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September 12 2011

Samsung’s $100,000 Challenge to Devs: Connect Our TVs to Other Screens

Samsung hopes it can entice developers to create apps that can connect televisions, phones, tablets and laptops. For the second year in a row, Samsung is hosting what it calls the Free the TV Challenge.

The challenge tasks app developers to create applications and solutions using the Samsung TV App SDK. Last year, the focus was on getting third-party app content for the company’s line of Smart TV and Blu-ray players. This year, the company wants developers to focus on creating “converged apps”: Ones that will offer interaction between a Samsung Smart TV and at least one other screen, like a phone or tablet.

Samsung is asking developers to look into three categories:

  • Controller Apps – Ones that let a phone, tablet or PC control an app running on a TV.
  • Companion Apps – Think second screen apps, with a focus on synchronized, supplemented content.
  • Interactive Apps — Apps that let the user use a device as a secondary display. That means you could start using an app on one device and pick up where you left off on another gadget.

The winning developer will get $100,000, plus a 65″ LED TV and a Galaxy Tab 10.1. The winning app will also be featured in the “Recommended” section of the Samsung Apps store for two months. Second and third place winners will receive $75,000 and $50,000 respectively, plus a 55″ TV and a Galaxy Tab 10.1. The contest is open until November 29, 2011 at 5:00pm EST. Judging will take place between December 2 and December 16, 2011. The winners will be announced on January 13, 2012, and Samsung’s website has a complete list of rules and eligibility requirements.

MOVL, the startup that won first place in the 2010 Free the TV Challenge, is making its MOVL Connect Platform available to developers free of charge during the contest period.

It makes sense that Samsung is asking developers to innovate and build cross-device applications. Connected devices are more common than not, and we access content in increasingly fluid ways. That said, we do wonder how much utility developers will be able to provide within the context of the Samsung TV SDK. And we hope devs will be able to incorporate technologies such as DLNA, which are supported by devices other than just Samsung TVs and Blu-ray players, when building their apps.

The only real problem we see in the burgeoning connected app space is the high level of fragmentation. Almost every TV vendor has its own platform, and those platforms are often incompatible with one another. So developers have to build apps for multiple TV makers, not to mention set-top boxes like the Boxee Box, Roku and Google TV. We would really like to see TV makers align on some sort of base platform for connected applications.

What do you think of companies sponsoring developer contests to enhance their product ecosystems? Let us know in the comments.

More About: connected devices, connected tv, samsung, second screen, second screen apps

September 08 2011

10 Free Mobile Apps to Kick Off the Football Season

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It seems odd to turn on the TV and already see large, heavily-padded men running around a well-manicured field with pigskin, but NFL opening day is already upon us. It’s hard to believe that the summer has passed so quickly and we’ll soon we watching football games with autumn chill in the air and hot chili on the stove.

The 2011-2012 football season, like every other, will be rife with excitement, drama and some damn good plays. In preparation for what’s sure to be another great five months of pro football, the following 10 mobile apps will keep you informed and prepared to savor everything the upcoming season has to offer.

1. Yahoo Fantasy Football

Ah, Fantasy Football. The relentless (and time sucking) hobby of many who aim to create the ultimate roster of players. There are a couple of Fantasy Football leagues out there, but Yahoo’s is one of the most popular. This mobile app provides live scoring, roster management and the ability to add and drop players with a few clicks. Also available on Android.

2. ESPN Score Center

ESPN Score Center is an easy, go-to resource to get immediate access to scores in real-time from the NFL and any other league that tickles your fancy. You can personalize which teams you’d like to receive push scoring alerts on and keep track of breaking news and analysis. Also available on Android.

3. NFL Mobile

NFL Mobile provides iPhone-toting Verizon users with any and every NFL detail at their fingertips. This app offers live audio of every game, real-time stats and network coverage of the live Thursday and Sunday night games. NFL Mobile will also provide comprehensive draft coverage and alert users to when their prospects are selected. Also available on Android.

Note: NFL Mobile is only available to Verizon customers.

4. NFL Message Boards Huddle Up

You have plenty of opinions on the way your team is playing, but what are other fans thinking? This app gives you the opportunity to read up on more than 100 NFL message boards and see what kinds of predictions people are making for the season. The app even includes Twitter feeds from major national media and fantasy news outlets so you have full visibility on real-time comments.

5. NFL '11

NFL ’11 is the official app of the league and gives you a full schedule of upcoming games and up-to-date developments of any team you want to follow. You can preview all teams’ news or you can filter specific teams you are interested in. It also gives you full pre-season and regular season game schedules for every team in the league. Also available on Android.

6. Air Horn

There’s no mistaking the blaring call of an air horn. This app simulates the sound pretty well, allowing you to cheer even louder when your team scores the winning touchdown. Just don’t hold the phone too close to anyone’s ear. Also available on Android.

7. Super Bowl Winners

It seems the entire season builds up to the Super Bowl. As huge as it is, can you really remember who won last year or the year before? How quickly we forget. For a quick and simple guide on past winners, check out the Super Bowl Winners app.

8. Sports Venue Finder

If you’re getting tickets at a stadium you’re not familiar with, Sports Venue Finder is a simple app that lays out the seating map for many venues and stadiums in the country. There aren’t any super cool graphics, but a visual map of the section layout can be helpful when you’re trying to figure out which section to buy or to find out where you’re sitting.

