Category: technology

Meatpuppets & Transmedia Storytelling

In the early days of online politics, we invented a way to unfold key points of a campaign’s narrative in different online niches — depending on which demographic we needed to clue in. For example, the 2,100,000 active bloggers in the atheism subReddit could be counted on as a receptive audience for messages warning about theocratic Governor Huckabee, and for fundraising for the secular group “Doctors Without Borders” rather than faith-based charities.

Some strategists proposed using meatpuppets – a practice like sockpuppetry, except you drop the intel in online conversation using real interns or real staff identities versus invented personas. Most politicians and political organizations feared blowback from opponents, so almost every linkdrop came from the organization’s official office accounts. Also, we usually linked to some news story that was already out there on the internet rather than a leak.

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Steven Spielberg Hearts Transmedia

This is what I mean when I urge storytellers to think of unfurling their stories "outside the box." Only Stephen Spielberg calls it "the square." “I believe we need to get rid of the proscenium,” Spielberg said. “We’re never going to be totally immersive as long as we’re looking at a square, whether it’s a movie screen or whether it’s a computer screen. We’ve got to get rid of that and we’ve got to put the player [viewer] inside the experience. That’s the future.” (Steven Spielberg, June 2013)

Writer on Your Show? Show the Writing

Netflix’ great House of Cards has this character named Zoe Barnes who writes for a political news website called “Slugline.”

In the wake of the NSA’s PRISM wiretapping controversy, I went looking for slugline.com. Nothing. What an obvious missed transmedia opportunity!

Yes, some fans are having fun on Twitter but it doesn’t appear directed – yet.

It wouldn’t take much effort to maintain an online presence at Slugline.com. The payoffs could be great fun for the audience. In the show, there are interesting political intrigue bits mentioned in passing about the political context of that world, many of which serve to paint a fuller picture of the characters’ tense lives. Because the writing is so good, many threads are picked up in subsequent episodes, they converge and become plot points. But lots of these political tidbits don’t rise to that level. These could be used as set-ups for online payoffs which are focused via Slugline.com.

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Appointment TV and Character Blogs

Evan Shapiro of Pivot wrote about the decline of the traditional nationwide scheduled television model, sometimes referred to as Appointment Television; when everyone watched the same revenue-generating commercials at the same time:

“While we will never return to the days when 67 million people watched All In The Family each and every week, I do think we will see a return to live viewing around shows of social significance — especially if we build access points to those shows for the viewers who most want them.”

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Europe’s The Spiral is Great TV 2.0

With American TV borrowing so much from Scandinavia, England, and Israel for our best TV shows, how about we borrow from Europe’s best transmedia television phenomenon: The Spiral.

What a sensational experience.
American TV has a long history of adapting foreign TV shows. From classics like All in the Family, Cheers, The Office, to even American Idol and Survivor. Some of the smartest, most original shows are imports. In Treatment, The Killing, Homeland, Shameless and more. I don’t know if it’s Hollywood risk aversion / underestimation of American audiences, but innovative TV often comes to us from abroad.

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Syfy’s Defiance and Transmedia TV Gold

My interest in transmedia storytelling exists at the intersection of my obsessions with participatory culture, new media, and entertainment. I believe storytellers can create deeper experiences for their audiences when they unfold a story and its world via multiple venues, and when they invite audiences to participate meaningfully in that world—especially when storytellers strategize the unfolding of the adventure on multiple media from the outset of the project.

High engagement yields high-payoffs. In politics, this would be like when you turn your orgs’ mission statement into a narrative that reads like a DIY movement. The Dean campaign was that kind of thing. Similarly, Sleep No More is my kind of theatre project. And on TV, Syfy‘s Defiance is what I want to see more of. There’s a lot more TV shows with cool transmedia integration every season. And the demand is growing.

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CBS Interactive: On a Path to Solving the Piracy Problem

A stat from Jeffrey Cole, Director of the Center for the Digital Future, of the Annenberg School furthers one my favorite theories about TV’s evolution. When talking about second screen usage, he notes that: 42% of TV viewers were online at the same time that they watched TV – looking at related content (a still-growing number that tripled in just a few months).

