Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Uncreative Destruction, Stimulus Packages, & Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg

I loved Fifth Element when it came out in 1997, as well as Luc Besson's (of  The Transporter fame) vision of NYC in The Professional/Léon (1994) (this is the one where the original version/version integral creeped out US test audiences with this scene between Natalie Portman & Jean Reno) and Fifth Element (1997).  Years ago, when I was a student of the dismal science, I was faced with a similar paradox, as the one illustrated by Gary Oldman as Zorg.  The economist Joseph Schumpeter coined the term creative destruction (focusing on innovation as creatively destroying old ways of doing things), but can mere destruction or war serve the same ends?  Here's Zorg's soliloquy (at 00:44)::
"Life, which you so nobly serve, comes from destruction, disorder and chaos. Take this empty glass. Here it is, peaceful, serene and boring. But if it is...(pushs a glass of the table) destroyed...(robots come to clean up the mess) Look at all these little things. So busy now. Notice how each one is useful. What a lovely ballet ensues so full of form and color. Now, think about all those people that created them. Technicians, engineers, hundreds of people who'll be able to feed their children tonight so those children can grow up big and strong and have little teeny weeny children of their own, and so on and so forth. Thus, adding to the great chain... of life. You see, by creating a little destruction, I'm actually encouraging life."
  • What are your thoughts?
  • Should we consider desstruction as a way to stimulate the economy?
  • How might this logic be flawed?  How might it be on to something?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Web, Print, & the Singularity of Media

"There is ONE medium."

Will that be the forthcoming declarative utterance to end all utterances? If so, let me be one of the first few to coin it.

There has been a lot of buzz on web versus print with Clay Shirky (Shoutout to Temporaryversion) discussing the business implications of old models struggling to deal with new ones. (Here's an example by Shirky on why newspapers cannot adopt a iTunes-like model). I see one of the key challenges as culture, in that (North)American culture is one of what I call "quick cuts and remix." You see this in talk of convergence culture and Jenkins's book, which describes instances of the modalities and materialities (Pfeiffer) of media combining. We see in our everyday lives the Internet is taking over TV viewing time and also offering up viewing of broadcast TV/radio shows. We can read books online or on handheld devices like Kindle hooked to databases. Advertising and product placement are becoming more and more ubiquitous, so that this will be not so far-fetched. [Rhizom{iComm} is cutting-edge content provided free of charge by the Kenneth M. Kambara.]

We "scan" and read "at" things. If we (or our attention spans) are pinched for time, we get information by reading the Yahoo headlines, not the article. We are promiscuous in our media habits and don't want to pay for things we don't feel we should pay for.

Enter Walter Benjamin & Roger Chartier. Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (full text here) in my opinion is central to understanding what's going on. If we look at media content as "art," a pattern emerges:
"An analysis of art in the age of mechanical reproduction must do justice to these relationships, for they lead us to an all-important insight: for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the “authentic” print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice – politics."

Two things. I think that content isn't emancipated from ritual, but rather that new rituals and culturally-driven patterns of praxis (i.e., drivers of meaning) are created, often in unpredictable ways. Media content can now be taken and repurposed. The mashup is a perfect example, along with user-driven meanings in Web 2.0. The reference to politics as a basis is a nod to Benjamin's Marxism. I believe that media content and art now are squarely in the realm, not of politics, but of the political economy, specifically in terms of inter/actions in markets.

Roger Chartier in The Order of Books notes that in studying print capitalism, in order to understand it within a cultural context, we need to address (1) the text (content), (2) the book (media), and (3) reading practices. There has been a lot of attention on the first two, but less solid understanding on the reading of media. What Jenkins teaches us through his thick description of the current media milieu is that the lines between media are blurring. We see it in the modes and materialities, but also in the economics. I feel we are moving towards a singularity of media. For example, some will say print and broadcast TV are both dead, as both will soon be killed by the web. That's the wrong way of thinking. This assumes a linearity akin to upshifting a manual transmission.

