officer of Outspoken Media, Inc.

"To be sure, social media are a frightening phenomenon to incumbents in the press, in politics and in the media. To the incumbents, social media are profoundly disruptive because of how they obviate their ownership of the 'choke point' in the communication channel. Their power is based on control of scarcity: Scarce resources, capital, intellectual property, and modes of production and distribution." -- Larry Elin, associate professor, S.I. Newhouse School, Syracuse University


"An active democracy is a successful democracy. As social media platforms engage voters in the political system, our democracy thrives. The risk, however, is that special interest groups have a significant opportunity to skew the conversation in their favor. While regular users have the ability to contribute to the conversation, few are motivated enough to do so. That allows motivated subgroups to manipulate the conversation and portray an inaccurate picture of the most important issues." -- Patrick Schwerdtfeger, author of "Webify your Business: Internet Secrets for the Self-Employed."

This article was co-written by Kurt Schilligo, a University Partnership Program intern.

Sandra Ordonez calls herself a web astronaut who has been helping organizations navigate the internet since 1997. Currently, she helps run OurBlook.com, a collaborative online forum that gathers interviews from today's top leaders in the hopes of finding tomorrow's solutions. Since December 2008, the site has been conducting a Future of Journalism interview series. Sandra also heads up the Facebook page, "Bicultural and Multicultural People Rule." Previously, she was the Communications Manager for Wikipedia. She graduated from American University with a double degree in International Relations and Public Relations.

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Who Owns Your E-Book of ‘War and Peace’? Probably Not You

Who owns your copy of "War and Peace"? If we're talking about a dog-eared paperback copy of "War and Peace" that you purchased in your college bookstore, then you own the copy for purposes of copyright law. But if we are talking about an e-book version of the latest translation that was bought online and downloaded to an e-reader or other mobile device, then the question of ownership of the copy is not so simply answered. Unlike works published in print, electronic works are typically sold subject to agreements, in transactions that look less like an outright sale and more like a limited license.

Owner Versus Licensee

Ownership of a copy is an important concept in copyright law. Ownership of a copy of a work is distinct from ownership of the copyright in a work, which is retained by the author or publisher of a book or other work. Ownership of a copy determines whether the copyright owner has the right under copyright law to control subsequent transfers of the copy by sale, gift, rental or lending. In the case of computer programs, ownership of a copy determines whether the program may be used for specified purposes without infringing the copyright owner's rights.

In the last several decades, questions concerning the ownership of copies of digital content have arisen with respect to various kinds of digital content. The federal courts are currently grappling with the issue in the context of audio CDs, videogames and software in a trio of cases that were recently argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The resolution of these disputes may help predict how other federal courts will view the issue of ownership of copies of e-books and other electronic publications, such as the proliferating category of all digital magazines targeted at Apple's iPad and other tablet devices.

The Copyright First Sale Doctrine

The copyright first sale doctrine has its origins in a dispute that arose when the publisher of a copyrighted novel sought to preclude dealers who purchased copies of the book for resale from reselling it at a price lower than that stipulated by the publisher. The publisher relied on language that was printed on the inside cover of the book that established a specific retail price and stated that dealers were not licensed to sell it at a lower price, and that a sale at a lower price would be treated as an infringement of the publisher's copyright. In Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that this notice did not give the publisher the right, under copyright law, to limit subsequent sales of the books by the initial purchaser.

The ruling in Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus was subsequently codified in what is now Section 109(a) of the Copyright Act, which states that "the owner of a particular copy or phono record lawfully made under this title, or any person authorized by such owner, is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy or phono record."

As evidenced by a nation that is thick with used bookstores and charity used book sales, under this section the purchaser of a printed book can sell, give away or even burn the copy without the permission of the copyright owner.

Section 109 does not, however, define the critical term "owner ... of a copy," leaving copyright officials and federal courts to interpret it on a case-by-case basis.

Owner of a Copy

It's easy to conclude that the purchaser of a printed book who pays the price and walks out of the store with it is the "owner" of that copy of the book, because the transaction has two significant incidents of a typical sale: Payment of a single price, and transfer of permanent possession of the item. But as an episode involving the remote deletion of e-books from Amazon's Kindle e-reader device demonstrates, some e-book ecosystems allow the seller to remotely delete content, a fact which makes the transfer of possession potentially less than permanent. E-books are also typically sold subject to an agreement containing a variety of provisions limiting purchasers' rights. For example, the Terms of Use available on the Barnes and Noble website contains provisions that restrict the right to transfer "digital content" to another device and limit the right to lend digital content to another user.

