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.
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.
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.
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].
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
The rapid increase in hyperlocal websites has delivered some challenges to the communications sector, including competition with established local media; a greater depth of audience engagement; and a local, focused approach to advertising and media buying.With the last point in mind, we caught up with PHD's John V Willshire, and Philip John of the Lichfield Blog and Journal Local, to discuss how to develop a converged view of the new world of local advertising - between advertisers, media planners and buyers, and hyperlocal owners themselves. Is hyperlocal on the media agenda? JVW: I have been thinking about this from the perspective of what media agencies used to think of as being “local”. We have local teams, who have dealt with local press for years. What you see in the local paper is a compendium of all of the things that people want to know and do. They want to know about the performance of Kidderminster Harriers; who has something for sale; a sense of community. Hyperlocal has fostered fragmentation: Kidderminster Harriers has a fan site; local selling is on eBay; the sense of community is in small sites. Where I live, there's a community site for four streets. That notion of the “local paper” has fragmented right down into the paper's sections. From our [PHD's] perspective, how do you buy into that? It's impractical to buy that, individually. No media organisation is geared to deal with hyperlocality, because we used to be able to bulk buy. From that perspective, we have to change the way in which we do things. The model, as it stands, cannot deal with that fragmentation across lots of communities of interest, in lots of different places. Has it been something which PHD has looked at, in terms of internally restructuring to meet the configuration of hyperlocal, or has there been a view that it's far too fragmented to build business? JVW: It comes down to the model of the creative agency making the ads, and the media agency placing the ads. If we're being asked by the creative agency to place some ads, contextually, that fragmentation doesn't work. It's too hard, and not the best way to connect people with companies. What we are trying to do is reframe the purpose. As a media agency, what we always have done, and always will do, is connect people with companies, for the benefit of both. We used to do that through the mass media model, because that was the best way to do it. Now, we're re-considering the best way to connect people with companies. So, we might offer a suite of things on a quid pro quo basis: we could fund your hyperlocal website by having relevant advertising, but we choose the ads for you. Rather than us having to engage with every hyperlocal website owner, we could act as the marketplace. PJ: There are a lot of hyperlocal website owners now considering that they can't do everything on their own. A lot of owners started their website as a hobby, and now realise that it is taking up a lot of their time. They're looking to other hyperlocals for support, and that's why you're getting sites like Talk About Local and little networks starting to pop up. I think that there are a lot of hyperlocal site owners that are interested in joining a network that would enable them to go to advertisers. So, if they all have a sports section, they - or their agency - could go to the advertisers [with a collective proposition]. Sky, for example, could place an ad for their sports package. There's a movement towards that now. Addiply is creating a network which is focused on local, and is now moving into other areas, such as media blogs, so they are now going into subject areas. If you combine hyperlocal with topics, then you have something [compelling] to take to advertisers. The top-down and bottom-up models are moving towards each other. JVW: It's really interesting that you pointed out the topic areas. Before the hyperlocal movement, you were stuck in your locality. You talked to the same people in your street, and were with the same people at work. You were constrained within your location and social class. You would talk to each other about what you had in common: the big, generic things. For example, if you were really interested in 1960s architecture, you couldn't find anyone to talk to, and there wasn't a newspaper or radio station covering it. So, you can now go online, and talk to anyone in the world about 1960s architecture in the UK, or across the world. PJ: The example that I always use is Chasetown FC; we have a lot on the Lichfield Blog about them. The editor has now started to go to matches, and do some little vox pops. There's a lot of people on the web and on Twitter, interested in Chasetown FC. The thought occurred to me that they might not be interested in the rest of the Lichfield Blog, so why are we serving them ads that are site-wide, for things like web designers? Why not ask Chasetown FC's sponsors and ask them to advertise Chasetown FC stuff only? It lets the advertisers get to their target audience more effectively. If they sponsor Chasetown FC, it's because they want Chasetown FC supporters to look at them. So, obviously the supporters will be looking at the blogs, and you build up a market. It's little things like that - becoming a little bit more clever on how you advertise. It's really simple to do. From a publisher's perspective, is this a case of “tanks on the lawn”? The pre-Internet world produced fanzines, for example, which were often poor quality. Fanzines would never have a voice with advertisers of Chasetown FC's programme. But, now, you're bringing in a high readership that is possibly equivalent to Chasetown FC's website, so in volume terms, you have an equal voice. PJ: It makes advertisers more accessible, and it's ultimately cheaper, as wastage for the advertiser is minimal. Previously, whatever you did had so much wastage attached to it. If you've got a bunch of hyperlocal websites, and you can target really well - which is easy, with targeting on tags for example - then you cut out so much wastage, then it becomes so much cheaper. Multiples shrink, and hyperlocal websites become a much more attractive proposition.Do you think that there's still some way to go, in terms of fragmentation? The size and professionalism of the Lichfield Blog is a shining example of that. Is it only a matter of time that this fragmentation evolves, and we see collective operations, or even Newsquest just coming in and buying sites up? JVW: You see it elsewhere. Big companies come in and think “I can scale this”. What if it doesn't scale, and is the perfect size of site for the perfect amount of people? Advertising is still about millions, not thousands. Community and hyperlocal websites are about being small and valuable. If someone comes in and tries to scale, covering wider issues or a wider area, then it loses relevance. PJ: The people that create hyperlocal sites do so because they are passionate. That's why they do it for free. You