"Valentine: Lindsay's Adventures in Wonderland" (2007) --14
image::  "Valentine: Lindsay's Adventures in Wonderland" (2007)  --14 (artist)

In terms of media praxis, success will often be about creating models of how they can be intertwined to create value. Take any pop culture figure, such as Lindsay Lohan. She's in film, she's a singer, a celebrity newsmaker and tabloid fodder, and the butt of the satirists' joke (above). The Internet is moving towards collapsing all paths to Lindsay into a single LindsayÜberstraße, a vertitable autobahn of linked Web 2.0 content.

I think it is telling that the Journalism School at CUNY, which is earning a reputation for being on the leading edge, is no longer requiring students to commit to a media track. Additionally, with integrated market communications (IMC), there will be increasing market-based pressures to view media as one. A future post will grapple with the Deleuzean idea of singularity and how it applies to media. I think we need to address how people are "reading" all media in this Web 2.0 age. Why? We finally might get a handle on figuring out how the new technologies will specifically transform culture, economics, and society.

Is print dead? What about the demise of the Fourth estate, perhaps a linchpin of democracy? Well, someone else said this, not me, but I'm more interested in good journalism than newspapers. The problem is that newspapers and the news media are often tied to economic imperatives, which is (in my opinion) a historical trajectory that is by no means set. We need to think about content in the age of infinite replication, which makes Benjamin such an important figure.

My friend Mimi Zeiger at Loudpaper blogged about the state of print. I think it's important to think about the implications of the functions of journalism and publishing and how these will be manifested, as media goes singular. I personally feel a certain fondness for actual printed work. It may have more to do with the specific æsthetics of the medium than anything and possibly the tactile experience.

  • Do you think it's useful to think of media as singular?

  • What is the future of print?

For those who feel they have something important to say, I'll leave you with the following, a portrait of Miranda July.

"Portrait of Miranda July" (2008) Ed Templeton"

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I saw this on IBD in an AP article on how startups are still alive and well.  "Demo Day" in Silicon Valley allowed mostly 20-something inventors to pitch their ideas to investors.  One of them was Jodie Griggs (above) of Nambii.  
"The startup provides iPhone dating applications that can be used to flirt with people near you."
It's part of a new wave of applications that are taking advantage of SNS and smaller mobile platforms like iPhone.  Making hookups easier one byte at a time.

The Darlings of the Indie Internet Music Scene

I learned of Ingrid Michaelson when I heard her "Winter Song" collaboration with Sara Bareilles (vidcap) over the holidays. Sara had a very catchy song last year with "Love Song."

Ingrid has leveraged Web 2.0 to jumpstart her career and thwart the mainstream model my class saw depicted in "The Way the Music Died." In 2006, Ingrid uploaded her entirely self-produced album Girls and Boys to her MySpace page. There, it caught the eye of a licensing and management firm who got her songs out there in a big way, including 3 on Grey's Anatomy. That show, with its audience demos and ratings can catapult artists. The Jealous Girlfriends also were featured on the show which helped to get them exposed in a big way. Here's a link to TJG's "Something in the Water" on Last.fm. Ingrid's exposure got her album Girls and Boys to the #2 spot on the iTunes charts. (Today, global and US music download sales are 15% and 30% of total music sales, respectively. iTunes is around 57% market share of online music.)

In case you're wondering, yes, Ingrid's on Twitter and even made a Twitter song.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rolling (OTFLMAO) Cisco Fatty


It's job interviewing season, but don't let this happen to you.  But am I talking to interviewees or hiring companies?  A Twitter user, theconnor {now set to private} offered up the following tweet:
"Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work."
Then, Tim Levad, a Cisco "channel partner advocate" chimed in:
"Who is the hiring manager[?] I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web."
Ugggghhh.  Cringe.  Almost immediately, there was a frenzied deluge of critical posts and Internet sleuthing.  A website was even created based on a new meme, Cisco Fatty, and Helen A. S. Popkin wrote a MSNBC article blathering on-and-on  about theconnor's faux pas and how this is a cautionary tale.  Really?  Maybe MSNBC and Popkin should try to tweet news stories under 140 characters & get to the point more.  Speaking of which...

