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Posts from April 2009

Cultural Latency & The Dawning of the Information Age

Latency kills

[Stolen from here]

There is a correlation between the amount of time it takes to distribute something, and the amount of time it takes for that thing to have an effect, and consequently the amount of time that thing stays relevant and interesting.

When music was distributed as sheet music - a [literally] laborious distribution mechanism - popular hits stayed at the top of the charts for years.

When gramophone reproductions were introduced and became a more popular mechanism for distributing music, the half-life of a hit decreased dramatically.

[You don't need to learn to piano to use a disc, so this removes a distribution bottleneck - piano + pianist. In fact, there was an intermediate stage, the mechanical player piano, which operated on rolls of printed music.]

It decreased again each time formats became easier to distribute, for either technological or structural reasons.

Digital distribution removes many of the friction points within the distribution system - making it more efficient, economically speaking.

But this also seems to lead to far more rapid cultural decay rates - sales charts now are driven almost exclusively by novelty - top selling DVDs are just what came out that week.

In gaming, and network based computing in general, the term that describes the lag between a cause and effect, between the moment when something is initiated and the moment one of the effects can be perceived is called latency.

The lower the latency, the faster the distant computer responds, the faster you see an effect and can respond and so on. This is a good thing - it means you don't get killed in the game because your character didn't move when you told him to.

As communication technologies get faster and more pervasive, the latency of culture is decreasing.

The speed at which people could move used to be the speed at which information traveled - hence the guy who ran the marathon.

Then people on horseback became the speed at which information traveled: the speed at which messages could traverse distances put a limit on the latency of culture, which in turn tended to mean things changed more slowly.

Email enabled messages to travel at the speed of light. This led to things moving faster, things changing faster.

But email is essentially one to one - even if you send it to many people, no one oversees the message, which puts a limit on the reduction in cultural latency - and it it used to be limited to the desktop.

Now we have millions of eyes all connected to a real time micro broadcast messaging platform via a mobile device they have with them at all times, and a social eagerness to demonstrate primacy. 

Cultural latency is dropping to [almost] zero, at least in the more connected parts of the world.

Which I suspect is going to have some interesting effects, because it creates much faster feedback loops - information, once delivered, is both a reported effect and a subsequent cause, which triggers more effects, and so on.

Things like informational cascades driving herd behavior, previously very visible in stock markets [which constantly monitors and reports on itself], and cumulative advantages, which function when behavior is visible to the decision making crowd, will inevitably become more prevalent.

Things like Swine Flu can go from something no one has heard of, to something people are searching for, to a topic of twysteria - hitting 10,000 tweets an hour.

In essence the infosphere is beginning to operate far more chaotically: a dynamic, closed, evolving system, characterized by aperiodic feedback loops, that can drive massive perturbations in the system from relatively small changes in the initial conditions.

[This is popularly known as the 'Butterfly Effect'.]

Diminished cultural latency means that the propagation of information is so fast that the spread itself becomes the defining aspect of the system: the rate-of-spread becomes as important as the information itself.

The information age is only just beginning.

[Thanks to both my brothers.]

[UPDATE: Mike Skinner/The Streets have a Swine Flu track]

SpringFest or Renaissance Planners

This video contains some highlights from the SpringFest we hosted [at McCann NY], in partnership with the research company Brainjuicer.

It was a fun day.

Mark and Grant are always awesome, and I got exposed to some people I had never heard of, like Mitchell Joaquin of Terreform1, who helped concept the future world of Minority Report, and is now trying to build softcars, where the engine is in the wheel and the body isn't made of metal, and is crafting experimental building structure made out of cloned meat on collagen scaffolds.

As I occasionally hint at on TIGS, I think making stuff from lots of different, disparate source material has a stronger likelihood to bring the awesome.

Mitchell created his own field at MIT by combining cities, ecology and mobility, which he calls ecotransology.

{recombinant academia}

We also met Simone Gostra, from SG Partners, an architecture and media practice, that built the world's largest media wall in a way that was self sustaining - absorbing solar energy during the day to power it at night -

[Wait. Hang on. Did you read that? Isn't that just completely awesome? I spoke to Simone and he envisages building covered in photovoltaic skins that trap light and energy, that not only power lighting in the building, but also act as a display wall on the outside. Like in Blade Runner.]

for the Beijing Olympics, using architectural, technological, visual and ecological understanding. 

{recombinant architecture}

The problem with the endless specialisation that Taylorism and Fordism, the division of labour and that, drive us towards is that less and less people are polymath, or glot in some senses, enough to pull different fields together and create new.

Recombinant thinking needs more than T-shaped planning - it needs renaissance planners.

Science + math + art history + literature + linguistics + economics [behavioural, of course] + psychology + technology + design + business + philosophy + media + common sense + being nice = direct route to awesomeness.

[If you'll excuse me, I have some studying to do.]

