Digital Dorr | Digital Media Strategy and Ideas

CAT | Technology Innovation



Optimism by Clay Shirky

“The final thing I’d say about optimism is this. If we took the loopiest, most moonbeam-addled Californian utopian internet bullshit, and held it up against the most cynical, realpolitik-inflected scepticism, the Californian bullshit would still be a better predictor of the future. Which is to say that, if in 1994 you’d wanted to understand what our lives would be like right now, you’d still be better off reading a single copy of Wired magazine published in that year than all of the sceptical literature published ever since.”

Clay Shirky, in interview with Decca Aitkenhead of the Guardian.

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Software engineers call it “user experience”, the phrase that describes the way human beings interact with computers. Unfortunately this “user experience” is often not the most “human” of experiences, as it seems designed more for engineers than regular people.

Now the iPad comes along and human beings are learning something new about how we can experience a computer screen.  And maybe it is something quite old as well.

Recently I had lunch with a friend of mine who developed several applications for the iPad before its launch. When she started work on these applications she went through a month long period where she was working around the clock on this new device with no time for anything else.

Once she was finished she was happy to have some down time so she could read a book on her favorite device, the Kindle.  Much to her surprise, she found herself getting angry that she had to press buttons to interact with the screen—when all she wanted was a screen that would respond to her touch.

Last week I was in a store owned by a large consumer electronics manufacturer, (not Apple).  On display they have a frame for showing digital photographs, a beautiful device that can sit on your shelf at home.  One of the store associates told me that they have had to replace the screen twice in the past month.  Why?

Because people keep touching the screen, waiting for it to respond, but alas, it is not a touch screen device, so it does not do anything.  They poke it so hard and so relentlessly the glass screen finally cracks.

And then there is Babe Ruth and Michelangelo who had no computer screens to touch but understood something very fundamental about human communication.

In the fifth inning of Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, Babe Ruth was at bat and pointed to center field.  On the next pitch he hit a home run.  He could have yelled to the crowd, “I am going to hit a home run”. But all he had to do was point and the crowd knew what he meant. The gesture carried all the meaning he intended.

John Paul Stevens, our soon to be retired Supreme Court Justice, saw it with his own eyes as a 12 year old attending the game with his father.  He understood what Babe Ruth “said” with his hand.

Between 1508 and 1512 Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, at the commission of Pope Julius ll.  Nine scenes from the Book of Genesis are depicted on the ceiling, the best known of them, The Creation of Adam.  This central panel shows God reaching out with his index finger to give life to Adam, who reaches up his index finger to God.

Millions of tourists go through the Sistine Chapel each year and see what Michelangelo created.  On the one hand, they see the most godlike gesture depicted and simultaneously on the other, the most human gesture as well.

In all these disparate examples; the anger with buttons, the broken screen, the gesture to center field, the touching of God and man, we see a reference—indeed a pointing to something buried in our evolutionary past.

Before spoken language, before written language, before art, before technology, our evolutionary ancestors pointed to create and exchange meaning-to communicate with each other.   That evolutionary past is still embedded deep within the structure of our brains.

This ability to create meaning with our hands through the simple act of pointing is a central part of what makes us human.  With that gesture we join the physical part of ourselves with the mental part of ourselves.

Apple has properly recognized that these two different “selves” are in fact made for each other and indeed, really not separate at all.

By doing so, they have created a “user experience” that is actually “human”.

This is the central reason why people respond so enthusiastically to the iPad.

The Apple engineers have taken the most sophisticated technology humans currently create and married it to the most primitive part of our nature.

Or put it another way.

Apple simply figured out what Babe Ruth and Michelangelo knew all along.

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Much of the most important innovation on the web today occurs within what some call the Golden Triangle.

The three sides of this triangle are social, mobile and real time.  Though the poster children for this triangle are Facebook, the iPhone and Twitter, this innovation extends far beyond these three companies.

This triangle creates a major shift in peoples’ experience of the Internet.

Now many people are;

1.  Always connected to the Internet,

2.  Constantly connected to their social graph and,

3.  Perpetually acting as a bridge between the virtual and physical world.

People have the Internet in their hands as they move about the real world and they are breaking down the old distinction between our “virtual” and “physical” worlds.

This process will accelerate as more people buy smart phones, which they are doing at a rapid pace.

So why should filmmakers care?

Filmmakers, distributors and theater owners want to bring people into theaters to see their films.  The golden triangle continuously spins off new tools that enable them to do so at a low cost.

So here are a three suggestions;

1.  Encourage people to bring their cell phones to the theater. (And use them there!),

2. Improve wireless access within the theater. (So these phones are easier to use!) and

3. Before and after each screening use the theater screen to enable people to communicate with other people in the theater and their friends outside the theater. (About films in general or the film they are about to see or have just seen.)

In other words, use these digital tools to enhance the social aspect of the film going experience.

That’s right, create a better social experience-a key reason most people go to see films in a theater in the first place.

