A Cup of Bricks

January 4, 2008

If you haven’t watch ‘2 girls and a cup’, then don’t.

If you have, you know you wish you hadn’t.

There’s a whole series of video responses to that video and they show something really good. Media lubricates conversation; it produces a shared moment. We love to spectate another persons response to the unpalatable because a truth reveals itself in the moment of realisation. And these are rare moments.

We used have the water cooler moment when TV was great. Now there is Facebook trying to make every moment a water cooler moment. But it doesn’t. The noise to value ratio is far far too low to retain attention. And why didn’t the applications retain interest? Because they lack depth of affordance due to the paltry information that all users supply about themselves. FB came out of closed beta status far too early to ensure longevity.

Media, episodes, any motion graphics need not be series based now that TV has lost a temporal audience. Timeshifting has broken the habit of watching without intent. Media producers have lost the confidence to make a point; instead aesthetics (post production) is the cliff hanger than destroys the reason for a narrative.

Allegory fell out of art when the minimalists explored formalism; audiences, mass audiences, still stare at Carl Andres ‘Equivalent VIII‘ with horror, in so much that they fail to realise that meaning is something that has been so tightly spun as a moral.

Equally, audiences appreciation of mastery, comes of concern to any media producer. From film to software, what has come of the mastery of manufacturing?

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I watched American Gangster the other evening – a production of the highest values as one would expect from Ridley Scott, but the story? Based upon the ‘true strory’ of Frank Lucas, we follow 2 narratives obviously needing to collide. The tale of the honest, but domestically troubled detective and the tale of Lucas, his rise in wealth, capture and ultimately grass on every bent copper in the NYC drugs divisions.

Both come out heroes and the moral vanishes into a plume of heroin smoke.

The first weekend’s box office takings were around $46m. Lucas was reported making $1m a day from ‘Blue Magic’ back in 1970. The profits from moral-less activities go undetected when the lure of aesthetics is promised but without the gloss an audience demand meaning.

Why is this so?

I think it’s because we don’t know the ‘form of truth’, because the values of truth are always migrating away from experience. No one can handle the truth because we want the truth to belong to a notion of ‘Other‘, located across the way in a greener field.

Religion has used the notion of truth to gain a following; centering belief structures within folk allegories. Unfortunately, this power has been duplicated in mass communications. Truth and Sex are equivalents when stripped of any aesthetics – and so our psychological drugs need dressing to bring acceptability to our morals.

Like ‘Blue Magic’, we rate purity higher than a hybrid cocktail. Just like in the movie, Lucas bitches about one of his dealers cutting his ‘pure’ brand with impurities, comparing it to Trademark infringement. You can catch part of the scene at the end of Jay-Z’s inspired track..

You may have spotted the Hirst spin painting behind da man. It’s of no surprise – Hirst’s life’s work celebrates this connection between man’s beliefs and ultimate reality. His aestheticisation of aesthetics, making the palatable digestible; when parodied, it becomes a numbing truth.

I still cant find the answer to why the gloss of aesthetics is so needed; why do we as creatures of such diverse communications require stimulants? As creatures of activity, they make even less sense. Perhaps we cant consume, use or value without pedagogical fears. What could be worse than that?

Frail Nets

January 3, 2008

The problems with social networks is that it’s full of young people – and young people don’t die frequently – not like old people.

You see, networks are only strong when they rely on the ability to collapse between nodes. The Internet works this way – it’s always looking to optimise when failure in the system occurs. That’s what ARPANET required. The public internet took this resilience as a good thing. It’s good for uptime, but not good, for human meaning.

Frail Nets are the key to sustainability. Look at the human species – we continue to exist and evolve (slowly) because of the lifespan that the DNA has clocked us for. Evolution, and thus, social relations would be impossible if we all lived for 200 years – our societal habits would not require the cramming of knowledge – time would appear differently – frequency would be lower for communication needs.

