If you’ve skimmed the TODAY Show’s website recently, you may have noticed something familiar. It looks a heck of a lot like Pinterest.

In fact, Pinterest is influencing website design all over the place. Companies are favoring intensely visual, accessible design elements similar to the pins on Pinterest.

TODAY has found that a similar site concept resonates with its Pinterest users. “There’s something about the mindset of Pinterest that is similar to what [people] love about TODAY.com — and that’s discovery,” says TODAY’s digital director, Jen Brown. “Sometimes I go to Pinterest and I’m not sure what exactly I want, but I know I’m going to find something fun. That’s really how we try to program our site.”

SEE ALSO: How Pinterest Is Changing Website Design Forever
Brown explains that, similar to Pinterest, TODAY.com provides people with five minutes-worth of entertaining, interesting content that they can discuss at their happy hours or mommy groups. She says that both Pinterest and TODAY.com give users “a little moment that they can take away with them when they have a chance.”

Those “moments” also originate from the TODAY Show broadcast itself, Brown says. The show lends itself well to visual snapshots, which incidentally, work well on Pinterest. For instance, when a Rockefeller Plaza fan brought a picture of Matt Lauer as Rosie the Riveter, TODAY’s digital team recognized that the occasion would pin well to Pinterest. “You have to grab that one moment and put it out there,” says Brown.

Other content that does well on the TODAY Show Pinterest? Food, animals, travel and aspirational messages, says Brown. And we’re not talking complicated, gourmet dishes, but rather, accessible meals that anyone can tackle. That mindset has a lot to do with TODAY’s family-centric, female demographic. And while many would argue that Pinterest’s 82% female user base and the TODAY Show’s audience couldn’t be a better fit, “TODAY means different things on different platforms, so I don’t think it’s a one-to-one correlation,” says Brown. “But we try to be mindful that [the show has] a very specific audience with specific behaviors and specific interests.”

Brown suggests that users embrace a similar brand of specificity in their own Pinterest activities. She advises that pinners use the platform with targeted goals in mind — her first boards organized ideas and inspiration for redecorating her living room. “That really gave me a reason to look for various rugs that go with my weird green couch,” she says. “When you have a purpose, it becomes really fun to search and explore, and you find the people who are talking about the same things.”

How do you see Pinterest affecting the social media presences of media and entertainment organizations in the future? Let us know your thoughts about TODAY’s strategy in the comments below.

More About: design, Entertainment, features, Media, pinterest, trending, TV

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The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark. If you would like to have your startup considered for inclusion, please see the details here.

QuipolName: Quipol

Quick Pitch: Quipol is a web application that makes creating and embedding polls on blogs easy.

Genius Idea: Quipol allows bloggers to get feedback from their audiences with a super simple and customizable polling template.

If Quipol were an ice cream flavor, it would be vanilla. It’s delicious by itself, but meant to be individualized by each person. Instead of sprinkles, nuts and hot fudge, however, Quipol customization allows for video, pictures and comments.

Think of Quipols as quick polls — extremely pared down versions of online polls (see right). Each poll displays one question with thumbs-up and thumbs-down options. A comments section encourages chatter.

The idea behind Quipol is to make customizable polls as simple and elegant as possible, Max Yoder, the 23-year-old entrepreneur behind the new web application, tells Mashable.

“I think of traditional polls as a hunched-over half ape,” Yoder said.

Yoder believes Quipol’s two answer options aren’t as limiting as you would think because they encourage bloggers to be creative with their question wording. Plus, they force readers to go with their gut and not be wishy-washy with their answers.

Yoder started developing the poll application eight months ago and tested the prototype with the groups that Quipol was meant for — fashion bloggers, avid Tumblr users, political bloggers, entertainment bloggers and tech bloggers. Forbes Magazine was one of the biggest early adopters. But Quipol was made for anyone to use — the average blogger who wants to get feedback about issues they care about.

Looking ahead, the goal for Quipol as a company is to keep the partnerships coming. Quipol is viewed by many as a company that does one thing very well, and big companies and small businesses use its product so they don’t have to write out and upkeep a polling dock.

