Transmedia Hollywood 2: Visual Culture and Design can takes place tomorrow (Friday, April 8th). Prof. Jenkins is hosting and moderating the event - along with Denise Mann of UCLA - and many CMS C3 alumni, consulting researchers, practitioners and affiliates will be in attendance.
It promises to be an important event as "Transmedia' fights its way out of its early adoption/evangelist stage - into a broader discourse on what works, what doesn't, what the future language of the medium is and will be - as well as an exploration of the artistic, creative and market-driven pros and cons of transmedia narrative structures.
Registration is still open and is available through:
TRANSMEDIA, HOLLYWOOD 2:
Visual Culture and Design
A UCLA/USC/Industry Symposium
UCLA Producers Program,
UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television
USC School of Cinematic Arts
Friday, April 8, 2011
James Bridges Theater, UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television
9:45 AM - 7 PM
Denise Mann, Associate Professor, Producers Program, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
Henry Jenkins, Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts, USC Annenberg School of Communication
Transmedia, Hollywood 2: Visual Culture and Design is a one-day public symposium exploring the role of transmedia franchises in today's entertainment industries. Transmedia, Hollywood 2 turns the spotlight on media creators, producers and executives and places them in critical dialogue with top researchers from across a wide spectrum of film, media and cultural studies to provide an interdisciplinary summit for the free interchange of insights about how transmedia works and what it means.
Co-hosted by Denise Mann and Henry Jenkins, from UCLA and USC, two of the most prominent film schools and media research centers in the nation, Transmedia, Hollywood 2 builds on the foundations established at last year's Transmedia, Hollywood: S/Telling the Story. This year's topic: Transmedia, Hollywood: Visual Culture and Design is meant to move from an abstract discussion of transmedia storytelling in all its permutations to a more concrete consideration of what is involved in designing for transmedia.
The past year has seen the Producer's Guild of America (PGA) embrace the concept of the transmedia producer. The other Guilds have begun discussing the implications of these developments for their membership. A growing number of small production units are springing up across the film, games, web, and television sectors to try to create and distribute transmedia content. Many of today's new transmedia producers are helmed by one-time studio or network insiders who are eager to "reinvent" themselves. Inside the studios, the executives tasked with top-down management of large media franchises are partnering with once marginalized film directors, comic book creators, game designers, and other creative personnel.
The underlying premise of this conference is that while the traditional studios and networks are hanging onto many of their outdated practices, they are also starting to engage creative personnel who are working outside the system to help them re-imagine their business. With crisis and change comes the opportunity for the next generation of maverick, independent-minded producers--the next Walt Disney and George Lucas-- to significantly challenge the old and to make way for the new. So, now, it is time to start examining lessons learned from these early experiments. Each of the issues outlined below impact the day-to-day design decisions that go into developing transmedia franchises. We hope to break down the project of developing transmedia content into four basic design challenges:
- What does it mean to structure a franchise around the exploration of a world rather than a narrative? How are these worlds moving from the film and television screen into other media, such as comics, games, and location based entertainment?
- What does it mean to design a character that will play well across a range of different media platforms? How might transmedia content re-center familiar stories around compelling secondary characters, adding depth to our understanding of the depicted events and relationships?
- What does it mean to develop a sequence of events across a range of different media? How do we make sure that the spectator understands the relationship between events when they are piecing together information from different platforms and trying to make sense of a mythology that may span multiple epochs?
- What does it take to motivate consumers to invest deeply enough into a transmedia franchise that they are eager to track down new installments and create buzz around a new property? How is transmedia linked to a push towards interactivity and participatory culture?
As with the first event, Transmedia, Hollywood: Visual Culture & Design
will bring together comic book writers, game designers, "imagineers," filmmakers, television show runners, and other media professionals in a conversation with leading academic thinkers on these topics. Each of our speakers will be asked to focus on the unique challenges they faced while working on a specific production and detail how their understanding of transmedia helped them resolve those issues. From there, we will ask all our speakers to compare notes across projects and platforms with the hopes of starting to develop some basic design principles that will help us translate theories of transmedia entertainment into pragmatic reality.
The creative personnel we have assembled include many of the key individuals responsible for masterminding the fundamental changes in the way traditional media operates and engages audiences by altering the way stories are told temporally, by exploring how graphic design translates from one medium to another, and by explaining how these visually-stunning worlds are being conceived in today's "connected" entertainment arena.
