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February 2010

Posts from January 2010

Blind Leading the Blind

Blind walk

You know how I was saying that social media stuff is easier when you do other stuff as well - because then you have content and others things to talk about and that?

On Sunday some fine people [and I] walked blindfolded from Union Square to Times Square.

And there is a video [but it's not embeddable].

It was organized by The Deterritorialized Church [non-religious] who referred to it as a social sculpture.

It was weird, it was interesting, it was one helluva fun way to spend Sunday afternoon.

The Medium isn't the Message

So, with a flurry of excited chirrups, pings and liveblogging, the iNet has heralded the launch of the iPad [and iBooks and everything] with equal amounts of awe, confusion and ridicule - ever the attitudinal breakdown of the geeky [especially when it comes to the name - it seems feminine hygiene products still elicit a titter on twitter].

Recently, partially due to tablets [digital not prescription] and partially due to conversations with @KathySierra over twitter and various people in the book industry IRL, I've been thinking a lot about content and media and that.

[OK, so I think about that kind of thing a lot anyway, but more so.]

For a long time now I've been talking about the medium NOT being the message. 

With all due to respect to McLuhan of course - because it's never entirely clear what he means - but he was I think suggesting that the characteristics of the medium both delineate the nature of the content [but that we tend to not see the medium's delineating effect because we focus on the content] and that the cultural effect of the medium is distinct and larger than the the effect of the content.

All of which makes sense. I think.

Think about what we call advertising.

Its primary form is essentially an historical accident - the nature of what we call advertisements was delineated by the nature and relative scarcity of the transmission vectors.

To whit: we put films on television, and airtime costs money, so we buy it in 30 seconds chunks, and call those advertisements.

[But, as Jim Carrol from BBH has endlessly pointed out, advertising comes from advetere: to draw attention to [literally to turn towards] - so advertising should really be considered to be anything which draws attention to a company. We have tended to conflate the expressions with the intention. Possibly.]

Up until recently however, what we called media were themselves assemblages of a number of different things.

[McLuhan had an extended definition of medium - he included light bulbs - but the point will hold for the primary 'media']

So 'television' isn't actually a clearly defined thing as such - it's a socio-cultural construct of at least two things: content and a distribution platform - the medium.

Books, magazines, radio all work the same way. A 'book' is a bunch of words printed on paper, with a certain set of culturally defined ideas that float around it.

Up until digitalness, you couldn't separate the content from the distribution platform. 

But digital 'content' can be unbundled from its distribution platform.

And the iPad made me realise that it's not just distribution and content - there is a third piece: the consumption platform.

When IBM started talking about the brave new 'world of platform agnostic content and the fluid mobility of media experiences' in 2006, we weren't really there yet. 

Language, as usual, helps us see where changes are occuring.

When you are watching 30Rock on Netflix via your Xbox360, or on Hulu, on a laptop, or screen, or projector, or iPad - are you watching television?

If so - why? If not - why not?

When you are reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on your Kindle [or iPad] - are you reading a book?

If so - why? If not - why not?

What about books like Pride and Prejudice? Because they are no longer under copyright, they are free on the Kindle. Previously you would pay for the consumption vehicle, now you don't need to. 

A Kindle is clearly not a book, and yet it is all books, kind of.

The words don't quite fit properly anymore - because they are bundled constructs.

You have the distribution platform - in pre-digital media these were closed networks: book distributors, magazine distributors, cables, satellites, mobile phone networks.

With digitalness you just need an IP network that you can access anywhere.

Then you have content.

Digital content can take any form: text, audio, video, experience, game and so on.

Then you have consumption platforms: screens basically. Lots of different kinds of screens, that are good in different contexts.

Previously you had 'computers' that were bundled devices for content consumption and creation [and communication and spreadsheets and stuff] - but the iPad seems like it is focused primarily on being a content consumption device for the time being.

[Although the touchscreen only iPad Keynote does sound interesting, from a very personal point of view]

And you have emerging economic ecosystems that plug these things together: things like iTunes and iBooks and app stores and that.

[And yes they are walled gardens, just like when phone networks started doing content for mobiles, because that's how you make the most money from new platforms, manufacturing scarcity and exclusivity - but they will hopefully all become more webby eventually, assuming Google gets its way.]

