Neil Thackray: technology and curation

Neil Thackray: technology and curation

John Battelle - founder of Federated Media, writer of the definitive book on how Google evolved, founder of The Industry Standard, and on the launch edit team of Wired - is one of the key thought leaders in understanding how the the digital world is evolving. Without wishing to "blow smoke", it is fair to say that when Battelle writes something, he has been thinking about it for while and has probably got an insight that's worth thinking about.

A recent piece on his own blog postulates that the future for information discovery is in curation. It won't surprise you to learn that we at Briefing Media have some sympathy with that view. Battelle rehearses how the early web was organised by simple directory search engines.

As the scale of the Web grew, these became decreasingly useful and were superceded by the Google PageRank approach (he notes that this was named after Page the Google co-founder and does not refer to a web page). With the advent of social media and the continued growth in the size of the web, the problem has now recurred: How can you find what you are really looking for? Interestingly he thinks that some of the answer lies in curation - the same thought that occurred to us when we were devising Briefing Media.

The web is so large that there is no one algorithm that can capture it all, and capture every nuance of every search. Take a simple example. A user who is interested in "Android" will want to discover different documents and different related topics, depending on the true search intent. A telecoms exec may want to know about the technical aspects of the mobile operating system; a media owner may be more interested in the content applications that use Android, whilst a sci-fi enthusiast is looking for something else entirely. The implications of this are profound. Not only is the content set for each of these three users unique, but so is the taxonomy.

We can see this working amongst sophisticated social media users' behaviours. As Battelle points out, a Twitter feed can quickly get overrun with unfocussed tweets and too many of them. The more people we follow the less useful the Twitter experience becomes. Smart tweeters have disciplined accounts and self curate. I only follow people who tweet about the media industry and I only tweet about media industry issues. You won't find out what I had for breakfast by folllowing me on Twitter. Our own Patrick Smith, who is something of an übertweeter, has multiple accounts with different topics for each and different communities following him in each.

Continue reading

Directions

Here's how to find our shop.

By car

Drive along Main Street to the intersection with First Avenue.  Look for our sign.

By foot

From the center of town, walk north on Main Street until you see our sign.

Continue reading

Joel Gethin Lewis: the group dynamic

Joel Gethin Lewis: the group dynamic
Technology-supported collaborative techniques have become an accepted part of the creative process, particularly when they concern large, dispersed groups of people. Used correctly, such collaborative techniques are fast, reliable, and extremely cost-effective. They are the rocket fuel for what Seth Godin and other commentators desire of creatives and entrepreneurs – the ability to ship fast and ship often. Experiential creative agency Hellicar & Lewis was founded on the principles of open source and collaboration. Its co-founder, Joel Gethin Lewis, is a passionate advocate of collaborative techniques, with the agency using them across its processes. Although many of these processes and concepts have, of course, some relationship to technology (in terms of the development and support of the network), Lewis is quick to point out that it is not the technology itself which ships – it's the people. “The thing that is magic is not the software. It's the people. That's something that sometimes gets missed in all of this – it's all about bringing us back to collaboration between people. These technologies are never a panacea; you still have to be able to communicate effectively. As well as being able to get rid of geographical problems, it enables us to get rid of time problems, because people can collaborate across timezones within a 24-hour cycle, and turn things around a lot faster and more efficiently.” One of Hellicar & Lewis' recent projects was Night Lights, an interactive installation to support the rebrand of NZ Telecom.

 

 

The project used software created with OpenFrameworks, a C++-based open source toolkit. From start to completion, Night Lights took three weeks. Lewis points out that such a speed of development and delivery was only possible with the right blend of person-to-person meetings, and the support of collaboration tools like GitHub. Not only had this successful formula shipped the project at a rapid pace, but it also allowed filtering throughout its development: it was possible to mistakes in a collaborative environment that became “naturally” filtered out when it came to supporting and capturing the project through online tools. The capturing of collaborative ideas and information for group dissemination can speed up processes, although the very act of doing so in front of a screen - to a digital interface – is a process in itself. Content is captured in the language of the machine: abstract thoughts and intuition are encoded into concrete information that can be clearly communicated into other people. The act of transcribing and encoding that information can often be a creative act in itself; and the distillation of ideas can force one to go down new paths. Technologies such as GitHub and OpenFrameworks have clearly been very useful to the agency. It has enabled Hellicar & Lewis to quickly create new projects, as well as derive value within open source community, through the forking of others' projects. As Lewis himself points out, “the best way to prove that you're going to be a willing collaborator is by doing something, and letting the work stand for itself.” Collaborative and open source technologies are also advantageous from a reputational perspective, as the agency is finding out – it gives potential clients confidence through the open availability of the company's products, as well as allowing for the building of a portfolio of work. “The democracy of ideas and innovation is something that we are very excited about. Whenever there is a new paradigm: the telegraph, the printed page, or the Internet... there is a resistance from the established world, that has built profit structures around their enactment. You can see that now; in the political world with WikiLeaks, and in the economic world - with spread betting becoming the biggest money-mover in the financial markets, democratising access to shorting and other things that were previously only the reserve of esoteric banking outfits in Mayfair. Now, anyone with a laptop can go ahead and try to be George Soros." Collaborative tools also give Hellicar & Lewis the ability to work on projects where openness becomes a feature of their development. Where this is clearly not appropriate to every project from every brand, it is noteworthy that particular brands are now demanding an increased level of openness and use of open source, in order to ensure that the project is delivered on time and on budget.Of course, not all businesses can easily lend their model to this level of openness and collaboration. Lewis cites Steven Johnson's four-quadrant model from Where good ideas come from as important and useful in business development and growth, commenting that there will always be a place for businesses which occupy all quadrants, tempting though it may be for the harbingers of new technologies to naïvely proclaim that they will destroy all that has gone before them. As Hellicar & Lewis occupies has its feet in both the third (idea-sharing) and fourth (open source) quadrants of Johnson's model, Lewis is wary of developing a creative businesses that becomes taken over by administration. “The more time you have just to think, the better. That is where the real innovations come from. A lot of people in modern business and society spend a lot of time dealing with the other things that don't actually make any difference. It's about trying get to that point of time – the greatest thing that any of us have – as efficiently as possible.” The lever of the crowdCrowdsourcing and related concepts have a role to play in society. They are not a panacea for collaboration and openness, but they can help to facilitate them, and therefore make it easier for organisations to become more open, more quickly. Lewis hopes that crowdsourcing represent a true shift in decision-making from organisation to a more collective responsibility, with the “opening up” of Government through instruments such as FOI being critical to the development of a better relationship between state and citizen. However, it is WikiLeaks which is the dominant – and most topical – example of the change that can be driven through openness. “WikiLeaks has held up a mirror to the world, in terms of the quality of US diplomatic prose – which is impressive. It's very easy for people to forget that the real source of the controversy surrounding WikiLeaks, was that there was such a difference between the public statements of these groups, and the private machinations of state, that were laid bare. To describe it as a dangerous or terrorist act is nonsensical. They didn't write any of the stories, they just told them. If you've got nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear. Governments have trotted that out against the people for many years; it's refreshing to see that being inverted back onto governments themselves. Lewis goes on to argue that WikiLeaks also demonstrated the use of experts; that editorial distillation, in his view, is something that crowdsourcing cannot replace. However, and with some irony, the daily envelope which intelligence agencies provide to senior politicians, has turned out to have little differentiation from any publicly-available news source. Increasingly, such agencies have found themselves overtaken, because there's a limit on the number of people that these agencies can employ, and they will always be beaten by the collective intelligence of services such as Twitter. WikiLeaks also provided something chunky for a dispersed community to pull apart, dissect, interpret, and discuss. This, of course, now happens on a constant basis, with Lewis citing the opening up of Microsoft's Kinect platform as a recent example: “I sat there on Twitter, watching people innovate – bouncing ideas back and forth across GitHub, various forums, email, chat, SMS and everything else.” SourceryWhen definitions of terms and concepts change, it becomes easier to put something into a category to which some may argue is technically inappropriate. A recent example is Saatchi's “Welcome Back” ad for T-Mobile, which adopts flashmob techniques but is debatable as to whether the planning and staging behind it makes the crowd at the arrivals terminal a de facto flashmob. 

 

 

  Lewis sees real challenge occurring in less creative environments. “It's an easy sell to talk about collaboration enabling and brands enabling communities to come together. It's every marketer's wet dream to think in those terms. [However,] the way in which true change comes around is not in their attention-grabbing stunts from marketing agencies and the like, but it's the banal, little changes that people find in their lives through these techniques, that make the long-term difference: being able to find out dangerous areas of the city through open information, and trying to do something about that.”  CrowdcopingThere is no doubt that Lewis is excited about the prospects of where collaborative technologies will take him and his agency, both in terms of its internal processes, and the work that comes out of it. However, his concern from the wider vista of society, is not in the nature of community and participatory change, but in the “meta idea” of the acceleration of the change. The pace of change is going to continue accelerating, and could end up becoming too difficult for conventional structures to deal with. As change becomes faster and the forces of change become more dynamic, the journey itself will be exciting and invigorating, something that Lewis is looking forward to. “There are obviously a lot of interesting philosophies about what happens in those moments, but it's certainly a very exciting time to be alive.” Joel Gethin Lewis is Partner at Hellicar & Lewis.

Fin d'annee

Fin d'annee

Well, that's 2010. If you're not, right now, tweeting about going to a Groupon-discounted spa while browsing paywalled content on your iPad after a heavy night of Chatroulette, then you're simply not sufficiently living up to what this year has demanded of you. You'll just have to shape up next year.

For us, it's been all of that, and more, squeezed into four-and-a-half months. We launched in August and the site has been well-received so far, and that the niche that we aim to occupy seems to be well-understood. In these few months - these lovely, endless months - almost 50 in-depth, long-form articles have been published, and there is much more to come. Thank you to everyone that has participated - with or in articles; on the site; and on Twitter. Thank you for your support.

So, from launch until now, here's our top 10, ranked in order of page views.

 

The top 10 of 10

1. Kicking it like the Kaiser A profile of Marcus Brown and his array of online characters

Continue reading

In conversation with... Katy Beale and Joanne South

In conversation with... Katy Beale and Joanne South
 There is sometimes a tension between art and commerce. However, it could be said that this tension could be eased through digital media, where both artists and brands are constantly interested in new ways to build engagement, participation and awareness. Talking about how digital is changing the relationship between brands and art is Joanne South and Katy Beale The conversation centres on the recent report from Arts & Business, “Evolution and Partnerships: Cultural collaborations in the digital age”. How do digital artists see collaboration with business? Are they more receptive than artists in other disciplines to working with businesses and brands? KB: Artists that are used to using digital and social tools are more aware of the benefits of collaboration, and of using networks to spread what they are doing further and wider – as opposed to artists whose practice is based in the more traditional sense, who have less of an understanding of what the benefits might be. Using technology can make people think, “how much more can we do with this, if we get other people involved?” JS: The more traditional artists, where it's about touching the paint or the clay, can't necessarily see where a brand can necessarily help them in terms of the artistic process, but there are other ways in which brands and businesses can help them. I think that the digital space, where it's new and experimental – pushing technology, doing things with new equipment, trying to make tangible some of the things that this technology can do – is a really interesting challenge. It's something that digital artists are keen to take up. From the artists' side, there's a really interesting artistic challenge there; and from the business side, it helps to display and promote what the technology and the business can do. So, I think that digital artists are certainly more receptive, because they can see the automatic connection between the two areas. Do you think that we are now in a period where there is tremendous potential for collaboration between artists and brands, and if done correctly, there could be an explosion of new creative work? KB:,. With digital artists, are we thinking about someone that has gone and studied at Goldsmiths, or are we thinking about someone that is working at a digital agency as a creative? “Digital artist” simply means someone that is creating something digitally, as their paint or their clay. It goes across lots of different sectors and ways of working, so we have people working sense within arts organisations or as their own practitioners; but then we also have people working with brands, who we could define as digital artists. Are those two areas meeting? Yes - that's happening already. It's more to do with how we label things. JS: All of those people you describe are digital artists, in one way or another; whether they perceive themselves in that way is another issue. In terms of the amount of activity that has been happening, a lot has taken place, and we’ve been mapping it out. Small pockets are there: in the North West, in the East, in London, and around Watershed in Bristol. It tends to be relatively sporadic, and there isn't the long-term strategy in terms of collaboration. Because it's all about experimentation at the moment, and people see it all as being new and they aren't quite sure [how to approach digital media], it doesn't have that long-term planning attached to it. As a consequence, you have people going through the same process that others have already gone through, and unable to learn and move forward. We are struggling with getting this to move forward, because people aren't sharing the collaborations which they have been working on. KB: So you feel like the report was about helping to people to have foot up, and to experiment? Is there a way for organisations playing catch-up, to jump on board and still feel like they are capable and do some interesting things? JS: Absolutely, so they can start at that higher level. They will still be catching up, as frankly, everyone is constantly playing catch-up. You have to simply dive in and do it; and even if you have half the knowledge which you think that you have, half is better than none. You can work with that. It's just about spending time to think it through, looking at what others are doing, talking to them, and sharing expertise, rather than doing things in silos, or isolation. As you were saying regarding digital agencies: if they're doing things, go and talk to them. Go and find out what they have been doing, and learn from outside your sector. Those creative skills and that knowledge are not confined to one group. Nine times out of ten, [brands] are just as lost as everyone else.  Joanne South  KB: When I undertake training to arts organisations, people want to talk about social media at the moment. They are thinking about the social web and how to use it, and I will use a broad range of case studies and examples from arts organisations, but also from brands. People are sometimes surprised at brands being in there, and wonder what the relevance is. However, when you peel a layer back and look at their ideas, ways of working, and their objectives, it's thinking about what the values are of what we are doing, which works across any organisation or brand. What makes us unique? What are our offers?... and then transferring those values into how we digitally interact.We're not talking about saying or doing anything different; it's about using different platforms and channels... JS: … and that's where arts organisations and artists can teach businesses and brands quite a lot in this area. There is an assumption that [brands], because they have money and have a Head of Digital, know what they are doing. Nine times out of ten, they are just as lost as everyone else. Arts organisations, because they can be more lean, more flexible, and can have great relationships based on content that people want to talk about, can do great things with digital media, where businesses can't necessarily do that. You then have businesses that work out their own digital strategy, by working with arts organisations. It works both ways; arts organisations can have assets which businesses need, in order to help them to get over their own challenges in digital. Do you think that there is a gap in knowledge and awareness of how brands can benefit from working with arts organisations? Many brand managers are still getting their heads around social media, so how can they be convinced that working with digital artists can work for them? KB: Brands have to create stories around what they are doing, but cultural and arts organisations already have those stories, so how can we match those up in a way which doesn't feel forced – in a way that is a creative collaboration of mutual benefit? JS: It should be a real collaboration, as opposed to a transactional relationship: “I give you this money, you go off and do this activity”. It is about sharing of skills, expertise and knowledge. Some of the organisations that we have been talking to through our research, have been saying that collaborative relationships are much more valuable, than simply being given money. KB: That's a really important factor. If I was training, or developing strategy within an organisation, the most basic needs are often resources and workload. A lot of these things are fairly simple, but if you don't know enough about them, then they seem hard. Setting up infrastructures to work more smoothly, or just to help people to facilitate the bringing in of digital – and having the thinking space to do that - is something good that can work across any organisation. JS: One of the things that we have been talking about, is the fact that artists and arts organisations need to have greater confidence in what their digital assets actually are, and their value in terms of content and audiences. Most brands would chew their arms off to be able to talk to those audiences. Many arts organisations have lovely venues, which provide a platform for engagement.Arts organisations are sitting on a goldmine of digital assets which are valuable for them in terms of delivering their own missions and objectives, but also for many businesses and brands, to be able to talk consumers, build their awareness, build their own skills, and can be that perfect example of coming together. In terms of how they meet in the middle, the issue is around confidence, and not knowing what an artist is going to do. Will they do something wacky, and how will it help the business? It isn't a problem that is exclusive to digital. JS: It's been happening for years. KB: Because it's a new area and people aren't sure what they're doing and what their own value is, trying to have that conversation with someone else about digital is a daunting task, in that people don't feel comfortable talking about it. Many fundraisers, marketers and so forth are comfortable to approach the Sponsorship Manager and ask for money to put on an exhibition or a show... but when it comes to an idea for a digital project with synchronised live performances, then the response tends to be based on not knowing enough about it, and what the business case is. Businesses can struggle with trying to find the ROI of digital in general; do you think that a lot of this is about brands trying to find the ROI and not really knowing how to measure?

