Monthly Archives: February 2007

Round up of my NMK events

While at NMK as Editor, I gradually (and unexpectedly) became the developer and organiser of many of its regular events.

NMK (New Media Knowledge)As NMK is a publicly-funded organisation that exists for the benefit of the digital media industries, in order to fulfil its accessibility remit, reports of these events (and conferences) were also produced by me and posted on the website.

I hope these reports have been, and to some extent continue to be, useful for practitioners, researchers and students of digital media.

They’re also historical records of a group of very interesting discussions and debates that happened at a time when the UK digital economy finally emerged from the long, nuclear winter of the first dotcom crash.

The reports are linked to at the end of every event page listed below, with the following exceptions…

Reports for Beers & Innovation numbers 5 and 6 (+) are available here on my blog. There is no report for Beers & Innovation 4 but part of the event was captured on this video by Ian Forrester of BBC Backstage and others have blogged about it.

EVENTS I DEVELOPED AND PROGRAMMED:

Charities: Making Digital Gains – 26th May 2005
http://nmk.co.uk/event/2005/4/4/charities-making-digital-gains-nmk

Blogging: A Real Conversation? – 28th June 2005
http://www.nmk.co.uk/event/2005/5/8/blogging-a-real-conversation-nmk

New Directions In Search – 8th September 2005
http://nmk.co.uk/event/2005/4/26/new-directions-in-search-nmk

User Content: The Real Deal? – 8th November 2005
http://www.nmk.co.uk/event/2005/9/29/user-content-the-real-deal-nmk

Beers & Innovation 2: User Generated Content – 30th March 2006
http://www.nmk.co.uk/event/2006/2/24/beers-innovation-2-user-generated-content-nmk

Beers & Innovation 3: Mash Ups & Web Services – 27th April 2006
http://www.nmk.co.uk/event/2006/3/30/beers-innovation-3-web-services-mash-ups-nmk

Beers & Innovation 4: RSS Frontiers – 12th September 2006
http://www.nmk.co.uk/event/2006/6/20/beers-innovation-4-rss-frontiers-nmk

Beers & Innovation 5: Aggregators & Upsetters – 17th October 2006
http://www.nmk.co.uk/event/2006/9/14/beers-innovation-5-aggregators-upsetters-nmk

Beers & Innovation 6: Social By Design – 14th November 2006
http://www.nmk.co.uk/event/2006/10/2/beers-innovation-6-social-by-design-nmk

Beers & Innovation 7: Do Agencies Innovate? – 30th January 2007
http://www.nmk.co.uk/event/2006/11/14/beers-and-innovation-7-do-agencies-innovate-nmk
(with input from Zoe Black)

CO-DEVELOPED & PROGRAMMED WITH NICK WATT OF NMK:

In The City Interactive – 7th June 2005
http://www.nmk.co.uk/event/2005/4/6/in-the-city-interactive-with-nmk
(also had conference steering committee input)

Rethinking Digital Branding – 10th October 2005
http://www.nmk.co.uk/event/2005/1/18/rethinking-digital-branding-nmk

Beers & Innovation 1: UK Start Up Culture – 9th February 2006
http://www.nmk.co.uk/event/2005/11/24/beers-innovation-nmk
(with thanks to James Governor and Tom Coates)

Content 2.0 – conference 6th June 2006
http://www.nmk.co.uk/event/2006/2/14/content-2-0-nmk
Content 2.0 website
(also had conference steering committee input)

In The City – Manchester music industry conference, 30 Sept-2nd Oct 2005
(co-programmed 3 digital panels and a keynote)

In the City 2005: mPod The New iPod?
http://nmk.co.uk/article/2006/4/17/in-the-city-2005-mpod-the-new-ipod

In The City 2005: Digital Creativity & A&R (Ralph Simon keynote)
http://nmk.co.uk/article/2006/4/17/in-the-city-digital-creativity-a-r

In the City 2005: Tomorrow People
http://nmk.co.uk/article/2006/4/17/in-the-city-2005-tomorrow-people

In the City 2005: The Digital High St
http://nmk.co.uk/article/2006/4/17/in-the-city-2005-the-digital-high-st

CO-DEVELOPED & PROGRAMMED WITH EXTERNAL PRODUCER HILARY KELSH:

New Directions In Mobile – 3rd October 2006
http://www.nmk.co.uk/event/2006/7/3/new-directions-in-mobile-nmk

—————-

During my time at NMK (Dec 2004 – Oct 2006) we also held many further events that I wasn’t involved in developmentally, but I helped market and promote them via editorial, social media platforms, attending external events and general outreach to the UK scene and beyond.

