Designing for sustainability is a huge desire when considering ROI models for a project. As a client solution from an agency, digital media demands a mindset that seeks productions that persist through reuse: in short, digital should always be aggregating value. Digital should never have a half life. Digital is not for campaigns.

We’re living in a time where beta and ‘release early’ is a mantra, waiting for an audience to pick up on your communications is a requisite, and creating a ‘buzz’ about what you do is consider ham-fisted. Digital, being the youngest of offerings from communication agencies, is picking up bad habits from the elder modes of media, namely broadcast formats of print and TV.

It aways make me chuckle/snarl when a new website is marketed with other marketing. This is missing the point of being digital.

I want to discuss how digital is badly treated when consider an ‘execution’. Digital is business interface that needs caressing and attention – because as a medium, it’s going to change the fundamentals of how you maintain a service orient business (products are part of a service – in case you needed reminding).

Polemics of creative productions, driven by a business case (e.g. something has fucked up | market has changed | you’ve got a new invention you want to sell), clash horribly with expectations of virtue. This is true for all commissions, but for digital, the application of code requires fullfillment not appreciation. Working with a broad range of T-shaped creatives at Imagination, many who are very fuzzy, reveals a huge amount of possibilities and closures about how people should work together.

Now, every agency I’ve spoken with, regardless of their forward thinking team dynamics, billing philosophy or Raison d’être, all rely on people roles to coordinate, organise and deliver the client solutions as a job.

Account handlers, Planners, Creative Directors, Human Resources, Traffic, all have a similar practice where ever you go. Media law, recruitment law, pension schemes and personal assistants all rein in the affordance of the individuals freedom to perform. The context of production is the architecture of society not the business model of the agency owner/stakeholders/banker.

As digital storms through the traditional billings of broadcast media (TV, print and performance – well, anything that doesn’t base itself on audience dialogue), the agency’s role is to convert business requirements to something quite fabulous with a hook to sell, promote or defer the competition collapses around the moment when the teams realise that the story of the construct requires huge amount of faith, believability and patience of an audience.

Brand-as-a-narrative has served Market Communications for hundreds of years, today, we see/hear/look at platforms for the facilitation of conversation – the emperors new banter – with only a thread of brand DNA to hide the hook’s modesty.

Building us towards freeconomics, friend following and DRM free productions, is a belief that there is an audience that is intentionally rebelling against the Market Communications from your clients. The slogan “You don’t own your brand, the audience does” has been dragged through the blogosphere to the point where it realises that it’s being pushed by consultants eager to recount stable reads such as Naked Conversations, Cluetrain and Here Comes Everybody as billable insights. We’ve all done it, haven’t we?

Solutions to business problems, by sucking on the business cases, has been the stock process for devising, designing and executing since someone thought about thinking about solutions. Arguably, the mutha of all invention is bare necessities, and I say arguably, because the agency model, networked or a team of 2, will always be at odds with a guarantee of success. That’s why you must embrace failure.

Indexing with ROI for KPIs are all indicators of reasoning within myths. The belief that x will happen is y and z interact, belongs to the clinical abstraction of calculus, a language non-compatible with myth, but as said, within myth. (Planners – take note)

And here lays the problems with any notion of integration – that is – blending the channels of 360 marketing with that of transmedia narratives. The belief that participation is desirable is at odds with commuication being logical. You don’t ever get what you expect – comprismise is latent in every reception, awoken only by distraction. Choice has begun to chew at the hand that invited consumers to be free.

If we look at the success of software, where scalabity, features and transparency have lowered the access points to diverse interpretation of engagement, the learning curve of use has been inversed by the audience who, when confronted with personal affordances of simple applications (think twitter, friendfeed, yahoo pipes), the question mechanic that always appears is “What is this for?” not “When do I need this?”.

And the answer is always defered by the retort, “you get out of it what you put into it.”

I think I’ve written about roles in system design before, UML using the term Actor, to define the types of users within a system, human or not. What we are seeing today is technology being rolled out freely, inducing individual’s performances confiscating demographic averages whilst establishing Social Graphs (plural) upon reputation and attention not perception of desire.

This freedom of role undermines the need for defining what the experience of your client’s communication solution business solutions is. Rolling in branded utility motifs may save you from having to induce accents of need in presentations, but the role that an agency plays in the progressive design of effectiveness becomes reduced to translator of what the client thinks might happen within a market.

Agencies are bookies if they are left to define client requirements without a framework of the social ecosystem that is defined by freedoms of engagement induced by open-use software. An agency that isn’t gambling on an outcome is playing safe to the point that they wont impregnate the audience with seeds of joy.

This is very different to thinking about how an agency has a ‘digital’ division – normally, they would ‘use’ the digital channel to get at the ‘difficult’ consumer – them the ones not watching the TV. Hmmm, brilliant.

Digital is not a channel, it’s the business interface that can be amended, grown, shrunk, adapted, designed to be adaptive and fundamentally, in the possession of the customer. Emotion is the only channel left in the world of 360 planning, digital is the gateway – either via production, distribution or design.

Twitter is wonderful for all kinds of social discourse, but under the hood, the genius is in the API model. Talk though Twitter any way you want – use a phone, a desktop client or the web.

Imagining buy anything you want through any form of transaction you want. Not just trade (“I’ll give you three horses for that cow.”) but trade through proxy – where currency is not of issue, but affordance of you’re gesture is valued because it’s reusable by the vendor.

Stay with me, there’s a money shot here, somewhere.

Compare Google, a wealth of functions backed up with some outlandish brute force technology, with the late ‘n’ great Jackson Pollock, a wealth of gestures with a brutal temper.

The value in discourse between an individual and a system is retrieval: recalling what options have been preferable may induce you to think along the lines of AI, or training a system, but what really is becoming, for an agency model, is stimulation of creativity for a client so that it’s a recursive feedback loop. This is in fact intercourse for reproductive, relational, and recreational needs.

Ok, let me come at this at another angle.

You know when you look at a image, that you find appealing, you can say, “It hangs together”. The aesthetics is being converted to a value only you appreciate. Ignoring all the talk from peers and critics, it’s your experience that underwrites the value of the image.

Converting that to currency, or better, to business, is where an agency can get to grips with media integration and client gratification.

