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Posts from March 2014

SnowCrashing The FaceRift

Media in Canada Oculus

[post title inspired by the cartoon Tripping the Rift] 

The nice people at Media In Canada asked me to write the inaugural piece of a new series they are running on innovative media platforms.

I wrote a thing about the possibilities represented by the Facebook purchase of Oculus Rift. 

Science has long had a tendency to look to its fictional namesake for inspiration.

I wrote about the influence Snow Crash has had on web tech years back.

[A topic being explored in much more details recently in a series of pieces called Snow Crashing in Dan Hon's excellent newsletter.] 

It seems pretty obvious that The Oculus Aquisition [which sounds like a Big Bang Theory episode] is a leapfrog bet on the post-mobile platform.

And it seems the new Oculus Chief Scientist does indeed have Stephenson's Metaverse in mind

Now, no doubt, there are innumerable challenges to actually creating anything like that - Oculus was originally conceived as a gaming platform. 

But what interested me about it is that it could represent not just a new media platform but rather a new kind of medium. 



What is the most innovative media platform in market today?

That is the question MiC is posing to the industry, with Faris Yakob, co-founder of strategy and innovation consultancy Genius Steals and former chief innovation officer at MDC Partners first up to bat with a response, talking about the potential future for Facebook following last week’s acquisition of virtual reality company Oculus VR.

By: Faris Yakob

What constitutes a media platform?

A medium, like television, is an assemblage term, meaning a kind of content, a distribution platform, a consumption platform. Digital strips these things apart, so content that was locked onto one platform can now move across others, where they can be embedded and shared. That said, on whatever screen, we’ve been restricted to the formats that have existed for a long time: video, pictures, text, sounds.

With Facebook buying Oculus Rift, we have the potential for a genuinely new kind of medium.

Facebook got pummeled by the market for not adapting to the biggest shift in digital media consumption thus far: the move to mobile. Mobile presents a whole new set of challenges and opportunities – especially if your business model is advertising. 

Ads are small, lack impact and are especially unwelcome on mobile devices.

FaceRift is a bet on the next stage of the internet, one long predicted in science fiction – the Metaverse from Snow Crash – a complete, collaborative, virtual environment.

If Facebook turns Oculus into a dominant platform, Zuck has just bought the next generation operating system for humanity, which could replace the protocols we call the world wide web.

How will we navigate, create, socialize and shop in immersive virtual environments?

What role will advertising and brands have? We will probably begin by building stores (just as we did in Second Life, due to a lack of imagination and experience), but if the platform takes off, we will need to rethink the role of the audience/user.

To create experiences that are literally immersive, a whole new set of skills will be needed, just as companies have begun to realize that technology is a strategic, not a support function for every business.

So, while it’s still up to producers and consumers and the vagaries of fate to see what will happen, FaceRift might just become an (or the) innovative next generation media platform.

Or it might be Bird Flight Media – a media company that just launched in Vancouver that ties tiny banners to a variety of birds.

But I assume that’s not real. 

The Old Future of Advertising

My mate Jon tweeted me this video of Iain Tate and I rambling on in Romania from 2007.

Good times. We were quite hungover, me moreso I think.

Iain looks almost exactly the same. I have more hair now. And, underneath, I look older. I imagine.

Content, the fight for attention, death of ads, marketing is the product, is the service. 

Round and round we go. For such a long time. 

I've been thinking a lot about this content and attention stuff recently.

For some Genius Steals clients, for some writing I've been asked to do, with some mates of mine in agencies who are thinking about it and wanted an opinion. 

It seems to be the only conversation right now.  

Content marketing

We started talking about it, this time around, in this form, because of the internets, I think, in about 2007. 

It was presented as a threat to the industry, and I suggested that it would just cause evolution as we strove to find new ways to present the brand memes represent to audiences in new forms. 

Later, I started thinking about business models, and how content works online in that context, and how advertising fits in, and suggested that shifting money into production, out of media, to make things people want to watch, might be a good idea. 

Then it got all real time for a while and suddenly everyone had a newsroom and was a publisher. 

[Which isn't a new idea, the brand as publisher bit, I mean. Guiness Book of Records. Michelin Guide. All original programs on television, before spot advertising was invented.]

Which is well and good, if a bit tiring if you try to keep the newsroom up, but my concern is that we just shifted from assuming advertising was the solution to all problems, to assuming content is the solution. 

Content is great, doing things that earn attention is a good idea - but opens us up to being in competition for attention with an infinite amount of content, made by everyone, of different qualities, from childish to professional.

The solus funcion of most of this content is to aggregate attention, because this is the only measure of the 'quality' of any quantum of content. Attention is scarcer and scarcer everyday.

And making good, succesful content is super hard, otherwise every big movie and album would be a hit. But they aren't, because nobody knows anything, to quote William Goldman, about what the network will latch on to. There's a huge amount of randomness in the process of popularity.

That's why you have to adopt the portfolio model, make many, assume one out of ten will hit, and back it hard when you work out which one is gaining traction.

Brand content has to navigate all that as well, and then precipitate some commercial impact after. 

And maybe it does present a threat to the creative advertising industry, since, well, our other partners, the media companies that we've been buying attention from for all these years, also have a business model problem, and are really good at making content, fast, that is designed to attract attention.

And maybe, since there is so much content, brands can help solve that problem, or do something else, instead of adding their sticks to the stream. 

Strategy incorporates changes in the world, as fast as it can, and has to have a role in helping to decide what kind of solution migh best serve the brand, user, and objective.