9. Tailgating

Gearing up for the big game is so much better when you’ve got your tailgate on. Nothing says football more than an outdoor grill, a well-stocked cooler and lots of excited football fans nearby. This app provides you with a checklist of everything you need to have a successful tailgating party. There are predetermined lists of things you need and it also provides suggestions on what food you should bring.

10. Kluckr

If tailgating is too ambitious for you, use Kluckr to keep things easy and find the nearest chicken wings locale. This handy app is great to have, in season or out, and uses GPS to find the closest restaurant selling wings. There are categories you can sort by (atmosphere, heat, value, distance), as well as user ratings. The Kluckr database currently has about 20,000 locations and is continually growing.

Image courtesy of Flickr, MandaRose

More About: apps, football, Mobile 2.0, mobile apps, sports

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September 07 2011

Happy Birthday, Television: 26 Essential Connected TV Resources

The high-definition Super Bowl replays and 3D animated films of today wouldn’t be possible without the genius of Philo Farnsworth, inventor of the electric television.

On Sept. 7, 1927 Farnsworth transmitted the first image via television — a simple, straight line. His image dissector camera tube created an electron image which, in turn, generated an on-screen representation recognizable by the human eye. Two years later, Farnsworth had tweaked his invention enough to transmit the first live images to television, one of which was a 3.5-inch portrait of his wife, who sat squinting into the bright light then necessary to transmit a picture.

Since television’s inception, the world has witnessed its impact on advertising principles, news distribution, the music industry, technological innovation, political coverage and, well, reality. In recognition of the first electronic television developed 84 years ago, we’ve compiled a roundup of resources that cover the latest in TV tech — today’s web-enabled platforms and the social viewing experience.

How and Why Consumers Choose a Smartphone

The Consumer Trends Series is supported by CBS Interactive, which helps you find the perfect audience with a network of #1 sites like CNET, CBS.com, CBS Sports and GameSpot. For more, visit CBSInteractive.com/ideal.

It’s no secret that smartphone usage and adoption is exploding, not only in the United States, but across the world.

Mobile phones continue to be one of the biggest drivers for innovation in technology. Moreover, technology like NFC and mobile apps are fundamentally changing the way content is distributed, consumed and created.

In fact, the market has finally evolved beyond the point of whether or not a consumer will buy a smartphone. Instead, the question becomes, why do consumers choose one phone over another and how are they making those decisions? Research firm Mintel released a report that takes a high-level look at the various factors that influence smartphone adoption and consumer purchases.

Most Upgrade-Worthy Features

Mintel puts adult smartphone consumers into two categories: Smartphone upgraders and replacement buyers. Because smartphones cost roughly four times as much as feature phones, users that upgrade to a smartphone are having a big impact on the mobile phone sales market as a whole.

What differentiates the mobile phone market from other consumer electronics and personal computer segments, however, is the speed at which users replace these devices. In Mintel’s consumer survey, 24% of respondents who own a mobile phone say they replace their phone at least every other year.

So what features drive users to upgrade their device?

  • 4G — It’s hard to overstate the promise and potential of 4G. While blanket network adoption is still a few years away, 4G is already proving to be an alluring opportunity, especially for smartphone users in major cities. According to Mintel, 16% of cellphone owners said that the next phone they purchase will support 4G.
  • Video Calling — Video calling might finally go mainstream, thanks to the smartphone. While 15% of Mintel respondents said that they were interested in making video calls, only 10% said they would change phones to get that feature. Fortunately, front-facing cameras have become the de facto smartphone standard, and services like Skype are expanding their slate of supported devices.
  • Large Screens — Bucking the trend of nano-sized electronics, smartphone screens keep getting bigger and bigger. In fact, 27% of Mintel respondents wished their phone screens were larger. The 4″ smartphone screen is quickly becoming standard — and case leaks suggest that Apple might even be increasing its screen size with the upcoming iPhone 5.
  • GPSLocation based services like Foursquare might not be fully mainstream, but 52% of smartphone users used their phone’s GPS feature to get directions in the last 30 days.

Where Are Consumers Buying Phones

Now that we know why consumers are buying or upgrading their phones, where are these purchases being made? As with other types of commerce, cellphones are increasingly purchased online. Between 2009 and 2010, the share of phone purchases made via the Internet increased 4.6 points.

The reason that more consumers are turning to the Internet is twofold. First, the best promotions for phones are found online. Rather than trying to barter with the commission phone rep at Costco to get a better plan or phone price, users can just log in to Amazon.com and shop. Second, buying online is a lot more convenient in many cases than waiting to be helped at the local carrier shop.

Still, what’s interesting about the growth trend for online phone sales is that major retail chains like Best Buy and Walmart are also experiencing increased activity on their websites. Carriers themselves are also getting in on the online action.

Google famously tried to launch its Nexus One smartphone without any retail presence. This strategy failed, and with the Nexus S, Google took a more traditional approach to retailing, partnering with Best Buy, as well as offering phones online.

Comparing Brands and Users

Unsurprisingly, Google and Apple are the biggest names in the smartphone space. With Android, Google has leapfrogged the competition in terms of market share, but Apple continues to be the most popular device maker.