I was pulled into a non-work conversation about establishing a Social Network for retired executives – you know, money and time rich, lonely, and devoid of the powers when they had an office. The plan was more a subscription service than a free social network (I pointed out this flaw, especially after being asked to invest in the idea – with cash, mind you!) but I didn’t receive a great piece of insight.


(Click for a bigger version of this great FB parody)

When you retired, say 55, you lose your daily contact with people – colleagues, dining friends, commuters etc. This is psychologically breaking, especially if you have maintained DEO status for many years.

What someone of this this stature, and probably, anyone of this age, retired, needs is a minimum of 16 ‘friends’. These people should be your regular contact with the world at large, your source of deep personal emotion – people you can confide in.

But at this age, natural death, looms. Your 16 will not be here forever, thus you get a rotation, a refresh of your 16, making the network stronger, richer, more meaningful. For humans, Networks need invigoration. Likethe current play of Facebook – it’s interest is begining to dry up because it’s possibilities are becoming exhausted – to poke or not to poke is a dumb ass question because poking meant nothing in the first place.

Yochai Benkler’s Wealth of Networks is a hefty read, an introduction to Network Values, and is free to download here. But the book is a much easier thing to handle – the page count is enormous. (He should have done it on a wiki. He has!) But as far as I can find – I’ve not read the whole thing – he doesn’t mention the strength of Network failure, nor the curse of Network Fatigue – the staleness that occurs when the network has no needs.

VC money is dependant on locking in users, at least, retaining them with editorial – may this been peer appreciation or media files – but regardless, the funding model – namely – an exit strategy from critical mass and acquistion from a needy/threatened business (Google/Microsoft/Yahoo!) – corrupts the Networks modal intent – that is – failure is good for the system.

Failing Faster is a good motif for agile productions, but an agile network produces huge amounts of value as different people use the system for different reasons, and thus old uses die, new uses are born. That’s why protocols are interesting. HTTP and TCP/IP are good examples – they are passing new formats of data collections because developers are creating, evolving new needs from the affordance of the design.

Humans are, basically, data packets, on social networks – producing vectors of relationship, and inturn, momentarily becoming themselves On-Line nodes. This means that an identity is constructed, which we believe to be representational of out On-Land identities. The fact that Facebook hates fictional characterson their Platforms is based upon non-inertial nodes that collapse the data exchanges that stablise their network.

But lets take this another way. Let’s look at old age as a form of data encryption. Time encodes our feelings, thoughts and knowledge by folding in influences. The theory that you are not the same molecular person you were when you were a 5 year old is chilling to most people. Over a 20 year period, most, if not all, of your molecules have been replaced with new ones. You are being cooked by time.

This syncronisty between us all is damaging to social networks, there becomes very little in the point of difference at a human level. Our thoughts and interests may give shades of difference, but there is no real value between avatars. But, it is this micro variation that is of value to technologists, because this smallness can be measured, valued and predicted, creating a baseline of prediction, which can be bet against.

Mark Wallinger, winner of the 2007 Turner Prize, tackled Nationality, Regality and Identity in the mid 90’s using the theme of horse racing. His interest in the populations interest in thorough breds drives home the uneasiness of our own self’s ability not to fundamentally change, just wither.

Whilst the value of social nets are speculated in the arena of web2.0, the techno-regal-proprietors are looking at which individual will be the next horse into the Knacker’s yard. Technologists look for the point of failure on everything they do; with social nets, the user is the weakest link.

Wallinger’s work, Sleeper, submitted for the Turner Prize persists with the themes, but curiously, close to the problem with have with social networks, namely, the evolution of identity through storytelling.

A film of a performance in which, over a period of 10 nights, he dressed in a bear suit and wandered aimlessly around an art gallery in Berlin, startling unsuspecting passers-by.

The video of him talking about it is here.

And here’s Bowie in 2003 aged 57 talking to Parkinson (with Posh Spice and Clive Anderson) about the years galloping away with him.

Compare Rock n Roll to Social Networks. You’ll begin to ask what is staged and what is the stage.

