Posts Tagged ‘social media’

Where we’re going, we don’t need roads

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

A year or so ago I was about here in terms of how I felt about ‘social media’.

Today, I’m somewhere round about here:

Feldman’s right, there’s nothing revolutionary about Twitter.  It’s just another iteration of the Internet.  And ‘social media’ – just a phrase we invented to encapsulate the overdue realisation that the web is best employed for talking to each other, rather than just sitting here being shouted at through a screen by brands and corporations with a vocabulary and an emotional intelligence that would shame a five-year-old.

With that in mind, this post marks the retirement of the ‘social media’ tag on Idea IS the format, and heralds the arrival of the ‘snake oil’ tag.  See you on the other side.

These are the voyages…

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Being a fan is more than just liking something.  Or loving something.  It’s about loving-to-love something.

In the case of movies, fandom invests them with a whole new narrative, specific to each of us, of which we are an intrinsic part. It begins long before the curtain rises, and comes to an end only if our enthusiasm ever begins to wane.

This is a story social media can tell. And it’s a story that movie marketers and film publicists can no longer afford to ignore. Because, more than ever before, this is the story we ought to be selling.

_ _ _

What happened in Sydney

I received final confirmation that I was heading out to Sydney for STAR TREK’s global premiere about twenty-four hours before I boarded the plane.

We’d been talking to Paramount for a while about how we could put something of the occasion online for the franchise’s worldwide following , but some of the details didn’t get locked down until the last minute. Turned out I was one of those details.

The view from floor 31 of the Intercontinental (by day)

PPC’s remit was a now familiar one – use the premiere and the press junket as a platform on which to bring fans and film-makers closer together, harnessing the social web as a medium through which to drive anticipation of the film’s release.

In order to make this happen we would be given short slots at the junket with director J.J. Abrams and cast members Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Karl Urban (McCoy), John Cho (Sulu) and Eric Bana (Nero), and a slot in the online pen for the red carpet.

The plan was to crowd-source a selection of questions via Twitter, feeding back the answers as video clips via a dedicated channel on Phreadz, with live footage streamed from the red carpet using Ustream and a jail-broken iPhone.

It felt like a healthy little mash-up, and a good way to create some fan-centric content differentiated from the usual syndicated sound-bites by a greater measure of immediacy, and raw authenticity.

A happy detail was that Phreadz founder Kosso was in Melbourne, and agreed to head over with fellow ‘phreadhead’ Fiz to help keep put it together.

The other key player in the process was Marc Berry, back at PPC Interactive HQ, busy driving awareness of what we were up to.

Working with fan site Marc generated a pool of over two hundred fan-submitted questions, and secured a large captive audience for our output, which included some of the following clips:

If we succeeded in engaging a significant number of fans, putting their questions to film-makers, and reaching a sizeable audience with the responses, it feels as though that’s as much as we did.

For one thing, the days of “gosh they used social media” are well and truly over. A year ago we could attract interest by the simple fact of bringing Harrison Ford to Seesmic, or Bruce Willis to Second Life. Nowadays celeb 2.0 is the status quo, with half of Hollywood tweeting details of their perilously demystified day-to-day lives.

This celebrity invasion is intrinsically linked to the fact that Twitter is becoming ubiquitous, and has comfortably peaked in terms of the mainstream media hype it has the potential to generate. Right now, if you want to make news using Twitter, you need to start a revolution.

Meanwhile, the social web already has no shortage of more substantive representation at your average movie premiere. Guys like Nate “Blunty” Burr (below, left) and Bruce “CoolShite” Moyle (right) are becoming a regular fixture on the red carpet.  Nate’s Youtube channel has over 57,958 subscribers, and almost 2.5m views under its belt, while CoolShite is one of Australia’s hardest working sites dedicated to films, TV, comics, games and anything genre and pop culture.

Nate (Blunty3000) & Bruce (Coolshite)

The fast-growing audience they represent are just some of the movie fans who have eschewed established sources of news and views in favour of this less formal approach lacking none of the expertise or critical insight offered by the traditional outlets. On the contrary, these guys travel light and cover an awful lot of ground, meaning they really know their stuff, and don’t bring any of the usual baggage.

They use whatever they find in the online toolshed to get the message out to every one of their readers, viewers, listeners, followers and subscribers, meeting each of us on our own terms.  And they know that as long as that audience keeps on growing, they’ll go on getting closer to the action.

It’s because of guys like them that, even as I was taking this photo at the fringes of the red carpet outside Sydney Opera House, a whole room full of their American cousins were settling down to watch STAR TREK at its real world premiere, at the Alamo Drafthouse, in Austin, Texas.

_ _ _

What happened in Austin

For some reason Austin is fast establishing itself as the geek capital of the world. It’s called home by leading bloggers across a broad spectrum of subject matter, and plays host to the annual South by Southwest interactive festival – a mecca for social media mavens from all over the world.

Fitting then that Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse saw a few hundred geeks assemble for a special Fanfest screening of STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, only to watch as the print dissolved after the first few minutes had played out.

Even as Drafthouse owner Tim League appeared to be dealing with the mess in the projection booth, Leonard Nimoy appeared onstage, and asked the enraptured crowd if they wouldn’t rather watch the new STAR TREK movie instead.

With the benefit of hindsight, maybe we should have expected something like this from J.J. Abrams. With his challenging, often bewildering but always inventive marketing campaigns for LOST and CLOVERFIELD, he is a director who evidently also relishes any opportunity to manipulate, mislead and, well, misdirect.

If Sydney was about the eye candy, here was the brain food. Nimoy was accompanied by producer Damon Lindelof and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman; pretty much the perfect film-maker delegation for an audience of diehard bloggers and serial movie fans, including writers from leading film sites Ain’t It Cool News (AICN) and Film School Rejects (FSR), to name but two.