When it comes what types of users flock to different platforms, consumers aged 18 to 24 are more likely to own an Android device, whereas consumer 25-34 are more likely to own an iPhone. Consumer over 35 are more likely to own a BlackBerry. When it comes to desire, however, nearly every age bracket most desired an iPhone. The one exception? Consumers 55 and up. They want Android. The BlackBerry might not be the most desirable phone on the block, but it maintains a big lead in households with at least one child.

Are We Mainstream Yet?

Smartphone adoption is increasing, but there are still some factors that prevent the sector from taking over cellphone ownership as a whole. As we’ve reported in the past, not everyone owns a smartphone.

Older consumers, particularly those in the Baby Boomer generation, are more likely to be uninterested in owning a smartphone. For many individuals, the value add and need just isn’t there. Mintel sees this as a huge opportunity for marketers, and we agree.

Still, as technology becomes more affordable, connectivity becomes more ubiquitous and ownership becomes more expected, smartphone ownership will make its way into the mainstream.

Series Supported by CBS Interactive

The Consumer Trends Series is supported by CBS Interactive, which helps you find the perfect audience with a network of sites starting with CNET, CBS.com, CBS Sports and GameSpot – to name a few. To see how our exclusive content, video and mobile can help you engage with your ideal target, visit CBSInteractive.com/ideal.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, franckreporter

More About: Consumer Trends Series, smartphone

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September 03 2011

39 New Digital Media Resources You May Have Missed

Summer may be lazing into fall, but we’re just ramping it up! Brought to Mashable readers exclusively, we bring you the weekly roundup.

This week seems to have a peculiar culinary theme, so we’re going with the flow. Two of our editorial picks involve browser cookies and Facebook tips for restaurants. Now that you’ve got the munchies, fix yourself a plate and kick back this weekend with our favorite features.

Editors’ Picks

Social Media

This Week in Politics & Digital: The Debate Edition

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This week’s convergence of politics and digital is all about debate and how it’s filtered through social media.

In the past week, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum took on (and lost to) a college student, Google is ramping up for another GOP debate and we’ve got stats on how the Republican candidates stack up against each other on social.

This is the Week in Politics & Digital.

Santorum Video Goes Viral

When presidential candidate Rick Santorum visited Penn State, he probably wasn’t expecting an audience-made video to go viral. In it, he defends his stance on homosexuality. One student stands up to Santorum and the fireworks start flying.

The video has received more than 100,000 views since it was posted August 31.

Google Launches Site to Crowdsource Debate Questions

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Fox News and Google are co-presenting the next GOP presidential debate taking place on September 22. Google’s site, FOXNews/Google Debate, is collecting text and video questions from users to be asked during the debate. Users can also scroll though submitted questions and vote on ones they find most relevant.

Social Decision Releases Stats on the Republican Field

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Just listening to the media, it’s hard to tell which Republican candidates are at the front of the field. Social Decision, a news and analytics site, has put together a study with numbers from Klout and Real Clear Politics. The study shows Rick Perry owns the majority of Twitter mentions, with 30.66%. Michele Bachmann was best able to convert her tweets into action at the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa, while Newt Gingrich had the lowest poll numbers compared to his number of social media followers.

Image courtesy of Flickr, familymwr

More About: 2012 election, Politics, Social Media, week in digital politics

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September 02 2011

The Rise of Digital Comic Books: DC & Same Day Digital

actions comics image

Comic books have finally gone fully digital with DC’s release of Same Day Digital. The program will release digital versions of new comic books the same day that they are available in print. The comics will cost $2.99 and drop down to $1.99 after four weeks.

Other companies and publishing houses have experimented with digital comics, but Same Day Digital marks the first all-in bet that digital is the future of comic books.

The Same Day Digital program will be available on a range of platforms including the iOS family of devices, Android and personal computers. DC Comics pushed its digital launch to coincide with the New 52, a massive overhaul and reimagining of 52 of their most iconic characters.

Marquee names like Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and more received costume redesigns, as well as updated origin stories. All 52 characters had their comic series reset to issue #1.

“I think part of this whole initiative was breaking down those doors and one was by changing the continuity and streamlining the shorelines and the second part of that… was doing digital delivery, right?” says Jim Lee, DC’s co-publisher and the man behind the New 52 character redesigns.

Mashable had a chance to mess around with the app on an iPad. The app is presently bare bones with simple scroll and zoom options. One tap brings up navigation tools, including a bottom bar with all the pages, and a settings option where you can automate page turns or set preferences on speech bubbles. The final panel is a pop-up box asking users to rate the comic and directing them to purchase additional comics in the series or browse through other titles.

It’s clear more features are on the way, including more integration with social networks and possibly a subscription option.

superman sketchDigital has allowed DC to be more creative with its comics. The DVD release of the Green Lantern movie, for example, contains a digital preview for a comic book. The digital team is also experimenting with deluxe digital editions, like issues that come with additional sketches or alternate covers.

“I’d love to think this was a pure genius on one person or a group of people’s part,” says Hank Kanalz, SVP of Digital at DC. “And it was just like, ‘duh.’”

There are some concerns Same Day Digital will cannibalize print sales. But DC has set up — with its digital partner Comixology — a DC digital storefront retailers can put on their websites. Retailers will get 30% of any digital purchases without worrying about over-ordering copies or dealing with unsold copies.