JS: To an extent, the digital space provides brands with quite clear ROI. From the point of R&D value, there is massive value here that you just couldn't get elsewhere: the development of new products, new thinking, new ideas, that can deliver huge ROI for a business. We have been trying to get arts organisations to get together and think in this sort of way, and what tends to happen is that people believe that collaborations between arts organisations and brands occur because of corporate philanthropy – it's a nice thing to do. But, that's not going to be how you sell it in to a business. There needs to be very clear business development potential here, but it's not being expressed, it's not being explained, it's not being made tangible. It's about confidence: what the returns are, because it's a new area.

KB: For an arts organisation to say that what it has, is a really great value... but it's very hard to put a figure on that. That's where it becomes very difficult. I have worked with brands to look at ROI around digital and social media, and trying to equate sums to the value of reach and influence, across various different platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. You can go into all sorts of depths trying to figure that out, but it's really looking at ROI from a PR sense: in the same way that we look at column inches, or looking at reach through a Facebook page and the value from the point of view of Likes and comments. That's getting into deep metrics, but essentially you're saying that the value of those things is greater, because the audience is influential. It's about word of mouth, rather than seeing an ad.

 JS: People are ten times more likely to purchase if they have been referred through social media. The one message that you need to give to your CEO as to why you should invest in social media is that. KB: It's all about trust and influence. TripAdvisor is a good example, where people go to the site before they book a holiday, but then they return to write a review after they have been. They are contributing to the community. Sharing functionality is also being added to many websites; the Facebook Like button is being used everywhere. I think that it's a bit rubbish because it doesn't give you a scale of opinion. However, the ability for people to add their opinion in general means that that's what you look for when you make decision. The contribution of trust, influence and word of mouth to sales, means that [social media] has value to every organisation. JS: The research that we have just completed allowed us to survey the online population in terms of what they wanted from arts and culture. They wanted reviews, but had to search and find what they wanted. The idea that people don't consume arts and culture in the same way that they decide what jeans to buy or what bar to go to, is not the case online. People go through a similar process, in terms of searching, finding, checking up, researching, talking with others. The arts can therefore be behind, and needs to catch up with other sectors as a whole, although there are some organisations which do this brilliantly. People are quite happy to have within their social network, "friends" who are the Lowry, or the National Theatre. Katy Beale  KB: The difference is affiliation. People are quite happy to have within their social network, “friends” who are the Lowry, or the National Theatre. That says something about them, and their personality. It's having a badge. They want to interact with these organisations, because they want the cultural experience without having to visit. Brands try to do that – and some do it very well, when they have a personality coming through very strongly, but a lot of them don't do it as well. In a way, arts and culture organisations have a lot of potential to look at examples of where digital is being done well, and people are willing and ready to engage. It's about giving people that opportunity, and having that conversation with them. JS: Arts organisations are not always giving audiences the opportunity; so people go off and do things independently. There is a huge amount of conversation going on about arts and culture, and the organisations aren't involved at all. It's not just that they are missing out – it's a real shame for those audiences who really care about what they do, because they're not involved, and not as engaged in the relationship. Obviously, you can use that relationship for marketing and so forth, but from a very basic standpoint, organisations are missing out on a massive opportunity. You don't have to build a platform or do anything particularly sophisticated, but you just need to get into the conversation. KB: And provoke, inspire, and reward. JS: Absolutely. It's not about the big players, either – like the Tate or the Royal Opera House, although they do this stuff brilliantly. There are lots of smaller organisations out there who can do that as well. They may not have as much presence as the big guys, but they can punch above their weight. You don't need to chuck money at it, you just need to spend time. KB: Yes. It's about resources, rather than budgets. Is there a role for digital / creative / advertising agencies in this inter-relationship – to be the conduit? After all, such agencies often have deep relationships with both brands and artists, so what part can they play? KB: That is happening already. Most major cultural organisations work directly with advertising and digital agencies, probably with smaller budgets than the brands. Some of the larger cultural organisations can see the value, but that is maybe down to their “clout” and the power of their own brand. I have worked with Tate previously, and I know that they work with Fallon. Agencies want to work with the big cultural brands, so they are happy to work with the Tate or Science Museum, but when the organisations get smaller, it gets a little muddied. How can a small organisation – or even an artist – make sure that they are getting a good relationship, and a good reward, out of it?Agencies work with digital artists all the time, from in-house to sourcing for various projects, depending on what they need. Recently, this has extended to include the role of the creative technologist. I am working on Culture Hackday, which invites developers from any sector to come along to Wieden+Kennedy in January. We have the BBC, Crafts Council, Royal Opera House, National Maritime Museum and many others bringing data to the weekend. This is what we should be doing; a mashup of brands, agencies, cultural organisations. Rachel Coldicutt, who has helped create it, has worked with people and organisations such as Matthew Somerville and the Edinburgh Festival Lab. I'm quite excited just talking about it, because we don't necessarily know what's going to happen and what's going to come out of it, but these organisations have loaned their data to developers for the weekend, to work on it for free, to see what new things they can come up with.In a way, we would like one of the outputs to be to show people what the potential is – of open data, of collaboration, and of working with different partners across different sectors, and what this could mean. Even now, when I'm talking to cultural organisations, it's is quite hard to explain what they might get out of it. The bigger organisations might have data geeks that get it and have been to other hackdays, and know what's going on. From the point of view of a smaller organisation, there's a more tentative approach. They take smaller steps – what is going on? What do we get out of it? The whole idea of hackers can be scary, although it's alright, they're not dangerous [!].The potential is something that I am very excited about – just in terms of the data, the content that these organisations have, and letting developers who seem to be working mainly in the commercial sector, get their hands on this sort of stuff. For them, it's really juicy stuff to work with. The output from that is when these organisations will continue to work with developers, to fully bring ideas to life, for the general public to use. Do you see Culture Hackday as the shape of things to come? KB: This fluidity, and the need to be agile, is what's important. From my own working perspective, that's what I need to be – I need to look at each organisation’s needs, think about developing objectives, thinking strategically, and bringing different people in. The idea of a collective of workers can seem quite scary to people that are used to funding in a more traditional sense, where you have to be very clear about the organisations that you are working with and who they are, and the easiest way to overcome these issues is simply to work with an organisation that is set up in a certain way, and you know what's going on.However, that can be quite wasteful, because if you're working with an organisation that has these people in-house, then the ideas that they are going to come up with, are going to be using those people that they already have, as opposed to taking a step outside, and thinking what the idea is, who is needed, and then pulling them in to work on the project, and then disband afterwards. That is a far more effective and creative way of working, and allows for new ideas and innovation. JS: It's potentially more time-consuming to bring those people together, but the output that you get from it is potentially bigger and better. Some agencies are in a much better position and are much more able to do this. Lansons works extensively with HighTide; they really understand the value, and have embedded that value within the organisation, in terms of the work that they do for their clients. There are agencies who do work closely with the arts, who understand such relationships and can embed them. There are others who are much more traditional in their approach, and maybe not as able to talk to the arts as they might need to.There's absolutely a role for the agencies, to be able to connect brands with arts organisations. As part of one of our research projects, I was talking to Microsoft, and they made a very good point: that arts organisations could be aggressively pursued by brands who want to be associated with them in the digital space. While commercial brands are always looking for differentiation, some of those smaller arts organisations also need to find such points. There is real value in doing so, and that they need to appreciate the value in what they've got and what they want to do with it, and have some business clout in terms of getting deals that work for them, while protecting their brand at the same time. KB: Do you think that there needs to be some work done in terms of value, and what that is for the arts, so they can negotiate with a better knowledge of their worth? It doesn't feel like there is anything like that, in terms of something out there which can be accessed openly. Is there also something here about being open about collaborations, and the value for both sides?

JS: What we have done so far, is to map out what those benefits are: marketing, brand, education, product development, and so on. In terms of attaching Pound signs to these benefits, then that can be difficult, although not impossible. It might be the case that one of the points to take away from Culture Hackday, in terms of data, might be to make it easier to understand what price to attach to such a relationship.

KB: It is hard, and when we talk about value, we don't just mean a monetary value; it's far beyond that, in terms of benefits. With Culture Hackday, it's about increasing accessibility to the amazing archives that these organisations have, for the general public, so they feel like they are also getting better value. JS: There is an ROI issue when it comes to digital, because the precedent is being set for things to be free. However, there is a commercial value within the cultural sector in terms of taking data and increasing fundraising, or sales, as a consequence of using it for promotion, or elsewhere. That line hasn't been drawn yet in the sector – how do you take data and make money out of it, in order to provide other stuff for free? It's a hard question.The online survey work that we did showed that online audiences like things to be free, but appreciate that not everything can be. KB: It's where you would go to a museum to see a free collection, but you would pay to see a particular exhibition. The same would be the case with accessing online content. JS: The National Portrait Gallery has just started working with micropayments for the Taylor Wessing exhibition. They are taking an online concept, and applying it to the physical world: it's £2 to enter. It's the first time that I have seen this, and it will be interesting to see the results. How can brands help to bring immersive, artistic applications out of galleries and for them to permeate into domestic environments? After all, brands don't necessarily own the living room, and artists don't necessarily own galleries. KB: Artists are doing that anyway. I don't think about artists being in a gallery; I think about them very much in a public space, with immersive work. If you look at examples like Punchdrunk or Hide&Seek, which have gaming experiences and interactive theatre – these have set the bar, to the extent that audiences expect a certain level of interactivity. Although the gallery space will still be there, because there are certain ways to display certain works of art, I think that everything has simply become much more interactive.For brands, it's about them being out there and having conversations; it's not about retaining a broadcast-based model for advertising. It is much more to do with a two-way conversational channel. JS: Traditional brands are going over to a greater level of interactivity, because they don't want to be seen as being left behind. With Punchdrunk, Hide&Seek and the work that Watershed has been doing, these are really immersive productions which are exactly where interactivity is going. YouView, Google TV and so forth will push immersive experiences even further. Brands will need to work out a strategy to get involved in these platforms, or they will be left behind, unable to satisfy audience and consumer demands – whether a commercial brand, or an arts organisation. They're both facing exactly the same challenges, and have complementary assets – so why not work together, and deal with this exciting-but-scary horizon which is emerging? Artists, arts organisations, and brands, are all doing a lot of work around transmedia, but are we building a shared understanding of what everyone is doing? JS: There is some work going on in this area, but I think that there is more that could be done – particularly around concepts such as branded content. There is huge potential to do a lot more in that area. But, if you are interested in this area, it's less about the potential and the opportunities than just, “What do we do? How do we do this?” What are the next steps to make something tangible? - and organisations are stuck here, with how to turn something into reality. With the research, events and training that we have been doing, we have been talking to people about how to take that next step – to turn things into reality, and get those connections made. It's not easy, otherwise everyone would be doing it already. KB: I'm trying to think of big, tangible examples that I can give here, and it is a bit of a struggle. One example is with the launch of Tron Legacy. The Southbank Centre and Guided Collective ran projections and an immersive Flynn's Arcade.  

 

  They were using the fantastic architecture of that building and producing a great experience, sponsored by Disney and HP ePrint. It felt like an initial exploration of not just the outputs within the building, but the spaces that cultural organisations have. That's one of their great assets. The reception was really good, although it was when there were Tube strikes, and loads of snow, so it was hard to generate huge numbers of footfall, but people did come down. However, what lives on is the footage that they have created and published to YouTube and Vimeo, generating a Long Tail effect, where people are still experiencing what happen there, and starting discussions around such collaborations, and making them happen in the future. JS: We see projects where 50% is done, but doing the other 50% could really build a in-depth and collaborative model. The National Portrait Gallery in Scotland is running a fundraising campaign, where if you upload a picture of yourself and donate £50, you could form part of the exhibition when the Gallery opens. There's a huge opportunity here in terms of crowdsourcing for an artistic exhibition in its own right, but there's no brand involved. There must be loads of businesses and agencies who signify the essence of Edinburgh. There is clearly something else that c be done there; although it's the first time that the Gallery has done something which is so deeply user-generated such as this. There are organisations who are taking these steps; it's really about taking it forward in building really immersive experiences. If we were having this conversation in December 2011, would things be different? KB: In a year's time, I would like to see more explorations, with people thinking and talking about innovation, rather than strategically talking about sales targets. It's an R&D-driven process. By being more experimental – which is admittedly harder in the light of funding cuts – we can be more progressive, and some answers might appear that we had never thought of before. Culture Hackday brings lots of different heads together, creating ideas which organisations may not necessarily have been able to think of, as they would not have had the time, resources, or budget to have done so. JS: With the cuts, there will be a number of organisations who batten down the hatches, and stick to their core remit and mission. That's what they feel they can do, and have the resources for – and that's perfectly legitimate. You'll then get a group of organisations who will then be innovative and creative to get out of that. I hope that those organisations will come through, and deliver new examples that are quoted everywhere and are the benchmarks for what is possible.It's possible to do that through connecting with expertise elsewhere, rather than think that the budget just isn't there to do something. Potential partners will be willing to work with you. A stumbling block can often be a lack of a conduit between different organisations, of which Arts & Business is one. We are making sure that the conduit is there, because its absence will be the one thing that holds organisations back. KB: It does feel like a lot of cultural organisations are looking to digital as the answer, in the light of smaller budgets. It needs to be thoroughly thought through. A digital strategy cannot be standalone; it has to be part of everything else that you are doing. They need to be aware of that it can take up resources and thinking time, and possibly change the way in which the organisation works in order to make things possible. It sounds scary and big, but there are examples of where that is done well. JS: I agree, and one of the challenges that cultural organisations have in terms of digital work, is that they don't necessarily have digital skills. Normally, you would look to your board, or trustees, or governance model to do that... but those skills aren't there, because they didn't need to be – so how do we get them? The board placement scheme which we run is really valuable, so people and organisations can collectively get those skills, and making sure that organisations lead by example. They need lawyers, they need marketers, they need fundraising experts on the board to drive this, and to make connections. It can't be the Digital Manager trying to do this on their own, as it won't work. It needs a greater strategic buy-in, as there is a digital aspect to every single area in both arts organisations and businesses – and digital needs to sit directly within each of their strategies.It is about doing things differently, but it isn't about throwing out the old rulebook. There's no need to be that scared – these new tools and new ways of working will assist, and push forward what organisations are doing. KB: It's about clearly defining what the benefits are – so organisations will know that by undertaking something, it equates to a particular output. When looking at the organisational level, you can then see how the organisation is changing, and where it needs to change. JS: From a brand's point of view, it isn't about corporate philanthropy. From an arts organisation's point of view, it isn't about something nice to do. There are clear, tangible benefits from collaboration, and I hope that the work that we have done provides a strong indication of what those benefits can be, from a consumer and an organisational point of view. It's about thinking those benefits through, and ensuring that these are planned in. Joanne South is Research Manager at Arts & Business, and author of the recent report “Evolution and Partnerships: Cultural collaborations in the digital age”. Katy Beale is a digital strategist working in the creative and cultural industries. Her website is katybeale.com.Culture Hackday is produced by the Royal Opera House, and takes place at Wieden+Kennedy on the weekend of 15 and 16 January.

