Monthly Archives: March 2013

Should professional tour guides be paid royalties for their recorded content and be protected by an organization like ASCAP?

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) or HearPlanet. These opinions are strictly my own and published here to stimulate open discussion.

Yesterday I reviewed a new tour platform called HearPlanet. I will give a more detailed review later, but here is the idea: HearPlanet operates like a digital radio, playing whatever audio content is geotagged to a location, including descriptions of local points of interest submitted by professional tour guides, or by amateurs. HearPlanet works on a variety of Internet enabled devices, like smartphones or soon, in-vehicle dashboard systems.

As the traveler drives along, “tuned in” to HearPlanet, she will hear this audio streaming through the speakers, one audio file after another. HearPlanet offers channels so the tourist can tune into a single source of audio, say the Rick Steves channel, or listen to a genre, say restaurant reviews. It’s a cool idea.

Here is my question: If your 1-3 minute audio description of a point of interest is like a song, and HearPlanet is like the radio, shouldn’t your intellectual property and livelihood be protected the same way songs are so that you get paid whenever it gets played?

HearPlanet will not be the only digital “radio” station that wants your valuable content. Google, TripAdviser, Pocketguide, and other platforms will all be vying for your knowledge, your wit, your insights, and your hard work. Why not make it available to all of them equally as long as they pay you for it? The better “songs” (your spoken word audio content) will get played, and the losers will get dropped. The smaller stations will pay less because they play less, and the bigger stations will pay more, based on the number of times your audio gets played. In other word, the well-established music royalty model that’s been around for 100 years.

ASCAP, whose members are songwriters, authors and publishers, is U.S. based, but there are other organizations like them focused on advocating and collecting royalties for audio artists. As professional tour guides whose work has value whether performed “live” or on the “radio”, why would we not want to organize under one of these societies so we get paid for our work as it increasingly gets digitized and deployed on Internet connected, mobile devices?

What do you think?

The App Platform War to End All Wars (We Wish)

On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assisinated, leading to the outbreak one month later, of WWI ~ the so-called war to end all wars. That war lasted only four years. The computing platform war has been raging since the late 1970’s, when the first PC was being assembled from piece parts and Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were still teenagers. But the two men had very different ideas about how computers should work, starting the “platform war” that rages to this day. And it affects you, because apps are now the battlefield.

Apple’s Shangrila, or the Walled Garden

Job’s idea is sometimes referred to as the “walled garden.” I compare his model to a neighborhood with strict rules about what type of house you can build, how big it can be, what color you paint it, whether you can hang your laundry out or not, if you can have a dog, and so forth. Many such neighborhoods exist in the United States, and they are valued for their ability to achieve and maintain a high level of quality, that is, the quality those who hold power deem is good. I lived in such a neighborhood once, and we forced a homeowner to repaint his brand new house because it was “too yellow.” Ugh!

In technical terms, Apple’s model, or “systems architecture,” is referred to as “closed,” and if you build an app for their devices, like the iPhone, then you must abide by their rules. While Apple’s rules are resolute, we have them to thank for the generally high quality of the apps found in the Apple app store, and for the fact that Apple products rarely suffer from computer viruses. Afterall, walls not only keep good things in, they keep bad things out.

Microsoft’s Bohemian Paradise

In stark comparison, Bill Gate’s idea was to create the wild, wild, west of the computing world, a Bohemian paradise where anything goes. Using the neighborhood metaphor, in Gate’s neigborhood you can build any kind of house you want, even a purple one shaped liked a shoe, and keep chickens in the backyard. The resulting systems architecture is called “open,” for obvious reasons, and it dominated the computing world for decades, making Microsoft the most powerful company, and Gates the richest man.

Technical people, who hate being shackled and love to tinker under the hood, love open systems. It gives them almost unlimited control over what they build and how they build it. Bad guys love open systems too, as it lets them easily gain access to the deepest parts of your computer, which is why open PCs (and not closed Macs) are subject to a plethera of computer viruses.