And here’s young Bowie trying to get a social group together. If only he had Facebook back then…

Social Networks requires, no, demands, the participants have to be actors in the widest sense. It’s the basis to software modeling. I think this is the basis for the next generation of media production – social networks will become the foundation of storytelling – not with peoples lives, but with the roles that people wish to experience. Age will be a huge informer to the roles, and thus, our human timescales become in-sync with how we model the (software) tools we need to remain connected, entertained and perform within our lives.

You have to perform to live. Now tell me about User Generated Content.

Flippin’ Girls

September 24, 2007

In the words of Paris Hilton: “This is hot.”

New York based 3iying, who I wrote about last year, has unleashed over 150 videos of girls critiquing adverts. And they are addictive to watch. This is not girls bitchin’, but smart ladies explaining why sales media is making them depressed – this is what they call a ‘Flip’; they are explaining what they want. And if the industry cant make what they want – they will come and help you do it.

How smart is this? Very. No CMO, Creative Director, Head of Planning/Consumer Insights/Media Planning can afford to ignore these videos. These are not focus groups findings, this is personal, direct, honest pleas from the people formally known as consumers. And before your say “Erm, isn’t this just Girl Power?” go and watch the videos. All of them. These are ‘Social Functions as Media Commerce’ – not a padded Lyrica stage show.

The girls have a new site up and running too: www.3iying.tv

There are the videos, Flickr stream of the girls with their insights – yes insights – not comments. And there is even a Youtube group for other girls to record ‘n’ upload their ‘Flips’. MySpace is covered. I expect the Facebook group to follow…

I’ve been talking to 3iying founder, Heidi Dangelmaier, since I first wrote about 3iying – I’ve seen how the 3iying ideology has formed over the past 18 months, met some of the girls, see previews of these videos and talked at length about the voice of ‘girl’. This has been about using design to find the problems, not create solutions. This work has been born from conversations not planning. This work is not a prescription but social surgery. This work is about making media work.

Not only is there the passion and belief that there is something fundamentally important in this work – raising an awareness of what makes the marketing the crass media creation that dominates mainstream culture – 3iying is enabling the audience to craft their commentary about why so much ‘product media’ leaves us all so vacuous – this makes this agency CULTURALLY RELEVANT.

3iying is not another PR/Marketing/Design agency – it’s an opportunity to make life better – for everyone.

Just like Anamoly and Antidote, 3iying is the ‘agency’ model that is beginning to phoenix – they’re brave, independent and considerate. But most importantly – they are doin’ it. Now.

Yes, we have no bananas.

September 4, 2007

No message. It just makes you smile as if you were eating a bar of sugar chocolate.

For some (accessibility?) reason, they published the transcript. So I added a line. It makes it feel more like Phil had some involvement in the ethos of the project.

We open on purple recording studio wall.
A title appears: A Glass and a Half Full Production.
We start listening to the first sounds of ‘In The Air Tonight’ by Phil Collins.

The camera slowly pans down as we hear the keyboard’s atmospheric intro. When we start listening to the first lyrics we spot a hairy thing in the edge of the frame. As the camera keeps panning, the mysterious figure gets revealed.

We realize that in front of us is a gorilla.It looks calmly to camera. Phil continues singing: ‘I can feel it coming in the air tonight.’

The massive Gorilla stares at us – concentrated.
We are almost sure that he knows we are filming him, but his eyes look through and beyond the lens. ‘I’ve been waiting for this moment for all of my life.’

The gorilla focuses back on the camera. All we see is neck and head . And hair. A fax machine delivers the message “Yes, we have no bananas.”

The camera gently zooms out revealing the Gorilla’s surroundings. We see more of the studio.
And we discover a series of metallic things around him.

We realize that the Gorilla is sitting in front of a massive drum kit. One of those Eighties big kits with loads of things to hit. Loads of tom-toms, hi-hats, double bass drum, etc.

We know that the best drum solo in the whole history of rock – ever – is coming. The Gorilla knows it too.