I’m listing them here as much for my own reference as anybody else’s

[NB. Some internal links within the pages above are broken as the NMK website has been redesigned since I left and the URL structure was changed, ie. persistent URLs were not maintained]

SXSW notes: Bruce Sterling Presentation – The State Of The World

Never one to limit his horizons, this talk saw the cyberpunk author, tech visionary and all-round web guru range across global and local politics (especially those of the former Yugoslavia, where he has recently been living), the environment, technology, design and society.

Segueing between topics with remarkable lucidity and an implicit logical bent, allusions were littered elegantly among the sometimes incantation-like ebbs and flows of his sentences.

This was Sterling at full throttle, and the over 1,000 strong audience were largely frozen with what can only be summed up as astonishment, as if petrified for 60 minutes solid at the sight of an oncoming tidal wave.

But the talk was the opposite of a preacher’s bombastic sermon that manipulates, mesmerises and undermines independent thinking. Rather, it was questioning, often provisional and truly exploratory of events and ideas in the world today.

Afterwards the throng shuffled out silently, reliance on small-talk fully undermined, the waves of aftershock pulsating through the hall.

A laser beam of Texan foresight…

That he achieved this while also speaking so passionately that he wept on stage was visibly discomforting for some (mostly young, mostly male) in the audience. The irony of course being that Sterling could out-ironise any wisecracking kidult in a nano-second, but sometimes, as he understands, you have to fly by those nets.

I took only partial notes on this talk, relating to his perspectives on his new concept of SPIME.

However other things crept in and overlaid these segments, so the effect is a little kaleidoscopic and sometimes obtuse, removed as it is from the fuller context of everything he said. It’ll take some unpacking, which is partly what made it so tantalising and resonant…

The comic artist is becoming the public intellectual Sterling asserted, citing warrenellis.com. Shortly afterwards, he noted that “the unimaginable does not mean catastrophic”, citing how the economic growth of China is often construed. We should remember, he stressed, that it’s *people* who are doing this in China.

A tag and a theory object…

Then he turned to SPIME. Tracing its evolution he recounted that it emerged in 2004 in a speech he gave at Siggraph and in his 2005 book on award-winning graphic design Shaping Things.

SPIME is not a word but a tag, he continued, a theory object! As such, it depends on the popular consensus on what it means. Likewise, William Gibson’s “cyberspace” is a consensual hallucination, a brain experience, and already it has a period feel to it.

This is the SPIME elevator pitch, but it’s not the shape the tag SPIME will eventually take as it’s thrown out into the blogosphere churn of information.

SPIME has an RFID chip in it and a tag, it has a local precise positioning system, it’s Google Maps and a powerful search engine, it’s involved in cradle-to-cradle recycling because you can break it down and re-use the junk. It was virtually designed, a product of CADCamp; it’s rapidly prototyped; it’s a fabject.

Alex Stephen at WorldChanging.com has a new book coming out, an index of the ways out of the smoke-filled cinema, he noted by way of analogy. People will interact with this object in ways we can’t imagine or describe. SPIME because it’s trackable in space and time.

Building an internet of things…

Open and participatory, SPIMEs begin and end as data because they’re virtual objects first and physical objects second. We want to build an internet of *things*.

The real reason we’ll do it, if we ever do it, is because of the way it *feels* – automatic magical inventory voodoo. A lot of people are at work on the internet of things. What it needs is distributed intelligence; it will only work if people find it useful and get value from it.

It’s a new world and a new tag, the semantic web is turning into the wetlands of language. A theory object is a word for a platform of development… it’s just a different type of social activism.

Become the change we want to happen…

People who read the papers and watch TV and don’t engage with all the other stuff, linkages and trackbacks, these are *legacy* people. Words that turn on their creator like Frankenstein – but the creator *is* Frankenstein…

Later, at the end of his talk he emphasised that if we’re going to get anywhere, we need to become the change we want to be. Make no decision out of fear. What is required is a great regional novel about the planet earth, he concluded. And the cure for the panic stampede is to be found in historical perspective.

