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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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Twitter and Mad Men

dondraper_twitterPaul Isakson has revealed himself to be the brains behind the Don Draper profile on Twitter (for those unaware, Don is the central character in the AMC drama Mad Men – set at an advertising agency on Madison Avenue in 1960). Its popularity inspired others, and before long virtually the entire roster of characters (if not all) were Tweeting away.

Paul has said that he will be transferring control of the account over to AMC for them to use it as they wish.

Will AMC make use of it? Should they?

Back in the Summer, AMC asked Twitter to shut down these user accounts due to copyright violation – although after a groundswell (another buzz word du jour) the profiles were reinstated.

I can understand their reasoning behind it, even if I don’t agree with it. Traditionally, branding was about central planning and pushing a clear and coherent message to current and potential users.

But the nature of a brand is in the eye of the beholder. Faris has a great post where he riffs on Paul Feldwick and socially constructed reality to postulate that

A brand is a collective perception in the minds of consumers

This is why UGC and social media is so scary to some people – they can’t control how the message gets reformulated and reconstituted as it passes from person to person and perception to perception – each new thought predicated and built upon the previous.

And as Heinz found out when they asked consumers to submit videos of Ketchup to be used in an advert, people don’t always say or think what you would like them to.

If a brand is to be successful on Twitter or within social media in general, they have to accept this and roll with the punches.

Will AMC? They would obviously prefer it if they could control all Mad Men Twitter accounts. But if they can’t? That depends on how far they are willing to engage with their fans and perpetuate the mythology. With long-running scripted shows, this can be a difficult prospect.

As the comic book world shows, the problems with multiple storylines, continuity problems, canon vs. non-canon, retcons and so on are legion. At the moment, these Twitter accounts are a bit of fun but if AMC get involved, they are given the aura of legitimacy.

Personally, I think that AMC should take the plunge. People are invested in the show and immersed with the storylines – social media offers fantastic options to deepen that engagement further. This in turn creates loyal advocates who will religiously watch the show and expound the benefits to their peers. A few nitpickers aside, this will be a positive step for fans.

But problems can be caused as social media encourages an insider-outsider effect. I have felt first-hand the issues of being an outsider.

A while back, I tweeted that Mad Men makes me want to drink whisky. Presumably through a Twitter search, two of the fake characters promptly added me as contacts. I am only halfway through the first series and by browsing their feeds I quickly saw things I wish I hadn’t.

Social media activities tend to be run on the premise that people are au fait with all the characters and their developments.

If you are not – BEWARE OF SPOILERS

sk

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Two great videos and the importance of distribution

The video above – Dr MIchael Wesch’s Anthropological Introduction to Youtube – has, at the point of writing, received over 112,000 views. It was uploaded just over a week ago. Not bad for a 55 minute video

The author has past form. A previous video of his – the Machine is us/ing us – has over 6.1m views.

As Dr Wesch mentions in the top video, the Machine is us/ing us grew exponentially in popularity. It spread through word of mouth and grew via Digg and del.icio.us. User generated filtering led to user generated distribution.

But how can the content rise to the fore? It helps that Dr Wesch produces captivating videos but as he points out, 9232 hours of video are uploading to Youtube per day. Six months of Youtube videos equate to sixty years of always on network TV content.

Blogs can of course promote user generated content. But Technorati tracks over 112m blogs. How can a blog rise to the fore?

This question is bubbling around my head at the moment, but I think it points to the continuing necessity of mass media. These may be traditional, but they can equally have spawned bottom up from the Internet.

There needs to be a guarantor of quality content out there (insert joke about quality of content on mainstream media at the moment). Both for people to consume, but more importantly it needs to exist to attract the talented people that create quality content.

Because in the current climate I’m not convinced that quality can naturally rise to the top. There is a good chance of it being sidelined by a Numa Numa or a Tay Zonday.

While The Machine is us/ing us beat the Superbowl adverts (average cost $3.6m) in popularity, what are the chances of these videos having as many views if they were released virally? They could potentially have been as successful and possibly more if the stars align in the right place, but I wouldn’t bet on it. The event, the television event, brought people together.

