Friday, April 17, 2009

Two Word Warning:: Grabbing Attention in 11 Characters

I saw several Tweets {e.g., @halvorson} on a Jakob Nielsen post on usability, discussing how users "scan" lists and the first 11 characters are crucial.
"...people read the first few listed items somewhat thoroughly — thus the cross-bars of the "F" — but read less and less as they continue down the list, eventually passing their eyes down the text's left side in a fairly straight line. At this point, users see only the very beginning of the items in a list.

On Web and intranet pages, lists occur in many places, including:
  • Search engine results pages (SERP)
  • Lists of current or archived articles, headlines, press releases, and other news items
  • Product listings on category pages
  • Table of contents (ToC) listings
  • Question lists that serve as ToCs at the top of FAQ (frequently asked questions) pages
  • Bulleted or numbered lists, checklists, task steps on a help page or job aid, etc."
I don't always buy Jakob Nielson's take on things.  I think he has some good points about being judicious about content and making sure it's relevant.  He tends to lose me with his rationale when he makes prescriptions.  He offers up these guidelines, which make sense::
  • Use plain language
  • Use specific terminology
  • Follow conventions for naming common features
  • Front-load user- and action-oriented terms
I did a search with the objective of trying to see if my ASA group blog, ThickCulture, showed up.  I used the terms:: "Web 2.0" culture sociology blog. 
The above hit was 9th in the results, referring to my post on Twitter & language.  The results show that there is some SEO to do, in order to improve search results.  Using white hat means, of course.  One of the things that I found was the description metatags needs some work.  The default "Just another weblog" needs to be replaced.  Plus, there are no keywords, but that's not mission critical.  More on this topic in future posts.

Image::  World Usability Day 2006 Graphic (11/14/06).  On

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Teabagging, Media, & Branding a Social Movement

Well, there was Googirl last year and now there's teabagging, which is being used to make fun of the tea party movement {}.  Regardless of your politics, the evolution of the phenomenon is interesting.  Steve Colbert brings up a good point of how the media is "creating" the grass roots

Kutcher v. CNN on Twitter

Ashton Kutcher {AKA aplusk} threw down the gauntlet with CNN in a popularity contest to reach 1M followers.  He's also slated to be on Oprah on 17 April, who will coronate the Web 2.0 technology with a Twitter love-in.  Oprah will likely commit her first "Tweet" and, this just in, the Twitter CEO, Ev Williams, who announced a "big day" in a Tweet {get the terminology right NYTimes} early on Thursday.

"Yes, the "big day" tomorrow is due to @Oprah. Catch @aplusk on the show (and follow him if you don't already!) Oh: I'll be there too!" 
Back to Kutcher.  He posted a video on (and YouTube) and went on the record as stating::
"I found it astonishing that one person can actually have as big of a voice online as an entire media company can on Twitter."
Savvy Kutcher said of the Larry King offer that he wants to talk to him on Qik and Twitter, keeping it all Web 2.0.  Here I thought Kelso was an idiot.  Well, he did say he'll "ding-dong-ditch" Ted Turner's house if he gets 1M followers when he's in Atlanta, but Ted no longer owns CNN.

It's not all fun and hijinks.  Ashton pledges to donate 10,000 mosquito nets to a disease-fighting charity working in Africa and give his millionth follower a copy of the videogame "Guitar Hero."  Electronic Arts, sensing an opportunity,  announced on its Twitter feed that Kutcher's one millionth follower will be featured in the TheSims3 videogame and give them all of its 2009 titles for free.

Kutcher has been consistently in the top ten Twitter trending topics in the past 24 hours.  As of 4:40 PDT, he's at 974,581 & CNN is at 977,487. 

Twitter traffic is definitely up.   Quantcast has a rough estimate of 15M monthly visitors to Twitter and Alexa has it ranked at 72nd.  On Alexa, I also noticed that Facebook and Twitter both average 1o pageviews per day by users, but MySpace, remember them?, they get an average of 23 pageviews per day.

