Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The future of journalism?

There have been a few stories recently about AOL's Patch "hyperlocal" news websites. Well, I've browsed a few (well, more than a few) Patch sites, and read the coverage of them. I've also been an active poster in the past on our own Salem Patch, and in both my public life and private life I interact with most of the Salem Patch employees and contributors. So I'm a little biased. But here's my take:
Patch, in general, is a neat concept and long-term I think it's the future of mainstream media. There will always be room for regional and national newspapers. But most people have online access nowadays, and mostly they care about what's happening in their town - and their neighborhood. Patch is their USA Today, a site that uses the same basic formula to handle all but the edge cases of information that neighborhood people want to know. What were the police doing across the street yesterday? Who is moving into that store with the paper on the windows? Why did the restaurant close all of a sudden? What's going on in town this weekend?

Those are the questions that most people want answered, and Patch is for them. Are there exceptions? Yes - of course! Salem's Patch mixes that sort of coverage with very good feature writing, good political coverage, and most importantly an editor who has been on the job for a couple of years and has developed local connections and become part of the city's fabric. She has managed to assemble a good team of contributors and as a result Salem Patch has kind of stepped into a middle ground between your typical event calendar and a local newspaper. Sure the Salem News has more resources overall and they can work a more traditional story. They have influence because of that, and they are a pretty good local paper. Where Salem Patch differentiates themselves is speed and versatility.

I'll sum this up with an anecdote from a local event last night (because I was there). Cafe Polonia and Coffee Time Bake Shop teamed up to host a paczki-eating contest to benefit the Boys & Girls Club. Great event, great cause, and everyone had fun. The Salem News sent a photographer, who arrived just as the last contestant was finishing. He got some pictures, took down names, and was gone after a few minutes. It'll make a nice photo feature in the paper, and he did a good job - but he missed the spirit of the event.

Patch's editor, though, was there the whole time. She captured it on video, did interviews (full disclosure: I was one of the interviewees), wrote a story, and had it posted online with a well-edited video by 6AM this morning. And when it was over, she tried her first paczki with everyone there and pronounced it delicious.

That, folks, is hyperlocal journalism at its best. And if that turns out to be where Patch goes, they'll do just fine as a business.

Monday, February 20, 2012

iPad prediction time

It's that time of year again - the iPad 3 is on the way, probably being assembled by workers all over China as I type this. Many details have leaked, though Apple's been known to do misdirection more than a few times (anybody remember the teardrop iPhone 5 cases from last summer?). But as of right now, here's what I can tell you is certain about the iPad 3, what I think is likely, and what I think is bogus:

- Retina Display (2048*1536): Done. Book it. I think they hoped to get it in for the iPad 2 but couldn't get sufficient yields in time to ramp up production. We've seen enough samples in the wild of the screen that it's a done deal.

- More RAM: Yep, also certain. The iPad 3 will have 1GB of RAM, double what the iPad 2 has. Why am I sure? Higher resolution needs bigger framebuffers. To support that with 512GB would cost too much from a performance standpoint.

- Form factor: It'll be basically the same. Why mess with a good thing? If Apple ever goes into a smaller form factor, I think it would be likelier that they'd introduce a 5" iPod Touch than a 7" iPad. Don't dilute the iPad brand in small cheap devices.

- A6 (quad-core) processor: Good chance. Either that or a faster version of the current A5. Not sure which we'll see, though. Prototype logic boards were recently spotted marked "A5X" (indicating a souped-up A5), but I think that may be misdirection.

- LTE (4G) support: I don't think so. Could be surprised. I'm pretty sure that if it were fall right now you'd see it, but 3G is widespread enough and proven enough that Apple has no problem letting the market continue to develop for 4G. Right now, there's not enough of a 4G footprint to make it truly compelling.

- Better cameras: Yep, coming for sure. I think a 720P HD camera in front for FaceTime, and maybe a 5MP camera in back. They don't need the photo capabilities of the iPhone, but there will be improvement.

- Storage: Probably the same capacities as before (16, 32, 64). Maybe a 128GB model that blurs the lines with laptops.

- Siri: I'm not sure about that one. I think they won't, if only because Siri is really a feature for an always-on connection - and on the iPad your Internet connection is optional, unlike with a cellphone.

- Pricing: No changes. They may keep the 16GB iPad 2 around for 6 months or so at a cheaper price ($349?) to suck most of the oxygen out of the cheap 7" tablet market. If they can afford to do that and still make money, they likely will.

The only pricing wildcard is if they do a 128GB version at the top end. Then we might see them go like this:

$349 (or maybe $399); iPad 2 Wifi, 16GB

$499: iPad 3 32GB (add $100 or the traditional $130 for 3G on each iPad 3 model)

$599: iPad 3 64GB

$699: iPad 3 128GB

Follow that up with a 5" iPod Touch 32GB for $299 in the fall, and you've effectively bracketed the whole market.

As for iOS 5.1, I'm restricted from prognosticating on that one because I am running it and remain under NDA. The Mac rumor sites are doing a good enough job of that for me, anyways. But I can say that I'm looking forward to the GM being posted, based on what I've seen from it so far.

To sum up, I think on March 7th a lot of people will be grabbing their credit cards. iPad 2 sales numbers were just a warmup for this one.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Stepping into the political minefield for fun

Random politically charged comment of the day: Reasonable people can disagree as to whether President Obama has done a good job or not. I happen to think that he's done a decent job, not a great one - but he did far better in my view than his opponent in 2008 would have and will do better than any of the remaining candidates to replace him.

That all said, I read far too many comments on the Salem News and other sites that aren't doing it strictly for the lulz (like Fark does). And my point is this: If you call Obama a Marxist (or a Socialist), you've demonstrated two things conclusively to me - one is that you've got virtually no understanding of either politics or economics, and two is that you've already lost the argument at that point. It's pretty much like the Godwin's Law of modern political debate. Sure, I disagree with the Republicans. I can call them right-wing and be accurate. And I even make fun of them. But I don't try and tar them with an extreme rhetorical brush, because I actually understand what those remarks entail.

And yes, some people on the Democratic side use similar rhetoric to the Tea Partier types on the message boards. By the way, they're wrong too. More of them seem to understand basic economics, though.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

I know what's different now.

I wasn't quite as crushed this time after seeing a Super Bowl loss. Can't stand the Giants nowadays - even though I grew up with them - but I think I understand what happened to the Patriots this year, and the last couple of trips as well.

The Patriots became a great team when everyone was a role player. Linebackers played tight end, linemen were fullbacks, and Tom Brady was a great game manager QB, who never made mistakes and never tried to do too much.

Around 2006, that started to change. Indy took the lead in the horse race with a superstar QB, and the Patriots responded by putting all their eggs in the offensive basket. Sometime around then, Tom Brady became TB12 - the best QB on the planet. He started trying to do it all, and to be the guy who ran the team. And it works to a point - but when you get to the biggest games it's hard to win that way.

Two weeks ago, TB12 played a horrible game. The Patriots were able to overcome it and win anyway. Tonight, TB12 was better - but he still made the mistakes that killed them in the end. Tom Brady didn't throw home run balls for interceptions. He didn't take safeties on his first dropback. TB12 does that sometimes, and always at the worst time when he does.

The Patriots are still an excellent team that have kept a high standard for over a decade. Amazing in this era. But if they are going to win another Super Bowl, they need more Tom Brady and less TB12.