Because, of course, this wasn’t just about treating a room full of fanboys to a surprise sneak preview. What happened in Austin was a carefully considered move by the studio, and one that could prove every bit as important to the commercial fortunes of this film as any official premiere.

Online news outlets like AICN and FSR matter more than ever to the studios. With the US being by far the biggest market for the STAR TREK franchise, it was vital that Paramount kept these guys ahead of the curve. The way they see it, if somebody’s going to be breaking the embargo, it damn well better be them.

And break the embargo they did, posting with the explicit blessing of Damon Lindelof, who actively encouraged the audience to go forth and start spreading the word.

These days major movie campaigns need their defining moment, and, when it comes, they need it to go their way.  What happened in Austin ticked both boxes, taking on a life of its own as it reverberated around the web.

The amplification came in a flurry of reaction, first on Twitter, then with a volley of largely favourable reviews appearing on outlets including AICN, FSR, Twitch, CHUD and Cinema Blend.

Within hours Paramount formally announced that the embargo, previously set at April 20th, was no longer in place.

And in the days that followed news continued to spread, eventually infiltrating the mainstream with this feel-good story of how the studio behind a franchise so synonymous with its fanatical following had orchestrated an opportunity to put the fans first.

_ _ _

You’re either on it or you aren’t

Now that I’ve stopped to think about what had happened in Austin, I’ve started seeing traditional film premieres in a new light.

Chris Pine

Red carpet premieres have been a staple of film publicity for as long as films have been publicised.  They’re are the ultimate photo-call, and the perfect opportunity for the studio to put the talent in the shop window, letting them sprinkle a little good old-fashioned stardust on the assembled press, dignitaries and fans.

Old media – print, TV, radio – thrive on the spectacle. The bright lights and big ideas are perfect feature-fodder, there to remind us that somewhere over the rainbow is a life less ordinary, pitched forever slightly beyond our reach.

They are ‘magical’ occasions.  And, if magic is about misdirection, premieres can be feats of bravura prestidigitation, conjuring the illusion of so much more than what is essentially a glorified product launch.

There, at the centre of the action, is that most analogue of inventions – the red carpet. Let’s face it, when push comes to shove, you’re either on it or you aren’t.

It’s one of the last great bastions of Them™-and-us, spelling out in the most binary of terms that they are the players, that we are the crowd, and that never the twain shall meet.

So that once the doors are closed, the bulbs stop flashing, and the stars in our eyes begin to fade, many of the people who care most about the movie are still standing there, clutching signed posters and autograph books, on the other side of the barrier.

_ _ _

You’ll hear it there first

If premieres really are about Them™-and-us, and the exclusion at the heart of exclusivity, maybe we were missing the point trying to bring a little you-and-me to proceedings.

Eric Bana, JJ Abrams, John Cho, (and a whole shitload of other less famous people)

Sure, there will always be Them-and-us™.  There will always be eye candy, and people happy to be held at arm’s length.

But you-and-me, we’re different.  We’re the real fans.  Our stories are told through the prism of love, shared purpose and common interest.

As micro-blogging shifts gears and its popularity snowballs, we can become part of a global focus group, organically redrawing its agenda in real time, constantly re-envisaging itself based on its own conclusions.

This has the potential to move us past the binary aristocracy of old media, into a new age in which knowledge and perspicacity are our currency, the more current the better.  The last of the latency is taken out of circulation, the last of the delay out of distribution.

And, as we invent new ways to share our thoughts, our ideas, and the things that spontaneously happen around us, we’ll discover a new kind of proximity to the things we love-to-love, the things we hate, and everything in between.

SXSWi 2008: We, the people

Thursday, March 13th, 2008


In many parts of the world, communalism is a modern term that describes a broad range of social movements and social theories which are in some way centered upon the community – Wikipedia.
_ _ _

Just arrived home from South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi), a 4-day coming-together of bloggers, geeks and new media mavens in and around the convention centre in Austin, Texas. My mind’s still buzzing and I can’t sleep, so here it is; my SXSWi.
_ _ _

What am I doing here?

Saturday morning. I have little or no idea what to expect, beyond a long queue to register. As it is I find time to get my pass, smoke, get coffee, defecate, say hello to CC Chapman, smoke, collect my freebie bag, empty my freebie bag onto a nearby table, smoke and get coffee, before ducking into the first of the panels that catches my eye.

It used to be that if you ran a bad ad campaign and everybody hated it you could just pull it. These days, just when you think the inferno of negative blog coverage is finally dying down, you’ll end up featuring in The Suxorz: The Worst Ten Social Media Ad Campaigns of 2007 watching the embers of your humiliation fanned back into a roaring flame by such denizens of interactive media as Steve Hall (Adrants), Jeff Jarvis (BuzzMachine) and Rebecca Lieb (ClickZ).

The panel is a lynching, albeit an entertainingly insightful one, and, as it happens, just a foretaste of what’s to come at SXSWi 2008. It opens the programme by firing a warning shot across the bows of marketers like myself who feels compelled to venture into the undiscovered country of web 2.0; do so with caution, and respect for the natives. They have sharper spears than you do. And they have more of them.
_ _ _

Following the morning’s bloodlust and a lunchtime burrito I settle down by a power point in Ballroom A for the day’s keynote, with Henry Jenkins. I do so with absolutely no idea who he is. It doesn’t surprise me to learn that he’s an academic and an author. It doesn’t mention in the programme notes that he is also a man of visionary brilliance.

‘I’ vs ‘we’

Jenkins introduces many notions throughout his Opening Remarks, but the point at which SXSWi really starts for me is when he first presents the notion of ‘collective intelligence’, using it to describe our increasing capacity to process information in ever closer conjunction with one another, making use of the rapidly widening array of social networking tools at our disposal.

