TheNew20


I smell fear
January 7, 2010, 8:43 pm
Filed under: Media | Tags: , , ,

In a January 6th blog posting, actress, writer, and all-around nerd-genre-genius Felicia Day takes to task an article published in a recent issue of Vanity Fair magazine. The article, written by Vanessa Grigoriadis, is about women who have used Twitter successfully to raise their professional profile – to gain “Twilebrity” status, as the article puts it. Day herself, whose feed has more than 1.7 million subscribers, was one of those women profiled.

As Day notes, on one level the fact that this article was written at all is fairly exciting for people interested in social media, since it means that a major mainstream news outlet is taking an interest in a still fringe-y media source, providing a certain degree of validation for those whose claims that social media is the future have long been met with skepticism and ostentatious eye-rolling. Furthermore, the article focuses on women who are helping to lead the evolution of the media landscape, an area not always known for being equally accessible to both sexes. Good stuff all around.

Or at least it would be good stuff if not for the numerous examples that Day points out indicating that the writer either doesn’t know a thing about social media or doesn’t take it or its practitioners particularly seriously (or, more likely, both). Take these little gems for example:

“For tweeple, e-mail messages are sonnets, Facebook is practically Tolstoy. ‘Facebook is just way too slow,’ says Stefanie Michaels. ‘I can’t deal with that kind of deep engagement.'”

“‘Sometimes,’ says Julia Roy, a 26-year-old New York social strategist turned twilebrity, scrunching her face, ‘when you’re Twittering all the time, you even start to think in 140 characters.'”

(I particularly like Day’s response to the second quotation: “‘Scrunching her face?!’ Oh gosh, thinking is hard!”)

I’ll dispense with any further analysis, since Day’s blog does a much better job of that than I could, so you’re probably best off just to read her posting on the subject. Go ahead, read it now – I’ll wait.

But there is one thing I would like to point out, and that’s the likely motivation for the tone of this stupid article: fear.

The traditional publishing industry is in serious trouble. More and more consumers are getting their news, entertainment gossip, and whatever else was formerly available strictly on the newsstand from online media sources. Now that hand-held web-browsers are in such wide circulation, the rate at which people abandon their daily newspapers and monthly celebrity magazines in favour of their iPhones and BlackBerries is only going to increase.

Not only that, the rise of social media has made it possible for anyone to be a publisher (this is not news). And as more and more talented writers choose to publish online rather than through traditional channels, those online sources are rapidly gaining credibility (this is sort of news), taking away one of the few major advantages the traditional media had left and flooding the media pool with competition – competition that, unlike say Vanity Fair, has low overhead and has learned that you write for business development, not for business. These people are therefore much less worried about the revenue from their media outlet and can give their content away for free, which gives them a significant competitive advantage over the old-guard (this is big news).

The scariest part for peddlers of traditional media is that these low-cost outlets are proving just as desirable for readers as their high-cost competitors. Felica Day’s Twitter feed (@feliciaday), for example, has more than 1.7 million subscribers; Vanity Fair‘s monthly subscribers only number about 1.1 million. Those are scary numbers for an organization with a vested interest in making sure that their (much more expensive) medium is the one attracting the most readers.

So it’s no wonder that they’d take such a snarky tone towards social media – if their capital can’t help them, what weapon do they have left to protect their market share, aside from barely-veiled attacks on their competition’s credibility? To be fair, it may just be that the writer isn’t into social media and – mistakenly – adopted a tone appropriate for a fluff piece about a faddish, passing trend, rather than a proper examination of a media game-changer.

Either way, you can’t ignore the fact that there is blood in the water – and from reading between the lines in this article, Vanity Fair knows it.



Making Media Predictions
December 5, 2009, 12:30 pm
Filed under: Media | Tags: , , , , ,

Making predictions about where the world is headed – especially the world of media and technology – is a dice game at best. We’ve all heard (and laughed at) the ones that failed to come true (here are some good ones). However, the subject of the current direction of media technology just seems to keep coming up in my conversations with people these days, so let’s have a go at it. In 10 years, feel free to laugh at me when none of these come true.

