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October 31, 2006

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October 23, 2006

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 1] [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.

links for 2006-10-21

October 21, 2006

Paying for your media may seem like a very non-new-media past time but payment is not always a cash transaction. The financial gain of online ‘content’ has previously been through the exchange of time, namely eyeballs-for-adverts. Social network based sites have begun to transform this tit-for-tat hindrance for something far more subtle – that is tracing, your social habits in exchange for access and conversation with your peers.

ICQ, MSN and the beloved AIM systems have always enabled this (with or without advertising) – but the inherent value of your profile page is being aggregated as indexing fodder. Google and Yahoo! love these pages – they can identify the meaning of social groupings which have a rich value to advertisers needs. Think of them as meta-earsdropping dressed as liminal questionnaires.

With free to access video luring the traffic to online communities – the concept of user payment is going to become far more of a social identity concern than credit card fraud. Who you talk to, listen to and comment upon are going to start stacking up your social baggage if your communications are through a hosted service or public ISP.

Since Scoble and Israel’s Naked Conversations, the media industry has been under inspection by investor and consumers alike. The social expose of the ‘Blogosphere’ has lead not to a richer media environment but a climate of peer relevancy and verification, rather, “You are who you know.”

As the content and media publishers continue to discuss with their lawyers on ways to control the flow of media-as-datadesignall.jpg whilst grabbing the hands of their audience through social networks to form a walled garden is the failure to notice that this audience are actually the scaffolding to their core services to advertisers – a support they desperately need whilst publishers convert from the commissioning model to scafolding their own professional and prosumer audiences media requirements. These requirements will be bared by the revealing of users passions and dislikes cross referenced with thier consumption and production of data. Fundamentally – this is your identity as it’s communicated as data. It is not the identity that we (narcissistically) present. Equally as they maintain a grasp on your profile page, you should consider your identity sold. MySpace offers no way to export or delete the data attached to your profile. Neither does many, ahem, ‘social’ networking systems.

The Hero Samy is a great example of how this can be faked. By code. By anyone.

Dick Hardt make a fantastic presentation at Etech earlier this year. His video presentation (now on youtube, see below) begins to explore the verification of webservices of a users identity thus avoiding a lock-in with any one ‘authorised’ identifier, such as bank.

Back to Scroble, who bitch slaps the Linkedin recently – just as they announce their Service Provider Reccomendation system. I’m a fan of Linkedin as it’s a simple centralised way to keep track of people you meet during ‘work’. It’s a network purely for business contacts. Yes – it has it short failings – there are no APIs, I cant get my contacts and the relationships out of the system easily and migrate them to another system. This mapping data is Linkedin’s property – they borrow your identity to satify the service they offer to users. This short-falling has been picked up by Marc Cantor with People Aggregator, but waiting for a mass migration of users to an Open Social Network is massively optimistic. pete-and-jordan.jpgOpenness as an incentive in it’s own right is not enough. Users need ‘value conversation’ for their time. And this has been served by text, image and video services from Media Owners and publishers since 1996. But the freedom to re-purpose ‘datamedia’, to revision the permutations of the ideas of communities is framed by notions that originality persists. This vanity forces mockery and legal entanglements for no other purpose than to feed litigation proceedings. But as with Peter Andres and Katie Prices latest media offering, even pastiche as authentic media has may have merits. [mp3] [video]
This need not be the most obvious proposition to deliver to niche groups/communities. Take for example Spencer Tunick’s art works (see above). Why do many many people strip off, lay down and participate in his photographs?

Because they want to. Because they want to be involved with a phenomenon. Because they understand that rare oppotunities in life that afford a personal meaning to their time. It’s something personal and public they can discuss and share. It’s something that just increased their personal value.thou-shall-not.jpg

But identity, arguably a social construct not a personal one, is a narrative. Culture is the by-product of the lives that interweave the construct of communities. The narratives are not always intentional, yet the are fabricated by human distraction. When simulated, narratives pertain to a myth construct, yet much of our bearings within culture are devised by stories that are evolved from one generation to another. StoryTron is a software system that is being prepared for launch shortly – it’s a system for generating interactive narratives. Pending the success of this system, we could be seeing ‘natural’ and ‘synthetic’ narrative structures entering into out social network structures. For individuals, the ability to interweave personal and synthetic narratives, rather much like the duality of participants of Second Life, opens up virtues of liminal expereinces – the ability to coexist within several communities simultaneously whether conscious of this or not.
The impact this has on the media publishing industry is worth a wry smile. How do you trace these lives and narratives for conversion into media for tradable time? How do you convey a complexity of an individuals identity when parts of their fictional, virtual or augmented lives collapse without concern? How is value to be applied to unqualifiable, flux narratives?