Sometimes, no doubt, that is and should be content, or advertising. It depends on the need, the objectives, the situation.

The internet promised to swallow the costs of reproduction and distribution - so we started thinking like dandelions, squeezing out lots of tiny pieces of content, all the time, to work into the content cadence of real people on these platforms. 

But, as Facebook has aptly demonstrated, we remain at the mercy of the algorithm of the stream.

So now we have to buy attention in the stream, just like we did before, except every stream is different. 

Again, I'm all for content. This is not about hating content. That's silly. 

I've been blogging and that here on TIGS for nearly a decade. It dips and rises, but I keep coming back, and it has, over the long term [and content/social is a long term play], been awesome, intellectually, socially, personally and commercially.

[Remember: brands only care about the commercial bit though.] 

I didn't realize I was doing content marketing, or in-bound marketing, but I think I worked out a brand voice and content strategy and that. 

I've made friends, met interesting people, got interesting opportunities that have taken me all over the world, scored a couple of jobs, co-wrote a book, and found a lot of like minded people who helped me think I wasn't going crazy, and from whom I have continuted to learn such a lot, for all these years. All, indirectly, or directly, from creating content. [Among other things.] 

I just don't think content, or any thing, should be the only thing we consider, when looking to solve problems, or reach people.

And that, sometimes, the most awesome content, is just reportage of some really awesome thing you actually did in the world, like getting a guy to jump out of a satellite, or taking a stand on factory farms.

And, because Iain is smarter than me, he got much further than the content conversation, in one leap, all the way back in 2007, to what Dan Hon and Russell Davies have been talking about more recently: the product is the service is the marketing.

For digital things, the distinction has becomes super blurry, to use an old favorite word of Russell's. 

And for non-digital things, marketing should be about making better products, and fixing stupid ecosystems, as well as making  stories that stir the heart and get spread, which I believe will still be important, actually, because the collective intelligence of the internet is beyond any specific node's abililty to truly leverage, and anyway we make decisions that are rarely very intelligent, about what we buy. 

And i understand, lord do I understand, that often our clients don't have access to the bits of the system that let's them change silly broken things. This is why, I think, we started making digital utilities and sort of products and that for clients, it was both a new way to earn attention, and a kind of workaround. 

The true promise of this newly talking, broadcasting, collective of unique individuals that we call consumers, is being felt in the kinds of businesses that are being built in the stream, as it were.

And it is, I believe, entirely possible for legacy structured corporations to do similar things, if they can learn to take themselves a bit less seriously, and listen to people, and try to help their customers, putting customer satisfaction before the demands of the market [as much as possible, we can't be naive, but the business case will out eventually, and growth through cost reduction is ultimately a dead end, eventually], and allocate budgets accordingly, and incentivize staff appropriately, extrinsically and intrinsically, and all that jazz. 

Because it feels like the kinds of things we can do, as an industry, with our hunger for beauty and usefulness, with our curiousity and creative tenacity, with our eye on culture and behavior and everything, for and with brands that do make awesome things, and do awesome things in the world, would just be more....awesome. 


Strands of Genius

Strands of Genius

Genius Steals has launched a weekly newsletter, building on the glories of and wonderful reception to Rosie's Tuesday Ten. 

[Translation: she's graciously letting me get involved in something she worked very hard to build into awesome. ] 

As Neil and Colin both pointed out last year, despite there being too much email in the world, we feel there's been a resurgence of interest in the newsletter - especially newsletters of carefully curated awesomeness.

It feels like a response to the changes in the relationship that we used to have, as bloggers, with readers and each other, as sharing tools exploded into infinity. 

Content is constantly crying out for your attention.

Strands of Genius is our lovingly crafted solution to your digital FOMO.

Settle down with a nice, triple distilled, full flavor, no crash later cup-of-strands instead.

Intriguing, manageable, soothing, designed to kindle the mind and warm the cockles of your heart. 

A modern, weekly, correspondence. A cultural dispatch, philosophical at times, technological and digestible.

You can - and should - subscribe below. 


Get Strands of Genius!


Better Traveling Through Technology

Travel brilliantly

Genius Steals is doing some more work with Marriot folllowing our series on the future of travel with Fast Company

The final piece was a future facing musing on the possible impact of virtual travel. It was one of my favorites, since it let us think about how technology and media and people and the future interact. 

One way to explore ideas is to push things to logical extremes.

In this instance, assuming infinitely better mediation technologies, infinite bandwidth, and every object and pair of eyes or contact lenses IP enabled and streaming, you could take an immediate vacation into the life of any other person on the planet. 

Not quite being John Malkovitch, but certainly seeing it.

Every lifestream becomes a television station.

Reality TV becomes real life. 7 billion channels and nothing on. Real violence and sex, trending lives, seen through the screen. Everyone is a voyeur, a lifejacker, everything is public and permanent, and the more viewers on your stream, the more attention you can assemble, the more value your life.

The ability to aggregate attention in an infinite space becomes the only way to guage the relative value of any quantum of content, if it isn't already, and everyone is a media company.

You can read Traveling Without Moving and let me know what you think. 

Now we are excited to be judging the Marriot Travel Brilliant Innovation Contest, since innovation and travel are things very close to the heart of Genius Steals. 

You can enter your ideas to make travel more awesome on the Travel Brilliantly site and win the chance to bring that idea to life, whilst being pampered by Marriot. 

Best of luck.