“Building kind of a pared down poll will guide the ship,” Yoder said. “We will be here for you for all development, resources and upkeep.”

SEE ALSO: HOW TO: Poll Consumers on Facebook

There are many polling software products for online audiences. Toluna also lets users add videos and pictures to polls; Micropoll doesn’t require registration to create polls and PollDaddy gives users access to surveys, polls and quizzes on various platforms including e-mail and Twitter.

Yoder’s goal for the end of the year is to gain 25,000 users and really improve the product based on continued user feedback. People can already sign in for free with their Facebook or Twitter to embed their own polls. There is also a new video element where they can add a YouTube video directly into a poll (see video below). They can be as creative with the pared-down poll as they want.

Series Supported by Microsoft BizSpark

Microsoft BizSpark

The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark, a startup program that gives you three-year access to the latest Microsoft development tools, as well as connecting you to a nationwide network of investors and incubators. There are no upfront costs, so if your business is privately owned, less than three years old, and generates less than U.S.$1 million in annual revenue, you can sign up today.

More About: bizspark, blogging, Business, Marketing, Media, social networking, startup, Tech, web applications

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App developer ScrollMotion has created tablet content for some of the world’s largest publishers. At the Mashable Media Summit last Friday, its co-founder and chief creative officer Josh Koppel showed off a single platform built to run the entire gamut of enterprise media publishing.

SEE ALSO: How Sports Illustrated Got Ahead of the Tablet Publishing Competition [VIDEO]

From textbooks to kids books to magazines, to corporate materials and RSS readers — the same platform can be used to create simple or extremely complex apps.

ScrollMotion’s new product brings interactive features to sales presentations, something that Koppel says will “change everything about how businesses sell their products.”

The Mashable Media Summit in Pictures

Media Summit 2011

The Mashable Media Summit on Nov. 4 at the Times Center in New York City attracted professionals in digital, tech, advertising, sales, marketing, mobile and publishing from all over the world.

Click here to view this gallery.

Presenting Sponsor: AT&T

More About: features, interactive publication, mashable media summit, Media, scrollmotion, Video

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Several months before Apple unveiled the iPad in January 2010, editors from Time, Inc., including some from Sports Illustrated, met with Apple founder and former CEO Steve Jobs to get a preview of the soon-to-be-released tablet. The venerable sports magazine was already planning a tablet version and had even cooked up a video (above) that demonstrated what Sports Illustrated could look like on a full-color, Internet-connected tablet device that readers could touch, swipe and rotate.

One Time Inc. employee asked Jobs what he thought of the video.

“I think it’s really, really stupid,” Jobs said.

“We were all kind of sad,” Terry McDonell, editor of Time Inc. Sports Group, recounted on stage at Mashable‘s Media Summit Friday morning. “It was not stupid, though. In fact, it anticipated everything he was doing.”

Later that day, McDonnell got a call from someone at Apple. “Steve wanted you to know that was pretty much a negotiation tactic,” he said.

It looks like Sports Illustrated had gotten it right after all.

And, as we’ve explored previously, Sport Illustrated‘s editors have continued to innovate aggressively in the tablet space ever since. The magazine has produced a digital edition for the iPad every week since it debuted last June, and has rolled out weekly editions for the Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Nook Color and HP TouchPad in more recent months.

Sports Illustrated also produces daily content for SI.com, highlights 10 sports photos every day on its Chrome web app, and offers more content on one-off apps and in special cross-channel packages, including Swimsuit.

“We used to do 3,500 pages per year,” McDonell recalled on stage. “Now we do more than 100,000 pages, maybe 200,000 if you count different aspect ratios and slideshows as pages.”

That’s impressive, especially given that the magazine hasn’t staffed up significantly. Instead, McDonell said, Sports Illustrated‘s departments have become better integrated and its staff is working harder. SI‘s web operations, once exiled to an office in Atlanta, have been brought to headquarters. Ninety-five percent of writers produce content for both the web and print, filing short news pieces for the web while building out longer, weekly pieces for the print and tablet editions.

The strategy appears to be paying off: Sports Illustrated‘s digital revenue was up 22% between 2009 and 2010, and it is on track for double-digit growth again this year, according to Scott Novak, VP of communications at Sports Illustrated Group. Digital now accounts for 30% of overall revenue, said McDonell. Print generates 55%, and other marketing efforts bring in 15%.