The audience has for as long as recording has been possible lent their lives to publishers so that others can share in their 15-mins.jpgtime. Now, we seen this loan being called in with the rise User Generated Media, the fall of Copyright respect and the rise homogeneous formatted based production such as ‘WifeSwap‘ and ‘Get me out of here, I’m a ..‘. It’s as if the heart has been removed from the production community; content is merely the blood that flows through a man made aorta.

The implications point to the audience getting their ‘pound of flesh’ from the services that offered conversion of their narrative to media. An API for my identity to be translated to a dataset for tradable time. An individuals story in formats that are devised by the audience of 1. Blogging demonstrated this, but it’s not everyones bag. How do monitize everyones narrative? And when you have, where is the rarity? Is it in anonyminity?

This is a far cry from pound of flesh the publishing industry is trying to acquire through the expected income through copyrighted material.

For the past 20 years we have seen the tabloid media relish in constructing individuals identities, if only to seize the power to control and destroy that persona for ratings. This junk bond media documented by Piers Morgan in the TV show ‘The Importance of Being Famous‘ details the thrill in being able to manifest identity for the sake of the readers lust for thebank1.gif least objectionable fish’n’chip wrapping.

Fabrication of narratives has always been a social requirement for peer acceptance; taxation of these through niche skills/techniques such as ‘Editorial’ is resulting in rejection of singular publishing authorities. An audiences choice of ‘info-tainment’ is about to get a lot more complex to manufacture as sources and syndicators realise that they are part of the consumers mix. Roll in the prosumer model and publishing is faced with having to be a high street bank – where users can deposit and retrieve their media contributions. Consider the identity mortgage schemes…if you want to reinvent, add a new dimension to your narrative, the Banka de Disney will be more than happy to lease you narrative constructs. And if you don’t keep up your narratives payments, well you could always try and remortgage your morals rights..

Ok – this is an exaggeration, but the role of the media publishing industries, if they are to see longevity, will have to maneuver to community development via individuals – and this means enabling them to achieve what they cant do alone. And achievement is all about having a good yarn to spin. With enough inertia behind your tales, you could always consider the personality bond market.
pacino.jpgSo, how can publishing remain a result of fabrication when the participation of social networks are in themselves creating the media that produces the myths, morals and fortitude that entertain and educate?

It seems like the deal of consumption is not being replaced with participation – traditional rights holders in media do not want to relinquished the easy financial interest of the audiences time. As with Shylock, their faith has to change. An audience will maintain the respect for the media if the bond is one of use, not values. A communities value system is not a tradable commodity – it is the reason why the community exists.

links for 2006-10-20

October 20, 2006

October 20, 2006

Sony released the second video for their range of LCD televisions this week. The first (Balls), and infamous, is a stunning, gawp inducing piece of media. A cunning shroud of disbelief holds the viewer in front of the screen, enough to think twice about the colour quality of their addiction plane.

Today brought the second installment (Paint) of a demonstration of a colour fest. Much anticipated, perhaps too much.

Here’s a couple of frames from both productions.


The clown in the second is obviously noticeable. The dude in the first less so.

Why are they there? Neither pieces are particularly figurative, neither really engage community considering they are both shot within community settlings. Neither really place the value of a new telebox as a social desire. To acquire a new screen for better resolution and color quality plays to a personal greed channel. ‘Paint’ features a young lad and women too. All figures in the adverts are avoiding the color burst that’s happening around them…

None of the personas of the target audience, none of them seem like characters of greed.

bravia_clown_face-copy.jpgEditor, Paul Watts explains in the ‘behind the scenes movie‘ that the clown in the Paint advert was used to get up the crescendo of the paint explosions. Balls never needed a crescendo..

But both Paint and Balls are classic examples of spectacle.

