Talkin' 'bout my generation

Talkin' 'bout my generation

We live in a world of labels. It is a world that has given us the ability to segment in marketing, and use small terms to mean big ideas in public policy – among many other examples.

However, this world is clearly much more complex, and subtle, than simple labels. Simple terms can crystallise a vision, but this simplicity also brings the potential danger of the inability to communicate anything other than simplicity.

Throughout Ellen Helsper's career as a researcher and lecturer, latterly at the LSE, she has uncovered data and insights which have challenged the use of catch-all terms.

We start with talking about digital inclusion. Millions of pounds have been piled in, from the public and private sectors, to persuade people to get online. Helsper picks up the story. "In the beginning, a lot of the policies and research were aimed at getting people online - in the sense of giving people access - and trying to explain which factors made people get access to the technology. Soon after that, we started to realise that if we just make it cheaper, then people will buy it, because it's so clear what the advantages are, of being connected... Why would you not want to be connected? There was a little bit of optimism there, and an underestimation of the factors that play a role in the decisions that people make about technologies and media, that actually, historically, we do know are important."

After that, in Helsper's view, was a focus on access which made policymakers rather depressed. Because people that could afford to get access often chose not to, simply because they were not interested, and were not sure if getting online was "good" for them or not. These people were not necessarily in economic poverty, although as Helsper acknowledges, there was a relationship between those with a lack of access, and a lack of funds to facilitate access.

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Tantalum Memorial: telephony and the Congo

Tantalum Memorial: telephony and the Congo

 

The transformation of telephony in the past 30 years is nothing short of remarkable. Phones are now deeply entrenched in our lives, with their level of technological sophistication matched only by our increasingly complex desires. SMS, drop calls, and apps all signify the western world's use of telephony.

This is just one view. The Congolese see things in a very different way.

Pavement Telephony, or Telephone Trottoire, is based on the way in which the Congolese pass around news and racy gossip on street corners and public places, in order to avoid the state censorship of official media. When mobiles become the way of communicating such messages, this person-to-person way of communication is a very powerful example of what we know as social media.

The Congolese often own several mobile phones. This exaggerated level of ownership is not based on a desire to be more accessible, or because they want more information. The level of ownership comes from a different set of circumstances: to manage the combination of free and controlled messages; the lack of landlines; as well as the wider, socio-cultural situation of Congolese migration to the west. In the UK, there is a vibrant Congolese community in London.

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Twitter revolutions and the origins of war

Twitter revolutions and the origins of war

@avschlieffen: Is anyone srsly suggesting trains caused the biggest war of all time? WTF!?! Get over it, you trainspotters. Rail isn't everything.

@billthekaiser: LOL It wasn't me it was the 11.24 to Gdansk that made me do it. ;)

 

Train timetables caused the biggest conflict the world had ever seen. 16 million dead, 21 million wounded. Mechanised destruction and suffering, literally on an industrial scale.

That was the argument of AJP Taylor, one of the most influential British historians of the latter part of the 20th century (and the godfather of TV dons). What he said was that the plans for troop movements a large scale war against both France and Russia simultaneously by German military planners depended on a sequence of trains deploying troops quickly to both fronts. Once you pressed the button, as it were, there was no turning back. If you paused you would lose the advantage and then the war.

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A sense of place

A sense of place

It's going to be mobile's year.

In fact, it has been "mobile's year" for many years. Analysts have predicted that the following year will be the golden year of mobile, ever since WAP started to become generally available on small, monochrome screens.

This year, it might just be mobile's year. Widespread adoption of geolocation, tablet computing and apps are transforming mobile from simply a mobile telephony handset, to truly mobile, experiential, computing.

The handset vendor that has been part of "mobile's year" ever since the early days of such predictions, is Nokia. The journey from small, blue phones with Snake to technologically complex, Ovi-enabled devices has been fast and, at times, tough. Leading this continued evolution from the point of view of location, is Gary Gale.

Gale, as Director of Ovi Places, is continuing a life-long fascination with maps. From a deep fascination with Harry Beck's Tube map as a child, he now runs a business which aims to meet – and exceed – the consumer expectations of what mapping can offer to mobility. These expectations are both, from the consumer's perspective, urgent and complex.

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Communities, consultation, and cards

Communities, consultation, and cards

Our perception of concepts that have existed since the beginning of time, are changing. These concepts: community, friendship, belonging – are flexing out. In the past, their definition has changed owing to a greater enablement of travel possibilities, but clearly it's the Internet which has become a key proponent of definition change in recent years. Facebook is one obvious example of how our view (and vista) of friends has changed, and for many, expanded.

