Friday, 28 January 2011

Apps vs Skills - Kevin Cummins at Creative Networks Leeds

I went along to listen to rock photographer Kevin Cummins address an audience invited along by Creative Networks West Yorkshire at the Leeds College of Art last night. Most famous for his photographs of Manchester acts around the punk and post-punk eras, as well as for many years of cover-shots for the NME, Kevin kicked off the evening with a brand new 15 minute documentary.

Along with many of the iconic shots he is famous for, the film featured quite a number of additional stills I'd never seen along with some up-beat, up-to-date interviews from the likes of Paul Morley, Bernard Sumner and, touchingly, Natalie Curtis speaking to Kevin on the walkway across Princess Parkway in Hulme where he took perhaps his most famous shots of Joy Division during the bleak and snowy 'winter of discontent' - 1979.

After the film, Kevin gently rambled through a number of tall tales about the work he's done and the time he's spent with his subjects over the years. Emphasing the human and social elements of photography which happen before the camera comes out of the bag, Kevin also highlighted the forced economy which was imposed upon photographers in the pre-digital age, as they sought to 'edit in camera' to capture only the very best shots on their expensive 36-exposure rolls of 35mm film.

For all his fondness for film photography, Kevin acknowledged a love for digital photography but also bemoaned the constant difficulties in having to prove you own the copyright on an image that has been purloined from one place on the internet and used elsewhere without permission.

He also expressed some frustration at the cost-cutting approach of the media who are happy to fill their pages with 'citizen journalism', picking up 'user generated content' for free - both words and pictures. The Guardian was singled out as the worst offender in this regard, with The Independent running fairly closely behind...  Kevin half-jokingly begged the audience not to support this trend as it was 'taking the food out of his children's mouths'!

Kevin also highlighted a disregard for the skills and training required to become a professional photographer, when 'anyone can do it' using an iPhone!  

He recounted a conversation with a PR asking him which app he'd used to create a particular effect, when he'd actually crafted the image using a long lens and a short depth of field.  

I spoke at an event a couple of weeks ago about how apps like Instagram were having this affect of professional photographers who often see them as the 'Comic Sans of Photography' and whilst I think they're great for giving everybody the chance to create, I do feel Kevin's pain. I was going to ask his advice re my Instagram shot above, but thought it best not to.

Some very funny moments from Kevin's career involved all of the usual suspects, with the loudest laughs reserved for Mark E Smith, Morrissey and The Stones Roses. I don't know how often Kevin speaks about his work, but if you can, try and get to see him.  Alternatively, his documentary is well worth a look.

I'm a little ashamed to admit that this was my first Creative Networks event and I'm pleased to say it was well organised and well attended.  I'll be back.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Smoke Fairies and the Ethics of Free

I called in to Piccadilly Records in Manchester this afternoon to watch the wonderful Smoke Fairies play a free, in-store acoustic session ahead of their show tonight at the Ruby Lounge which, unfortunately, I can't attend.

They were everything they hoped they'd be. Shy, talented, a little nervous. They played around five songs, one of which I captured below.

After the set, they nipped behind the counter to sign copies of their album and singles. Their album came out last year and featured in Piccadilly Records Albums of the Year, as it did in my own.

For me though, I'd done all my listening via Spotify. They were hard-pressed to sign a playlist though, so I picked up the CD (and when I say that I mean I did actually purchase it) as a nod of thanks to the Smoke Fairies and also to the record store which does a great job arranging these in-store shows and which also curates an excellent weekly email which summarises the latest diverse and not so diverse releases.  I heartily recommend that you sign up for it.


Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Which Apps Do You Choose To Demo The Power of the iPad?

I'm sure that people get a bit tired of hearing iPad owners whiffling on about how great the devices are. If so, move on now... nothing to see here.

However, iPad owners also get a bit tired of hearing people telling them that 'it's just a big iPod Touch'.

That phrase is the equivalent of Twitter-users being told by non-Twitter-users that it's for people telling each other what they've had for breakfast.

I'll often be called upon to demonstrate just why I think the iPad is a great device and often surprise people when I tell them that I use it as much for work as I do for leisure.  Depending who I'm talking to, I'll select two or three apps which I think capture the essence and power of the iPad, passing it across to let them have a go for themselves.

My selection of apps varies, but there are a few which I tend to return to time and time again.

I asked my iPad-owning Twitter followers which apps they tended to demo when called upon to do so and got some interesting results.

First of all, here are my choices.

Evernote - this app syncs across numerous devices and websites, enabling you to save almost anything for retrieval at a later date.  Whether it's web-pages, audio, photographs or text, this portable, cloud-based memory-system just keeps getting better.