That isn’t to say Sports Illustrated hasn’t made mistakes. Its first digital editions were oversized and cluttered with too-many add-ons, McDonell admitted on stage — what he dubs the “Swiss Army Knife Trap.”

“We’ve had to be hard on ourselves about what we’re going to put in [the tablet editions]. We have to think about what [additional features] will actually do for someone,” he explained.

McDonell said he and his team are now working on developing a “second-screen dashboard” designed to be used while watching sports on TV. He suggested that social media and gaming elements would play a large role in that dashboard.

Presenting Sponsor: AT&T

More About: ipad, mashable media summit, Media, Sports illustrated, steve jobs

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Gamification, the use of gameplay mechanics for non-game applications, is transforming online news into an engaging, social and fun activity. It’s quickly becoming the next frontier in web and mobile technology.

But what makes gamification successful? Simply put: motivation. By tracking readers’ success, news organizations provide a sense of progress. This, in turn, motivates readers to continue reading, commenting or performing whatever actions on the site that will contribute to their overall progress.

At Mashable, we’ve incorporated gamification into Mashable Follow, our social layer and content curation tool. Readers sign up for Follow with their Facebook or Twitter login to comment on and share stories, manage their news streams by following the topics they care most about, and connecting with fellow readers by viewing and commenting on their site activity.

Activity is the core of Follow. Readers must be logged in to comment on articles and are encouraged to share to any or all of their social media accounts with a single button.

Rewarding readers for taking these actions was an important component of Follow. We decided to use Badges as the reward systems because they are native to our audience. The Badges are central to Follow’s game mechanics. Readers earn badges for everything, from gaining followers to connecting social networking profiles to their account. So far, there are 26 badges that Mashable community members can earn. Most are named after web memes, such as Strutting Leo and Double Rainbow.

Of course Follow badges are just one example of game mechanics on a news site — and here’s why they work.

Fostering Community

As a result of the hunger for badges, readers develop a more personal and valuable community on our site. All badge-worthy actions are tied to Mashable community contributions, such as commenting and inviting friends to use Follow. This inadvertently creates a stronger bond between Follow users and our site, making for a more engaged and committed readerbase.

Andrew David Baron, an avid Follow user, can attest to the badges encouraging Mashable readers to comment more. “[The gamification] lends itself to creating an informed hierarchy of Social followers… not many people are willing to take a risk and put their comment out there first,” he said.

Bob Aycock, another frequent Follow user agrees.

“Once Mashable launched Follow it made me start leaving comments and replying to other folks’ comments,” he said. “I also read more posts now that Follow has become such a hit (and personal addiction).”

Resonating With Readers

Mashable coverage is driven by web culture. That’s why we chose web memes as the main theme for Follow badges. Some of the most popular ones are David After Dentist, the unforgettable YouTube video of a child reacting to dental surgery medication, and Dramatic Chipmunk, yet another notable (albeit short) YouTube video. Keeping the badges consistent with our content area helps give readers a deeper connection to Mashable.

“It really makes people smile to see something funny, referential, nerdy, etc. — things that we can relate to and feel even more at home at Mashable,” Baron said. The Sad Keanu badge, inspired by a viral Keanu Reeves photo, is his favorite.

Creating Competition

In real life and on the web, badges are status symbols. Each earned badge shows as an update in the reader’s My Activity stream as well as the Friends’ Activity stream. Followers can comment on these updates and often do so, sharing congratulations — or jealousy. Knowing what badges friends are earning makes the game more of a friendly competition, which increases readers’ motivation to use the service. In addition, each Follow user profile has a Badges tab that shows what badges a reader has earned and which they have yet to unlock. These publicly displayed achievements make keeping up in the badge-earning race essential.

Room For Growth

Just as the next big web meme is always around the corner, so are future Follow badges. We aim to give readers something to continue striving for as a motivation to remain active. Our team is continuously brainstorming badge design and milestone ideas. It seems our readers are too. They recently got involved with the process by entering our Follow Badge Contest, which resulted in our newest badge: The Honey Badger. Involving the community in the gaming dynamics gets readers further excited about and vested in Follow.