Mass media still has a future. It may not be perfect, but for me it is the best method for talent to reach an audience.

sk

The failure of the wisdom of crowds

James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds argues that across a large and diverse group, the average response will be better and smarter than individual experts. He illustrates this point with the jellybean answer. In a large room of people, few will get close to guessing the correct number of jellybeans in a jar. But the average of their collective responses will be remarkably close to the true number.

A photography exhibition at The Brooklyn Museum entitled Click experimented with curating through crowd-sourcing.

The exhibition was a critical failure. Crowdsourcing works when there is a quantifiable number. When it is subjective opinion on what makes a good photo, opinion congeals into lowest common denominator crowd-pleasers. (Does Hollywood operate via crowdsourcing?)

To quote the Slate article:

Ultimately, “Click!” demonstrates that people—whether they’re experts or laymen—like pictures that remind them of things they’ve seen before.

Curators need to look forward – to know what’s been done before; to recognize exhausted styles and idioms; and to select art that confounds, surprises, and provokes

Which makes sense. In my experience, design by committee descends into a bureaucratic nightmare – appeasing everyone by pleasing no-one.

Long may the power of the auteur continue.

Hat tip to Mintel Alerts for bringing this to my attention.

sk

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vividbreeze/

Dilbert shows how not to relaunch a website

 dilbert

The Dilbert website has undergone a redesign, and now incorporates a web2.0 element. What should have been a successful launch has been mired in criticism. Change, and especially a radical overhaul, will always attract dissent from some quarters, but Scott Adams et al made some basic mistakes which have spoiled the new look.  

I really like the participative element of Dilbert, found under the vertical entitled mash-up. The concept is that the final pane of the strip –essentially the punchline – is now customisable. Users are invited to see if they can improve on the original joke. In my eyes, this ticks all the right

  • It is a simple idea that can be easily communicated
  • The interface is extremely easy to use
  • The daily nature means users are consistently drawn back to the site
  • Voting and commenting are included
  • It is searchable

It still isn’t perfect – the profile page could do with more information – but that is what the big fat beta sign is for

So why all the hate?

The mash-up element is easy to use. But as a whole, the new features and layout have compromised the simplicity of the site.

People want to visit the site on a daily basis, read a funny strip and move on. Looking at ways to enhance the experience is commendable, but the core offering shouldn’t be disrupted.

Particularly when Dilbert fans are likely to be the rabid uber-geeks that know about website design and aren’t afraid to share their opinions. The use of flash in particular has come in for a lot of criticism. Linux users are reporting that the new site is incompatible with their operating system. This kind of oversight is unacceptable.

This brings me on to participation inequality – a typology of online users created by Jakob Nielsen. Essentially, a tiny minority account for a disproportionately large amount of content – whether in blogs, social networks or Wikipedia, this inequality will hold true. He labels it the 90-9-1 rule

  • 90% of users are lurkers (i.e., read or observe, but don’t contribute).
  • 9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time.
  • 1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions: it can seem as if they don’t have lives because they often post just minutes after whatever event they’re commenting on occurs

By focusing too much on the 10%, the Dilbert team have potentially alienated the 90%. The minority may be the power users, but it makes no sense to ignore the 90% in order to focus on them

The sad thing is that most of the problems with the redesign could have been avoided by going through a simple process. Conversation.

Yes, the element of surprise would have been lost. But by conversing with users, creating buzz, encouraging ideas and providing feedback, the launch would have been a lot smoother. And by taking the participative element to the next level – actually providing users with the opportunity to invest into the look and feel of the site – loyalty and affinity would have improved considerably

Instead, the site owners are fire-fighting. Rather than focusing on the mash-ups and the increase in visitors, they are now announcing a bare-bones page without the additional features. The pointy haired boss would be proud

sk

Rodchenko competition

Fungus 

Photo taken by http://www.flickr.com/photos/rooreynolds/  

I think that this is a brilliant idea for a campaign.

To promote the Rodcheko exhibition at the Hayward, enthusiasts are invited to submit their own photos taken from unusual perspectives (a Rodchenko trademark) with the best broadcast on the Hayward website.

Simple, relevant, inclusive and – most importantly – fun. Top marks to the originator.

 sk