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By Peter Springett | @PeterSpringett

Today’s content strategy blog post is a tale of two new cameras. First of all, Google Clips, a tiny ‘always on’ device that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to take photos automatically throughout the day, serving up the best images to your mobile device.

In the opposite corner, the Nikon D850, a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) that sets a new standard for professional cameras.

Let’s get price out of the way first. Google’s latest will retail for $250, while the Nikon will set you back $3,300 (body only). It’s pretty clear which audiences the devices are targeting. Tech-savvy consumers on the one hand (Google says that Clips is especially aimed at parents and pet owners); and professional photographers from weddings, to wildlife, to sports on the other.

A lesson about the future of content strategy

But the two devices teach us plenty about the future of content. That is the divide that is opening up between automated, ai driven content and highly bespoke articles, images and movies on the other side of the chasm.

Take a look at Clips in more detail. It uses machine-learning to understand its environment including facial recognition to identify popular family members, friends and pets. The more often it is used, the more it focuses on the important people (and pooches) in your life. Synched to your phone, it sends what it thinks are the best short clips of video, which you then use to create gifs, loops or stills.

This is a new kind of camera. One that eliminates the need for a photographer altogether, and which delivers results in a matter of seconds. You don’t even need a ‘quickstart’ guide. The device teaches itself, delivering better results the more you use it.

The Nikon is another story. You will need thousands of hours of training and work experience to get great results from a machine this sophisticated. The assignment itself might take a day for a wedding, to several days for a wildlife shoot. And that’s even before you go into editing mode, although you’ll probably have assistants in the studio sorting and optimizing the best captures.

Automation and experience: A fast growing divide

Between them, both cameras pull the future of content strategy into sharp focus. Software can already generate, automatically, simple news stories. Typically data-based shorts for the financial or sports pages. This is more about automation than machine learning, but it’s a model which is starting to scale. Google’s Digital News Initiative will start publishing 30,000 stories a month in 2018, although humans will still be required to create story templates based on crime, health and employment.

Following our camera analogy, the DSLR end of the writing scale is the so-called ‘long-read’. This is typically 1500+ words, written by an expert and drawing on years of experience. Again, like DSLR photography, editing is an important part of the process. This 5,000-word feature on AI, published by Harvard Business Review, was worked on by three editors before publication.

My own take on this is that the divide will get even greater, even as AI catches up. That is, demand for long-reads, and high-quality photo-journalism will expand. Look at the way that book publishers responded to the e-reader revolution by designing more expensive, but highly enticing print formats. What’s more long articles are still popular, counter-intuitive as it might seem in our time-poor digital era.

But back to Google and Nikon. I can see the attraction of an AI camera. Not least because Google has stressed the privacy angle. There’s no microphone and the device can only synch to an authorized smartphone. But I think it’s still too expensive for mass consumption, even though the technology will get wrapped up in the next generation of smart devices. As for the Nikon, it’s for the pros. The rest of us can but dream. My Nikon D90 is still turning out lovely photos, eight years since I bought it, so the $3,000 camera will have to wait. See you on E-bay in a few years time, I reckon. 

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