links for 2007-04-30

April 30, 2007

I’ve been wanting to set up a community song lyric site for a few weeks now, in fact I started it during the Easter break. The site is running off wikidot (a superb wiki farm – modules galore, rss friendly and free to use) and is now in what only can be descriped as a ridiculously early alpha build. It works, but you might not understand what to do. You can register and write some lyrics and tag them, but I really need to write some more help texts. The basics are here and some banter about it is here.

I’m keeping a blog about the project here and the development RSS feed is here.

The idea behind this is that if we all write the songs under an open licence such as Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike, then musicians can use these songs without permission. This means that fans can write songs for their favourite singers and bands. The bands are free to work with the material.

It also means that songs that get published can’t shouldn’t charge for the songwriting, only the performance of the song. Songwriting makes up the highest portion of royalty charges for labels, but if your fan base is writing the songs the sales figures should go up.

So, I thought I’d get the site under your noses, so that you can watch the development from scratch. Yeah, someone might stream ahead and build a better version before I complete the style sheet. I don’t mind. In fact – I’d just like to see this form of economics in place.

Anyone fancy giving me a hand with this, drop me a line, or post something below in the comments section.

I thought I’d post about a system that I’ve been using and evolving, basically, to get some feedback from you lovely readers.

As business requests come thick and fast for online projects I’ve needed to formulate a way to match clients needs with users needs. Too many times I get the request that a client wants x, y and z to appear on their website and had to explain the people using the site (customers and potential customers) are the ones who should be asked what they need from the site. It’s the transferal of image based thinking of the old school marketing minds to the knowledge based economy of the nu wave tinterweb school of communications. (Nod to John Grant.)

It’ll be of value if you look at the Creation Plane too, as the number one rule is putting the user at the centre of the experience, not the project sponsor.

The next step, like any good planner will confess, is that the proposition needs a narrative. Under the terms of interactive media, narratives are non-linear, there for you can use the ‘beginning, middle and end’ scope of a movie. For interactive design, pathways are a better concept than narratives, as we want the user to find their way through the work, using the media as they see fit in order for them to achieve their goal. Remember, folks are coming to your website in their terms, not yours. Consumerscapes and demographics are all very well for editorial tone, but they are friggin’ useless when you have no idea what they want from editorial (The times I’ve ransacked Flickr for visual metaphors stands testament to this point.) And users want to engage; use your media, add to your media, participate in your media. Broadcast media fails here but interactive excels if you get it right.

If the user comes to your website to achieve a goal, and you don’t deliver, don’t expect a return visit. Websites are software, emotional data that must be useful, not just entertaining. Software is for repeatability not a single fleeting exchange.

So, we have, what I call, The 4 Humble Demands (of the Prosumer) . The Buddhists and medically inclined might twitch at this point. The title is ripped from Buddhas teachings: The Four Noble Truths (the eight fold pathways don’t factor here, in fact I think they are a bit of red herring in the teachings, but that’s another story).

The Four Noble Truths are:

1. Identify Suffering
2. Understand the cause of the suffering
3. Identifying the cure to the suffering
4. Applying the cure

Many western medical councils use the same 4 steps in diagnosis, prognosis, cure and treatment.

The Four Humble Demands draws attention to the participation of the audience to the service provider, that is, identifying the physiological stages in a user pathway to achieve their goal – whatever it may be. So, I call the four stages:

1. Inspiration
2. Aspiration
3. Insight
4. Acquisition

Let me explain.

Inspiration

You need to attract the user to your service, and once they have discovered you, how are you making yourself and your message attractive. The user needs to admit, “this is looking like this place can help me.” Which is all very well, but if you are addressing an infinite consumerscape, you need to help them refine their questions/quest so that you can help them achieve their goal. This is where Aspiration comes in.

Aspiration

You need to ask the user what they are looking for. Now, most websites have a navigation system that ‘guides’ the user in the right direction. An information architect will convert business requirements to navigation elements, may they be global, secondary or page local. Which is fine to a point. But what you should be thinking is what functions help the user ask the question. Search is fine, but retrieval is a better way to think about it. If you understand the semantic web, then you’ll understand why tag clouds are so brilliant. Because they get the user to the Insight phase fast. This is ‘editoral as navigation.’

Insight

Now, as much as I love Jaffe point about insight, I use the word to identify the stuff the user is after, that is editorial. This could be interactive, this could be text, images video, code. It’s the stuff they came to your site for. The better, more useful it is (and that includes being able to use it – and that means using an open licence.) If they can use it, they have achieved a goal. If your audience at this point has a lovely warm fuzzy feeling, a sensation of achievement, you’ve set yourself up for the payoff, that is Acquisition.