Dave Bedwood: when advertising tries to be your friend

Dave Bedwood: when advertising tries to be your friend
Advertising is behaving more and more like a annoying twat at school, desperately trying to be your friend. I wrote a tweet recently, and like most things I do, it was ill thought out, and trying too hard to be funny.But the Imperica guys saw it, and then asked me to do the unthinkable; think about what I had tweeted and expand it into an article. So, clearly the heart of this piece isn't exactly well-researched gold. My bluff has been called; so here is my exploration and summation into what the fuck I think I was saying. Clearly, the tweet was sparked by seeing yet another, in my opinion, rather poor (I won't name names unless, my company was responsible for it) social media idea for a brand. Social media, social media, social media, it can't be said enough nowadays. Social media. In a way it's strange that it has taken so long to dominate. Only 6 years ago and it was: microsite, microsite, pop-up, microsite, banner. Microsite. However new it appears on our screens, it's only a digital representation of what we humans have been doing for aeons. Evolution itself, in some respect, is social media; new combinations, networks, create new ideas. This perfect advertising platform may have taken decades to arrive, but you can see the signs back in the 60's. At the start of that decade, they had finally stopped running radio ads on TV, its power to tell a story and connect with an audience had been unearthed. But the biggest sea change wasn't just in the technology; it was the change in thinking on Madison Avenue. Advertising that showed shiny happy people with the perfect life; advertising that literally shouted the product USP; were blown away with the creative revolution. The term revolution seems too strong now, all they did was write ads that treated the public as if they had a brain and deployed wit and charm to persuade; amongst other things Jewish people to buy a car developed in Nazi Germany. But, my word, that takes some writing. What we saw was the beginning of a dialogue between the consumer and the brand, of course it was merely one way at this time. But when Avis tried harder, and how the man who drives the snow plow gets to the snow plow was revealed, passive media became anything but in the minds of the viewer.  

 

 

  The writing didn't spell the ideas out; viewers were left to complete the stories, ideas, themselves. In turn the work became more memorable, more engaging, more persuasive. The analogy that summed up that sea change came out of DDB, to paraphrase a little: "If a door-to-door salesman came to your house, and shouted or talked down to you, you'd slam the door in his face. If he made you laugh, made you like him, you'd invite him inside for a cup of tea, whilst he sold you the entire contents of his case".  The excitement of the technology and media alone has clouded brands' minds. Dave Bedwood  Of course, 50 years later, there are still TV, poster, press, DM, digital ads that ignore this and still shout or talk down to you. But we've finally arrived at a place where the creative revolution can really flourish, and extend beyond just one way dialogue. And this, brings me back to the twats and the nub of the problem. Ironically, now that we have the technology and media, the very skills that we need to exploit them; the skills we saw at the dawn of the creative revolution, are overlooked, forgotten or worse deemed as "old school". The excitement of the technology and media alone has clouded brands' minds. Brands just know they have to be friends with consumers, without actually doing anything with wit, charm, warmth or value that earns that friendship. And we all know, anyone that chases your friendship quickly becomes a pain in the arse. Of course; there are countless great examples when this isn't the case, I am well aware of those; but amongst all the evangelising from social media “gurus” about the future of advertising, there should be just as much weight applied to not throwing out the baby with the digital bathwater. That old door-to-door salesman analogy still rings true: you can't expect to be invited into someones digital home just because you are there, and when you are in, don't do a shit on the carpet and expect to be offered a cup of tea.  Dave Bedwood is Creative Partner at Lean Mean Fighting Machine.

Professor Sue Thexton: the content conundrum

Professor Sue Thexton: the content conundrum
 A successful fusion of valuable content and an audience willing to pay is one that remains a challenge for many publishers. The effect of this challenge affects many subsequent links in the traditional chain of publishing, as the changes affecting the perceptual value of content have a knock-on effect in terms of the perceptual value of media, and elsewhere. Professor Sue Thexton is a former European VP of Macromedia, MD of film footage archive ITN Source, Chairman of BIMA, and is now co-owner of communications agency Thexton Worlock. Thexton considers the intersection of the “expectation of free”, and commercial viability, as being the “Content Conundrum”. Such a conundrum is a challenge for publishers, in terms of how to hit that sweet spot between value and volume. There is clearly volume out there, but in their inability to pay, they are not handing over their value. As Thexton clearly illustrates, “Film and TV companies cannot continue to create new, quality content with money to pay for it... but there is a reluctance, or refusal, to pay at the point of access.” This is where the challenge lies: it is much about soft persuasion, as it is about hard numbers. The abundance of NHS-style “free at the point of use” digital content has caused a chasm between a generation which we can broadly assume to be 16-25 – and generations above it. In terms of media consumption and value-based perception, this particular age bracket has far less of a historical knowledge of how media is purchased and paid for. “The older generation still perceive a high value – they were used to paying for it in traditional ways – cinema, DVDs, license fee, pay-per-view. But the younger generation appears to have very little perception of why anyone would pay for content. There is little evidence that anyone who uses them, understands why peer-to-peer networks like Kazaa and Pirate Bay that what they are doing is in any way wrong.” What this suggests is that earlier attempts to get a hold of both the usage and impact of P2P had little impact. In fact, the reverse is true: P2P played a key role in the meltdown (and subsequent, and continuing, reformation) of the music industry. However, where BitTorrent was around in 2001, it is still around, and sees no signs of abating, occupying up to 55% of all Internet traffic. Perhaps the key here is for brands and agencies – if not publishers – to address and consider ways in which P2P can be more effectively used to their own advantage. One of the world's most successful implementations of P2P for some time was Kontiki, which UK consumers are more likely to know as BBC iPlayer or Sky Anytime. “Free” has also given rise to “Freemium” and other similar models, where the end customer is given a certain proportion of the product at no charge. This suggests, as Thexton alludes to, that we remain at the early stages of successful business modelling for digital content, with the end user experience playing a key role. “There are so many different models being looked at. No-one knows the answer yet. Some will have greater success than others and definitely there will be more to come. “The key however, is to make the process easy and affordable. No-one wants to have to get their credit card out at point of access. Anything that enables automatic credit card deduction or additions to monthly bills for small values, will inevitably succeed.” This continuing evolution of the model means that the jury remains out regarding paywalls – the Times paywall in particular – it does not mean that current models are wholly invalid. While Thexton considers paywalls as being counter-intuitive to a mass consumer experience, even these early attempts have not worked out to be as doom-laden as predictions have suggested. “In certain cases, people will subscribe to enable access to premium content, but since The Times introduced their paywall back in the Summer, it is believed to have lost 33% of their audience. While that’s not great, it does mean that 66% of the audience stuck with it and paid to access the content.” The paywall has, in Thexton's view, not been a disaster, but neither should it be a millstone. Evolutionary models are, clearly, not just about the value of the content. All of the players have a new role. Display continues to play a major role from an advertising perspective, with display networks such as Google continuing to push their display solution very hard. However, the trio of improved digital media opportunities, more challenging, unique thinking within agencies, and a greater desire for brands to differentiate, implies that other forms of content economics are becoming powerful. This is certainly the case with social media marketing, for example. “The advertisers are looking to their advertising agencies more than ever before to guide them through this maze.” Thexton reflects on a more peaceful past: “It used to be so easy. You had your advertising budget and it either went on TV advertising or print.” This is now, of course, redundant. “Now you need to know how to split that budget between TV, print and all the other potential media available to them. The key is to be able to have a much more targeted approach to your advertising. Not only be able to target micro-consumer groups with your message, but be able to create micro-messages to specific micro-consumer groups.” This is a challenge not necessarily about the tactical micro-management of the channel, but about the strategic opportunities to deliver exceptional creative solutions to a targeted audience that is keen to see it. And, as a brand or a broadcaster, if you have an audience that can demonstrate such a level of participation, then perhaps you can find a way to extrapolate value that finds a way out of the content conundrum.  Professor Sue Thexton is MD of Thexton Worlock, and Visiting Professor to the School of Engineering and Information Science at Middlesex University. Professor Thexton will be speaking tonight on "The Content Conundrum" at Middlesex University's Barnet campus. For further information and to book, visit the University's Lansdown Centre website.

Iain Halpin: the malleability of the workspace

Iain Halpin: the malleability of the workspace
Significant amounts of research and debate have gone into identifying what the workplace of the future looks like. Two books among many have made some reasonably accurate predictions: Douglas Rushkoff's 1994 book Cyberia profiled many smart, technology-drenched Gen X-ers working to their own requirements. Three years later, Frances Cairncross's The Death of Distance imagined ubiquitous mobile connectivity, and the changes that such a prevalence of constant, dynamic communications would bring. How we get there is another matter. Ketchum Pleon's Iain Halpin has been looking at such a journey. A group within the agency looked at potential workplaces of the future, to which mobility played a key role – supported by mobile technologies to help to deliver it. Halpin instantly gives some clarity to those predictions of the future workplace: “All of that technology is now with us, and nothing has really changed, for most people.” Instrumental to the development of such flexibility within organisations is that infamous concept, the work-life balance. “We used to talk a lot about the need for work-life balance. That was very much the rallying cry of a few years ago. That is completely outmoded. For most of us, work is a pretty important part of life. So, the idea that one needs to be balanced against the other, is nonsensical.In this nomadic working style, which people entering the workforce assume to be an option available to them, we are not talking as much about a work/life balance, as a work/life continuum.If you get to a reasonably senior level within an organisation, then you are never 100% away from work. Equally, you are never 100% away from the non-work parts of your life. The challenge for organisations and individuals, is to help to manage their lives in that context.” This work-life continuum presents a problem for both employers and employees. Halpin takes the view that many employers have a patrician approach, where employees are seen as not being properly grown-up enough to make a decision about their work-life continuum. Traditionally, management has been based around inputs (being in the office at certain times) but increasingly, and more intelligently, work should be based on outputs: “What is my role? What are the objectives that I have been set? I will make smart decisions about how I use my time, to deliver on those objectives. If that means that 2 hours of my working day are blown away by school runs, then that's OK; based on what I am supposed to achieve, give me the ability to make smart decisions about how that's done.” Halpin gives the example of his work at Nokia Siemens Networks. While much of the integration work was based at Nokia House in Keilaniemi, the car park was empty by 4pm. The two-hour time difference meant that this equated to silence from Finland at 2pm, but then things would spring back to life at 4pm, once family duties were over. The working day was timeshifted. This timeshifting is based on working patterns which no longer require a core 9-5 timetable. “I don't see why our working cycle should be aligned one invented for Victorian factory workers. It is ridiculous that we are still thinking that this is the norm, when 200 years later when the technology is at our fingertips, and opens up so many more possibilities.” This dissolving of traditional working times also facilitates the concept of “best time”. Clearly, some people work better in the mornings than others, so everyone's best time is different. Given the theoretical switch from inputs to outputs that Halpin suggests, it then becomes feasible that if an employee's “best time” is in the evening – and this can be accommodated by the employer – then they could be encouraged to work within such a schedule, as long as the output is delivered on time. Although these concepts deliver a great deal of flexibility to all concerned, it is a challenge for employers, because their monitoring systems, management systems and approach, have to change. “Why should they do that? Think of the nomads – the pioneers that will take control of their work-life continuum, making it work for them. They are going to be bright; working in creative industries; socially connected; and technology-savvy. Increasing amounts of people coming into the workplace fit that model. If you are competing for talent in the workplace, and you don't have a workstyle vision, then you won't be able to retain your employees.” Halpin's own experience is of the PR industry, where many have left agencies (or even never joined one), to become freelancers. This results in a “brain drain” out from companies, leading to a challenge within the sector to both identify and retain the next generation of enterprise talent.  Getting it Employers are starting to show signs of understanding. “I think that we have moved beyond the point where IT closes access to Facebook.” Halpin's department features Tweetdeck on every laptop. He takes the view that while there is a clear understanding within the communications industry regarding the impact of social tools, the industry isn't always sure how to achieve the greatest level of impact. Further, the adoption of such tools only goes so far up the organisational chart, and involves a decreasing amount of people proportionate to their position in the business. As these challenges change the inter-relationship between employee and employer, the space in which this relationship occurs, becomes extended to an employee's own social endeavours. Recent issues surrounding Twitter, such as the conviction of Paul Chambers, and the Yasmin Alibhai-Brown story, have sharpened the focus on privacy and context. “We forget that it was only relatively recently that we have been able to search content on Twitter. Prior to that, Twitter was a private space, unless you were a follower. One of the big issues regarding social networking that needs to be resolved – and which can only be resolved in the courts – is whether social media counts as a public or private forum. What one says privately, and what one says publicly, can be actioned in two very different ways. The rulings have been very specific, and seem to point to a public space, as long as the content can be searched. There is uncertainly to the status of a lot of social networking, and the comments made therein, that is only going to encourage conservatism within a willingness to participate. While employers have a challenge to understand and address these issues, there is a parallel challenge for their brands, and whether a greater understanding exists at the customer-facing end. “One would have to say no. There is a lot of caution, particularly in B2B clients. The bulk of what they are doing, is spectating. They are finding out who the bloggers and appropriate sites are, and eavesdropping. Very few are ready to go out and become active participants. I don't think that the understanding is fully there.” While employers across a range of sectors are starting to understand the changes that are being demanded of them, their existing infrastructures and services for the employee may need to move at the same pace. If they don't, then those in the business that are both smart and demanding of greater flexibility, will simply go elsewhere within an increasingly liquid jobs market. “We have moved from denial to acceptance... but we're not there yet.”  Iain Halpin is Consulting Director at Ketchum Pleon.Iain is speaking at The New Social Rules, a Mashup* event taking place at the SNR Denton offices in the City of London on 24th November. For further information, visit the Mashup website.

Julian Ranger: privacy and social rules

Julian Ranger: privacy and social rules
“People say that if you go on the Internet, then you must be telling the world – but why? Why does it need to be that way?" The perception of our own and others' privacy is changing very quickly. Sharing more about ourselves, explicitly or implicitly, is now easier than ever, with the potential of that information going to more people than ever – intentionally or otherwise. Angel investor Julian Ranger has worked with data and privacy issues for many years. His first company, Stasys, provided network and system consultancy, eventually ending up being part of Lockheed Martin. Current investments include DADapp, a service to securely share information between friends and family; and Favorit, producers of Twitter search/retweet engine Tweetme and tweet analyser Datasift. These investments take very different approaches to personal data; from retaining it within a tightly-defined group, to mining data which was always intended to be open. Ranger finds this change in “social rules”, from a tight definition of privacy to one of open sharing, as a short-term challenge which could grow into a long-term social problem. “Why do we put up with an Internet which forces us to have a whole series of rules, so that we can carry on with the way in which we have always wanted to live? The Internet should be a positive thing, and we are allowing it to drag us down with some negative aspects, which aren't that difficult to cure, if we try.” Although technology by definition opens up new possibilities and can change our desires, Ranger believes that the personal sense of, and right to, privacy, is constant. We don't suddenly become more open, just because we are communicating through a screen. Ranger considers many social websites as “tricking the average user”. Facebook, which Ranger acknowledges as having many positive features, is seen as not being entirely clear on privacy, from the first step. The example given is of the initial user registration, inviting us to find our friends. Once the network develops, Ranger believes that this supposedly tight network between friends is a highly trusted one, where anything can be shared – without the understanding that, unless the appropriate privacy filters are physically set in place by the user, such information can then be viewed and retrieved elsewhere, by many other, unidentified, people. According to Ranger, examples already exist of simple data management for consumers, although adoption is the result of lot of background activity and thinking. “We need to look at what we ended up doing with the data explosion of the 1980s and 90s, with companies owning a lot of data. We have ended up with two checkboxes on all forms; one of which is for the company to use my data for other purposes, and one is to sell data to partners. We all know what those boxes are for; we need the equivalent of these simple principles online. The rules that we have, would then become superfluous. “It took quite a long time just to get to these two little checkboxes. The Data Protection Act was foul for many of us when it first came in, and it takes time for all these things to settle down, physically or digitally. We can argue until the cows come home as to whether the MPS Register, or the national ID scheme, are good or bad things. Holding data, and what you do with it, is a difficult problem. Social rules will be in flux as things happen – terrorism, exploitation of loopholes, and so on. Although offline media is now comfortable with the relationship between consumers and data, digital media has created a level of confusion regarding sharing and privacy. “The average user doesn't think about it. If things are portrayed in such a way, then we don't question it. When you talk to people about privacy, then their first reaction is to consider the situation to be untrue. The clear rationale of a lack of privacy is to make money. If you get something for free, then the trade-off is the giving of your personal data.  There is nothing wrong in B2B; I don't have an issue with Google tracking my website use, and using that information to improve its searches and advertising. However, I might have an issue if they sell that data to someone else, who could target me with inappropriate messaging. A lot of products are pretending that they are private, when in fact they are public. There is a lack of clarity.” A sharing future? Ranger believes that the values concerning privacy are enduring. There is a widely-held view that “Generation Y is happy to share”, which is clearly not the case for everyone in that age bracket. They will be subject to the same regrets in later life, in terms of what they tell the world, as many generations have had in the past. In the future, Ranger believes that brands which both understand these rules while obeying social norms, will do better. However, right now, it's rather like the lawless Wild West. Honest, private, obeying brands, according to Ranger, simply won't do as well as the others. Brands can respect people's long-held beliefs regarding privacy, as well as utilising new features and benefits of the Internet – but the trade-off is the potential to be less competitive through a more restricted user interface. The future will bring these issues to the forefront: not just from the perspective of a consumer, but from that of an investor, as Ranger illustrates: “Businesses that break those social norms will suffer in the long term. A lot of investors don't necessarily agree with that; you see businesses making money now, which push the boundaries of social norms. However, when you look at return on the initial investment, it's between 5 and 7 years, and I am predicting that things will change.” Although this suggests that we could see a more balanced relationship between consumers and data-rich websites in the future, this vision does not easily lend itself to regulation. Ranger doesn't believe that politicians have the inclination to deal with the wide and varied range of privacy issues that face consumers, and that governmental regulation is possible if self-regulation does not occur. “Google picked up everyone's wifi signal and some data, but they didn't do anything with it, and didn't intend to. They were slammed, where others have undertaken much worse activities, and glide under the radar. Governments will step into regulate. If we don't come up with some clear rules and a clear way of certificating ourselves, each government in each jurisdiction will come up with their own detailed rules. They won't necessarily understand the impact on existing business activity and innovation. We won't have a World Wide Web, but functionality limited to each country. When you get that fragmentation, then the benefits of the World Wide Web immediately disappear.” The avoidance of this territorial carving-up of the Web according to national jurisdictions, starts with one small step. “We need to be clearer, and we are not clear. We are failing on clarity regarding what we are doing, and we are failing on privacy.”  Further information on Julian Ranger, and his activities and investments, is available on his website. Julian is speaking at The New Social Rules, a Mashup* event taking place at the SNR Denton offices in the City of London on 24th November. For further information, visit the Mashup website.