But in 2004, a bomb exploded. The iPhone, a closed device, was released, becoming the first computer to gain broad acceptance, not as a computer, but as a consumer electronic device. Because Apple was carefully controlling the iPhone’s development from inside their walled garden, the device was beautifully designed and as easy-to-use as a toaster. Finally, after years of promise, a computer that was elegant, highly portable, intuitive, and insanely easy-to-use! Naturally, the iPhone and its offspring, like the iPad, are much loved and sell by the gazillions. Hooray for the consumer!

Hackers Put Out

But hackers (technical geeks) were befuddled. When they went to open the iPhone’s hood and start their tinkering, to which they were accustomed, they found the hood locked. Apple had locked it, and it is still locked to this day. God had banished the disoppedient from the garden and placed an angel wielding a flaming sword at its entrance, so that no one may enter. If developers want to build an app for the iPhone, Apple’s requires they use a hard-to-learn programming language (called Objective-C) and follow Apple’s rules. Dei iudicium (“By the judgement of God”).

Because Objective-C is hard-to-learn, programmers fluent in the language are relatively rare and command a high price for their services. An app for the iPhone can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars, and maintaining it is then only done by the expensive specialist, who may or may not be available. This situtation created an opportunity for an open systems architecture for mobile devices, but it was not to be Microsoft who exploited the opportunity.

A Secret, Diabolical Plan to Rule the World. Muahahaha!

In a secret laboratory, deep in a hidden corner of Silicon Valley, a handful of skilled engineers and programmers plotted a siege on Apple’s walled garden. The year was 2003, and the only thing known about this enigmatic crew was that they were building an operating system (OS) for mobile devices. The result was Android.

In a bold end run around Microsoft, who struggled without success for years to market their OS for mobile appliances, Google aquired Android in 2005 and in short order became the most widely used platform for mobile phone applications, eclipsing Apple. Android was unveiled in 2007 along with the founding of the Open Handset Alliance: a consortium of hardware, software, and telecommunication companies devoted to advancing open standards for mobile devices. Note the word “open.” Android is no walled garden ~ it is the wild, wild west all over again, but this time with Google is wearing the big hat instead of Microsoft.

The first Android-powered phone was sold in October 2008. By October 2012, there were approximately 700,000 apps available for Android, and the estimated number of applications downloaded from Google Play, Android’s primary app store, was 25 billion.

The Walled Garden is Under Siege!

Eclipsing Apple, did you say? But isn’t Apple’s app platform the king of the hill? Yes, but only in the US, and only with more affluent mobile device owners. In developing countries, like China, Android phones outsell iPhones something like 6:1. So if you intend on attracting smartphone tourists to your location from outside the US, and especially from China, then you had better plan on deploying your tourism app on Android, as well as Apple.

Well that creates a bit of a problem, doesn’t it, because those two don’t play nicely together. They don’t share toys, hell, they don’t even speak the same language. If you build an app that is native to the Apple platform (a so-called “native” app), then it won’t run on Android’s native platform. In fact, it’s worse than that. As mortal enemies, Apple and Google intentionally try to trip each other up, which makes life difficult for those of us who are tying to build apps.

But a white knight, on a white horse, has appeared on the horizon! Will he save us from almost certain peril?

More on that in my next post.

We Need an App! (whatever THAT is)

It will happen sooner or later. Probably sooner, considering how popular mobile devices are becoming. You, or someone on your staff, will say, “We need an app for our tourist destination!”

It might be that you are motivated by the news:

  • In 2012, more smartphones were sold around the world than computers, according to Gartner and IDC.
  • In 2012, the number of smartphone users worldwide passed one billion for the first time, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.
  • In the United States, 88 percent of smartphone users accessed travel-related information, spending an average of 93 minutes per month on travel apps and websites, according to a study conducted last year by Nielsen for xAd, a location-based advertising network.
  • A study of leisure travelers by Text 100 echoed those findings, with nine out of ten respondents reporting that they traveled with a 3G or Wi-Fi-ready device when on vacation.
  • Mobile travel services will account for some $10 billion in transaction value this year. This figure includes worldwide paid app downloads, mobile-mediated bookings, and advertising revenue.