Guy Debords text ‘Society of the Spectacle’ covers notions of state control through the use of consumerism. From this translation [link], the following quote seems to set these productions in an uncomfortable setting; noting the role of the television set on the whole, as a uni-direction message system.

“The concentrated spectacle is primarily associated with bureaucratic capitalism, though it may also be imported as a technique for reinforcing state power in more backward mixed economies or even adopted by advanced capitalism during certain moments of crisis. Bureaucratic property is itself concentrated, in that the individual bureaucrat takes part in the ownership of the entire economy only through his membership in the community of bureaucrats. And since commodity production is less developed under bureaucratic capitalism, it too takes on a concentrated form: the commodity the bureaucracy appropriates is the total social labor, and what it sells back to the society is that society’s wholesale survival.

“The dictatorship of the bureaucratic economy cannot leave the exploited masses any significant margin of choice because it has had to make all the choices itself, and any choice made independently of it, whether regarding food or music or anything else, thus amounts to a declaration of war against it. This dictatorship must be enforced by permanent violence.

“Its spectacle imposes an image of the good which subsumes everything that officially exists, an image which is usually concentrated in a single individual, the guarantor of the system’s totalitarian cohesion. Everyone must magically identify with this absolute star or disappear. This master of everyone else’s nonconsumption is the heroic image that disguises the absolute exploitation entailed by the system of primitive accumulation accelerated by terror.

“If the entire Chinese population has to study Mao to the point of identifying with Mao, this is because there is nothing else they can be. The dominion of the concentrated spectacle is a police state. ” [Link para 64]
So the role of the lone individuals within Balls and Paint do take on a persona – that of one trapped within the spectacle. Both spectacles, especially Paint, are acts of violence – extreme pontification of colour as subject. Just watching the ‘behind the scenes‘ trailer shows what military organisation and precision it demand to produce Paint.

As linear media begins to lose its usefulness in a world of bi-directional communication, exemplified by online networks and conversations – the last thing SONY needs is to dictate to it’s audience the virtues of the spectacle. The spectacle will only serves to alienate the social – the seduction of the spectacle distracts from the virtues of communication, by dominating the conversation with the audience. As we stop and gawp at the splendour, we forget to talk. If we discuss the spectacle, we soon realise that we too were caught in a moment that rendered us silent as a clown.

This not to say the spectacle is a dead zone of communication. The spectacle holds an important role to the needs of the individual – at times of crisis people come together. At time of celebration, rejoicing is at it’s best when shared. The spectacle has identified the frailty of the individual and exposed the intrinsic need to share history. But if society remains convinced that the spectacle is the totality of society, when may be in trouble..

bravia_woman.jpg” “Static societies” are societies that have reduced their historical movement to a minimum and that have managed to maintain their internal conflicts and their conflicts with the natural and human environment in a constant equilibrium. Although the extraordinary diversity of the institutions established for this purpose bears eloquent testimony to the flexibility of human nature’s self-creation, this diversity is apparent only to the external observer, the anthropologist who looks back from the vantage point of historical time.

“In each of these societies a definitive organizational structure has eliminated any possibility of change. The total conformism of their social practices, with which all human possibilities are identified for all time, has no external limit but the fear of falling back into a formless animal condition. The members of these societies remain human at the price of always remaining the same.” Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle [Link para 130]bravia_boy.jpg

Colour itself is of course one of the great spectacles of the human experience. Taking from Hannu Salmi essay, History in Colour, the reference to the explosion of historical movies such as The Ten Commandments (1923) and The King of Kings
(1927) by Cecil B. DeMille, and from Ben Hur (1927) by Fred Niblo amplifies Debords concerns about ‘how history has revived nationally important imagery and, simultaneously, offered a spectacular ‘exit’ from everyday life.’

“In the resurrection scene of The King of Kings the miracle was accompanied by modern technology: the screen burst into color when Christ ‘came out of the grave’ “. [Link]

This technique is explicit in the Bravia adverts, and to precise effect – offering an exit from a social moment and presented with a historical present. It also reveals how little the role of media produced for Television has changed since the advent of colour. Meanwhile, as we stop to gawp at the precision of the spectacle afforded by the Bravia LCD, we remain silent, and static. This is technology that persuades the audience not to talk.


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October 19, 2006

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October 18, 2006

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