Friday, April 8, 2011
Welcome and Opening Remarks
- Teri Schwartz, Dean, UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television
- Denise Mann, Associate Professor/Head, Producers Program, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
- Henry Jenkins, Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts, Annenberg School of Communication, USC
Panel 1: "Come Out 2 Play": Designing Virtual Worlds--From Screens to Theme Parks and Beyond
Hollywood has come a long way since Walt Disney, circa 1955, invited families to come out and play in the first cross-platform, totally merchandised sandbox--Disneyland. Cut to today and most entertainment corporations are still focused on creating intellectual properties to exploit across all divisions of the Company. However, as the studios and networks move away from the concrete spaces of movie and TV screens and start to embrace the seemingly limitless "virtual spaces" of the Web as well as the real-world spaces of theme parks, museums, and comic book conventions, the demands on creative personnel and their studio counterparts have expanded exponentially.
Rather than rely on old-fashioned merchandising and licensing departments to oversee vendors, which too often results in uninspired computer games, novelizations, and label T-shirts, several studios have brought these activities in-house, creating divisions like Disney Imagineering and Disney Interactive to oversee the design and implementation of these vast, virtual worlds. In other instances, studios are turning to a new generation of independent producers--aka "transmedia producers"--charged with creating vast, interlocking brand extensions that make use of a never-ending cycle of technological future shock and Web 2.0 capabilities.
The results of these partnerships have been a number of extraordinarily inventive, interactive, and immersive experiences that create a "you are there" effect. These include the King Kong 360 3D theme park ride, which incorporates the sight, smell, and thunderous footsteps of the iconic gorilla as he appears to toss the audience's tram car into a pit. Universal Studios and Warner Bros. have joined forces to create the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a new $200 million-plus attraction at the Islands of Adventure in Florida.
Today's panel focuses on the unique challenges associated with turning traditional media franchises into 3D interactive worlds, inviting you to come out 2 play in the studios' virtual sandboxes.
Moderator: Denise Mann
Panelists will include:
- Alex McDowell, Production Designer for Tim Burton and Zack Snyder (Corpse Bride, Watchmen)
- Thierry Coup, Art Designer, Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Angela Ndalianis, Associate Professor and Head of the Cinema Studies Program at the University of Melbourne, Australia (Neo-Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment)
- Bruce Vaughn, Chief Creative Executive, Disney Imagineering
Panel 2: "We're Looking For Characters": Designing Personalities Who Play Across Platforms
How is our notion of what constitutes a good character changing as more and more decisions get made on the basis of a transmedia logic? Does it matter that James Bond originated in a book, Spider-Man in comics, Luke Skywalker on screen, and Homer Simpson on television, if each of these figures is going to eventually appear across a range of media platforms?
Do designers and writers conceive of characters differently when they know that they need to be recognizable in a variety of media? Why does transmedia often require a shift in focus as the protagonist aboard the "mothership" often moves off stage as extensions foreground the perspective and actions of once secondary figures?
How might we understand the process by which people on reality television series get packaged as characters who can drive audience identification and interest or by which performers get reframed as characters as they enter into the popular imagination?
Why have so few characters from games attracted a broader following while characters from comics seem to be gaining growing popularity even among those who have never read their graphic adventures?
Moderator: Henry Jenkins
Panelists will include:
- Joseph Ferencz, Strategy and Marketing Manager, Ubisoft
- Geoff Johns, Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment
- Alisa Perren, Assistant Professor, Georgia State University
- Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson, Executive Producers of Smallville
Panel 3: Fan Interfaces: Intelligent Designs or Fan Aggregators?
Once relegated to the margins of society, today's media fans are often considered the "advance guard" that studio and network marketers eagerly pursue at Comi-Con and elsewhere to help launch virtual word-of-mouth campaigns around a favorite film, TV series, computer game, or comic book. Since tech-savvy fans are often the first to access Web 2.0 sites like YouTube, Wikipedia, and Second Life in search of a like-minded community, it was only a matter of time before corporate marketers followed suit. After all, these social networking sites provide media companies with powerful tools to manage fans and commit them to crowd-sourcing activities on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere.
