October 31, 2011

Previewing Location, Mobile, and How Data Tells Stories at FoE5

This year at FoE, I'll be engaging a panel of great speakers to have a slightly different conversation about location, beyond the usual marketing and technology-focused discussions. With mobile and location-based services on the rise, it is increasingly important think about how these technologies, the behaviors they enable, and the data they produce change how we encounter the spaces we inhabit and interact with one another within them.

As a quick introduction, I wanted to share a little background on our panel:

Tell us a little bit about what you're currently working on and why:

Andy Ellwood: I am currently heading up the business development efforts for Gowalla. We are working with brands and partners around the world as it pertains to the interactions and engagements that our millions of users are creating as it pertains to the stories that they tell about the places that they go.

Dan Street: Hi. I'm CEO of Loku. We bring Big Data tools to Local. You can think of us as a search engine that's specific to local information.

Germain Halegoua: I'm currently working on a few different projects, all related to location or physical place in some way. I'm finishing up a research project about the relationships between vendors and customers over location-based services as well as other social media platforms. I'm beginning to interview people about how they use Google Street View for purposes other than navigation and to examine the participatory cultures that are being formed around StreetView. Mary Gray, Alex Leavitt, and I are working on a project about Foursquare "jumpers" (people who check-in to locations when they're not physically in that location). I'm also working on a collaborative mapping and digital storytelling project that involves bike accidents reported to the Madison, WI Police Department between 2008-2011.

I think it's important to understand what people actually do with navigation and location-
based technologies and the cultures that surround these activities. Frequently, actual
practices tend to differ from intended use, and I think it's important to notice when
and why this happens. All of my current projects deal with social power in some way
(juxtaposing official and vernacular knowledge and experience of place; engaging with
location-based technologies in alternative or oppositional ways; trying to exert control
of customer-vendor relations through location-based technologies) which is a concept
that is under-examined in location-based social media but something that is incredibly
important to understand as more people engage with these systems.

Tell us a little bit about your background and the perspective it brings to your interests:

Andy Ellwood: My background is in sales, most recently selling private jets before jumping into the digital world.

Dan Street: My background is strategy consulting and private equity, in technology and media companies.

Germain Halegoua: My interest in social media and location-based technologies actually stems from studying and participating in documentary film, public access television, and media
activism in NYC. Working on these projects, I observed the ways in which people
harnessed and produced media in order to understand and augment their connection
to local issues, mobilize their neighborhoods, explore their city, and express their social
position within urban space. People have been using technologies to represent and play
with location, and using location to contextualize their experiences, for some time now.
I see activities like "check-ins" and location announcement as an extension of these
mediated practices. Because of my past experiences, I think I'm more apt to think about
a "check-in" as more than "just a check-in," and a lot of my research is driven by the
desire to find out what that means.

How did you first become involved and interested in creating/researching location-based data/interaction/technology? Was there a particular aspect or incident that drew you?

Andy Ellwood: My attraction to tech and digital specifically focused on the ability to take online experiences live and deepen relationships with friends and trusted brands.

Dan Street: I jumped into local both because I care - I'm from a small town, and want to bring some of those dynamics to an urban world - and also because it's a largely untapped opportunity.

Germain Halegoua: I think it might have been when I bought my first cell phone. It was just a bare-bones cell phone with no SMS plan at first (and definitely no apps or web browsing, etc), but it got me thinking about communication, information, and location in a totally different way.

October 28, 2011

Kill Screen's Jamin Warren on the Futures of Gaming

At the Futures of Entertainment, we've always been big proponents of gaming and gamers. I was thrilled to be able to interview Jamin Warren, Founder of gaming magazine Kill Screen. Kill Screen has some of the best game writing out there, and they're constantly proving the importance of games as a cultural form. Jamin Warren told me about why he founded Kill Screen, where Kill Screen's going next and the (lack of) interactions between gamemakers and fans.

Sheila Murphy Seles: Can you tell me a little about your background and why you founded Kill Screen?

Jamin Warren: I started as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, covering arts and entertainment there. I wanted to have my own niche, and besides reading, videogames were the only other thing I had done my entire life. But when I started writing about games, I quickly discovered two things. First, large media institutions like the Journal were not interested in games for either their commercial or cultural import. Second, the type of content for gamers was geared at teens and college-student. As someone in my 20s, there was little for me to express the type of game culture that fit into my life as someone interested, not just in games, but the intersections between play and art/design/music etc.