The Register of Copyrights recently studied the issue of ownership of digital content on mobile devices during the triennial rule-making proceeding under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The issue arose in the context of the Register's determination of whether the purchaser of a device such as an Apple iPhone is the owner of copies of the firmware installed on the device, and thus whether the purchaser has the right to modify the software in order to "jailbreak" it. The Register threw up her hands and rested her decision instead on the "fair use" doctrine, commenting that even the federal courts have disagreed as to the proper test under copyright law for determining ownership of software copies.

Current Disputes

The struggle in the federal courts over the issue of ownership can be seen in three cases argued simultaneously in June in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Each case presents the issue of ownership of copies under copyright law in a different context, although all three involve reliance on contractual language to limit the rights of purchasers and recipients of copyrighted content. In an unusual move, the court agreed to the request of the parties to these cases that they be heard simultaneously by the same appellate panel, due to the similarity of the issues they present.

Universal Music Group v. Augusto involved online auctions of promotional CDs distributed by the music company to reviewers, radio stations and others in or associated with the music industry. The CDs were distributed by the company with an included agreement stating that the CD was licensed to the recipient and that resale or transfer of possession was not permitted. Universal argued that the language in the agreement precluded a finding that the recipient was an owner under copyright law. The trial court concluded that, among other things, the transfer of possession of the CDs to the recipients for an indefinite period of time indicated that the recipients were owners of the copies.

Another case, Vernor v. Autodesk, involved packaged software that was resold by the original purchaser to a reseller who posted it for sale in an online auction. Autodesk, the software developer, relied on language in the shrink-wrap license agreement accompanying the software in the original transaction, stating that the distributor granted to the purchaser a "non-exclusive, non-transferable license" and prohibited subsequent transfers of the software without its consent.

Autodesk argued that this language prohibits its original purchaser from disposing of Autodesk software in the secondary market. The trial court disagreed, concluding that because the original transaction allowed the purchaser to retain possession of the copy for a single, up-front payment, the transaction was a sale that transferred ownership of the copy. Significantly, however, the trial court found that rulings in the Ninth Circuit (the federal appellate court which the trial court was bound to follow) were in conflict on the issue and that if the court followed the most recent of those conflicting opinions, it would have ruled in favor of Autodesk on the issue of ownership.

The third case, MDY Industries, LLC v. Blizzard Entertainment, Inc., involved videogame software, and the question of whether the terms of the end user license agreement accompanying the videogame preclude a finding that the purchaser is the owner of a copy under 17 U.S.C. § 117(a). That section affords owners certain rights to use copies of computer programs. In MDY, the issue was not the transfer of the videogame software, but the use of the videogame with a third-party computer program that is not approved by the video game developer. The trial court concluded that purchasers' use of the videogame software with unapproved programs was not protected under Section 117(a) because the end user license agreement had so limited the purchasers' rights that the transaction could not be considered the sale of a copy. Like the court in Vernor v. Autodesk, the court in MDY referenced the conflicting rulings in the Ninth Circuit on the issue of ownership, but chose instead to follow the later rulings that are more favorable to the position of content owners.


What is at stake in these cases is not the ability of copyright owners to limit transfers or certain uses of their copyrighted works at all, but whether they may do so under the Copyright Act. The Copyright Act affords content owners powerful and versatile remedies that are not available if the limitations that content owners place on their works are viewed merely as contract provisions, and the violations of them are treated as breaches of contract.

What is at stake for purchasers of e-books and other electronic publications is whether they will be treated under copyright law as owners of copies of the books and magazines they download, or simply licensees with limited rights.

Jeffrey D. Neuburger is a partner in the New York office of Proskauer Rose LLP, and co-chair of the Technology, Media and Communications Practice Group. His practice focuses on technology and media-related business transactions and counseling of clients in the utilization of new media. He is an adjunct professor at Fordham University School of Law teaching E-Commerce Law and the co-author of two books, "Doing Business on the Internet" and "Emerging Technologies and the Law." He also co-writes the New Media & Technology Law Blog.