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Something very dramatic is going on and so far I have seen no good detailed reporting about it.

Netflix is quietly becoming available on massive numbers of TV screens across the US and no one seems to be noticing.

The Netflix streaming service is now available on PS3, XBOX, and Wii, all gaming systems that are hooked up to the internet and to the TV.  How many of these boxes are in the US marketplace?  20 Million, 30 million?

Sony, LG, Samsung, Vizio, all the major manufacturers of connected TVs and blu ray players in the US are now shipping these devices preloaded with internet access and Netflix.  So by the end of the 2010, will this group of devices be in 15 to 20 million US homes?

Is it possible that by the end of 2010 Netflix will have a base of 50 million homes in the US able to get its streaming service on their TV?  If so, this is astounding. It is even astounding at half that number.

A subscription platform with movies and TV shows in SD and HD is available for less than $10 per month.  And, by the way, you can also get a DVD shipped to you in the mail, if the program is not available on the streaming service at no additional cost.

Forget HULU, forget Cable VOD-Netflix  is becoming ubiquitous and no one seems to be noticing.

Talk about the success of an over the top service that is priced right for the consumer.

Pretty soon, people will be saying, “Why should I use HULU when I can get Netflix on my TV? or Why should I have cable TV if I have Netflix on my TV?

Netflix is TV Everywhere right now!

And no one is talking about it.

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Isn’t it curious in this age where more moving images get created and distributed digitally that there is this group of people who still call themselves “filmmakers”?  It seems a term that is so archaic, so analogue, so yesterday’s news. But is it any of these?

I think filmmakers look for three opportunities that truly define them as filmmakers.

They are:

1.  The ability to tell a visual story from beginning to end, without any interruption, as a complete, continuous experience.  This is what separates them from people who create stories for TV as most TV series are produced with commercial interruptions or different viewings (episodes) in mind.

2.  The chance to have an audience gather in a theater and watch this visual story together, as a shared experience in time and space.  In the course of a film’s distribution it may be seen in a lot of different settings, public or private, but the filmmaker is making the film with this key audience in mind.  This is the primary target of all his/her imaginings.

3.  The opportunity to see his/her film with an audience.  Filmmakers want to physically experience the film with an audience. The filmmaker wants to see if they laugh or cry when he/she intended, if the audience got the point-to see if their film really succeeded at reaching another human being.  As every filmmaker knows who has done this-a genuinely scary moment.

So each of these opportunities really goes to the heart of what is most essential about calling yourself a filmmaker.

Think of them as a set of principles about the relationship between the creator of a film and the audience for which it is intended.

And here is what is most surprising as we move from the analogue past to the digital future.

These opportunities are not disappearing into the analogue past.

In fact, they are just beginning to open up.

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Sony announces SOS!

Today in the Wall Street Journal I saw that Sony has announced that it will soon be launching  a new media platform called Sony Online Service.  This service will offer TV shows, movies, songs and games to all its devices.

On January 2, 2001 Apple announced the launch of iTunes, the service that offers TV shows, movies, songs and games to all its devices (and to all PCs whether Apple or not).  In September 2009 it announced iTunes 9, the most recent version of the service.

So let me get this straight.  Apple is on version 9 of its service and Sony is just announcing the launch of its service (presumably to launch in 2010).  According to my math it has taken 9 years for Sony to simply replicate what Apple created. That is right-9 years.

Is this what they call-Speed to Market?

Survival in today’s marketplace requires innovation.  Innovation requires focus and speed in execution.

Perhaps there is a fundamental truth revealed in the letters of the new Sony Online Service, as Sony raises its flag and says-SOS!

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If you wanted to know about the state of media and technology today-look no further than these three headlines in the New York Times on 3.3.10.

Disney and Cablevision Take ABC Fight Public

Apple Sues HTC, Saying It Violated Touch-Screen Patents for Phones

Viacom and Hulu Will Part Ways, Removing Comedy Central Shows From the Video Site

It is little too much coming apart, not enough coming together.

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When a technology company launches a new product, be it a device, a piece of software or a web based service they always talk about the features enabled by this new product.  They generate a list where all kinds of goodies are displayed that are supposed to wow the consumer.

What they  believe is that the features sell themselves-that is why they built the product and that is why the product is so great.

In fact, consumers are not interested (nor have they ever been) in features.  They are interested in experiences.  This is what technology companies need to realize-they really are in the business of creating experiences.

For example, when I worked for Nokia, Apple released the iPhone.  Every friend of mine who bought one was eager to tell me about it.  I would always ask them-how do you get on the internet?  They always said, almost without exception, “I do not know, I just do.”.  And they loved that experience.

On a Nokia smart phone, getting on the internet was possible, but you had to know how to do it and it was not easy.  Of course, Nokia phones had a lot of great features-they would tell you all about them in their ads.

On the iPhone, there may be a lot of features- they power the experiences-but you do not have to know about them to get to where you want.

Nokia creates features.

Apple creates experiences.

Smart companies create experiences.

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