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December 2008

Posts from November 2008

Spreadable Media

[The video above was made by mate Mauricio and Ricardo Justus for a panel at FOE3 - it is a mash up made from a Brazilian film called Tropa De Elite, a film which was embraced and spread by remix culture.]

One of the important things that FOE3 left me with, apart from how awesome everyone was, was the re-framing that C3 has brought to what we really shouldn't be calling viral content.

I've been getting angry about the use of the word viral for a long time. About two years ago I tried to explain why people using the word was very frustrating:

Viral is a thing that happens, not a thing that is.

If people pass your communication on, it's viral. If they don't, it's not. Sometimes I get calls saying this viral isn't performing very well - what's the problem? We've seeded it to all the right places, it's on youtube and everything - where's our traffic? The problem is usually that they've made an ad that contains nothing people consider worth showing to their friends.

Unless you would be willing to send whatever it is to your mates - it's not viral!

I remain in agreement with myself on this. 

My brother, who is an awesome epidemiological modeler [among other things] would point out to me that the 'viral' metaphor is flawed - ideas do not propagate through populations like diseases - so using the word like I do above protests against something that the signifier belies.

This metaphor is very seductive and very hard to get rid of. It lets us think we understand. And specificaly, it re-affirms the structure of control. It implies all you need to do is create something that is 'viral' enough and it spreads through populations like, well, a virus - it self-propagates.

This is simply untrue.

What we mean when something goes 'viral' is that LOTS OF PEOPLE CHOOSE TO PROPAGATE IT. It requires people to do something. Voluntarily. For their own reasons. It is not simply a new way to broadcast our messages through populations. It suggests we push, when in fact they pull.

This is a complete inversion of the viral model.

As Watts has pointed out, the structure of the network is perhaps more important in predicting the spread of content than the nature of the content - the same thing can succeed or fail depending on network structure. 

But saying something is viral, we focus entirely on the content itself and not on the needs of the people that we are asking to spread ideas.

"People don't engage with each other to engage viruses; people
exchange viruses as an excuse to engage with each other." Douglas

Shenja Van Der Graaf "The main feature of viral marketing is that it
heavily depends on interconnected peers. Viral marketing is inherently

As Henry points out, people do not spread things to spread them. Like so much social communication, it has a social function, both phatic and generous. It operates within a gift economy, where value is generated in transference, not purchase.

Further, as I've endlessly pointed out, if you let people mess with your content, it gets more spreadable - because people suddenly have a personal stake in its propagation - this insight was at the heart of propagation planning, learning that we took from the Sony work and applied to the digital activation of the Cadbury's Gorilla campaign, the digital longevity of which was driven entirely by remix culture.

This ties into Mark's work on direct and indirect copying as the driving mechanism of behaviour spreading through populations.

We need to forget about trying to make things viral and begin to understand what people would like to spread and why.

You can read Henry's opening remarks here:

If it doesn't spread, it's dead.

This Book Will Be Famous

Book famous
Asi and Nicky have put together a lovely Book Crossing / 6 degrees of separation project.

The book in questions tries to find its way into the hands of famous people, who then add to it and pass it on, adding value to it in the process.

Once its full they are going to auction it off for the NSPCC - officially a GOOD THING.

More details here and here - another example of hybrid ideas that traverse the digital and the 'real' world - the book's real world progress gets tracked and shared online.

We are Sterling Cooper (or why brands really shouldn't sue their biggest fans)

We are sterling cooper

Every generation, every moment in history, tends to feel transitional.

It seems to be a natural human tendency to feel like Janus, looking backwards at the past and forwards into the future at the same time, applying an ongoing narrative progression to history and, by inference, putting ourselves at an inflection point, at the death and birth of paradigms.

Which is why I'm always a little skeptical of my own tendency to believe that things are changing for the awesome.

But my optimism (or possibly meliorism) should and does overcome my skepticism.

Owners of brands and intellectual property have for a good long while acted somewhat Janus like (or at least two-faced) .

One the one hand (or face) they crave attention and love of the most hardcore fans - those people who obsessively love and advocate their product or story.

On the other, because they insist on being loved within specific parameters, on controlling the relationship entirely, on defending the abstract notion they have of what the product or story is and should be and should be for, they tend to sue people who love them the most.

Whilst this seems entirely counter-intuitive it is and has been the basic response of anyone who steps outside the boundaries they define.