The Gorilla hits the drums with passion and vigour. Elegance meets power. He’s phenomenal on the drums – feeling every beat.
The camera leaves the ape and his drum kit in the studio.
The screen fades to purple. We see a Cadbury Dairy Milk bar of chocolate appear above the words ‘A Glass and a half full of Joy’

Did you spot it? Did you get the facts?

If Cadburys say: ‘Well it just seemed like the right thing to do. There’s no clever science behind it – it’s just an effort to make you smile, in exactly the same way Cadbury Dairy Milk does.’ then I couldn’t possibly recall my own facts about Phil the Drummer, could I? Nor could I remember Tarzan or any other jungle inhabitants. But they seems to be promising more of the same ‘association’ promos.

I’m evidently thinking about this too much, but I like the desire to make media that fills curiosity time. And curious time is about connecting facts together.

UPDATE (07-Oct-07): I’ve just seen the 5sec version in the Channel4 adbreak of Alien (Movie). 5sec! Ok, this is clear media spend.

Like W+K’s ‘Happiness factory’ work for Coca Cola. (Full respect to team Psyop too. Check out their anthem.)

But there’s something better. This..

But then, as I write this, I spot this…

Oh dear.

The opportunity in advertising, perhaps it’s saviour, is semantic binding. Loose associations that couple with other miscellaneous facts. I’ve been calling this ‘Stateless Marketing’, based upon RESTful services.

Much of my thinking on this, which I might get around to writing about here, is based upon ‘media as a platform’, the relationship between emotions and (social/software) functions and being able to model them for reuse. When you do this, the value is in the act of connectivity, not it’s duration, recall (memory state), proposition, knowledge transfer. If anything, a ROI model becomes the ‘frequency of the connectivity’. Wikipedia does over approximately 1m page serves a minute. Put that in your CPM pipe and smoke it.

When I see (superb) adverts such as Gorilla and Happiness Factory, I see the dynamics of ‘meaning’ dissolve in favour of connectivity that serves a moment of pleasure. Sequencing these, or rather, enabling the viewer-person-user-actor-punter to sequence them together would be ultimately orgasmic.

Media, participatory or not, has to be designed to fit into the overall seduction of the public. It’s a big audience, and you cant please all the people all of the time, but happiness is infectious and envy is a meal best served as humour.

I think there is a lot to be said for inappropiate behaviour. Yeah, the blog post is coming…

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

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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.

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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

Talking about the Joneses

September 2, 2007

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Back in June, when we launched “Where are the Joneses?” I was actually in Bradford presenting the project at Btween07 to an audience of broadcasters, producers, software developers and very few marketing folk.

Btween is an event showcasing and discussing innovation that sits between broadcasting and technology. The curious thing was the majority of conversations were based around the migration of ‘TV’ to the web and how production companies were to trying to find the business models.

I was presenting with Patrick Crowe of Xenophile Media; our theme was ‘Freedoms of Engagement’. Xenophile Media are famed for their cross platform TV shows mixing online and broadcast for clients such as Disney.

Amid technical problems they did manage to film Patrick and I in conversation about “Where are the Joneses?” and just last week they uploaded the 3 parts via YouTube (Part 1 is the tail end of my presentation and the first 2 episodes of the Joneses). The presentation deck I used is below the videos and I guess wont make any sense at all by itself, but you might like to see some points of reference to the thinking behind the Joneses project.

If you’re wondering about what Frankie is doing here – it’s something to do with comedy and the semantic web… (Thanks JP)

If you’re not sick of me talking about this project, Btween in collaboration with Channel 4 Talent asked me to do a podcast about the project. It was supposed to be released under CC-BY_SA (Like the last one), but I guess the paperwork went missing. Here it is…

http://www.channel4.com/4talent/feature.jsp?id=5707

The Joneses ‘family’ is growing within it’s audience.

