[OPINION] The false rise of the Citizen Journalist

Social media is changing the way we consume news, but is it for the better?

Hong Kong Umbrella Protests, using social to defy Censorship

Hong Kong Umbrella Protests, using social to defy Censorship

Increasingly the world we live in is getting more and more digital, relying on social media to consume news, events and activities that shape the world. The Arab Spring first started on Twitter, and instantaneously; the world was aware. The same can be said for the Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution, led by social and showing what really happens, away from the state propaganda. The birth of citizen journalism, where anyone armed with a smartphone and a connection can become a reporter hasn’t just arrived, its now seen as natural order.

This has left many traditional outlets behind in the digital dust. An event happening in the Middle East a few years ago would have arrived in the New York Times offices in about ten minutes, ready for the next days print run. With the arrival of social, that transition is not only too long, but the next day has missed 24 hours of updates, mostly articles on the website also reflect exactly what goes into print, lacking the dynamism and fluidity of social. The Guardian are one of the more progressive outlets, their latest website iteration relies much more on live-blogging and matching social in terms of update frequency.

Twitter has made everyone of us a correspondent, Instagram has made us photographers and Reddit has given us opinion forums as experts. The democratisation is a good thing, broadly speaking. Journalists who are supposed to report objectively, do so swayed by their emotions and political leanings, Newspapers have a long history of skewing news to shift copies and television news relies on correspondents who are very often not near the action. Social means that we can instantly get any viewpoints and real time reporting from the ground, uncensored and largely unbiased.

Here lies the problem of citizen journalism, with so many streams of information and competing viewpoints and opinions, how does the average user make sense of it all? What’s more, how do we verify what exactly is happening? People can be as subjective as a journalist, they can take Instagram pictures from certain angles to make things look completely different. How does the average user make sense if everything. The journalist and reporter can, they are bound, if even theoretically to codes of conduct, and are able to take macro views of situations as they unfold, with a deeper understanding of context and reference than the citizen journalist.

Platforms, capable of aggregating social content and trending information, while allowing seasoned reporters and editors to verify on a real-time basis are increasingly the future of news-wires, ensuring that the news desk at the New York Times or Guardian can get content quickly for their site as it unfolds, in a verified manner.

Citizen journalism has had a profound affect on how we consume the news, how we as a connected and globalised world interact and subverted censorship in places like Egypt and China. This does not mean though, that traditional journalism is obsolete, or their websites. It does mean that they have been disrupted and are being forcibly reinvented into something that can make sense of the maddening crowd.

Citizen Journalism doesn’t really exist, not in any truly meaningful way, and certainly not without being condensed and put in reference. Social activism, however and the generation that created it have been able to change the world, disrupt censorship and change journalism into something much more meaningful and much more honest, ultimately ensuring that the world is a much smaller place than at any time previous.

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HTC One M8 – REVIEW

HTC One m8

The HTC One M8 is the latest attempt by the flailing smartphone manufacturer to shore up some of its recent losses in the face of growing competition from the likes of LG, Apple and particularly, Samsung – who have managed to vacuum up almost all of the former giant’s lead. Last year’s HTC One (M7) was considered a somewhat iconic design, and was the company’s best selling handset, ever. However, it didn’t buck the downwards trend that the company faces. The One M8 it is hoped will change all of that.

 

Released in Ireland, and the world earlier this week, the M8 is available on all major networks. The Dot View Case has not been released yet, however some sites now offer this on pre-order in five different colours.

 

But just what is the M8 like?

 

The Box

An unboxing video is to follow, however – the box itself is pretty neat – larger than it really needs to be, but clearly taking a more Apple oriented direction – very slim, and very simple. With the phone, comes a basic rubber case, headphones, charger cable and standard plug.

 

The Hardware

When you first pick up, what looks like the rather sizeable phone, what strikes immediately is just how well built the device really is. The back is gently curved, not enough to offer much rocking, but it fits comfortably into the hand. The single aluminum slab feels great, the machine-drilled speakers blend in well. The device front looks a little more cluttered when you come from a Nexus device, which is blank on the front. It’s a little heavy, but not in an uncomfortable way, it feels weighty in a very solid sense.

 

The only irk I would have when it comes to build quality, would be the volume rocker – it’s a little flimsy by comparison and could be a bit more solid, same goes for the power button – but thanks to gesture controls, it rarely gets used.

 

The camera blends in nicely – it looks a little odd to have two lenses at the back, but it’s integrated well overall. Speaking of the camera, a lot of people (including myself) have been worried about the 4 ‘Ultrapixel’ argument – thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised, the camera is, in my opinion, better than the Nexus 4.

 

The screen to show off these pictures is gorgeous, it blends in with the overall device, you’d never even realize it was there – when switched on, it’s very sharp, text is crisp and pictures look just stunning – the extra real estate really helps.

 

Topping and Tailing the screen, is a pair of fairly gorgeous speakers. They’re loud, really loud and clear. Some music came across as a bit tinny, but overall the speakers were clear, sharp and a song being played in the living room, I could clearly hear in the next room.

 

Coming from the Nexus, a range which has been plagued by poor batter life, the M8 is simply amazing in terms of battery. It lasts well over a day on moderate – heavy usage, with the screen brightness up and the 3G/WiFi on. It charges nice and quickly, certainly tasks that would drop the Nexus 4 by 10%, only really use up 5% or less from the M8.