Jenkins sees collective intelligence driving change and convergence in the areas of education, politics and entertainment. He cites the example of the Harry Potter books, seeing a generation learning not only to read, but also to write, socialise and become political through Rowling’s work, articulated and aggregated through blogs, online communities and other social networks.

He also discusses the television series LOST, strands of which are more fully realised and developed through websites and other interactive channels, by which individual ‘pathologizing’ creates a communally realised narrative. And, looking within World of Warcraft, Guild loyalties are understood as a new, wholly legitimate form of ‘civic connection’.

Eventually Jenkins arrives at the question of how this cumulative creative energy can be harnessed to improve society. The closest he comes to providing an answer, and a clear manifesto for his ideas, lies in his observation of the distinction between ‘I’ and ‘we’.

Jenkins is ‘an Obama boy’, and believes that Obama’s campaign mantra, Yes we can, is symbolic of the fact that, in a world in which politicians still speak in the language of ‘I’, a generation of children are growing up defining themselves and their ideas in terms of ‘who we are’ and ‘what we believe’.

This isn’t presented as happening at the expense of individuality or self-determination. On the contrary, this is not communism but communalism, seeing the interests of the community best served by the divergent creativity and initiative of we, its constituents.
_ _ _

The AMD Bloghaus is to be found in meeting room 7 of the 3rd floor. I’m sitting in ARGs (Alternate Reality Games) and the Future of Entertainment when tweet comes through that beer is now being served in the Bloghaus.

Somewhat disenchanted by the fact that the panel’s only advertised member, Susan Bonds of 42 Entertainment, has been replaced by three ill-prepared substitute panellists, I withdraw. (I now note that the panel is not listed on the SXSWi website. Evidently I inadvertently strayed into some highly unsatisfactory alternate reality in which SXSWi panels are a bit of a waste of time.)

Creating we

I know who I’m hoping to find at the Bloghaus. I’m hunting down Hugh Macleod (AKA Gaping Void), blogger, cartoonist and designer of the SXSWi swag bag (pictured left – photo courtesy of Laughing Squid). I’m not doing it for the conversation. He doesn’t really seem to have conversations, at least not with me. He just draws pictures and makes connections, managing overflow by playing cupid.

About 18 months ago Hugh introduced me to Neville Hobson, a well-respected communicator, blogger and podcaster who has gone on to become an important collaborator, and a friend. Hugh made the introduction very much on his own initiative, and at the expense of his own time. Hugh can sometimes seem standoffish, but he understand the importance of connectedness as well as anybody.

Within minutes of locating him I’m locked in conversation with Damiano Vukotic, Head of Sales & Digital Strategy at
RSA Films
. We follow each other through Twitter, and have mutual friends back in London, but this is the first time we’ve met in the flesh. As we talk Hugh occasionally looks in, like a horticulturalist, checking the seed of yet another idea.

Hugh and Damiano are just two of the fifty-ish people I now follow on Twitter, most of whom also follow me. For the uninitiated, Twitter is a micro-blogging tool exquisitely fine-tuned to connect like-minds through the ongoing exchange of thoughts and ideas, expressed in 140 characters or less. It was the great success story of SXSWi 2007, and, frankly, looks like being that of 2008 as well.

Where Facebook holds a mirror up to my life and reflects all the relationships that are and once were through the simple binary of ‘friendship’, almost everybody I know on Twitter I know through Twitter, and each brings something different to the table. Twitter germinates, where Facebook merely incubates.

It seems to me that this is an important principle of creating we. It’s not enough to just connect – and certainly not to re-connect – people. You have to achieve a reaction, something new and full of promise; a co-incidence of chemistry and mutual empathy or understanding. Just as the value of money is wholly relative to that of what it buys us, a connection’s worth is measured in engagement.
_ _ _

Them and us

Anybody attending Sunday’s keynote by Mark Zuckerberg, 24-year-old Harvard graduate and billionaire founder and CEO of Facebook, likely comes away with their own version of events.

It’s a debacle, whichever way you turn it, whereby the blandness of Zuckerberg and the flippancy of his interviewer, Sarah Lacy, coalesce to provoke exactly the wrong kind of reaction.

Lacy’s undeniably flirtacious approach suggests that she was after an altogether different kind of engagement. She appears to have undertaken the interview with some very clear ideas about what’s going to happen, and the many plaudits that will ensue. When things started to get away from her the best she can manage by way of Plan B is to bemoan how difficult her job is, and to begrudgingly declare ‘mob rule’. SXSWi 2008 won’t yield a better example of the arbitrary, single-mindedness of I being swept aside by the common interests of we, the unruly masses.

Unfortunately the principle offshoot of this is that much of what Zuckerberg actually said has been spared analysis. Of course, once you’ve heard Facebook described as a tool for “more efficient communication” for the seventh or eight time, you tend to lose the will to tweet. This was compounded by the fact that Lacy seemed ready to avoid just about any avenue of inquisition on the strength of his assertion that ‘we’re just not focused on that right now’.

Maybe I imagined it. Because it seemed to me as though, somewhere amid this evasion and awkwardness, the Zuckerberg suggested that Facebook had succeeded in opening up a new front in the war on terror. I must have imagined it. It hardly seems to have warranted a mention anywhere in the morass of resulting coverage.

As I saw it, he articulated the view that a generation of Lebanese students, using Facebook to follow the progress of friends journeying into the wider Western world, have now put aside some of the prejudices that might have drawn them into a life of Islamic fundamentalism. Terrorism, actually. (I’m pretty sure he used the word ‘terrorism’. It struck me at the time as a slightly awkward word for him to use, he being the CEO of a company in whom the venture capital division of the CIA has a pronounced financial interest.)

His argument seemed to be that Facebook has torn down the walls of censorship constructed by Imams in order to shield their students from the truth about the West. As I understand it the truth about the West – in this context at least – is that we’re an unholy quasi-religious Zionist alliance, united under the banners of greed and self-interest, crusading to take control of the world’s natural resources and spreading gambling, pornography and substance abuse to all four corners of the world in the process.