So yes, I would agree ~ you DO need an app. But what exactly is an “app”?

An App is Not an App is Not an App (Is Not an App)The word “app” appears four times in the above subtitle because there are basically four different types, and plenty of confusion about them all. They are:

  1. Native apps
  2. Web apps
  3. Hybrid apps
  4. Responsively designed web sites (not really an app, but close enough)

In the following posts, I will describe each type of app, give examples, and mention pros and cons. I’m not partial to any one type ~ they each have their own advantages (and disadvantages) for travel applications, which is, by the way, the word from which “app” is derived. But let me start by preparing you for battle, because you are entering into a war zone.

It’s About the Story You Tell

When I was a boy, I visited Jerusalem. Standing outside the Dome of the Rock, a local boy about my age approached me, trying to sell me a guided tour. He promised to tell me all the Dome’s secrets ~ ones hidden from all the other tour guides. As an example of his exclusive knowledge, he had me place my hand inside a crevice in the Dome’s exterior. When I extracted it, it smelled of perfume. I was astonished.

“You see!” the boy exclaimed, “I know the secrets of the holy shrine, and I can show you many more! Just give me five dollars, and the secrets will be yours.”

Alas, I had no money, so his secrets remained hidden from me, but I would have gladly paid if I could have, as I was enchanted. I now realize that the perfume was a cheap parlor trick designed to seperate a fool from his money, but that’s beside the point. The boy had crafted a fanciful story, probably a mix of truth and outright lies, which is the makeup of most good stories. Since that day outside the Dome, I have travelled around the world, and while the technology that makes storytelling possible has changed dramatically, it is the stories themselves that make travel endessly fascinating.

Consider the Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain ~ the location of a UNESCO world heritage site. According to legend (remember that phrase!), the headless body of the Apostle James arrived in a miraculous stone ship, after which his Christian pallbearers did battle with a fierce dragon sent by a cruel pagan Queen. What a great story! More importantly, the story is a principle reason millions of pilgrims visit the Santiago de Compostela every year, and have for centuries, bringing spiritual satisfaction to the visitor and economic vitality to the visited.

As Plato allegedly said, “Those who tell the stories, rule the world.” When building a smartphone tour, it is easy to become enamored with the cool technology and allow it to carry the story. But you must fight that tendency! Do not fall prey to shiny metal fever, or else find yourself in the bad company of those movie producers who expect a weak story to be carried by stunning special effects. Those movies are, as the old saying goes, “sweet in the mouth but bitter in the stomach.” In other words, they have no lasting value. The movies we treasure, the classics, are the ones that tell the best story.

I love mobile technology ~ I have since first learning about it in the late 1990’s as a Global Solutions Manager for IBM. But I recognize that mobile technology evolves at a blistering pace. In this blog I will write plenty about such technology, but I am well aware that before the ink is dry on my posts (a laughable thought since I write on a computer), the technology I write about will be obsolete. So it goes.

What lasts? Your story about your place. So make it a good one.

According to legend.

Those are the magic words. They bring us back to childhood, that time of wonder, when the equally magical phrase “Once upon a time” teleported us from reality to the world of fantasy. “According to legend” has the same effect. It alerts your audience that they are about to hear a good story ~ maybe even a whopper ~ about stone ships and dragons, knights and patriots, villains, castles, and epic battles. And that’s OK. Sure ~ tourists want facts and figures, like knowing Abraham Lincoln’s memorial statue in Washington DC weighs 175 tons ~ a fact I mention in my smartphone tour of the DC memorials. But more importantly, I also mention that Lincoln was “a failure in business and henpecked by his wife.” Why? It’s his story ~ the human interest element that transcends time and technology.