can see a clear difference between these bottom-up hyperlocals and the top-down networks. I don't think that the top-down models get the same audience, or have the same feel. You just don't see it. The bottom-up models are generated by people in that community, who go out and talk with people. There's a real connection, and that's why it works so well, even thought it takes a lot of their time. The only example that I think does work, is the Guardian Local project. That's fantastic, and down to probably down to the fact that Sarah Hartley is in charge of it, and knows the bottom-up model of hyperlocal. There are four of them - one person in each city. Unless that approach is taken, I don't think that it works. You're still going to have to get the bottom-up hyperlocals into some sort of cohesive network, in order to make it work on a bigger scale. So, instead of taking a site and scaling it up, you have to take a site and do it again. JVW: It's not about taking one site and scaling it, it's about taking the principles and scaling them. “This works really well here, how can we take the lessons that we have learned and use them over here?” It's like what you saw in Internet advertising, with networks. You would have network buys, and websites had to be on the network; the network would then say “We have the websites, now send us some ads”. This is different. PJ: It's almost like web rings - lots of websites that all decide to get together. There's not a lot of that going on at the moment, and that's what I'm doing with Journal Local. But, how do you make it worthwhile? Is it money, or a need to get advertising? It's a Catch-22, as to get advertising, you need to be in the network, to make it a good proposition to advertisers. To get [hyperlocal] advertising, you need to be in the network. Philip John JVW: The advertising model works on economies of scale. So much effort would go into making an ad, that sending it to 4000 people wouldn't be worthwhile; it needs to go to 4 million. In the hyperlocal model, you can't serve the same ad to all of those communities. The beauty of it, is that hyperlocal owners have sites which are personal, within their community, and so on. So, I waste my time just by sending the same ad - and it's too expensive for me to produce 50 ads. I wonder if the solution is for the advertisers to let go, and say “What I've got is a toolkit of stuff that's going on in my shops, and I have shops in all of your locations. Take this toolkit, and put something from it onto your site, if it's of relevance and your audience is interested, may click on, or may buy” - and this could be a partnership, rather than just on an advertising rate basis. But, the advertisers aren't very good at letting go of control, and creative agencies aren't very good at letting go of control. It's against the grain, and it's hard work. It's a different model. JVW: It is taking the network principle, but rather than bombard the whole network with one ad that kind-of-works, it's about working in partnership, rather than as a supplier. PJ: You can still go halfway, though. What I'm really excited about, is the potential to use data to help to target. When you have a network of hyperlocal sites, and you know what postcode areas they cover, you could tie it into something like healthcare. Addiply is on JournalLive, a hyperlocal network of 22 websites. One of the sites had a massive leaderboard for BUPA. We saw it and wondered who is going to click on it; that ad was a waste of time and BUPA's money. That got me thinking: what if you could get health data, and the NHS wants to target heart disease in certain areas? You could hack away with some data, and produce a list of sites that have a high rate of heart disease in their area. What you have is a target market. You then make it easier for the advertiser, because you're targeting for them; cutting their wastage, rather than a blanket campaign everywhere, just to get the people you want. You are removing control of where the ad is displayed - because you are telling advertisers where to display them, but then you give control to the publisher, saying that we should advertise here, where there is a high rate of heart disease. It makes perfect sense to both. So, there's something here about publicly-accessible, open data, and adding that to the mix, to validate the context. JVW: Then the network becomes smarter and self-aware. As an advertiser, I can then put things into this, as the network is helping me to steer content. I might have twenty things or one thing, but the network decides your relevance. There's so much data around, and what you see now is Government departments saying “This data that we collect and hold: we shouldn't be scared of letting it go. As long as people aren't being nefarious with it, let's see what good things can be achieved.” TFL, for example, has realised that they can't do that [internally]. The way in which their organisation works and how their projects work and are billed for, means that they cannot cost efficiently do that with their data. It's free and open. You made the point [Philip] about people running hyperlocal websites for love; people also spend weeks creating stuff with TFL data. From your perspective within PHD, do you see value in this freely-available open data? JVW: Yes, but everyone's trying to change the model. The media agency, the ad agency, and the client, want to change. You will find a few people in each agency, trying to pull everyone out of this - because it's a machine. It's a machine that has been created over the past 20 years, ever since media agencies split from ad agencies to create two separate entities. Up to the end of the 1990s, the machine was really humming. The famed years of the “media lunch” used to involve “doing some media planning” - to decide what the split was between TV, posters, and whatever - then going for lunch. Guttingly, it's the era that I missed [!] We've always used Mosaic, ACORN data and so on, so I think that it will be something which is good. If I compare this data against someone taking the time and effort to look at all of the publicly-available data... can I beat that? If you streamed all of that data into a system, it would be better, more flexible, and more “alive” than commercial data. It will be continually updated; if you built it right, it's feeding a live, changing picture of the UK.PJ: Openly Local does a really good thing; there are 300 hyperlocals on there now. You can go on and see the latest news from all the hyperlocals. I helped to create a Google custom search for hyperlocals. You could repurpose all of this - as Openly Local does with government data. It scrapes local government websites, and repurposes it as government data. If you did that with hyperlocals as well, you would have the Guardian Open Platform for hyperlocals. You can then grab that, mess with that, and create some great stuff. JVW: Going back to your health example: if you had that system in place, scraping all of that data - government and hyperlocal - it would spot things quite quickly. If you set the network up to alert you on a local health scare related to cleanliness, you could match it to a product that helps to