I think it’s obvious that the 42% of TV viewers who go online to see more about the TV content they’re watching do not go online to find and watch the exact same video clips that they’re watching on their TV machines. What are they looking for? And why?

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Transmedia, TV Time and the Brain

So what the hell is Transmedia? It is not watching a TV show on an iPad. That’s “watching TV.”

It is not telling many stories in the same universe on one TV screen. That’s “franchising,” like the Marvel Universe movies.

Ideally, transmedia is the telling of a story on multiple platforms. By this definition, the earliest example of transmedia storytelling is with the Bible: a book, plays, music, paintings, stained-glass, sculpture, and meetups (designed to trigger every one of our five senses) all helping tell the story.

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Preventing Cut and Paste TV

Clay Shirky wrote a great article that contained another example of how we must adapt or die:

Fifteen years ago, a research group called The Fraunhofer Institute announced a new digital format for compressing movie files. This wasn’t a terribly momentous invention, but it did have one interesting side effect: Fraunhofer also had to figure out how to compress the soundtrack. The result was the Motion Picture Experts Group Format 1, Audio Layer III, a format you know and love, though only by its acronym, MP3.
The recording industry concluded this new audio format would be no threat, because quality mattered most. Who would listen to an MP3 when they could buy a better-sounding CD at the record store? Then Napster launched, and quickly became the fastest-growing piece of software in history. The industry sued Napster and won.
If Napster had only been about free access, control of legal distribution of music would then have returned the record labels. That’s not what happened. Instead, Pandora happened. Last.fm happened. Spotify happened. ITunes happened. Amazon began selling songs in the hated MP3 format…
The people in the music industry weren’t stupid, of course. They had access to the same internet the rest of us did. They just couldn’t imagine—and I mean this in the most ordinarily descriptive way possible—could not imagine that the old way of doing things might fail. Yet things did fail, in large part because, after Napster, the industry’s insistence that digital distribution be as expensive and inconvenient as a trip to the record store suddenly struck millions of people as a completely terrible idea.

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Parks & Rec Transmedia Wins

Parks & Recreation is great. And it’s also doing a lot of transmedia storytelling right.
I watch TV with a device on my lap, and when Amy Poehler’s character ran for City Council, I went looking for her campaign website because that’s literally my background: I used to do transmedia storytelling strategy in politics. I was happy to find that NBC, the production company, and/or the writers had a funny site up and running. Bravo.

The site’s full of great callbacks to jokes from previous episodes. There’s funny writing in character voices. And like any real campaign website, you can sign up for election updates, newsletters, you can take actions for the campaign, you can even buy real merch, and they invite you to follow the characters on social media. The characters have twitter accounts.

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What’s Outside the Box

Gen Y and the early Millennials are the last group of people who will remember broadcast ubiquity and an advertisers’ ability to rent a captive audience. They’re also the last who remember the internet as a collection of websites. They’re very key to the future budgets of Film and TV because of this history and adaptability.

First, some background: the internet’s most recent evolution was described by Wired Magazine’s editor-in-chief Chris Anderson in his provocative article “The web is dead, long live the internet” as the rise of apps, offering smoothed-off portals to the mountains of data out there on the internet. Custom tools, good for no other purpose but as the app intends.

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What Buzzfeed Has To Teach Television

I’ve been writing a lot about multidimensional (multi-screen) storytelling in film and television. The goal is to use the New Media forces that some perceive as a threat to the industry, and instead, use these things to our advantage.

First, how does one properly use New Media at all? It’s obvious that the internet is more nimble than an older industry like Television or Film. So start by looking at the shifting ways smart websites make money. Can these lessons be applied to television? Yes, some.

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Film & TV 2.0

Around 2003, after Democrats were walloped in the midterms, and the established liberal advocacy organizations in D.C. proved unable to register any victories against President Bush, the Professional Left was desperate. So desperate that many Dems and lots of orgs actually hired a bunch of bloggers and technology geeks to try something new – anything new. I was one of those strategy kids. I always brought my background in theatre/film to the table, stressing the need for a coherent story with respect to “the battle of narratives” element of politics. However much I stressed story stuff like identify the bad guy, or choose conflict, our essential challenge was to figure out how to use the nascent internet to do good, and do it well, in D.C.