[UPDATE: This professor at Columbia agrees with me.]

Professional Hermit or Advertising to Agencies

42 Below poke fun at the London Ad industry - and me!

More of the kind of films the internet likes [if you don't know why you should check out rathergood] and made me think that perhaps, as part of the portfolio strategy of making ten films for cheap to see which one the network adopts and subjects to cumulative advantage and so on, that it would be interesting to focus communication directly at specific self delineated groups - like this film is targeted squarely back at the ad industry.

People are more likely to donate attention to things that are relevant to them, and from the forwards I've received of this film, in-jokes and references and that seem to increase the propensity to propagate, I suspect because inherent in the piece is the targeting, which tells you who you should send the piece to.

Hopefully more brands will learn not take themselves so seriously and make fun of themselves more - as Lohan ably demonstrates, it makes you more likable. 

Be Nice Or Leave (Slight Refrain)

View more presentations from farisyakob.

This is the talk I gave in Vegas a few weeks back, and again last week, on social media and that.

It's called Be Nice Or Leave.

When I made it into a slidescast [so you can hear my disembodied voice as the slides fly by] I didn't know you couldn't also embed youtube videos into a slidecast.

So here are the relevant video links, should you want the complete experience.

[Actually, I guess, if you want the complete, complete experience, you could watch the video, which will be up in a couple of weeks I think.]

Slide 13: 2010 Video

Slide 24: Ford's Approach to Social Media Part One

Slide 43: Faint Starlite - I Did It!

Slide 50: Nikon PictureTown

Slide 68: Ford's Approach to Social Media Part Two

I'd love to know what you think.

[Disclaimer: As with everything, everything is stolen, recombined, remixed, and passed along. Thank you if I stole something from you. Sorry if I didn't shout you out.]

[First Uncredited Steal Credit: The picture of me is by my lovely and very talented friend Camilla.] 

[UPDATE: Be Nice or Leave is being featured on the Slideshare homepage under 'Top Presentations of the Day' - which is nice.]

One Day Equals

My mates Jess and Joe [and someone named Scott that I don't know] have put a campaign together to support and promote a march on Albany being organized by the Empire State Pride Agenda for Equality and Justice Day.

It's not really a rally - people are going to meet their legislators and try and sort out this whole thing so everyone can marry whoever they want thing.

[Personally, I find it kind of staggering that in 2009, in the land of the free, where the pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right, and when we have lots of real problems in the world, that people can't marry whoever they want to.

And worse that people think it's their business, who other people marry, and cause a fuss about it, and do things like write and pass Proposition 8, a sad blight on the moral conscience of the otherwise very nice California.

I  mean, really? Come on people, can we please grow up? Thank you.]

The campaign is called One Day Equals and there is a website, and a facebook page, and some nice stuff on flickr.

Join us on April 28th, Equality and Justice Day, and
march on Albany in support of the LGBT community.
One day equals us all one day becoming equals.

The models are all volunteers that responded to an open call and were chosen for their stories of solidarity - this is the family in the Berlin Wall ad.

Hello Scott, Joe, and Jess,

I read about your casting call for "One Day Equals”.

My wife Jen and I are a married lesbian couple and co-pastors of the Greenpoint Reformed Church. We have 8 month old son named John.  My parents, Norman and Mary Kansfield, live in Massachusetts and are strong supporters of same-sex marriage.

My father was fired from his job as President of New Brunswick Theological Seminary and suspended as a minister four years ago for officiating at our wedding in Massachusetts.

We would all be interested in participating in your project, as a family,

We know how important it is to put a face to this cause.

Thank you,
Ann (& Jennifer)

Social media seems like a good place for social causes. Feel free to spread the word.

We Live in Public or The Mediation Generation

Last night I went to see We Live In Public, a film about the 'most important internet pioneer you've never heard of'.

It was brilliant and disturbing [don't take my word for it - it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and everything.]

It's about a dude called Josh Harris [who I had never heard of, which annoyed me. As a geek I figured I would have heard of him - but I hadn't. He set up Jupiter Research, which I used to use a lot as a management consultant during dot com 1.0.] who fashioned himself as a interwebs visionary and, later, artist.

Using the money [$80 million] from Jupiter's IPO he began to champion a new kind of media culture.

Firstly he set up Pseudo - a web based television network, in the days of dial up - then later he built a bunker-like hotel commune thing called Quiet where people where filmed 24 hours day, in every room and activity, and populated it with various art installations and some very strange people [think proto Big Brother via a psychedelic lens].

After that he and his girlfriend wired their apartment with sensor enabled motorized cameras that filmed their every move and streamed it on

What he was trying to experiment with, portray, pioneer, sell, whatever was his vision of how the web would change the world, which was that everyone would be watching everyone else, all the time. [Polypanopticon?]

And, as the film points out, then facebook and lifecasting and that came along and became ubiquitous it turned out he was pretty much right.

