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Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

Eye-controlled tablets and tools for clouds

“A successful aggregation strategy must rely on editorial curation rather than algorithm alone. And it should dutifully credit those from whom an idea originated.”

Native advertising

Every content producer hopes to publish a story that has a killer headline and is produced so well that that a consumer can’t help but to engage with it and share it with others. In the second half of 2012, some publishers began publishing exceptional — though sponsored — content. It was a seamless experience and every bit as good as what consumers might find elsewhere on that same website, though it was clearly written for or produced by a paid advertiser. See BuzzFeed, Gawker, and Forbes BrandVoice. To be sure, a successful strategy requires a dedicated in-house team to write copy and package content that reflects the same voice, ethos, and design as the site.

Aggregation (again)

In 2013, many organizations will focus on aggregation to produce more content for their channels with fewer staff resources. NewsCred, Percolate, and Magnify are just a few of the existing startups promising to provide rich content for websites, while dozens more are launching Q1/Q2. A successful aggregation strategy must rely on editorial curation rather than algorithm alone. And it should dutifully credit those from whom an idea originated. I recommend reading The Curator’s Code for insights on how best to credit aggregated content.


During the 2012 campaign and election, some verification initiatives, such as MIT’s SuperPACApp, showed how critical information could be revealed in real time. With a proliferation of social networks, new websites, and a faster-than-ever news cycle, consumers are having difficulty discerning which stories can be trusted. At the same time, they are motivated to look for credible information and to learn more about the sources behind the content they consume.

Eye controls

From iris scans to eye-tracking cameras, 2013 will be the year of the eyeball. New startups already have prototypes that can identify us by simply scanning our eyes. Some police jurisdictions in the U.S. have already deployed similar technology, while other companies are creating personal security systems (software that unlocks a mobile phone only after positive authentication via an iris scan). Researchers in Copenhagen have developed an eye-controlled tablet for anyone to use. After passing an infrared light to the user, a smartphone or tablet’s camera can be operated by moving the eye. This system promises to help those with disabilities. It will also aid night owls read silently next to their sleeping partners.

Gesture-based computing

Many people spend countless hours browsing for recipes online. Once they send a recipe to their tablet or smartphone and they’re in the kitchen cooking, home chefs face a universal problem: How can they scroll through the instructions without dirtying the screen? A few companies launched innovative fixes in the past year, from a single large button intended for the elbow to a modified screen with all of the information in one place. Next year, we should see the integration of gesture-based computing, offering consumers the option to wave their hand over a phone or tablet’s camera to advance to additional screens. We’ve already seen great success with gesture-based games in the Microsoft Kinect and PS3.

E Ink

I think that one of the most exciting devices launched in 2012 was Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite, which offers an E Ink display that works regardless of direct light. E Ink, which is actually the name of a proprietary product rather than the technology itself (think “Kleenex” vs. “tissue”), is powering numerous devices, from ereaders to watches to retail displays. Early in 2013, smart credit cards that can display real-time account information will launch in Asia, while a startup called PopSLATE will begin offering a second E Ink screen that can be attached to the back of a smartphone to double the display capacity. There’s even a concept baseball glove that shows the speed of a fastball and sends pitch signals to the catcher in total secrecy.

Hidden wearable technology

In 2012, cellular companies turned us each into invisible hotspots. Next year, many startups will do what previously seemed impossible: transform us each into walking, charging batteries. Early in 2013, the Everpurse will begin shipping its line of battery-powered handbags which include a charging station hidden in a secret compartment. Power Felt, another startup, offers a thermoelectric layer that transforms our body’s natural heat into enough energy to power a mobile phone. Simply slide your modified phone into your pocket and prevent battery depletion. Speaking of pockets: The new Fitbit One is so tiny it easily gets lost in pockets. But it offers big personal data possibilities. This device tracks steps and stairs climbed, vibrates to remind the wearer to get up and walk and synchs wirelessly across phones and computers. There are a number of affordable personal sensors coming to the market that will track energy burned, quality of sleep, and even posture. Information can be saved to a private web page or shared with the outside world for additional motivation.

Personal clouds

We are storing more and more information in personal clouds. Between Dropbox, Google, and Evernote, we can easily conduct business, share photos, and maintain our personal calendars without having to own a computer. While we rely more on personal clouds, it will be increasingly important to maintain clean, searchable data and to protect our accounts. In 2013, there will be a new crop of search tools helping us to search through our own cloud-based information. We’ll also see different options to safeguard our sensitive files from unwanted eyes — and to ensure that content isn’t accidentally deleted or corrupted. Demand for both search and protection will increase throughout the year.

Amy Webb is CEO of digital strategy agency Webbmedia Group and cofounder of Spark Camp. Her new book, Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating To Meet My Mate, will be out in January.