Category Archives: Book Digitisation

Being Don Draper

If you’re a fan of Mad Men, who wouldn’t want to be Don, even if just for one wheeling dealing afternoon or rollercoaster nocturnal session? What’s begun to happen with fictional characters on Twitter in 2008/2009 is heading in this, and other equally interesting directions.

Mad Men vs me at a Mad Men party

Mad Men vs me at a Mad Men party - courtesy of Laura Brunow on Flickr

It kind of started when digital planner and strategist Paul Isakson donned the guise of early 1960’s adman Don Draper on Twitter in the summer of 2008,  unbeknownst to Mad Men programme makers AMC. As of writing Don/Isakson now has 8,880 followers. All the other Mad Men characters are on Twitter too (my current fave is Roger Sterling). From what I know, they too are mostly unofficial.

Isakson came clean as to his ownership of the @don_draper account in November and to their credit it seems AMC didn’t demand that Isakson hand it over. Now the chance to be Don (or at least that particular Don, for there are now multiple Dons on Twitter) is up for grabs – and the deadline is today.

Whoever is picked – by a combination of a forthcoming audience vote on the finalists, laced with Paul Isakson’s editorial judgement – will be Don Draper on Twitter for the remainder of Season 3 which began transmitting 16th August in the US. What’s more, if folks don’t rate the new Don’s performance, he can be fired and replaced by the runner-up at any point during the season.

I’m not even going to go into the aptness of all this given Don’s very particular backstory, because if you haven’t yet followed Mad Men that would be a heinous spoiler.

Looking at his blog post today, I’m not sure Isakson got enough entries (I’m guessing some went via the back door of email and the side entrance of tweetbacks). But as an exercise in crowdsourcing an audition, and expanding the kudos Mad Men accrues by layering multiple, more permeable Dons around actor John Hamm’s TV incarnation, it’s a Stars In Their Eyes/X Factor mashup for the transmedia generation.

Of course it’s all somewhat jarring for Mad Men fans not in the USA, but y’all know these transmission lags are a major reason why TV torrents are hugely popular in the UK and why the old school TV distribution model is declining.

Concerns of brandjacking and Twitter-squatting aside – and increasingly these concepts seem hugely over-simplified if not redundant – unofficial is often good if not better. Characters are being liberated, authorship is be re-shaped and unforeseen talents are taking the reins. Simples  🙂

In fact the Twittersphere is now awash with fictional personae. I’ve already been following “Gene Hunt” from the BBC’s Ashes To Ashes for a few months. Daft but bolly good value.

Peep Show is going down the same road, with Mark getting the most interest. All of which feels oddly natural given that a year ago it would have been freakish; and a choice counterpoint to the dreaded real-world insistence that we must “be who we say we are online”, an exhortation that incites me to commit unspeakable acts.

In short, it’s exciting territory and ripe for more quality excursions. To take a very random and subjective sample of arresting characters, imagine if you could have been, or be able to converse with:

John Rebus in Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels

Teddy Hoffman or Richard Cross from Murder One

Renton, Begbie or Spud or from Trainspotting – chapters of which were first published in the groundbreaking Edinburgh-headquartered Rebel Inc magazine.

Henry (“helicopters!”), Karen (“Henrrrry!”), or Tommy (“guns”) from Goodfellas

Pembleton or Munch from Homicide: Life On The Street

Bridget Gregory in The Last Seduction

Caleb Temple in American Gothic

Patrick Bateman in American Psycho

(Rita Hayworth as) Gilda in Gilda

Nick Carraway or Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby.

All so moreish…

Elsewhere this month author Philippa Gregory (working with digital agency Blonde) created a Twitter feed for the main character Elizabeth Woodville in her latest novel The White Queen – all the better, you see, to reinterpret the story through a series of tweets in the week prior to the book’s publication.

For one week only? Hmm, not a lot of time to become really hooked or intrigued you’d think. But no, with very little fanfare she garnered 700+ followers, and the feedback in @ messages was equally potent from numerous viewpoints: the author herself, marketer and publisher intelligence gathering, online PR of course, and practitioners of transmedia generally.

After the first week of this project, we were able to read the tweets in more traditional narrative order on this Flash site. Analysed per-tweet, the quality is variable but from a birds-eye view the concept’s overall execution is quite beguiling.