Current affairs: addressing the credibility of digital art

Current affairs: addressing the credibility of digital art
The general perception of art in public galleries can be one of gilt-framed paintings by the Old Masters, hung in perpetuity. This could make other forms of artwork, such as digital art, seem as something separate, to the point of lessening its validity. A new project from North West digital arts organisation Folly and the Harris Gallery in Preston, aims to change this relationship. Current is a project with a number of phases. The first is to open a call for submissions from digital artists. The second, which should go some way to challenging the above, is to display some of these works in the public space of the Harris. The third is for the Harris to acquire one of these works, and for it to be on permanent display. These phases are to be finished off with a public debate, to be held at the gallery next spring, on the importance of digital art, and its role within what we know as “public art” as well as wider society. Kathryn Lambert, Creative Director at Folly, believes that a gap exists in the international collecting of artwork in this field. Lambert identifies many reasons why: the infancy of the concept of digital art; the technical difficulties that may arise in display; and the understanding of it as a fundamentally valid area of art, leading to galleries not accepting such work as playing a contributory role in art history. To emphasise the case for the project's viability, the gallery had undertaken a considerable amount of research before commencing. It invested in research to identify appropriate artists and stakeholders; appropriate models to successfully curate and display such artwork; and where the “gaps” are, in the collection of digital works. According to Lambert, “Where people talk about new media-based work, they are still talking about artists that have worked with film and moving images. We are talking about artists whose work exists online; as something event-based with mobile or social networks; as sound; as an interactive installation; or as film and video. Essentially, it's a broad area of practice, but it's really only moving-image works that are currently being collected.” The project's aims are to raise the profile of this area of practice; to help digital artists to become integral to art's history; and for digital art to be seen as something to be collected in perpetuity, thereby reinforcing the public perception of it and its value. While these aims are bold, challenges remain for curators, in terms of integrating digital art into existing collections. One challenge is to always display the work as it was originally intended. Another – clearly also an opportunity – is the ability for digital media to reflect a continual state of evolution in its production and exhibition. “Digital artists and curators feel that [this area] still relatively misunderstood. It is still relatively new, and raises fairly challenging and difficult exhibition, collection and engagement issues. It mostly doesn't follow fairly traditional models of showing and collecting art.” “The challenges are technical. Depending on the artwork and the artists, and the pace of technology, a particular challenge is whether works collected in perpetuity have technology in the future to show an access the work.Another challenge is that if the work exists online and is interacted with to 'fully' exist, then how does one collect work of that nature?” These challenges are counterbalanced by the opportunities that digital works have, in presenting a piece outside of a traditional gallery space. While such settings can build powerful forms of appreciation and engagement, they challenge the legitimacy enjoyed by more well-established media. “At Folly, we commission and present work that doesn't exist in a traditional gallery space. We believe that, mostly, this type of work can be experienced in all sorts of new and unexpected places. You can reach new audiences more easily, because you're not getting them into a gallery space. Audiences can experience the work through a mobile phone on the train, for example. However, because the work can exist outside of the gallery space, it is not necessarily recognised as part of the story of art. It doesn't necessarily have the same values placed on it and is therefore being collected. Working with the Harris, and showing digital work in that space, will give that kind of value to the work.”    Lambert believes that due to the more direct means of setting – such as on a mobile phone - this type of work can successfully engage with the non arts-attending public. Therefore, the potential is for digital art to transcend some of the traditional art participation and understanding barriers that the public may face. Because the work can be more interactive, people being present in the space – contributing or affecting the work – makes the work exist. “It's a different type of appreciation – and that's a word that we may not use as much in this field. It can engage more easily, and is more relevant.” In terms of selecting works to be exhibited at the Harris, Lambert and her team are interested in selecting a range of digital works that the public will engage with. Ultimately, the Harris will collect one of these pieces, so it must suggest as to how it can work in a gallery space. An example of such a work comes from Folly's involvement with Abandon Normal Devices, which led to the commissioning of James Coupe's work “Today, too, I experienced something I hope to understand in a few days”. Coupe's work runs as a Facebook application, which automatically generates short films based on user account settings and activity.  

 

 

   Lambert is confident that the potential for digital work is vast, and potentially significant in its resonant potential with new audiences. “There is huge, untapped territory in the area of social networks and pervasive areas, such as mobile and gaming.” Current's bold and ambitious aims should add gravitas and legitimacy to an area of art practice that many recognise, but don't necessarily place within the wider context of artistic appreciation. The opportunity is there for digital artists to change this thinking.  Kathryn Lambert is Creative Director at Folly. The artist call for Current runs until 17/12/10, with the public exhibition open at the Harris gallery from 25/03/11. Further information is available from the websites for Current and the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, and at @current2011 on Twitter.

Ben Werdmuller: Creating a British Silicon Valley

Ben Werdmuller: Creating a British Silicon Valley

Here's an experiment you can try next time you're in San Francisco. Pick a warm day, grab a fresh coffee from Peet's in the Ferry Building, and head up Market Street. Turn left on 3rd, and keep going until you hit South Park on the left (somewhere between Bryant and Brannan). This unassuming stretch of grass, loaded with benches, a playground and a spattering of trees, is surrounded by web companies - firms like MySpace, Slideshare, Get Satisfaction and Wired, and an unmarked building with a glass wall that used to be Twitter's home - and often you'll find the benches packed with geeks with laptops, slinging code and hanging out. These are happy, well-paid kids, making millions of dollars by building creative software and using their skills to disrupt the established methods for creating, sharing and doing business. Disruptors in hoodies.

 

Now stop and listen. How many British accents can you hear?

 

We're serious about the Internet. That's the message David Cameron gave last week when he made it clear that the current government are going to make it easier for technology entrepreneurs to start businesses, and for existing small businesses to thrive and grow. He singled out east London's Old Street area - home to Moo.com, GroupSpaces and many others, and famously the spawning ground of last.fm - as worthy of praise, and described how he was going to establish a British answer to Silicon Valley stretching from Shoreditch to Stratford, with the backing of Intel, Facebook and Google. Added to the recent news that the country's Internet sector is worth over £100 million, it would seem that it's a great time to be a creative, entrepreneurial Internet professional.

Continue reading

Filmobile: emerging possibilities for collaborative media

Filmobile: emerging possibilities for collaborative media
 In 2006, mobile phones outnumbered the volume of film and digital cameras combined. However, no industry standards for the production and consumption of new and emerging video formats have been established. Simultaneously, a proliferation of creative mobile media has surfaced within the field of artistic practice and documentary filmmaking. In 2000, the first camera phone was introduced in Japan and this year, mobile devices including 12 megapixel cameras and features such as locative media and Augmented Reality applications further expand the horizon of the mobile mediascape. The Mobile Creative and Innovation forum looked at the latest trends in relation to artistic, social, cultural and economic prospects of mobile media in 2010. This year’s forum is the fifth of the FILMOBILE event series, which have taken different formats in the last years including cinema screening and exhibitions. FILMOBILE emerged out of my own PhD research, which demonstrated the new emerging possibilities for such filmmaking, and creative collaborative media practice through the recent phenomenon of mobile media. The FILMOBILE event on the 24th September at the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology featured eight presentations by artists and filmmakers showcasing their work. The forum featured an engaging Q&A session with more than 30 guests including leading academics and independent practitioners from the Creative Industries. The first session on mobile filmmaking was chaired by Professor Joram Ten Brink (Director of the Centre for Documentary Film at the University of Westminster) and featured presentations by Dr Adam Kossoff (Filmmaker, University of Wolverhampton), Eloise Villez (MA History of Film and Visual Media, Birkbeck University), Julia Kazarina (HeARTbeat Festival Yekaterinburg, Russia) and Sylvie Prasad (Photographer, University of East London). I organised the event and chaired the second panel on mobile art. Dr Chris Fry (Artist, University of Westminster), Jorge Lopes Ramos (Zecora Ura, University of East London) and ?artist Kasia Molga explored participator projects that engage the audience through mobile media art and mobile performance. The discussions and presentations in the first panel centered around the development of mobile aesthetics, personal and intimate filmmaking approaches, including discussions on the notion of memory and diary filmmaking. The second panel pointed at the participatory prospects of mobile art and illustrated ways to engage audiences in a number of ways ranging from text messaging to interactive theatre performances.  

 

 

 

 The first panel Moscow Diaries is a 15-minute mobile moving image video, produced in 2009 by Adam Kossoff during a five-day production in Russia. In the project, he traces the places Walter Benjamin visited in 1926 and layers Benjamin’s diary notes about the Soviet Capital over contemporary Moscow in the form of a voice-over. Adam said he chose the mobile phone for aesthetic and strategic reasons, which allowed him to follow the footsteps of Benjamin. Adam linked the mobile phone aesthetics to Benjamin’s enquiry about way moving-images as a technology changed one’s perception of the world. Further, he identified mobile filmmaking with a discrete characteristic that allowed him to film in hotels and public places, without getting the attention of the public or authorities. He used Google Maps in one hand on his mobile and Benjamin’s diary in the other. His work illustrates how time and space can merge on different layers in one mobile project. Julia Kazarina is a Photographer and Media Artist from Ekaterinburg, and organiser of the HeARTbeat Festival, a festival of mobile creativity in Russia. She showed mobile phone pictures, exhibited and curated at the festival last year. The first set of images which she presented, are kaleidoscopic pictures printed in large format and the second set were a display of a collaborative montage work. The mobile montage reflects the diary format by means of displaying a rather private collection of images taken by the people of Ekaterinburg. Here, cityscapes are juxtaposed with flowers and metal items photographed by a factory worker. May Days is a work-in-progress mobile project by Sylvie Prasad using mobile photography and mobile video revealing the life of Sylvie’s mother who has Alzheimer's Disease. Her project explores mobile video as a technology to capture notions exploring memory, belonging and autobiography. In her project, the mobile phone is used to keep a record of her mother’s everyday life. Through the immediate playback function of the phone, the mobile clips can remind her mother of her daily activities and support her in terms of sharing memories, which she would not otherwise recall. The mobile as a visual communication device can stand in for the loss of the short-term memory and a sense of belonging. Eloise Villez presented her research into French filmmakers using mobile phones. The work of Joseph Morder (J’aimerais partager le Printemps avec Quelqu’un) can be linked to the above projects through the notion of the diary. The image and the texture of mobile videos have their own specificity. Eloise linked this to the earlier work of the French filmmaker, who used Super 8. Joseph’s project is centered around the French elections in 2007, which merges the notion of intimate and the public facts into one format. In her research into mobile aesthetics, Eloise argues that the turning to the filmmaker’s turning to the mobile camera and the use of travelling shots, are characteristics of this film form that can be situated within documentary practice.   The second panel In the second panel, Chris Fry explored interaction and participation through his online mobile text based art-work The Magic Ray. The mobile project separates brain patterns from a mobile signal and provides insights into the inner workings of one’s mind. Pervasive and locative media art works allow to explore the role of the audience in engaging in the work. Similar to the filmmaker’s experimentation with the low-res video, Chris is focusing on text messages as a common denominator for interaction that is available to almost everyone in the contemporary mediascape. Jorge Lopes Ramos talked about his theatre performance Hotel Medea, which includes interaction with the audience via mobile devices on various levels. Mobile phones are used as a tool to foster participation with the audience. This includes communicating with the audience before they come to the performance to engaging them in a certain scene of the performance. This playful theatrical structure creates a participatory, immersive and interactive perspective towards events. His work can be described as site, time, and audience-specific. Kasia Molga’s participatory artwork encourage both social interaction and audience participation through deployment of new technologies. Audiences are enabled to actively interact with her art installation using texting. Their SMS input is recorded and instantly visible on the installation. As a reward the artwork will communicate with the users. Mirror of Infinity 3.0 is about giving power of creation to communities, reminding them that the power of creation belongs to them. It is about targeting people in the environment, which would not be normally exposed to such an art experience. In the round table discussions, it emerged that mobile media can provide a starting point for new talents to enter the film world and simultaneously function as a form of self-discovery. Short mobile films allow more people to express themselves and engage with their environment through a visual representation. Mobile filmmaking in its current state, encompasses environments ranging from the big screen in international festivals to private moments shared on the small screen. Some photos and videos taken on the phone devices remain on the phone, while others enter the media scape for public exposure. In the “Mobile Phone Filmmaking” section, the particular aesthetic was illustrated and it was obvious that artists and filmmakers appreciate the specificity of the mobile video for creative reasons. The imperfection seems to leave a space for a subjective expression on the visual layer. This expression takes shape in the form of the diary, memory or revealing of feelings. These characteristics are difficult to express solely with language and allows an encounter through the immediate and intimate artefacts of 3G mobile media, which I term Keitai Aesthetic. In the Q&A session, I talked about his mobile projects and mentioned that distribution is of key interest to the industry. I exemplified this through my own work, which has been described as pioneering for the effort to bring a city film out of the cinema and back into the city. These micro-movies are more like a text message than a short film, and I aim to open up questions in relation to the visuals and narrative. The formulation of storytelling is rather a “story architecture” that allows for engagement - not only with the community, but also the location. The panel noted that mobile media can function as tool for augmenting one’s senses. Mobile technology can start a conversation and provides access to a process in which an art work or story to be shared or rather collaborative created. The FILMOBILE event emphasised the innovative potential in mobile media, and that creativity is the key to unlock and ignite the mobile wave.

 

 

Max Schleser is Lecturer at the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, London. Filmobile is organised in collaboration with the University of Westminster's Centre for Production and Research of Documentary Film, and the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, London. It is part of NODE.London's autumn season. For further information and to get involved, visit filmobile.net or the Filmobile group on Facebook.