Caf Fean and Nina Honiball are two creative practitioners at community engagement agency Soundings. They aim to challenge the way in which communities – of all types – function. Their theories of community development maybe relatively new, but the way in which their theories are executed, is through an ancient technique: storytelling.

As our perception of community is changing, it is also fragmenting. Digital connectivity has, according to Fean, "has both enabled some communities to come into being, and separated some others into distinctly different categories - those who do not adopt, those who watch TV, those who catch up with their leisure time online."

Fean makes the point that it's really about a changing literacy, rather than a fundamental change of what community is: "I think that fundamentally we all instinctively know what a community is for us, and seek them out. The interesting thing in my work, is understanding other people's communities, and then suggesting new ones, often based upon people's interests rather than by location."

Introducing complex mechanics into community development, allows for new techniques to be tried out and implemented. Honiball suggests that while crowdsourcing, for example, is an interesting way to develop a certain type of community, it does not necessarily give a community the structure that it needs, or allows for a framework to facilitate consultation with existing communities. "At some stage, you need the expert to step in. As far as consultation is concerned, then no, it doesn't make sense to use crowdsourcing. We could dip into it, but we need to be very clear about what it is that we get from people. I am for it, but it needs to be used in a very sensitive way."

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Kill your social network

Kill your social network

Facebook is ceaseless in its effort to get me to add more friends. Every time I load a profile page, I am exhorted to let Facebook plumb my email to add more people to my network. In this respect, the world's biggest social network has come to resemble a grandmother who constantly pesters you to call your cousins more often or write out thank-you cards.

Here's the problem with that: your online social networks are too big.

Facebook and marketers (like me) want you to have bigger and bigger networks. It makes better ad targeting possible when you have a bigger network, and makes it easier for us to exploit the network effect to our advantage.

But for you, that big social network is just weighing you down. The last time Facebook updated the stats in their press room, the average Facebook user had 130 friends. I'll wager that that number is skewed down by older folks and people who have abandoned their accounts. For the active user, that number must be higher. I've got over 400, myself, but I regularly see people that dwarf that number. It's become de rigeur to accept most friend requests; on Facebook I can hardly bring myself to turn anybody down. Even if I started now, what would the point be? My Facebook friends already include people that:

I went to junior high school with and never saw again;I had one class with in college;Were in my unit in the military, but assigned to a different company;Colleagues and former colleagues, including bosses and subordinates;A guy who sold me some computer components once;A couple of friends-of-a-friend, that I don't think I've ever actually met in real life.

As a result, I routinely see people in my Facebook newsfeed that I honestly wouldn't know to say "Hi" to if I saw them on the street.

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Buying MySpace

Buying MySpace

While Rupert Murdoch is concerned with his company's bid for BSkyB - among (ahem) other matters in the UK media - he might have something else on his plate: a potential bid for MySpace.

Bought as part of Intermix for $580m in 2005, MySpace was designed to provide News Corp with a vehicle to propel itself into a golden, digital age. Although one might argue that other innovations are helping the business on that journey, the acquisition of MySpace did not turn out as expected. Seen to be something which will be sold at a loss, theories abound as to why the global resources and muscle of News Corp could not make a go of it.

As the site is well in the flow of a long, slow decline, one option is to close it. Such an option was allegedly planned by Yahoo of Delicious as part of a group of sites to be closed. This group was, in a ubiquitous strategy slide, labelled "Sunset". The combination of Delicious' small-but-loyal userbase and the later confirmation that Yahoo was indeed proposing to sell the property, resulted in a number of public approaches. This gives rise to the theory that sites which are – or were – appreciated by a loyal and sizeable audience, can theoretically pass from a major media owner to a smaller, focussed organisation.

Such an option might be considered for MySpace. Adam Noakes has started a campaign called Let's Buy MySpace, which does what it suggests: aggregate pledges to take MySpace out of the hands of News Corp. These pledges are turned into shares, using a similar model to MyFootballClub. If you pledge, you have a share in MySpace – assuming that Rupert is prepared to pick up the phone.

The idea was put into action because Noakes ".. was fed up of seeing all the negative news coming out from MySpace. All the changes have been for the worse, and there is no obvious sign of a strategy, all from a site with massive registered user numbers and monthly visits... and a great history". While MySpace still has substantial user numbers and visits (albeit in decline) – and that great history – one wonders whether we have simply moved on. After all, there are thousands of websites that have gone through a swifter killing.