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A Self-Publisher’s Primer to Enhanced E-Books and Book Apps

In a previous article I described how self-publishers can easily create, market and sell e-books. In this article we'll discuss the differences and steps required to create more complex enhanced e-books and apps based on books.

In a nutshell, an e-book is a digital snapshot of a book, an enhanced e-book adds multimedia and interactive features as interruptions to the linear story, and a book app is based on a book but acts more like a game with multiple pathways that require the user to interact instead of simply scrolling and clicking.

Enhanced e-books are also referred to as rich media books, book mashups, enriched, hybrid and amplified books. The media and interactivity is provided by you, the self-publisher, who collects and integrates music, audio, video and color photo slideshows, news feeds, illustrations and background materials. You may also provide searchable text, tilt scrolling, internal and external links and Flash animations into the linear story. (Here are some video demos of these features.) To create an enhanced e-book requires the skills of a web developer.

A book app can do everything an enhanced e-book does, but crosses the line from linear storytelling to non-linear storytelling, allowing the user to choose from multiple pathways and select from a potentially huge number of photos, videos, audio files, illustrations, hyperlinks, and interactivity. Apps are third-party software programs requiring a programmer with C++ or Apple's Objective C programming skills.

Much confusion arises from the fact that so many books are simply bundled as apps so they can be sold in an app store. In April 2010 there were twice as many e-books as games in the iPhone App Store, and it's been posited by one pundit that Apple may purge such e-books as they have purged other overly simple apps. There seems to be little point to e-book app-wrapping when compared with more elegant, library-based e-book stores and their e-reader apps (the iBookstore download to the iBook e-reader app, for example), which gives customers a more consistent user experience and keeps the device desktop uncluttered.

What makes a good enhanced e-book?


A few years ago I produced a multimedia e-zine, Ireland: The Sacred and the Profane. It was offered for download directly from the Wild Writing Women website until I recently found it easier to offer it via Scribd. Though most links, audio and video don't work inside their browser-based reader (they tell me they're working on that), they perform nicely when you download the PDF. The magazine was very time-consuming to produce, but incredibly rewarding and the enhancements offered readers extra value.

What's a good enhancement?

"If it's a book about music history, having music people can play at certain points in the book can be useful," says Amazon's Jeff Bezos, in an interview with USA Today. "You're not going to make Hemingway better by adding animations."

"Enhancements should only be in support of the central proposition of the writing rather than a 'I can do it therefore I will do it' approach," says Peter Collingridge of UK-based Enhanced Editions. New Media storyteller J.C. Hutchins also has some good advice, such as avoiding "self-congratulatory 'behind the scenes' content such as author bios, old drafts of your manuscripts."


The iPad's capabilities quickly made it the enhanced e-book platform of choice. Designers can create endlessly entertaining distractions within a linear story. The "amplified edition" of Ken Follette's Pillars of the Earth promises a huge cache of multimedia, an interactive character tree, video and still images from the Starz television series, the author's multimedia diary with his impressions of bringing the book to the screen, interviews with the actors, director and producers, and music from the series.

How much does this cost in terms of time and money? It took me months to create the Ireland magazine working in InDesign and with my group who painstakingly reviewed and edited every iteration. It would have been a huge project even without the learning curve, so when Collingridge quoted $8,000 to $15,000 for enhanced e-book production, that sounded about right.

Enhanced e-books are not device-specific but it's impossible to optimize for all of them. For example, audio, video and color simply do not work on the Nook or Kindle, and Flash does not run on the Apple iPad. You'll want to format your book for the platforms you think the majority of your audience is using. Popular format choices are:

  • Portable Document Format (PDF) is for very highly-formatted publications and can be read on many devices. Readers are forced to view the book exactly as it was designed, which, while it offers design stability, means users cannot reflow the text or change font sizes or colors.
  • International Digital Publishing Forum's Open eBook standard (EPUB) is a versatile winner. It's the format used by Apple iPad, Sony's reader, the Nook, and many other vendors. An export feature in the InDesign page layout program (on which your original print book was likely designed) lets you output an EPUB file. The results are not perfect, but they're getting there.
  • Microsoft's XPS platform is used by the new Barnes & Noble Blio software platform. They hype their enhanced e-book features and seamless integration with Quark a la the InDesign-to-EPUB export.
  • Amazon's Kindle/Mobipocket (mobi/azw) format is great for e-books but not a good choice for enhanced e-books because it does not display color or video. ebookformats.jpg

Yes, the relationship between hardware devices, software platforms and formats is complicated, especially with Google Editions and Copia entering the game this year along with the Blio, and there are rumors that RIM is planning an iPad competitor.