In conversation with... Tom Armitage and Frankie Roberto

In conversation with... Tom Armitage and Frankie Roberto
Tom Armitage and Frankie Roberto's talks at Interesting North are about rules and Lego, respectively. After an introductory dialogue, we considered some points that might unite them, in order to formulate an "In conversation with..." article. So, we brought them together, and set them off, talking about play and playfulness, systems (including Lego), and gamification. Does digital media inherently lend itself to rules and mechanics, or are we in danger of taking too technical an approach to an artistic medium? TA: Digital media can be artistic, but the problem exists when you want to make things that exist digitally: on the web, on my mobile, or wherever. At the bottom of it all, are a bunch of transistors. That's all we have. It's digital because of mechanical chips; they're not dull, they're amazing.  That's not a problem; you can work around it. You can make very abstract, non-mechanical, curious things on top of this. In terms of what the foundations are, there are certain things that it lends itself to, because it has big, interlinking systems all the way down. Things you might consider to be ostensibly more artistic. the first thing you do isn't necessarily to paint a grid of squares, and colour in, one at a time. So, there's something about the foundations which need to be taken into account. FR: There's one overarching rule, which is of what can and can't be done. A lot of the digital stuff is pushing against that, and trying to do as much as possible – and find where those boundaries are. If you want to call it a game, then the overarching game is to try to break it in new ways, and to find new things that can be done: playing with the physics of it, and trying to see what there is, and what the scope of possibilities are. That scope is widening to the point in which it's pretty open. Do you think that the “widening” lends itself to a greater potential of playfulness? FR: Yes. Within Lego, the only rule as such is that the studs are on top, and the bricks sit on top of each other. People have played around with that rule, as well as within it. It's incredibly open-ended, and allows infinite possibilities. Even that fundamental rule can be played with, such as jamming two bricks together, and turning bricks on their side. I see that as being a metaphor for digital media. TA: I keep coming back to a concepts that Eric Zimmerman introduced me to, and I quite like: the notion of systemic media. Lots of things are systemic: poetry is systemic, especially metrical verse; certain forms of sculpture are systemic. Games are built on systems; they live or die without them. With poetry, blank verse for example is much less systemic than Iambic pentameter. The Lego example is nice. Lego is a system, where as Frankie said, blocks line up. There are interesting ways of breaking that, which allow you to do more interesting stuff. All of these are recognised as playing fair, because people have understood the system and internalised the rules. Not playing fair is gluing blocks together. Rubber bands, glue, and nails, tend to be cheating. Jamming blocks together in unintended ways, feels about right. The understanding of systems such as banking systems, tools such as Alexa, toys such as Lego, is not based on an aesthetic layer alone. It's drilling down, until you discover the rules, but then the brilliant thing that happens. is that you internalise the system. You forget about it. The thing that makes you good at it is not that you know the rules backwards, but it's that you can't not know the rules. You wouldn't know how not to be behave.  It's not that everyone thinks of how to put the blocks together; you know that you're playing with Lego. You know what you're doing, because you are experienced at playing with Lego. The literacy around the ways of understanding systems is based on the number-one way of understanding systems, which is to break them and to see what happens. It's a great feedback loop. Understanding Lego, the stock market, or Flickr, are things which we are pre-conditioned to do, through play. We sometimes forget. I like Zimmerman's point that when you have a steering wheel on a car, there's that point where you fiddle with the wheel and nothing happens. We call that “play” - the play in the system. It's a little bit of “give” before things start happening. That's you figuring it out. How heavy is this wheel? Ways of fiddling in order to learn, are interesting and exciting, and I think that they are important. The only way to understand the systemic media that we are creating, such as Foursquare or Facebook, is through play, experimentation, and learning what the rules are. Does a technical process take away that concept of discovery? FR: I don't think that it takes anything away; it's a starting point. The first thing you do is to see how the user interface defines the constraints. I like to think of constraints rather than rules. Part of me doesn't like the definition of rules as being a “bounding” of what you can do. Constraints themselves can give more playful elements. Even though Twitter came along at the time of infinite bandwidth and storage, the constraint of a limited number of characters made it interesting. It encouraged people to play around with language. Technical ways of getting around the limit has given rise to a whole level of creativity, such as URL shortening, because of that limit. Even though those constraints can be annoying, imposed by someone else, just one single constraint such as that can be interesting, and force people to be more playful. There are scopes within user interfaces for concepts like that. At the office, we have been talking about how to introduce more friction. One of the things that I have said recently, is how UI design is trending to a bland, generic, “Like” button-style of interaction. Everything is as easy as possible, aggregating to one place, and you just go around liking things and commenting. There's only one form of interaction. It's not open-ended enough. It's efficient, but not interesting. Whether it's something simple as being only allowed to talk to ten people... that's a simple mechanic that MySpace had when it started. You could only list your ten best friends on your homepage. That very simple constraint – I don't know where it came from and whether it was technical, but it forced people to be playful with the constraint.

 

 

 

It's harder to make something where you really push someone. Tom Armitage

 

 

 

 TA: I like separating out constraints and rules. I don't think that everything is systemic media. One of the things that systems do, is enable you to internalise the ruleset so you become good at stuff. I was recently talking to a friend, and we were discussing the gap between game design, and UI design. That gap is something that people don't talk about, and they are actually polar opposites at times. Effective UI design is streamlining me doing what I want to do: sending a message and clicking Send. Effective game design makes things arbitrarily difficult. It encourages mastery; it enables you to get better. What is complicated on the surface, becomes easier as you get on. The reason that it is genuine mastery, is that there is a difficulty curve; there is challenge. A lot of UI design is about being frictionless; enabling people to achieve what they want to do, seamlessly. That's great, but everyone has the same capabilities. It's harder to make something where you really push someone. In Frankie's Twitter example, the people that are good at it, are those that are funny, and don't resort to condensation such as text speak. The skill is a linguistic one. What makes heavily rule-based things good, is that actually they are not always immediate. Getting to learn the system enables you to get good at it. I don't have to learn Facebook in order to be able to talk to my friends. There's a big sliding scale of immediacy, going towards mastery. You can position yourself along it. When Frankie was talking about friction, it's just that tiny bit extra just to think about what you're doing, and slows you down a little. That allows you to understand what's going on. FR: On Facebook or really any other social site, rather than the friends list, you could introduce friction in terms of giving your contacts a half-life. If you don't contact them within a certain amount of time, they dwindle. Systems that self-manage with such friction... how do you encourage that “socialness”? How do you introduce something that forces people to consider that they haven't spoken to a particular friend? Those small interventions are what's needed in digital media, otherwise we have an efficient landscape which is useful but isn't always engaging. TA: You're describing a pacing issue. Pacing is interesting, as some interactions are slow and meaningful. If you consider these people to be your friends, maybe you should talk to them, and adding people to a friends list should be harder than an “Add” button. Maybe if you don't talk them, they are sorted down to the bottom, as clearly they are not interesting. The mechanic of the half-life exposes them to the way in which it works. You're making something much more explicit: not by putting it there in words, but giving them a little “speed bump”. That bit where you have to consider it for a minute. Then, you have a site, application or product which moves at various paces. If you look at things which people find engaging, whether it's narrative or products, they don't have identical interfaces. They have pace, and speed bumps. Good stories have pacy drama, and long, drawn-out meditative sequences that let you gather your thoughts after high speed. That idea of friction is nice, in terms of how we enjoy friction in lots of other ways. FR: The reason that the “Like” button is designed that way, and the reason that the word “Like” is chosen, is that it's such a low-value emotion. TA: It's really anodyne. FR: It's easy to press. You don't have to think much about it, before pressing the button. If you're a service that wants to gather as much data as possible, then it makes sense to have the least friction possible in the interaction. It means that you end up surrounded by stuff that you have a vague likeness for, but don't actually love. You don't get exposed to stuff that you don't like. One of the ideas that I have been playing with, is the notion of “agree” and “disagree”, and not having a neutral. That forces you to make a statement. There's an implicit idea that you have to explain why you agree or disagree. It encourages people to say that you agree or disagree with it. The aggregate that you get back, is less about stuff that you might like, and more about what you agree or disagree with. My learning is from what I disagree with. TA: I would be much more interested in seeing what an “Adore” button looks like, or a “Loathe” button. The choice with “Like” is in pressing the button, or not. Not doing it is not ignoring the UI; it's a valid choice: choosing not to push it, rather than a binary choice. Not doing it, does matter. From the perspectives of UI design, and how we learn and play, is there more scope to address friction? TA: Yes. Users introduce their own friction. You have to account for how people will understand things. With online dating sites, there's a friction in terms of the questions asked, but then there are people's own sensibilities. There are some questions which many people dive into, and some parts that people have to fill out, and some parts to which people have issues with the language. Some of the friction comes from the user. We can create obvious friction; we can put in the speed bump, but some people are cautious drivers. This is why I say that a lot of things already have friction. People are cautious about how they upload private data, or adding friends. It might be a small button, but it's a big piece of friction. Systems aimed at less expert users – people less aware of the meaning of what they are doing – are more likely to meet more obvious speed bumps. FR: The example in my mind is from our current project, where we are looking at people between 14 and 20 using Facebook. One of the interesting things is how among many of them, is who you are in a relationship with. It's used in a playful way, and it's usually only with one person. You're at the age where you're not in relationships yet, or dating. They're often not in actual relationships, but are making a joke, and to put themselves in relationships with their friends, and constantly renegotiate who their significant other is... even to the extent of who their children are. We have seen sixteen-year-olds adding friends as their children, when clearly they are not. It's expressing something – breaking the system, and easing room for negotiation. You still have to agree that between the two of you, as just being a friend is a non-agreement. You can just do that. That's an example of where people value friction. With half-lives, a point raised by Toby and Marcus was about subtlety. They made the point about how digital photography doesn't age, and should age in some way. Are we moving towards an approach where entities such as the “Like” button take away a sense of time? FR: The most interesting thing that I have recently seen in terms of the progression of time, is James Bridle's talk at dConstruct this year. He talked passionately about the historiography of digital things. A lot of things are online, and disappear. They don't change over time. The example which he gave that doesn't do that, is Wikipedia. You have a continual change. In some ways it's progress toward a point, and in others, it expands towards the future. You can see that, visibly. I would like to see how that can be applied more widely. TA: I'm weary of analogue nostalgia, but I think that there are things that become less visible in a digital medium over time. Historiography is undervalued. Wikipedia is built around historiography, just because it has a changelog. This is again about systems exposing their workings. The way it works best is when you make something relevant and “human-scale”. In one sense, Wikipedia's historiography is complete: it's every change, ever. In another sense, it's totally incomprehensible. James's book of Wikipedia's Iraq war changelog shows this. It's 14 volumes. You scale it to every article, and realise that you can no longer contain it in your head. It's about finding ways to make these changes over time visible and valuable. I talked about this recently: human-scale data. It's putting things in places where people understand them, such as no rule as to when your friends “expire”, but just sorting them in that way, and that paying attention to them moves them back up the list. That's how communication works – people can feel forgotten. This is much more relevant than having all of the data, all of the time. Digital photographs curling up has a little bit of analogue nostalgia about it, but it is understandable. It explains that one photograph is older than another, as opposed to looking at a directory and seeing 20,000 timestamps. You forget as to whether six months was a long time ago, or not. Some things seem very vivid, some seem very far away. It's a very personal thing. Finding ways to make age understandable at a very human level, and adding a little bit of friction without adding total bewilderment, is a good way to go. FR: PhotoJojo sends you your own photographs from a year ago. It's not an arbitrary amount of time. It's the same amount of time, every time. You look back at summer photographs in the summer, and so on. Two years seems like an interesting amount of time. There's that boundary of some things you remember, and some which are yonks away. TA: I love that service. It makes your own history visible to you, in a way which you understand. It's yours, and you get to feel what that period of time feels like. It slots itself into your email. It's a great example. FR: It's very powerful. One of the things that I struggle with, is how you visualise that time. Generally it's just with numbers, and numbers are very difficult to understand, meaningfully. We're just getting started [with this concept].

 

Continue reading

Stefanie Posavec: artists and data

Stefanie Posavec: artists and data
From the humble bar chart to complex dataviz, we live in a society that has always understood the visual representation of data, and technology's role within that transformation. However, as the possibilities in access to data - and the availability of technology to visualise it - have both become much more accessible, artists and designers are increasingly finding new ways to connect data with visual forms in order to create new meanings and outcomes. Designer Stefanie Posavec believes that these processes are as important as the outcome. While artists have been using a process of setting structured parameters to achieve an artistic outcome, Posavec feels that designers, and print designers in particular, have only recently begun to create aesthetic solutions from data. She starts with a story from her days as a postgraduate student at Central St. Martins. “My dissertation was on the observation that more students would arrive at design solutions for course briefs that were created by mapping data or using data to generate the graphic outcome. For this method, after selecting a dataset that lends itself to the message the designer wants to communicate, the dataset is processed using a set of fixed aesthetic parameters. The intensity of the aesthetic parameters - the length of line, colour, curve - is determined by the numbers found in the dataset. “Since I began noticing more students using this approach in their design practice, I've always considered this method of creating imagery to be an additional tool in a graphic designer's 'tool box' to solve a design problem and produce structure within a design project.” Methodological creation of shape and form should be considered, in Posavec's view, as a useful and valid approach to working with data; albeit one which positions itself towards the more artistic end of visualisation. Methodology is, as is made clear, not the opposite to the artist's “gut instinct”. “It may be that using data to shape and mold an aesthetic provides the most suitable and meaningful solution for a creative 'problem.'” Such a solution, where data is used as the “starting point” can be, according to Posavec, greatly beneficial in aesthetic creation. “For example, it is possible to choose a dataset that has a relevance or significance to a particular design project. Generating visuals from meaningful data invests the aesthetic with an additional meaning, and suffuses the aesthetic with importance and a talismanic quality. Much like a time capsule shifts one's perception of the area it is buried in or writing messages on a bedroom wall before it's painted adds a secret hidden importance to the room, using relevant data to generate visuals invests the outcome with hidden - or not so hidden – meaning.” “Another benefit to using data as a starting point when producing an aesthetic is that it provides a level of uniqueness to the resultant form: the underlying data, in many cases, functions as a unique fingerprint or DNA, so the visual outcome could only be created by a particular dataset alone. If a creative gut instinct isn't producing appropriate results to a design problem, this method of creating visuals may be another approach to try.” Hard informationGiven that data can be processed in an efficient, almost clinical way, we move on to discussing as to whether this achieves more “clinical” outcomes. “Whether a visual outcome is clinical or not is dependent on the type of data that is being used to generate the aesthetic, as well as the different aesthetic parameters that have been selected by the designer for the data to be processed with.  All is dependent on how [the designer] feels the parameters will best represent the original dataset. Stefanie Posavec  Posavec makes the point that the data which is used is in itself subjective, even if it is gathered in a structured way. Data which is based on emotional or personal facets would produce a less “clinical” visual by definition. This subjectivity is extended to the artistic parameters which are selected into which the data is fed, which in turn clearly determine the end product. “A designer carefully chooses colours, forms, textures, and methods of mark-making to communicate their intended message. Depending on the designer's selection of aesthetic parameters, the visual outcome could look very clinical or warm and handmade: all is dependent on how they feel the parameters will best represent the original dataset." Within more creative realms of using data to produce an aesthetic, it is up to the designer to determine the volume of data to use. This is a more flexible method of the aesthetic representation of data than, for example, data visualisation or information design, which encourage fixed methods of representation and display. Posavec's reference to data “as a design tool” sets the scene for how it becomes the way to help to achieve the outcome, rather than used as the main reason for creating the design in the first place. The dataset should be clearly and fully referenced, although experimentation and testing will need to be applied, to ensure that the final visual approach is satisfactory. By experimenting with data and outcomes, the designer will achieve the best solution possible. “As this method of working with data falls on the more creative and intuitive end of the data design spectrum, the designer has more flexibility with the type of data they use to create the visuals. Equally, the designer has flexibility with which part of the visual outcome will be dictated by data, ranging from the entire design to only a part of it. Using data in this way offers a level of flexibility and intuitiveness that is often not possible in data visualisation or information design.” The most important aspect of such a design is that the viewer must be informed as to the origin of the data. This ensures that viewers understand the meaningful qualities of the design, and gives it the points of reference that the data suggest. A data-driven world

The future in the eyes of Posavec is one where this more scientific approach becomes increasingly popular as an option for designers and artists to pursue. Posavec feels that although an outcome is derived from “hard information”, designers are interested in this field for emotional reasons.