Looking at some of the most popular Facebook Applications (Mob Wars, Armies, Vampires, Zombies, Friends For Sale!, Texas HoldEm Poker et al) I can’t for the life of me see what Facebook does to debunk this point of view. On the contrary, I could list dozens of the most popular apps supporting the notion that all we do is trade in cheap thrills and human suffering. Spend enough time looking through them, and even Scrabulous starts to feel a tiny bit Anglocentric.

Maybe Zuckerberg would argue that Facebook is humanizing the students’ relationships with the wider world, creating an authentic sense of connectedness with a credible reality outside of that in which they are immersed, imprisoned even. That’s not the Facebook I use. My Facebook commodifies my relationships, templatizing my friends within its own arbitrary strictures of format and function. My Facebook puts up walls, more than it knocks them down.

Anybody trading in moral absolutes, be it Zuckerberg or the Imams he decries, is going backwards, at a time when we ought to be moving forwards into an era of networked moral relativism, originating from grass-roots and transcending personal, cultural and historical context.
_ _ _

I hadn’t heard of PostSecret until a few minutes before Frank Warren’s Monday keynote was about to start. I flicked through the weighty $40-to-replace festival programme and caught a quick summary before leaving Emma at P.F. Changs Chinese Bistro and bolting through heavy rain across Congress and into Ballroom A.

I only made it to the Monday keynote on account of a delay to our flight out of Chicago, and the decision to spend $100 pushing back our connecting flight until later in the afternoon. I had a good feeling. The feeling that it would turn out to be money well spent.

Getting to know we

PostSecret is a community art project started by Frank Warren as the basis for an installation in 2004, whereby he invited anybody to send him a postcard decorated with a secret that they had never previously revealed. He now curates over 2,500 original pieces of art sent to him from all over the world, and continues to receive new secrets on a daily basis, leading him to be described as “the most trusted stranger in America”.

Warren has a pastoral quality, free from religious rhetoric, openly pondering the ways in which this makeshift confessional has affected his life and those of his boundless flock. It’s seems pretty clear that he has addressed some of his own demons in the course of confronting other people’s, bringing him to the realisation that “the children most broken by the world become those most likely to change it”.

He also understands the power of a secret, and of sharing it. He cites the example of somebody emailing him to tell him that they’d written their secret on a postcard, but that the mere sight of it written down had led them to tear up the card, and to change their life irrevocably. This is what Warren is talking about when he refers to the second type of secret; not the one we keep from others, but the one we keep from ourselves.

Warren finishes speaking, and invites members of the audience to share their questions – and secrets – with the room. The first question is a simple one, a proposal of marriage. (She says ‘yes’.) It feels a bit Oprah for a moment, but sits nicely against Warren’s sermon. Questions and confessions follow thick and fast, until a girl takes the mike and opens up about the fact that her sister, a blogger, can’t be with her in Austin because of a life-threatening illness. She implores members of the audience to post a message of support on her sister’s blog then takes up Warren’s offer of a hug. The keynote closes with a standing ovation, and, for my part at least, a strong sense of occasion.

Whatever’s happening here, it’s been bubbling away under the surface for me since day one. It began to crystallize that morning around the point that Hugh, on the panel for Self Replicating Awesomeness: The Marketing of No Marketing, made his closing observation that “a story without love isn’t worth telling”. He’s right. And somewhere beneath the surface of this convention – in the last place you might expect to find it – is a powerful shared emotional agenda, and an acute sense of intimacy.
_ _ _

Our little secret

I’m going to tell you a secret. I’d like you to help me destroy it, both for my own sake and for the purposes of demonstration.

Take yourself back to the beginning of Saturday, my first day at SXSWi. I haven’t slept so well, and I wake up later than I would have liked. Stealing nothing more than a mouthful of granola on my way out the door, I make a breakfast out of vente latte and Camel Lights. After that it’s pretty much coffee and cigarettes all the way through to beer o’clock. I manage a cheap burrito some time around lunchtime. I drink no water whatsoever.

I pick up a headache, and someone doses me up with some weapons-grade painkillers, washed down with my first mouthful of beer. More beer. Cigarette. Across to the Seesmic party for one margarita (god that’s strong), a second, third one’s almost palatable, and hey, nice, it’s a rooftop bar, I can smoke freely. Cigarette. Cigarette. Emma arrives and we head downstairs for dinner, which, for my part, consists primarily of a bottle of red, with a few scraps of barbecued red meat for ballast. Cigarette. Cigarette. Cigarette.

Days like these. I’ve had a few. At some point it became my idea of fun. The next morning isn’t, but I make a fist of it, until I have to duck out of a panel to have a fifteen-minute chat with a toilet. By the time I’m done I can see flecks of blood in the bowl; fresh, red blood, so probably nothing worse than a grazed oesophagus, but it freaks me out. I find myself a corner somewhere in the corridor outside, and hide behind my laptop. My throat’s sore, my stomach is tied in a convulsing knot of emptiness, and my head and my heart ache from the truth.

At that moment I know for certain that if I don’t affect a change – a sea-change – in terms of how I live my life, I’ll never see my daughters grow into the confident beautiful young ladies they will undoubtedly become, like the one I was lucky enough to meet and marry. I just won’t last that long. I’ve had too much fun already, and I wasn’t made to do things in half measures. On the contrary, I’ve always preferred doubles.

This knowledge hits hard, and with it comes the realisation that part of me doesn’t want to care, and almost wants to create distance between me and the ones I love. Part of me will always be looking for a way out, an angle that will allow me to go on doing it my way. It’s a part of me I try to hide from others, and from myself. It’s a part of me inscribed here now, in these few lines.