The joy of a fine production, is unfortunately in the ego of the producer. An audience does not give a monkeys moment to the joy of the producer. If you ever read about Da Vinci’s Last Supper, you see that the artist will always have the last laugh at the cost of the commissioner and the audience. (Da Vinci knew the painting would collapse if he used Tempera.)

Agencies need to work for the audience, not the client.

There, I’ve said it.

This is not to be confused with how a TV broadcaster seems to pander to an audiences desire for programmes, in the process, shafting the advertising industry, forcing them in to 30sec spots/branded evenings / programmes or events.

An agency must develop relationship working processes with the non-client business market, by doing so, gratification comes from reflecting the ego of the audience whilst delivering work that is loved, respected and enjoyed – an agency that gives to an audience, receives attention from a client.

Now, this may start sounding like Agencies need to be rock/pop/hip-hop stars ‘n’ bands. It’s intentional. The problem is, bands are volatile (Spinal Tap). Agency’s tend to have a turn over of staff (The Fall). Client’s objectives change with the Chairman’s wife taste in soft furnishings…

But that’s all good. Because the audiences kind of interested in who is messing with the band’s soft furnishings or if there is a pillow fight kicking off somewhere.

Agencies, on the whole, are not public facing entities, they’re private clubs for clients ‘steaked’ out in cool venues in hip cities. Night clubs for the day time, refreshments and air conditioning on tap, possibly some designer furniture to ease the pain of spending money on myth making.

Now, before that thought of your agency becoming Radiohead (and buy – you want that I know), let’s have a think about your band members, who’s on drums, bass, lead, rhythm… woah! STOP.

Radiohead are a buch of guys who can play. Just play. They are T-Shaped and they are fuzzy. One prefers drums, the another bass. But they swap when they can sense an oppotunity to try something – so to invent. (Go back up and see the fuzzy link if you’re confused..)

Hands up who would like to see the Head of Client Services to the banner adverts tomorrow?

Hands up who wants to do the book keeping?

Hmm.. see. Tricky.

Multidisciplinary teams are visioned as agency roles – planner, account, designer, producer yadda yadda.. making these roles fuzzy (a designer who can do 3D, motion and loves paper stock) is one thing, but find me a designer who is willing to do / try / be interested in co-ordinating travel logistics and (actually – I’d book that person), I’ll be impressed. Find me 10 and I’ll set up a specialist agency tomorrow…

My point is, diversity of teams can help integration if there is a keeness to trade time with other roles, not faking it, but genuinely migrate skills and interests so that the organisation is well, more like an organism. It’s a way of learning. Like jamming in a band.

Now, client side employees already work like this, it’s how the business gains a richer understanding of it’s abilities = staff are encouraged to take a path through the company – it’s good way to retain value as an employer. Agency side, account handlers may move to planning, planners may move into design, sometimes. This is all good. But an audience will only see the benifit when the organisation begins to create with them in this manner. If you become diverse, you will become more open. If you don’t then you’ve misunderstood why you’re in a creative environment.

An audience wants to relate to people, not roles (Britney, Madonna, Vanilla Ice, George Bush) – people who demonstrate a love in being a part of something that evolves. Something substainable so that they can invest their time | attention | money into.

Just as you may read Campaign or Advertising Age, the movers and shakers that move from agency to agency – this is you investing time into your industry. You are building an industry out of attention, not work.

Gratification scales too, it’s a system that you can keep adding to; sometimes bit’s fall off, but it scales. Integration is something that requires no attention when it works – the desire for intergration is the warning call of systems failing to scale.

As advertising disintegrates into marketing which is in turn poisoned and/or digested by culture, we will see the job dissatisfaction of producing for what seems like an ungrateful audience evolve into the stasis of performance – a mode of practitioning that works neither from script nor from rehearsal, improv nor applause, but necessity of creation.

Whilst we live through this open-use software induced transition of production, look around at how your colleagues interact with each other, how the communication of daily agency life is centric to, and it really should be this order, else you’re nuts: the work, the client relationships, the team.

We’re facing a transition towards : the audience, the client relationship, the work.

What happened to loving the team? Who said they were keepers? Teams need to wander from shop to shop. The role of agency is to be part of the audience, not part of the client’s team. It’s access to the audience that you will be charging for, not the productions.

So you see, the team, the people around you, need to be polyworkers, not just for their sanity, but for the relationship with the audience to become rich and meaningful.

As client-side has more and more taken over the business of market insight, looking and crunching the numbers, reviewing ‘segmentation’, the role of agency is to perform to these numbers – but in the persuit of client love the agency model has begun to drift away from the audience – and the work in hand.

Does this help the role of ‘commercial’ communications? Does this help bring “Brand and Consumer Together?” Does this help the audience?

The work is relationships with an audience; making stuff for them is just the easy way to do this.

And so on to the punch line.

The business models of supply and demand are influenced by the same mechanisms the agency uses to convey, construct and cash in on.

Digitalness is meddling with the notion that product is the transactional inducer for profit.

Microsoft don’t make product, they assemble code. As does Google, as does Proctor and Gamble as does any corporation, SME and individual. As this becomes more and more loosely coupled, we’ll see the shibboleth materialise as a currency devoid of form. Data is without form. Data is open for connectivity.

We’ve watched the collapse of the publishing businesses with no great surprises other than the likes of Radiohead, Prince, Madonna and those guys teaming up with Bacardi, invent what is for sale. Exposure. Ambient Exposure. Voyeurism. It’s a game of two halves.

Rock stars acting like an agency for brands to connect with consumers.

They’re just doing their thing without the brand sponsor making minute by minute demands. Owning an artist is a frightening business – ask Sony BMG about George Michael – so brand sponsorship is handled, not with radioactive gloves, but an understanding that the messy business of making creativity is best left to those who love their art.

But the product is not important in any of this. Data supporting the business model, more precisely, the ingredients of data, are the valuable assets within this equation.

CRM is a toe curling concept – not that it is about harvesting email addresses (with permission) but that the concept of data is so poor. Of course a marketing department wants to know as much about you as possible, but CRM will always give a poor approximation – no one hands over habitual data without cringing. Even Nectar card holders.

But, ask the audience(s) if they would like free goods in exchange for their social graph data, and the game becomes interesting. At present you see Facebook, crunching your social graph data as you use it’s people management applications – sucking out all the little nuances about you life as it’s defined by context of your ‘friends’. Imagine a manufacturer doing this. Can you imagine a product developer migrating their business from product to data?