“Carefully gathering data about a subject provides an opportunity for a designer to fully engage with a subject in an intensive, involved way. Working with intricate datasets of a subject one finds importance and meaning in, offers a more emotional way of developing a design project. “Also, this rigorous method of feeding data through aesthetic parameters to arrive at a visual outcome provides a feeling of looking into the unknown for the designer, as one doesn't know what the visual outcome of the dataset will be until the whole visual is generated. If the process is being created by hand, the wait to see the final outcome is even longer and much of the process of creation is imbued with feelings of anticipation of what the final outcome will look like.” Such approaches add emotional and subjective qualities to the design process, even though their roots are in science. Stefanie is speaking at Interesting North on 13 November in Sheffield. For further information and to book, visit interestingnorth.com.

In conversation with... Andrew Dubber and Gary Day-Ellison

In conversation with... Andrew Dubber and Gary Day-Ellison

The changing nature of how content is created, consumed, and distributed has clear implications in terms of the perception of media. One such example is cover art, where the continuing change in buying patterns from tactile forms to digital work may have led to a change in the way in which consumers perceive and understand the importance of a visual identity in books and music.

In conversation are Andrew Dubber and Gary Day-Ellison, with strong pedigrees in music and books, respectively. We start with discussing cover art, and move on from there.

Do we still have cover art? Is there still such a thing? Do digital consumers care about packaging? GDE: It's all packaged, one way or another. Whether you have a physical package, where the manufacturing is the defining limitation. As soon as you put type together with images, it's packaged... otherwise, you wouldn't know about it, other than on a typed list. AD: The idea of cover art in music has a strong, 100-year history of being at least a reason for a cover: you have vinyl, shellac, or a CD. A lot of that has carried over into digital. Something feels like it's not finished if it's in your iTunes collection, without an image. People with music in their iTunes without cover art, often go so far as to scan cover art from a CD to make sure that the whole thing looks nice. GDE: If I don't like the cover art, I take it out and put in a picture that I do like instead. AD: There's a great opportunity to do that with online music. You don't have to stick with the cover art. There are some really interesting things going on regarding cover art as far as music production goes; there are lots of experiments at the moment, because because people find it problematic. There are people doing things like: “Here are some ingredients, build your own cover.” There are a lot of independent acts doing that. “These are the elements of visual style that represent us”. Download it and engage with the process of making cover art.People misunderstand music consumption. They think of it as being discovery, purchase and listening. What people do with music is a lot more than that. They like to collect it, organise it, talk about it, and lots of other things. There is an element of visual representation to that. I'm a vinyl collector, but I also have an MP3 player. The MP3s are for having on, and the vinyl is for listening to. It causes me distress when there's something in my iTunes library that doesn't have cover art. GDE: It's easy to put something in yourself, and I quite like that. We all used to make compilation tapes for friends; I would put my own cover art in there, from the Sunday supplements. I think that still goes on. That's about engagement. I'm all for it. You feel part of it. It's a sense of feeling involved, and people like that. AD: There's a record label in Birmingham, called Brave or Invincible. They produced a compilation cassette, that you can only buy online; they chose ten artists that they like, and each artist produced ten covers. Only a hundred of these cassettes were available. So, you had a one-off, handmade, album, produced by the artist.Cover art is not just pictures. Where things start to fall apart in the digital environment is in liner notes. They are a really important part of the experience of listening to recordings, particularly for someone like me that buys jazz vinyl. You're reading an essay while listening to the music.I'm really interested in things that aren't currently available for sale: not just from a point of view of personal consumption, but from the fact that these things are disappearing. 95% of all of the recordings issued by the major record labels, are currently not available in any form. Unless you can find a second-hand copy, or there's a revival which makes it viable for the record labels to re-press, these recordings are sitting in vaults, on magnetic tape, decaying. So, 95% of all cover art that we are ever likely to see, is inaccessible. GDE: The exclusivity is also part of it. I used to buy a lot of reggae from Desmond's in Brixton Market. It was about the size of a phone box, and two people would take turns to go in. They had ex-turntable 45rpm singles; where you could press out the middle to make the record fit onto a jukebox. A lot of these records were coming in from Jamaica as white-label, and the guy playing them would put a fat black felt-tip on the name of the artist. The point is that you could only hear it from that guy's turntable in that shop. You couldn't find out what it was. With many of these records, rather than the middle bit for the jukebox being taken out, the middle was literally drilled out, so it would only fit one master turntable. There is a balance between people wanting a past engagement and attachment.Psychologically, you love hearing bands for the first time. How many times have we heard that a band's first album captured their real essence? It's to do with holding onto something, which is about participation. AD: There's another thread to this. Some people are doing cover art as a way of creating authenticity. Brian Eno is releasing a hand-printed, box set that the fans can buy. It's making something out of the ownership of an artwork, that goes beyond the mere buying of music. To engage with something tactile that smells nice, creates scarcity out of having something which is valuable to sell. One of the things which is interesting to me about that, is the bit which decays. The bit which isn't easily shareable, is the bit which is expensive. GDE: You also have a conflict between originality of the packaging, and how rackable it is, for stores and distributors... AD: … and home collectors. There's nothing worse. GDE: Yes; companies put the product into different boxes, tins and so on; mutating the form, trying to replace the ghastly jewel box. It suggests that there's an opportunity here to become more imaginative with packaging, because we can now do great things, based on a wider experience. AD: There is that, but there's something else to it. Box sets, strangely-shaped packages and so on, are interesting occasionally, but as a standard practice, would piss everybody off, because there's no easy way to store it. What makes CD and record collections work, is that the packaging is all the same size, and they sit nicely next to each other. GDE: They [original packages] work only as exceptions. If every programme was like Twin Peaks, watching Twin Peaks wouldn't be half as much fun. AD: Absolutely. How do you then bring that uniqueness and scarcity into less engaged audiences? AD: There's one simple answer: be interesting. GDE: Given that I work with books, this is about identity. If you go back to source, and to the creative juices of the writer or the musician, and let the ideas flow from that, you will see the constraints in print, packaging, and digital. How do you design a book cover? If you sit down with someone that has never designed one before, the first thing that they will draw is a fucking rectangle. The first thing that you will do is put a fence up.The same applies with CDs; draw something that is off from the square. Go right back to what the band's about, or the piece of writing is about. Work from that, and reach limitations as they turn up. It's going to be an ongoing transition. AD: I like the idea of a rectangle, or a square – simply because you are conforming to a convention. You are conforming to a convention because it works. I don't want circular or triangular books. I have a bookshelf that works in a particular way. I don't mind different sizes, but if you are going to change the shape of the item itself, it's the wrong creative approach. There are all sorts of other aesthetic and tactile ways to make things interesting, apart from drawing a rectangle. Give me a rectangle, then make the rectangle's contents interesting. GDE: It's not about the limitations of the shape, it's thinking about formats in the broadest sense. You mentioned the liner notes; it has been possible to read lyrics for sometime, in Spotlight on a Mac. AD: Liner notes in digital music are problematic, because people have thought more about form than content. I wrote a blog post about this, three years ago, called On Liner Notes. The way in which it is presented is not interesting. Liner notes are not a method of delivery, but a type of content. I was suggesting doing a format-list presentation; XML data that anybody could write a methodology with, to present notes on the computer screen, or on your phone, or wherever. You could choose the presentation that you wanted, but the content was delivered not in a way by font or layout, but as straight XML data. You have innovation around how people choose to display it.That then doesn't create problems as was the case with the iTunes album format, which only works with iTunes. Are we seeing a change in how products are being delivered? Live performances, book signings, author and band Twitter and Facebook campaigns all change how artistic endeavours are planned. They start from someone making something, but now they are planned much more as campaigns across a range of media. GDE: The received wisdom is to tour to sell a product. That has changed. The concert is now much more in focus. Are we now missing out on content wrapped around the composition? Is there a decline in liner notes, because a place has not been set up for them? AD: The design works differently on the Internet. You see this with eBooks. I choose the font size, lines per page, and so on. With a book, if I was writing and publishing, I would be careful about the font that I chose, for example. The decision lies at different ends of the process. So what we're moving to is less of a threat and more of an opportunity, across a wider range of channels. GDE: The opportunity is fantastic. The most innovative thing that I have come across in terms of identity, was from Radiohead. It wasn't In Rainbows, but a concert where they combined footage of everyone's digital photographs and video, to be pulled together to make a concert. Radiohead contributed the music for free. I thought that was fabulous.  
  AD: There's some really interesting stuff going on. The Beastie Boys have been giving out cameras to shoot a movie. There are all sorts of new ways to do that. GDE: … and it's all about identity; the identity of the band. There's another aspect to this, where the artist wants to keep some control. When you see video awards on television, it's the artist, not the director, that collects the award. Some people want to control the minutiae of how they are presented. Susan Boyle is not going to let you make a nude collage of her. AD: But, it's not to do with what the artist wants. If you are signed to a major label, the creative control that you have is nearly nil. GDE: You need to go up and down the food chain to justify that. Madonna? U2? AD: You have, maybe, a handful of artists. Haven't these artists risen to such a level of prominence that they are able to exert a degree of control? GDE: That can also work in a libertarian way, which is why I admire Radiohead so much; that they continued to experiment after OK Computer. They made enough money to be able to do that; to experiment with In Rainbows and in their live performances. Bands starting up will not have this financial clout, or such a following, to be able to do it. AD: First of all, Thom Yorke would probably punch you in the face if you called him a libertarian. Secondly, the only reason that they had the creative freedom to do that, was because they were not signed to a major label. They have complete creative control. What makes them interesting - and problematic for major labels - is that it works. From the point of view of creative control, the only control that these people have is directly proportionate to the buying power that they have over their catalogue. Radiohead have complete control, post OK Computer. GDE: It's power, one way or another; people choose what to do with it. Some would choose the Thom Yorke route, others would simply redo the classics. Those choices are there, but in terms of the identity, there are now more opportunities for it. AD: There are opportunities there. If you take MySpace, then there are five million bands on there, and not all of them are Madonna or Radiohead. The most important thing that you can do right now, is to innovate. However, if you consider innovation as being the opposite of what people consider to be conventional, then you run into problems. GDE: But I don't think that. AD: What I am saying is that I want to make the point clear that I am in favour of convention, and I am in favour of innovations. Bandcamp is a good example; it allows people to publish music and artwork – but there's a convention to it. It uses a particular font, and the images are of a particular size. It gets over the MySpace problem of allowing people who shouldn't make design decisions, to make design decisions. The only control that [musicians] have, is directly proportionate to the buying power that they have over their catalogue. Andrew Dubber  AD: One of the problems of MySpace is that it is just so ugly. People have that option to put in background images which look awful, and so on. You have this set of conventions within which you can innovate, and that's where things start to get interesting. “Here are the parameters; knock yourself out.” GDE: You learn that as a toddler. From the minute you are told not to go up the stairs, the most interesting thing in the world is going up the stairs. Are we in the age of “mass amateurisation”? Are we seeing a greater degree of potential here for innovation, or just seeing the same old conventions coming through? Bands congregate on MySpace, but is the real innovation happening somewhere else? GDE: I have some friends in a band called Le Chat Noir, and they don't bother with MySpace any more. There are just too many bands there. AD: I don't think that is the problem with MySpace, but I also recommend that people don't use MySpace for other reasons, such as the fact that you have no control over what is advertised on your page. I don't think that there are a lot of people in one conventional online space, is evidence of a lack of innovation online.I don't completely go along with the idea of “mass amateurisation”, because “amateur” has an overtone of not being good enough to be professional. What I would go with, is “mass deprofessionalisation”. You don't have to belong to a guild, or pass exams, to be able to make music. There used to be a world of signed artists with access to an audience, with gatekeepers that either allowed you to participate, or prevented you from participating. There were massive barriers in terms of cost of production. There's now a completely smooth curve starting from doing it from nothing, and the artificial barriers no longer exist. GDE: So we should start the Master Guild of Preposterous Bloggers [!] AD: Quite the opposite! We should prevent people from being able to make those sorts of decisions. GDE: Make them wear mittens before they become designers. There are always limitations. There is software that you can't just sit down and start to use. There may be cheap versions or a Works package, but you're never going to have the ability to do what you can do with InDesign or Photoshop. AD: My point is that there is now nobody stopping you from messing around and trying. The best thing in the world is a 5-year-old can be a designer. A 5-year-old can record music and let other people hear it. You don't have these professional hurdles to get over, in order to be allowed to be able to do things which are creative. That's the greatest thing in the world.It applies to lots of other things: we have always been allowed to knit, or to cook, but the idea is exclusive to media - including books and music – that you have to be chosen in order to participate. The best thing in the world about the Internet, is that you no longer have to be chosen. You can just decide to do it. GDE: So we shouldn't have University lecturers, and have soapbox speakers instead? AD: Being allowed to do something doesn't prevent you from wanting to learn more about it. GDE: Absolutely – and it doesn't make it good, either. AD: No, the point is that it doesn't have to be. You can make crap music now, and let people hear it. You can do it for the fact that you simply like doing it, and somebody's value judgment doesn't have to come in and impinge on that. If you want to learn how to be an amazing violinist, you will want a violin teacher. Have we moved on from major record companies and publishers becoming heavily involved in rights management – protecting their existing intellectual property, and limiting consumers from what they want to do? Are we now moving towards a more open, engaging approach from artists and writers? GDE: Publishers' contracts now ensure that you sign away your digital rights, so they get a part of it. Is it a good thing? GDE: I don't think that creators are good at their own licensing generally. After a certain amount of success they can afford to engage that expertise. AD: In terms of record labels changing their approach to rights, the answer is no. They are exactly as controlling, and are keen to have as many rights as they can possibly get. The point is that you don't need them any more, and you can do all the things that you want to do with your music without needing a record label.If you're going to sign with a record label, you go on the understanding that they are unreconstructed and will take whatever rights they will get. Now, you can have whatever control over your rights as you want. The tradeoff is that if fame is what you are after, then a record label is your best shot at that, but it's still a lottery. If you want a sustainable career, and creative control, and you want to own your rights, then signing with a record label is about the stupidest thing that you can do. Do you think that designers are increasingly less interested in working with artists, because they see a decreasing value in what they do, in relation to the work? AD: I think that the most interesting designers are more and more interested in the possibilities of what's available. There are so many opportunities to do cool things with video, with physical packaging, and with digital content that incorporates the music, style, and image. I have yet to meet a designer who feels that these things take away from what they do. If nothing else, it's an opportunity to find new ways to design, and to find a new aesthetic practice. So, the call to arms to designers, is to be part of this, and re-invigorate their creativity. It's not to think about the rectangle any more, it's to openly think, “What can we do with this?” AD: It's addressing the media on its own terms. I'm not saying that all designers must make websites, because they are packaging designers, or product designers, or whatever. There is a category of designer who will look at a design challenge and think “What are the parameters here? What can I bring to it as a designer?” If all you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. If you consider the right tool first, then you will come up with some interesting answers. GDE: Being a designer is a reactive activity, otherwise I would paint. The joy is working with, reacting to, and sparking off, great writers, musicians, illustrators and photographers. I really enjoy that. AD: Should all the designers “get on the bus” of the Internet? No, absolutely not. If you're not comfortable in that environment, then leave it alone. What it means is that there is more space, platforms and opportunities for creativity to take place. What we get is not a situation where designers have to move from one environment to another, but there's more designer. GDE: I won't call it design... it's visual communication. If it's visual, it's design. AD: You could even question the visuality of it. I spent my time as a sound designer, and that's a different thing from being a musician. I'm not a musician, and wouldn't want to label myself as one. GDE: You make it easier to free design from the constraints of a print tradition, by just going back to calling it visual communication. AD: Happy with that. Being a designer is a reactive activity, otherwise, I would paint. Gary Day-Ellison  Are we now moving towards a more integrated approach: where works are cross-media, with an originating intellectual item and a campaign around it? Should we be moving much more towards much more of a “planned” multimedia experience? GDE: There is certainly a convergence. In front me is a copy of the last music piece which I worked on: the music from the the Lord of the Rings. I was lucky enough to speak to the composer, Howard Shore, last week, and he was amazed at how quickly at his scores were appearing on the Internet, before they were recorded. It's 400 pages of pre-production sketches, stills, text, a CD with liner notes. I would love to see it as an ebook. AD: We seem to be talking about commercial products, and within a particular genre. So, there are things that you do in the world of jazz, that you won't do in heavy metal. There are sorts of packages that just won't work and won't communicate in one context, where they will in another. You then drill down, and then you get the differences between the individual works themselves. GDE: You do that by going back to the identity... the character of the music, the character of the author. AD: Precisely. So, the most sensible answer to the question is, “It depends”. What a designer can bring, is an understanding of what the cultural meanings are of the thing that's being communicated; and for people to whom it's being communicated, what their expectations and what their uses of it are. So, I think that all of those things are really important. We are not all “moving towards this”, as that would be absurd. What we can do is say that there are opportunities to work in a creative way, in an understanding of cultures, communication and meanings. The palette is broader. GDE: Authors can have exactly that sort of participation. They can set up a blog, and build up a community that is constantly throwing in new ideas in terms of what the community wants from the book. Some of that feedback can be integrated into the final book, which is great. So, one of the opportunities that we are now starting to see is an increasing degree of participation, in every stage of the artistic work. AD: There's one more point. These conversations always take place from the point of view of a producer, a consumer, and a medium through which the producer communicates to the consumer. The point that we made about amateurisation... I would like to think of it as participation. It's the point that I made earlier. There are no barriers to getting involved, and also it restructures the whole producer/consumer dynamic. There are not just broadcasters and listeners any more. The Internet is a many-to-many communication medium. It's a conversational medium. It's not about a centralised creator of meaning that sends out to passive consumers. The point of what the consumers do with things now, is that they can take, make, shape, re-interpret and re-spread, the cultural meanings that take place. Whether it's through remix, or putting soundtracks to home videos... whatever it might be. This idea of designing products and then selling them to an undifferentiated mass, is completely problematised by the Internet. GDE: Again, we go back to the problem of generalisations. There is a pretty large problem with the majority, that will want to buy the work as a fait accompli. They will not want a different “sauce with the meal”. They want to buy it, take it away, listen to it, or read it. There are different constraints for different people. AD: The parallel that I use, is that prior to recordings, people used to go to a shop, buy some music, take it home, and then play it badly on their pianos in the parlour. It wasn't a read-only culture; it was a read-write culture. Lawrence Lessig makes some really good points about this. The way in which he frames it, is that we are now returning to a place where we have the opportunity to engage in cultural production, as a read-write engagement, rather than just read-only.That opportunity makes things interesting, even from the view of product design. It can be intended for lots of consumers, but you could say, “How can we let consumers who want to do other things, do it?” 95% of recorded music is unavailable. We have books out of print. There is a huge quantity of artistic work that is not currently available. Given the potential in digital, do we now have the possibility of re-appropriating these works? They are not just about releasing them, but giving people who want to re-engage, the chance to rediscover and re-appropriate in their own way. AD: But copyright's broken, so it prevents them from doing that. I'm writing a book called Deleting Music, and keeping a blog of all the examples of this. There's no commercial imperative for record labels to put them out there – they're not going to lose their rights if they don't use them commercially. If it's going to cost money to digitise, they just leave it alone – but it's a massive loss to cultural history.If copyright law was changed so that works which were not being used commercially were made available to the public domain, then you would have the best open source project imaginable. You would have lawyers, audio enthusiasts, and fans, descending upon the archives of record labels, opening them up, digitising them because it's important rather than merely profitable, and making copies available – because copies are how you keep things safe nowadays. Locking things away in a vault, is the sure-fire way of ensuring that they disappear. Digitising it and spreading it around, means that whatever happens, there are always copies out there. GDE: I'd like to throw in something which is important. I'm open-minded to all the different forms and media; I see them as opportunities rather than threats. What I don't think is the case, is that when everything is available to everybody, it's necessarily going to be good. That removes the judgement calls of making things better; making standards higher.Everybody can do it, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be any good. Who the gatekeepers are, is a whole different concepts. Giving someone the keys to Sainsbury's and asking them to come out with what they like, is not going to make them a great chef. AD: No, but having an arbiter of taste that says “These are the recipes that we think are what you should use” prevents people from receiving hand-me-down recipes from their grandmother, or anybody else that they trust.I don't listen to bad music. I haven't listened to bad music for at least five years. The only reason why I haven't listened to bad music, is because I take recommendations – not from the press, but from trusted sources; friends, blogs... GDE: … but that means that the arbiters have changed. It doesn't mean that there are no arbiters. AD: But, I get to choose who the arbiters are. GDE: The possibilities of the media, as they evolve, is not the same as everyone being able to do everything. That in itself is a good thing. You still have arbiters, but you can choose who they are. AD: Obviously there are still arbiters of taste that you go to, to find out if something is any good, worth listening to, and what else they recommend. The gatekeepers – the appointed tastemakers – are collapsing, to an extent. Obviously, this is not happening completely. You still have newspapers, radio and television, but the point is that you no longer rely on what is told to you; you build your own filters.I think that people do this intuitively. You trust your friends, and when they say, “I think that you should check this out”, you check it out.That ability to accelerate that kind of recommendation and word of mouth is through things like Twitter. You follow people that you find interesting, and you don't follow people that you don't find interesting. GDE: On a basic level, it has other implications. Gone are the times when you would pick up a paperback and look at three sections of reviews chosen by the editor. You can go online and find out all sorts of opinions, if you want to; if the technology is in your hand, you can do it in the bookstore.    AD: If we frame the whole conversation around cover art, we need to consider what it's the cover of, and what the word “cover” means in context. GDE: In the context of books, if you are talking about packaging and the hard-nosed commercial end of it, you are talking about rooms at WH Smith, where people behind closed doors, with no other representation, are looking at front covers, and are giving it a scale-out. “This is how we grade it, and this is the stock volume in-branch.” You do have the fact that you are fighting for face-out display. Most books disappear in some form of spine-out display. The consumer already knows that they want that product, and are searching it out, or its ilk, before they go in.The sharp end is in getting face-out and window displays, rather than spine-out. The same goes with records, and with websites: people can't all be on the homepage. They will be judged and prioritised, where there is more than one of the same product: whether on iTunes or at Waterstones. AD: I wrote an ebook about three years ago, that people could download from my website. It wasn't available for sale; it was free. Everybody that saw it, got it. There was no promotional reason to have cover art, and yet the book that I made had a cover. I don't know why it had a cover, but also why it didn't have a spine. I know of lots of people that make music or text for the Internet, and they will always produce a front and back cover. They will never add a spine.There is something weird in the way in which we think about what packaging is, and what cover art is for, when it comes to something like a book, or a record. GDE: When I worked on Douglas Adams' books, the face-out idea was to start with one book, and build into a trilogy. When he decided to write the fourth book, we had pressure at the publisher from Douglas and his agent, who wanted to see face-outs in display bins in Smiths. At the time, Smiths had a policy of no display bins for reissues. We had three books which were re-issues, NENCs – New Edition New Cover – and one new book. We had to come up with something interesting enough for Smiths to break their own house rule. We considered covers which built up across the four books to one image, but we also considered spines. If you put the spines together of those four paperbacks in order, it spells out “42” in Lucia Colour Test colours, which means that if you're colour-blind, you've got no chance. AD: Thanks for that Gary...! GDE: Oh, right! [laughter] But, any good designer will consider the spine, and the reason for this consideration is that these are three-dimensional products. If you don't consider the spine, you're not a book cover designer, you're a front cover designer. These things are all geared to ease you slowly towards the till. AD: The kind of creativity that looks at the book as a thing in itself, and not just a picture that gets slapped on the front of it... what kind of thinking a does designer like that bring to the Internet?What is this artifact when it's on the Internet? Andrew Dubber is an Arts and Humanities Research Council Knowledge Transfer Fellow in Music Industries Innovation, a founder member of the Interactive Cultures Research Centre and a Senior Lecturer in the Music Industries at the Birmingham School of Media at Birmingham City University. Andrew blogs at andrewdubber.com, and is @dubber on Twitter. Formerly Creative Director of Pan Books, Picador Books and Decca Records, Gary Day-Ellison is currently Art Director of Like Minds Magazine and developing book and web projects including Great Women, with Sandi Toksvig & Sandy Nightingale; The Golden Age of Illustration; and the 100 Books of David Larkin. Gary's website and blog are at day-ellison.com, and is @garydayellison on Twitter.  