[It doesn't mention Big Brother, except in the older Orwelian sense, but it seems a like a direct steal from Quiet, the bunker experiment. They even have an interview room.]

Virginia Woolf once said nothing is real until it is recorded. It seems like the rest of the world has caught up with her thought. We endlessly refract ourselves, mediate our lives, to reach out and connect and then, begin to construct ourselves, in response to what seems to drive attention our way.

Online everyone is famous, but some are more famous than others - and it's really easy to tell who, because everything is enumerated. 

As people we have always thought socially - seeing ourselves through the eyes of others. Increasingly it seems that without mediation, nothing seems real.

Next time you are at a concert - look at all the people capturing the moment, to mediate and broadcast it, to remember it and share it, to continue create themselves with it - even firsthand experiences require mediation.

The MTV generation was dubbed thus because of the media it consumed. The Myspace Generation [now facebook, soon twitter, then who knows] is perhaps better understood to as The Mediation Generation because of its tendency to endlessly mediate itself, because of the media it produces.

Baudrillard suggested that endless mechanical reproductions of everything make it impossible to tell fantasy from reality - the copies become reality. He called this hyperreality - a kind of reality by proxy - and he said that we had already created a world of simulated stimuli.

Umberto Eco called the same idea 'the authentic fake'.

This is also explored [in a different way] in Charlie Kauffman's Synecdoche New York, [that I watched on Sunday] where the director creates and re-creates his own reality in an attempt to understand it and himself.

[I didn't really love the movie but that doesn't mean I can't dig on the idea.]

No doubt this is about awareness and balance - but culturally, rather than individually, we seem to be hurtling into hyper[linked]reality.

At the end of the screening Josh was there to chat and take questions, at the end of which someone claiming to be a fan attacked him on stage, claiming he had a responsibility to those that watched him and that he was a 'fucking meglomaniaic'.

This itself was probably staged [or maybe not - it's hard to tell nowadays, apparently]. 

Perhaps only in our media reflections do we get to see ourselves as we want to be, or perhaps as we want others to see us, which, as in both movies, will probably have some very odd effects on our sense of identity at some point - the attention becomes both addictive and a burden.

If you tweet without any followers - does it make a sound?

Listening to Chatter

Forbes listen

I wrote this thing for about listening to the web - stage one of my very simple approach to social media.

I'm going to write a column for them regularly about such things for their newly launched CMO network.

The version you can read there is a bit different from what I originally wrote. I originally wrote this relatively grandiose thing called Such People In't - a reference to the newly active role of 'the audience' in our endeavours, which was pretty theoretical, as is my bent.

I changed it to suite the needs of the environment and audience and am pretty happy with how it turned out.

But there was stuff in my original that I really liked, so I'm going to post some fragments here:

Up until very recently indeed, cultural production was an industrial process. The means of production and distribution – the printing presses, the production studios, the satellite and cable stations – were only available to large corporations. The audience remained silent.

Advertising grew up in the golden age of mass media, creating discrete units of commercial culture – advertisements – that were delineated by the nature and relative scarcity of the transmission vector, or distribution platform. Television is a filmic medium and airtime is expensive, so 30-second slices of film became television commercials. The audience was functionally passive in its reception of advertising--like Victorian children, it was seen and not heard.

Thus we began to think of it as a target audience: a location that advertisers wished to bombard with persuasion (appropriating the language and strategies of war), an object to be acted upon, passive and attentive.


Your brand is but one voice among a polyphony, hopefully providing the stimulus for conversations, but unable to dominate them: a brand’s share of voice is now to be measured against all the conversations of the web.

[This reminds me of Bud's chart]


Brands are the cultural, psychological and corporate face of the products or services you sell. People want relationships with some, responses from others: they want to be involved, to be listened to. If you ignore them, they may start to ignore you. 


The lines have blurred like the modalities of media – those that consume can also produce, those that receive can also broadcast and it is within this new context that marketing exists, connecting consumers to businesses in a way never before possible.

Welcome to this brave new world, that has such people in’t.

APG Young Talent Award


Gareth and Anton [and quite possibly some other people] have hatched a new APG initiative for you young'uns.

The APG Young Talent Award is a nationwide [i.e. UK only] contest for 16-22 year old to create a brand from scratch that would appeal to your digitally native, donking, grimey contemporaries.

[Goodness me I just felt terribly old. As Ruby says DO NOT try to appropriate youth culture. I'll stick to jungle. The music you listened to as you - ahem - came of age, is what you will listen to for the rest of your life. Choose wisely.]

The judging panel will include venture capitalists who might actually try and bring some of the ideas to life.

[Question: Brand or Product? Does creating a brand require the creation of a product / service as well? The VC thing implies it does...]

Details and that can be found here - winning papers will be published in Campaign, so if you are coming up to graduation and want a job in advertising in these challenging times, it would be worth having a think.