DVDs are the last hard medium
Has anyone else noticed how little everyone seemed to care about the fact that Blueray beat out HD DVD to become the home movie industry’s official next-generation format? For something that was supposed to change the home entertainment market as much as the VHS/Beta battle or the invention of the DVD itself, nobody really seems all that fussed about the fact that all of our DVD players are supposed to become obsolete in the next few years.

Maybe it’s because everything is going online – with more and more material becoming available via download-on-demand, the rapid increase in worldwide broadband penetration, and the availability of hi-def features over cable, it’s just not worth it to upgrade your hard-media player anymore. Even video games are going online – Wii users are able to download and play games from older Nintendo systems, for example, and one next generation handheld – the new PSP – makes games available by download only. With the convenience and quality of online content, there is just no reason to waste space and material on hard media – and it may just be that DVDs are the last of their kind. 

Copyright laws are going to change to reflect the new media environment
I was watching a UFC event on cable the other weekend and at one point, one of the announcers had to read out the obligatory statement threatening legal action against anyone who copied or rebroadcast the program without permission. The announcer had barely finished the last sentence of the disclaimer when his partner (Joe Rogan – what a guy) piped up with something along the lines of “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you can’t stop the internet, baby.” It was hilarious and, more importantly, it points out the futility of copyright laws based on 18th century principles of content distribution.

With the rise of digital media, these principles (e.g., exclusive ownership of the content by the author, exclusive control by one party over the means and the channels of distribution) just don’t hold anymore, and laws created and enforced by people who still cling to them are bound to become irrelevant and fall apart, if for no other reason that they become essentially unenforceable (ask the RIAA). The question, of course, is that if nobody is following the laws, nobody seems all that upset when they’re broken, and attempts to enforce the laws are often met with indifference or scorn, do the laws still reflect and work towards the needs of the population? And if not, shouldn’t they change?

Social networking will become the new dominant mode of communication
This is a no-brainer. We’ve all seen this. We all know that everyone – everyone – is already on some kind of social network somewhere. And at least a few people know that social networking now is as important to communication as email was in the 90s. It’s a game-changer, and before long, not having a profile on at least one social networking site will make you look about as ridiculous as you would right now if you didn’t have an email (or, for that matter, a phone number)

One-way communication will become completely obsolete
Audiences will come to expect the ability to engage with content to the point that content producers will not be able to get away with one-way communication – your resource either enables two-way communication (which means the online version becomes the centre-piece) or your resource dies. Content will be about creating a community, not about just informing an audience. One-way communication will become obsolete.
 

Print media’s role within the media environment will radically shift
I will stop at predicting the demise of printed media – but, given the above, plus the fact that hand-held browsers and readers take away print’s last major competitive edge (portability), it will stop being the cornerstone of…well, really anything. It will be a peripheral element of the media environment, not its centre like it is now (or was five years ago – you could argue this has already happened). It will still provide a certain type of experience that digital media can’t replicate (there are tactile elements to reading a newspaper, for example, that I imagine some people find comforting), but as generations grow up with digital media and, thus, don’t care about those types of experiences, even that advantage will fade away.

 And finally –

Pong: The Movie will become a reality
It’ll happen. Just wait.



Reality TV and children – the case of the Balloon-kid
October 16, 2009, 11:15 am
Filed under: Media | Tags: , , , ,

So here’s an interesting thought coming out of yesterday’s whole balloon-kid fiasco. And I’m going to keep this short because this story is getting really old really fast.

But I’m interested in the speculation over whether or not this whole thing was a hoax, fomented by the balloon-kid’s statement on Larry King that he didn’t come out of hiding when he heard his parents calling him because they “had said that we did this for a show”. At first I thought that this was just a case of a bad publicity stunt, perpetuated by attention whores of the worst ilk, being accidentally (and hilariously) debunked by a kid saying the darndest thing.

But now I’m starting to wonder about the kid’s grasp of reality. After all, this was not his first time on television, the family having made two appearances on ABC’s reality show Wife Swap. And it poses the question – does a six-year-old child have a firm enough grasp on the difference between TV and reality to know where one stops and the other starts? Especially when, during his formative years, he was at the centre of a spectacle that purposely blurs the lines between the two?

Maybe he just thinks that whenever your personal life receives attention from the outside, it’s for TV? (Which, now that I think about it, is not that far fetched.)