—————-

Sterling grew up in Austin and is a regular fixture at the festival. In 2007, in addition to another talk (yipee!), he is taking part in the EFF/EFF-Austin SXSW Futures of the Past Steampunk Extravaganza after-dark event. Verily the SXSWi massive are spoiling us and we like it  ;-) 

London podcast

[For more Sterling brainfood – this time on the environment, alpha geeks, media, technology and Web 2.0 – check out the podcast of his New Statesman-hosted talk in London, April 2006. Sterling was *so* on form that night and this is pure quality]

My other SXSW Interactive 2006 session reports:

What’s In A Title?
http://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2006/03/15/whats-in-a-title-sxswi-notes/

Beyond Folksonomies – Knitting Tag Clouds For Grandma
http://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2006/03/22/sxsw-notes-beyond-folksonomies-knitting-tag-clouds-for-grandma/

Book Digitisation & The Revenge Of The Librarians
http://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2006/03/23/sxsw-notes-book-digitisation-and-the-revenge-of-the-librarians/

James Surowiecki on The Wisdom Of Crowds
http://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2006/04/07/sxsw-surowiecki-on-the-wisdom-of-crowds/

Running Your New Media Business
http://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2006/11/07/sxsw-notes-running-your-new-media-business/

SXSW notes: The Perfect Pitch
http://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2006/11/09/sxsw-notes-the-perfect-pitch/

What People Are Really Doing On The Web
http://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2006/12/18/sxsw-notes-what-people-are-really-doing-on-the-web/

Commons Based Business Models
http://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2007/01/08/sxsw-notes-commons-based-business-models/

Danah Boyd – Current TV interview
http://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2007/01/12/sxsw-notes-danah-boyd-current-tv-interview/

DIY Media – Consumer Is The Producer
http://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2007/01/19/sxsw-notes-consumer-is-the-producer-–-diy-media/ 

See all SXSW Interactive 2006 daytime panels here:
http://2006.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/

See the SXSW Interactive 2007 website

Beers and Innovation 5: Aggregators and Upsetters

True to form, I wrote this up on 30th December to finally clear the decks of 2006’s inaugural Beers & Innovation event series. And I’m only posting it now… Indeed.

And what better way to draw it to a close with what was perhaps my favourite night in the series.

In truth, it’s a probably a dead heat with Beers & Innovation 3: Mash Ups & Web Services. Equally focused on how we’re re-forming and experiencing the web, B&I 5 had the edge in raising more questions than it answered, which is part of what fuels the quest for understanding in the first place I guess…

It also had more explicit “edge” focus. In fact I was originally going to call it ‘Aggregators & The Edge’ or (following on from RSS Frontiers) ‘Edge Frontiers’. But the dual musical and business model reference to “the Upsetters” just felt better, plus I know Mike Butcher likes a pop culture reference to his event titles, so it helped me persuade him to chair the evening ;-)

Reevoo CEO Richard Anson started by explaining the nature of Reevoo’s aggregation service – its business model is to provide customer reviews for clients and integrate them into the client-side business.

Trust baseline for sense-checking brands

They publish all reviews positive and negative and they don’t edit them (profanity and libel being the only barred content). Then they also aggregate all the reviews around each product to create an independent basket of reviews for that item that are accessible from the Reevoo site. Clients include Jessops and Orange among others.

Customer involvement backs and reinforces user loyalty. Revoo.com is where people can come and sense-check a brand, he stressed. They also aggregate reviews from blogs using the hReview open standard microformat. Additionally, they aggregate reviews from experts.

Underlying everything is the impartiality they get from consumer reviews. Between 8 and 13% of people that they ask to contribute a review do so.

[Note: As First Capital’s Paul Fisher has since explicated, their key differentiator from other (and especially first generation) consumer-review sites – guaranteed trustworthiness – derives from the fact that the bedrock of their reviews are from people who have actually bought and used the product. First Capital advised Reevoo in successfully garnering $6m investment from Benchmark Capital in December 2006].

Unexpected birth of an aggregator

Paul Pod Of TIOTI (Tape It Off The Internet) explained how the origins of the project arose from his frustration that he couldn’t watch Series 7 of The West Wing when it was first being shown in the US. He put up a webpage taking the piss out of the Web 2.0 phenomenon based around aggregating good TV shows. But his friends all said “this sounds like a really good idea!” So he put up a mock-up, got more good feedback, and started to take it seriously.