Don Boyd: the opportunities of digital creativity

Don Boyd: the opportunities of digital creativity

It was Damien Hirst who said that art is good at looking back and looking forward. How art, and the very principles of creativity, expression and appreciation, manifests itself in a society increasingly driven by science and technology, remains an area of intense interest and debate.

When there is now content everywhere we go, and people can publish anything to anywhere, what room is left for artistic appreciation?

The relationship between these technological influences and artistic expression is something that interests Don Boyd. The catalogue of Boyd's films, where he has been either producer or director, is certainly one which commands a high level of artistic appreciation. Working with pioneers such as Derek Jarman, Alan Clarke, Lindsay Anderson and Julien Temple, this astonishingly creative and diverse career has spanned more than three decades.

The increased technological capability over this period has certainly wowed mainstream audiences, with this relentless advance now pushing 3D back into the mass market for cinema. However, he disagrees that digital is creating a stylistic shift, from naturalism to realism, within film. The view is given that digital has clearly offered stylistic and creative opportunities. Realism can be set up to be naturalistic.

“The artist in this sense is empowered either way. But of course, uninformed structuralist analysis can cause confusion. And the public can be duped very easily - especially during this early phase of revolutionary changes in capturing and delivery of digital media.

Continue reading

Alistair Crane: apps for living

Alistair Crane: apps for living
The growth of mobile continues to be something to watch. Your handset is likely to be a very different one from that of 10 years ago, with an easy-to-use app store, a rich browsing experience, and a much greater capability for media storage. While all of these facets provide the potential for innovation and the growth of a relatively new market, there is still considerable friction and turbulence within it, particularly in the way in which applications are developed and offered. Alistair Crane, CEO of app developer Grapple Mobile, believes that the while the market for apps continues to grow, we are moving into a period which is different to what we have seen in recent years. Where growth was driven by the iPhone, new platforms and the re-emergence of well-known competitors will deliver a more open market. Crane believes that the while Apple has undertaken a heroic job in building the awareness, findability and richness of applications, this status quo is to experience many different types of threats. The first is that both new and existing players in the market will become much stronger.  While Nokia has stumbled, its scale in terms of handset ownership continues to make it an important player. So many people own Nokia handsets, that it needs to become a dominant player in apps. Crane cites the openness of Ovi's approach as something which can help both developers and end customers. “5 years ago, if I said that Nokia would not be number 1 in any market in 2010, no-one would have believed me. They didn't listen to what people wanted, and continued to pump out the same kind of interfaces and hardware. People got tired of it, and had nowhere to go until Apple turned up. They're now rethinking their position, so I will expect to see more and more challengers, trying to take a chunk of Apple's share.” Unlike iTunes, Ovi is not the sole distribution channel for the handset. Grapple uses cloud hosting for its apps, delivering simple URL connectivity with platform sniffing. This means that a single URL can be given in campaigns, with your browser automatically being directed to the right place to download the app. In Ovi's case, you are taken straight to the app, without having to launch an intermediary store first. This flexible approach is very different to what we have seen in recent years, which is a rush to offer app stores in an effort to copy the iTunes model, rather than to offer something genuinely compelling. Crane sees the prevalence of app stores as the process in reverse: “You can end up with more than app store on your phone, which is nuts. You can get the Ovi app store, the Orange app store, the O2 app store... everyone wants to get a piece of this real estate, but they are not doing it with the consumer's interests at heart.“The app stores right now are just ghastly to navigate through. It's wonderful that Apple keep on releasing figures about how many apps are in their store, but there's no really intelligent way of searching through them. App downloading is hit-and-miss, which is why there's so much of an onus on Top 25 or Recommended lists. I would like to see more power going back to the people that build the bloody things, and allowing people to market apps freely and distribute them wherever they want, with success being based on that. That surely makes the best sense." Crane credits Apple's phenomenal achievements in driving adoption, albeit at the expense of an open approach. Until a fundamentally better experience is offered, it will remain top of the pile, although it is clear that many competitors are hungry to eat into its market share. The view is that over the next 3 to 5 years, there will be 5 broadly equal chunks of market share owned by different players, catering for different tastes. The next phase after the land-grab of proprietary app stores, in Crane's view, will be a small number of very good multi-device marketplaces. One way to deliver such an offering will be to lead consumers through “mission-critical” apps, where it becomes important for handset manufacturers to offer a small number of key applications that their customers will want. RIM, for example, offered neither an app store or BBM pre-installed onto earlier Blackberry handsets. For consumers to use BBM, they had to download the app store first. While somewhat unwieldy, it then offered a conduit to apps that would otherwise have been undiscovered, simply through the “Trojan Horse” of a critical application. The app stores right now are just ghastly to navigate through.  Alistair Crane  While many apps provide significant entertainment value, massive potential remains in the development of more functional, transactional applications that both answer the more direct needs of specific customers and audiences, while generating transactional revenue. “Years ago, if you had told me that you had booked a plane ticket to Australia through the Internet, I would have thought that you were nuts – are you sure that you are not going to get ripped off?“But, it's not dissimilar to mobile right now. If you had told me that you had bought a plane ticket in an app, I would be inclined to say that you had probably lost your money. But more and more apps and interfaces are going that way. M&S recently reported that as well as groceries, consumers were buying items such as sofas through their mobile website.” The example of buying a sofa illustrates the simple, more environmentally-aware use case that the market is increasingly addressing: a real-world interaction, to which the end result is driven through mobile. Grapple's recent work with Blockbuster and T-Mobile delivered an app to which customers were enticed to visit their local store. When inside the store, they could scan DVD barcodes with their phones, through the app. Discount vouchers and content was then provided automatically, based on these scans. The result is that the consumer is given exclusivity of an offer based on their scans, and the retailer gains customer insight and a greater understanding of how to market to customers based on their scan and purchase history. While these developments take place out-of-home, it is inside the home that apps can take advantage of an untapped market. “It's always been beyond me that people get so excited about the iPad. People say that they don't have to carry their laptop around anymore, when in fact they haven't had to carry a laptop around for ages. People will come to expect connectivity, and will use their mobiles much more than their computers, including when they are in the home.” The domestic environment lends itself to a specific number of uses, which are probably less than those in diverse retail environments. Internet access as a “small-screen tablet” may be one; another is home gaming. Console manufacturers are starting to pair consoles with mobiles; games are increasingly sending dummy text and voicemails as the start of what will be a longer, deeper level of integration. “It's all about extending experiences. Can I continue watching the TV show, listening to music, or gaming? Mobile will extend all of those.” For apps to continue this advance into more domestic environments, a greater awareness of consumer behaviour will be critical. Similar to the evolution of app stores, will be an evolution of user understanding, away from a more subjective, judgmental belief of who uses particular types of applications and handsets. “The man or woman who created this application: were they thinking about testing in the build process, or were they thinking about it being genuinely useful to the end consumer? Apps are often over-engineered, just to prove that the technology is there, and that it can be done, rather than how they can make life easier for the consumer.My whole raison d'etre is to create applications which drive business and drive use: they have to be of relevance and benefit. It can't just be about something cool which happens when you turn your phone upside down. That to me doesn't stand of a good example of when you build an app. How can you bring additional value to people's lives through mobile? Apps happen to be the richest way of doing that right now.” Crane believes that it's important to develop apps with target customers in mind. It is perhaps surprising that the concept of pre-testing, which has so (rightly) permeated the development of large-scale B2C websites, has not sufficiently trickled down into the UX of applications. The point is made that Apple's model doesn't necessarily lend itself to such a concept, due to its closed distribution method. The shift to a greater emphasis on customer pre-testing in itself will drive Apple to adopt a different methodology, as it is not as easy to test iOS apps with pre-test groups. As mobile matures into a more open market, it is important to get the basics right, irrespective of the platform. Many have learned this the hard way in web development; it is important that the same issues of audience assumptions, closed development, and proprietary technologies are understood at a sufficiently early stage to build a more sustainable and open market for everyone. 