 

The Software

Turning on the phone, I was very worried. Previously using Sense had been somewhat of a disappointment especially when coming from stock. However I have to say, Sense 6 is slick. The gestures, such as lifting the phone to your ear to answer a call, are genuinely useful, rather than Samsung’s bloatware which gets ignored. Sense is definitely a nice overlay to the Android OS, It’s a lot more background and simple, making sure that it doesn’t intrude too much on how you interact with the phone.

 

Some things I really like coming from stock, is the greater flexibility of the notifications centre, there’s a lot more functionality when double swiping, the ability to easily drop widgets into any section or homescreen is quite nice. Blinkfeed is really quite nice also. Flipboard like functionality and easily accessible, it’s a nice feature to read while you’re waiting on something, aggregating items from several of your news sources.

 

The Camera

I wasn’t convinced by the ‘Ultrapixel’ argument at first, it seemed like quite an easy cop-out to have an amazing phone, with one major Achilles heel. However, having used it and taken quite a few snaps, the quality is actually pretty good. The screen doesn’t hide much, but images are sharp and crisp, certainly more than enough for social sharing and Instagram.

Filtered shot from the camera

The camera also features some pretty handy things, Zoe is a little bit of a gimmick, but it’s a nice touch to allow the creation of your own Vine like GIF, the ability to refocus an image after shooting is very nice, and it’s something I have been using a lot in pictures, especially if the object I want to capture isn’t the centre.

 

While the features are nice, I liked that Nexus allows you to browse your auto-backup images within the gallery by default.

 

Images though are really, lovely – the gesture of holding your locked phone in landscape and hitting the volume button is really a nice touch to snap a quick shot on the go.

 

Wrap up

Overall, I’m hugely impressed with the M8. The handset itself I would say almost surpasses the iPhone in design, it slips into the hand neatly, rather than a block working against it. The gestures and overall intuition are top notch, the camera is more than decent and the speakers are pretty powerful. While I do think I still prefer stock, just about – the HTC One M8 pretty much trumps it.

 

After having it for about four days, I wouldn’t even hesitate in giving this phone a 10/10.

Facebook buying WhatsApp, the ‘Sink or Swim’ strategy

Image

Heads are still swivelling from the monumental sum of money which has been put against WhatsApp in the last 24-hours by Facebook ahead of their purchase of the company.

To put it in perspective, as I touched on in a previous post; WhatsApp has been valued at $19billion, with 50 employees is now worth more than both Sony, United Airlines and Gap all of whom have significantly more resources. Not only that, but it’s 450 million users now send more messages per day than the global population send SMS. It’s also comfortably now bigger and more valuable than Twitter.

But there’s some key things to take out of this purchase, Facebook is facing a tough future, one in which smaller more niche social networks are starting to steal its thunder and most importantly, revenue base. The giant now, more than ever is facing a battle to remain relevant in this new social landscape. Part of the strategy to remain relevant is nothing new, Google, Apple and Yahoo! have been doing it for a long time; go on a spending spree.

Mark Zuckerberg made an intelligent move when he bought Instagram, it was an investment which is still to bear fruit – but one which ensures that Facebook has a future separate to its own platform, continuously able to target the young consumers that are spending online and communicating there natively. The purchase of WhatsApp is the next step in marketing to an audience which just never took to Facebook Messenger, or the Facebook phone.

Ultimately, Facebook aren’t just trying to reach users, they’re trying to reach people like me, those who spend money advertising to the users, to make their $19billion investment back and turn a tidy profit. There’s an argument that such huge investments can be harmful to small networks, but WhatsApp has the benefit of already turning a profit. The prospect of this marketing opportunity isn’t exactly unappealing.

Facebook already allows a hugely granular method of advertising and promotion, largely there’s still a problem of reporting and results – simply put, investment from large brands in social advertising is still in its infancy and the idea of paying for your content to be seen by fans doesn’t always appeal, especially compared to a more robust AdWords by Google, who allow for much more detailed tracking and reporting, as well as revenue where that’s important.

WhatsApp from the point of view of brands who want to advertise is pretty cool, there’s a lot Facebook could do with the service, beyond integrating it with pages, perhaps even allowing for a Snapchat like broadcast from pages – it would have to be carefully managed, but I suspect that the WhatsApp user base won’t be as ardently opposed to this as the Instagram community is, simply because its a younger market and to a large degree are less affected by advertising on an app. Facebook is following Google into the idea of contextual search and advertising, WhatsApp could fit in quite neatly with that.

Ultimately, we won’t see for quite some time what will be done with the messaging service. It could be expected that it will remain fairly separate for the time being, like Instagram – Facebook doesn’t want to rock the boat, but they will eventually look to unify their services when the buy-in exists; a customer base who are used to the idea of these services being interlinked – rather than the current mature users who are more comfortable with the idea of separate apps for separate networks.

[APP REVIEW] SnapSeed makes photo editing a snap!

If you downloaded the Apple 12 Apps of Christmas, then you’ve been lucky enough to have your phone stocked with some great apps, games and music (One Direction, swoon!). But for me, one app really stood out. Not being much of a gamer, Snapseed was my by far favourite, and an absolute gem in the app store crowd. This handy photo editing app allows you to edit images into any style you like, bringing amateur photography to a whole new level, which Instagram can’t even touch.

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