When enhanced is not enough: The book-based app

When you've got so much material that linear is no longer practical, then it might be time to consider an app as an add-on product to your book. (The fuzzy boundary between enhanced e-books and apps are discussed in the Digital Book World webcast eBooks vs Apps: The Pros, Cons and Possibilities).

To start the process, you'll first need to have a deep discussion about multimedia, formats, platforms and devices with the team you hire to do the work. "Book-based apps are more likely to be ancillary products with complex graphics and page layouts that can't be handled in something that auto-flows," says Michel Kripalani, founder of Oceanhouse Media (OM). "That's where you cross the line into the need for custom code." Kripalani assembled a team of former interactive CD-ROM and game developers to start his business, and has built over 100 since the company was founded in January 2009.

omapps.jpg"Children's books are especially ripe for apps, and compliment the e-book edition," noted Kripalani in an interview with Book Business Magazine. OM has also created a variety of card decks, calendars, and spoken word apps inspired by books from Hay House and Chronicle Books.

The price tag for a complex, quality book-based app? "In the five-figures," says Kripalini, "and requires a team that "includes C++/Objective C programmers, graphic designers, professional actors and custom narration, music soundtrack and sound effects, interactivity, editors and page layout designers for the different devices."

For the budget-impaired, DIY app builders are emerging. Travel guidebook publishers already know their audience is looking online and to apps instead of to the paper book. For them, Sutro Media has created a browser-based tool to let publishers upload material to a content management system, which then gets ported into Objective C on the back end. Co-founder Kevin Collins says, "these apps do things that books can't possibly do. sutromedia.jpgFor example, you can use all the photos you had to leave out in their book versions, and include live maps and hyperlinks, too."

Sutro does not require the author pay any up-front costs, but they carefully evaluate proposed projects. Their payment model is a revenue-sharing agreement with a royalty split of 30% each going to Sutro, Apple, and the author, with the remaining 10% going to their in-house editor.

If you're a technically inclined DIY self-published author, there is a growing list of inexpensive app development options, here are some for the iPhone. And remember, you'll need to decide which devices you want to reach. You can develop for more than one, but that will add to the time and price tag. Today's popular choices are:

* Apple's iBook app for the iPhone and iPad

* The Kindle or Stanza app (both owned by Amazon)

* The B&N eReader, or Kobo (a Borders partner)

* Google's free ebook reader for the iPhone and Android

* The Kobo app for Android

Selling it: The biggest challenge


Once you've created your enhanced e-book or app, how do you get it distributed to e-tailers and to readers? Author Cory Doctorow has long and publicly wrestled with these issues, and has had only spotty success with distribution and sales via the major channels. Digital Rights Management (DRM) has been particularly problematic, as some e-tailers require it.

The enhanced e-book and app space is still all very experimental, but expect industry standards to emerge and the market to adjust to the technical possibilities. Apple is letting self-publishers upload directly to the iPad, as long as they adhere to very strict formatting rules.

Personally, I'm offering enhanced e-books on my own websites and on Scribd, amassing digital assets, paying for InDesign upgrades, studying EPUB, renewing my SPAN membership, and keeping an eye on Mark Coker and Smashwords for an easier enhanced e-book aggregation solution for self-publishers.

Carla King is an author, a publishing and social media strategist, and co-founder of the Self-Publishing Boot Camp program providing books, lectures and workshops for prospective self-publishers. She has self-published non-fiction travel and how-to books since 1994 and has worked in multimedia since 1996. Her series of dispatches from motorcycle misadventures around the world are available as print books, e-books and as diaries on her website.

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3 Hot Topics at Supernova: Public Policy, Social Media, Privacy

Supernova, an annual technology conference, recently convened for the first time on the East Coast, a change that was evident in the composition of the conference attendees and the direction of the overall conversation. Below are the top three major takeaways from the conference.