Any organisation, with trust, that has the richest data and uses it to create new, disposable, fragile markets will dominate the consumer/producer lifestyle. Choice within choice becomes infinitely possible when audience participation of product (the transaction receipt – not the economic shibboleth) is the conversation.

Digital is about grooming data – sifting, expanding, performing and refining, the relationships between things in abstractions that defy the premise of spoken/written languages. Invention is within the patterns of existing human activity, the market is the catalyst induced by the audiences request for bespoke productions.

It’s an investment in ego. The participants ego. The sponsor must be modest to be loved.

This leaves the (digital) agency in a curious position – are they to be production centric or performers – their attantion spent on creating or extracting value from audience engagement?

When publishing was backed by advertsing, strict controls were placed to prevent distribution of exclusivity. When the publisher model is replaced by a brand, the business of piracy is the finest way to spread the message.

Excitement must be fluid. Mess is Lore.

If anything, it confirms the notion of integration within the agency context as not a skill based concern, but as a audience based concern – how does an agency operate like a ‘new media’ platform?

Look at Mahalo as a model of this. Pure Splogging mind you, but beautifully riding the Google engines.

Look at the Human Genome Project. Every breath you take, we’ll be watching you.

Look at Top Up Travel Cards. It’s a loan system for the city plus you hand over your travel data – for free!

Agency, will be creative for the remit of a sponsor. Agency, will be loved by an audience. Agency, will be staffed by those who insist on the last word on creativity. Agency will be the gratification of disintegration.

Integration is the speed bump of social realism in the transition from producers to artists.

Ask a Rockstar. Or better, just play with them.

Update. Just spotted this article via Digg. [Link to original article]

When “Grand Theft Auto IV” launches April 29, it’s expected to gross a record-breaking $400 million worldwide in its first week. That’s good news for the game biz, but daunting for execs in other sectors of the media industry.

Last summer, “Pirates of the Caribbean 3″ broke all box office records, with a $404 million worldwide haul in its first six days, roughly the same amount expected for “GTA IV.”

Image Credits

Hot Coffee Mod for GrandTheftAuto: San Andreas

http://patrickw.gtagames.nl/

Video of the Mod in action

http://www.gtasanandreas.net/news/single.php?id=1469

Twitter launched Twitter Blocks this week. And it’s sponsored by Motorola. And I think this is great.

twitter-blocks2.jpg

Twitter is a platform of massive potential because it’s unfolding in ways that makes no sense. TwitterVision is a spectacle, but it’s not a daily use. Blocks is the same. But over time both will become morphed, tweaked, revised and invigorated with the contemporary users.

And that’s the power of the platform. Think about the mobile phone – we presume it’s a natural evolution of the landline. It isn’t. It’s a very different media channel. The video phone, or Skype, is the natural evolution of the landline. Mobile is also confused by it’s portability and ability to geo-locate the user. That’s true, but the demand is under whelming. The mobile phone is an interruptive technology with the baggage of the land line culture. It’s a less of a ideal of a phone, more an ‘ideal’ of selling airtime. Then SMS arrived and then the brick came alive.

And this is why Twitter is brilliant. It may have some of the IRC mentality, but the resistance of it’s messaging peers (Pownce and Jaiku) to incorporate their features demonstrates the value is in the affordance that anyone but the crew behind Twitter require. Development at Twitter is about scaling – just like the telecom industry. It’s polar to Apple and the fetishistic iPhone (which is really an ultra portable Mac with a lease to AT&T – which seems to becoming to an end – which Apple don’t need to worry about – in fact it’s in their favour – and they know it.)

There has been some good thinking about how to diversify the affordance of a Tweet. Chris Messina has been trying to the the #channel or #group thinking up and running. I’m not convinced, but there is something in the thinking that the strings of texts we send to Twitter do contain more than we say. It’s the Object Oriented thinking within media (video, audio, images, text) that I’ve been privately obsessing about for the past couple of years. If anything, the tweets need to be compressed more, not littered with signposts.

twitter-blocks1.jpg

So Twitter Blocks. Being able to visualise (and inspire better visualisation) of the fabric of the one liners is something you can only do by being close to the Twitter developers and Motorola have bought their way in. Using one of the best engineering teams to work on the visualisation, Stamen, and pushed out the project within a month. Now that’s shifting code, getting it out there and watch the playing, comments and ad revenue arrive without months of planning, metrics, management or committees.

I’d like to think there is something inherent in Blocks that is of interest to Motorola, if anything, Connecting People seems like a Nokia type of project. Maybe they we’re offered the idea first. But what excites me is brands willing to pay for play – engaging their staff and their thinking with existing platforms that people use. Twitter is open for any commercial operation to play with – and with all the conversations about dialogue you see via marketing blogs, press and conferences, it’s not hard to think that it wont be long before we see Brand Interfacing of Social Media (BISMs). This is not about portals, maybe it’s closer to branded utility, but what it really could mean is funding of social services that civic administrators cant grasp.

This isn’t any great revelation. Think Tesco and Computers for Schools. I think it was Richard Huntington on a podcast with Paul Coleman (Or Russell Davies) that the discussion turned towards, “Tesco’s should sort out the quality of their ready meals before they worried about the local schools IT department”, but with Twitter, the focus of concern hasn’t been shifted by the introduction of brand funded development on top of a public platform.

And should I object that Motorola is profiting from my Tweets? Well, Blocks wont make me switch to Motorola from my current supplier. Nor will I check out any of their phones because of this effort. But what does stick is that they within my vision, they are playing with the same tools as me, and they are not getting in the way – in fact they are helping me see connections in my postings (albeit minor) that I wouldn’t have spotted before. Should I concern myself about ‘permission marketing’? Nope, I went to them, they didn’t knock on my door – BUT, the lead through from Twitter’s pages doesn’t show the sponsor until the reveal – that is the Blocks interface page.

The ROI model is bound to be the click-through to the sponsors website. The advert is managed by DoubleClick, so the metrics are running alongside other client banner placements. These measurables are massive red herrings compared to the fact that the Sponsors name becomes associated to something that frequents my life.