There it is. A broken secret. If you’re wondering why on earth I’d share such a thing with the world, you’re slightly of missing the point. Who else would you have me share it with? Whoever you are, whoever I am, all that matters is that we’re talking.
_ _ _

So what are we doing here?

Mass intimacy. In application, it means showing you my daughters, Lola and Ruby, come into this world, or sharing Emma’s and my many hopes and fears in the weeks and months before we first became parents. It means taking you on holiday with us, inviting you to commute with me, or inviting you to pick over the many other fragments. It means opening up our lives to others, and to ourselves.

Mass intimacy. Contradiction in terms? a paradox? If so, a paradox befitting of a movement of closet extroverts, marrying our essential insecurity with an urgent need to share our point of view. Together we pool our knowledge and destroy secrets in the course of creating our new morality of networked relativism, whereby our actions are conveyed through infinite time and space, so that we may understand them in the most intimate of terms.

Mass intimacy. Empathy through greater understanding. Love through the prism of technology, experimentation and desire. Sometimes we hide behind the minutiae, but it’s each other we’re contemplating, not the tangle of hardware and software in between.

Mass intimacy. Love and technology. Feels like a kind of paradox. So walk the halls of SXSWi. We are the paradox.

MyCBBC – ‘Facebook for kids’

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Diligent as ever, The Lorries have asked for another opinion piece – this time they’re after a response to the news that the BBC is launching a social networking site for kids called MyCBBC, filling the gap left by sites like Facebook, MySpace and Bebo who set their lower age limit at 13.

Marc Goodchild, head of interactive and on-demand at BBC children’s, is bullish about the opportunity here for the BBC: “There is a commercial market failing in the children’s space because they don’t want to take on the responsibility for younger users. The only player which can do this has to be a public service broadcaster.”

This may be true, but the BBC will need to move beyond this traditional remit considerably if it is to succeed in delivering a genuine social networking experience. It will be interesting to see whether they can overcome their instinct to broadcast and embrace the aspects of the web that best characterise social media; aspects that differentiate it from their traditional haunts of television and radio?

I’m talking about personalisation, at the expense of brand integrity; user-generated content, at the expense of quality control; and, most importantly, using the web as a medium for the free exchange of ideas between ‘audience’ members, rather than as a mechanism for their delivery from a single, central point of origin.

It would be easy to imagine that this somehow doesn’t apply for kids, and that they will settle for less. Less freedom, less creativity, less of a platform for their imaginitive energy. Yet when is your creativity less inhibited, and your urge for self-expression more exuberant, than when you are a child?

Bebo recently declared itself a ‘social media network’, and, with reality shows like The Gap Year, appears to be moving inexorably in the direction of becoming a web-only broadcaster. As reality TV and interactive media blur at the edges, it will be fascinating to see if the Beeb is capable of moving far enough fast enough in the opposite direction.

<!–Indeed, there are very few commercial players in this space at the moment. Disney-owned Club Penguin is probably the best example. Last time I was out in LA I had the chance to find out a thing or two about Club Penguin, over a huge rack of ribs at Houston’s enjoyed with my good friend Mary Hunter, her daughter Amy and her two grand-children, Hannah and Lucas.

They key challenge facing any kids’ social network is how to facilitate

Hannah and Lucas are both ardent members of the Club Penguin community, and delighted in telling me all about it. It emerged that they had

What really struck me was how in touch they were with the nuances of the community

When I was last out in LA I had the pleasure of taking my good friend Mary Hunter and her family out for dinner. The party included two grand-children who are ardent Club Penguin users. What struck me was how readily they’d grasped the nuances of community safety. Both took active pride in their secret Club Penguin ranking, by which they had been given their own small share of responsibility for reporting any inappropriate behaviour. Will MyCBBC operate a similar decentralised moderation model, rather than simply limiting infractions by curbing freedoms?

Much of the initial focus is on the inevitable balancing act of enabling community members to send private ‘unscripted’ messages without being able to make ‘unscripted contact with strangers’. I hope they have the courage and faith in their audience to do so.

However it is they go about reconciling the need to facilitate communication and interaction in a way that pre-emptively prevents net predators from ‘grooming’ potential targets, the greater challenge facing the Beeb is a more fundamental one.–>

Oranjeboom is not the only fruit

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

PPC’s impressively proactive PR firm, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry (AKA “The Lorries”), have been back in touch. Turns out they quite liked the last opinion piece I posted for them, so I’m doing another one.

This piece is about ‘mobile social networking’, whatever that is. It seems to pertain to social networks that are only accessible through mobile devices. That seems a little odd to me. Why would you do that? It would be like only drinking lager out of cans, standing on street corners.

Reading on through the notes they passed on I found a reference to some ‘thriving mobile-exclusive social networks’. I’d never really come across such things, which I found odd and slightly alarming, given that my endeavours in international movie marketing have required me to acquaint myself with pretty much all of the world’s most popular social networks. A quick trip to Wikipedia yielded the names of two such mobile-exclusive services; Jumbuck and airG.

Cue a trip to the Jumbuck homepage, and the immediate realisation that Jumbuck isn’t so much a social network as ‘the world’s largest provider of mobile community services’, offering white label products including Power Chat, TXT Chat and Fast Flirting. I’m thinking I’ve got their number (and, thanks to a drunken run-in with The Flirt Hotline, that they’ve got mine). The realisation that I may be one of their 15-million-strong global user base – and that until a few seconds ago I wasn’t even aware of it – undermines the suggestion that they are a social network, in any useful sense of the term.

Further examination does yield Chat Del Mundo, a ‘dedicated mobile chat and picture community for Spanish speakers in the South and Central America, the USA and Spain, with over 1 million active users’, owned and operated by Jumbuck. Reading about Chat Del Mundo I was reminded of a presentation at last week’s Media Summit, at which one of the speakers noted that, globally speaking, far more people have internet access through mobile devices than via PCs.