clean surfaces. All that I would need to do, is set up this query, and leave it there, so it's almost a minesweeper: I just wait for it to erupt. It's a passive action for me. PJ: It could also become a newswire. If you're sitting in the Birmingham Post and Mail, you could mine hyperlocals in the West Midlands. JVW: It's in one place. It would tell you a very interesting story about Britain - area versus area, and so forth, which becomes a very interesting resource for everything: media planning, comms planning and newspapers, who love “stories with a difference” - people in the north loving something more than people in the south, and so on. It becomes a really interesting, live picture, rather than the top-down perspective of a national survey of 500 people. This is based on live movements: things happening from the bottom up. Has access to open data been beneficial? PJ: It has, but the problem is that most hyperlocals are started by active citizens, who have enough nous to set up a site. But, beyond that, they don't always know how to set up how to use this data, how to use Yahoo Pipes, and so on. We've got a great system on the Lichfield Blog, where I'm the techie, the editor is a trained local journalist. He produces the articles, and I look after the back end. It's a great relationship, but most hyperlocals don't have that. I can play around with data, but they can't. It's great, but it needs someone that has the time to do something interesting with this data. I'm sponsoring Hacks and Hackers in Manchester. Its aim is to get such a relationship going between developers and journalists, to help journalists to tell stories from the data. That's really important, because I blogged on this yesterday. One of the issues regarding open data is whether someone will use it for other purposes. There was a recent situation regarding land ownership data in Bangladesh; property companies were going in there and marginalising poorer parts of the community. They were able to use this data, and the community wasn't. Hacks and Hackers is there to make sure that data is used effectively. Even though the data is coming out, and it's great, it's of little use unless people can make it usable for hyperlocals. Openly Local is trying to repurpose council data, in order to add context to stories. If they are talking about a councillor, for example, and they are tagging through Wordpress, it adds on a bunch of information about the councilor, beside the article. If someone in that ward is reading the article and wants to talk to the councillor about the issue, they get a fact file right there, next to the article. That's really helpful, but it takes time for people to do, and there's not enough of that out there. So, if hyperlocal owners don't know much about technology, does it follow that they won't know much about advertising? PJ: Yes. We put Addiply on the Lichfield Blog, and our ads were snapped up straight away; all of the inventory was taken up. There are quite a few sites running Addiply, and they have no advertisers. Those site owners may have the view that they don't want to go out to advertisers; they're not salespeople, and would feel a little weird, going out to their community, asking them to advertise. There is that problem.
It goes back to those sites needing to be part of a network. Because there is then more collective resourcing, there will be more resources to pull advertisers in, and the network is more attractive to them.Is there a perceptual thing here? If the hyperlocal owners see themselves as “deliverers of information” and not involved with ad sales, how can they compete with newspapers if they see themselves more as being a public service? PJ: There are very few hyperlocals that see themselves as a replacement to local media. Hyperlocal is in between the community - people that journalists might want to talk to - and the media. So, all that hyperlocal is, in many cases, is the community simply making its voice heard online. Without this, they would have to phone the local paper. Hyperlocal informs the media what the community thinks. JVW: It's something that's so easy to organise. Before, you would have had a meeting at the local parish hall, that wasn't necessarily open, and you had to invite a journalist to attend, and someone had to go to that journalist and brief them. The media was in control: what they published, how they published it, the context in which they placed it, whether they were interested. Now, you wouldn't necessarily care if the media was interested: hyperlocal is the place to put a view across. PJ: It also gives a voice to people that previously couldn't attend those meetings. JVW: It's a great leveller. People are happier giving their opinion on a hyperlocal site than public speaking. We're much happier buying things with tall potential than long potential, because long potential is less proven. John V Willshire
Do you think that there will be a perceptual thing here, for media buyers? It's not a newspaper, it isn't This Is London, it's a thing in the middle for 4000 people. JVW: This is it. It's that 4000. There's something really interesting in behavioural economics, about the impact of numbers. If I can talk to 4000 people about an issue, then that's brilliant. But then, by putting it into a newspaper that reaches four million, then 4000 doesn't look as good - but not everyone sees the newspaper ad. It's just reach. JVW: It's just reach; it's about tall potential, and long potential. The tall potential is the reach of four million people, but only 4000 people will do something. Community models have long potential: if you start something with people, then you could reach 4000. Media agencies are bad at selling that to clients, because everyone's interested in tall potential: the big numbers. It's a problem. We're much happier buying things with tall potential than long potential, because long potential is less proven, and gives you smaller numbers. There's a potentially massive benefit here to hyperlocal owners: they should go to advertisers and convince them that they should be changing the game from tall to long, in this context. JVW: An example might be Sainsbury's, who is a client of ours. Through the tall model, we would place an ad on every hyperlocal site.PJ: The reach would not matter to us [in Lichfield], as the nearest Sainsbury's is 20 miles away!.. so there's wastage. JVW: Exactly! You just reach lots of people. The long model with Sainsbury's is finding the hyperlocal sites relevant to the stores - using their data. We could then run a project where store managers are put in touch with the hyperlocal site, and work together to deliver benefits to the community. Is there client interest in making locally relevant advertising, in either buying or content? JVW: There is interest around it. CEOs consider it to be very important, but the way in which organisations have been constructed, means that responsibility sits in different departments. The marketing silo is all about those big numbers, where local issues can be with HR, field sales, store managers, and anyone else. Hyperlocal offers a solution to something which is a bit like marketing, a bit like local management, a bit like HR, and