A central challenge for The White Queen project lay in matching the quality of the source material, and in the transition of perspective and literary skill from print page to ambient digital flow. A big ask, but sometimes (if not this time) the Twitter offshoot is even better than the original fabrication.

In that vein (to lower the tone for a minute and head over to present-day adland), while I don’t set much store by comparison websites, I’ve lately followed CompareTheMeerkat.  As always with creative marketing, the risk is that we’re merely delighted, and this doesn’t translate to sales. But that’s nothing new, and as part the perennial tug of love between advertising, marketing and branding, largely immaterial to this discussion. What’s compelling is the character and @Alexsandr_orlov is a highly diverting creation.

This particular clutch of character extensions are also textbook transmedia shortcuts. Is it just me, or do you ever get tired just thinking about all those Facebook pages connected to the YouTube channel connected to the SEO strategy connected to the website connected to the email sign-up form connected to the mobile campaign, etc, etc, ad infinitum..? All these rinky dink agencies trying oh-so relentlessly to herd our weary eyeballs round some archetypal loop of media integration. Like it was all orchestrated for some slick presentation designed to wow lazy executives at whatever new media conference, ugh.

Oh no, wait, what we should *really* be doing is aggregating them all in FriendFeed or one of its ilk for a full-fat, 360, planned to the nth degree social media experience. Oh, Facebook just bought Friendfeed, umm, well then just wait for 12-18 months, add semantic web – and bada bing! What, the semantic web thingy will take at least 5 more years you say? No, just stop it. It really doesn’t work like that.

Instead, how about we park the whole 360 shizzle, look at the shortcuts that are working some magic and think about the implications? Being @Don_Draper and its Kaufmanesque cohorts are entry points to the future of storytelling. If fictional prototypes like these are the prelude to a new era of character development and narrative interplay, I can’t wait to see what unfolds over the next decade.


SXSW Interactive back on the radar

After a chat at work about this and next year’s SXSW Interactive, I’m feeling inspired. But guilt at not blogging all my notes from the conference/festival has also resurfaced.

Not like it’s not out there already, but every report has its peculiar skew, paraphrasing quirks, deliberate omissions and oversights (to confirm if I’ve missed anything, check out the SXSW official podcasts).

So I’ve resolved (in my spare time) to write up all the sessions I never got round to doing back in the spring-summer period when I was completely overwhelmed with planning Content 2.0, the Beers & Innovation series and NMK’s broader programme of events, in addition to my editorial and web development duties.

If you missed them, the three sessions I did write up back then were:

Beyond Folksonomies: Knitting Tag Clouds For Grandma

Book Digitisation: Revenge Of The Librarians (more exciting than it sounds, but then some librarians are very cool these days)

James Surowiecki on The Wisdom Of Crowds

The forthcoming ones are equally juicy, but they also have a more business-like slant (with garnish of social media and visionary ranting for good measure). Which is a perfect fit for the evolving logic of the Beers & Innovation series.

They also relate equally to the ‘creative industries’ start-up enterprises and SMEs (I *so* hate that acronym, but hey) that dominate the UK web industry. And the creative industries being another area B&I will soon be tackling – in fact it was going to be announced last week (sorry for the delay on that).

So, session write-ups coming soon on:

Running Your New Media Business

The Perfect Pitch – How To Attract Money To Your Digitally Convergent Business

What People Are Really Doing On the Web

Commons-Based Business Models

Danah Boyd’s Current TV SXSW Interview

Consumer Is The Producer: DIY Media

Bruce Sterling Presentation: The State Of the World

Two other great sessions I went to – the Craig Numark keynote and Jason Kottke & Heather Armstrong in interview – I didn’t take notes on, which was nice as I could just relax and take it in. No need to worry though, as 60% of delegates were blogging the conference, so you can look them up on Technorati.

Are you saving-up for your airfare to Austin in March 2007? No chance of affording it or getting the boss to shell out? Get your mates or family to group together and buy you a ticket for Crimbo (£225 for 4 days of round-the-clock goodness – bargainous). Then take a loan out to cover your hotel and airfare, or sell something / anything. That’s my thought for today  😉

SXSW Notes: Book Digitisation And The Revenge Of The Librarians

This session on Saturday 11th March had me from hello, after a fascinating half-day conference on book digitisation I attended and reported on last month in London held by the ALPSP