The speaker was Bob Greenberg, Chairman of interactive agency R/GA. Anticipating that 2008 would see the ‘third screen’ (by which he meant that of a mobile device) well on its way to becoming the first screen, surpassing PCs and television along the way, Greenberg called upon various statistics to illustrate the accelerating proliferation of mobile devices. One stat I do recall is that in the UK there are more mobile devices than people. Greenberg himself professed to carrying three mobiles about his person ‘at all times’.

In defining the difference between the three screens Greenberg argued that television was a medium designed for the delivery of narrative, that PCs are best suited to interaction, and that mobiles are defined by context. This was a theme that was later picked up by Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy, who saw mobile media as defined by its location-specificity, ‘much like Pernod. Outside a rustic French cafe; heavenly. Inside a small London flat; piss.’ Indeed, beyond greater levels of global accessibility, this is where I could see mobile social networks offering something extra to the end user.

Suppose I’m in LA. I’m out and about in Venice Beach on a friday night and I want to settle in at a decent bar. I could try and find something searching listings through WAP, but that’s not going to give me any real indication of quality, or whether it would be my kind of place. How about if instead of that I could pose the question to friends of mine – and friends of theirs – using Facebook mobile, even providing them with a map using GPRS to pinpoint my exact location at the time?

If you take my 150 ‘friends’ and, allowing for overlap, reckon that each of them brings a further 50 uniques to the mix, I have the potential to hit 7,500 people, each of whom would know me, or someone who knows me. Filter that down to people living in LA, and you’re probably still in triple figures. A few of them are probably going to know somewhere decent to drink in Venice, some of them might even be out in the area and up for meeting up, and, who knows, if I wasn’t happily married I might even enjoy a night of consequence-free sexual intercourse with one of them. A long shot, perhaps, but I’d take my chances over The Flirt Hotline.

This is just one scenario in which mobile could add real value to social networking for the end user. And this is the problem I have with the idea of a mobile-exclusive social network. Restricting access to any service to mobile devices can only really benefit the service provider, by enabling them to drive more revenue through reverse billing and micro-payments. Where mobile social networking can succeed is by recognising and monetising the opportunities created by context for yours and my benefit, not at our needless expense.

The Media Summit 2008

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

I was at The Media Summit today at the British Film Institute on Southbank. With 12 unmissable speakers it was a bit of a marathon, but immensely valuable, and a great opportunity to put Twitter through its paces. Here’s a transcript of all the day’s tweets, starting on the train in:

  • Reading in Metro that Hasbro and Mattel now threatening to sue Facebook if Scrabulous is not removed. PR suicide.
  • At Media Summit. Loving the way Ben Pyne (President of Global Distribution, Disney) calls it ‘iToons’.
  • Lyne: ‘digital natives’ – generation of consumers fluent in tech, fragmented by preference and cultural origin
  • Joanna Shields (President, BEBO): Kate Modern massively popular, but no-one likes Kate. Solution: kill her off. (seriously. they’re killing her off.)
  • Shields: UK online ad spend to exceed television within two years
  • Shields: ‘hard to track impressions on first series of Kate Modern.’ WHAT?
  • Ultimately Shields frustrates. BEBO still comes across as a Facebook-style friendship incubator.
  • Wish these people weren’t so intent on selling their own story at the expense of insight and objectivity. Bit of a kabal atmosphere emerging.
  • Bob Greenberg (Chairman, R/GA): content creation AND distribution being democratised
  • Greenberg: third screen (mobile) becoming first screen
  • Greenberg: television – narrative; pc – interactive; mobile – contextual.
  • Greenberg has 3G ‘on two of my phones’. He carries three with him ‘at all times’.
  • Scott Cohen (Founder, The Orchard): ‘people will not pay for digital content’. His solution – ‘collect at the connection’.
  • Cohen: if we’re all criminals is there a problem with the people or a problem with the law?
  • Cohen: music industry has enjoyed 50-plus years of ‘unsophisticated business’.
  • Cohen: networks providers are like gyms. They don’t actually want you to use them, just to go on paying the fees.
  • Jeremy Allaire (Founder, Brightcove): ‘reach consumers where they are, not where you want them to be’.
  • Allaire: establish managed syndication with major partners, as part of blended distribution strategies.
  • Allaire: empower consumers to become distributors.
  • Just got told off for taking a photo of a slide about user-generated content. Is that ironic?
  • Vue Cinemas see live concert, sport and comedy broadcasts – using Digital 3D – as a major revenue stream. Kylie signed up for 2008.
  • Vue Gaming also piloted well in 2007, with a multiplayer and multi-venue opportunities.
  • Vue trialing a concept ‘Evolution’ cinema (in Thurrock?!) with a bar and licensed auditorium, enlarged seating, bean-bag seats and ‘sofa pods’.
  • Rory Sutherland, Ogilvy: ‘post-scarcity economics’. Read-write culture not read-only. No IP on jokes. No knock-knock mansion.
  • Sutherland: if web is anything it is half a million peculiar acts of generosity every day.
  • Sutherland: advertising must embrace ‘big ideal, not big idea’
  • Sutherland: adult film industry being destroyed by volunteerism
  • Sutherland: chips – food 2.0 (made to share)
  • Sutherland: some people buy organic to reduce choice and simplify process
  • Sutherland: more contextual (location-specific) media emerging. Like Pernod. Outside a french cafe, lovely. In a london flat, piss.
  • Sutherland: new media is pinball, not ten-pin bowling.
  • Lost my notepad. Thank [email protected] for twitter.
  • Henrik Werdelin (joost): entertainment is social. It’s about more than just watching.
  • Yair Landau (President, Sony Pictures Digital): you believe and feel as much in a great CGI moment as you do in a live action moment.
  • Landau: if you can imagine it, it can be created.
* * *

This is the photo I got slapped on the wrist for taking. It was a slide that struck me as really capturing the opportunities social media present for marketers and distributors. It reads as follows:

Embrace end users as:
viewers, fans, critics, programmers and producers

Support media and brand exposure in their online homes
blogs; social networks; communities of interest; RSS readers

Allow end users to become programmers
Favourites; playplists; viral sharing; embedding; social bookmarking

End users as producers
Simple: allow end users to upload video to you
Powerful: allow end users to remix and refactor your brand

Citizens of the web, FRAGMENT!