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The Problem With Electric Cars

crossposted from This Place Is Different.

The problem with electric cars is they’re ugly. Or impossibly expensive.

The reason why every fourth car in my neighborhood is a Prius? Consider the competition: The Volt, while nice looking, is like twenty thousand dollars more. The Nissan Leaf, no matter how cool the technology sounds, it looks like a broken toe crossed with an old couch.

For our second car, I’d like an electric, but why, God, are there so few electric cars that don’t look like crap? I want an electric coupe. How hard is that?! I want two doors, I want little. I hate hauling around three empty seats in my car when I drive.

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Hyperdistribution Theory

Mark Pesce, a media professor at the University of Sydney, lectures on his “Hyperdistribution Theory.” The theory is predicated on a few assumptions: the internet’s revolutionizing effect on content distribution has transformed how advertising must relate to content, and also how viewers react to advertisers.

Traditional advertising is increasingly losing its effectiveness. One marketing trade publication said that television advertising is only one-third as effective as it was in 1990. Only 14% of people say they trust it, and only 16% are even watching the ad. So television advertising as it has existed is not sustainable.

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Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini

When Rome fell and libraries were burned, all the works of Epicurean poet Lucretius nearly disappeared. It’s understandable that the Church would go after Lucretius, as he excoriated religion. His master work was called “On The Nature of Things.”

The Dark Ages snuffed out the book, and with it, most details of Epicuranism – the view that the universe is atomic, made of matter, and our behavior should be based on the idea that fear destroys, and that a balance of knowledge and humility is the key to happiness (though you can’t get enough of both).

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Tech and Self

Fun art installation idea about how technology can obfuscate one’s projection of self:

Cinemagram makes moving gifs of a few frames. There’s this feature where you can edit out a portion of the gif and overlay a static shot that “fills in” the deleted area. The right side of this window, for instance:

What if you can do the same thing but with a video feed? So instead of a gif of the guy walking, there could be a live video stream of a street corner?

Some artist hangs a smartphone-scannable QR code on telephone poles at street corners.

And that URL is a video feed of a nearby surveillance camera – a camera with a bird’s eye view of that corner. Live. Traffic visible in the street in the background.

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Departures Magazine: “The Coolest New Website on the Internet”

This was nice of them to say:

The Coolest New Website on the Internet
By Eric Klinenberg, Sep-2010

The creators of the networking site itsasickness.com are betting our obsessions will be the Internet’s next big thing. Behind the scenes at Departures’ photo shoot, the three founders—including actor Alan Cumming—discuss their own “sicknesses” and why our fixations are what make us most interesting.

“This is how we use the Internet already—we just don’t admit how wonderfully weird and funny it is,” says Barnaby Harris, referring to his new website, itsasickness.com, a portal for anyone who’s obsessed with something and wants to “geek out” about it online. “We encourage people to acknowledge their sickness,” Harris says, “and help them see that other people have it, too.”

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What Sick Is

There are TV shows about illness.
Those shows are about addicts with addictions.
Those shows are about the imbalanced with obsessive disorders.
Those other shows’ treatment of their subject matter ranges from clinical diagnosis to freakshow exploitation.

itsasickness celebrates interesting people – the most interested people in the world: the sick.

When I met my wife, it struck me that she was the most interesting person I had ever met in my life.  In our first conversation that night she geeked out about her obsessions.  At the time they were Django Reinhardt, her friend Frankie Manning, poet John Donne, the chemistry of nutrition and more.  I geeked out about my then-current obsessions which were the math of classical Indian ragas, politics, film, Salinger.  We talked all night and into the morning. I would have married her that very day.

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New York Times on Branded Content

The Times reports on the spread of branded content.  A few quotations stood out for me as furthering theories:

This branded content, the term for products figuring prominently without being overtly sold, is reminiscent of “The Hire,” a series of short films by BMW that featured its cars. Produced in 2001 and 2002, the films had directors like Ang Lee and John Woo and included actors like Clive Owen and Don Cheadle.

The article is about how this website called Massify (where amateur filmmakers vie for the chance to shoot artsy commercials for products) teamed up with an Oscar winning production company Killer Films who chose the best script.

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