a bit like CSR. It doesn't work in one silo, so it's not always easy to get buy-in. With Cadbury Spots v Stripes, it was clear that it was not just marketing: it was business. So, we needed to talk to HR, about bringing it into the company first - which makes it a lot easier to help that story to travel. And, extending that analogy, all of the other department doors then open up: marketing and HR talk together, then IT become involved, and so on. There is extreme interest from companies which are not in silos. But, companies were organised before communication technology, and most are still in silos. Departments do one thing, and do it well. We, as an agency, work with not just the marketing teams, but find other people within the organisation, and bring them in... and everyone's really receptive. That's the key. Everyone wants to make their company better, and everyone wants to break down the silos. It's about providing the 'grease' to make that happen. Hyperlocals probably couldn't get to chat to Justin Rose or Terry Leahy, but they could chat to local store managers. Does that mean that aggregation, whether as a group or network of hyperlocals, is necessary to have such a voice in the market? PJ: Definitely. At the moment, you can't really advertise on hyperlocals if you're a big company - and a lot of hyperlocals might turn round and say that it doesn't make sense for them. With the Lichfield Blog, unless an ad is really well targeted, we might say no. I want to attract national advertisers to hyperlocals and to the Lichfield Blog, but it has to be really targeted. JVW: It has to be right. From our perspective, it's more interesting doing projects [with hyperlocals] than just advertising. Projects are in partnership: this is something that we are doing, rather than something that someone designed in the London office and published to the site. It's getting our industry out of the habit of just serving an ad. PJ: We do that a lot. With the Fuse Festival, our photographer and I spent all weekend there. We captured as much as possible, including all of the meetings that the Fuse board had over the year - so we were actively involved in organising it. Tesco had a presence there, with children's activities including papier mache and cardboard models. I thought how great it would have been to have the corner of the car park, with this big thing that was produced in association with Tesco, with kids joining in... but we didn't know about it. If we did, we could have phoned Tesco. JVW: But, that probably slips in the gaps between the PR silo, the marketing silo... PJ: If Tesco know that this stuff is going on, then they simply get a store map, and cross-reference it with a map of hyperlocal sites, which they send to store managers. If they know that it's going on, it makes the whole process easier. That sounds like a really quick and easy thing to do. PJ: Hyperlocals would put themselves on the map, draw a circle around their area, and with the stores, you would then create overlaps. There are your target areas. It goes back to what we were saying: moving away from display ads, to co-branded projects. Tesco colleagues painting a primary school has a greater contextual relevance than a display ad that may be quite targeted, but not as rich and inviting. JVW: It's about moving advertising away from the age of information: “I'm going to tell you something about our products”. I have information available: I can search on Google. There's not really much point in advertisers simply telling you something, as people can find out for themselves. Advertising has to be more about stories of things that we've done. Does that have to be part of an organisational step change within the client: opening the doors between silos, throughout the organisation? JVW: You have to hand over this control. It's no longer about matching luggage, with everything looking and feeling the same, and the brand onion dictating that we are chatty. It's ceding that control throughout the organisation. In The Wizard of Oz, the bogus Wizard is the giant glowing head at the end of the room who tells them to do stuff, and they begrudgingly go off and do it. They don't get anything out of the relationship. Brand can be these giant glowing heads, shouting at people. When they find out that it's a guy behind a curtain, they then talk on an individual basis. On that conversational, one-to-one basis, it's easier to sort out problems. You could do the faceless brand thing in certain local environments, and it would work to a certain extent. But, if you ceded control to the guy behind the curtain - the store manager - and it became part of community engagement, then there's a very specific voice, which would be very different in every town across the country. PJ: It's like hyperlocal - you know the people behind them, because you've seen them. We get out so much, that people are now starting to recognise us. It's those connections. JVW: Brand is increasingly becoming shorthand for the people within the company. What you have when you talk about a brand, is a community. "Those people over there did that thing; I'd quite like to talk to those people over there". It's picking apart the notion of a brand tone of voice. People are increasingly used to being able to do that in other aspects, in their world: to talk with individual personalities. You would still have brand cues around that, because the community needs shared values. Talking in the same way in the same tone of voice is still likely, but it's not as prescribed, or as top-down.·John V Willshire is Chief Innovation Officer at PHD Media. His blog is Feeding the Puppy. Philip John is part of the team behind The Lichfield Blog and founder of Journal Local, sponsor of the first Hacks and Hackers Day in Manchester on 15 October.
As part of Imperica's media partnership with Interesting North, we are running a series of interviews with conference speakers. The first article in this series features Toby Barnes, whose talk is entitled "James Bond: architecture critic"; and Marcus Brown, whose talk is about spending a week in a mental hospital.The conversation starts with Toby and Marcus telling us about their Interesting North talks in detail. TB: Russell asked me to speak at last year's Interesting. It was the most nervous that I have ever been. It was the most difficult talk, and I have talked in front of lots of people, mainly because I didn't have an agenda. I did a talk around cheating: why I think cheating is important, and why we should be allowed to cheat. Russell said to me that I shouldn't talk about anything concerning video games, so I stood up and started by saying that I have cheated in games, and I was going to talk about games, but really it was about cheating. I was so nervous, that I did the whole thing in about five minutes flat; Russell told everyone to keep it short. I sat down, and realised that everyone else after me had ignored Russell, and did their talks in about 20 minutes. I wanted to go back on and do it again, so when Greg asked me to do it again for Interesting North, I jumped at the chance - and this time, I'm going to take about 45 minutes to ramble through my talk, whether he likes it or not [!]