All of this stirred the pot, as theconnor, TimLevad, and Cisco were scrutinized by the denizens of Web 2.0.  One commentor wondered why is Cisco hiring theconnor after announcing layoffs.  While there may be a good reason, it nevertheless highlights the unpredictability of Web 2.0 and how perceptions can take on a life of their own, particularly after a story goes viral.

theconnor herself  offered up a very even-handed mea culpa post-mortem of the situation.  
"Cisco never did anything to me. I have no complaints about the company and apologize for any damage this situation has done to their image in anyone’s mind. What started as one individual calling me out quickly escalated into a major schadenfreude event, which in turn has quickly escalated into a media bandwagon."
I saw this story evolve and I must admit I was irked by MSNBC's snarky coverage of it.  The story is all about tapping into readers' insecurities about the current job market and warning employees about how they really need to be mindful of Web 2.0, so they're not the subject of the next epic fail.  It served to fan the flames of anger towards theconnor, as one of the "haves" who not only has a job, but one that makes bank.  Popkin chastises theconnor:
"It’s like virtual Darwinism. The 'Cisco Fattys' of the world are damned by their own senselessness."
but what are the real implications here?  Senselessness?  Well, Popkin has committed to the web a bunch of senselesness of her own, but, oh, wait, she's a journalist...who needs to do more frackkin' journalism.  Here's 1,070 words by her on Twitter that totally misses the point and offers up no insights.

I'll serve up some on this Cisco (not to be confused with Sisqo)/theconnor/MSNBC issue:
  • There is no such thing as privacy
  • Perceptions are volatile & are hard to control
  • Perceptions can be shaped by those with pageviews
  • Media and journalism are often about pageviews, not about good content, let alone good  journalism
  • Web business processes like commenting/responding need to be articulated into policies

I'm sort of curious on your take on theconnor, Tim Levad, MSNBC, Cisco, etc.

I'll leave you all with Colbert to give the final word on Twitter:


Saturday, March 21, 2009


The winner of this year's Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator competition at SXSW in the Online Music Category was Popcuts, an "an online music company providing an innovative web-based download store that gives back store credit to early discoverers of popular songs."

The jury found the business model and site to be the:
"most likely to succeed and disrupt the current music distribution landscape."--UC Berkeley iSchool news feature

I love the idea.  I'm not 100% in love with the interface, but I'm sure it's still being worked on.  I haven't spent too much time with it and it's not horrible.  "Incentivizing" the opinion leaders and making the site sticky for them could be interesting.  Of course, I'd be interested in the Web 2.0 front, in terms of linking Popcuts to other SN sites and smartphones, not to mention applet creation and so on.  I have some ideas for adding value, but I need to keep them to myself right this second.

This was based on a Master's project at UC Berkeley and more information is here.  I would love to help students develop these types of projects, which is much more interesting than the iTunes redesign I had students do last year in Internet marketing.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Vended, Vidi, Vici: iPods for the Traveling Set or the Rise of the Machines

I have to admit I'm somewhat fascinated with how you can purchase stuff anywhere.  I saw an iPod vending machine in Terminal 1 {JetBlue} of the Oakland Airport.  Turns out that this is quite an old story, but I think the idea of selling preloaded iPods is an interesting one.  

Why not?  This clip from Fight Club (1999) skewers the "Ikea nesting instinct" and the ideas that we are made whole by what we buy and if you don't have a personal style, don't worry, a catalog can supply you with serving suggestions.  Why not the same with music?  The preloaded iPod can turn you into a hipster, help you relive the glory days, or just get you through the flight with the crying kid in the row behind you, when you forgot your iPod.  {I have the uncanny knack for getting those choice seats!}

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Social Construction: An Introduction

In The Persuaders, we discuss meanings.  Where do these meanings come from?  Are these permanent laws, like gravity or thermodynamics.  Far from it.  Meanings are social constructions.  Like we saw in The Merchants of Cool, cool is far from permanent.  I see social construction as the cornerstone of my take on consumer behavior.  A good primer on the topic is Berger & Luckman's Social Construction of Reality (1966).  A few selected quotes are here.

Big Media: Need Some Cheese To Go With That Whine?

In the Jon Stewart media wars, NBC Universal Chief Exec. Jeff Zucker thought it would be a good idea to chime in.  
"Everybody wants to find a scapegoat. That's human nature," Zucker said during a keynote address at a media industry conference. "But to suggest that the business media or CNBC was responsible for what is going on now is absurd."