Free Gift Wrapping Paper

August 5, 2007

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Rob and Crosbie have been kicking off about the idea and use of Gift Economy in the comments section here – which has led to the idea of some lovely GPLv3 wrapping paper, which I’d love to hand over under a Creative Commons BY-SA licence – but then I realised it’s probably just easier to make some Creative Commons wrapping paper, which is tempting to licence under GPLv3, well, the source file. But you can get the logos yourself and a copy of Gimp and you’ll be done in 5minutes anyway.

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If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, here’s a video of Richard Stallman explaining the GPLv3

And as I’m at it, here’s a classy sheet of GNU gift wrap.

Remember, free software is for life, not religious ceremonies, like Festivus .

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Bloody hell, there really is a company that makes Festivus Poles. Viva free culture!

Seriously – watch this. And again if you’ve no idea what I’m on about watch this video.

Here’s the best of Festivus. Enjoy

Where are the Joneses?

June 17, 2007

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Quietly on Thursday the first audience participation sitcom to use an open licence went live. It’s called “Where are the Joneses?

The synopsis is that Dawn (left) has found out that she is the child of sperm donor and she now has the list of the other 27 siblings who are scattered across Europe. After contacting her new found brother Ian (Right) they begin the search with Jonti, the director filming their journey.

The basis to the project is that it’s a marketing experiment for the Ford Motor Company. Together we have been developing the project for 6 months. Seeing this live is undoubtedly my proudest moment as it’s the form of communication that I left Channel 4 TV to pursue.

The experiment is to embrace the value of networks by using an architecture of audience participation to generate semantic broadcasting. As the actors and their roving production team of 3 explore Europe, they will be posting approx 5 minutes of video daily along with various tweets, image and text posts.

To do this several significant changes to the traditional method of media manufacturing had to occur. First, the use licence had to be correct so that any participation could be freely shared with collaborating communities – so we applied Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0. (For those who follow the Creative Commons project, I bet you’re a little surprised to find Ford being the first global brand to use the licence on a commercial media project. Personally, I’m delighted.)

Second, the project had to be built upon existing web(2.0) services so that we could take the project to an audience rather than drag people into the project. Youtube is being used for video delivery, Flickr for photos, WordPress for the Blog (where the comedy is ‘played out’) and wikidot (where the audience can collaborate with each other, the actors and their production team). Dapper, Yahoo!Pipes, Facebook, various Google Apps, Twitter etc etc are also used to manage data flow and generate material for the actors to work from. If you like, it’s a UGC authentic media comedy based upon RSS feeds generating free open media.

Such factors begins to blur the answer to ‘what is content?’ We invited BabyCow to work with us on this because of their ability to produce the highest quality comedy and evolve characters. Their team is headed up by Henry Normal (Steve Coogan’s writer and business partner) and Ali MacPhail (Who was the exec producer on productions such as Nighty Night and The Mighty Boosh). They have helped significantly in demonstrating that media can be produced for both entertainment and marketing, outside the normal broadcasting channels and platforms.

By working with a classic TV production company to create marketing that is based upon the audiences input is the opportunity to give the audience the entertainment they ask for. We are encouraging the audience to take part in the project in any way they wish to. Write scripts, design characters, recommend locations across Europe and if you want to, you can be in the production as a character – you may wish to become a Jones yourself. You can also take the media and ideas and use them for you own benifit.

I will post more about this remarkable project over the next few week as we watch it mutate. For now, I really want to praise my employer Imagination and the inhouse team for getting their head around this production, Rob Myers for the original conversation back in Nov 2005 and the continuous remarkable insights into new forms of media production, Loca Records for the music (licenced under BY-SA too) and of course Claire and Richard from Ford of Europe who championed The Joneses from day zero. In my book they are currently the most pioneering clients in marketing today.

I’ll leave you with the first episode of the project. (Don’t forget to subscribe to the RSS feed off the blog). I hope you enjoy the forthcoming 12 weeks of this project – lets see if it goes further than that.