I'm doing a talk this time about modernism, and the lack of any real thought around modernism any more. It ties into my thoughts around futurism and futurists, and the common feeling that we don't have much of a confidence about the future, necessarily being driven by any form of fiction. We look at it these days as a nostalgia piece, as science fiction is fun - meals in pills, jet packs - rather than either a horrible JG Ballard world that we have to live in, or a beautiful utopian let's-all-have-sex-with-the-aliens type of thing. However, the talk will start with architecture, and around the lack of any direction, from trying to develop new buildings, physical places, or anything that feels like this is going to be the future. I am going to use the example of James Bond, blowing up lots of modern buildings. These buildings house the guys who employ thousands of people, but they are working hard to give people a job... and Bond, in his Savile Row suit, is going around blowing up this Barratt Homes architecture. MB: I am going to talk about something that was difficult, painful, upsetting, and scary. It was about 5 years ago, when I walked out of the front door of our house. I turned left, and woke up 12 days later, on a camping site, with a tent and a bicycle... and I didn't know how I got there. And I hate camping. That was really very scary for me... I not only scared myself, but my friends, family, acquaintances - who didn't know where I was. I saw a doctor, who suggested that I spend some time in a very special hospital. I'm going to be talking about my time in the mental hospital, and what it's like to discover that I wasn't actually mad. When something like that happens to you, it's very traumatic, and you think that you're losing your mind... and then you go into a hospital with a whole bunch of other people, and discover that you're actually you're pretty close to sane. It's a whole bunch of stories about people that I met. It was a mirror of society. There was a self-imposed segregation; there was a group of Turkish people who didn't really interact, groups of German people, and then you had men who didn't interact with the women. The Turkish guys played cards, and I managed to break down that social barrier. I wanted to play cards, and it took me about half an hour of serious negotiation. Playing a game of pool with someone that suffers from panic attacks, is probably the funniest thing that I have ever done. I had to play badly, just to ensure that the guy didn't have a nervous breakdown in front of me. When everyone knows everything about you through Twitter or Facebook, do we have spaces for freedom any more? Toby Barnes A connection between your talks appears to be around the harsh realities of the present - whether at the hospital, or living in the now, rather than in a utopian world. Do you see an optimistic future as being something which we need to get a grip on more and more, given the mundanity of the present? TB: It's about being able to jump far enough ahead. I don't know who this was, but someone said that 2010 is the last date of the future. Because everything is speeded up, it's very hard to make the leap, and no-one is brave enough to make a leap and for people to go “I think that's probably where we should go to”. One of the things that Marcus was saying, was about the issue of freedom. Waking up and not actually knowing where you have been for the past 12 days actually sounds rather blissful, even though I don't actually know how bad that was. When somebody tells you that you are insane, that you don't have to play by the rules of what somebody tells you to do... it can give that jump of freedom. When everyone knows everything about you through Twitter or Facebook, do we have spaces for freedom any more? One of the things that we are trying to do with Chromaroma is not to make a game; it's to do something which adds a tiny bit of imagination to people's lives. It's something that I see in your work, Marcus, and it's something that we did with Such Tweet Sorrow. It's about adding little tiny bits - little droplets of magic - but it's antithetical to what Hollywood is trying to do at the moment. MB: The diagnosis of what I had, revealed disassociative fugue, which means that in my head, I ran away. It had to do with a number of stressful situations in my life, as well as being “middle-30”, which is the blandest of places to be. When you turn 30, you can moan about being 30; when you turn 40, you moan about being old... but the middle-30s is about being bland. TB: I'm 37, and one of the things that I was talking to Russell about is the belief that you can only introduce yourself as one “thing” when you're at a party: “You're the guy that did that”. If you did something great in your mid-twenties and then don't keep it up, you're the guy that did that thing 10 years ago. MB: I hate that “What do you do?” kind of stuff. Normally I say that I'm a dentist. I have made a real effort over the last six years to ask “Who are you?” not “What do you do?” TB: There's a gentleman that works in the studio. Whenever anyone asks “What do you do?”, he says that he is a musician - he has produced a couple of albums, and is in a couple of bands. However, he worries about it, because if anyone Googles him, it turns out that he works at Mudlark... so, was he lying about the music, or was he lying about Mudlark? It's all true, and he works at Mudlark to have the money to do those things. He always says that I am renting his brain. I am paying him money, to rent his brain, to do stuff. Google would be interesting, if you could Google the future. Marcus Brown MB: My whole stance on this, came out of my experience... in hindsight, it was actually quite frightening. It was extraordinarily painful at the time, but now, I can see that there are some funny parts. All of those responsibilities, and the pressure, triggered the disassociative state. While going through the process of “fixing it”, I realised that anything is possible, and that's the theme of my talk. I was toying with the idea of finishing it with something spectacular, like getting ELO on stage to perform Mr. Blue Sky, just to make the point that anything is possible. That whole thing happened before I started telling stories online. I had given up anything creative that was important to me about twenty years ago. I sold my brain to do paid work... a suit, a consultant, a marketing robot. Now, if you Google me, because of the way that our culture is developing, the future isn't really that important anymore. Our possible pasts are now more important. Google would be interesting, if you could Google the future. But, you can't. You can only Google the past. You have a talented guy working for you, Toby, and he's concerned that somebody might find out that he crunches numbers... which is very sad.We've gone through the future. I can distinctly remember when we celebrated 2000, I was really fucked off that there wasn't a Mekon floating in the front room. That was really disappointing. All those Vikings, back in the day... they forgot to keep on writing stuff about 2050. What if we could Google the future, and it was just a slightly modified version of where we are now? We still have terraced Victorian houses, after all. How are we going to facilitate that change? TB: We're at this really strange point where the nostalgia for the past is so strong. If I look at my desk, there's an old leather chair, an old leather bag, a notepad made to look like a 1930s field notepad, and pencils. There's a real nostalgia for craft, and at the same time, my bag is filled with an iPod, iPad and iPhone. We're in this strange transition between the two. It's Russell who talks about the nostalgia of the past and the novelty of the new. It will become interesting when we create networks for buildings, and things start automating. Buildings can change, or will be constructed in such a way that they perform relevant functions; so they can be a library in the daytime, and a club at night. The speed of change in some things has accelerated, but the speed of change in others has decelerated. In architecture, the structures that are currently in place to enable somebody to think bigger than they would have wanted to, are just not there. Architects are paid to put a building up, and as soon as the front door opens, they bugger off and do something else. That's quite a sad place, as they're not paid to make it live. It's like making babies, then chucking them out of windows. That's one of the things that we need to focus on, in terms of what the future is like: to create systems to enable people to “do stuff”, not just get them out the door. MB: I live in a completely different country, and I live in a city which is really old. Large chunks of it did survive the war quite well, and