SXSW 2006 session page 


Liz Lawley – Professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, a trained librarian who used to work at the Library of Congress and visiting researcher at Microsoft Research, Liz blogs at mamamusings, Corante's social software weblog Many-to-Many, and
Danielle Tiedt – Head of Microsoft’s Books Program and General Manager of MSN Search
Bob Stein – Institute for the Research of The Book, visiting Fellow USC Annenberg Center for Communication and founder Night Kitchen 
Daniel Clancy – Director, Google Book Search


Sue Thomas, Professor of New Media at de Montfort University (UK) jumped right in with a question about trans-literacy just as the session started. And a guy from Cyworld asked how does something written now fit into future writing – “the living book” – and changing texts (eg Wikipedia)? A delegate from New York Library asked as we digitised things, are we actually shrinking the realm of knowledge as people will be thinking that’s everything?

Liz Lawley first addressed privacy concerns, for instance the privacy surrendered by having to log-in through Google to look at books. An easy criticism of Google Book Search is that it only had options of where you could find the book online, but they now also include where you can borrow it from / ones in the public domain. 

Daniel Clancy recounted how he went to a talk recently where half the students hadn’t been in the library in the last 6 months. There is a vast amount of authoritative content available and Google want it to be available at anytime and everywhere. To this end, Google has their Book Search and their Library Program.

Mary Hodder spoke up from the floor, positing that Google are not being good community members if they are signing exclusive contacts with publishers, etc, because others should be able to crawl and re-scan that information… Tom Clancy responded that for the public domain, it’s limited, but Hodder queried in turn, can I crawl all Google’s public domain content and use that for other things? Can I build new knowledge on top of it and build communities? 

Danielle Tiedt said she got into book search for a lot of the same reasons as Google, for example to improve the answers in Microsoft Search. Only 5% of the world’s information is online today. Book digitisation is a very long-game process and is going to require a lot of people working together to make it happen. One of the reasons Microsoft joined the OCA, she continued, is because it is specifically focused around public domain work and they make it freely available to everyone. There are 3 copies of everything – one goes to the Internet Archive [run by Brewster Kahle – cheers Brewster, fragments of three former websites I’ve worked on that went bust or were retired are stored there!], one to the OCA, and one to a commercial company eg. Microsoft. 

At this point Bob Stein countered that it is scary that Mary Hodder has to act like a supplicant if everything is “going to be okay” Hodder commented that Kahle says “trust me” but if you put the info out there, the concept of having as many copies as possible forces you to make a business model around better services, based on better user interfaces, and trust that validates (eg make an API for all the content so others can remix, mash up and build upon it). 

Stein said he has a tremendous problem with any commercial organisation controlling the archive that is our culture, citing the instance of censorship in China. Ceding our culture in this way to large organisations is scary. We are giving up the role of the public librarian too easily, he stressed. 

Danielle Tiedt noted that Europe is taking a more public approach with governments supporting digitisation. There’s not enough money to make it happen without public involvement, she added. 

Daniel Clancy explained that 30 million books takes $1.5 billion to digitise – so how would Bob Stein et al have Google behave, and is Stein comfortable with the US government being the source of digitisation? 

Liz Lawley interjected that maybe we need to look at more decentralized options, wondering how much would they have costed Wikipedia in advance? 

An issue around the idea of the perfect book was raised from the audience – if pages online are collected from different editions, what edition [or what translation, I wonder] am I reading? What effect is this having on scholarship, he asked.

A delegate from iBiblio described the broadcasting and webcasting treaty currently being negotiated as “the Rome Convention” on steroids!” as it transfers the copying rights onto the web and broadcasting world. 

Responding to the point that there is not a lot of demand for digitisation, Danielle Tiedt, said there is in regards to search. People want authoritative, book-sourced / originated content and a lot of search queries aren’t being answered because there’s a lack of authoritative content in the search results. 

Bob Stein put forth the case that the books Google has digitized are reading us. But Daniel Clancy countered that you don’t have to login for public domain content, if you check 'fully accessible' in Google's 'advanced search'. 

Liz Lawley asserted that Google aren’t organizing anything, they’re just indexing it, and usability issues have to be addressed. For instance the best edition of Hamlet for a six-year-old and the best for a PhD scholar aren’t one and the same. Librarians however, do have expertise in searching and sourcing the correct texts.

Danielle Tiedt took up the point about indexing and organizing – how pages are ranked for search is a lot harder to do with the types of technology we have today and she reckoned we’re still going to need a lot of human intervention.