“It’s a tough sell, because you’re talking to real life people with real life establishments and real life stores and you don’t want to introduce something that’s going to put them out of business,” Lee says.

Comics are facing the same tricky fate that befell compact discs, and DC is trying to get in on digital before piracy or third parties (as seen with iTunes and music) beats the company to it.

Digital sales have been doing well so far, according to Kanalz. Issues across the DC canon have been selling — this includes the New 52 batch to comics from five or 10 years ago.

The future of Same Day Digital is still very much in the air. DC has talked about whether to include more interactive features but so far that’s off the table. There’s also some discussion on how to optimize content for small devices like smartphones where a full-length comic book might be too long (or too small) to enjoy.

There are also headaches for illustrators and writers to consider, says Lee. Panels are stretched or compressed to fill the size of the platform. Massive double-page spreads are shrunk down, or minuscule details are blown up to huge proportions.

DC comics has a lot of things to consider, but Same Day Digital has been paying off so far. “Sure, there are people that are scared of digital and there are others that embrace it as much as I do,” Kanalz says. “We all love comics and that’s the key.”

batman image

More About: comics, digital delivery, Social Media, Tech

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Apple Puts Old Version of Final Cut Pro Back on Sale

Apple has agreed to make older versions of Final Cut Studio 3 available for purchase, following several months of customer backlash against the radically redesigned Final Cut Pro X.

When Final Cut Pro X was released in June, Apple touted the release as “the biggest advance in Pro video editing since the original Final Cut Pro.” Video professionals disagreed.

After receiving negative reviews from customers, Apple promised to frequently update Final Cut Pro X in order to bring its features up to par with previous versions of the venerable editing software. Apple’s competitors in the space, including Avid and Adobe, used the opportunity to offer Final Cut Pro customers cheaper migration paths to their software.

Since July, we’ve been hearing that existing Final Cut Studio customers could purchase additional licenses to the old program by calling Apple directly. MacRumors confirms that any customer can now obtain the legacy version of the video editor by calling Apple.

Users will need to call Apple directly at 800-MY-APPLE and ask for Final Cut Studio, part number MB642Z/A. The product is not available in Apple Retail stores or at Apple.com.

Final Cut Studio is $999 or $899 for educational customers. The package includes Final Cut Pro 7, Motion 4, Soundtrack Pro 3, DVD Studio Pro 4, Color 1.5 and Compressor 3.5. In contrast, Final Cut Pro X is $299.99 from the Mac App Store and Motion and Compressor are $49.99 each.

As a longtime user of Final Cut Pro, I maintain that for new digital editors or editors who are working with primarily digital footage (4K footage notwithstanding), Final Cut Pro X is decent tool. For my own non-professional usage, the app is fast and the new features are slick.

However, for users that need a more robust system, support for a wider array of hardware cards and monitors and formats, Final Cut Pro 7 is still ahead of the pack. For users who are looking for a more modern successor to Final Cut Pro 7, I would seriously suggest checking out the trial versions of Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5.

The Final Cut Pro X rollout is one of Apple’s rare execution fumbles. But perhaps existing customers will be appeased by having access to the legacy program.

What do you think of Apple’s decision to continue selling the older version of the program?

More About: apple, Final Cut Pro X, mac, mac software, video editing

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September 01 2011

GOP Candidates to Face User-Submitted Questions in Google/FOX News Debate

Google has launched a comprehensive site allowing users to post and vote for questions ahead of the next GOP primary debate.

The upcoming debate, co-presented by Google and FOX News, will take place in Orlando, Florida on Sept. 22. Google’s site, FOXNews/Google Debate, is collecting text and video questions from users to be asked during the debate. Users can also weigh in on which ones they find most relevant.

While the format certainly allows for a lot of softball questions, there are also challenging topics like “What is your position on US/Israel relations? And in particular, whether you will or will not pursue a “two-state solution”?” submitted by Adam Hopkins from Farmington, Mass.

Those top-voted questions will then be put to the candidates during the debate. Google will also provide maps, facts and additional information to help the social discussion.

Regardless of which side of the aisle you’re on, more (accurate) information and public voice are always good things. What do you think of Google’s debate site crowdsourcing important discussion topics? Let us know in the comments.

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More About: 2012 election, crowdsourced, Google, gop, Politics

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Hulu Goes International With Japan Launch

Popular streaming service Hulu is now available to customers in Japan, as part of the company’s first international expansion.

Japanese viewers will not have free access to Hulu.com, but rather its Hulu Plus service, in which content can be accessed on the web, via connected devices and video game consoles, and on smartphones and tablets.

Hulu has secured licensing deals with Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, Walt Disney Japan, Warner Bros., NBC Universal and CBS. The company, which is currently on the sales block, says it will be working to bring Japanese-produced content to the service, as well as content from across the Asian region.

The price of Hulu in Japan is ¥1,480 per month, or the equivalent of $19.99. That’s more than twice the price of Hulu’s U.S. offering, but considering all the international licensing deals, it’s probably a bargain for Japanese consumers who want access to American content.

On its blog, Hulu notes it has localized its user experience, by making the service available in both Japanese and English. Hulu Japan has also partnered with NTT Docomo, Japan’s largest mobile carrier. The details of this partnership haven’t been released yet, but we imagine it will likely integrate well with NTT Docomo’s other offerings.