Returning for a second to the iPad - it's been much discussed as the saviour of PRINT [although of course that word doesn't make sense in a digital context].

But how is an enewspaper any different from a news website, on an iPad? In fact, what do these distinctions even mean in an unbundled media world?

You have text, sounds, images, moving images, interactive experiences, and blends of all these.

What constitutes an unbundled newsPAPER, magazine, tv channel?

Content> distribtution> consumption - the new 'unbundled' mediascape is emerging.

Social Existence

When [some of] the world bifurcated around a line, those that came on found a new social space to create themselves anew.

A division was articifically introduced, because one of the inital effects of computer mediated interaction was the draw of anonymity or the appeal of being someone else, leveraging the space between who you were IRL and your forum handle.

Initially, it was assumed that anonymity was a fundamental aspect of Computer Mediated Communication:

The issue of anonymity is often privileged in CMC scholarship (e.g., Etzioni & Etzioni, 1999; McKenna & Bargh, 2000; Postmes, Spears, Sakhel, & de Groot, 2001; Turkle, 1995).

Some studies have attributed anti-social online behaviors to anonymity (Davis, 2002; Suler & Philips, 1998).

Others have shown that it may foster group norm violations (Jessup, Connolly, & Galegher, 1990; Postmes & Spears, 2000).

Communication online is also characterized as "hyperpersonal" due in part to anonymity (Nowak, Watt, & Walther, 2005; Walther, 1996). That is, the lack of visual cues allows people to selectively self-present for better impression management.

Anonymity and Self-Disclosure on Weblogs

But the draw to disclose who we are, at least partially, is too strong for a social creature whose unique identity as part of a group, is core to our sense of self and self worth.

Our ability to empathize from our own experience is the emotional medium through which we can communicate with other minds.

Then the whole social thing enabled a generation to mediate itself, and identity online became more about self-restraint than self disclosure. 

Platform by platform, what used to be a profile or homepage became a footprint, a distributed identity that expressed itself in different ways in different places.

Content syndicates itself automatically, cross pollinating from the blog to twitter and facebook and back again.

Mapping out a social ecosystem for brands came naturally to those who had seen their own social ecosystem develop and grow, and so intuitively knew how to use these emerging tools and platforms.

To understand the ebbs and flows of attention one really needs to live in the stream. 

[I remember when I first put a URL on my curriculum vitae. Now if you don't have some web presence on there it suggests you have opted out, and you need to be ready to discuss why.]

New aggregation platforms like Flavors.Me use the magic of RSS to stitch your distributed digital identity back together. 

But sometimes it can seem daunting, trying to keep up with an accelerated culture, maintaining the constant stream of phatic pings [and re-pings] that constitute networked relationships.

Jake from Zoomdoggle hired help:

Seriously, I have a problem:
- I have 642 unopened messages on Facebook and haven’t posted a status update since October 1st.
- I have 3,639 followers on Twitter and, though I tweeted 4 times yesterday, each one was a struggle.
- I try to post 6-8 times per day here on Zoomdoggle, but somehow talking about fun is keeping me from having any.
- My primary email account (gmail) currently has 29,568 unread messages. Admittedly most are newsletters I’ve signed up for, or notes from my mom who’s currently bedridden with little more than a laptop to entertain her, still, it’s hard to keep up.

I need a break. Just for a week.

I need someone to take over my Facebook correspondence, picture posting, and commenting. I need someone to blog for me. I need someone to twitter, thumb things up and down on Stumbleupon, and vote things “cute” or “wtf” on Buzzfeed.

Companies are being forced to reconsider how they communicated with customers - from promotional campaigns and customer service bottlenecks, to ongoing monitoring and resolution in real time across whichever engagement space the customer wants to reach out on. 

They are also reaching out for assistance, recruiting new staff and agencies to help manage the tasks.

Whilst 'Google Xistence' is clearly not real and not really from Google, it nevertheless highlights a tension that applies to both individuals and companies.

It suggests a dichotomy, one echoed by George today on PSFK:

Isn’t there some kind of moral there? Like, if you want to get stuff done, stop arseing about with   social media, and get on with it.

But it's not as simple as either / or.

You need a social profile to engage with other people and the world - but you need to be doing other stuff, constantly, to feed it.

To be successful in social spaces, you need to be active in the world.