Now TIOTI is aggregating information about TV shows – episode guides, show guides, first broadcast dates, ratings, and then all the downloads available (at first the latter was all “naughty BitTorrent” downloads; now they aggregate Amazon and iTunes).

They’ve architected the site to pull in and aggregate all this content, have 700 people on active private Beta testing, and are going to launch in public Beta with 11,000 testers this week (starting 13 October 2006). [Note – the site launched publicly on Thursday 11 January 2007]

To Mike Butcher’s enquiry as to what he was most excited about, Paul said on the copyright front, they are talking to people in the TV guide side of things, as well as people on the Wikipedia side.

So a mix of legit content, grey stuff and user-generated content is propelling them forward.

Looking for value in all the wrong places?

Umair Haque began by comparing MySpace and Friendster. In many ways Friendster was the perfect model but the fact it crashed and burned begins to disprove that mere aggregation is the answer. Where was the network effect with Friendster?

Aggregation is a dirty word, he insisted. It stops people thinking. This room is an aggregator. A training course, parliament, the Senate, a nightclub – these are all aggregation. What MySpace got right was facilitating the kind of dynamics that happen in a nightclub. All the actions there are productive. But not all the actions of aggregation are productive.

The latest craze in the Valley is widgets, Umair observed. But once we atomise the content, what’s the value? We should be able to remix and hack things. Ecademy CTO Julian Bond remarked that Umair’s description of an aggregator wasn’t the same as his. Technorati was Julian’s idea of an aggregator.

To which Umair asked – how does Technorati collect value from what it does? The value comes from… [at this point I missed a bit as I had to skate over to the bar to ask someone to stop talking. Who was it? Well, he’s involved with a thingamy, ya know… “project”]

When aggregators go bad…

What’s the difference between Friendster and MySpace? On Friendster I’m limited to 100 characters of text. With MySpace I can do anything I want, Umair noted.

Wasn’t it just more of a business and technology failure on Friendster’s part, rather than being a larger social problem, commented George Nimeh. It certainly wasn’t technology that failed Friendster, Umair countered, as MySpace is built on [substandard] Cold Fusion technology.

Alan Patrick interjected that social networks seem to be subject to generational effects too [echoing Danah Boyd’s point that when Friendster lost favour, its twenty and thirtysomething inhabitants went back to email, IM and SMS; whereas most MySpacers are digital natives and will migrate to other digital social networks if they tire of MySpace].

Business built on shifting sands?

Mike Butcher asked the panel “will the edge aggregation effect work or are you going to be screwed by someone else” (ie. a better resourced company re-aggregating the same content)? And will aggregation be made easier by Microformats?

Paul said he didn’t know the answer to that. Richard Anson said their partners are shops and customers, but they try to do what feels right. Will you have user ratings of reviews on Reevoo, Mike asked, to which Richard replied: no, but they will have trust-based relationships. Digging further into this issue, Mike asked can people share their Reevoo reviews – can they be shared and widgetised? In terms of sharing, they already distribute Reevoo reviews to all their partners Richard explained.

Umair brought the discussion back to the question of value with his characterisation of Yahoo Answers as “just a collection and aggregation of Q&A’s. It’s a dumb aggregator.”

Squaring the social value circle

James Cherkoff wondered how we put social value on the balance sheet. A phenomenal question, Umair commented. It’s impossible for the bean counters to get beyond the basics; so how do you represent social value? Possibly brand equity, but that’s also impossible as the value that’s created is much more valuable than what you can represent though “brand equity”.

There’s a new kind of asset emerging, he continued, “knowledge value” that is both plastic and liquid [for more on this check some of the longer downloadable essays and presentations on Bubblegeneration]. For example, Reevoo reviews *can* be ranked, Umair insisted, but the challenge is huge. Take Google – where is Page Rank on the balance sheet?

Paul Pod remarked that TIOTI relies on old media still being centralised and doing their thing. For now, we rely on sources, but over time we may *become* a source, we may even become a new kind of TV station.

Pinpointing the aggregator mojo

Reevoo CTO Ben Griffith asked what is that the aggregator adds that gives it extra value? Richard reckoned that what they at Reevoo add is that they create a truly independent and trustworthy basket of reviews. In turn, it’s about adding and extending the ability for recommendation – not just through blog but via a number of different sources.