During its last quarterly earnings call, Netflix mentioned plans for international expansion. Rather than going after markets like Japan that have a well-entrenched digital ecosystem, Netflix will first target Latin America. It’s clear that in this new world of content distribution, international partnerships are going to become important, if not essential.

More About: entertainment, hulu, japan, subscription streaming, tv

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August 26 2011

5 Tips for Sparking a Grassroots Movement Online

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Anne Driscoll is the vice president of business operations at Ning, where she is responsible for marketing, communications, creative services and human resources. Prior to joining Ning, Anne led communications and brand initiatives at Google.

“Social action” comes easy to those who understand the value of service, helping others and devoting themselves to making the world a better place despite challenges. The trick is turning that personal motivation into a widespread and impactful movement. Grassroots communities are a way to get actionable success even with limited budgets and resources.

On such organization, Amplifying Education, is an initiative focused on creating a safe space for students to collaborate and share, inspire others to act, build connections around a cause and start conversations to drive momentum. In just three months, the organization called on a grassroots community to collect 6,238 books for New Orleans schools and help raise more than $250,000 for education programs including Teach For America and City Year Denver.

It’s further proof that you don’t have to be a millionaire to have an impact. It’s easier than ever to take an idea and ignite a movement. Thousands and thousands of people are leveraging the power of community through social websites to create grassroots support. Here are five tips for sparking your own grassroots movement online.

1. Don’t Raise an Issue, Tell a story

Many of us might start an issue-based campaign by talking about the goal. However, people are drawn in by the story. Build an emotional connection with your audience by sharing a true story of a real person’s life and struggle.

Simply combining facts and emotions into a powerful narrative conveys far more than a 40-page proposal. Through storytelling, you make a human connection between your audience and the cause.

2. Reward Your Supporters

A story may secure a one-time donation, sell cookies or land a Facebook “Like,” but you need to recruit a passionate group of volunteers to make a cause sustainable and scalable. We’re all constantly bombarded with requests to help, so a solid reason to participate is essential to get an initial connection to your cause.

Creating a sustainable program builds momentum and promotes growth. A campaign can ensure that volunteers become a bigger part of the story and its success with each action by rewarding people for their participation.

Getting to know your audience helps you build a compelling activity they’ll want to join and support. A grassroots movement is about building something self-sustaining. Enable and reward your biggest evangelists to increase their participation. They will in turn help you create momentum and spread your message.

3. Amplify your Message

Create an army of evangelists who will tell your story, spread the message and influence their social graphs. The social web helps you get in front of a massive audience but a dedicated community lets you spread the message with even greater reach and influence.

Build awareness for your cause or campaign across the social web using any social network you can, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Make it easy for your advocates to promote your cause with predefined hashtags and shareable content.

Build a campaign hub where you can broadcast online actions which your supporters can then share on their social graphs. Building this hub is like creating a “virtual campaign office” where you can communicate to all your volunteers at once, helping them drive your messages and build momentum for the cause.

4. Remove Barriers to Participation

Letting people participate on their own terms helps build a base of support. Participation comes in many forms, and every dollar, “Like” or signature will push your cause forward. Understanding how different people are motivated will broaden the appeal of your cause.

The first action is often the hardest. Emphasize the importance of low-commitment activities such as “Liking,” +1′ing, or sharing. These, coupled with rewards, can transform passive supporters into more engaged members of the community.

Creating a central and clear call to action is key to getting folks involved in the next level of support. In addition to participation, make fundraising goals and tools a prominent part of your outreach so people can easily — and safely — contribute to your movement.

5. Empower Your Volunteers

Developing brand evangelists is the best way to scale. A volunteer application form on your site, for example, makes it easy for potential supporters to raise their hands. Giving them a space to share experiences, meet new friends and build relationships will build long-term support and commitment.

Set clear expectations on what it means to get involved and what they will receive in return. Keep volunteers in the loop and share how they have played a part in your success. Strengthen your bond with volunteers by sharing photos and videos of the impact they’ve had. Don’t ever forget to say “thank you” and don’t be afraid to shout your appreciation out loud.


Today, the social web offers solutions to make organizing, fundraising and outreach easy for anyone. Building a successful grassroots movement is also about your idea, passion and ability to inspire others to join you in taking action.

What has your community done to inspire positive change? Let us know in the comments below.

Disclosure: The author is a member of the Amplifying Education group, which is hosted on Ning, the author’s company.

Image courtesy of Flickr, neurmadic aesthetic

More About: activism, grassroots, how to, philanthropy, Social Good

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July 20 2011

1990s Nickelodeon Returns to the Airwaves

Look alive Keenan and Kel fans, the TeenNick cable network is bringing back favorites from the 1990s to the airwaves beginning Monday.

TeenNick, one of many networks under the Nickelodeon brand name, will air four-hour blocks of “classic” (by generation Y standards) Nickelodeon original content between the hours of midnight and 4 am.

According to Brian Stelter at the New York Times , the programming block, called “The ’90s Are All That,” was a response to the numerous Facebook groups dedicated to bringing back this classic content.

Nickelodeon History 101

Here’s a refresher for those of you not fully versed in Nickelodeon history:

In 1990, Nickelodeon Studios opened at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. The flagship show at the time, Double Dare, was moved to the Orlando location. It also become the home for a slew of original live-action programs like Clarissa Explains it All and All That. In 1991, the first Nicktoons, Doug, Rugrats and The Ren & Stimpy Show, debuted on the network.