Or, to put it another way, if you want to have [and be the topic of] interesting conversations, do stuff worth talking about.



A year or so ago I went down the rabbit hole and an excellent time I had too - you can read about that here.

The mistressmind behind the hole is the lovely Samina Virani - culture journalist and women about towns. 

[I found out later that I went to 'high'school with her brother. Small world, right?] 

She says:

As the repertoire of global icons across all infrastructures and systems – politics, religion, finance, to name of a few – has gone rather topsy turvy, an enormous space is emerging where every discourse is called to attention. Things are not what they seemed, or rather, perhaps they were never what they were. 

Traditional signifiers that connote value, identity and to which we attribute meaning have gone rather topsy turvy.  Forget crumply bank notes, oil reserves, and platinum credit cards; now value is attributed to saving the planet from peril. 

The rabbit hole dives into the topsy turvy nature of this marvelous current predicament - value shifting and open questioning - inviting imagination and creative consciousness to playfully embrace the unique dialogue that is emerging, and to propel  a new and spirited freedom of interpretation." 

Which is hard to argue with. 

Her newest curated experience costume liminal bacchanalian mystery tour excursion type thing is next weekend and you may still be able to sign up:

To sign up to smoke’s limited capacity costume event, go to  and pending approval from their madhatter, you will be sent a confirmation email with all event details.


a clandestine hatch in the Chelsea art museum

Saturday Jan 30th; 9pm-2am.

sign up at:

An event wrapped in an ARG wrapped in a mystery, with a chance to dress up? 

See you there, with mad hatters on. 


Culture Boot Camp

Culture Boot Camp

Grant is creating transmedia extensions of his lovely book Chief Culture Officer, as of course he should.

On Feburary 13th he is hosting a Boot Camp for aspiring CCOs.

I've seen Grant present many times and he's great - plus this time you get a whole day of Harvard approved business tools and that. [Don't forget Grant teaches at Harvard Business School].

You should go. I don't think I can make it but I shall be planting spies in the audience.

Here's how to tell you if it's for you:

Are you ready to make your way to the C-Suite? Are you already in a senior position but would like to sharpen your cultural acumen? Are you already your company's unofficial CCO?  As a marketer, planner, media specialist or manager you are uniquely positioned to bring change to the corporation as their Chief Culture Officer

So if that sounds like you - you can buy tickets here

Cross Fertilization

Children of Cyberspace

I'm beginning to suspect that the NYTimes is reading TIGS.

Points of Evidence For Spurious Self-Aggrandizing Supposition:


From TIGS [March 2009]

[Generations seems to turn over pretty fast now.

Well, no, technically I guess they don't, since you need to be born during a certain arbitrarily defined time period to be X or Y or whatever, but actually I think they do, if by generation we mean a bunch of people who are around the same age but have dramatically different habits and thoughts and behavior to people who are older or younger.

In Being Digital, Negroponte says that 'each generation will be more digital than the last'. This is worth remembering. immigrant or native: being native now isn't what will be native soon. And, if I'm right, I mean very very soon. You have to run to keep up with an accelerating culture. 

From NYTimes [Jan 2010]:

But these are also technology tools that children even 10 years older did not grow up with, and I’ve begun to think that my daughter’s generation will also be utterly unlike those that preceded it.

Researchers are exploring this notion too. They theorize that the ever-accelerating pace of technological change may be minting a series of mini-generation gaps, with each group of children uniquely influenced by the tech tools available in their formative stages of development.


From TIGS [December 2009]

Some Next Big Things for 2010:

1. Gestures
Gestural interfaces are the future of human computer interaction, at least until we find a way to connect something straight into your brain. Despite the excitement the first multi-touchscreens triggered and the seeming ubiquity of the iPhone touchscreen paradigm it spawned, little has been made of their potential. Things like FluidTunes – an app which lets you control iTunes by waving your hand in front of the built-in webcam – and interactive installations triggered by similar motion detection both show new ways to interact with content, experiences and brands.

From NYTimes [Jan 2010]:


I'm just sayin'...

It Only Works If They Do Something

Consumer participation

A long, long time ago, in 2004 in fact, I [co]wrote an article for the Financial Times about 'brandals' who had been defacing ads for the then newly minted iPod, complaining about the battery issues the first generation device had.