"Just because someone who mocks authority says something doesn't make it so," Zucker said, describing the comedian's comments as "completely out of line."--from "NBC boss: Jon Stewart's criticism absurd, unfair"
Wait a minute.  Isn't this how Cramer got skewered?  By opening his big mouth and opening himself up to scrutiny.  I'm sort of curious what happens with this.  Oh, by the way, Jeff, never heckle a comedian--it rarely works in your favor.  Apparently, Jeff didn't like what Jon said to Cramer last Thursday:
"Listen, you knew what the banks were doing, yet were touting it for months and months," Stewart said during his March 12 show. "The entire network was. Now to pretend that this was some sort of crazy, once-in-a-lifetime tsunami that nobody could have seen coming is disingenuous at best and criminal at worst."--Jon Stewart, Daily Show
Stewart's been on a roll.  I found this from 3.6.09 to be hilarious.
I "get it" that the business pundits are talking about how Wall Street and the business community feel about Obama's performance as CEO of America, Inc., but the fact of the matter is the business press, nay, all press, is doing whatever it takes to gain audience.  Lest we forget, NBC's hard-hitting infotainment Datelines on To Catch a Predator, which, by the way I think should have been hosted by Helen Lovejoy:
Well, isn't Jon Stewart doing the same thing?  Being controversial just to gain audience?  Perhaps, but I tend to agree with his stance that he's not pretending to be actual "news," while these other news programs are.

As I've said elsewhere, there is an irony that it takes a satirist to open dialogues on these media issues.  Let's see if anyone is willing to address the single-payer health care issue.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Web 2.0, Accountability, and When Two Tribes Go to War

I've been watching with delight the cable brawl going on between Jon Stewart (Comedy Central) and Jim Cramer (CNBC). As a child of the 80s, I think the theme song to the skirmish should be Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Two Tribes. Younger readers may recall a Frankie reference from the show Friends.

The show is airing this very second on the east coast, but the lowdown was already leaked. For me, part of the power of Web 2.0 is more accountability. The feud with Stewart in this era of financial meltdown was dangerous ground for the likes of Stewart and his (and Colbert's) penchant for digging up clips to hang the "guilty" with their own soundbites. In a prior era, these may have gone quietly, but in Web 2.0, content from 2006 not only can spring to life again, but it can go viral. Like this gem, where Cramer admits to manipulating the market, albeit legally:

CNN and others reported on how Jim freely admits that creating fictions is part of the game violating the very spirit of SEC regulations that allegedly protect the "sanctity" of the markets. Tom Davis (former R-VA congressman) wants him investigated:
Cramer says he played fair and is claiming to have relied on his Harvard Law degree to make sure he was on the up-and-up.

Nevertheless, Cramer was on every show his PR people could get him booked on. He was slated to be on the Daily Show on Thursday and expressed his nervousness on the Martha Stewart Show.

Jon Stewart makes an excellent point. He's a satirist. He's not a "journalist" in the traditional sense, but through his comedy, he holds public and media figures accountable for what they do. Perhaps he's in the spirit of Hunter S. Thompson's "gonzo" school, as opposed to a more prim-and-proper factual mode, I nevertheless think he has more guts and is more hard-hitting than any big media journalist could ever be. The big ideas for me:
  • Jon Stewart is out journalisming the journalists
  • Jon Stewart is using media content (clips) to skewer mis- and disinformation
  • Media content (clips) are increasingly in the hands of users
  • Media convergence is allowing clips to go online & go viral
  • Web 2.0 is forcing a transparency holding public and media figures accountable

I got a report from the East coast on the show and it does deliver. The link to the Cramer Daily Show isn't posted yet, but will eventually be here. I love this:
"Stewart said he and Cramer are both snake-oil salesman, only 'The Daily Show' is labeled as such. He claimed CNBC shirked its journalistic duty by believing corporate lies, rather than being an investigative "powerful tool of illumination." And he alleged CNBC was ultimately in bed with the businesses it covered — that regular people's stocks and 401Ks were 'capitalizing on your adventure.'" --Jake Coyle, AP

The Most Interesting Man

I saw a few of these last summer in Toronto, but didn't realize how old they were until I saw this post  by Brentter.  I think the concept is solid and the narrative is pretty tight.  I wish there were more of them.  This totally lends itself to virtual/viral promotion of the brand.  Some efforts can be seen here on the StayThirstyMyFriends microsite.  The commercials are linked on the site.