Disney Parody explanation of Copyright Law and Fair Use

Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use

Fair Use has it’s uses if you can justify the use; but as demonstrated above in the two videos, does it really bring value to a new work in sampled form? Both videos are humorous, but hard to follow.

Instead synthesis, using the samples as the base material for the production, or better the characters, assets and storylines (bearing in mind Disney has enjoyed borrowing Jungle book from the public domain only to protected the story through it’s own ‘classic’ rendering.) can open the usability of the original production.

Disney pumps dollars into promoting its productions knowing ‘roughly’ the longtail business returns on every frame and tune of the production. It employs thousands of people who design, produce and market the production; an industry is built upon the manufacturing of a creative network of people communicating a singular vision of Disneyness.

Such orchestration is the fine tuning of a commercial network, held together by licencing. Licences here are acting like an API – clear defined parameters of retrieval and use. Fair Use is a hack of the legal API, the amount, context and re-usable-ness is never defined. It’s a gamble call – a dirty grab at a well defined API.

As much as the focus and lamenting over copyright continues, and Creative Commons tries to bridge a peace deal with cc-by-sa, I see it in media technologists barking over formats and content connectivity, especially here in a debate concerning Microformats and the Semantic Web.

For me this fundamentally not understanding that ‘media’ is made for different reasons though may look the same. Indeed, the message may be the same. From political media to entertainment media, both have ingrained messages that seek to seduce the audience into, at worst, empathising, at best, buying the T-shirt.

When the Medium is Not the Message is to look at the purpose of the production process – the methodology of manufacturing:-

Publishers look to produce media for paid consumption. Marketing looks to produce media for voluntary engagement.

Both systems are ‘protected’ by the deeds of copyright. User Generated Media Authentic Media has been taken advantage of by both sides of commercial media producers; from YouTube as the video publishing arm of Google (admittedly having the lowest barrier to entry in the world) to Verizon Action Hero Movie Maker. Yet protection offers little in the way of commercial sense. Protection offers only the API to commerce use through uninspiring obvious reuse, such as distribution on portable media within territory markets (e.g. BluRay version in Egypt)

damianhirst_forgodssake.jpgThere is no fairy tale ending to this methodology of manufacturing; there is no downstream use with copyright acting like an API. There is no end in a closed network. And there’s no end in an open network.

Thinking that an open network of free media use is the holy grail of an enriching cultural existence, this is not an end in itself. To consider this as a destination (just as TV does being a non dialogue (Image) based technology), is to think incorrectly of the ambitions of message based media.

Message based media needs manipulation, it needs the Chinese whispers, it needs to find conduits. But at what speed does it need? What time does it require? Copyright, as recommended by Disney is up to 70 years after the death of the author. Reducing or decreasing it has no effect on the nature of the commercial APIness.

From Twitter to the LongNow (and Russel’s Dawdlr project) time is being used to leverage usage. I wrote about the use of time before in regards to Flickr patents and Interestingness, but with an assumption that the network effect sustains ubiquity. The Longtail theory would purport it does. But consider the value of the statelessness and fragility of the networks. A network thrives on collapses, allowing connections to be created through the result of misdemeanour (a collapse for example). Could media get trapped, moated from an audience is network collapses became more prevalent, and how does this effect the value of the media.

Service denials and caching has put stop to much of this commercial panic; but don’t these inflate the value of the persistant media suppliers? Sustainability and stability afford good consumer experience but is it helping create a good ecology of creativity?

Conflict has been a concernable source of innovations and product development, normally at the cost of short term humanity. Death has been a constant source of activation for achievement. Life has been a constant source of battle for designing solutions that invent cultural connectivity.

As social networks define themselves as platforms the hum of a media operating system becomes louder. The social grid is not a wired solution as the software developers are keen to believe. Consider the network a bag of nerves; an emotional net that individuals define their transmission and reception rules. ‘The Individuals Guide to the Emotiverse’ [sic] is the opportunity to build Emotional Media Interfaces (Sorry, EMI). Using the faux fragility of the server architectures to cache responses, media production can be used as a facilitator of emotional engagement.