Web 2.0 is generating marketing and PR opportunities out of thin air.  Granted, there is the novelty effect, but the singularity of media will ensure this is a big idea.  Given the fundraising going on here, the non-profit arena should be taking note of the opportunities Web 2.0 afford.

Edit::  Thanks to @elsiebean for the heads-up.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon Fail & the Twittersphere

Image Credit::  Bill Thompson
Crossposting:: ThickCulture

Twitter was a hotbed of activity this weekend.  There was the Mikeyy worm {See Tweets on the Mikey hashtag-#mikeyy} and now the word of AmazonFail is spreading & I'm sure attitudes are being formed.   TemporaryVersion has an overview of the AmazonFail fiasco.  From what I have been able to ascertain, Amazon created a policy of excluding "adult" content from some searches and best-seller lists.  When queried on this by a director of an erotic writers association, Amazon Member Service offered up this response::

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude "adult" material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

Hence, if you have further questions, kindly write back to us.

Best regards,

Ashlyn D
Member Services Advantage
One of the issues is the definition of "adult content."  Those familiar with the MPAA rating system for films in the US know how ratings are determined by power in the industry.  If you're an indie filmmaker with risqué content, well, good luck.  You'll get a judgment and you'll have to live with it.  If you have the backing of a major studio, no problem.  The MPAA will negotiate with you on a scene-by-scene basis.  There are serious implications for getting a more "restrictive" rating, since distribution deals often hinge on appealing to the widest possible audiences.  A more restrictive rating almost guarantees lower box office revenues.  See This Film Is Not Yet Rated for more on this.  Here's a long trailer::

The Amazon controversy is surrounding "gay" content being deemed as "adult."  One author documents his story and voices his concerns.  Like with film in the US, media content on Amazon being deemed as adult content has the effect of limiting reach to potential customers.  The core of the controversy is what are the criteria for being deemed "adult."  It doesn't seem to be evident & I can't make sense of it.  DVDs are not affected and I've seen different editions of the same book treated differently.  For example, Anaïs Nin's Delta of Venus 2004 edition paperback isn't ranked {presemably as it's adult content}, but the original 1977 hardback is { Sales Rank: #156,857 in Books}, albeit only available used through private sellers. Amazon has stated that there in no new adult policy and the rankings issue is a glitch.  Nevertheless, the the above quote makes it clear that Amazon reserves the right to categorize content as "adult," as it sees fit.

Enter Web 2.0.

There's interesting sleuthing going on. has a AmazonFail section and is compiling a list of titles deemed adult & a pictorial comparison.  The story wasn't picked up by the press until Web 2.0 made it a story.  I'm sure Amazon is scrambling on how to deal with this PR nightmare, as consumers are spreading negative word-of-mouth and urging boycotts.   I'm quite interested in seeing how this story evolves.  

If this is a glitch, I think that this really shows that Amazon needs to be more up-front and explicit about what "adult" means.  If Amazon was trying to be content restrictive, will they fess-up, ignore the issue, or cover it up?  Given how Web 2.0 spreads information and opinions, coverups and hoping things will blow over might be adding fuel to the fail.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

When You're Not Hip Enough to Do Guerrilla Marketing, 12 Monkeys, & Paix à Paques

LACMA tried on a street guerrilla ad campaign, but couldn't pull it off.  The chalk ads were for an upcoming museum exhibit, but the faux Bansky-esque graffiti wasn't coördinated with the banner campaign, so it's all getting washed to the Santa Monica Bay.

I'm not sure this type of advertising is "on code" for a LACMA.  Maybe MOCA, but LACMA has an size and image that defies guerilla anything, in my book.  I think it's somewhat of a creative idea, but I think the execution {graphically} isn't quite working.  I'm afraid executions like this will be overused and just add to the clutter.  I can just see an overzealous marketing campaign running afoul of the law by putting markings on the street directing drivers to stop to look at an ad or something of that ilk.

12 Monkeys
The Pompeii chalkings also remind me of the spray paint stencils for The Army of the 12 Monkeys.  Keep the guerrilla/gorilla/monkey jokes to yourself.