Later in the piece I suggested that perhaps this willingness to get involved with, or co-create as you would say now, brand communication could be a good thing since it suggested that people were involved and paying attention and that this 'open source communication' might be a way to get advertising back into the cultural conversation.

Then the world turned and consumers got creative and everything.

Later, I suggested that these co-created texts might constitute a pseudo-modern form of communication, where the text itself is collaboratively generated, moving beyond the 'death of the author' into polyphonic, truly heterglossic cultural texts. 

This kind of thing has been sped up / helped along by the nature of digitally immersed content consumers, aware of their ability to create, co-create, modulate and propagate: the participatory consumer I went on about in my thesis

This thinking is, of course, very much in line with Grant's model of cultural communication.

And it now finally seems like the industry has started to accept this point as well - unless there is SOME role for the 'audience' in the creation of the communication, it seems somehow less relevant, and so the top creative award winners all include SOME KIND of participation.

This seems to sit at the convergence of a number of different trends: the interactive nature of digital media; the dismantling of notions of authority the internet has triggered, which leads brands to use their customers to validate their utterances; the need to earn attention and reward it.

But it also seems very pertinent in the question of attitudes and behaviours.

The oldest cogent model of advertising is AIDA: Awareness, Interest, Decision, Action.

This is, of course, grossly simplified but in some form it is still the dominant model the industry ascribes to.

However, behavioural economics, social science and neuroscience all paint a much more complex picture.

Adrian here suggests [quite strongly in fact] that behaviour influences attitudes - and I agree - but these lovely reports Mark highlights points out that we shouldn't be fooled into binary oppositions - behaviour is influenced by all kinds of things: other people, the culture, the environment, the context, priming, anchoring, and on and on. 

Which leads me to my, very small, point.

Things like Earth Hour, which only happens if people turn their lights off, and all communication that requires people to do anything, hinges on a very specific certainty: people did something.

In fact, let's raise this to a general principle:

The reason consumer collaborative creative is considered so awesome is because IT ONLY WORKS IF THEY DO SOMETHING.

And, since, ultimately, what we are trying to do, is get people to do stuff, that is, change their behaviour, these campaigns, I suspect, strike a chord because, by their very nature, they indicate some degree of success.

We, The Makers

View more presentations from John V Willshire.

Over the break I read Cory Doctorow's new novel Makers

Set, as his books usually are, in the almost-now-just-around-the-corner awesomeness of the near future, it charts the tale of a world where people can make stuff. 

It begins at point of inflection, the collapse of an economic system, the birth of another - NEW WORK - and its subsequent tribulations, and features exciting co-created theme park rides, an evil Empire [DisneyWorldThemeParks -the fallen star of his first book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom] and cute goth kids and robots and everything.

But the stars of the book are the fabbers - 3D printers. 

I've geeked out about these before - because they change everything, once they work properly, which is one of the key struggles in the book - printers that can print components of themselves, and thus create more printers. 

Or indeed, anything else. Like products and that. 

Which is very much the theme of Willsh's excellent presentation above.

See - so far the social revolution has mostly restricted itself to media because the tools of content production are easier to democratize, and because of the free distribution platform the web provides. 

The radical dentralization of the economics of cultural production have not yet really impacted industrial production much. 

Of course there are lots of steps towards co-creation of products - but in essence this is the practice of making the industrial production line flexible enough to mass personalize products and let everyone choose the colours they want - which are then sent through the industrial machine to get made - or the crowdsourcing of ideas for products, which are likewise fed into the machine.

But as Wilsh points out, we are moving towards the technologies necessary for social production. 

As I said in my first post about fabbers, when you print your own products in a home nanofactory, you might still be buying branded CAD files, or something like that, which is what happens in Makers, as the IP players like Disney license their IP across yet another platform.

But anything that exists digitally can be copied and distributed at zero cost, and once everyone has a fabber, a new type of industrial revolution seems inevitable. 

My Dreams, My Day

Today's selection from the Nikon Festival, also brought to my attention via some enterprising auteur's outreach. 

Here's what he said:

The video shows what can be created in one's own backyard, as opposed to needing special privileges to VIP locations and celebrities, and the video still follows the festival directions - to show what it is like to be you, with high image quality, originality, and ability to capture Nikon's theme.

Normal posting, whatever that may constitute, will probably resume soon. 

Welcome to MMX - it's gonna rock.