Other popular movements have had a gatekeeper that ushered them into maturity. Rock had Rolling Stone and then MTV. The Internet had Wired. Indie rock had Pitchfork and VICE had hipsters. That was the impetus for Kill Screen -- to embody this new, older videogame player. Gamers have grown-up, but their culture hasn't.

SMS: What are your biggest initiatives currently at Kill Screen?

JW: Currently, our biggest project is the production arm. My partner Tavit came from Atari and the Primary Wave the music publisher. Brands and agencies are looking for better interactive, game projects, but they don't necessarily have the know-how or experience building those. We know games so we can both build and guide them to create better branded experiences. This summer, for example, we built a project from scratch for Sony Music for Incubus to reinvigorate their fan-base. The game saw tremendous engagement (more than 6 min. of avg. playtime) and sparked a conversation.

On the cultural side, there's a big gap for indie gamemakers in terms of their economic ecosystem. If you're an independent photographer, filmmaker etc., you balance your creative work with your commercial obligations. Game designers have no such system as the games industry writ large is organized like Hollywood before the landmark Supreme Court case against Paramount. Gamemakers either have to work for traditional publishers or hope for their indie project to score a hit. By connecting agencies and brands with game designers, we're expanding their ecosystem to allow them to have a project-based system akin to the one enjoyed by other creatives.

SMS: What kinds of collaboration do you see in the game industry between fans/gamers and content creators?

JW: Traditionally, the videogame industry has done a poor job of engaging fans on their own terms. Nintendo is great example of this failure -- the Wii, for example, made it nearly impossible to connect with others online. Facebook integration on XBox Live and PlayStation Network is woeful. Those lack of dialogic tools is emblematic of a larger rift between those who play games and those who make.

One odd example is FarmVille, which perhaps represents an extreme. They A/B test every user experience and that game is in fact a perfect reflection of the desires of the community. This, of course, sucks the fun out, but it is a conversation they are actively having with their community.

I'm most interested in the user tools that are emerging to make it easier to make games. Microsoft's Kodu is designed for kids and Scratch is another "easy" programming language for game devs. There will be a day where game creation tools will be as commonplace as word processing software.

October 27, 2011

Previewing The Futures of Music at FoE5

Futures of Entertainment Fellow Nancy Baym will be moderating a panel on "The Futures of Music" at our Futures of Entertainment 5 conference Nov. 11-12. Nancy recently had a chance to talk with her five panelists about their background, their current projects, and what they hope to discuss at the conference in two weeks.

First, a brief introduction to Nancy.

Nancy Baym: I'm a professor of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas. I study relationships and the internet and, in the last few years, have been working in the area of music. I did one project about Swedish independent music, looking at how fans spread the music online and how labels and musicians embrace file sharing and audience creativity as a means of fostering community and expanding their audience. Recently I've been interviewing musicians (including Erin McKeown, one of our panelists) about their perspective on their audiences and the roles of social media in those relationships. My website is here.

Q: Can you tell our readers a bit about who you are?

Erin McKeown: Howdy readers! I'm Erin McKeown: a writer, musician and producer. For over a decade, I have made albums and toured, both independantly and with labels. I also do some activist thinking about the music business and larger political issues.

Brian Whitman: I'm the co-founder and CTO of the Echo Nest, a music intelligence company I started in 2005 after my dissertation work at MIT at the Media Lab doing "machine listening" -- teaching computers to understand music. We now power almost every music service out there, from MOG to MTV to Clear Channel to hundreds of independent music apps. I have an academic background in natural language processing, machine learning and information retrieval, and was a relatively active electronic musician before packing it in to start the Echo Nest.

João Brasil: My name is João Brasil, and I'm a musician, music producer and DJ. I'm a Berklee grad. I produce Brazilian Guetto Tech music (Baile Funk, Tecnobrega and Electronic Forró) and Mashups (Sound Collages). My main music source is the internet. In 2010, I made a project where I made one mashup per day.

Chuck Fromm: I'm a catalytic networker helping people to connect, collaborate, create and circulate resources, primarily around Christian religious organizations. I work extensively with church leaders, music industry and independent producers and executives, artists, scholars and writers. I am an adjunct professor in the academy in communications and publisher of Worship Leader Magazine, which allows for connection between writers, leaders and communicators.

