Our weekly round up of the big news in digital media and media technology.
iPad 2 speculation builds
No doubt, the biggest news this week will be Apple's (expected) announcement of the iPad 2 tomorrow.
Last week saw Apple releasing their new Macbook Pro (including "Thunderbolt" — a new, faster type of data cable, a new FaceTime app for the Mac allowing video calls between Macs and iPhones), a drop in the starting price for iAds, and a developer preview for the new version of the Mac OSX operating system "Lion", lined up for release this summer.
Given that none of these warranted a spot in tomorrows's press event — despite being fairly significant technology releases— we're expecting impressive things from Apple tomorrow, when we expect to see how much of the speculation about related Apple services like iTunes in the cloud or new eBooks for iBooks will turn out to be right.
In terms of understanding how the iPad (and by extension, the wider "media tablet" market) are likely to develop, it will be interesting to see whether Apple's strategy for the iPad looks closer to that for the iPod (where new models with features like larger storage regularly replace the old model at the same price) or the iPhone (where last years model is still avaialble at a cheaper price point, while new models enter at a premium pricing.)
Coming hot on the heels of a recent controversy over sharing users' addresses and phone numbers with advertisers, the friction between Facebook's stated goal of "giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected" and users' expectation of privacy continues…
Although Google regularly tweak the way their search rankings work, every so often they release a significant update that has noticable effects on search results. This week, one such change was announced;
Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.
The move has prompted debate over what Google means by "low quality" and "low value" sites — with many publishers issuing statements announcing that they welcome and endorse Google's changes. (Many of these running sites which have been described as "content farms", looking for popular search phrases and then creating content to match similar future searches.)
The changes are only affecting US-based users for now, but expect to see a UK roll out soon.
Although regulations against "astroturfing" (brands posing as consumers and posting about their brands online) have been around since 2008, from today, the Advertising Standards Authority has powers to police the claims companies make on websites and social networks, as well as paid advertising and marketing. Citing over 4,500 complaints since 2008 concerning text on websites that the ASA could do nothing about, the extension to the UK advertising code means that these must not "harm, mislead or offend." Although "user-generated content" will not be covered by the extended powers, if they are repeated by a company (eg. in a retweet) then they may be included.
Sanctions available to the ASA include "naming-and-shaming" of offenders, removal of paid-for search advertising (with the agreement of search engines) by the offenders, and ASA paid-for search advertising highlighting advertisers' non-compliance.
Although clarification of regulation in this new area is a welcome move, exactly how this will work out in future is unclear. According to Brand Republic, "the ASA admits it "is impossible to say" exactly how much work it will have to deal with as a result of the changes, but has recruited an extra 10% of complaints and investigations staff."
Two year "seed funding" from Google has been announced for the project, but it is far from clear if a supposed levy on media agencies to fund the rest of the project has met resistance or not.
A more in-depth analysis of the changes can be found at eModeration.com.
More newspapers going behind paywalls.
A couple of interesting moves away from the free-for-all model of online news this week, as news breaks that The Telegraph is introducing an online metering plan in September, allowing occasional browsers a limited number of "free" articles (expected to be a generous allowance compared to the FT's five, and Times' zero), and looking to cross-sell paper subscriptions to heavier users of their website.
Meanwhile, The Express & Star goes behind a paywall. The UK's best-selling regional daily newspaper is to start requiring a subscription to the paper to access the majority of their website articles. The paper will continue to publish free-to-view highlights of the news on its website, with the "full" website aimed at adding value to the hard copy paper (rather than going in direct competition with its own title.)