For the next decade or so, many of these programs made up the primary daytime blocks of programming on Nickelodeon. In 1992, a Saturday evening block, called SNICK (or Saturday Night Nickelodeon), debuted. For the next twelve years, that block of programming would air new episodes of its flagship original programming

For many of us who grew up in the early to mid-1990s, these shows represented an iconic part of pop culture. For years, fans have petitioned the network to re-air some of the more popular shows or release programs on DVD.

The Shows

As Nickelodeon fan site Nickutopia shares, this is the lineup of shows that TeenNick will be airing during “The ’90s Are All That”:

  • Aaahh!!! Real Monsters
  • The Adventures of Pete & Pete
  • All That
  • The Amanda Show
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark?
  • Catdog
  • Clarissa Explains it All
  • Double Dare
  • Doug
  • Hey Arnold!
  • Kenan & Kel
  • Legends of the Hidden Temple
  • Nickelodeon GUTS
  • The Ren & Stimpy Show
  • Rocket Power
  • Rocko’s Modern Life
  • Rugrats
  • Salute Your Shorts
  • The Secret World Of Alex Mack

In addition to these shows, “The ’90s are All That” will feature special appearances from popular Nickelodeon Stick Stickly. Frankly, I think I’m most excited about the return of Stick Stickly.

A Play on Nostalgia

Generation Y, my generation, is one that is obsessed with nostalgia. Witness our love for all things Betty White (even though most of us discovered The Golden Girls via reruns in the 1990s and not on Saturday nights in the 1980s), our affinity for retro and ironic t-shirts with branding from some time in the past when we probably weren’t even alive, and the fact that shows like Robot Chicken and Family Guy have basically made it their marquee to reference old programs or fads, just so the twenty-somethings in the audience can go, “Dude, I totally remember the MicroMachines guys, he was awesome!”

During the 1990s, Nickelodeon was the perennial kid brand. In a world before the term “tween” was actually used, it was a prime television destination portal aimed squarely at kids in elementary school and junior high.

Thus, it’s no surprise that as soon as we all started using Facebook in college (and if we’re honest, LiveJournal before that), talking about Nickelodeon shows and idealizing those shows as “ahead of their time” became a common activity.

In truth, the shows, for the most part, don’t actually hold up. I know this because this isn’t the first time that Nickelodeon has played on the nostalgia train, this is just its most engaged play. For the last decade, Nickelodeon has actually been recycling some of its ’90s-era content across many of its digital cable properties.

When the Noggin network debuted in 1999, it was dedicated to airing programs that were pulled from PBS and Nick Jr. Late at night, Noggin had a block of programming dedicated to Generation Xers that aired classic episodes of Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Ghost Writer and Square One. Subsequently, when the network transitioned to The N (before The N became its own network), many classic Nick shows from the 1990s would air in the afternoons.

Before being rebranded as TeenNick, The N often aired these programs late at night or in weekend blocks. Moreover, classic Nicktoons aired on the Nicktoons cable network during much of the 2000s, and the now shuttered Nickelodeon Games and Sports network (GAS) was basically dedicated to airing nothing but old episodes of Double Dare, Nick Arcade, GUTS and Legend of the Hidden Temple, with some Wild and Crazy Kids thrown in for good measure.

The difference with this campaign is that Nickeldoen is fuly embracing its audience’s desire for nostalgia. Even more interesting, many of the most vocal 1990s Nickelodeon fans were likely not even old enough to even remember the SNICK couch or when Clarissa was actually on TV. Instead, in true Gen-Y fashion, these fans are simply nostalgic about faint memories in front of the tube.

The fact that TeenNick will be taking programming cues from Facebook is interesting. Also interesting is its usage of AllThat and Keenan and Kel (and Good Burger) star Keenan Thompson, now a regular on Saturday Night Live, in some of its advertising promos.

Our only question is this: when is Hey Dude! going to air? I take that back. That show was horrible. Even my everlasting love of it in 1991 doesn’t change the fact that it was horrible.

More About: clarissa explains it all, doug, keenan & kel, nickelodeon, nostalgia, pete and pete, teennick, television, tv

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The Hulu Rumor Mill Heats Up

The rumor mill surrounding Hulu and its potential sale is heating up as more details about the bidding war surface.

The news about Hulu shopping itself around to potential acquirers first broke last month, after an unknown bidder make an offer for the company. Soon after, multiple publications started churning out reports about the future of Hulu.

The premium video site has several issues standing in the way between it and an acquisition. Its biggest issue is that it relies heavily on content from its network partners: NBC Universal, Disney and News Corp. Without that content, Hulu’s value drops substantially, making long-term content deals essential to any sale. NBC Universal, Disney & News Corp. also own a stake in Hulu, making their approval of any deal mandatory.

Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have all been reportedly interested in taking over Hulu. Google is looking for more premium content to advertise against, which is also why it now offers movie rentals and acquire Next New Networks. Yahoo, on the other hand, is trying to reinvent itself as a modern online media company, but its revenues are dropping and it needs to make a big splash to reinvent itself.