Monday, January 14th, 2008

I’ve spent much of the last twenty-four hours chewing over two articles twittered by friends of mine, each of which has accelerated my growing disillusionment with Facebook. Indeed, as I will come to explain, I have decided to take action.

The bigger picture
The first of the articles, entitled With friends like these…, is written by Tim Hodgkinson, and ran in The Guardian’s Technology supplement. It’s a long piece, and well worth reading in its entirety, but for the purposes of this post I’ll offer the following précis.

Hodgkinson starts by making the point that, far from connecting people, Facebook is increasingly responsible for isolating us in front of our computer screens, on the pretext that conducting relations through their site can be construed as socialising.

On the contrary, he asserts, we are being commodified, and the relationships we individually cherish are being intensively harvested so that the economic value can be extracted out of them and made available to the highest bidders, be they corporations or governments.

This in itself is nothing exclusive to Facebook. Their only distinction is that they’re currently the market-leading exponents of this dark art. However, having established this, Hodgkinson examines who’s behind Facebook’s operation, financially and ideologically, and challenges us to evaluate whether these are people fit to be in charge of what is effectively their own country, ‘a country of consumers’.

In terms of the key players, we’re talking Mark Zuckerberg, the geeky front man given to appearing provocatively self-assured about pretty much everything; Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist, libertarian, neocon activist, futurist philosopher and chess master who recently pledged £3.5m to a Cambridge-based gerontologist searching for the key to immortality; and a host of investors, including In-Q-Tel, the venture capital wing of the CIA. Yes, that CIA.

I don’t know about you, but I’m edging towards the door the minute I find out that the guys who put one in the brain of JFK have a stake in my social calendar. Already I’m think that, just because I’ve gone and said something not-so-friendly about them, I’m going to start landing really crappy Scrabulous hands. Bringing me neatly on to…

The killer app
The second of the articles is a piece on by Josh Quittner entitled Will somebody please start a Facebook group to save Scrabulous? At least a dozen people have, include one the logo of which combines that of game manufacturers Hasbro and that of the Nazi party.

This is a response to the news that Hasbro have finally decided to acknowledge the existence of Scrabulous, a Facebook application recreating scrabble tile for tile for a user base of approximately 2.5 million people, a quarter of whom use it every day. Indeed, they’ve announced legal action against its developers, two guys from Calcutta named Jayant and Rajat Agarwalla (aged 21 and 26 respectively).

I can’t summarise it better than Quittner:
If I were an evil genius running a board games company whose product line spanned everything from Monopoly to Clue, I might do this: Wait until someone comes up with an excellent implementation of my games and does the hard work of coding and debugging the thing and signing up the masses. Then, once it got to scale, I’d sweep in and take it over. Let the best pirate site win! If I were compassionate, I’d even cut in the guys who did all the work for a percentage point or two to keep the site running.

Scrabulous is my only remaining reason for signing into Facebook on a regular basis. Without it, I’d probably lose interest altogether. Not because it doesn’t offer me anything of value, but because, following on from my realisation that social networking is actually more akin to social publishing, I’m embracing tools like Blogger, Twitter, and Google Mail (whose spam filtering seems to have suddenly gone up a gear), all of which give me more freedom to express myself, and offer more back in return.

I use these tools and services, not the other way around. They are genuinely vibrant and community-oriented, igniting exciting new relationships, as opposed to incubating existing ones or rekindling old flames (flames that generally burnt out for a damn good reason). It occurs to me that there’s actually very little that’s creative about Facebook – it’s far more about logistics.

So, could I do the unthinkable? Could I leave Facebook?

Probably not. Two reasons. One, I have an intractable professional need to be familiar with Facebook as a marketing medium, and on that basis alone I will probably never be able to bow out completely. Two, it’s practically impossible to delete your account. Steven Mansour seems to have gone to hell and back in the process of trying to do so, and with only limited success.

I have to do something though. More than ever I see myself as a citizen of the web, not as the subject one particular service layered over the top of it. So I’ve decided to try something different. I’m going to start removing the people I really care about (or people I’m already connected to through other better channels) from my friends list. Not all at once, but every time I realise that our relationship doesn’t need to be defined in such narrow terms. So, if you really like me, and you hope that I like you too, let’s de-friend.

* * *

Cartoon reproduced from without the kind permission of the author.

The Scrabble Series Part 1: Playing the Board

Monday, January 7th, 2008

This is the end result of one of the oddest games of Scrabble I’ve ever played. It’s one of a few dozen games I’ve enjoyed on Facebook, pitting myself against Walter, an old friend of mine, and a masterful opponent.

Neither of us set out to use only half of the board – it just happened that way. It didn’t limit our scoring either – 674 is a still a perfectly respectable combined total.

Scrabble has been Facebook’s killer app for me. It accounts for about 95% of my dwell time, the rest of which is spent trawling for curiosities in my news feed and messing with my status. I only started playing the game at all regularly a year or two ago, at the behest of my visiting father-in-law, Big Mike. In a series of encounters over a series of single malts he took me to pieces. It didn’t take long to work out why.

When I played, my first instinct for each new hand was to check my pieces in search of a seven-letter word. Nothing wrong with that, except that most of the time I wouldn’t find one, so I’d see if I could find a six-letter word, and failing that a five-letter word, and so on and so forth. Only once I’d found my longest word would I consult the board, looking for somewhere to place it. If I couldn’t find anywhere, I’d go back to the hand and resume the process. Taking this approach, I’d be happy to consistently score in double figures.

