I was lucky enough to attend The Next Web conference in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter may know that I share quite a few @TheNextWeb links as it’s one of the sites I follow via RSS. (Here are other sites I follow.)
Here are a few of the things I learned at the conference. Most of these nuggets are not related to digital journalism directly but it’s good to learn lessons from beyond the industry.
1. 15% of the world’s population have helped digitise books
You know those (often annoying) Captcha codes you have to answer in order to make a secure transaction online? There’s a valuable byproduct aside from security.
The two random words displayed are actually words from a scanned book. Computers are not good at reading the words and require help from humans. By typing the words you are making sense of the books. The process is effectively data entry by the crowd two words at a time.
So far 1.1 billion people – or 15% of the world’s population – have helped digitise books in this way, Luis von Ahn, who invented Captcha codes, said.
2. People learning English as a foreign language will be able to take a standardised test via a mobile phone for just $20
Duolingo came to my attention as the site where language learners translate Buzzfeed articles.
It works like this: advanced learners translate Buzzfeed and CNN articles with several people working on the same article collaboratively. The learner gets a real rather than fictional article to translate; Duolingo brings in revenue by the service it provides which enables free language learning for anyone with a web connection.
Luis von Ahn, co-founder of Duolingo (and also inventor of Captcha codes), said:
"In a sense, CNN sponsoring language education."
The free-to-learn site is now branching out and making standardised English testing affordable and possible via mobile.
A learner maybe in Brazil or Burkina Faso but will be able to use a Skype-like video conference option either on a desktop or mobile phone to take the test. Some smart checks are done to ensure the learner is not cheating, with the user showing the examiner all corners of the room, for example.
My colleague at WSJ Lisa Fleisher has written about the new test. It is due to launch tomorrow.
3. People spend just six minutes browsing a retail website
One of the sessions was on the future of shopping.
John Lunn, global senior director at Paypal, said the average teenager spends just six seconds looking at a website and the over 60s only go up to four pages deep into a website.
"You have to help people make their decisions before they come to you."
These are important lessons for news organisations. Not only do we need to find ways to ensure those who want to pay for our digital subscriptions make a decision before they come to us, we also need to think about the attention span people have when presented with an article page or homepage.
4. Audiences have their own audiences
That might seem obvious in the days of selfies, memes, YouTube and Twitter. But ‘the guy with the hair’ David Shing – who has the title of 'digital prophet' for AOL – provided a good summary of how brands are now storytellers.
I particularly enjoyed lines such as:
"We must start talking about mobile as the first screen not the second. Nobody walked into this room with a TV.”
This talk also discussed media overload and the fight for attention. And as digital publishers we should keep that oft-used abbreviation of tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) to mind.
But while there’s a drive to be brief, Shingy laid out an argument for longer reads. We’ve moved from the age of information to the age of social to the age of interest, he said. People want authenticity, and slow journalism is part of that.
5. Social scientists are studying social media connections
One of the tools social scientists have created is called NodeXL. It is open source and can be downloaded so anyone can turn Excel into a social media network browser, allowing you to display connections around hashtags, topics or people.
Social scientist Marc A. Smith said:
"We are interested in revealing the shape of the crowd."