Though badges have worked well for Mashable Follow, there are a number of gaming mechanics and strategies. Points, challenges and virtual currency have been successful for some sites as rewards, while behavior and calls-to-action are examples of viable game dynamics. Gamification remains an open book for the news industry. We’ve only scratched the surface on the potential for community building, revenue and more.

At the heart of gamification is games — and games are intended to be enjoyable. News organizations should explore it and challenge themselves to take a fresh angle on engaging their communities. And, remember, have fun.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, rubenhi

Presenting Sponsor: AT&T

More About: community, content, curation, gamification, journalism, mashable, mashable follow, Media

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On Wednesday, The New York Times and public radio station WNYC launched SchoolBook, a website to provide news, data and discussion about New York City schools.

The site aims to increase communication and understanding among parents, teachers, administrators and students. As many school websites are rudimentary and infrequently updated, SchoolBook’s creators hope to fill a gaping hole. It creates a page for each of NYC’s 2,500 public, charter and private schools with student population information, community discussion threads and more.

“In conversations with parents, principals and teachers, we kept hearing how fragmented the conversation was,” said Tyson Evans, an assistant editor on The Times‘s interactive news desk who helped develop the project. “We’re hoping they’ll see this as kind of a place to explore.”

If it’s numbers SchoolBook users are looking to explore, they’ll have plenty to discover. The site’s extensive database is comprised of information from thousands of public records from numerous sources, including city and state departments and non-profit organizations, Evans said. Much of the information was already housed in internal search and reporting tools for Times journalists built by Robert Gebeloff, a computer assisted reporter who specializes in education.

The challenge for SchoolBook, like many numbers-driven reports, was how to present the information in a useful and easy-to-understand way. Evans said he and his team wanted the site to provide more overall context than a tool that produces charts and visualizations. They chose to standardize the data and group scores into three categories: performance, satisfaction and diversity.

SchoolBook’s developers created custom software for the site with Ruby on Rails and were ambitious about writing data validators and imports. This will help ease the process of updating the database when schools come out with new information.

Some may argue SchoolBook is ranking schools based on scores. Gebeloff wrote an extensive guide to the site’s methodology, in which he says, “What we have not done, quite purposely, is grade or rate schools.”

The numbers are only part of the story. It’s the site’s ambitions for building community around education as an entity that sets it apart. Users are asked to log in with Facebook, an experiment The Times wanted to try to out with a standalone site. “We’re curious about the next phase of web identity,” Evans said.

It will be interesting to see how this affects conversation, especially as education can be a sensitive topic. With the controversy about how students and teachers should interact on Facebook, the single sign-in method will likely see challenges and complaints.

Participants can contribute on individual school pages in three ways: ask a question, post content (photos, student newspaper articles, etc.) or suggest an idea. This could be particularly useful for parents considering a new school for their student. If the school has an active community page where the user feels comfortable contributing, it may shed light on whether it’s a good fit.

The Times and WNYC worked with a handful of schools when brainstorming for the site. Evans expects those communities will lead the charge on SchoolBook and it will grow from there.

“We have ideas for how conversations will work but we’ll ultimately be learning from how the community uses it,” Evans said. “The more activity we can see at individual schools, the more we’ll be convinced it was the right project.”

Times and WNYC education reporters will be regularly updating the site with original articles, discussion threads and aggregated news posts from local sources GothamSchools and Inside Schools. Mary Ann Giordano, the site’s editor, will manage content from contributing writers, which may include teacher diaries, Evans said. The news and community aspects of the site were built on WordPress.

Overall, SchoolBook is leading the way in building community around the topic of education. Though projects like The Opportunity Gap from ProPublica and The Washington Post‘s D.C. Schools Scorecard were pioneers in data collection and presentation, they do little to bring readers together to share content and engage in debate. As Evans said, the purpose SchoolBook provides is up to its users — but it’s the site’s empowerment of its community members that will give people a reason to visit.

More About: education, new york city, the new york times

Google will discontinue news-reading tool Fast Flip, to shift resources to its more widely used products. It will be removed from Google News and Labs in the coming days, though its approach to web content display will be integrated into other tools, Google announced on its blog.