Big Mike saw things differently. He started by analysing the board, finding the opportunities; not just open letters leading to bonus squares, but what he could scrounge from high value pieces already played. Once he’d mapped the board’s potential he started looking for the strength in his hand. He played through a process of ongoing reconciliation, punctuated by flashes of inspiration.

You’d be forgiven for wondering where I’m going with this, beyond drafting a possible introduction for Scrabble for Dummies. Well, I spent friday afternoon going through one of our clients’ 2008 film release schedules. There were all sorts of different movies represented therein, from the tentpole summer blockbusters through to bread-and-butter spring and autumn thrillers, dramas and romcoms. Some promise high-value talent and expensive visual effects, others offer subtle and engaging narratives, and one or two even look as though they might manage to combine the two. I’ve seen what pretty much all the major distributors have to play with next year, and at first glance it looks like some have better hands than others, but in the end what’s going to separate them in 2008, more than ever before, is how well they play the board.

* * *

This analogy extends much further than you might imagine, certainly beyond a single post. Hence, The Scrabble Series. I’ll put together Part 2: What is the Board? in due course, if I receive the faintest indication that anybody would like to pursue this further.

All ‘friends’ are not equal

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

PPC has recently appointed a new PR agency. They contacted me recently to ask if I would contribute some ideas for a potential opinion piece on social media, so I agreed to post a few thoughts here, for general reference.

These are the questions they wanted me to address:

– Should companies develop their own social networking tools? Are they better off trying to exploit existing networks?

– How should companies go about using social networking to promote their film/game/brand? What are the issues they need to be aware of? Are certain kinds of brands or products better suited than others?

– What effect will the opening up of sites like Facebook and Bebo to third parties have on social networking? Will it be beneficial to brand owners or cause more problems?

Well, let me begin by taking you back, if I may, to life before Facebook, to life before MySpace, before Friend Reunited or Classmates, before Instant Messenger or Hotmail, before you even knew how email worked or what the internet really was. That’s about a decade for me, I doubt it’s much longer than that for many of you.

You probably had just about the same number of substantial relationships in your life as you do now (and maybe more, given that life didn’t seem to be lived at a pace that starved you of every spare waking moment). You would have expressed these relationships through interaction, over the phone, by writing letters, and by meeting up. And, generally, the more established and unconditional the relationship, the less often you’d actually need to see or speak to each other to remain connected. This was your social network; the people in your life that mattered, for whatever reason. It still is. All that’s changed is the tools at your disposal to maintain and develop it.

The reality is that services like MySpace, Bebo and Facebook are just a souped-up rolodex. If you want to communicate one-to-one through any of these social networks you still have to use email-style messaging, phone-style VOIP or IM-style text chat. There seems to be this misconception that social networking sites have enabled us to somehow grow our circle of friends – that we now have the means to form and maintain hundreds, even thousands of relationships, because of these miracle tools that have enabled us all to become such good ‘friends’.

I would argue that, beyond the fifty or so people you have meaningful relationships with (a high proportion of whom are probably the same people you had meaningful relationships with over a decade ago), what you have is an audience. An audience consisting of friends, family, acquaintances from school, college and university, work colleagues, clients and suppliers, maybe even some people you can’t remember ever having met but who you’ve agreed to be friends with because they asked and it felt rude to decline.

Furthermore, when you scrutinise the tools and features that define the social networks, beyond email, chat and telephony services (all of which pre-date the social networks considerably), they are orientated towards communication with an audience. Take the Facebook wall – the essence of which is that you’re choosing to make a supposedly one-to-one correspondence visible to everybody you both know. Facebook status, one of my favourite features, is also totally indiscriminate in its reach, within your established sphere of influence.

Hugh Macleod is a well-known cartoonist and blogger whom I was fortunate to meet off the back of some screenings we co-ordinated for David Mackenzie’s movie HALLAM FOE. With over 1,200 friends he is what Facebook themselves now refer to as one of their ‘whales’, among whose ranks you will also apparently find Jimmy Carr, Russell Brand and Stephen Fry. By Hugh’s own admission, “I don’t go around looking for friends, but it seems kind of rude to say no to somebody.”

Hugh was recently described in an article in The Guardian as ‘Britain’s most successful Facebooker’. This label does Hugh a substantial injustice, insofar as it puts the cart of his Facebook following before the horse of many years establishing his reputation as a prolific original thinker in the spaces of marketing, social media and, through his cartoons, life in general. This plaudit is also interesting in the choice of term used to define his popularity; success. If social networking is about success, and we’re playing a numbers game in terms of how we choose to measure it, then we’re surely back in the dark ages of web v1, and the mentality of the playground. If web 2.0 has been about anything for me it must be the growing acceptance that all hits – and, by extension, ‘friends’ – are not equal.

At another level, Hugh’s popularity on Facebook is genuinely indicative of success, since he engages this following as an audience, as he does his readership on Twitter, and that of his blog. In this respect Hugh uses Facebook not so much a social networking tool as a social publishing tool, as, I would suggest, do many of the rest of us, albeit for the benefit of a smaller, more familiar crowd.

Re-reading this post I can see that I haven’t answered any of the questions I was charged with addressing, but that I’m on my way to doing so quite definitively. I can see a couple I can take now before I go, and I’ll come back for the rest.

“Should companies develop their own social networking tools?” Depends entirely on the type of company, but, for the most part, good god no. “Are they better off trying to exploit existing networks?” Maybe, but only if they quit trying to be my new best friend, and start getting to know my audience.

Interesting factoid: The first 3D movie from a major studio (Warner Brothers) was HOUSE OF WAX (1953) directed by Andre de Toth. Unfortunately de Toth was blind in one eye, and could only see in two dimensions. History records that he would consistently come to the rushes and want to know what everybody was so excited about.