Friday, December 21, 2007

Professional UGC

A recent article in the LA Times notes that a group of striking writers have raised VC money and are preparing to ply their wares on the Web. This makes perfect sense and I would expect to see more of this type of migration. After all, one of the key issues in the strike is over digital distribution rights, so it it's not a big surprise that writers would pull a Radiohead and go direct to their audience. This move by striking writers strengthens the argument that all content will soon be viewed as user generated, but the distinction will be made between professional and amateur UGC. If your work can be digitized, then there is no longer good reason to rely or depend on the old distribution and marketing structures. Online social media technology ensures that premium content will find its casting couch required.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Kim Deal Throws Down the Gauntlet

Kim Deal, lead singer of The Breeders, gives an interview with Pitchfork in which she says:
I think it's kind of ballsy to sit there and think that [people want to listen] if it wasn't special and we weren't trying to do something we would want to listen to. Why is this song actually here? Why is this song taking up two-and-a-half minutes of my life? Is it just because somebody doesn't have tape anymore and so the amount of recording space is unlimited? That's why I'm sitting here listening to this, because nothing stopped you from doing it, but there's not really a reason to do it? I don't know. If that was me, and I was listening to me, I would get mad, like, "Why are you fucking doing this?" It doesn't have to be great, but it seems like at least there should be kind of a reason. And it's hard to come up with a fucking good reason to write something, I think.

Kim Deal is onto something: The fact that we must value an act of writing that is extraordinary and makes us think and feel unique thoughts and feelings. The rapid-fire pace of digital recording may lead to inferior music.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Style Over Substance, Again

On a recent episode of South Park called "Guitar Queer-o" Stan and Kyle have become obsessed with the "Guitar Hero" video game, in which contestants use a controller that simulates a guitar. Stan's dad comes in and asks them if they want to learn how to play real guitar, as he breaks into a song by Kansas. "Nah, that's gay," says Cartman. "Yeah, Dad," says Stan, "real guitar is for old people." For Millenials, real isn't necessarily better and might actually be worse. South Park is perfectly tuned in to the aesthetic of kids -- my own son recently tried a Wii and argued for buying one by stating that he could play the Wii instead of real sports: "It's the same thing, you're still moving your arm." On South Park, it turns out that Stan is much better at Guitar Hero than Kyle. The question this raises is "what is talent?" and is talent for playing a video game worth less than the talent required for playing with other objects? Will the winner of a Guitar Hero tournament someday earn more than Eric Clapton or Eddie Van Halen? Talent in authorship and songwriting have always had intrinsic value, but as interactive social media become more pervasive, will showmanship and style trump creative content? Will form become dominant over content? Will virtual worlds and social media beget a triumph of style over substance?

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Lament of Fragmentation: Doris Lessing vs. TechCrunch

This morning, on TechCrunch, "Nobel Laureate Says The Internet Makes Us Dumb, We Say: Meh," Duncan Riley complains that recent Nobel Laureate winner, Doris Lessing, dissed the Internet with these recent comments:
We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women, who have had years of education, to know nothing of the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers

TechCrunch's sassy, condescending attitude aside, Riley does not help refute Ms. Lessing's statement by championing Wikipedia as evidence that people can get smart by reading things on the Internet. What TechCrunch should point out is that smart people are using the Internet and reading and writing as much as ever. They just don't happen to sit down and read a novel for several hours on end as much as previous generations. Lessing and many others are sincerely worried about what will happen to narrative and the quality of knowledge as attention spans get increasingly shorter.

David Brooks recently made a point similar to Lessing's in his article "The Segmented Society," in which he laments the fact that music no longer helps to unite society now that niche markets are so fragmented. What Lessing and Brooks have to realize is that digital media demands fragmentation, and it is our job to use these fragments as building blocks to create something new and valuable.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

How Video Games Are Like Blogs

My sons and I like to play Super Smash Bros. on Nintendo's Game Cube. Through an avatar, you engage in hand-to-hand combat and hurl bombs, fire and other artilery and magic at your opponent. You have powers inherent to your selected character and you bring your unique personality to the fight via how you move and the weapons you choose to use. Each participant is a collaboration of man and machine. When I play sports with my sons, I am getting all "man." When I engage with them on video games, I get an experience of them filtered through the game. It is not as complete of a picture. This is similar to blogs. A discussion carried out via the filtration system of text and HTML is different than one carried out in person, with all the senses engaged.

Friday, December 7, 2007

"...we know it wasn't the fish."

Social Media Today sponsored a Webinar called "Using Social Media to Grow Your Business," featuring Seth Godin, Steve Mann and Jeremiah Oywang. Seth Godin advised that not all companies are ready to engage in social media. He said you have to be ready to adopt and embrace the new technology and a key to success is having good-naturedness and humility, which is vital to participation in social networks. Most CEOs aren't wired that way and so they should find someone else in their organization who can respond with humility, candor and in a timely manner. Steve Mann, head of customer experience for SAP, agreed but warned that 80 million Millennials are entering the marketplace as digital natives who expect ALL companies to engage with them in social media. Every organization needs to prepare for it, even if they aren't there yet. This reminds me of a quote from Marshall McLuhan: "We don't know who discovered water, but we know it wasn't the fish." Digital media is to Millenials like water is to's all they know and air (broadcast media) doesn't make any sense to them. For any brand and its message to be relevant, it has to live in the new medium. For now and into the future this means swimming within the collaborative norms of social media.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Notes on Digital Hollywood

Facebook is becoming the new living room, a pre-broadcast era place where families meet to gather around the piano and share songs and ideas. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you have an opportunity to experience one of the most compelling areas of the Internet, a place where you can express your individuality and hang with your friends in a meaningful and intimate way. Unlike MySpace, you can only see Facebook pages by invitation and the content tends to be cleaner, more thoughtful and more centered around group identities and ideas, as opposed to the rock and roll party-line that MySpace has become.