Or is it possible that, having grown up in an environment where the most important part of “reality” is creating a spectacle for the camera, that he behaved in the way that would prolong the spectacle because he thinks that’s just what people do? Maybe his parents didn’t put him up to it at all – maybe he did it “for the show” all by himself.

I sometimes wonder what effects reality shows featuring young kids – Supernanny, Wife Swap, or John and Kate Plus 8, for example – have on those kids and their perception of how the world works. I wonder if the balloon-kid fiasco is going to shed some light on this question. I always figured that reality TV would spell the end of humanity – but this is a wrinkle even I didn’t anticipate.



Advice on life and career from Wolverine
August 10, 2009, 8:47 pm
Filed under: Media | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Really good advice is rare, especially when it comes to figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life. I can literally count on one hand the number of times I’ve received really good advice on either of these topics.

One of those times, the advice came from the father of a friend of mine, who told me that no matter what you do for a living, there will always be moments of boredom and tedium.

Even the most exciting job in the world has days where you’d rather be doing something else. This is a phenomenally and necessarily sobering idea that has kept me from getting discouraged when I hit those “dip” moments, when the excitement of some pursuit starts to (temporarily) give way to those phases when it just feels like work.

Another time was a bit of insight on rejection from Stephen King’s On Writing, which I’ve mentioned before.

Most recently, I found some great advice in, of all places, an issue of Amazing Spider-Man: Extra!, released this past winter. The advice comes in the form of a story that the character Wolverine tells Spider-Man after the two of them get into a bar fight together.

The story is about dating and the advice is about fighting (I’ll let you make your own pithy observations about that little juxtaposition), but it could just as easily apply to starting a writing career or, indeed, just getting your life together.

The bar fight was a fairly pointless one: Spider-Man and Wolverine weren’t really foiling super-villainy, they were just – as Wolverine puts it – “blowing off steam.” Spider-man, being an eternal worrywart, asks Wolverine why he would take the risk of getting in a fight when there was so little to gain.

Wolverine responds with this story, which an old army officer once told to him:

***

“It’s about a good guy, like you (Spider-Man). He grew up poor, though around people like him. People who dressed a little shabby but good people nonetheless.

But he decided he was meant for somethin’ better. He wasn’t gonna settle for any plain woman like his pops had. He was gonna marry a beauty… nothin’ short of a knockout.

So he stayed away from the neighborhood girls, even though some of ‘em woulda been happy to show ‘im a thing or two. But he waited.

Months of waitin’ turned into years and people started to talk. But he didn’t care. He was waitin’ for his perfect girl. A stunner.

And one day, what do you know, he found her. Everything he’d hoped for. Smooth skin, big eyes…a knockout.

He chased her like his life depended on it, and she must’ve seen something in his enthusiasm, because eventually she relented.

This was it. His big moment. And you know what? He had no idea what to do. He kissed her with a dry mouth, fumbled with things he shouldn’t have, and before he knew it, the whole thing was over.

The beauty, unsatisfied, left him stunned and alone, wishin’ he’d let a few of those plain janes teach him a thing or two.”

***

What a great little analogy. The point – as I see it – is that nobody ever got anywhere by sitting around waiting for conditions to be perfect. Because even if – by some unlikely cosmic convergence – the perfect conditions DO present themselves, if all you’ve done is sit around waiting, you’ll be completely unprepared to capitalize on them when they do.

Progress comes from movement. Whether you’re trying out a new career or trying to get your work in the public eye or even trying to make sense of your dating life, taking risks by starting down a road you can’t necessarily see the end of is a good in itself – because chances are, the experience you gain will far outweigh anything you might have lost by taking it and finding out it was the wrong one.

The only wrong direction is no direction – as long as you’re moving, you’re on the right track.

Thanks for the good advice, Wolverine.

——————————————————————-

Wells, Zeb. “Birthday Boy”. Amazing Spider-Man: Extra! No. 2, March 2009. Published by Marvel Publishing Inc.



Social media is not technology
June 16, 2009, 1:05 pm
Filed under: Media | Tags: , , ,

The importance of social media is not the technology. In fact, it’s not even useful to think of individual examples of social media as technologies, it’s more useful to think of them as groups of people gathered in common, virtual, spaces.