Acquisition

So your site visitor has got what they came for. It was quick, easy and fulfilling. Congrats to you pal. But before they go and all you have is some site stats of their visit (w00t!) and possibly some free marketing when they use an image of yours (which has been offered under an open licence), I’d guess you’ll either be a little smug (erm, myopic) or underwhelmed because you have’t sold them your best thingy. What you have to achieve is this transaction. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon.

At the very least you need to get the user to work with you in spreading the idea of your service. If they’re ones listening, then they are the ones who will spread the word. Social bookmarking, ‘send 2 a friend’, subscribe to updates. All these functions can be introduced at this point.

Either way – if you have helped them find what they are after, in their terms of engagement, then they are more likely to come back and purchase your ‘wonder product’.

Further, you can make the Acquisition phase become the driving force behind the project’s ecosystem. If your website users are in a mode of co-creation, or at least rating and promoting editorial, this can influence the navigational elements (remember, your editorial is their navigation). Work with your audience, understand their outputs and make them your inputs. Together, your media becomes more relevant to their network.

The Eightfold pathways, if you felt I’m being a little dismissive about Buddha’s elaboration of ‘treatment’ is aligned to functions of Acquisition. The various emotive frameworks of functions dont seem to fit his original manifesto, mainly because of the ‘righteousness’ of the declaration. I think dictating what righteousness is a little overbearing. In principle, yes, ‘be nice’, but I don’t want to be told what is nice and what isn’t. One man’s niceness is another man’s nagging.

So when you’re planning your interactive work, cross reference your content verticals (about us, what we do, who we do it for, why we do it yadda yadda) with these four stages. Then you’ll see where to drop in functions to pages and when not to. You’ll also see the range of functions you need across the site, thus optimising your production schedule.

If you haven’t read TIGS’ Transmedia planning, you might want to after this. The Four Humble Demands is not restrained to online digital communications. If you want to play nicely with the audience, you need them to feel they can take from you.

Happy to elaborate on any of the above, just let me know in the comments section below.

links for 2007-04-29

April 29, 2007

links for 2007-04-28

April 28, 2007

links for 2007-04-27

April 27, 2007

links for 2007-04-26

April 26, 2007

links for 2007-04-25

April 25, 2007

links for 2007-04-24

April 24, 2007

links for 2007-04-23

April 23, 2007

Have you seen/played this?

If you haven’t, beware, it’s massively addictive and you’ll spend 20mins on each game. For a Flash app it’s stunning – goes to show that the game play is everything. More videos here.

I picked up the link of kottke a couple of weeks ago and had to ween myself off it. Evil I say, evil!

But the thing that really stood out was the game publishes the maze maps that you generate, so you can see how the players tried to win (oh – did I mention – winning is futile).

Each of the ‘defense’ weapon is represented by a coloured square, it’s upgrades noted as little orange dots. Simple.

This making of media from playing a game is fantastic. UGC? puh. The sheer volume of these graphics, although useless outside the context of Desktop Tower Defense (DTD), shows the mode of production: it indicates that the game is a machine, churning out more and more media to view. Different media. Beautiful abstractions of trying, achievement and failure. Media to learn from. Media to admire. Media without having to be conscious of making it. Media that has an audience generated from it’s fans. It’s different ot the plethora of video recordings of the game: these are simulations of the experience. The maps are the simulacra, all ready to be enjoyed for what they are.

So this is no different from any real life conflict, after all this is a real time strategy game, and the basis to play is to win. But with DTD, the playing is to see if you can maintain a balance between the incoming creeps and your strategy. From a zero sum strategy, a non-zero result emerges, fruitfully and relentlessly. Smart.

Now, compare to Playstation’s Home.

Constructing your own crib is a start. Yes, all very Second Life without the collaboration. And you’re limited to customisation instead of construction. But the trophy room is more interesting. Not visually. But the concept that the trophys are the output of the games – a kind of simulated garden of achievement. But it’s so ‘clean’. I want to share my fucks ups, learn from my mistakes. Such luxuries are the refinement of failures. Without them, the output of participation is too shallow to be engaging.

As UGC and online video take even more grip on the global marketing departments, and worry about losing control, and worry about selling more units of wares, more attention needs to be given to the ability to profit from the participation of fans. Tools, not content is fundamental to successful engagement. Even if it’s 1% of the audience, the glee of play is addictive to peers. Once you have that form of recommendation, then you unfold the game to include a greater degree of diversity which evolves the media production of the tools.

This is the Google way. Through their deployment of functions the media production swells, with demands more functions, and so the spiral widens. For anyone outside large data acquisition and analysis game, erm, that’s every brand shifting products, the focus must be on participation to develop the core of the business, that is transactions.