Given the complexities and contradictions involved in negotiating between industry and audience interests, we will ask the game designers to explain their philosophy about the intended and unintended outcomes of their fan interfaces. Marketers clearly love it when fans become willing billboards for the brand either by wearing logo T-shirts or by dressing a favorite Madman avatar in the 1960s clothing, accessories and backgrounds on display on the AMCTV.com "Madmen Yourself" and then spreading the content through Facebook and Twitter.
What is the design philosophy behind a video game like Spore, which allows fans free range to create their own creatures and worlds but then limits their rights over this digital content? Who owns these virtual creations once they appear for sale on E-bay? These and other intriguing questions will be posed to the creative individuals responsible for designing many of these imaginative and engaging fan interfaces.
Moderator: Denise Mann
- Matt Wolf, Double 2.0, ARG/Game Designer
- Avi Santos, Assistant Professor, Dominican College and Co-editor, FlowTV.com and In Media Res.com
Panel 4: "It's About Time!" Structuring Transmedia Narratives
The rules for how to structure a Hollywood movie were established more than a century ago and even then, were inspired by ideas from earlier media -- the four-act structure of theater, the hero's quest in mythology. Yet, audiences and creators alike are still trying to make sense of how to fit together the chunks of a transmedia narrative. Industry insiders use terms such as mythology or saga to describe stories which may expand across many different epochs, involve many generations of characters, expand across many different corners of the fictional world, and explore a range of different goals and missions.
We might think of such stories as hyperserials, in so far as serials involved the chunking and dispersal of narrative information into compelling units. The old style serials on film and television expanded in time; these new style serials also expand across media platforms.
So, how do the creators of these stories handle challenges of exposition and plot development, managing the audience's attention so that they have the pieces they need to put together the puzzle? What principles do they use to indicate which chunks of a franchise are connected to each other and which represent different moments in the imaginary history they are recounting? Do certain genres -- science fiction and fantasy -- embrace this expansive understanding of story time, while others seem to require something closer to the Aristoltelian unities of time and space?
Moderator: Henry Jenkins
- Caitlin Burns, Transmedia Producer, Starlight Runner Entertainment
- Abigail DeKosnik, Assistant Professor, University of California-Berkeley (Co-Editor, The Survival of the Soap Opera: Strategies for a New Media Era; Illegitimate Media: Discourse and Censorship of Digital Remix)
- Jane Espensen, Writer/Producer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, Torchwood.
- John Platt, Co-Executive Producer, Big Brother, The Surreal Life
- Tracey Robertson, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder, Hoodlum
- Lance Weiler, Founder, Wordbook Project
- Justin Wyatt, Executive Director, Research at at NBCUniversal, Inc (High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood).
Lobby, James Bridges Theater
James Bridges Theater, UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television
Tickets are $5 for faculty and students of accredited institutions and will only be sold at the box-office of the UCLA Central Ticket Office and at the door on the day of the event (prior registration required). Valid university I.D. is required. Registration includes admission to conference and reception.
Tickets for the general public are $30. Registration includes admission to conference and reception. Please register: http://www2.tft.ucla.edu/RSVP/index.cfm?action=rsvp_form
Directions to UCLA:
UCLA Producers Program
UCLA Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media
203 East Melnitz
Los Angeles, CA 90095
Phone: (310) 206-3761
Fax: (310) 825-3383
In the Boston area tonight for Futures of Entertainment, or a C3-minded local who can't make it to the conference? This evening from 5-7, the novelist, anthologist and cross-media storyteller Jeff VanderMeer is giving a free, open-to-the-public talk as part of MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Colloquium lecture series and the unofficial kickoff to Futures of Entertainment! The talk will last about 45 minutes, after which the anthologist, essayist, NPR commentator and Booktour.com CEO Kevin Smokler will lead the Q&A session.
Here’s the rundown:
Booklife: The Private and the Public in Transmedia Storytelling and Self-Promotion
Jeff VanderMeer with Kevin Smokler
Fictional experiments in emerging media like Twitter and Facebook are influencing traditional printed novels and stories in interesting ways, but another intriguing new narrative is also emerging: the rise of “artifacts” that, although they support a writer’s career, have their own intrinsic creative value. What are the benefits and dangers of a confusion between the private creativity and the public career elements of a writer’s life caused by new media and a proliferation of “open channels”? What protective measures must a writer take to preserve his or her “self” in this environment? In addition to the guerilla tactics implicit in storytelling through social media and other unconventional platforms, in what ways is a writer’s life now itself a story irrespective of intentional fictive storytelling? Examining these issues leads naturally to a discussion on the tension and cross-pollination between the private and public lives of writers in our transmedia age, including the strategies and tactics that best serve those who want to survive and flourish in this new environment. What are we losing in the emerging new paradigm, and what do we stand to gain?