I’ve been asked a lot (I mean A LOT) about the ROI on “Where are the Joneses?” so it’s no wonder that I find Blocks seductive as a commercially sponsored ‘art’ project that’s built on ‘social’ services. I’d like to know who indicated the project (Twitter, Motorola or Stamen) because there is kudos up for grabs, because that’s where the ROI model would be borne from. Who is getting the most attention from Blocks? Probably Stamen, just like BabyCow have from the “Where are the Joneses?” – which is how it should be.

Producers that make the stuff that we enjoy need the kudos’ because without them, the ideas would never leap from the page. And if Brands want the best talent, it’s not just the payola, but the kudos that attracts and retains quality producers.

But, there is something really missing from Blocks and that is the source code. Tom Carden, a developer on the Blocks is a developer with OpenGL and Processing knowledge. Blocks would have been stunning if Processing rather than Flash had been chosen; with the source code released and the data calls exposed, you would have seen a community of hacks build upon this work – richening it and so, taking Twitter into new ideas. If Motorola are sitting on the code for no reason, then that’s a shame…

The Twitter Wiki seems to be low on contribution to spawning out the platform. Chris Messina does nibble away at it, but the focus is on the mashup, not the value added; that is the extention use of the platform or at least the evolution of messaging. Something marketing should be fixated by.

Would the grass root community within the Twitter wiki be outraged if planners, creatives and technologists within agencies and brands started requesting features and interface suggestions? I doubt it. And there’s only one way to find out.

So never stop playing. Never stop learning. And never fear the future.

Further recommended reading:-

Stamen’s Mike Migurski’s notes on Blocks and ‘Uselessness’.

Tom Carden’s responses to the criticisms of Blocks

London, June 16/17 2007
Right, I’m attending with
Bob and Keith, though I’ll be arriving late on Saturday as Interesting2007 is happening during the day. Armed with a laptop and copy of VVVV, I’m looking to do some audio and visual synthesis at Hackday based upon web API calls.


Judging by the size of the venue this is going to messy. Fun, but messy.

It’s a shame these 2 events are overlapping in time. Both are encouraging the media meddling mentality. Interesting2007 is encouraging/challenging the emotions of engagement, whilst Hackday is exploring the techniques of engagement.

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.

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..

It’s not that the world is getting smaller, it’s that we’re coming together in ways that have discouraged in the past.Perhaps discouraged implies that something, politics or economical, has ensured that wide ranging relationships have been difficult to maintain. Geographical and language barriers aside, the reason to connect to many people has never been a personal driver, more a ‘raison d’être’ for brands.

Liberation through nervous anticipation of meeting strangers has been a deep rooted belief of timid creatures; being warily of threats comes from the expectations of our own predatory nature. May this be a hunter gatherer paradigm or just a sensation that comfort is what you know. Regardless, there is a respect to protocol that maintains our ability to decide on how to connect to something we know not of.

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Adliterate kicked of a enticing thread about ‘what is digital’, which made me think how to explain that by digital he means software. Digital is merely slang for what is not mechanical – and nothing digital runs without software.

Software’s own paradigm has been the abstraction of mechanical engineering, based upon contemporary understanding of physics. Gates, timers, connectors and capacitors are all translated to methods and functions described as code.
Protocol is one of the fundamentals in software design; systems need to talk to each other, may they be local or remote. From an engineering perspective, a protocol is an agreed process for construction – it’s liberating because you don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel..

Back to the Adliterate thread, the raging discussion trying to separate out what is so different about digital communications from (mechanical/analogue) communications doesn’t touch upon that difference of connectivity between people within different ranges of space and time. It would seem digital services will ‘get you’ regardless of where you are is the burning reason to embrace the software revolution of communications – which is a classic mistake in application of new technologies to old thinking. An improper use of technology will always be to accelerate existing processes. The correct or fruitful use of technology is to revisit the existing engineering protocols and use the human ability to abstract the processes to create something more relevant to the needs of the operator.

airscrew.jpg Take for example De Vinci ‘Helicopter’ – a vision into how flight could be achieved. Sure he studied the wings of birds and tried to translate this to flying machines to what we recognise as a plane, of sorts. Perhaps what he saw in a sycamore seed and design the helicopter..who knows.

But what’s interesting was the transference of a mechanic and applied it to a use, not simply try to enhance an existing process through the use of technology. This bought forth a method of communication that was about innovation: depicting the ability of man to achieve a position of commandment. De Vinci was designing machines of war to support his interest in the mechanics of life.

This relationship of combat and tool has been a constant driver in innovation for most of mankind’s communication diversity – an instinct to command rather than desire to listen. I call this the recoil relationship – one that gives a an instant kickback through achieving dominance – you have to be ready for it otherwise it will throw you to the ground.
A recoil relationship is perhaps the tipping point for an on going poor relationship – where you have the regular winner in a non-zero sum situation. One side will become tired, eventually and retaliate, and still not ‘win’. Regardless, the kick back from the victors technique becomes addictive.

A notable moment in cross creed communication was the meeting of Europeans and Southern Americans. Confronted by other humans but with no means to communicate, memisis was employed to gain trust and belief that the two nations could benefit each other. The Europeans had more to gain than the native Americans and thus the relentless desire to acquire the nation resulted in a recoil relationship.

Beyond this, the introduction of tobacco and guns into the common language, have bought us a another example of the recoil relationship. Literally, the desire to put as much power into a gun has increased the adrenaline by those who it.
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The AK47 aka the ‘Kalashinkov’ is a stunning piece of design – a synthesis of variety of weapons, designed for combat, open modular design and acts a siren – it’s distinctive ‘ratatattat’ signals that it’s in use. People take cover when they know it’s in use because they know the accuracy sucks. The enemy can retaliate with precision, but the spread of the AK47 means that it normally supports the victor.

It also has a might recoil and although it’s simple design, cheap to manufacture and durability means that it’s the preferred guerrilla weapon, from task forces to terrorists, the product drives up the adrenaline. Amnesty International are more than aware of it’s impact on civilisation, here’s a video they released to raise the concern. And here’s a nice video about the history of the AK47 with a short interview with Dr. Mikhail Kalashinkov.

Designed to used in the sub 300m range, that is – it’s effectiveness by design is not suitable for long range tactics. And this is perhaps the most interesting part of it’s design and it’s illustration of the recoil relationship – the dynamics of the relationship between two parties was the driving force of the AK47.