What about Microsoft? According to Bloomberg, the tech titan has decided not to pursue a second round of bidding for the online video company. While Microsoft has more than enough money to make the acquisition, it did just spend $8.5 billion to acquire Skype in May.

Yahoo is still in play, though. Citing an anonymous source, Business Insider reports that Yahoo is willing to pay up to $2 billion for Hulu, as long as it can get a four or five-year guarantee for Hulu’s current slate of content. Hulu reportedly has promised prospective buyers five years of programming.

Neither of the reports mentioned anything about Google’s intentions.

Who do you think would do the best job with Hulu? Or should Hulu remain independent? Let us know in the comments below.

More About: business, Google, hulu, microsoft, ONLINE VIDEO, video, Yahoo

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HOW TO: Self Publish Your Book with Amazon’s CreateSpace

book image

Yuli Ziv is the founder & CEO of Style Coalition, a network of top fashion and beauty bloggers in partnership with ELLE. Her first self-published book in the Fashion 2.0 series Blogging Your Way to The Front Row: The Insider’s Guide to Turning Your Fashion Blog into a Profitable Business and Launching a New Career is now available on Amazon.com. Follow her on Twitter @yuliz.

It’s been six years since Amazon acquired CreateSpace, an on-demand publishing platform, and almost four years since they announced the free online setup for self-publishing. While four years seems like a long time in our fast-paced world, self-publishing still hasn’t reached the mass audience. Even the biggest social media gurus still take the traditional route, only choosing to self-publish when they’ve been rejected by mainstream publishing houses.

The truth is, print-on-demand publishing is the fastest, most profitable and easiest way to get your written thoughts out there. Today, self-published books are even distributed to traditional outlets like Barnes & Noble and academic libraries. Most people searching Amazon or shopping the book shelves don’t even think to question whether the book was self-published or printed by a publishing company. They wouldn’t ever know unless they checked the product details.

Of course, self-publishing means you don’t get the marketing resources that come with a traditional publishing deal, but in our world of social media, that can be easily fixed. So if self publishing is so easy, why don’t we see more authors using it? Most people are simply not aware of the low barrier to entry. I didn’t even realize how easy it was to publish a book, until I decided to write one.

After evaluating the various options, I chose CreateSpace. It met my needs the best, but your mileage may vary, so research your options careful and pick the service that matches best with your goals and the type of book you plan to publish. Here is a step-by-step guide to publishing your own book using CreateSpace:

Step 1: Create

When writing your book, make sure it has all the necessary parts: introduction, acknowledgments, dedication, resources, table of contents and copyright page. If you choose to prepare the files yourself, as opposed to using CreateSpace professional services, you need to make sure to set up the appropriate margins, headers, page numbers and other formatting elements. To make things easier, the site offers ready-to-print templates that you can download for free and use to write your book. When you’re ready, you’ll simply export a PDF and have a print-ready file.

Step 2: Setup

Once you’ve completed the writing process, you can easily set up a new book in your CreateSpace account. The setup process guides you through simple steps of inputting the book title, description, and credits, choosing the book size and paper color, and finally, uploading the files (one for the interior, one for the cover).

While the interior file is relatively easy to create yourself using a template, the cover of your book may be a little more challenging. Again, the site offers a variety of solutions for beginners (such as building a simple cover using their online Cover Creator tool) and advanced authors alike.

Finally, you’ll choose your book’s ISBN number. I decided to go with a free CreateSpace assigned ISBN. Unless you are planning on re-publishing or distributing your book with a traditional publisher in the future, or would like to choose your own publisher company name, there isn’t really any value to paying $99 for your own ISBN.

Step 3: Review

Now it’s time to submit your book for a review. At this point, the CreateSpace team looks at every file and checks for potential issues before approving for print. If they see something set up incorrectly, they will email you the notes so you have a chance to re-submit your file. For example, I included color text and special characters that wouldn’t print correctly, and the review team caught both and sent me an email. The review process usually takes up to 24 hours, after which you can order a physical proof copy to check over before putting your book for sale.

The community section of the site warns all first-time authors that they might need to view multiple proofs of their book until they’re satisfied. It’s helpful to have at least two to three other people reading the printed copy of your book — each might discover separate issues that the others hadn’t noticed.

Step 4: Distribute

Once you are ready to hit “approve” on your proof, you can set up the distribution information for your title and select your sales channels. This is where you’ll set up your book’s price and calculate royalties based on the book’s size, number of pages and type of paper. From the research I’ve done, CreateSpace provides the highest profits on a standard trade type book, however I suggest playing with their royalty calculator before you decide on the format and size of your book. For example, after increasing the font size of my book I discovered that it added 20 pages, which resulted in almost $0.50 less royalties per book.

CreateSpace does not offer a hardcover option at this point, so if that’s a deal breaker, you’ll have to choose another platform (like Lulu) to publish your book. For most independent authors, because hardcover books cost more to print, you may not be able to profit from them, which is something to consider. It’s a decision that not only affects your retail price and royalties, but also the personal cost to buy your own book for press promotions.

After finalizing the price, you can choose one or more distribution channels. There’s the CreateSpace eStore, where you can market your book directly with a customizable product page, Amazon.com or Expanded Distribution Channel. The last option requires a pro plan upgrade.The pro plan has a one-time fee of $39 with a $5 renewal fee each year thereafter. It makes your book available to thousands of retail and online outlets, including Barnes & Noble, libraries and more. Although there is no guarantee these stores will actually pick up your book, at least it will be included in a distribution list. While the eStore listing is created immediately, Amazon listings take about five to seven business days. Expanded distribution may take a few weeks.