At the Digital Hollywood conference last week, Matt Cohler, Facebook’s VP of Strategy said that he thinks of this new media environment as being mostly centered around User Generated Programming, rather than thinking of it as User Generated Content. Many at the conference spoke of how Facebook is becoming their primary filter for using the Internet, and that they discover most of their new music, books and video via recommendations on friends’ Facebook pages, and rarely surf mainstream media sites. An audience member at one panel said he cringes every time he gets a regular email on his new iPhone, but looks forward to Facebook emails because Facebook formats perfectly on his phone, whereas his regular email is slow and clunky.

With the emergence of social networks and social media , we are witnessing the evolution of the Internet, in which the very DNA of the Web is becoming structured by and around social networks and mirrors off-line societal constructions. Online constituencies and groups are forming and overlapping in an endless interchange of ideas and media, forming their own rule sets and agendas, lingos and creeds. From politics, to sports, to music and marketing, social networks are becoming the new Agora, an all-encompassing marketplace of politics, ideas and objects.

The digital structure of the Internet, its very hardware, ensures conformity and provides a construct that enables social networks to form organically. It’s why we call algorithmic-based search “organic”, whereas paid search is “managed.” The premise of organic content, like organic search, is that it exists because individual, non-corporate interests are expressed in the form of informational and educational fan-sites, hobby sites, government sites, and discussion forums. (In its purest form, Affiliate Marketing programs are simply where users with similar interests share their traffic.) Sites are non-organic, or managed, if the site publisher is paying to promote the site and drive traffic to it. A recent example is, whose recent $100 million ad campaign (see: is largely traditional, managed and corporate, and thus the Ask brand seems inauthentic and less organic. Google grew most its traffic organically, so even though it has become the multi-billion dollar titan of online advertising, the Google brand still seems hip and organic when compared to Ask. The emerging Internet generation is immune to broadcast style, push-style advertising and as such, only companies that master the art of active engagement and conversational marketing will thrive. If Ask’s new universal search is really such a great experience, and perhaps it is, they would be wise to spend more of their budget on online word-of-mouth, and less on TV ads.

Online social media platforms conform to specific rules and processes just as they empower political conformity. Ideologues of all stripes can log on, surf their favorites, and never encounter political ideas different from their own. This is one of the most dangerous aspects of the new social network based Internet. In the broadcast media dominant environment of the 20th century, citizens had only three main TV news sources, and each source had to present fair and balanced stories, because they needed to attract audiences across the political spectrum. But, starting in the 1980s, as we went from 10 TV stations, to 100, to 1000 in a matter of 15 years, and then the Internet turned on and quickly accelerated the number into the millions, with each Web site being its own TV station or newspaper. And now Facebook and other social networks, empower ALL users to become their own TV programers, student newspapers, or skate parks, with Virtual Worlds and Second Lives available to all.

This conformity, this tendency of like-minded publishers and channels to congregate with each other, is part of our DNA. For the first few million years of human evolution we congregated in tribes in order to survive. During millions of years our brains became wired to expect and demand conformity. It’s why we feel guilty if we act too selfishly. To succeed in a tribe, on a hunt, or during a drought, everyone needs to share, collaborate and cooperate. If someone is worried too much about herself, or is too weak to keep up, it risks the survival of all. So the crazy, sick or egotistical, were banned, or beaten, or shunned, but as we developed agriculture and then civilization, the powerful, cunning and strong, eventually rose from being tribal leaders, to chieftains, then kings. And so the world of offline politics is playing itself out online, too, with the tribal leaders all vying for control (Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook and NewsCorp) just as the masses, via their social networks become more organized and influential. Modern politics can be seen in the context of this balance between the largely tribal need for conformity and the newly empowered individual, whose very independence, freedom and capacity for self-expression is drawn from civilization, from economic models that allow individuals to work on the production of ideas and services, rather than only commodities and basic necessities.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Orwellian, Again

In his news conference today, President Bush said, “My head also tells me that al Qaeda is a serious threat to our homeland... Their objective is to impose their vision on the world.” Are we really supposed to believe that al Qaeda could transform the West into a feudalistic society based on the concepts of Islamic extremists? The President believes we must stay in Iraq because if we don’t fight them there, then they are going to invade and impose their vision on us. This is absurd. Net-centric warfare is a key to any military success in the 21st century. It is the only way to influence hearts and minds. And that means we need to be dealing with terrorism on the Internet and in the networks that influence terrorists. Armed invasions of countries only energize terror networks, they do not interact with them in the network and therefore cannot influence or control them.