A writer for the New York Times Book Review, Huffington Post, and Washington Post, Jeff VanderMeer is also the award-winning author of the metafictional City of Saints & Madmen, the noir fantasy Finch, and Booklife: Strategies & Survival Tips for 21st-Century Writers. His website can be found at jeffvandermeer.com.
Kevin Smokler is the editor of Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times (Basic Books) which was a San Francisco Chronicle Notable Book of 2005. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Fast Company and on National Public Radio. He lives in San Francisco, blogs for the Huffington Post and at kevinsmokler.com, and is the CEO of BookTour.com.
Presented in conjunction with Futures of Entertainment 4.
The event is, again, free and open to the public registration for Futures of Entertainment is not required. It begins at 5 PM, runs until 7, and is going down at room 4-231 (building 4, room 231) on the MIT campus. Parking on-campus is a little wonky, but there are multiple parking garages around; a better bet is likely to take public transportation. The Red Line in Boston comes straight to Kendall Square, which is right on the edge of the MIT campus. The lecture location is only a few minutes’ walk from there.
Jeff is currently on tour supporting his new book Booklife, which he describes as “a unique writing guide to sustainable careers and sustainable creativity, the first to fully integrate discussion of the role of new media into topics that have always been of interest to writers”. I just finished reading my copy this afternoon and I can personally testify that it’s full of a wide range of great stuff. Jeff splits the book into two distinct sections, one on the author’s Public Booklife (marketing, PR, social interactions and other public engagements) and Private Booklife (the actions, philosophies, emotions and other internal struggles of the actual act of writing) and both halves - plus the appendices - are packed with thoughtful insights and useful advice. For example, how do writers deal with envy - and what does Francis Bacon have to say about that? To steal a line from an old tomato sauce commercial, “It’s in there!”
5 o’clock PM tonight, Thursday, November 19th, in room 4-231 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - I’ll see you there!
Man, I hate hearing about an awesome conference just after the thing's wrapped up. So it is this week with PaperCamp, which went down in London on January 17th. Here's the description of the event from its own webpage:
What is PaperCamp?
A get-together for a day to talk about, fiddle with, make and explore what's possible with paper based on a blog post
(http://magicalnihilism.wordpress.com/2008/10/29/papercamp/) where a lot of people seemed enthusiastic about the idea. PaperCamp is a 'fringe' event to BookCamp, in London's Kings Cross on the 17th January.
What will happen at PaperCamp?
Well, as it's a '___Camp'-type thing, that's largely up to you... we'll have a room, and a grid of timeslots for you to fill with talks, activities, discussions of your making. However, to frame that a little, the original thought behind PaperCamp was 'hacking paper and it's new possibiities'. We do have one thing organised - a 'keynote' if you like from Aaron Straup Cope from a little site called Flickr and more importantly, http://www.aaronland.info/papernet/.
Whether that's looking at material possibilities of paper itself, connecting paper to the internet and vice-versa with things like 2d-barcodes, RFIDs or exotic things like printing with conductive inks... it's about the fact that paper hasn't gone away in the digital age - it's become more useful, more abundant and in some cases gone and got itself bionic superpowers...
As I say - it's up to you what you want to make of it, please bring to the event half-formed thoughts, ideas, projects you've done or anything you would like get others exposed to, or even hacking on. These can take the form of straight-forward talks, or, things you want other people's brains and hands to help with... please bring them... along with Paper, pens, RFIDs, soldering irons, Heidelberg Lithos or any other equipment or materials you will need. We will just provide chairs, tables and a projector...
Even just reading that description, my mind is officially blown and that's nothing compared to reading Jeremy Keith's liveblogging of the event.
Continue reading "The Future of Entertainment is... Paper?" »
A quick note: people interested in following C3's Futures of Entertainment 3 conference in real time should hop on Twitter and follow http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23foe3. There's a whole mess of current students, alums, consulting researchers, partners and interesting folks twittering away over there.