By the user being the key instigator, the rights model is open to decision by the audience, not so much the facilitator. The user, as centric, is the first object in the downstream model of engagement ecology. Messages from are attractive to manufactures who have the scope to devise methodologies suitable to the request. The API in this case is dynamic on the side of the service provider, thus maintaining the love for asymmetrical communications.

If you go down to the woods today,
You’re sure of a big surprise
If you go down to the woods today,
You’d better go in disguise.

For ev’ry bear that ever there was,
Will gather there for certain, because
Today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic.

Ev’ry Teddy Bear who’s been good,
Is sure of a treat today.
There’s lots of marvellous things to eat,
And wonderful games to play

Beneath the trees where nobody sees,
They’ll hide and seek as long as they please
‘Cause that’s the way the Teddy Bears have their picnic

(The Teddy Bears Picnic 1907, John W. Bratton)

Fair Use communicates that copyright has justifications, and as the methodology of the vast majority of productions supports the millions who make stuff, it wont vanish without systematic changes to lives outside the capitalist economy that we use to pay for substance, stability and now sustainability. Copyright will be one of the last things to go, not the first in a networked era of media communications.

As Damian’s mother said to him: “For the love of God, what are you going to do next?”

“That’s when you stop laughing,” Hirst says. “You might have created something that people might die because of. I guess I felt like Oppenheimer or something. What have I done? Because it’s going to need high security all its life.”

[via]

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.

myspace = ghetto
facebook = mall (shopping centre)
blogs = suburbia
facebook = bikesheds
digg = bus stop
google = neighbours fence
twitter = down the pub
linkedin = clubhouse
delicious = Garden allotment
secondlife = Anywhere, whilst drunk
WoW = Scifi Rugby
youtube = hairdressers
Bebo = village hall on a friday night
skype = telephone
AIM = water cooler

internet = salad bar

Really, where is disruption in our lives with online services? Where is the innovation? Where is the remarkable?

That’s the problem with pluralism and convergence. Exponential shifts are harder to see when network values modulate each other, defining each others identity.

As code and interaction increase each others ubiquity, you begin to develop perceptions of engagement; this maybe physical, mental or social.

As software negotiates with interaction, metaphor language assists in lowering access to entry. Inversely, how do social normals inform software development? This constant invariance, the basis to asymmetrical communications, is under the command of user experience and user interface ‘architects’. Both design by committee and design by author has been replaced by design by beta. But, the role of mediator (nee editor) holds the responsibility of social Velcro.

If we’re encouraged to rewire the web, we will fall prey to simulacra. Optimising for happiness is not a technology solution, nor is it editorial. Working with the flaws in communication, engagement and interaction makes life richer.

So consider changing some of your habits and watch how the software adapts.

Rethinking Mozilla

May 13, 2007

Open source successes have been down to appropriating existing models of development, refining the concept and then sharing the development. How many open source projects are paradigm shifts in their conception? Linux isn’t. Mozilla isn’t. Puredata isn’t.

Chris Messina from Citizen Agency has posted a wonderful monologue, which asks, why hasn’t Mozilla diversified to match the advancement in Microsoft and Adobes rich media tools.

It’s a good question. A really good question. And I’ve spent most of the weekend thinking about it. Here’s my thinking on this.

1. The mode of production for web browsers has to change. Hand coded interfaces, applications and middleware configurations are, to a degree, costly. Time to market is painful when there is so much innovation and adaption of web services. But, are we seriously thinking that the future of media production online will remain as HTML. Heck no. HTML has been useful getting the global audiences onto 56k dialups, migrating them to broadband flash and ajax applications. Community, media sharing, bookmarkable, re-editable pages are extremely handy, and we all know this is what Berners-Lee had in mind from the start, only to be scuppered by the dodgy commerce of web1.0.