they have rules in Munich about how high a building can be. It's not like Frankfurt, where you can put a skyscraper anywhere you want. In Munich, I think that they're not allowed to be higher than the cathedral. You don't really see new buildings. I'm trying to think of new buildings that I have seen here in the past year... and I can't think of any. If any were built, they must have blended into the overall aesthetic of the city, so it doesn't disturb this urban picture. TB: If that's true and stays being true, it's like that Munich will never get beyond a certain year. The future has been cut off, unless somebody, somewhere, says “Fuck this, it's not going to work”. Either the city gets flattened and starts again, which is unlikely, or someone will say “This year, we really need to put this hotel in, and let's bump up the height”. I know that to be true of some cities in the UK, and especially different parts of the UK, that are the same. They argue about conservation - and about conservation areas. But, conservation is something else. What they're talking about is preservation: preserving the past, which is different to conservation and conserving a certain feel. It feels strange that this is the “right thing to do”. MB: I'll give you another example. In four-and-a-half days, the Oktoberfest kicks off here, the world's largest beer festival. A couple of years before I moved to Munich, it became fashionable to wear traditional dress when you go. So, all of a sudden, young people would turn up in lederhosen. It's been a real renaissance for tradition. Bavaria, and Munich in particular, clings onto to the past - really quite charmingly, sometimes quite sickeningly. Imagine an 18-year-old hoodie that you see in the supermarket, hurrying to get home as he has to change into his lederhosen and go off to the Oktoberfest. That's what happens. It's Mr. Benn. MB: Mr. Benn is very important in what I do. Mr. Benn is the absolute benchmark... emotionally, he is so important to me... the whole “As if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared” is just huge. TB: You alluded to “Clinging onto the past”, and it does seem that people feel threatened. It's like people talking about too much information... that there's too much going on, and they can't keep up, and they want to cling onto the past. It's a physical thing. It's like a hoodie turning into a morris dancer. You wonder why we cling onto the past like that. MB: We have to be careful here. I was in a beer garden the other day, and there must have been 800 people there, but I was the only person that checked in on Foursquare. I am constantly trying to remind myself that there is a bigger world out there, and this is one of the reasons why I am walking to Hamburg. In general, the present can be so overwhelming. Ben Terrett wrote about the fact that you can't escape news. You walk into a building to go into a meeting, and there's a TV in the lobby, with the BBC News, and there's a ticker on it. You go outside, and there's a ticker on Piccadilly Circus. You're in a pub, and the bloody news is on. If do use Facebook and Twitter, and you're on the tube... by the time that you have come up, you have missed forty minutes. FB: A friend recently went through some anxiety issues, and she became obsessed about 9/11, amongst other things... and she “escaped the news”. We live in the Peak District, so she doesn't spend time in meetings, in pubs, or on the tube, but she doesn't buy newspapers any more, and doesn't watch the news. So, now, she has “delayed news”: she uses Facebook and Twitter, but only hears about something if it bubbles up from her circle of friends. It is possible to escape, but also not possible. I have started to take up things that I can't learn by reading. So, I have taken up sailing, because it's physical. You can't read about it. If people were a third as nervous about new things as I was [sailing] at the weekend, it's no wonder that people are trying to escape society. At the end, I had a break, and I was nearly in tears, so shocked by this experience. We take for granted, that people can keep up with this stuff. MB: ... and there is no space for the future, in all of that. The future for us when we were kids, was a magnificient, big thing, that was so far away, that it didn't seem possible that it would happen. I can remember being 7, when my older sister gave me an A1 calendar for 2001. There were spaceships on it. I used to have it over my bed, and thought that it was so amazing. 2001 was so far away, and that “so-far-away-ness”, and the amount of space that I had in my life... I had a CB radio, and a TV, and mates around the corner, and that was it. Those were the factors in my life, but these days, my kids are so busy. They're so busy telling other people that they're so busy, with so many different ways to tell them, and to read about how busy their friends are, that the future for them is different. Asking them what they want to be when they grow up, results in the answer that they just have homework to do. TB: There is a really good Ian Brown quote. He fears for culture, because there is no boredom any more. Most good music and film makers, made works because they were bored, and everything was a bit shit, so they started to fiddle with things. Now, because of Twitter, Xbox and so on, they always have something to fill their time with. There's no boredom any more. There's no space for people to create, because they are never bored. Do you think that this lack of boredom will give rise to less radical thought? If you're never bored, you won't have time to try to change the world.Have we also replaced tension with subtlety? I remember the nuclear arms race, Two Tribes at number 1, that dystopian view of the future... but now, we may be in an age where things just aren't as radical. MB: I distinctly remember When the Wind Blows, and being seriously afraid of the future. We're all going to die, just not today. The Iran situation, where everyone started wearing green... nobody really thought about that in terms of the future. It was all about what it means now, and reporting on what is happening now. That is a very Twitter-esque phenomenon. Two years earlier, everyone would have blogged about it. It's all about now. TB: The media are also still trying to blow everything up into something bigger. Marilyn Manson said that all of society is driven by consumerism and fear. I remember the Swine Flu outbreak; we're all going to die from it, then Pakistan was going to attack India... there's always something which represents “the end of everything”. And, the Y2K bug, of course. TB: Yes... and it's still happening. The next disaster will be the one that ends it all. The Daily Mail writes always writes its headlines in cataclysmic form.As a child, I was always very positive for future, and also watched When the Wind Blows, but I was too much of an optimist, and wanted to grow up, living in space, like 2001. MB: It didn't happen, did it Toby...! TB: Perhaps I should just stand up on stage and be really pissed off! I won't have anything interesting to say, and instead exclaim that I'm pissed off because I thought that the future was going to be bright, and we were all going to be in space, but we're not. Whose fault is that? There must be somebody that I can complain to. Write a letter to a newspaper, telling them how disgusted you are. MB: “You've stolen my childhood dreams, because I'm not living on the moon. I want my money back.” TB: Tim Wright won a BAFTA for Online Caroline. When he was a kid, he wanted to play golf on the moon with David Bowie, and nobody would ever stop him doing that. He has set up the British Space Association, and has a space suit from NASA, and has contacted David Bowie on a number of occasions. He still believes that he can do it. If he thought that he could do it at 7, then why can't he do it now? Maybe I should just live in the future. MB: Blogs are great for that sort of thing. I had started to write a blog in 2009, but managed to trick Wordpress. So, all of the posts were dated 2011. It really fucked up Feedreader. TB: One of my favourite things is trying to find something in iTunes, only to find that it has been metatagged as being in 1972. I have these drum and bass tracks which are supposedly from 1972. MB: Writing non-science fiction prose in the future, was really quite interesting. The written word is grossly underrated. At the moment, it has lost a lot of its value. It doesn't move, it doesn't do anything special. TB: I value it more now. One of the things that I cannot do, is write very well. I have tried 6 times, get three months in, and run out of steam. You're right, the written word is so powerful, and I read people's blogs and they move me and change me, more than any fucking cats jumping off a piano.