For those unfamiliar, 12 Monkeys was a Terry Gilliam {Monty Pyhon fame} film starring Brad Pitt & Bruce Willis.  {Something tells me that given how much both get paid, we won't be seeing those two in a film together any time soon, unless they're working scale.}  12 Monkeys was inspired by a short film by Chris Marker, La Jetée {1962}.  This YouTube has clips of both::

Paix & Pâques!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Technology Transforming the Entertainment Experience:: Art vs. Commerce v. 2.0

One of my students on a discussion board lamented the demise of cartoons::
"You see, I love cartoons, I appreciate the good old classy 'Disney' or 'Metro Goldwyn Mayer' ones that required an enormous amount of time, employees, effort and HB pencils. Few of us haven’t found a pleasure in watching good old “101 Dalmatians”, “Aladdin”, “The Emperor’s Groove”(my personal favs) etc."
I think she brings up some excellent points about the role of technology in entertainment and it made me think of an old blog post I did elsewhere on Saturday morning cartoons (more on that below).  More on that later.

"Art" & Experience
Given the entertainment industry's focus on cost containment, art is naturally giving way to commerce.  Aesthetics takes a back seat to sales.  Technology is embraced to both deliver (enough?) value and lower costs.  Animation is computerized.  Content (music/film/TV) is delivered electronically.  There was once a time when album art mattered.  Now, not so much (The Rise and Fall of Rock and Roll Graphic Design).  I remember when buying vinyl records was a whole aesthetic experience.  (I never got into cassette tapes.)  The packaging design and the liner notes were almost as important as the vinyl disc inside.  I'm sure there are plenty of people who could have cared less, but bands themselves often cared a great deal about the packaging, as it communicated their "brand."  A 12" or 7" square conveyed meaning to the consumer.  The consumer reacted to these graphics.  I remember carefully crafted old school Van Halen logos on Pee Chees:: 
While graphics and music aren't 
dead, the consumption
 experience is not what it was.  Bands will try to cut through the clutter with eye-catching graphics that must be identified at thumbnail proportions on iTunes and the like.  Nouvelle Vague (right) is an example of a band trying to create an identifiable look "on code" with their music.  

Perusing the bins in record stores is a thing of the past for most of us.  We've grown accustomed to Amazon and iTunes, where we search for music in databases.  The same will be true for movies/DVDs and even our TV viewing.  Is something lost?  The charm, as Elizaveta puts it?  Part of that experience that formed a bond between "art" and admirer?

The Saturday Morning Cartoon:: Spectacle No More
So, on Bravo there was a Swingtown marathon, a steamy summer replacement show on CBS that never took off, despite getting a bit of press for the complaints from the morally outraged.  Watching it, it got me thinking about TV in the 70s and how Saturday morning cartoons were a ritual for me, but soon will fade into oblivion for various reasons. I remember getting up at 7am or so and struggling to stay awake. I think it was in this era that I learned to make "candy coffee":: 5 parts sugar to 1 part instant coffee. I was really pissed the few times my parents tried Postum™. oh, those glorious misspent days of childhood with totally laxed 70s-style supervision.
I never got to see The Beatles {ABC} {left} cartoon, but I do remember The Pink Panther, Bugs Bunny/Road Runner {which had ocassional reruns from way back} and Sylvester/Tweety, the really crappy "new" Tom & Jerry Show {1976}, Wacky Races, Scooby Doo, etc. On TVPARTY, I saw that HR Pufnstuff was on before I was watching Saturday morning cartoons, so I must have seen the reruns. That show was whack. I seem to recall a talking piccolo. I recall wanting to see cartoons. I wasn't into those shows with real-live people, particularly if it involved the Bay City Rollers {See Krofft Superstar Hour}.

Updated video (4/12/09).
So, the Saturday morning cartoon was an "event," a spectacle of sorts. On the playground, discussions would surround what we saw. "Did you see that Bugs Bunny with 'Kill the wabbit'?" What one watched or didn't watch affected one's cool factor. We learn sociological status at an early age, don't we?