Media production is about to get a lot more agile, deploying more media than we can consume and it’s going to be closer to the broadcast media that you all love. Publishers know they don’t have to be clever interactions – like YouTube. It’s called the ‘Least Acceptable Media’ Syndrome (Nod to Steven Johnson for that one liner).

Are they going to want to faff around with pages that work well in browsers? No. They don’t want the browser and if you’re wanting a linear media fix, you dont need a browser. Look at Joost. A P2P system, with a Mozilla framework for crossplatform functionality and a video render slapped on top and bingo, you have the telebox on your laptop. I’m still disappointed with Joost, just as I am with 99.9% of broadcasting, but many many folk love that kind of thing. They are also the Joe 6 Pack Chris refers to.

2. The Mozilla production team are not business analysts; their passion is not in the review of media consumption; it’s in the disruption of software companies that make commercial browsers, befriending the web monkey and standing proud that they made an elegant solution to browse the web and give affordance to customisation.

Unfortunately, the customisation of the Firefox is at the hands of the wider community. Quality slips in favour of a quick hack of fun. Bad extensions slow the elegant Firefox. Fear of bloating the browser makes Microsofts job a lot easier. And if anything, Firefox has helped Microsoft make a better browser. I use both Firefox and Thunderbird. The latter is not by choice. In fact it sucks; the user experience is just not ‘fun’, the usability is a grunt, daily.

But with so much functionality, where is the innovation? Where is the paradigm shift in communications? Where is the emotional exchange that affords consumers to say, these are the tools I want to socialise and work?

Mozilla as a platform is an interesting idea. But it’s not going to happen. To be a platform that supports media production, right down to the level of scripts, filming, editing, encoding, deploying and taking into the consideration that the model of media production, is likely to evolve exponentially over the forthcoming decade to embrace digital broadcasting, then they don’t have either the development staff or the business roadmap to keep up with the paradymn shifts.

RSS will become that chosen supply chain for media distribution; unlikely that you’ll get your headlines and articles within it. Rather the feed will contain instructions, commands, fucntions even to instruct your thick client to generate the media you so wish. Yes, thick client. If you think about the benefits of real-time media production, its’ going happen locally, not on server or p2p network. The TV model is about to get an new lease of life, people the mass audience wont type URLs by choice. They wont fidget and play like the average Firefox user does. Media engagement requires the least distruptive interfaces. Like one button. Just one. Not options. Point and Click, get the Kodak moment.

If Mozilla wants to take the web to new levels of experience, they have to start talking to more than just web developers. Forget about browsing and emailing. How could we use asymmetrical communication devices that afford media production as the basis for commercial exploitation, leaving the user with One Click.

Chris highlights the ethos of choice, but herein is the folly of engagement; choice is an illusion of commercial culture. Free to choose is the basis of funneling the mind and the wallet. If choice is so important to the consumer, the answer is to optimise the benifits, not create more choice.

If Chris’ monologue was to prompt a call to action so that we can all begin to rework the rules of ubiquity, so be it. Joost should have been an open source project, but then again, the licence owners to the content would have never had touched it. If the Open Souce communities want to break the advertising model for something more richer, then projects like Mozilla have to work with the brands that need to communicate; help them innovate so that ‘prosumer’ engagement becomes natural.

If you want to get the openness of the web to it’s full glory then you have to talk to the auteur, the media makers, the designers who want to understand how their work, art, skill and passion can be shared so that they benefit. Dialogue needs to happen there, not preach to the surfing converted.

And how do you do that? Start to show them. Build the media industry tools and commercial processes that enable Mozilla to be relevant. Mozilla fixed a problem that mattered to a few and did it really really well. If Mozilla attracted the right minds, the economists, the media directors, the strategists, then you have a dialogue that can lead to a Production Suite that will make the media industry valuable again. And maybe, it just might make Google rethink it’s conduit strategy. Now that’ll be fun, wouldn’t it?

Chris’s video is here. Watch it. It’s long, but it’s good. Go on. And if you’re not reading this through Firefox, install it now.

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.

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