Policy matters

Harold Feld, legal director of Public Knowledge, earned a place as crowd favorite during a panel about the governmental implications of broadband connectivity. Referencing the FCC's apparent hesitance to pursue regulatory policy, Feld said, "This could end up being the best administration for the tech community or the worst administration for the tech community."

Comcast's Cohen, whose company has an obvious stake in issues like net neutrality and reclassification of broadband, made his point by contextualizing an anecdote conference host Kevin Werbach shared during opening ceremonies.

Werbach had explained that the seats in the lecture hall where the conference took place did not have power outlets because Wharton faculty voted to not have them, fearing students would be overly distracted or some other similar supposition. Cohen thought this was an excellent metaphor for unintended consequences of regulation.

"Our concern about governmental regulation in this space drives directly from that story," he said. "Not that our government is ill-intended or that they would try to do something that would impede innovation; but the unintended consequences of legislation that takes a long time to do and a long time to fix could result in actions that retard innovation."

There was also discussion of how governmental agencies are promoting tech initiatives. Projects in different disciplines, like HealthCare.gov and the FCC's broadband portal, are trying to put data (after it's been properly scrutinized for privacy concerns) online in accessible formats. As Beth Noveck, deputy chief technology officer for the United States, explained it, "open government is a horizontal, not a vertical."

Bottom line: Regulating broadband will continue to be a messy process, but it has to be done.

Social Changes Everything

Social media is changing the dynamics of content creation and distribution. That's hardly a surprise to the average MediaShift reader, but the observation's familiarity is a reflection of its veracity.

sn-logo.jpgSocial media changed conferences, that's for sure. The Twitter backchannel at #sn10 during the conference was nearly as valuable as the sessions themselves. Conference participants (and certain panelists) would share relevant insights and links while the conference was ongoing, which was perfect for information omnivores such as myself.

It's changing civic life, too. The government's strategy is noted above, but initiatives like ThinkUp are trying to improve the process of governance by tapping the wisdom of the crowd.

It's also changing the media, augmenting new and old media's ability alike to connect with consumers. Comcast's Cohen noted that the company no longer sees it as a cable company, but as a technology provider that increasingly experiments with new media delivery technologies such as a Hulu-like online video service. Cohen said the number one reason for Comcast's acquisition of NBC Universal is to increase its "ability to accelerate the application of innovation and technology for the delivery of what consumer demand is in this space: anytime, anywhere television." In a word, convergence.

SB Nation CEO Jim Bankoff noted that, "Media does not need to be saved and it is not the responsibility of social to save media." He said he thought user generated content was not as interesting as user generated distribution of content, an insight echoed by other panelists who noted that many companies were experimenting with television and movies to create "multi-platform" experiences that span offline and online spaces.

Blip.TV cofounder Dina Kaplan spoke to the economic power of new media when she revealed that her company had recently compensated the creators of Halo-themed web series Red vs. Blue more than $123,000 as part of their commitment to split profit with content producers.

Bottom line: Having a social media strategy is table stakes.

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Privacy is hard

The most fascinating conversation of the conference, from my perspective, was between danah boyd, a social media researcher at Microsoft Research, and Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at CUNY and author of What Would Google Do?. The rapport between these two new media thinkers was evident throughout their discussion of how technology companies and the government are assessing and responding to online privacy concerns.

Though the two had differing opinions about the definition of privacy, they agreed that the root of privacy concerns was inequity between expectations and outcomes regarding how information flows.

"Privacy is about understanding a social situation and how information will flow, and then making a decision that recognizes this. People scream 'privacy fail!' when they've lost control and found that information flows differently than they expected," Boyd said.

Jarvis used Facebook to illustrate a similar point, referencing ongoing concerns the company faces regarding its approach to personal data. "Facebook created a structure for crafting a public," said Jarvis, "but suddenly people were talking to the public," he said.

The pair also agreed that context has been undervalued as it relates to publicly shared information. "The information itself has value, but so does the interpretation," Boyd said. "We can't divorce the two, interpretations depend on context."

Jarvis essentially agreed with the danger of free-form data being accessed without its necessary context, but also seemed worried that over-compensating for this threat could "risk what makes the Internet powerful."

Bottom line: Defining privacy is just as important a task as protecting it.

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Davis Shaver is MediaShift's editorial intern. He is also the founder and publisher of Onward State, an online news organization at Penn State. He studies history and the intersection of science, technology, and society.

