My leisure reading recently has taken me in a direction pretty far away from the normal tech, sociology or media books I usually bookworm through. While the current “to read” list has some of those in it, I used a book completely unrelated to that field to help get me through some recent long-distance travel. The book I picked up is a little bit of pop music porn, the brilliantly written memoir by Rob Sheffield on growing up with 80s radio hits, Talking to Girls about Duran Duran.
I had no expectation that this fun read would have any direct relevance to my day job or normal communication activities. I was wrong, because in reading his mix tape of a story, I recognized that there may be more of a direct connection between Tone Loc and Twitter than I could ever even wildly fantasize about. Stay with me, if you can.
One of the more memorable chapters, for me, is Sheffield’s 14-page prayer at the altar of 80s pop cassingles. As Sheffield writes (page 212, for you citation folks):
“The Cassingle was the pop format of the gods. They were ninety-nine cents, the same price as a seven-inch single in the 1970s or an iTunes download in the 2000s, the price that somehow people decided was the maximum they would pay for a hit song without feeling clipped…little loved, not built to last, encased in flimsly little folded-cardboard cases, cassingles were the humble servants of the pop moment, but they were capable of grandeur.”
Maybe you see where I’m beginning to go with this, and it isn’t into a list of the cassingles that are somewhere stored in a box in my parents’ house never to be seen again. Sheffield continued with the point that really nailed it for me:
“Like any pop format worth its salt, then or now, it was designed for kids on the go, an impulse purchase to be spun a few times on a banged-up Walkman, then thrown away and ash-canned forever.”
Through both internal conversations with colleagues and my own perception, I think it’s beginning to become clear that trying to keep up with the river of news is impossible. It moves too quickly, and the biggest mistake of online content may be trying to keep up with it.
The thing that Mr. Sheffield reminded me of is that content that is meant not to last isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It has a complete use, and in some instances, can become a culture in and of itself. Look at Tumblr, look at Twitter or the Facebook news feed: no one drinks from the firehose (unless you are Joel Miller). Anyone who says they consume it all is lying. Like the pop music cassingle, a bit of this “fast content” is designed to be devoured by those who catch it, but completely ok to be missed if it hits the trash can before noticed.
The logic on this: if any of this content was built for something more, it’d be on a full album or on someone’s mix tape. As Sheffield also commented, no one got into the music business for a cassingle career. Getting content beyond the speeding river requires that same attitude.
Image cc Flickr user lizstless
“I think socializing on the Internet is to socializing what reality TV is to reality.”
Yes, that is correct. It’s a network, not social. In fact, social media is a medium, not about interaction.
“But there is something else at work here, in the outsized enthusiasm for social media. Fifty years after one of the most extraordinary episodes of social upheaval in American history, we seem to have forgotten what activism is.”
~Malcolm Gladwell, Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted.
Go read all of Gladwell’s most recent New Yorker piece. Do not pass go. Just do it.
I’ve used the example of Star Wars Uncut for a lot of things, both on this blog and in my professional life. To me, it’s one of the coolest examples of what the long tail can do when it works together (plus, I also thought it would have made a really nifty use for the soon to be defunct(er) Google Wave). Well, add one more notch in it’s belt – winning an Emmy:
The finished product, “Star Wars Uncut,” won an Emmy last week in a relatively new category, interactive media, heaping new attention onto a project that its producers call a “user-directed broadcast.”
The award is all the more remarkable because, in a world in which television heavyweights likeHBO and NBC mount big-budget campaigns to win Emmys, “Star Wars Uncut” is just a hobby for its creator, Casey Pugh, a 26-year-old Web developer who lives in Brooklyn.
“I’m just so happy that the Internet is taking this step into the broadcast world,” he said in an interview, adding, “It’s partly because broadcast is letting it in.”
The cool part of the story here is how the Television Academy is embracing the interactive channel – truly blurring the lines between content and channel in terms of defining what is considered produced. The new category is a graduation from the pat-on-back events (which are worthy, by the way) like the Webbys. These are all very valid awards, but just as journalists have been forced to recognize bloggers for their value, it is great to see professional television writers do the same with Web producers.
As the producers mentioned during their acceptance speech at the Creative Arts presentations, held just before the main broadcast, “I guess the force was with us.” That, and hundreds and hundreds of really engaged fans who have the power of content production.
I’ve always been a big proponent of the supreme value of content as the best strategy, that is to say, all the techniques, design and Social Media Ninjaing in the world can never make up for crappy guts. That should be scary, in fact, it should be easy to deal with since the costs for creating rough content are bottom of the barrel, which means that even the most harebrained idea, as content, has very little cost for failing.
While thinking about this idea of content fails, and how easy it is to recover from such attempts, I was given a gift via Buzzfeed: a Tumblr dedicated to finding videos on YouTube that have zero views. Zilch. None. And giving them the audience they do (or, more likely, don’t deserve).