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Transmedia stories

Transmedia stories

"Transmedia" has become a powerful force in campaign planning and creative development. Essentially comprising of a narrative spread across a wide range of physical and digital media, it is in itself a term which has gained massive attention in the last year. How can agencies, brands and consumers gain maximum advantage from transmedia campaigns? Are we seeing an eventuality where transmedia becomes the dominant force in campaign planning? Will there be a backlash, based on a desire for simplicity?

Imperica has brought three leading figures together to talk transmedia.

 

Anjali Ramachandran

What do you consider transmedia storytelling to be?

To me, almost every form of communication that is in the form of a narrative today is transmedia – across different media platforms. A movie no longer plays out just on screen; you are more than likely to see a video game, a Facebook page, and so on. A nonprofit that spreads a story across the web and offline is transmedia storytelling too, such as James Nachtwey's xdrtb.org, which aimed to spread awareness of tuberculosis in London through a web-and-real life treasure hunt.

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In conversation with... Nicole Yershon and Ian Finch

In conversation with... Nicole Yershon and Ian Finch

Agencies across a range of disciplines are becoming increasingly concerned with research and experimentation – both for internal use, and to find new ways to develop offerings, and therefore, differentiation. This work is often wrapped up in the Labs concept, which we are starting to see at larger agencies.

This "In conversation with..." is with Nicole Yershon and Ian Finch, leaders of labs at Ogilvy and Mando Group respectively.

How is a lab born?

NY: Our Lab didn't start with technology. There are all of these things happening, that people are not familiar with. When you are familiar with it, and there's a brief to which you say that there could be an interactive floor projection, people look at you as if you're mad. But, you then start to explain what an interactive floor projection is, and you get more detailed – but what you want is for people to touch and feel it, and they will get it.

It came from me not really being able to explain myself, and I wanted that human interaction: to touch an iPhone, or explain what a widget is, without talking or reading about it - because it didn't humanise it.

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Newstweek: changing news

Newstweek: changing news

The prevalence of open wireless networks has transformed both computing and media consumption. Where reading news sites was the domain of the desk, it is now very easy to browse and engage with online content from your sofa, cafe or on the train.

Such networks are perceived to be inherently trustworthy. They are, it is assumed, provided by the "host", and therefore both secure, and secured. But, like many other facets in online media, this trust of both the network and the content available across it, can be manipulated.

Julian Oliver and Danja Vasiliev are Berlin-based artists with a project to address the potential of this manipulation. Extremely well versed in technology and coding, the possibilities of how to manipulate data resulted in their most recent project, Newstweek.

Oliver and Vasiliev explain the history. "Danja and I have been playing around a lot over the last couple of years with what we refer to as 'Network Insecurity', taking the network as a medium for rigorous, creative investigation. This particular device was conceptualised during the Chaos Computer Club's 27th congress, last year in Berlin. We installed an 'invisible' wall plug in the building, emitting a vast amount of wireless beacons, and found that it went physically unnoticed for days. We realised we were onto something, that an innocuous plug like this, with a tiny enough computer, could appear as part of the infrastructure, part of the building, commanding to be treated as such."

Newstweek is the final version of this "invisible" wall plug. Essentially a small computer, it maps network traffic through itself. This mapping is where the intevention occurs, and when Julian and Danja connect to it with root-level access, they run what is essentially a live "search and replace". Data is intercepted and replaced. The result is that web pages which look factually accurate and from a trusted source, have actually been changed.

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Quora: what is it good for?

Quora: what is it good for?

Now that the hyperbole has calmed down and most of us have finally turned off our new follower email updates, I'd like to take stock of what happened during those days of madness.

First, let's look at some of the gushing praise that came out of the UK press for this new social darling. There was Quora will be bigger than Twitter from The Telegraph which, quite frankly, bordered on idol worship; and Quora: the hottest question-and-answer website you've probably never heard of from The Guardian, which at least seemed a little more balanced.

I can't blame the papers. With the ever increasing number of citizen journalists who can provide the news faster and with less bias, any story has to be jumped on quick to ensure that they are seen to be relevant. Both, however, were keen to point out that it was the strong preponderance of Silicon Valley's finest among its users that has led to Quora's sudden success.

It was this fact that, I felt, led to the backlash.

Twitter was alight with people complaining about the number of emails and alerts that were being pumped out from Quora, questioning its usefulness and posting comedy questions to the Quora platform itself (myself included).

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.