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Saudi Blogger/Activist Jailed for ‘Annoying Others’

Although Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to have been authorized to register domain names in Arabic, it is still one of the most repressive countries when it comes to the Internet.

For example, since 2009 Internet cafes in the country have been required to install hidden cameras, supply a list of customers and websites accesses, not permit the use of prepaid cards or of unauthorized Internet access via satellite, close at midnight and not admit minors. In the latest development of concern, Sheikh Mekhlef bin Dahham al-Shammari, a writer/blogger, human rights activist and social reformer, is in jail. Why? For "annoying others." He has not yet been formally charged.

Blogger Rhymes With Prisoner

Al-Shammari has often written about poverty and unemployment in the kingdom, accusing the government of ignoring these problems because it is obsessed with public morality and keeping men and women apart. He has also highlighted the government's failure to promote tourism, and its discrimination against the Shiite minority. Although a Sunni, he was critical of the influential Saudi preacher Mohammed al-Arifi for referring to one of Iran's most respected Shiite clerics, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, as an "obscene atheist."

In an article published in April of last year, "My Dear Christian", al-Shammari contrasted the work of an American Christian who was killed while helping to protect Palestinian Muslim children with the conditions imposed by Saudi Muslim charities that require its recipients exhibit proper Islamic conduct.

Al-Shammari has been arrested several times in recent years, in part because of his defense of Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority. He told Human Rights Watch that prosecutors used his articles to accuse him of spreading discord among Muslims. His articles criticizing the conservative interpretations of Islam promoted by Saudi officials led to his arrest on May 15, after which he was released on bail. His latest arrest took place on June 15 in Jubail. He was transferred to Damman prison at the start of this month.

Al-Shammari is not the first blogger jailed for seemingly arbitrary reasons in Saudi Arabia. For example, Fouad al Farhan, a blogger known for advocating political reforms, was arrested in 2007 in Jeddah. His arrest was reported by other Arab bloggers, and the Saudi authorities also confirmed he was being held in solitary confinement for "interrogation." No official charges were ever cited or laid. He was released from prison on April 26, 2008. Al Farhan, who is in this thirties, was one of the first Saudi bloggers to dispense with a pseudonym on his site. He was also the first cyber-dissident to be jailed in the country -- but he's far from the last.

According to information from the Arabic Network for Human Rights, Munir alJassas, a prominent Internet activist and defender of the rights of Shiites, has been in jail since November 7, 2009. This is apparently because of his comments and articles on websites and online forums such as Tahara and Shabaket AlRames, where he is one of the most prominent writers.

Free Speech in Saudi Arabia

In the kingdom, free speech is under constant threat. In March, the Saudi cleric Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak, a professor of religion at the Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, declared a fatwa against two journalists. Reuters reported that he "was responding to recent articles in al-Riyadh newspaper that questioned the Sunni Muslim view in Saudi Arabia that adherents of other faiths should be considered unbelievers."

"Anyone who claims this has refuted Islam and should be tried in order to take it back. If not, he should be killed as an apostate from the religion of Islam," read the fatwa.

In another example, the journalist Rozanna al-Yami was sentenced to 60 lashes by a judge because she worked for the Lebanese Broadcast Corporation (LBC), a satellite TV station that shocked conservative Saudis a year ago by broadcasting an interview with a Saudi man talking openly about his sex life.

There was one encouraging development. In June of last year, Saudi Arabia agreed to have its human rights records reviewed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, and it welcomed Navi Pillay, the UN high Commissioner for human rights last April. Sheikh Mekhlef bin Dahham al-Shammari was among the few activists who met her.

However, the fact that the authorities have jailed him for such a ridiculous and offensive reason ("annoying others") shows that the kingdom is still not committed to changing its approach to free speech. If this charge is taken seriously by authorities, then how many more bloggers will end up behind bars for similar reasons?

Clothilde Le Coz has been working for Reporters Without Borders in Paris since 2007. She is now the Washington director for this organization, helping to promote press freedom and free speech around the world. In Paris, she was in charge of the Internet Freedom desk and worked especially on China, Iran, Egypt and Thailand. During the time she spent in Paris, she was also updating the "Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents," published in 2005. Her role is now to get the message out for readers and politicians to be aware of the constant threat journalists are submitted to in many countries.

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