Noteshelf - this app is the best I've seen for enabling you to capture handwriting via a stylus on the iPad screen.  Other apps do this, but results tend to look like children's scrawl, with only a few very large words legible on the screen.  Noteshelf introduces a 'zoom' view which lets you write comfortably whilst it reduces the size of your handwriting to fit neatly on the lined page.  There are several notebook styles to choose from and it's an attractive experience even if you're a big Moleskine fan like me.  If I owned Moleskine, I'd buy Noteshelf and rebrand it as the office Moleskine iPad app.

The Heart & The Bottle - this is an interactive children's story book which captures the attention of parents and educators alike.  You can choose to read each page, or be read to.  There are also interaction opportunities hidden in each page for young fingers to explore.  You can even take on the role of the little girl from the story and sketch a picture on her paper, only to see your efforts framed and displayed on the wall in the next page of the story.  A charming app and a sensitive implementation too.

Time Crisis HD - This is an old-school, rip-roaring, arcade shoot-em-up from Namco, surpassed by many games for your serious game-players... but it's great fun and looks terrific on-screen... It's an eye- catching demo for anyone who needs convincing of the iPad's suitability for this kind of gaming.

DJay - I am DJ Dad!  Normally I DJ using a couple of pre-loaded iPods and a Numark mixer hooked up to my amp/PA.  Now, I can DJ straight from the iPad!!  This app also 'gives good demo'.  I can mix, beat-match, scratch, change pitch, cue... in fact anything that can be achieved via a normal DJ mixer.  It can even run as a minimised app, gently mixing your tunes together automatically from pre-selected iTunes playlists... good for parties or for just chilling out to whilst catching up with other stuff on the iPad.

LogMeIn Ignition - This app gives you remote access to your PC at home whilst you're out and about.  In fact it lets you access any number of remote machines.  I'd recommend this to anyone who regularly gets called upon to sort out minor bugs and glitches on their parents' or other family/friends' PCs, as you can quickly get on the machine, take control of the desktop and delete/install or fix whatever needs to be tackled...  it's a nifty way of getting Flash on the iPad too!

ReBirth - For those with a smattering of musical ability or a passion for retro-beats, this a great iPad recreation of the Propellerheads tool for PC/Mac which replicates the 1980s sequencing and beats machines created by Roland - the TB-303 Bass synth and the TR-808 and 909 drum machines. Set the thing going and go Acieeed-mad showing off your squidgy-beats.

WiReD - The early benchmark for all iPad magazines and still the best.  It's a magazine that's been waiting for years for the iPad to come along as its preferred delivery-mechanism.  Now they just need to sort out the pricing conflicts between the digital and paper subscription models.

Keynote -  This is Apple's version of Powerpoint and there's an iPad specific release which is a joy to use.  Along with Pages and Numbers, which counter Word and Excel from the MSOffice suite, it's amazing just how much actual work I can achieve on the iPad without ever having to bail out and head for the lap-top.  Plus, if you get the adaptor which connects this straight to a projector or monitor, it's a breeze delivering your presentations straight from the iPad.

Here are the suggestions I received from friends on Twitter when asked which apps they tend to choose to demo their iPads to the unconvinced. Thanks to @jonthebeef, @kellyjs and @paulsmith7 for sharing their thoughts.

Dropbox - easy cloud-based file-sharing across multiple devices.

Angry Birds - acclaimed and addictive - wildly successful on iPhone... even more fun on iPad

Alice for the iPad - Over-engineered, but alluring re-imagination for the iPad of the CS Lewis tale - Alice In Wonderland - to me it seems designed more to enable people to show off their iPads, rather than enjoy the story itself.

BBC News - A nice looking news app from Auntie.  It's robust and clear but, for me, frustratingly limited in portrait mode.

FT - Another nicely delivered news app - requires a subscription though!

iPlayer - a web app, rather than an iTunes app, but one that has been fine-tuned for the iPad user.  It would be hard to live without iPlayer

Aweditorium - nicely designed music sharing app, pre-populated with hundreds of songs from hip artistes from around the globe... additional YouTube content is a click away and sharing tools are built-in.  A bit ostentatious and everyone needs a good wash.

World of Goo - Another handsomely crafted game which makes the absolute utmost of what the iPad can offer to the casual gamer.  I've hardly begun to explore this yet and feel some pressure to set aside some serious time.  Like that's gonna happen.

Marvel Comics - there are many, similarly-constructed comic-apps for the iPad, but the Marvel one was one of the first and certainly one of the best.  Whether you choose to flip through the comic, page by page, or let the app swoop and glide you through the story, frame by frame, you'll quickly realise that the iPad is a fantastic medium for reading and purchasing comics.