Stay thirsty, my classes, but drink responsibly.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Google Love-in on Charlie Rose & Ironies of Ironies: Tales of PR in Nerdville

Marissa Mayer, Vice President of Search Product and User Experience at Google was on Charlie Rose on Thursday (3/5) in a typical softball interview.  I do like it when Charlie comes out to San Francisco to talk tech.  She mentions that often startups either develop into having a marketing focus or a sales focus, while Google still has an engineering focus.  Charlie piped in that Yahoo! is cited as having lost its way as it focused too much on marketing, while ignoring engineering.  Well, Yahoo! search is clunky (in my opinion), but the larger problem has been Yahoo's execution.  It has lost its way in delivering value to users, despite being feature laden, although some things are OK, like Flickr.

Maybe she was keeping things under wraps, but I thought she could have really made the interview interesting by talking about emerging technologies more.  I'm talking about the use of AI and the contextual web and increased personalization.  They danced around mobile web, G1, Chrome, Google News, etc., BUT, what I thought was hi-larious was when I searched for Marissa Mayer, I found this Gawker article discussing how a 2008 SF Magazine profile used the moniker Googirl.  The irony.  I think the Google PR people should have Googled "Googirl" before greenlighting the profile.  Quelle surprise that the article was edited & the title changed.   I won't link to it, but feel free to click on the UrbanDictionary definition of googirl.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Market Share, B of A, & Zombie Banks

The term "zombie bank" has been increasingly used--a bank with zero value, but kept afloat due to government backing.  The best way to gauge this is to look at the financials (below).  Look at Citibank & WAMU (before it was taken over by Chase).  This NPR story on Zombies highlights the problems.  In Japan, which had had a stagnant economy for almost 20 years now (a high wage nation in the aftermath of an asset bubble with tight credit...sound familiar?) suffered from the effects of zombie banks with their recession.  There are no easy solutions.  Letting zombies fail will just put bad paper (debts/mortgages) in the hands of the strong at a firesale price.  In other words, the rich will get richer & competition will go down, increasing industry concentration (oligopoly).

As a follow-up to an excellent question, the chart below shows B of A market share (high).  I pulled it from Mergent through the Library portal.  The graph doesn't seem to be allowing for an enlarged view, but here's a link to it Flickr.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Welcome to the Dollhouse

Fox Television has had a history of airing cult TV shows--and then canceling them. On the primetime TV graveyard of Fridays, Fox is giving The Sara Connor Chronicles and Joss Whedon's {Firefly; Buffy the Vampire Slayer} Dollhouse. Whedon has a reputation for being very imaginative, but also having costly productions.

He has a built-in cult following, but this translates to relatively small audiences:

9:00PM 9:30 PM
share/rating (18-49 rating) share/rating (18-49 rating)
2/13: 2.9/5 (2.0) 2.8/5 (2.1)
2/20: 2.6/5 (1.7) 2.7/5 (1.7)

The show is beating out Friday Night Lights (NBC), WWF (CW), and Fuego en la Sangre (Uni), while attracting more viewers than its lead-in, The Sara Connor Chronicles. Nevertheless, it's losing to Flashpoint (CBS) and Supernanny (ABC). The reviews haven't been stellar and the NYTimes does a decent overview. Here's the show in 3 minutes:

You can also view episodes online here. In terms of its premise, it looks like a sexy cross between Quantum Leap and Dark City. I think it's early to see if the show truly gels, but it may not get a chance to find its way. Wonderfalls only got 3 episodes on Fox. Other sources show it's pulling in men (thanks to Eliza Dushku) and does have that built-in cult following. I'll be following this show this spring to see how it does. It's expensive to produce, but I'm sure a friend of mine will say, "why don't they use some of the costume budget to buy Eliza a bra?,"(see above photo), which sort of misses the point, given the male appeal.