With tobacco, we have a similar set of dynamics. Smoking a cigarette gives a kick, a hit, a momentary high. It also, like the AK47 has an alleged killing spread of under 300m. Here’s a Quintin Tarrintino vignette from the movie Jackie Brown illustrating recoil relationships,and featuring the AK47. Note Fonda reaches for the cigarette just before the end..

jackiebrown.jpg
To fight the killing done by smoking, The Truth, is an project set up by the anti smoking lobby in the USA. Most anti smoking campaigns have failed – they cant seems to acquire the cool factor that is required to convince smokers that smoking is not ‘cool’. So, the lobby has launch a couple of interesting projects, one is a traditional video spot and the other a clever digital guerrilla tactic..
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They ask that you leave the website running on public machines, to which it them scroll through a series of messages about the dangers of smoking. But this is not a recoil relationship – but here we have a machine rattling off a series of messages without a care who sees them. It’s effective to the sub 300m range. The instigator may smugly enjoy the prank of setting of the propaganda machine, but would it release the adrenaline? It’s in fact the audience who do the recoiling..
By encouraging this hit and run type of marketing, they are tapping into the aforementioned humans desire to communicate with defense – no one likes to hear people bleat on about the fact that smoking kills – I’ll let Hicks have the last word on that…
The other project from The Truth is a the video spot, here it is.

Again it’s an up close conflict between the communicator and an the audience – again the audience experience the recoil effect – as every line in the song delivers a message, they recoil at the delivery of the message – the horror of the digital voice box cowboy.

This transference of the kickback in the recoil relationship is something particular to digital. The impact of shock has been around since the advent of storytelling, but the ability to automate the communication, that is, without human delivery, to enable an audience to recoil is one of the distinct characteristics of being digital.

The power of this is in fact the mass distribution of effect which create a relationship with an audience. There’s no reason why a human cant step into to replace the automation upon reply of the audience, it’s the instigation that digital enables.

colour-blackberry-above.JPGCommunications on the whole is designed by humans, the ability to synthesise the message and transmit requires craft, and until the rules that define who communication works and thus be abstracted, we are likely to be dealing with recoil communications for quite sometime yet, especially if armed with AK47 of PDAs, aka the Blackberry. What we can do is to avoid building in the recoil effect, not just being cautious about not building it into the devices, but trying to design and construct processes that reply upon zero-sum exchanges not non-zero sum.
Because zero-sum exchanges imply that there is nothing to be gained from the exchange, the ‘funness’ of the exchange becomes a focus to the design of the device.

The best example I can think of effective zero-sum exchanges is sharing. Consider all the examples above, and if the purpose of the exchange was to share, not attain, then we might not be seeing all our mechanical concepts being translated into digital and watching the guardians of possession (copyright lawyers) succeed in curtailing the development of culture. The MCPS is a fine example of the mess communications is in.
moo.jpgDigital, by it’s very nature, that is software based productions, is based upon shared knowledge, it’s agreement of shared protocols, and a desire for people to think creatively about non centric distributed communications, namely communities. Communities don’t require recoil, and as we are seeing communities are becoming aggregated over distance because of the Internet. Only once these communities gather in Real Life, does recoil become pervasive in the handshake, the greeting or the after speech applause – it’s less a protocol more a habit.

Communication could be far more satisfying if we didn’t have the need for those emotional kicks to indicate a success. Moo have managed to find a lovely way to deal with this with their flickr-to-business card service. In contrast – here’s the ‘business card scene’ from American Pyscho.

Perhaps this is about asymmetrical communications – where the communicator and the receiver no longer have to be present to enable the communication transaction. Perhaps Information Theory has pushed the desire to ensure that the message gets through too much – considering it ushered in DeCSS (DVD content scrambling for copyright protection), we may need to consider that dialogue does not have to be a coherent message at all. Conveyance of meaning, indication or advice is perhaps best acquired through multiple sources, leaving the receiver to find a way to construct their own sense of relevancy. We are already seeing this through content syndication via RSS. As this format of data becomes more common, innovation in the tools for aggregation may become the design of the communicators of today. The tools are likely to be emotionally driven, allowing fluid transformations of information reception. Messages will then be manipulated and remixed by the audience for their own satisfaction. With all interpretation truly at the decoding of the individual – they will be no desire for recoil by the transmitter. We will be communicating without consideration – communication would be free and actively built upon. Our desires to connect to many people yet treat these relationships as if they were in the sub 300m radius offers the opportunity to participate without defenses. This is to treat communications as an ecosystem, to which Darwin made some arguable statements.

From his Diary of the HMS Beagle’s second voyage, he notes the first encounter with the Fuegians:

They are excellent mimics: as often as we coughed or yawned, or made any odd motion, they immediately imitated us. Some of our party began to squint and look awry; but one of the young Fuegians (whose whole face was painted black, excepting a white band across his eyes) succeeded in making far more hideous grimaces. They could repeat with perfect correctness each word in any sentence we addressed them, and they remembered such words for some time. Yet we Europeans all know how difficult it is to distinguish apart the sounds in a foreign language. p217

He describes also their social economic framework:

The perfect equality among the individuals composing the Fuegian tribes must for a long time retard their civilisation. As we see those animals, whose instinct compels them to live in society and obey a chief, are most capable of improvement, so is it with the races of mankind. Whether we look at it as a cause or a consequence, the more civilised always have the most artificial governments. For instance, the inhabitants of Otaheite, who, when first discovered, were governed by hereditary kings, had arrived at a far higher grade than another branch of the same people, the New Zealanders,—who, although benefited by being compelled to turn their attention to agriculture, were republicans in the most absolute sense. In Tierra del Fuego, until some chief shall arise with power sufficient to secure any acquired advantage, such as the domesticated animals, it seems scarcely possible that the political state of the country can be improved. At present, even a piece of cloth given to one is torn into shreds and distributed; and no one individual becomes richer than another. On the other hand, it is difficult to understand how a chief can arise till there is property of some sort by which he might manifest his superiority and increase his power. p242

hms_beagle_by_conrad_marten.jpg
This simple construct of a community with out ruler gave such freedoms, though catastrophically the Europeans passed on the measles and small pox which killed thousands of the natives.