The concept of serious gaming predates the mass adoption of silicon-based technology. Wars have been led, fought, won and lost based on simulation. Indeed, one could argue that the fundamental concept of gambling is based on the win or loss of a theoretical game.
Dr. Simon Scarle is part of the Serious Games Institute, an organisation housed within Coventry University. The role of the Institute is to design and develop intellectual and practical solutions to some of life's interesting questions about the past, present and future – through the fairly recent phenomenon of computer gaming.
Scarle's interest in the topic comes from a combination of, as you might suspect, an intellectually scientific approach – in this case, working with computational simulations as part of his Theoretical Physics degree – and a subsequent role at Rare. The techniques that Scarle used at Rare had a foundation in his earlier university work to simulate cardiac movements. This fusion led to a role as the senior programmer for a serious games project at Warwick, before his recent move to Coventry.
The trade show environment... shows a desire to engage. Dr. Simon Scarle
This new role focusses on a project called Vtrade, which is a virtual shopping environment. The creative idea of a virtual shopping environment has been addressed many times: from Barclaysquare in the mid-90s, through to Fashionmall and a host of similar companies. What makes Vtrade stand out is that rather than being akin to a shopping mall, it is attempting to virtualise a trade fair.
We fucked up. Not just you, but me too. The gates to digital Eden were flung open and we were free to run in and take anything we wanted.Newspapers tore down paywalls, fragmented content and hired people to splurt it out across the web for anyone, anywhere to do with it as they will. Forget about charging, we said, as we gave away the only thing that paid our wages. Not only this, but as our office walls came tumbling down, we paid out even more money to hire extra people to write about and promote the very tools and technology that homogenised our content and destroyed our institutions – what You Are Not A Gadget author Jaron Lanier calls journalistic Stockholm syndrome. We knew some of us would have to be the paying minority to support the non-paying majority, but tragedy of the commons thinking made sure that everyone thought someone else would pick up the bill as we rampaged across the web, taking what we liked without a care for who would pay for it and clean up our mess. We’ve done the equivalent of a digital supermarket sweep. But now the fun is over. We are facing a bill for far more than we actually wanted or needed. James Seddon
Give anyone too much freedom and they will quickly give you cause to erect walls of rules that ensure such a mess doesn’t happen again. Up go the paywalls and subscription walls. Down goes the power of the link – what good is a key if the door is boarded up – and down will go our consumption.Like an all-you-can-eat buffet that switches to a normal menu halfway through the meal, we’re facing a bill for far more than we actually wanted or needed. We’re used to constant consumption of sub-par wares, and we’re going to have to get used to only eating when we’re hungry. Really hungry, as no one could afford to actually pay for every newspaper article they read online. Gone is the Pizza Hut buffet, in are canapés. The sad thing is, it could have been so different. But like a teenager trusted to look after the house while the parents are away, we threw a party and are facing consequences that were so avoidable. Which is a shame, because we had it so good for so long. I’ve read the same books as you, where digital evangelists like Jeff Jarvis and Clay Shirky talk about how knock-off handbags and piracy have actually helped increase demand for paid products, but we have to admit this just hasn’t worked for journalism. News trades in facts and information, which has proved tough to nail cash to. It’s difficult to own a fact, and without ownership – whether by an individual blogger or a big mean news org – there can be no profit. In fact, monetising content seems to be the 21st century’s answer to Karl Dunker’s famous candle problem, which has been used by economists to show that financial incentives actually inhibit our problem-solving abilities when the answer is abstract. Perhaps monetising content is doomed to failure by definition. But now is a time for empiricism and not idealism. The wrong solution is much worse than no solution because we stop looking for what we think we’ve already found. Our only hope is that a news company behind a paywall doesn’t need to serve up homogenised rot and can finally focus on the very same niche content the evangelists say we need. Henry David Thoreau once referred to much-touted technological marvels like the Transatlantic cable as “improved means to an unimproved end.” And I think he’d say the same thing today if he looked at what the connections of modern fibre-optic cables have destroyed.
James Seddon's website is jamesgseddon.com.
