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.