Michael Taussig covers this in his book Mimesis and Alterity, musing over Darwins dismissal of the Fuegians ability to ‘progress’ without a ruler. Tassug points out that Darwins observations (above) regarding their value of the gift economy – a form of mutual exchange – is something that Marcel Mauss called ‘the spirit of gift’ in his book ‘The Gift‘.
He notes: The object that is given carries the identity of the giver, and hence the recipient receives not only the gift but also the association of that object with the identity of the giver.

Gift-giving is thus a critical mechanism for creating social bonds. Mauss describes three obligations:

  • Giving: the first step in building social relationships.
  • Receiving: accepting the social bond.
  • Reciprocating: demonstrating social integrity.

These terms have been disputed by Derrida and more recently by Laidlaw, who describes Jainism - a creed that live of the gifts of others in search of purity. He also notes Derrida’s views on the gift:-

  • There is no reciprocal giving back of a return gift
  • The recipient does not perceive the gift as a gift or him/herself as a recipient
  • The donor must not consider the gift as a gift
  • The gift does not appear as a gift

But Mauss investigation into Potlatch is perhaps where we come full circle. The English term Pot Luck is said to derived from the term used to describe the ritual ceremony of giving away food etc, as a families demonstration of wealth, though actually it seems it’s from Pot Luck..

But the caparison of wild free distribution, may it be a splew of magazines from a AK47, urban spam or gestures, the kickback is arguably residing in the intent of the action.

Mauss concepts of the Gift have influenced the open source software movement – but then again one must look at the intent of ‘giving’ away something. Open Source projects are now established to distribute development and lower costs – this is not the same as handing over source code because the projects is no longer to your benefit.

The above citations on the examples of giving indicate that the recoil relationship is perhaps implicit in all human actions, our rituals and thus expectations are deeply rooted in the notions of reception. For the communications industry this is a fait accompli, leaving only opportunity to work with. As we transfer more and more social and economic support to software, are we to try and program this desire for reception, or can we redefine the handshake. Already we use SOAP/XML and HTTP requests to maintain connectivity and web2.0 is making sure that these are the protocols to use for data verification requests. These are recoil relationships – established for the purpose of deferred acquisition.

Lets look at the Jian school of thought: Which I’m going to bravely distill to ‘Take not Give’, gives them the opportunity to remove desire from their vocabulary. There abstinence for everything from root vegetables to sex also reduces the scope of what to take, but regardless the focus is not on offering to your peers gifts, but securing a community when express permission is not required. Jains are the core service providers for a community – hospitals, schools etc. The Jain style of architecture reflects the ethos of free expression and open availability.

jain_arch.jpg
Our western perspective makes this seem like theft, but acquisition without desire is not theft – remove the intent of personal gain and you have a system of distribution that is pull, not push. This breaks the supply and demand model and heralds a societal movement of living with what your peers produce who require no kickback.
Without the recoil relationship there is no tension of possession; diversity of production is limited to the imagination of peers who in turn are building their existence upon the production of others. There is no need for gifts. Offerings are symbolic, not a basis for exchange.

If this protocol stands a religious practice, a rules based ideology, then it’s ontology can be the basis to a software process. The absence of recoil affords the practice of acquisition without price – thus an ecology of production free of communication for there is no need to define the offering as it’s in the interest of the acquirer to define the purpose of acquisition.

Jain was also the title of a development by Sun Microsystems – a protocol, or rather, a set of APIs for the telecommunications industry to merge their services with web services. It faded of as the industry opted for the Parley specifications instead when Sun tried to enforce their way of working. Instead Parley offered a more open way to create an open system. The idea behind these initiatives to give service carriers greater flexibility in integrating services that resided on the internet rather than on the telecoms systems – multimedia services for example.

Both systems built upon the Advanced Intellegent Network – the system used by telephone operators to separate out switching equipment from service logic. Unfortunately the Parley system is porting the telecoms engineering concepts to the web services interfaces, which is again an acceleration of the process already deployed by the industry. It utilises the http/soap model, so again it’s a forced gift economy resulting in a recoil relationship espcially as phone devices are so very personal to the user.
skype-logo-100h.gifSkype was an attempt to break these models, based upon the Kazaa architecture, when ‘helping yourself’ was the business model, but the communication interface is now back to permission based communication – just like the classic phone systems. The Kazaa architecture was used purely as a communications framework to reduce use costs. I’ve always felt they missed a trick here for progress – but innovations was never their interest – profit was. The giving of software is the gift economy. Listening to podcasts via your cell/mobile phone is an interesting idea.

What I’ve tried to explore here is some understanding of the ways the service providers of communications are woefully letting down the future markets by adhering to non-zero sum methods of services in an era of digital – where connectivity is expected and convergence is an excuse to apply various presentation layers on top of tired exchange mechanisms.

These abstractions as architecture are defined as SOA (Service Oriented Architecture)/ESB (Enterprise Service Bus) – basically brokering systems. What is required is a interface to basic services that the user can construct their own service architecture – every user having their own bespoke service they can control. Billing for such can be as creative as you want – brand support means relationships can be built faster and synchronicity with the audience is maintained. Here the user takes, the service provider goes not ‘gift’, and the game is zero-sum – both parties benefit. No recoil relationship.

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Working digitally doesn’t require that tangible kickback you find in the physical world – software is executing actions conceptually, not physically. The crossover between the realm of software and the real world is where the interesting stuff happens – it’s largely unexplored. This is where the licence schemes fit in: Creative Commons and the GPL. Both systems indicate that Attribution is fundamental; it’s the last thread of connectivity between the conceptual and the tangible. What I’ve been thinking through is the removal of attribution all together as it is the basis of a recoil communications – the guaranteed kickback..

We have to ask ourselves, as producers, what is more important: the ability to create freely or the fame and the glory of our reworkings of the past: we are always going to be making stuff based upon the past. If you think back to the Jain religion – all their attribution is focused on their founder, not a mystical god. This is the same premise as Pop Idol – contestants build their skills based upon classic pop songs – use the myth of the past – and organically create their identity with the assistance of the panel of ‘monks’.

The exception is the young idols want their fame – their kickback.