Mike King: I'm an instructor at Berkleemusic.com, the online extension school for Berklee College of Music. I've been teaching here for close to five years, and I've written three courses that are music business and music marketing-focused. I'm also the director of marketing for Berkleemusic. I currently teach one course at Northeastern University on music marketing and promotion, and wrote a book called Music Marketing: Press, Promotion, Distribution, and Retail in 2009. Prior to working at Berklee, I was a product manager at Rykodisc, which at the time was a large independent record label in Salem, MA. I was the managing editor of the Herb Alpert Foundation-funded online musician's resource www.artistshousemusic.org for three years.

Q: What have you been working on lately?

Erin McKeown: I've got two albums cooking: my latest singer-songwriter effort, done in the spring. and a record of anti-xmas carols, out just a few days before the conference. This year, i am also a fellow at the Berkman Center, where I have a number of projects simmering around artist revenue streams and policy.

Brian Whitman: Besides the everyday drama and excitement of being the co-founder and CTO of a 35-person startup, I've been focused on two core Echo Nest technologies: our audio fingerprinting and music resolving systems and our "taste profiles" -- recommendation and playlist generation at the listener level. Both involve taking our massive database of music (the biggest in the world, we are pretty sure) and figuring out ways in which we can make people's experience with music better. I have a lot of misplaced bitterness towards the way the tech industry has handled music technology and the music experience for musicians and listeners. I think they've not given it the care that it deserves, and I'm hoping to fix that.

João Brasil: I'm working on my new album for Man Recordings (German Label). I just finished the soundtrack for the Copacabana Beach NYE fireworks. I was invited to be the Brazilian representative DJ for the J&B Whisky Start a Party project, and I'm producing the track for the Nike Run 600 Km project Brazil.

Chuck Fromm: I'm in an intense learning environment as to how media spreads. A small story about a Bible study at my house and local city government spread from local, to national and international in less than two weeks, and so I've been personally experiencing the power of broadcast and social media firsthand.

Mike King: Lately, I've been working on my second book for Berklee Press, which will be focused on online music marketing and the direct to fan approach to marketing. I've also been working on raising a new son, Sam, who is three months old.

Q: What do you hope to talk about in this panel?

Erin McKeown: The time that starts just after today: the Future. Just kidding. We have existing compensation structures that have quite a few flaws. How can artists maximize a broken system? In the bigger picture, how can music benefit from, say, the lessons of the local food movement? Or even #occupywallst?

Brian Whitman: I get a lot of musicians approaching me after talks asking how they can do better in this new world where most everything is available for free -- one way or another -- and there are millions of artists all fighting for the same overworked listeners' attention. I'd like to discuss the importance of data to musicians and how it affects them, even if they've never thought about it.

João Brasil: I hope to talk about internet X music, mashup culture, Worldmusic 2.0, Tecnobrega revolutionary music business in Pará, Youtube X MTV.

Chuck Fromm:

  • How any pig can fly in a hurricane; I've flown in several of them.
  • The development and promotion of early Christian hymns composed in the 2nd and 3rd century, remediating and circulating via networked communications.
  • Working in and with new folk culture created by Internet communications.
  • Key trends that are emerging in the promotion, creation and distribution of music over the past 5 years, based on my own work in music and entertainment as a participant/observer.

Mike King: I'd like our panel to be a discussion on how the music industry is continuing its massive shift - both the positives and negatives - for consumers and artists. I'd like to cover streaming music, social media, direct to fan options, and revenue options for artists.

October 24, 2011

Collaboration across Borders: Interview with Seung Bak of DramaFever

Founded in 2009, DramaFever, an English language video site for Asian TV shows is now the largest US-based site of its kind, boasting over a million active users every month. I had the chance to interview Seung Bak, one of the founders of DramaFever about why the site has become so successful. He also told me about some of the collaborations DramaFever has been able to foster between American fans and producers of Asian dramas.

Continue reading "Collaboration across Borders: Interview with Seung Bak of DramaFever" »

October 21, 2011

C. Lee Harrington on Fan-Producer Collaboration

From Chuck fans saving their show by buying sandwiches to the recent news that a couple of cancelled soaps will get a second life on the web, collaboration between media producers and fans has led to some interesting new business models in recent years. I had the pleasure to talk with media scholar and soap opera expert, C. Lee Harrington about her thoughts on fan/producer collaboration.

Continue reading "C. Lee Harrington on Fan-Producer Collaboration" »

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