For example, let’s take this young fellow who just wanted to rock out some dance moves in his garage with a sketchy neighbor hanging around a pick-up truck across the street:
Loaded and lost forever to the Internet? Maybe. No longer, thanks to 0 Views.
I’m going to watch that a few more times, go ahead if you’d like. While you do it, think about this: for every body wash campaign that blows up with millions of views, there are millions of videos that never see more than a handful. Yet that doesn’t mean the content is crap (ok, in some cases it is). The quality isn’t the idea at stake here, though, it’s the ability. That’s the joy of the digital revolution – creation, not just cultivation – and even in “failure,” it can still have some sort of an impact.
My Twitter stream is flooding (ha!) with tales of power outages, WMATA hold-ups and flood warnings from around the DMV area this morning. That massive storm that came through was fun to watch if you were inside, but being caught in it could not have been fun.
The other thing I’m realizing is that I never would have even gone to an accredited meterology source like Weather.com if it wasn’t for that linked article I put together for We Love DC. In fact, it’s been a lot more fun to follow local Twitterers as they share the on-the-street happenings and images. Just in the last few minutes I’ve seen shots of Constitution Ave underwater, and probably the best shot of the day will be this Twitpic from the middle of Northwest DC:
The running joke in DC is that “weather has brought us together” this year. I think the overly-connected DC social grid is responsible for that. This is a smartphone town, and the fact that everyone is at the point of something happening makes it really easy to create news – even if it is just about a fast moving Tornadocane. At least among this crowd, it felt like it was smarter to turn to Twitter than the news channels this morning. The information was more valuable (knowing there was a flood at one of the metro stations, what did that mean for the commute) because it came from the people actually affected by inclement weather.
No news organization could pay – nor should they – for that many voices and eyewitnesses. But, as I write this, TBD is killing it by tapping into that network and pushing out updates from others, not trying to make their own. Even moments ago they opened a live chat shows that they are willing to hand over the speaker if needed.
Hey, it’s the weather. We always talk about the weather, right? Someone will say the fact that we’ve moved beyond what we eat on Twitter is progress. Maybe they should log in and realize the value that comes with it.
Yes, this is a diva moment, and I’m ok with it. Your quote of the day, from a Washington Post article on Pew’s recent study on the future of social relations, is from your flattered author:
“The social grid gives us the luxury to keep low-involvement relationships — past contacts, former classmates, etc. — together. But the serious friendships, spouses, those can continue at their high involvement.”
I actually wanted to take a brief moment to go a little bit more in depth here because it’s a topic that interests me a lot, specifically as it relates to my involvement in my alumni association. I wrote on a now defunct blog in March 2009:
That’s how Facebook changes the game at reunions.
Trust me, you would have been searching for many exits to that conversation with a long lost friend from a club you hardly remember being in. And, fundamentally, while there’s always the “look how I’m doing” motivation for going to reunions, that really can’t be all.
By staying plugged in to Facebook, we’re actually skipping that step. Yeah, so there’s a few people in my friend list who I may or may not have been really close with. But that’s not the folks I’m going to reunion to see. I mentioned to a friend yesterday in a face-the-facts moment: why fake interest? Go to reunion to be back on campus with the close friends you met there. Actually – use the social network for the savings in social capital at the five year.
I can’t wait to rejoin my classmates – there’ll be a few faces who I probably have missed out on, regardless of our Facebook connections. The online participation will *never completely replace* the offline activity. And I say that with a swift, unhesitating and final certainty.
Alright, I’m done reveling in my own glory, we all know it’s bad for me anyway.
Earlier this week, one of my Edelman colleagues asked me to put together a quick list of “the three keys” of building a niche in blogging. I’m by no means an expert, so I wanted to open up the floor a little to crowdsource it.
Here was my answer:
- Read. Read about the topic as much as you can to become as much of an expert as possible. Reading is a competitive advantage in blogging, and one of the most overlooked.
- Never stop creating content – no matter what your blog looks like, constantly writing is what helps people find it.
- Find other bloggers with common interests and get to know them – don’t be afraid to e-mail a fellow author and offer your favorite recent post, they may start to do the same.
So now, by the glory of self-published content and technology, I ask for your help. What am I missing and what needs to go?
Last month, I made a switch to include social media under the umbrella of digital instead of as its own category. With a little bit of research and help from Princess Bride, I explain why over at Edelman Digital.
I believe that the baseline of users sees “social media” and gets distracted by the social part. That conclusion translates into treating these types of publishing in interpersonal ways, thinking that what we create is a one-to-one or one-to-small-group manner. What is actually happening is that what we are constructing a personal broadcast based on what we choose to publish around our social contacts. We are building media by being social and not the other way around.
Some fun with nomenclature and research never hurt anyone, so read the whole thing here.