Posts Tagged forums

We Are the Media: Blurring the lines between print, digital, and social media

Print is dead. We’ve been hearing that for what, a decade now? Two? But have you been to a bookstore lately? Or a supermarket? You’ll still see a lot of floor space devoted to magazines and newspapers. Real estate inside those stores is extremely valuable and the people who run them are pretty smart. If print publications don’t make the cash register ring, why are they still there?

Many magazines have disappeared in recent years. Many that are still around are quite a bit thinner than they used to be. And newspapers are certainly struggling. Most of them have tried to integrate some sort of digital edition into their subscription model. Results have been mixed at best.

Yet occasionally we find a respected dead-trees media organization that seems to have figured out how to stop fighting digital media and make it work to their benefit. Recently I got a very inside look at one such example.

Cycle World launched in 1962 and by 2001 was the largest motorcycle magazine in the world. Its founder, Joe Parkhurst, was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame as “the person responsible for bringing a new era of objective journalism to motorcycling in the United States.” In 1995 the magazine published an article by Hunter S. Thompson called “Song of the Sausage Creature.” (Complete with illustrations by Ralph Steadman.) In it, HST wrote a sentence that has been quoted many times and is often seen in the signature lines of keyboard riders on internet motorcycle enthusiast forums: “Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube.” Hunter Thompson created a career out of ignoring the lines between observer and participant.

“Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube.” —Hunter S. Thompson

Cycle World has teamed up with Honda to help introduce a new motorcycle, the NC700X, to North America. The bike goes a very different direction from the rest of the market and Honda is staking a significant portion of its future on this motorcycle. It has drawn a lot of ink in traditional media and is starting to get some traction in the moto forums. Cycle World named it the best standard motorcycle of 2012.

Then they went way beyond the boundaries of the printed page. The magazine took four of its readers, had them ride the new bike for a week, and built a story around them. This story is being written almost entirely in pixels, rather than on paper. The story is called the Cycle World Honda NC700X Adventure Challenge.

And I am one of those four riders.

 

Cycle World and Honda paid all of our expenses for a week in Southern California. They put us up in nice hotels, fed us like kings, supplied more than a few tasty adult beverages, and generally made us feel like rock stars. The magazine even tapped some of its advertisers to hook us up with a bunch of new riding gear. And all they asked in return was for us to talk about the experience. They didn’t tell us what to say and they didn’t ask us to say nice things. Just talk about the experience.

And that’s what we’ve been doing. On Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram, and lots of the other social media platforms. I’ve been asked a few direct questions about the bike and have answered to the best of my ability. Two most common questions: How is the fuel mileage? (It’s better than the specs say it is.) and, How is the bike on the dirt? (I don’t know as we didn’t get to take it off the pavement. But if you want a dual-sport motorcycle, this isn’t it.) I’ve also suggested to a few friends who are looking for a new bike that they might want to have a look at this Honda. If I were shopping and had $7,000 to spend, I would buy one.

While we were out hooning around on these new motorcycles a camera crew shot gobs of video and stills of most of our escapades. They’ve released some of that content on the Cycle World website with more to come. So we four are riders, content contributors, and, the magazine hopes, social media influencers.

Should be interesting to see how this goes.

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Lessons From a Dry Lake Bed

Sail Magazine has just published an interesting article on an experimental wind-powered vehicle that does its job amazingly well. And is also extremely ugly.

Background: “Common wisdom” shows us that a sailing vessel, when traveling directly downwind, can only move as fast as the wind that powers it. A well-designed sailboat, or landsailer, or iceboat, can move significantly faster than the wind on other courses, but not directly downwind.

So a bunch of really smart folks began debating in online forums about whether it would be possible to design a craft that could sail downwind faster than the wind blows. And while the debate was raging, some of them actually went out and built the thing. They thought it might go perhaps twice as fast as the wind.

In March, at the annual meet of the North American Land Sailing Association, on the flats of Ivanpah Dry Lake, near Primm, Nevada, it achieved 2.5 times the wind speed. The team is now shooting for three times the wind speed. They’re sponsored by Joby Energy, which develops airborne wind turbines, and by Google, which does everything.

So the thing works. And it is insanely ugly.

Lessons learned:

  • Sometimes, what we all think to be true, isn’t.
  • Really smart people are all around us. So are really obnoxious people. People who can get their ideas across without being obnoxious get listened to.
  • There’s a big difference between talking and doing.
  • Anybody can shoot off their mouth on the internet. Sometimes they also shoot off their foot.
  • Form-follows-function is nice. Purpose-built is nice. Ugly machines are still ugly.

Here’s a couple of samples of some of the debate that got this whole thing going. It gets a bit uncivilized in places:

http://talkrational.org/showthread.php?p=858049

http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?p=2656451

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