Once Amazon creates the initial listing, you can update it with additional information or edits via Amazon Author Central (this requires opening an author account). Here you can actually create a nice author page with your full bio and headshot, which may help your sales. In my experience, Amazon was responsive and kind when dealing with my requests. From applying edits to my title within hours to personally answering my first-time author questions via provided phone support, I was supplied with consistent help throughout the entire process.

If you’re planning a digital release, it might actually make sense to delay the release and encourage people to get the paperback first. Releasing a digital version of your book could be a great reason for a secondary marketing push, so plan it wisely. You can use the CreateSpace conversion service for Kindle ($69, takes about 2 weeks) or spend a couple of hours reformatting the book yourself, then converting it into a .prc file using one of the many free downloadable tools. From there, just upload it into Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing site. If your title is already listed on Amazon, the Kindle version will be automatically matched.

Converting to iPad is a similar process. Convert your files to ePUB and upload your book to iTunes. CreateSpace doesn’t help much so you’ll need to use a competitor like Lulu.

Step 5: Sales & Marketing

Once your title is listed, all that’s left to do is to let people know about it! Here again CreateSpace supplies a suite of on-demand marketing solutions from a press release to video trailers. Amazon also offers up-to-date sales reports so you can track how well your book is selling. Of course, traditional social media marketing techniques apply here as well. You should certainly lean on you pre-existing social networks to promote your book.

Considering the ease and effectiveness of the self-publishing process, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more and more self-published books in the next few years. At this point self-publishing still remains an uncharted territory for independent content creators, which means it’s the perfect time to get on board.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Jenn and Tony Bot

More About: book, book publishing, diy, how to, media, publishing, self publishing, social media

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July 19 2011

Google+ iPhone App Now Available

The official Google+ iPhone app is now available.

The app is available as a free download [iTunes link] from the App Store.

Here’s a list of the app’s features, along with their descriptions.

  • Circles let you share the right things with just the right people.
  • Stream is where you can get updates from your circles or see what people are >saying about things nearby.
  • Huddle is super-fast group messaging for everyone in your circles.

We’ll be updating this post with hands-on impressions and screenshots once we get a chance to play. Meanwhile, go forth and download.

More About: Google, Google Plus, iOS apps, iphone apps

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Hulu Promises Buyers 5 Years of Programming [REPORT]

Online streaming service Hulu is looking for a buyer, and it hopes to sweeten the deal by offering would-be-wooers access to content from its current stable of owners.

According to a new report from Bloomberg, Hulu will promise buyers five years of access to content from current owners the Walt Disney Company, News Corp. and Comcast’s NBC Universal. The five-year content extension would include a two-year period of exclusivity.

The two-year exclusivity period wouldn’t prevent networks from posting content on their own websites or from providing content to cable operator video-on-demand setups.

Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed plans to sell Hulu on July 6. Bloomberg says some of the potential bidders — Amazon and Microsoft — won’t bid without a content guarantee. Other potential buyers include Google, Yahoo and AT&T.

Hulu has 1 million paying subscribers to its Hulu Plus service, but still trails in comparison to lead competitor, Netflix. We’ve reached out to Hulu for comment.

More About: hulu, hulu plus, online television, subscription streaming, television, tv

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July 18 2011

CNN Starts Live Streaming to the Web, iPad & iPhone

Select cable subscribers will be able to access 24-hour live broadcast streams from CNN and HLN on CNN.com, the CNN App for iPad and CNN for iPhone, CNN has announced.

Right now, the live access to CNN is only available to AT&T, Comcast, Cox, DISH Network, Suddenlink and Verizon customers. That leaves out some of the major cable providers, like Time Warner Cable and Cablevision.

CNN, a Mashable content partner, is joining the ranks of other cable networks like ESPN in providing access to its live broadcast content on a multitude of devices and platforms. In the industry, this is widely known as TV Everywhere. For cable companies and networks, TV Everywhere is perhaps the most potent answer to online subscription streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus. The idea is to give cable subscribers additional platform options.

For content companies like CNN, it also means more potential eyeballs. In a statement, Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide said, “A principal goal for CNN is to make more of our content available to more people on more platforms, and CNN’s participation in the TV Everywhere initiative is another step forward in that effort.”

Last week, I spoke to Ron Frankel, the CEO of Synacor, a company that powers TV Everywhere portals for various ISPs, including Suddenlink. Frankel told me that TV Everywhere is already showing real promise with consumers.

“The response and uptake we’re seeing is phenomenal,” he said. “Thanks to HBO Go, millions of people are now familiar with entering in their account ID to access TV Everywhere content.”

HBO launched its TV Everywhere initiative, HBO Go in May, and the app has already been downloaded more than 3 million times.

With Netflix’s recent price hike announcement causing outrage from users, this could be TV Everywhere’s opportunity to get a foothold into a market that at one point seemed Netflix’s to lose.

What do you think about TV Everywhere, live streaming of television broadcasts online and the convergence of devices? Let us know in the comments.

More About: cnn, HBO GO, HLN, Synacor, television, tv, tv everywhere

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