The Saturday morning cartoon was eventually killed by cable.  Nickelodeon and The Cartoon Network made it irrelevant.  Ratings fell and even with cheaper production costs outsourced overseas, the programming couldn't pay for itself for big network broadcasting {ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox}.

So, with unrelenting technological progress, are we missing something?  Does it matter that we aren't browsing in stores for music?  That we don't appreciate album art?  I see people on Twitter catching hell for spoiling what happened on House, as so many viewers now watch when they want to, not when Fox broadcasts it.  Does it matter that we aren't watching at the same time?  Will we pine for the days of when we actually watched NBCs "Must See TV" lineup on Thursday night in the 1990s or Sunday night Sopranos viewing in the 2000s?  

If we are missing something, what exactly is it?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Twittersolving and My Quest to Blog with Jack Black Soundbites

I've successfully used Twitter to get advice {should I get a XH-A1 or XHA1s video camera?} and I get the idea of using the technology to gain information from the "crowd," a microcrowdsourcing.  As some of you may have noticed, I'm all about neologisms.  Here's an example of B of A using Twittersolving.

I've been wanting to insert sound snippets in blogs for years now.  I never game it too much thought, particularly since most of my blogging from 2006-2008 was on a "walled garden" site with limited functionality.  One of my crazy ideas is a blog tool that allows for the insertion and storage of small sound files, akin to the Jack Black Sound Board with a cool icon.  For example, in case you need to emphasize you're joking, you can add a sound effect::  but using Flash, so you wouldn't have to navigate away from the blog.  I do realize I can program this, but I searched around saw this blog on someone using Twitter to find information to insert podcasts on a blog.  While not quite what I had envisioned, this would work.  I just would have a playback button like this::
I didn't have time to make this work, but I wonder what ideas others have.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Major Maker, Malajube, & the Music Video:: Art vs. Commerce v.1.0

I've always been interested in the lines between art and commerce, with art being defined broadly.  I bristle at bands "selling out."  While I understand the economics, I feel that there should be an ethos to art, particularly if it is positioned as indie or avant garde or whatever label is used to unmainstreamify it. In February, I saw on MuchMoreMusic in Toronto two consecutive videos in a row of songs that were used in commercials.  In the summer of 2007, buzz was being generated by the Maynard's candy commercial.  Viewers were primarily interested in two things: (1) who was the multiplicitous young woman in the sundress and (2) who did the song, "Rollercoaster."  Example.  That summer, someone went to the lengths of looping the commercial's audio to "create" a full-length song.  Long live GarageBand?  Some say that Major Maker is a one-hit wonder, but no matter what, "Rollercoaster" is a fun song.

In the Spring of 2007, I stumbled across the francophone Québec band, Malajube.  Malajube burst onto the scene in 2004 and instantly rose in the indie Québécois scene.  The music, in my opinion, is fresh and innovative, so despite being in French, it had crossover appeal to anglophone Canadian audiences.  In the US, Pitchfork fawned over their 2006 Trompe l'œil, enruring that plenty of hipsters would be crossing over the language divide to put these energetic and utterly likable songs with whack lyrics and 70s funk on their iPods.  In late summer 2007, Rogers Wireless used Montréal -40ºC in a commercial celebrating the youthful road trip.  Funny how the lyrics don't make it into the commercial::
"Too poor for pills,
I play the whore yet I suck,
And all these things that I ejaculate,
I'm running against the clock,
I'm running but I'm going backwards

Oh, Montréal, you are so cold,
a polar bear in the bus,
I get rich inspired by the worst,
And I love you so much, I hallucinate..."
I told you whack lyrics.
  • What examples do you have of music in commercials?
  • Is music cheapened by commercialization?  
As for the second point, I think it depends on the execution and context, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Enjoy.

                   Art versus Commerce, v. 1.0
Major Maker-
Toronto, ON

Montréal, QC

image::  vidcap from Malajube's "Pâte Filo."

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

francophone professor smashes laptop or la technique de poisson d'avril