 

Alistair is CEO of Grapple Mobile. Alistair and CTO Ed Lea will be holding an immersive workshop on “How to make the killer app” at Like Minds on Thursday 28 October. For further information and to book, visit the Like Minds website. 

Mediengruppe Bitnik: challenging media

Mediengruppe Bitnik: challenging media

What is the role of media within society? How can digital technology and media challenge how we view and operate within society, and how does society enable us to change our view of media?

Mediengruppe Bitnik is a Zurich-based new media collective, whose exhibitions and installations are shown worldwide. Their first major UK exhibition, Too big to fail, Too small to succeed, recently held at Space Studios in Hackney, is based on something which has affected everyone: the global financial crisis. The size and scale of the collapse affected both ends of the financial spectrum, toppling the biggest companies while tearing apart those most in need. Too big to fail, too small to succeed continues Mediengruppe Bitnik's practice of “intervention in systems”. The group aims to get an idea of how a particular system works within society, and how it functions once something is taken out of it. An earlier work involved the “bugging” of the Zurich Opera, and provides a useful example of how the group works. The opera is, of course, a closed space, based on an old art form: you have to be there personally in order to fully appreciate the performance. How can a more democratic use of media help to connect with it? The group's answer was to feed the captured audio into the Zurich telephone system. They would call random people, and invite them to listen for as long as they liked.  
  Thus, a re-appropriation of the performance was made: you didn't have to be at the opera, and were free to generate the imagery in your head, instead of what the audience directly experiences when being there. With this in mind, the group wanted to undertake a similar intervention. The financial crisis of recent years had driven their interest in this sector, with an idea being formed of “re-appropriation” of the financial districts in Zurich and London. The self-contained nature of such districts was of particular intrigue. Carmen Weisskopf from the group explains why. “We were using the old situationist system. With a psycho-geographical wandering through the city, could you re-appropriate these closed areas, and find out more about these centres than you would by not being there?” The installation uses audio clips of “followings”: volunteers following city workers around each financial district, recording the event as it happened. Each volunteer was free to take their own approach. Clips are played back, with particular observations replayed in vision on a bank of two screens, digitally synchronised with the audio track. One screen shows these “followings” in London, the other in Zurich. These highlights read like frantic status updates. The installation invites the viewer to examine and consider our interpretations of technology, advertising, and the meaning of openness within society.   If people think about their media uses, they may not feel constrained by them. Carmen Weisskopf, Mediengruppe Bitnik  Carmen sees some possibilities for digital media to contribute to more “disruption” in society, but a greater possibility simply in opening up devices and channels for re-interpretation and re-appropriation. “By suggesting uses which are not everyday or common, you can try to reinterpret what the device can do. With the opera, we could have retransmitted the feed to a radio station, but we tried to use the media in a very precise way. Calling people at home means that you can insert art into a space which is not there for art, not in that sense... it was similar in that the telephone just becomes a recording machine for subjective viewings.  “By listening to these recordings, people will be surprised at what you can see in the city, if you're just walking. The recordings have an intense quality, as they are done quickly.” Technology needs a certain setting to become something else. The mobile phone in Iran became something of a Utopian machine: a device operating within a given medium, that can become something much greater. “In certain parts of Africa, because people could not always afford mobile phone costs, they would have the phone but not top it up. They wouldn't use the phone to call each other, but have elaborate systems of how long you let the phone ring. In European society, we forget about small, creative ways of using something.” These “small, creative ways” are often prohibited by a top-down and locked-down view of what you can do with it, which is paradoxical with the view of technology as an enabler of personal freedom. “If people think about their media uses, they may not feel constrained by them. I don't think that there's a way from getting away from a certain level of media use. People need to decide for themselves, what ways are good for them, without having a company dictate to them.”  Issues surrounding the legalities of digital media use have certainly increased. Carmen gives the example of the Sony Aibo, with its community of people running “home-brew” programs on the firmware. This called into question the intended use, and the freedom of the customer to do what they wanted once the item was purchased. Carmen makes the point that it was ultimately futile to prohibit the use of the Aibo by the community: those enthusiasts that had a genuine interest in the machine's capabilities. The Aibo example, although almost ten years old, draws many parallels with the modus operandi of some contemporary tech companies, and their view of how communities should use their equipment. “With the iPhone, it's the same thing. People are making apps for the community, but it's becoming more professional. These issues are becoming more and more important.” Leading up to Too big to fail was Parasite's Delights, concerning participation in media. Carmen explains the thinking. “Parasite is a Greek word, meaning someone sharing your food with you. This questions our point of view of media, the way in which they can be used and way in which they stand in society as having a parasitic 'other side': the side you can plug into and use differently. What we've been trying to look into, is: who else is at the table? What else can it mean, in search for other representations?” The work is inspired by Professor Michael Serres, whose Parasite theory suggests that there is always noise in communication, and that noise itself is part of the communication. A contemporary example of this might be the signal-to-noise ratio inherent in Twitter streams, or Facebook status updates. Seeres thinks about how this noise can lead to other ways of listening or interpreting a certain message in a certain channel. Parasite is also a French word, meaning “white noise”, a double meaning which Carmen appreciates: there's always something additional in the “channel”. You can't get around it, and it's not part of the message. It's a different message. There are only certain messages you can have in certain media.”  “I do think that it is good to think about how we use these technologies. In our artistic practice, we are very interested in how else you can use a certain device. Can you just do with it, what you are told? Are there other uses?” These other uses will continue to intrigue the group for a long time to come, as digital media provides a rich seam of artistic challenges and engaging practice. Mediengruppe Bitnik's website is bitnik.org. 

Ivy4Evr: Interactive writing with SMS

Ivy4Evr: Interactive writing with SMS

Ivy4Evr is a new SMS-based interactive drama from Channel 4. It is created by interactive artist group Blast Theory, and written by Tony White. Here, Tony tells of his experiences of working on Ivy4Evr.

For the past year or so I’ve been working with internationally renowned and BAFTA-nominated artists Blast Theory on Ivy4Evr, an interactive text-messaging drama for young people commissioned by Matt Locke at Channel 4 Education. A pilot episode for up to 5,000 users, drawn from marketing across T4 runs for a week starting on 10 October 2010. You’ll need to register to take part.

 Ivy4Evr is commissioned by a major broadcaster, but the drama takes place entirely on the users’ mobile phone, enabling them to interact directly with Ivy via text messages (SMS) and substantially influence their experience of the story as they go along. I have followed Blast Theory’s work since the since the early 1990s. I visited them in Berlin in 1997 as they were conceptualising a new work which predicted the TV innovations of Big Brother by framing consensual incarceration and surveillance as a new kind of drama and celebrity. Since then they have led the way in using mobile technology and high-end, mixed-reality computing to create new kinds of dramatic and gaming experiences across both real and virtual worlds, sometimes simultaneously.Now we’re all having to think in this way. In recent years I have been actively exploring the possibilities offered by new forms of distribution, new contexts and new platforms such as ebooks. Since 2007 I have pursued this through collaborations with established but innovative institutions such as the Science Museum, London, where I was writer in residence and we revived their disused publishing imprint for a one-off, free giveaway of Albertopolis Disparu, a specially commissioned new work of fiction; and more recently by collaborating with James Bridle and his experimental Artists’ Ebooks site, where three short stories of mine are currently available as free downloads in the EPUB format and (as of last week) from iBooks, too. Like all writers (and publishers) I’m interested in anything that helps introduce my fiction to new readers in new ways. Colleagues at the Science Museum put it nicely, framing the Albertopolis Disparu give-away as a means to offer ‘a quality experience’ to thousands of visitors. For me it is also about demystifying those developments and getting a feel for them, and alongside that working in innovative ways to reach huge audiences almost instantly — whether through the vast footfalls of the Science Museum or the enormous reach and popularity of  T4, Channel 4?s 16-25 scheduling slot and website. Which is why it has been so exciting working with Blast Theory on a truly interactive piece of writing. For more than a decade they have been exploring not only interactivity but also mixed reality computing and the ways that fictional worlds can overlay the real world around us; creating dramatic potential where the two collide. Tapping into this unique collective knowledge as we’ve experimented with the kinds of stories that it might be possible to tell through an interactive SMS platform has been an incredibly rich experience. It has forced me to think differently about writing and about storytelling. At times I have joked that I feel more intelligent when I’m in the same room as Matt, Nick and Ju; as if by some intellectual osmosis or a variation on the Burroughsian ‘Third Mind’. Channel 4 Education have been behind some really interesting commissioning for young people since their strategic change from TV programmes ‘that went out in the mornings’ to new kinds of content; things like games, alongside some landmark programming such as Stephen Hawking’s Universe. There is an informative presentation about this strategy by Matt Locke, Acting Head of Cross Platform at Channel 4 here. It is great that Ivy4Evr is part of this move. I’m wondering if it is significant that this project has been created outside the book trade. In light of our work on Ivy4Evr it was interesting to follow the Twitter feed yesterday from The Bookseller Children’s Annual Conference at the British Library.  As you might expect there was a lot of tweeting about apps, and Matt Locke’s presentation about focusing on content rather than platform is reported in The Bookseller. With Ivy4Evr though, creatively as well as in terms of making the story accessible to as many young people as possible, it has been essential to forget about apps and ebooks for a while, and here’s why: Working on Ivy4Evr forced us to acknowledge the basic fact that most young people don’t have expensive smartphones. Maybe they will at some point, but not yet. Not the groups that Blast Theory surveyed and we ran workshops with. Their phones were rubbish old hand-me-downs and the kind that you can buy for a tenner in a bundle that includes a ten-pound top-up. But the phones they do have are always switched on. We also found out that they answer their phones in class and they (almost) never use cliched text speak (‘L8r’ etc).

Learning from this enabled us to push past current preoccupations with apps and ebooks for this age-group in favour of the familiar and more ubiquitous medium of text messaging. The really exciting thing about Ivy4Evr has come from combining SMS with some amazing new technology so that my script, with its endless permutations and possible pathways, is at the heart of a new kind of interactive and personalised storytelling; one that is created not just by what I have written but also by how participants respond. As it says in the blurb: For a week Ivy will tell you **everything** but can she trust you and what will you tell her?

Channel 4 is inviting people to take part in an exclusive preview of the pilot episode of Ivy4Evr, which runs for one week from the 10th to the 16th of October. Full information is available at www.ivy4evr.co.uk. 

TV: refusing to give up the fight

TV: refusing to give up the fight
The age of linear TV as a linear, mass experience is over. We are entering a new world, where it will be possible to explore content rather than channels, interacting with friends in real time, on-screen: in short, a total reinterpretation of what TV is, and means, to viewers.  Professor Patrick Barwise would disagree. Professor Barwise is Emeritus Professor of Management and Marketing at London Business School. His previous publications include books on television, brands, advertising and strategy, as well as numerous papers and articles on marketing, management and media. His view is that the time spent on linear television viewing has not dramatically changed in forty years, and is not likely to significantly change, any time soon. The average aggregate duration of linear viewing is around 28 hours per week. Thought leaders in digital and broadcast media have often suggested that this will decline as more social, malleable, and diverse forms of content across a wider range of devices start to make an impact. Barwise is strongly of the view that is fundamentally inaccurate. “One set of things they said was that media would converge, in that the distinctions between different media would go away. People like me come at it from a consumer perspective. To people like me, the differences between media are quite deep, because they meet different needs. Those needs are not going to go away. It is not a black and white distinction.  Supporting the evolution of the visual experience, is the evolution of how televisual content is delivered. Broadband, rather than over-the-air, helps to create an open market for content, ranging from expensive productions to UGC. However, Barwise sees asynchronous, non-linear viewing such as UGC as having a complimentary, not a competing, need for attention. This complimentary arrangement between live and on-demand TV is evident in the VCR, which turned out to be a marginal part of television viewing; even now, the PVR is still only used in around 15% of homes. “What is going most wrong now, is that large numbers of people, including the previous Government with Digital Britain, have a wildly exaggerated idea of the scale and speed of this transition away from linear television.”  People's willingness to view cheap television is very low. Professor Patrick Barwise

 

Viewing has also been historically skewed towards quality of content; it's human nature to appreciate quality productions. This is a real challenge for those making cheaper television, in meeting expectations of quality. “The audience is used to very high production value content, and therefore there is no such thing as good, cheap television, for anything like the 28 hours a week that people watch TV. People's willingness to view cheap television is very low.” Again, this creates something of a paradox for content providers, in terms of finding that sweet spot between value and volume. Value is much harder to crack.

Social and VOD

Barwise is also sceptical about the concept of social TV.

“It comes back to costs, but in general there isn't really a significant consumer benefit to putting it all on the same screen. Viewing has increased in the past few years, with almost all of it on the main set. [Social TV] is such a marginal application, and not something which has enormous resonance with consumers.” Such a transition from the current model is unlikely to happen anytime soon, claims Barwise, with data suggesting a rapid evolution being “invariably from biased sources, and bad data collected from atypical samples.” The point is made that “proper” data suggests that true Video on Demand is not sufficiently viewed in a way that threatens linear television. According to Barwise, this is due to deep reasons which are unlikely to change anytime soon. VOD vendors will be faced with a hard time extrapolating a sufficient level of revenue from their customer base. Revenue will be a challenge, simply due to what VOD is, according to Barwise: a rather superior replacement for video rental. If the price of renting a video is $1 US, then there will be little margin for bandwidth-hungry applications. VOD is therefore complimentary to standard TV viewing, as the PVR is. Overall, both VOD and the PVR act as useful ways to watch good content when “there's nothing on”. While future VOD revenue will be a challenge, some existing business models need to be preserved: specifically, that of the BBC. Barwise expects to see a sustained licence fee, based on a general consumer acceptance of the BBC. He acknowledges that while the BBC makes mistakes, it is generally held in high esteem by the public, particularly once the value of the licence fee is explained. “I am very worried about what the current Secretary of State has said that because it's part of the public sector, the licence fee has to be cut back. That's completely going against the consumer and citizen interest, but it's very popular in some places.” Economic models to support national initiatives are roundly criticised. “As well as local TV, the other thing that the Minister has got religion about is superfast broadband. I'm enormously hostile to the idea of any significant amount of public money going into superfast broadband. I think that the benefits - insofar as they have been spelt out at all - are pretty much entirely nonsense.”Advertising in a digital world

TV advertising is, according to Barwise, over-regulated; specifically, the Contract Rights Renewal model supporting ITV advertising is particularly outdated. CRR has become outdated, because the amount of money going into original UK content has been going steadily down, but, overall, the money going into British TV has been going up.

Barwise is bullish in terms of TV advertising, although he also sees a rosy future for digital advertising. Comparing TV to the Internet in advertising terms is academic, as their continuing complimentary nature will be at the expense of other media. The mass-market, rich proposition that television offers, is something which Barwise considers as being an enduring proposition to advertisers. Therefore, the mix of stabilising marketing budgets and sustained investment into digital advertising, means that the Internet will continue to draw revenue from other sources, notably print classified and display. The Internet will continue to evolve in this area. “With social media, Google and others are determined to make the Internet rather better at display and push... but the great strength of the Internet is that it is the consumer-dominated medium. If you are going to push things into the consumer's face, you had better make them highly relevant and entertaining, very well targeted, and very compelling. TV is very good at that, so there will be a greater emphasis on making TV even more relevant. The issues are with TV addressability.” As a result, revenue from 30-second spots will still be around in 2020.  All of the agencies are fed up with people geting religion about [digital advertising]. and wanting some sort of magic. Professor Patrick Barwise  Barwise is adamant that digital display is not of massive potential for most brands. “All of the agencies are fed up with people getting religion about it, and wanting some sort of magic”. Mid-sized brands with cheekiness and imagination will reap the rewards, with Will It Blend cited as being a landmark campaign. Supporting this is the ability to harvest an increasingly rich seam of consumer opinion and feedback, with natural language processing used as an example of how marketing technology continues to evolve. 
Planet Silicon Valley

In Barwise's view, TV is probably the medium that technologists understand the least. Silicon Valley has driven a blurring of distinctions between TV and the Internet, with the result being that the experience would become highly interactive. This will simply not happen. “Very few people believe that today. That was pretty close to 100% nonsense... they were pretty close to 100% wrong about that.”

Continue reading

EasyBlog - Search Blogs Module