This is a bold statement, that attribution is actually causing problems with ongoing production – on the whole the creative industries are still struggling with sharing. Until digital became accessible, our mechanical concepts of communication suited the recoil relationship: most media only really needs to be effective within 300 metres. To be effective with digital, the rethinking has to start with the abstraction of production, and attribution makes no sense when you’re trying to connect to everyone. To achieve the broadest and deepest connectivity,the think must change from:-

“Have some of that!” to “Take some of this…”

Neither frameworks of the Fuegians or the Jains are a desirable proposition to a modern day audience, yet their freedom to follow an idol is key to appending some form of attribution. Instead of dictating that the rules of engagement, make them attractive so that they show their appreciation in the their activities.

Once you have enabled the audience to distill meaning for themselves, the communicators role is to assist them in making the most of that meaning.

Digital is this chance to rework culture, building upon human abstraction, not mechanical idealisations.

 

Notes.
Without irony, I’ve lost the links to some of the images in this post. If you spot them as your’s – please let me know and you can have a link though to source.

 

spindrum.gifA few years ago I was mangaing a Nesta Project called Muzantiks. During this time I booked a developer who was just out of his MA course at Middlesex, the unfortunately name DIM (Design for Interactive Multimedia). Thor had been working with Enrike developing interactive musical instruments and were about to go their own ways back to their native countries. I suggested they formed themselves as a artists group and carry on with the projects- and so ixi-software was born.

Since then they lectured, toured, performed around the world, demonstrating the possibilities of screen based interaction for music.

Originally, the applications were sampled based tools;’ now they produce interfaces for high powered Open Source audio engines such as MAXMSP, PureData and Supercollider, so incorporating a vast array of synthesis and sampling. The interfaces they design and produce are perhaps best described as non linear composition tools (as seen here with SpinDrum), lending themselves to live performances more than studio based tools. The genius of them, aside from the design of the GUI’s that step away from traditional modes of address when producing music, is that their applications are loosely coupled with the audio engine through a protocol called OSC. Open Sound Control is a way to transfer information, rather much like MIDI, but with the ability to transmit abstracts not literal information. Less about telling a system to play D#, rather play harmonies around D#…

Thor has been talking a lot about affordance recently; Affordance is how something is identified as useful in a certain situation, sometimes outside the expected or designed use of the object. He’s now released a paper as part of his Phd and is a fantastic accumulation of thinking and doing in the realm of interactive media. The paper, titled Affordances and Constraints in Screen-Based Musical Instruments, is available here. Here’s a quick insight on the nature of the paper:-

“As opposed to acoustic instruments, the screen-based digital instruments are not of physical material so all mappings from a GUI element to the sound can be arbitrarily designed. This arbitrariness is even more apparent as there is hardly a tradition for creating such instruments. The metaphors we use in ixi software are new in a musical context and deliberately have no musical reference. (such as depicting keyboards, strings, notes, etc) The decision to exclude metaphors from the world of music comes from the aim to get away from the cultural constraints that are connected to the historical instruments or their parts.”

Faris from Naked Communications has also been talking about Affordance his blog - in relationship to marketing consumer propositions.

I think there is something very potent here that has yet to be factored into the communications industry. Messages are usual so refined so that there is no ambiguity and thus very little affordance. Imagine producing messages that allow a vast array of communications thus extending the value of the work. Brands, when polyphonic, allow such affordance.

Video is the hot subject of internet commerce, yet still it’s a linear model of communications. The use of tagging does open up it’s use and ability to shift context and this model is exemplified in the Chris Andersons book: The LongTail.

As media producers comprehend there is no singular destination for their work: the pda, the laptop, the television, the ipod are all nodes in the communication framework – and so by making not only the portability of the communication part of the production affordance, but also the meaning of the communication to be as affording as possible too.

One way the media industries are looking to expand the affordance of their productions and that is to extract meaning from video streams. This is a buggy workaround to a problem that is best solved through design of the media and not through trying to hack media objects to acquire their affordance. Here’s a short video interview with Suranga Chandratillake of Blinkx. Blinkx as he says in the video was set up to solve the in video search problem, and interestingly he acknowledge this is not a technical solution, but a creative one.

Context advertising thrives on the ‘refindability’ of media – thus the value of the media is squared to the retrieval-ness. If the retrieval-ness was actually driven by downstream usability, that is, the ability to incorporate the communication with other media to expand the value of both communications, the audiences ability to construct relevant narratives latches their desire to engage in dialogue with the publisher.

This is affordance via licence – if media objects have an open licencing or reuse, the value of the message persists.

This brings the attention back to the HCI; the way the audience interacts with media objects such as audio and video. Much of the success of the relentless bombardment of web2.0 applications is based around doing something very simply which in turn give buckets of affordance when you mix these services. I’m referring to web API’s, where by the extraction of data from various sources can be ‘mixed’ to produce new meaning and use of the various data sources. Dapper and SalesForce are examples at either end of the enterprise spectrum. Here’s a trilogy of video clips featuring Jeff Hunter of Electronic Arts talking about their use of SalesForce’s services. Considering, it’s been said to me, that Electronic Arts put the EA in sweatshop (ahem), this is one company that a) understands interactive media b) expects a lot of affordance from the user experience. c) understands talent affords the company it’s ability to develop better products.

[Part 2] [Part 3]

In terms of the use within the communications businesses, lets turn the model around; think less about what you want to say, but what you dont want to say. This is about building in restrictions of the use of the media – some form of protection about who the media cant be missused, missuntersood. This is aligned to the thinking about the role of Digital Rights Management (DRM). This annoys the heck out of most people who want portablity and freedom to use media.

ipod-strip_resize-copy.jpgSo, how do the web2.0 services deal with this affordance. Well, there is the XML-RPC protocol. This enables one service to access meaning from another service without accessing private data. It’s a gateway, not an open door. Rob has done a lovely little write up on this recently.