The reason that this model of social media is more useful is that the importance of social media has nothing to do with individual technologies that community members use, but rather the a) new genres of communication that are being produced with the rise of social media activity and b) the new expectations that audiences have as a result.

For example, one of the values that seems to be emerging on the internet as a result of social media is the wisdom of the crowd – e.g., the value (esp. through increased authenticity) that content acquires when it is allowed to be reviewed openly by the audience. Blog postings and even major news sources, for example, look a lot more authentic when they enable comments to their postings – many of them also include links to Digg, Reddit, etc., that allow their content to participate in processes that allow the community to filter out the best and most interesting information.

There are even sites where content isn’t even published until it has been sufficiently vetted by the community (e.g., http://www.mylifeisaverage.com).

This level of audience involvement was unheard of 20 years ago when it was limited to call-in and game shows. But now two-way communication is the norm and that is going to change the way that content producers reach and relate to audiences.

On top of all this, the boundaries between the various social media spaces, marked solely by the technologies that people use to access them, are very quickly eroding as said technology develops. Many of the recent revisions to Facebook, for example (such as the changes to the wording of the status box to “what’s on your mind?” and the introduction of customized usernames and URLs for your profile) seem blatantly designed to make Facebook more Twitter-like, possibly in response to the threat that Twitter presents to Facebook’s marketshare.

Then there’s the fact that using freely-available software such as Tweetdeck, you can now read and update your Twitter feed(s) AND your Facebook status AND all your friends’ Facebook statuses AND access all your FB friends’ profiles AND keep track of your favourite blogs all in the same place.

In fact, right after I put up this blog posting, I will probably use Tweetdeck to post a notification about it to both my Twitter feed (www.twitter.com/iblechschmidt, if you care to follow me) and to my Facebook status.

Clearly, all of the major social media spaces are rapidly integrating and it’s only a matter of time until the divisions between the Twitter network and the Facebook network and the blogosphere and whatever else is out there just aren’t relevant, if those divisions even exist.

In 5 years (2 years! 6 months!) the specific network that someone is on will be about as relevant to your ability to network with them as the email client they use is to your ability to send them an email. The importance of social media, then, isn’t identifying the specific technology that will come out on top after the dust has settled, it’s learning how to use social media itself.



Simon Cowell, Schmimon Cowell
June 9, 2009, 5:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Stephen King wrote a book called On Writing that’s half auto-biography and half an advice piece for getting published as a fiction writer. One thing he says that’s always stuck with me is the fact that he got something like 200 rejection letters before someone finally decided to publish “Carrie” and he kept every single one of them. Apparently he found them motivating because they reminded him that at least he was doing everything he could to get his work out there.

I’ve always found this anecdote to be great motivation in the face of rejection (like now, for example, as I contemplate a rejection for one of my own recent submissions). I find it acts as kind of antidote to the nonsense myth that shows like American Idol or Britain’s Got Talent perpetuate, that finding an audience is a matter of having a ton of natural talent and just getting the chance to be discovered.

Bullshit.

Sure, raw talent helps, it might even be a requirement, but the most important ingredient to artistic success as far as I’m concerned is hard work and persistence. There is no such thing as an overnight success and I feel like a lot of people waste a lot of time and angst sitting around waiting to be discovered because they’re not willing to go out and pound the pavement a little, as though if you have to work to convince people to listen to you, it mars the purity of your talent. Or something.

When you really dig into the stories of many people’s careers, I imagine you’ll find that success is mostly a lot of thankless effort punctuated by one big break that wouldn’t have happened without the afore-mentioned thankless effort.

Sure, getting published is about being at the right place at the right time, but the more places you are and the more time you spend there, the more likely it is you’ll stumble over that magic opportunity. And the more work you put in, the more of the little baby steps you’ll be able to take that will give you access to those spaces where people are more likely to get noticed. And nobody is going to drag you into those places, you really have to take it on yourself to find them and then wriggle your way in.

In other words, screw American Idol – hard work gets you noticed and real artists make their own luck. Your best friend when it comes to getting published isn’t Simon Cowell, it’s you.