Bring marketing into core product development affords opportunities to enhance the diversity of transactions. This is going to bring fear to most brand managers, tracking for qual and quant becomes futile. It’s like looking at the molecules of a Seurat painting.

Of course we are all trying to avoid creating an indifferent audience. Brand ideals is a smart way to avoid this. But making something that makes other things as marketing – this is product development.

Flickr achieved this for Yahoo! Moo achieved this for flickr. But this is a narrowing of opportunities. Moo’s introduction of a card for any event is still reducing the affordances. Each of the cards has to create new media, not just new engagements.

If brand attention is desirable, then building tools that expand the languages of expression which open new transactional models that your competitors can also use, brings your commerce into relevancy. Open licences enable the conduit of relationships whilst allowing scale and growth. Listening to the outputs of inventions and not defining the intent of manufacturing sounds like a freefall approach, but until the audience exploits you, you have nothing in common..

twittin

April 22, 2007

These labeling puns are daft I know. Even more daft is when you spam your linkedin contacts via a twitter invite, which is what I’ve just done. I kind a feel like a twit because it is spam even though it’s an invite to join a conversations. Which is interesting. At what point does spam become a handshake? Getting special offers from a friend via email is one thing, but flagging up a fun service feels like PR. If good ideas spread, are some good ideas just plain stupid, stupid enough to annoy people? What is that blurriness between daft and great?

It’s a tipping point question I know. When a project, product or brand crosses over the line into ubiquity, the chances are it’ll find its buoyancy, its sustainability model, its place in the world. But this equilibrium is also its death. If the function of its success are not designed for evolution, even if it’s an exquisite corpse, equates to a zero sum game. Something that useless comes close to being art.

And here is where the relationship to the individual and the service becomes interesting. The balance between your identity and the service (may this be project, product or brand) is oscillating between a visitor in a non-zero sum play. If a moment exists that the zero sum play materialises, what is it that regenerates a signal to put the service back in play?

In terms of Linkedin – which on the whole is pretty dormant as far as engaging, its a storage of connections. Twitter is a multiplex of signals. As I write this, I can see traffic flowing in from my twitter page. I you’re reading this because of the invite (Hello!) and sorry about the mass mail-out..it really wasn’t an experiment, just idle hands meddling with web services. But it’s lovely that you popped by. I hope to see you twittering! Really – I do.

As we find news ways to share micro portions of emotional engagements, with no central rationale, the loose coupling of fleeting conversations are refining the semantic web, making it stronger, faster and more useful. It’s the bedrock to how media will be produced: upon our relationships, production of content will be come more and more relevant. And if this bedrock crumples, will the relationship based media find it’s own new equilibrium or become the foundation to something we haven’t imagined yet? It’s not a matter of web3.0, but a dynamic media production that lives as the equilibrium between the wire and the breathing domains.

Here’s my twitter page if you want to linkin, so to speak.

Last year I started a project called Datama - using vvvv as a playback device for remixing media on the web. There’s been no time to push on with it, but this morning I rolled up the sleeves and started to remember the vvvvay forward.

Last week I did a few petty hacks on Yahoo!Pipes, creating mashups with twitter, wordie, 43things with youtube, then using Wikidot to render the results. You can see them here: TwitterTube WordieTube 43Tubes. (You might need to refresh the pages a few times as the wikidot page renders faster than Pipes can serve up the feed.)

So now we have Flitter (beta, of course). A mashup between Twitter and Flickr: Using Yahoo!Pipes to aggregate the lastest Twitterings of the public timeline, then it matches up these texts with Flickr image descriptions. This creates an RSS feed which I pull into VVVV running on my local machine, which basically creates a slide show of the resulting matches.

Not the most fascinating animation, but the role of Twitter to edit/select/sequence the images from Flickr is what I’m interested in here. Unlike the inspirational Ad Generator, which is a random matching of image and text, or We Feel Fine, which creates a soup of matches, Flitter aims at creating media that reflects what is happening as close to realtime as possible. Not as an ontology of the present, but towards the significance of relationships within the audiences ‘loose couplings’ . Less the uncanny,more like a live semantic broadcasting.

If you want to use the feed from Pipes – it’s here. If you want the vvvv patch it’s here. (vvvv is Windows only but free to use.) Because there isn’t always perfect matches between Twitter and Flickr (mainly because of Japanese character sets) you get nothing. Bug or feature? Heck – it’s a beta..

Here’s a couple of quick video renders to see the results.

And here’s the vvvv patch if you’re interested. Click to enlarge.

flitter patch for vvvv

links for 2007-04-22

April 22, 2007

links for 2007-04-21

April 21, 2007

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