Consider iTunes|iPod combo – it’s a gateway to the Longtail of music, but it’s not the source of expression as their campaigns may lead you to believe. The itunes|ipod service, indeed the Apple business model is to attach you to their gateway, not for you to be a value added network to their network. By all means promote their services (the ubiqitous white headphones being key), but don’t interfere with the source of expression, namely, sharing their clients copyrighted material. Remain an individual and rock on…
[iPod — Silhouette (Love Train theme by Wolfmother)]

As we see with SalesForce, the concept of the mashable web is about to saturate the enterprise media platforms, under the heading of Service-Oriented Business Applications (SOBAs). Jason Bloomberg, who was to present at this, describes the role of the enterprise mashup as:-

“For a mashup to be an enterprise mashup in that it addresses a particular business problem, tight coupling between provider and consumer software would be a serious concern. Most of today’s mashups, however, care little about loose coupling. Mashups that meet business needs, therefore, will require SOA, and the SOA infrastructure necessary to guarantee loose coupling. Without that loose coupling, mashups are little more than toys from the enterprise perspective. “

So lets think about Service Oriented Media Applications – software solutions that generate media propositions, that afford the user experience to be expressive. If you’re thinking this is User Generated Content, then you’re not imagining hard enough. A SOMA should inherently have a licence to create, and any such creations should be reused, reworked and help other users to experiment and be expressive. A brand that develops SOMA’s, becomes the ‘source of expression’, not the framework of expression – and if you manage the source of a SOMA, you’ll have a loyal user base which starts a whole range of traceable dialogues. These dialogues are markets and the brand becomes a maker of instruments not melodies.
Affordance implies a freedom to experiment, to find expression where none was expected. Where services and communication defer the audience to participate in expression, we can expect to lose their attention – and that’s something you cant afford.

Designed to be made

August 29, 2006


The previous post about Chumby reminded me about 2 other Human Interface controllers that have never broken through to the mainstream. First, Lemur, (shown here on the right) which is a multi-touch screen with customisable interface design. The other is monome (below), which is ‘a reconfigurable grid of sixty-four backlit buttons’.

Both devices are aimed at the music and visual performance sector, though there is no reason why their application is not more wide spread. The price points are high for the casual purchaser, but the opportunities for media interaction are incredibly diverse. These are devices designed to be reinvented by the user.

The unholy trinity of mouse, keyboard and screen are modes of interaction that have been ushered into the mainstream use of communications, using office mechanics (namely, Word processing) to engage home audiences to participate in media collaboration and co-production, mainly around Text (blogs), Video (Vlogs) and Audio (Podcasting).

http://monome.org/ As data is made more and more available, the ability to use data will rise, and the way the audience will make use of data has yet to be realised. Already, through the use of RSS, we are seeing Mashup web projects, numerous web2.o concepts that make good use of available commercial and public domain data. Yet, these services, which are now being to look like each other (how many individual Google Map projects need branding?).

Data is there to be used as the life blood to systems, systems that make our lives more ‘enjoyable’.

For example, have a look at the Lego alarm clock (below right) by Greg Mccarroll. Greg is genius. Built from code, data and lego, his alarm clock knows when his train will be late, adjust the alarm time acordinly so that he doesn’t hang around the railway station in the cold, and emails his boss if the train is really late – leaving him to sleep on, if required. Full details (and it’s a brilliant read, like the rest of his blog) here.

Ideo have had a fair run at inventing gadgets over the past 20 years, many have failed due to pursuing proprietary code lock-outs/lock-ins. Apple succeed with the Ipod because they know how to sell ‘lifestyle’. The Ipod/iTunes offering is closed off and thus doesn’t offer possibilities for the audience to integrate their (iTune) music collection with the rest of their lifestyle – it just acts like a 70′s disco chest medallion. Even with the newly announced Sony Mylo these ‘mistakes’ are still being played out.

What is required is flexible hardware to work with the flexibility of software and the reuse value of code. Manufactures who offer this will begin to have a larger influence over the communication and network industries because the sum effort of the ‘audience as community’ is the driver for the telcom and information sectors. This raises the question about the current relationship that the manufacturing industries has with the audience. Perhaps the over reliance of User Focus Groups (run traditionally by marketing departments) is the problem. If focus groups do bring value to ‘product design’, where is it? A focus group will not see/think of the other possibilities for an invention, they are there to provide feedback on the quality of the object in front of them. Why not have the audience involved with product development instead of concept testing? Why cant marketing be the facilitators of a value-adding process BEFORE the release of a product?

Design, at it’s best, is evolutionary, and if that factor is not embodied into the product – as a feature – then you should expect a product to face extinction.

Photosynth

August 11, 2006


Microsoft is hoping to provide software called Photosynth to generate a 3D environment created by a community of photographers.

The technology provided by SeaDragon does look amazing – and the demonstration video is worth a watch to just to see what the possibilities this application can deliver.

For a more detailed explaination on how (again as a video) Photosynth works is here.

The obvious link with mobile, and surprising considering this is a Microsoft showcase, seeing Wikipedia referenced. The brochure says:

Photosynth begins by processing an image and creating a point cloud that gives the image a unique identifier, a DNA-like profile that describes the features that have been recognized in the image.

Once you have this ‘Image DNA’ things can get really interesting: Photosynth could show you other photos that have similar features to the one you ’re currently viewing.

Annotations, tags, or even URLs could one day be applied to an image and transferred to similar images.

Photosynth could connect your photographs into a seamless web of images and information, allowing you to browse a virtual universe of interconnected scenes that constantly evolves and changes over time.

Pure indexing fodder! So will this create new spaces; inter-personal, shared or defined by the software?

Due: Soon..

Here’s a RSS feed for Brand Vs. Brand to keep track of the most recently added brands.

Nings API services are insanely vast, but they need to make it supa-simple for anyone to add functionality. I’m talking drag and drop, not code-hacking. Once consumers, erm, ‘prosumers’ have the ability to produce web services as simply as programming their TIVO, we’ll see interaction playing a base role in peoples lives, not an extension to the way we live now.

I sense this is the future Ning.com want to service – and they’ve been nudged by the ever-critical over-sponsored Mike Arlington (TechCrunch) in the past about this. How they achieve this will be through stunning User Interface design. Too much emphasis is placed on the current User Experience (UX) and how AJAX can deliver real-time interaction and response. They really need a hefty paradigm shift…

Native Instruments, the audio software development house, have spent the past decade exploring this exact issue. Music production has always involved many interfaces: the guitar, the mixing desk, recording devices and translating these to the digital platforms has been a troublesome process. Recently, they delivered Kore to enable the variety of devices they offer to be used through a uniform user interface whilst maintaining integration with the host software systems such as Steinberg’s Cubase and Apple’s Logic. The effort and pride of their interface design is evident in their (over the top) promo vids:-

Cubase video
Logic video

If I get more time this week – I’ll build an RSS feed to keep track of the most favourite brands. You know you want it.

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