When Jose Avilla created a website to show off the furniture he had created out of FedEx boxes, FedEx forced the ISP to take the site down under DMCA.

Mattel has had numerous legal run ins with people who like making their own, challenging, versions of Barbie.

Metallica sued 30,000 fans that downloaded / seeded the most Metallica tracks on Napster, also under the DMCA

There are lots of different flavours and issues in these examples, but at the heart of the problem is the basic fact that the knee-jerk response to communicating with these people, who are the BIGGEST FANS OF BRAND, who love and tirelessly prosletyse for it, is a legal cease and desist for lawyers.

This is quite fascinatingly insane.

Fanfiction has always existed within this world. Writers of fan fiction are deeply immersed in the narrative worlds they add to. There is a huge fan fiction subculture and very different attitudes from creators about it.

When people began to spontaneously twitter in the guise of characters from Mad Men, AMC's response was as to jerk their knee: legal cease and desist orders to twitter.

But, and here's where perhaps the glimmer of inflection appears, their digital agency Deep Focus suggested that perhaps this wasn't really a very good idea, and AMC came around.

Bud, one of the Sterling Cooper twitterers, has collated strands of the story and is publishing a report about the experience on December 8th:

We're your biggest fans, your die-hard proponents, and when your show gets cancelled we'll be among the first to pass around the petition. Talk to us. Befriend us. Engage us. But please, don't treat us like criminals.

Change Blindess

The sequel to the Spot the Bear ad that caused a little furor a while back has dropped.

This is not an imitation, although it is stolen, and stolen well.

The idea behind it is called change blindness, a fascinating perceptual phenomenon that gives an indication as to how we actually process visual data.

The original experiment was done by two of the progenitors of behavioural economics - Levins and Simons, in the door experiment.

Someone stops a student on campus and asks for directions. Then, while directions are being given, workmen carry a door between subject and someone, obscuring the view of the lost person. At which point, the person is replaced with someone else as the door goes by.

Amazingly, the people giving directions almost never notice.

Actually, it's not amazing at all, because this is how perception works: making sense of visual data is an act of filtering out unimportant information. The amount of raw information firing into your visual cortex is incomprehensible. In this context, our brains decide what the person looks like is irrelevant - they key thing is the directions.

The reason we think it's amazing that people don't notice that it's a different person, which is also the reason that this spot works, is because of a metacognitive error that Levins and Simons call change blindness blindness.

We rarely notice significant massive changes in the visual field when our perception is disrupted by things like saccades or, the filmic equivalent, tracking shots, like in the spot above.

But we tend to think we will. Repeatedly. Even when we are shown that we don't.

This is because it deviates from what we believe about how we see. That is, we believe our eyes beam reality directly into our brains, because that's how we perceive perceiving.

But perception is not reality.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Rabbit hole 

[From here]

Last night I went down the rabbit hole.

Rabbit holes are what the entry points into ARGs are called [although the urban dictionary has some other, more colourful definitions] - a reference to Alice following the white rabbit into wonderland.

But I wasn't playing an ARG, at least not in the traditional sense - I was buying a t-shirt.

The Urban Rabbit Hole project took some of the tropes of ARGs and built them into a product - in fact they built a lot of marketing into the product itself:

Gaming behaviours and manufactured exclusivity: in order to buy the t-shirt you had to find an invitation code and enter it on the website.

Personalisation: The idea for the t-shirt is that you paint five red dots on a map of Manhattan, all of which represent some important place for you. 

Geotility: OK it's not really geotility exactly but an obsession with location, and specifically our own locations as shown by a dot on a map, is an inevitable consequence of GPS enabled handsets.

Create experiences and curate social spaces
: To buy the t-shirt you had to attend an event. It was theatrical - people in costumes hand you tubes of absinthe, you meet a bunch of people and then get drunk together with red paint. During the course of the event someone hands you a key and a note with clues on how to find the afterparty. 

[Somehow paint got on my face. And other people's faces. This was FUN.]

Create a story around your product: the whole thing becomes a story, itself an aggregation of other people's personal stories, which are being compiled into an anthology.

Stories tell themselves, people like to narrate, so they get passed on.

Like this.

Most of what I love about the t-shirt I bought is not, in fact, the t-shirt.

The product is primarily a souvenir: an invitation to others to tell a story.

The product is decompiled into a process.

Brand Karma

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: digital google)

Neil has written a lovely deck about why generosity is the future of marketing and how to start being generous.