The recession has taught many companies that agility, to face both upturns and downturns, is a key differentiator. Agility is becoming increasingly important for both customers and employees, and these groups share the same view: that with fantastic execution, agility becomes a differentiator.Building that differentiator requires a shared vision of the future. This shared vision, again applicable to both customers and employees, can manifest itself as internal advocacy of the company's brand. Building an internal understanding of the brand, as companies are increasingly starting to understand, is vital if employees are to be led on the journey that the company will take, rather than be forced into travelling it. Brand advocacy is core to the future of any business, according to John Smythe. Smythe is one of the UK's leading thinkers in employee engagement. Facilitating advocacy - and creating a positive workforce with a shared vision - cannot be undertaken by diktat. It requires an open working environment. Companies must start to consider how their internal processes and systems encourage expression, diversity, and the freedom to create and share ideas. Successful companies need to have cultures which are engaged; a system of self-government; and senses of disciplines, direction, democracy, and liberty, where, according to Smythe, “there is trust by the leaders in the workforce, and vice versa.” Smythe gives an example of Google as a company with such an “engaged culture”, and one would indeed imagine Google to be a natural leader in these fields. However, he also gives the example of Gore-Tex, a company with deeper - and more industrial - roots. Gore-Tex also needs to be at the top of its game in a highly competitive market, and its diverse workforce clearly benefit from alignment behind the brand, what it does, and the benefit that the product offers to consumers. Another positive example of a larger, more established company, is Goldman Sachs. According to Smythe, Goldman's culture has helped to build a highly conversational, highly-motivated workforce, with a very personal style of management. The trade-off is that such an environment can be quite brutal, which comes with the territory of needing to be process-driven, as investment banking lends itself to be - particularly under greater regulation mechanisms driven by the recession. Companies often only get this half-right, and attempt to build behaviours into employees without the brand values backing them up, which provide context and support. BAA is cited as an example of this half-right approach: “There is no sense of service ethos, and it's a machine.” Smythe's view is that a customer-centric approach is admirable, but must travel through the DNA of the organisation to deliver a fully engaged, motivated, and committed workforce, whether facing the customer or not.People and process
Smythe sees the way in which brand becomes manifest, as being a choice of two concepts.The first concept is that brand is simply an expression of business strategy. “Corporate leadership needs to grasp that [brand] doesn't just happen in marketing.” The second concept is that people are an expression of the brand. Smythe's example is of hotel chain IHC, which provides employees with a “checklist” of the types of customer interaction that employees will expect to experience. This ensures that the brand effortlessly flows from its customer-facing employees into all of its touchpoints. The result is that employees are “being themselves” - as, in this sector, it's all about the right balance of personality and “polite intrusion”. To customers, this delivers a friendly, attentive, personal service, which is far from false; after all, no business wants its employees to appear to be just acting. Therefore, leaders must recognise either concept as being a conscious choice, understand what their “line of sight” is within the business, and then understand their role within it. Smythe's choice is that brand should either be an expression of strategy, or a contextualised expression of people. Although it is a choice, there are fundamental points relevant to either concept. To make either effective, companies need to instill relevant brand concepts within every member of staff, infuse the brand into every direct and indirect touchpoint, and address the differences in experience across its external and internal customer base.The workplaceFor brand to be an expression of people or strategy, the workplace needs to be “intellectually healthy”. A culture of internal democracy must operate within it, as should “good engagement" - a sufficient level of trust between employees and the employer. The alternative of this environment is centralisation. Corporate cultures with little discretion to contribute – featuring process-driven, automated roles and functions, and no de facto internal communications – augment a related theory: that the social role is becoming centralised. Smythe compares this configuration to modern aircraft, where the aeroplane “knows” where it is going, but the pilot controls have been removed. Obviously, organisational culture varies hugely. Sectors with a high number of customer touchpoints, such as retail, inherently have a more relationship-oriented culture, as the brand often becomes the obvious “glue” that unites disparate groups under one umbrella. As Smythe suggests, “If you have people for a short time, you have to internalise the brand.” The “empowerment debate” in the 1990s really kick-started a re-examination of the concept of of job security: what it is, and what it looks like, to employees. For many, security and loyalty were paramount, and an unwritten contract was in place between employer and employee to this effect. In most institutions, according to Smythe, this has now broken down, with the mass withdrawl of final salary pensions being a good example of this breakdown. This relationship has also changed through the changing nature of social ties in wider society outside of the workplace.Delivering leadership through democracy
The Quaker founders of Cadbury adopted a value of employee welfare from the inception of the company. In an industrialised century, this increasingly became the exception to the rule. Smythe is now starting to see something similar from an increasing range of leaders: the re-consideration of the relationship between employee and leader. Who is serving who?“Over a century later [than Cadbury], what I am seeing is individual leaders – not just the CEO – consider why they govern”. In this re-consideration, leaders are re-addressing not just this relationship, but also their own role. Leaders can be developed, with Smythe suggesting two paths. The first is to consider what the decision-making approach or style is, when it comes to dealing with crises. After all, crises are all about personal decision-making. The recession has built the reputation of some leaders, but destroyed others. The second is to simply refine or develop a personal style, based on an index of 14 types developed by Smythe, including Sniper, Flirt, Arbiter, and Visionary. Although content can be drowned in such performance, an awareness and suitability of performance style can be developed to overcome this initial oversight. Another of these 14 role types is the court jester. This type can satirise, and bring out the lunacy – in an authentic way. Perhaps less suitable to leaders than to those elsewhere in the business, good consultants can undertake this role, identifying blockers and patterns which can be overcome. (The bad consultant is simply obsequious.) The court jester plays a valuable role, one which has recently gained a fresh approach within more creative organisations, such as the Chief Creative Insurgent role at US group MDC Partners. Ron Heifetz at the Harvard School of Politics has talked about a requirement for leaders to step off the dancefloor – where employee activity takes place - onto the balcony, and observe the dance. Leaders have an opportunity to deliver a new context, and a new partnership with employees, within a shared understanding of what the brand means to them, and their customers. They have an opportunity to change the music. John Smythe is a partner in corporate engagement consultancy Engage for Change, and the author of Chief Engagement Officer.
I was a huge fan of Clay Shirky after reading Here Comes Everybody, but after watching his recent cognitive surplus talk at the RSA, I have to say I don’t buy his new theory one bit.
While his argument sounds nice – people are watching less TV, so they’re creating more, thanks in no small part to the Internet – it doesn’t actually make much sense.