Fast Flip, which celebrates its second birthday this month, is at the top of the list when sorting Google Labs projects by popularity. The tool aims to replicate the print-reading experience online by allowing users to browse stories more quickly. It came at a time when more news organizations were willing to experiment with web content distribution and boasted it had an impressive list of launch partners, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Fast Company. These media companies share ad revenue generated through Fast Flip with Google.

Though the product didn’t show much promise from the start, it may have seen success if it had been reworked as a tablet app. As evidenced by CNN’s acquisition of Zite and AOL’s release of Editions, news organizations are shifting focus to optimize mobile reader experiences in a big way.

News aggregation apps Flipboard and Pulse are seeing growing audiences as tablets continue to prove themselves as great content consumption devices. Google may have been better off creating a feature to simplify browsing news on a tablet rather than the conventional web.

Fast Flip is one of nine in a batch of products to be discontinued from Google Labs. The company announced it would shutter Labs experiments shortly after releasing its second-quarter earnings results in mid-July.

Other Labs products Google will shut down:

  • Aardvark: Social search product that helps people answer each others’ questions.
  • Desktop: Gives instant access to data while online or offline.
  • Fast Flip: Provides a faster, richer news content browsing and reading experience.
  • Google Maps API for Flash: Allows ActionScript developers to integrate Google Maps into their applications.
  • Google Pack: Makes it easy to download and install a package of Google and third-party applications.
  • Google Web Security: Protects against web malware attacks.
  • Image Labeler: Helps people explore and label images on the web.
  • Notebook: Helps people combine clipped URLs from the web and free-form notes into documents they can share and publish.
  • Sidewiki: A browser sidebar that lets people contribute and read information alongside any web page.
  • Subscribed Links: Enables developers to create specialized search results that were added to the normal Google search results on relevant queries for subscribed users.

Would you have used Google Fast Flip on a tablet? Tell us in the comments below.

More About: google fast flip, google labs

Ongo, the Cupertino-based startup backed by the parent companies of The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today, launched its ad-free, subscription-based news service to the public Tuesday morning.

The service offers users a clean, app-like interface in which to read and discuss news published on the web. A single front page displays the most important daily news from a variety of sources, along with stories surfaced by Ongo’s staff of human editors. Readers can explore further by publication, search and topics, a customized news “playlist” that can be arranged by title, section (such as technology or business) and keyword.

Unlike most aggregators, users can view full articles (in columned format, no less) without leaving the dashboard, offering a consistent, streamlined reading experience not unlike the reading experiences rendered by Flipboard and Pulse, two news reading apps for the iPad. Articles can be saved for later access at any time.

Subscriptions start at $6.99 per month and include complete access to The Guardian, Associated Press, The Washington Post (print edition), USA Today, Detroit Free Press, Miami Herald, Slate, and select content from the Financial Times and The New York Times. Subscribers can add one additional title from a list of newspapers and magazines at no extra cost; additional titles can be added starting at $0.99 per month.

Users can also feed RSS subscriptions into the dashboard; if it’s a full-text RSS feed (like Mashable‘s), users can also read the full articles without having to leave the Ongo dashboard.

In addition to the features cited above, Ongo’s creators have also introduced an interesting social feature in lieu of commenting, dubbed Clubs. Subscribers can create and join clubs to discuss certain articles or topics with fellow Ongo readers, and they can invite non-subscribers to access and discuss the same content.

Founding CEO and former PayPal executive Alex Kazim says Ongo wants to provide readers with a better conversation tool than commenting (“which eventually degrades into insults and then degrades the experience of reading the content,” he says) and sharing on Facebook (a group that can be too broad for many users, he believes). “We want [subscribers] to control who they are having the conversation with,” he explains.

There’s also an incentive for sharing: If a subscriber shares an article with a non-subscriber who then signs up for Ongo, the original subscriber will receive a free month of the service.

At launch, Ongo is offering a free 30-day trial to everyone who sets up a subscription. Users can also obtain a free “day pass” to access Ongo without having to furnish a credit card number. An app for the iPad is currently awaiting review by Apple; further applications for mobile and tablet devices are in the works, although in tests Ongo rendered cleanly in the iPad’s native browser.