Americans are great storytellers, but I sense we have yet to connect the dots between the stories of our places and economic vitality, that is, our fair share of the $6 Trillion tourism industry. My own city, Richmond, Virginia, is chock full of great stories, many of them untold or under-told. Far too often, to us an old civil war cannonball is just a cannonball. But “according to legend…” Let the magic begin. You are not lieing. You are telling a story, and your audience is smart enough to know the difference. Shine a light on just about anything and tell its story, and you will have a tourist attraction.

Which brings me to my final story in this post. Last year I took my 86 year old mother to Norway. She wanted to see the fjords. Our excellent cruise line, Hurtigruten, took us off-ship for a day trip through some small Norwegian towns, including a town that had one, and only one, tourist attraction ~ a six foot statue of the maiden of the sea. I can still recall how the tour bus leaned to one side as every passenger clamored for a picture of this statue ~ one we Americans would ignore if it were in our town. But the Norwegians, like many Europeans, have a tourist mentality. They know the two secrets of tourism success:
Shine a light on just about anything, sprinkle it with perfume if you must, but tell its story and tell it well.

  1. Make that story easily accessible, through professional tour guides, the web, smartphone tours, printed material, any channel your visitor might want to use.
  2. Then you will be in your way to building a comprehensive and enduring tourist economy

So before we get into the technnical mechanics of building a smartphone tour for your location, let’s agree to keep first things first. When building a modern, technology based tourist infrastructure, it is critically important to keep this perspective: technology will come and go, but a good story will last forever.

Why Investing in Mobile Tourism is a No-Brainer

I live in Richmond, Virginia ~ a mid-sized American city that is the capitol of the state and located about 100 miles south of Washington, DC. It is a lovely city, with cobblestone streets, quaint shopping areas, and  architecture leftover from when it was the Capitol of the Confederacy during America’s Civil War. In fact, the city has such an authentic 19th century look that Steven Spielberg came here to film “Lincoln”, for which Daniel Day-Lewis won the Oscar for best actor. Scenes from “Gone with the Wind” were filmed here because, well, modern Richmond looks more like antebellum Atlanta than modern Atlanta does. In nearly every nook and cranny of Richmond is found something historic and interesting: Thomas Jefferson’s majestic capital building, George Washington’s pioneering canals, and the wooden church where Patrick Henry gave his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. The Edgar Allen Poe museum is here. One would expect Richmond to have a vibrant tourist economy.

But it doesn’t.

As one who has travelled to nearly every corner of the world, both as a tourist and for business, I have perhaps a different perspective on Richmond than do most of its residents. The challenge, which I suspect other mid-sized American cities also have, is at the same time simple and complex. Over the next few weeks, I will post my observations about Richmond’s challenge in the hope that it will help them, and other cities like them, work through these challenges and cultivate a more vibrant tourist economy, for few opportunities are better for job creation and quality of life.

Longwood’s International, a respected tourism research firm based in Toronto, conducted a study of the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) marketing campaigns and found a significant return on investment for tourism marketing and advertising. The study determined that tourism marketing provides an immediate return on investment for the state and that for every $1.00 spent on advertising, $75.00 is spent by travelers and $5.00 is returned in state and local taxes within the same year.

That data alone should make investing in tourism a no-brainer.

Even better news was reported by VTC’s “2011 Economic Impact of Domestic Travel on Virginia and Localities.” In a year when the U.S. economy had slow growth and fears of a double-dip recession, domestic travel expenditures directly generated 207,000 jobs within Virginia in 2011, up 1.6 percent from 2010, making travel and tourism the fifth largest employer among all non-farm industry sectors in Virginia.

That’s really good news.

In addition to the financial benefits, tourism-related businesses contribute to the quality of life for all Virginians because the same attributes that make the state appealing to visitors also make it a better place to live and work. When others appreciate your home, then you tend to appreciate it too, and then everything just goes up from there.

So please stay in touch. You won’t like everything I have to say, but I guarantee I will make you think, and maybe together we can find ways to leverage technology in the creation of a modern, thriving, tourist economy.

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