Those of you who are physically camped out here in the Bartos Theater at MIT with us, be sure to check out our Backchan.nl setup for realtime feedback and questions at http://foe3.backchan.nl.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending Bruce Sterling's keynote lecture at the 2008 Austin Game Developers' Conference. (I was there co-presenting a video game adaptation workshop with Matthew Weise, a comrade-in-arms of mine at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab.) Sterling was, as ever, utterly brilliant; given my previous exposures to Sterling at SXSW conferences in the past, I was expecting to be entertained. What I hadn't expected was for Sterling to give his entire lecture as a piece of performance art.
Thanks to the inestimable Raph Koster, we have a mostly complete transcript of Sterling's presentation, which opened thus:
Hello, thanks for having me into your event today, and thanks for that intro. Though there is a problem with that: I am not Bruce Sterling. He couldn't make it. He sent me instead.
The reason he couldn't make it is that in 2043, Bruce is 89. Dr. Sterling is too frail to get into a time machine to talk to game devs, so he called on me to do it. I am one of his grad students. I volunteered, sort of, to journey back in time using some of our new technical methods. It wasn't exactly easy, but I am here and fully briefed.
Priceless. You should definitely swing by Koster's site and read the whole thing, even though it can't compete with the sheer ludicrousness of
Sterling Dr. Sterling's unnamed grad student whipping a cheap kitchen towel out of a bag and introducing it as his computer.
"So my PC is like a towel," not-Sterling said. "Cheap and old and the dullest thing in the world, I have always had one. '2008, computer pioneers, they still think computers are exciting! They don't get that computers in 2043 are like bricks, forks, toothbrushes, towels.' I researched that subject, and yeah, for an old fashioned audience, a mid-21st century computer is cool. So here it is: General Electric personal mediators, very stable, five years old. No full functionality in 2008 because we don't have the cloud here yet. It tapped into something called Windows Vista when it got here and gave up, gone all limp, nothing left on here but this frozen screensaver pattern." Which, of course, was the pattern on the towel. Like I said, priceless.
What really left me howling, however, was when not-Sterling all but name-dropped C3.
Continue reading "Metafun for Metaplayers" »
There has been much made lately of the tech sector's newest favorite buzzword: cloud computing. Like many such newly-minted terms, there is some dispute about its actual definition; I wrote about one such permutation in a previous entry for the C3 Weekly Newsletter when the MacBook Air was about to be unveiled at the Macworld conference in January. In it, I conflated the terms 'cloud computing' with 'ubiquitous computing', but in retrospect I should pull the two terms apart somewhat. They're still linked at a very basic level -- both cloud computing and ubiquitous computing hinge on the idea of decentralization, which I'll get back to in a bit -- but by attempting to distinguish these two terms, we begin to gain a clearer idea of where our digital culture is heading next.
Continue reading "Moving Into the Cloud." »
When C3 was first booting up in 2005, our circle of students would speak wistfully of how the Internet could have saved Joss Whedon's Firefly or Warren Ellis' Global Frequency. Although both of those properties seem to be dead or at least comatose, their creators have each announced new Internet-launched properties.
Last week the trailer and official website for Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog went live, as well as (of course) its official MySpace page and the more-or-less official fan site. The project, a spiritual follow-up to the incredibly popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode "Once More with Feeling", is a serialized superhero musical starring Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser, M.D.) and Whedonverse regular Nathan Fillion (Buffy, Firefly) as a hapless supervillain and the hero that plagues him. Business-centric readers of this blog, pay attention: the first of the show's three episodes will premiere at www.drhorrible.com on Tuesday, July 15, followed by the second on July 17, and the third on July 19, but all three episodes will only be available for free viewing on the site until July 20th. After that, the episodes will be available for "a nominal fee" (according to Whedon), which will then be followed up by a DVD with "the finest and bravest extras in all the land". More information has been promised to us at Comicon, but we Whedon fans are already champing at the bit.
Speaking of conventions, at last week's G.I. Joe collector's convention (JoeCon 2008) it was announced that Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Global Frequency) is writing a series of animated webisodes for adults. The miniseries, called G.I. Joe: Resolute, will consist of ten five-minute episodes and one ten-minute finale, and is scheduled to debut in the first quarter of 2009. The show will be much grittier in nature than any G.I. Joe cartoon yet, featuring guns that fire bullets instead of lasers and characters falling in combat, but "little to no blood shown". While it isn't clear whether or not these webisodes will tie into the live-action G.I. Joe movie set for release next summer, in the style of The Animatrix or Batman: Gotham Knight, the producers did say that they hoped to air the entire series someplace like the Cartoon Network or distribute it on DVD and that this is the direction Hasbro hopes to go with all of their brands.