While attaching a price tag to news that’s already available for free on the web is a tough proposition to begin with, it’s even more difficult given the relatively slim number of publications (mostly local and regional newspapers) the service is offering at launch. Such a service would, we think, appeal to avid news readers if Ongo did allow them to access all of the news they wanted in a single, ad-free dashboard, but at present most would-be subscribers will only be able to get a fraction of their daily content from Ongo, leaving them to wander the web for further information as they did previously.

Thumbnail courtesy of iStockphoto, ProfessorVasilich

More About: media, new york times, ongo

Details are leaking out ahead of the launch of The New York Times‘s content paywall, which is expected to go live sometime next month.

Those who read only a few articles on NYTimes.com per month (about 85% of The New York Times‘s current online readership) will be mainly unaffected by the changes, as the Times plans to allow visitors to continue to read an as-yet unannounced number of articles free each month. In addition, those who come across a NYTimes.com article through a Google search can view the first page, even if they’ve exceeded their monthly allotment.

Heavier readers, however, will need to chose between three different subscription options to continue getting their daily dose of The New York Times online, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal:

  1. A website-only subscription for unlimited access to the site (more than $20/month).
  2. A digital package that includes access to both the site and the Times‘s iPad app (more than $10/month).
  3. A print subscription that bundles free web access with a print subscription ($11.70+/month).

These prices are by no means final, the WSJ‘s source insists. Bloomberg reported last week that website access alone would cost closer to $20 per month.

An extra $10 per month for access to The New York Times‘s iPad app seems suspiciously pricey to us. Perhaps the “digital package” will include full access via Kindle (currently $20 per month) and smartphone apps as well, or, as Felix Salmon suggests, the Times might be “doing everything it can to drive its iPad-owning readers away from the app and towards the built-in browser.”

After all, if Apple decides to insist on a 30% share of iPad subscription fees, encouraging users to read the web version on their iPads might be a sound idea.

It’s a tough proposition: potentially lucrative revenue from in-app advertising, minus app development costs and Apple’s cut, versus complete control of subscriber data and revenue via a simple, easy-to-update, mobile web version compatible across multiple tablet devices.

An extra $10 per month for iPad access may just be the magic formula then — and if few enough subscribers sign on, may be enough cause to stop the Times from sinking further resources into an iPad-specific offering.

More About: ipad app, media, new york times

As reported previously, Piers Morgan and his team at CNN pursued an aggressive social media strategy to pull in viewers for Monday’s debut episode of Piers Morgan Tonight. The strategy included much live-tweeting, Facebook-posting and virtual badge-giving. But did it work?

The ratings, at least, were positive: 2.1 million viewers tuned in for Monday’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, according to numbers obtained from the show’s publicist. Another 1.27 million viewers watched Tuesday night’s episode with Howard Stern. Together, that’s a 160% increase in viewership compared to what Larry King Live pulled in last quarter (675,000).

The audience is also proportionately younger than King’s, particularly on the second night, when 43% (551,000) of the audience was made up of individuals in the 24 to 54 age category. Only 25% (170,000) of those who tuned in during King’s last season fell in that age bracket.

Reception on the social web has also been positive. According to social media measurement platform Trendrr, overall sentiment across news sites, Twitter and the blogosphere was largely positive (63%) during the show and in the two hours following the premiere Monday; 2% of posts citing Piers Morgan in that time frame were negative, while 35% were neutral.

Interestingly enough, tweets that mentioned Piers Morgan (“Piers Morgan,” @piersmorgan, #pierstonight, etc.) were incredibly positive (84%) the day of the premiere, while tweets that mentioned both Piers Morgan and CNN were still favorable (56%), but not by nearly the same margin.

While we can’t definitively prove that Morgan’s use of social media is responsible for the interest among a younger demographic, we suspect the attention he has generated on those platforms does have something to do with it. At the very least, the tweeting and blogging denizens of the web are responding positively to his efforts.

Image courtesy of CNN

More About: media, piers morgan, piers morgan tonight, social media, twitter