If you rely too much as a business on stuff that doesn’t belong to you, as many aggregators do, aren’t you going to have problems, Mike wondered. The word aggregation itself is a bastardisation, Umair countered. It’s about aggregating peoples’ preferences, but it’s just a pseudo business.

John Baker of Ogilvy One London noted that there’s been quite a few aggregators who have come through, most notably Google – where’s it going to be in 10 years? Paul Pod reckoned Google would be in managed decline, so it will funnel out into new properties that they own.

Isn’t aggregation purely about convenience, commented Philip Wilkinson of Crowdstorm. Richard Anson of Reevoo agreed and Paul Pod added that the value is in filtering the information out in a convenient way or in giving it a flavour that no-one else has.

Maintaining aggregator impartiality

Sophie Coudray of Antersite expressed concern as to how, as an aggregator, you remain impartial. Richard replied that Reevoo *is* impartial – the reviews are ordered only by date. Paul explained that TIOTI has a four-track revenue scheme that will allow them to remain impartial: advertising (they plan to use the site as an Advertising 2.0 laboratory); white-labelling the service; sponsorships; and ratings/download trend reports.

Umair observed that the people in the States who are really revolutionary are creating a new “currency”, but what do you need to support that in the real world? However, the real world is not necessarily the source, he noted. Interactions in the Habbo world and Second Life are what power some of those businesses.

Will you pay people for the user-generated content that they give you, asked Sam Sethi. Paul said no. Whilst agreeing information has a value, he argued that the public don’t care if they aren’t paid and that’s fine. George Nimeh cited the Pareto rule wherein 99% watch and 1% re-use and contribute. Given that user views are formed post-purchase, how will that affect this balance?

Unless you pay people, they won’t come back to you, Sam insisted. But Umair took this reasoning to task. If we pay them, does the stuff that we get back from them then improve? If you look at economic research you’ll see that people have a strong tendency towards reciprocity.

Aggregate or interact?

Rob McKinnon asked – referencing back to Tom from The Economist’s point [which I missed!] – what about sites like ChicagoCrime? These sorts of aggregators can have major implications *in* the social world because they are *about* the social world. So what’s the next big thing in this regard?

Paul Pod reckoned the environment was the upcoming social issue ripe for aggregation. He’d like to know, he said by way of a mainstream example, about what the differential health impact is between living one metre and three metres from the road. As for the legal side of things, Paul said “if we upset some people along the way, we’re probably doing the right thing!”

Richard Anson remarked that if you as a business aren’t pushing the boundaries, then you’re not going to grow as a business. Umair said we need to stop thinking about aggregation and start thinking about interaction. Closing with a flourish, Mike Butcher floated the idea of the first user-generated-content trade union.

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BTW, a podcast of this event, as well as the ‘RSS Frontiers‘ and ‘Social By Design’ nights may be available in the future. From it, any flaws in my reports will be made transparent ;-)

All three events were recorded for purposes of podcasting but we didn’t have the time or resources to magic it into MP3 goodness. New NMK editor Ian Delaney will soon have a better idea of when it might happen.

In the meantime you can watch a video of the ‘RSS Frontiers’ talks and some of the discussion here, thanks to the industrious Ian Forrester of BBC Backstage.

Chinwag Live – Mobile Metamorphosis

Are mobile business models undergoing a tectonic shift, and how might this affect the mobile value chain?

These issues and more are set to be explored at the next Chinwag Live event on Monday 26th February – Mobile Metamorphosis.

The speakers include Jonathan MacDonald of Blyk, Europe’s first ad-funded free MVNO due to launch in the UK later this year, alongside Hugh Griffith, representing O2. Formely their Head of Data Products & Content, Hugh is now working on a project for O2 Group Strategy, planning the company’s approach to mobile internet, advertising and search.

In the mobile hotseats…

Bringing an analyst’s perspective to the panel is Jessica Sandin of Fathom Partners, one of the most experienced and widely respected practitioners in the field. In turn, Russell Buckley, Managing Director for mobile advertising network Admob Europe is equally renowned for the joint blog he runs with Carlo Longino – Mobhappy.

We announced the event yesterday, and the tickets are already 40% sold out. What else to say really… except that this is an exceptionally choice opportunity to quiz some interesting players in the mobile space and explore the issues surrounding mobile business models and the value chain with an audience of your peers.

Is it over-optimistic to think that 2007 could be mobile’s tipping point?

Book here and join the debate:
http://live.chinwag.com/mobilemetamorphosis