While both of these projects seem to be following a fairly solid "web to DVD" model, it's far from the only business strategy being kicked around. Another intriguing alternative was announced this morning by Google, who has struck a deal with Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane concerning his next project, "Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy." According to the New York Times:
Google will syndicate the program using its AdSense advertising system to thousands of Web sites that are predetermined to be gathering spots for Mr. MacFarlane's target audience, typically young men. Instead of placing a static ad on a Web page, Google will place a "Cavalcade" video clip.
Advertising will be incorporated into the clips in varying ways. In some cases, there will be "preroll" ads, which ask viewers to sit through a TV-style commercial before getting to the video. Some advertisers may opt for a banner to be placed at the bottom of the video clip or a simple "brought to you by" note at the beginning.
Mr. MacFarlane, who will receive a percentage of the ad revenue, has created a stable of new characters to star in the series, which will be served up in 50 two-minute episodes.
What's doubly interesting about the project is the reason MacFarlane cites for moving to the web. According to the article, MacFarlane felt "feeling constrained by the 'taste police,' a k a the Federal Communications Commission." Given how raunchy Family Guy is to start with, I can only imagine that this new project will be something the late George Carlin would have been proud of.
As C3 followers well know, all three of these creators have had experience with alternative distribution methods of content before Whedon's fans turned the fallen Firefly into the feature film Serenity; Ellis' fans built up a huge amount of buzz around the failed pilot of his Global Frequency when it leaked onto the web and he is currently posting weekly installments of the web-only comic Freakangels to http://www.freakangels.com/; and MacFarlane's Family Guy was brought back from the dead due to fan support. To say that we could have worse canaries in this coal mine would be an understatement.
Every now and then something crosses my inbox that makes my jaw drop. Sometimes it's genius, sometimes it's astonishingly crass, and sometimes it's a combination of the two. This morning's report from DVICE.com on the Mio Knight Rider GPS is definitely a category three jaw-dropper.
On the one hand, it makes perfect sense. If you're going to have your car talk to you, and you're one of the generation of geeks that grew up in the 80's, you're most likely going to be secretly pretending that your compact or SUV is the Knight Industries Two Thousand anyway. On the other, this ranks right up there with a lightsaber remote control in burying the needle on the dorkometer. If nothing else, installing this sucker will provide a perfect litmus test for every future blind date that might set foot in your ride. Ever.
All easy jokes aside, the Knight Rider GPS actually does provoke some interesting thoughts. First, it's interesting that Mio licensed the original, 1980s voice of KITT, William Daniels, instead of the new KITT from NBC's upcoming Knight Rider remake. This might have something to do with the new voice being out of Mio's price range (I'd expect Val Kilmer doesn't come cheap), but since the device is scheduled to go on sale in "the August timeframe" and the new show is scheduled to launch on September 24th, I'd imagine there will be at least some would-be buyers scratching their heads and wondering why this KITT doesn't sound like the KITT on their TVs every Wednesday night. If the show takes off (as the pilot movie's 13 million viewers would seem to suggest), this could prove to be a real gotcha.
Second, is the voice from a 20-year-old cult TV show enough to justify a purchase when so many other interesting competitors are flooding the market? The Knight Rider GPS will supposedly retail for $270, which is $70 more than the 3G Apple iPhone with true GPS under its hood. Alpha geeks that sneer at Apple fanboys might be more interested in ponying up the extra forty bucks for the $299 Dash Express, which bills itself as the "first two-way, Internet-connected GPS navigation system". If the market for the Knight Rider GPS is an inherently geeky one, the iPhone and the Dash Express seem to be two pretty big shakers in that market already.
Finally, does this open the door for a whole raft of novelty GPS devices? How long will it be before we see a GPS with a UI lifted right from the Enterprise and the voice of Jonathan Frakes, that only responds if it's addressed as "Number One"? Or one with a brass-and-woodgrain casing that boots up with a whistle and responds to "Starbuck"?