Dragon Dictation - these dictation tools have been around for years on the PC, but now there's an app for the iPad.  I thought the best way to demonstrate its effectiveness would be to read out this paragraph and then cut and paste the results, errors-and-all in to this blog post, so that you can judge for yourself.

Here are the results:

Dragon dictation these dictation tools have been around for years on the PC but now there's an app for the iPod I thought the best way to demonstrate its effectiveness would be to read out this paragraph and then cut and pasted it was and all into this blog post so that you can judge for yourself

Flipboard - plenty has been written about Apple's iPad app of the year for 2010. Get Flipboard.  It's a hugely enjoyable way of reading and sharing news from a variety of customisable sources... you can now use it as your Google Reader client too.

Twitter - when the official Twitter app first launched, I described it as a 'car-crash' after about half an hour struggling with it.  By the end of day one I was addicted and very few other Twitter apps for iPad are as much fun to use.  If in doubt, use this as your default Twitter app on the iPad.

iA Writer - this is a rudimentary word processor and deliberately so.  No bells, no whistles, just you and the words, enabling you to unitask and focus on whatever it is you are writing.  A minimalist design-classic.

Loops of Zen HD - this a maddeningly addictive puzzle game which calls on you to rotate the ever-increasing number of puzzle-pieces on the board until all of the lines and nodes connect, leaving no ends exposed.  The sense of achievement after completing a level is only offset by the sense of dismay at looking at your reward... the next level!!

To sum up, I'm not sure that any single app would convince someone to purchase an iPad, I think it's the personal choices and almost limitless combinations of apps and functionality which drives the popularity of the device and passions of it owners.  I'm also sure that there are hundreds of other apps  which people choose to demo the power of the iPad.  

What do you think about the selections covered here?

What are your go-to apps when someone asks for a demo?

Friday, 14 January 2011

Is Instagram the Comic Sans of Photography?

Last night I spoke at a Pecha Kucha night at Huddersfield Media Centre.  Here is a short video I shot this morning of what I said, plus the slides I spoke to.

Also, here's a previous blog post written on the subject, plus another useful one from The Next Web.

Let me know what you think about Instagram... or even Comic Sans!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Huddersfield Town vs Twitter - The Social Media Goldfish Bowl

Some of Huddersfield Town's first team squad have begun to experiment with Twitter... I take a look at the prospective victories... and the potential own goals and gaffes.

I confess to taking a keen interest in the progress of Huddersfield Town Football Club.  They are my local team and I've been a season ticket holder for several years. I'm actually very passionate about the club, the players and their performance on and off the pitch.  It's been a roller-coaster of a Christmas period, but, after securing their second victory of the season over Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday this week, Town are on the up!

So, Town are one of my passions.  If you follow me on Twitter, or read any of my blog-posts, you'll know that I'm pretty passionate about social media too!

Until now, my twin passions for Town and for social media have come together through the connection with and discussion in-between Town fans from the local area and from across the globe.  So, imagine my delight when I noticed three or four of our current first-team squad experimenting with Twitter over the Christmas and New Year period.  The opportunity to get to know what makes them tick and gain some insights into how they work and what interests them after the final whistle has blown is very compelling!

However, having witnessed some of the gaffes made by those in the public eye through their use of Twitter, I also became a little bit nervous... especially when one of the guys started grumbling about too much time spent on the bench (to be fair, he manoeuvred himself out of difficulty on this one with some aplomb!).  

So what does Twitter mean for Football Clubs and for Players?

On Twitter, whether you're in the public eye or not, you really do place yourself under scrutiny... in a goldfish bowl, if you like!  That's all good, provided you take care about what you say, how you say it and to whom.  Also, tweeting from a smartphone just might reveal your location... which is OK if that's what you planned, but could present some awkward moments and potential security risks if not.

I know that, from a player perspective, some clubs take a very hard line on players' use of social media - sometimes banning it.  However, this is often an opportunity lost as it presents a chance for a club to demonstrate how switched-on and progessive it is in both in the Football League and across other sports.  

For the players, this is a great opportunity for them to build and manage their own personal 'brands'.  

Equally, this presents a great chance for a club to extend its own relationships with fans, customers and sponsors, by working with the players to ensure that their own images as positive role models support the club's vision.  This is also a good time to align the players' activities, if appropriate, with the club's existing social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere.

Basic social media training for management, players and coaching staff at any sporting club could enable them to get it right, build the right relationships with other professionals, fans and the media and avoid the various pitfalls for themselves and their clubs.  