It ties together a bunch of different things I've been thinking about, making me realise that they aren't really different things at all:  being nice, making people happy, considering the fact that messaging may not be as important as the emotions we can elicit, the belief that brands should do GOOD THINGS, building longer term relationships looking towards a longer term reward, an ongoing affection or affiliation that delivers ongoing returns, rather than focusing too restrictively on the short term sale.

Or, to put it another way, brand karma.

Motrin Palimpsest

[Via a Chroma Tweet]

So - you know what I was saying below about digital content being a palimpsest? An invitation to overwrite?

The Motrin ad that caused such a stir among tweeting mothers yesterday has been rewritten today.

The original can be seen here.

There is perhaps a conversational content flow, a communication cycle: read, react, remix, rewrite, renew, reinitialize.

Or other things that begin with re.

Up to you, really.

Digital Palimpsests


[Taken somewhere in Rio]

Yesterday I updated the previous post but as well as adding a couple of lines at the bottom I re-wrote some of the body text, in a way that indicates it has been re-written - I turned the post into a palimpsest.

And then I began to see them everywhere.

A palimpsest is a manuscript that has been overwritten. It comes from way way back in the day when parchment or vellum was expensive and durable so scribes would scrape off what had been written and write over it. But, inevitably, trace of what was there are left behind, making the new text an iterative build on the previous.

A wall of street art is an urban version - each work builds on / writes over the other. Toilet door graffiti is the same.

In the digital world, everything is a palimpsest.

Wikis are pure - each overwrite can completely erase what came before or it can build on it, add and comment.

But all digital content can be re-written. I can go back and change any post. Any video or image can be retroactively altered, overwritten. Digital content exists in constant flux.

This builds on the idea that content is a process, the beginning of a conversation, a substrate for additional creation.

Endlessly iterative, with each iteration adding some new element, some new lease of life to the original.

Each remix is simply the next step in an ongoing journey through recombinant culture.

Content becomes conversation.

Layer tennis is a literal expression of this - creative consequences for CS3 - but any piece of digital content should be considered as a palimspsest from the outset. 

Whether or not you want them too, someone will have something to add.

BeerSphere is Here!

New beersphere logo

Quick reminder, primarily to show off the new logo kindly donated by design ninja and all around excellent chap Andy, that BeerSphere is here. 

At some point today, in a bunch of different places around the world, a bunch of nice people who don't all yet know each other will hopefully be drinking beer and hanging out. 

Below is the most recent list of hosts [go and say hi!] and locations. 

Come one, come all, drink and be merry. 

“It is well to remember that there are five reasons for drinking: the arrival of a friend, one's present or future thirst, the excellence of the wine, or any other reason.”

The Date: Thursday November 13th 2008

[That's is no longer today] 

New York [with me]: Obivia, 201 Lafayette Street from 6pm. [Happy hour runs until 8pm and there should be some free Ketel One splashing about too. Don't say I don't look after you.] MAP.

London [with Rachel and Co]: Will meet 6.30pm onwards at the Commercial Tavern, 142-144 Commercial Street, London E1 6NU. We've got the upstairs bar. See you there! Details.

Toronto [with Jason and Dino]: 6:30pm The Bedford Academy, 36 Prince Arthur Avenue. [Featuring interpretive dance by Dino, and late evening partial nudity by Jason.]

Sydney [with Julian]: Date: Thursday 13 November Time: 6:30pm Venue: The Cricketers Arms, 106 Fitzroy St, Surry Hills (map)

Melbourne [with David]:Red Hummingbird, 246 Russell Street, just up from the corner of Lonsdale from 6:30pm. We’ll meet on the rooftop as I’m banking on the weather being lovely (currently predicted to be 29 degrees!), if you haven’t been there before you will see a red birdcageover the entrance. Map.

Berlin: [with David]: Berlin Beersphere is from 7pm at Odessa Bar, 89 Torstrasse. Details.

Boston: [with Conner and Gareth]: Bukowski’s @ 50 Dalton St, Boston, Map

Amsterdam [with Jeremy and Jonas]: from 6.30pm at Cafe de Huyschkaemer.Details

Bucharest [with Elena]: Amsterdam Grand Café ( 6 Covaci St., district 3, Bucharest) starting 19h. Details.

[UPDATE: Thanks to everyone that came and special thanks to everyone that hosted! Fun had by all. I've put some pictures of NYC on the Beersphere Fbook Group - feel free to add your own.]