A more interesting idea is the GPS as a platform for personalization across different drivers we already have Mr. T, Dennis Hopper and Burt Reynolds giving us directions, and Nintendo's Wii Fit can have different trainers assigned to personal profiles, so why not GPS devices that recognize who's driving and customize their voices to each driver's preferences or change their voices based on the time of day or location? During normal driving hours you might want to be guided by the soothing baritone of Patrick Stewart, but perhaps late at night when you might doze off behind the wheel the device could switch to the grating screech of Gilbert Gottfried. (Or, worse, it could direct all of its sound output to the rear speakers and imitate your mother-in-law. Hey, it could happen.)
Of course, as any hot-rodder, art car builder or bumper sticker aficionado could tell you, our vehicles have always been platforms for customization. Even giving them distinctive voices isn't anything new all it takes is a couple of playing cards in the spokes of a bicycle wheel. Our vehicles are, for many of us, extensions of our personalities and if your personality has been secretly dying to deploy out the back of a semi truck on some lost American highway for the last twenty years, then hey, more power to you.
Just please, please don't try the turbo boost.
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Something is afoot in the land of online imagery.
My Twitter account has come to serve as the CNN crawler to my RSS feeds' feature stories and interviews: little bits and snippets of news with tinyurl pointers to the latest events. As I scrolled through my account this morning, I saw that at 5:31 PM yesterday, Derek Powazek tweeted "Are you resistant to change? Join the EVERYTHING NEW IS BAD army! http://www.flickr.com/groups/changeresistance/", which was my first clue that something was up. I thought Derek was just being snarky, so I didn't take the bait -- but at 5:57, Matt Howie followed suit with "Man, just when you think nothing can top Livejournal user drama, Flickr "no video" people go and redefine the term 'user drama'". The topic died down for a while (evidence that my circle, now in our mid-twenties to mid-thirties, are getting more interested in things like cooking and kids than teh Intarwebs in the evenings), but then at 1:01 AM EST my photographer friend Rannie Turingan tweeted "What do you think of Video on Flickr? http://tinyurl.com/5qdqqw". Molly Wright Steenson's tweet "all your base are belong to Flickr Video" was the next on the topic at 11:07, followed by my "Holy crap Flickr Video" at 11:15 and Kevin Smokler's "Flickr video kicked my kitten..." at 11:24. Right now the blogosphere is discovering something new and, like a bunch of curious kittens (thanks, Kevin) we're poking it, prodding it and figuring out what we think of it.
A lot of the reaction so far has been negative, as Derek's tweet seems to have foreshadowed. (This isn't surprising; Derek's wife Heather Champ Powazek works at Flickr, so both Derek and Heather are sitting at ground zero for this one -- in fact, Heather posted a video on the official Flickr blog called 'Video on Flickr' that served as an official teaser for the feature on April 8.) Ryan Gantz posted an interesting Obama-meets-Anti-Flickr-Video mash-up image titled 'leave flickr alone', which is only one image in the pools We Say NO to Videos on Flickr (25,239 members), NO VIDEO ON FLICKR!!! (10,544 members) and We say NO to Videos on Flickr UNCENSORED! (27 members). It's the last one that's particularly interesting; aside from the fact that yes, you do have to click through Flickr's safety screen to get to it (Flickr's CYA clause for NSFW images), it's the only one of the three to have a number of actual videos appearing on its initial page. In fact, six of the thirty images on the pool's initial page point to videos, all of whom seem to be illustrating the point that shocker! adding video to Flickr opens the door to questionable content. Actually clicking on them, though, shows that the content isn't that questionable the first one, a short video called 'Genesis in Reverse' by a user called Claudia Veja is straight out of art school, featuring what appears to be a naked woman wandering through a city, but the film is shot in such a way that it shows no 'questionable' body parts aside from some ankle and some collarbone. The second, Easter Photowalk 2008' by ♥ shhexycorin ♥, is a hyperaccelerated autobio piece with the most questionable bit being a guy trying to kick a pigeon or two. PETA might be annoyed, but they'd be hard pressed to file charges. The third, Genesis in reverse part 2', also by Claudia Veja, is a continuation of the first that is somewhat sexier (featuring a risque outfit, a cigarette and, later, some cross-gendered makeup) but still isn't what I'd deem NSFW. The others? A dog getting peanut butter off his nose, a cat drinking from a toilet and a dog named Gilligan running at double-speed around a yard.
Titillating stuff, that. So what's going on here?
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