Similarly, creating a Social Media Policy which connects a club's marketing and communications strategy with the players' individual profiles, could benefit clubs, as they develop techniques for monitoring discussions and 'sentiment' across various social platforms.   

This would reinforce relationships with the media, fans and other clubs and ultimately drive revenue through sponsorship, enhanced ticket sales, innovative promotions and invaluable word-of-mouth support.

So, Town vs Twitter... who'll win?

I'm feeling very positive about Huddersfield Town's performance on the pitch this season and it was great to be at the Yorkshire derby yesterday.  

Off the pitch, Town is a club which loves to innovate... its matchday programme was reinvented last season as Give Us An H and has won awards because, rather than look at other club's programmes for ideas, the club looked at the quality monthlies market and created a glossy booklet which looks more like a GQ or an Esquire.  

I'm hoping that the positive attitude on and off the pitch, extends into the world of social media and sees the club continue to turn heads throughout Football League and beyond.  

I look forward to seeing the rest of the squad take their first steps into social media and feel sure that they will be taking their social media coaching as seriously as they take their fitness coaching.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Some Current Thoughts on iPad vs Paper Magazines

Since getting an iPad last year I've steadfastly avoided buying magazines. 

Previously, I'd spend quite a lot on magazines across a range of topics from tech through music through walking through politics, economics, design, etc. 

The thing is, the iPad is so good for media consumption that I never run out of interesting things to browse, read or share across those topics and many others. What's more, by abstaining from magazine purchase, I have been adding to my cost-justification for purchasing the iPad in the first place (kinda).

That said, I already had subscriptions running for WiReD and New Scientist before I bought the iPad and they're still running. I look forward to their arrival in the mailbox. Out of curiosity, I bought the first US WiReD iPad app, just to check it out, but since then I haven't bothered, as I get the paper one pushed through my door and that, in itself, is a design classic.

Where I've certainly cut back is on music mag purchase... I'd often have a Wire or a Word or a Mojo or an NME or something tucked in my bag. Since the iPad, not a one. I've replaced this with various alternative sources of music news and knowledge, through Twitter, many RSS feeds and great great weekly emails from independent record shops such as Piccadilly Records in Manchester who do an excellent job in curating their ever-changing stock for customers.

However, I was tempted to pick up the latest copy of Mojo the other day, predominantly for the cover-mounted CD. This month it's retread of of Neil Young's Harvest, featuring several of my favourite acts from recent months and years like Phosphorescent, Jane Weaver, Smoke Fairies and Villagers.

Now, the CD is actually worth the investment (£4.50), which is good because these tribute-style CDs can be pretty disposable. This one isn't. I'm listening to the Smoke Fairies doing Alabama right now. However, on flicking though the magazine itself, I realised that there's a quality to the way it communicates with me which would be hard to replicate on the iPad.

Like many people, my first flick through a magazine is often from the back to the front - this is something to do with the way our brain works. This hasn't been considered by iPad magazines yet, I don't believe. After that, I'll take a more leisurely stroll through the pages from front to back investigating the shorter newsy gossipy bits at the front before considering which longer pieces I fancy tackling later over a cup of tea. [a sort of analogue Read It Later function - I stop short of putting fluorescent stickies to mark the pages for easy reference but I have to fight the temptation ;)].

I'll then pick it up and put it down several times over the next few weeks. Once or twice I'll flick through just to read the ads for forthcoming gigs, tours and releases. In fact there's some pleasure in the type of ads carried by these magazines, they're sometimes useful beacons for fun to be had later in the year.

I can't imagine carving out time to browse a standalone ad section in an iPad magazine. Those iPad magazines I do have see me whizzing through the ads as quickly as poss, and quite why I'd want this experience extending through video and added FAQs I've no idea. However, that could be because the quality end of the music mag market has yet to really venture into this space, and there's an element of the advertising that they carry that can be relevant and interesting to me, rather than the aspirational claptrap in, for example, Project, Richard Branson's latest hobby which I only picked up because it's free over Christmas [review: dull, over-choreographed, hard to navigate].

So what have I learned?
  • I love my iPad.
  • I still enjoy some paper magazines.

Quality music magazines preparing tablet versions have some additional challenges to match the romance of their paper equivalents. [I have to say, Zinio may be the simplest and best platform here, as it affords a simple flick through from front to back... the option to deliver cover-mounted content via iTunes might also be worth a thought].

In closing off this ramble I should also mention the great NPR app developed by Bottle Rocket for distributing news, culture and music content via the iPad and iPhone. It really is understated excellence and, whilst it doesn't attempt to emulate a magazine, it has found some nifty methods for building rich content and social tools into the whole delivery experience. Publishers could learn lots here and, to be fair, probably are doing.

What are your thoughts?