Adaptation: A Framework for the Ages

That’s Damien Newman’s process of design. It may be crude, but it’s absolutely clear: the unknown heading into Research leads to the sparks of Ideation, culminating with the clarity and details of Design.

While such a process is a universal axiom of both art and design—we all start in a fog as we attempt to narrow down to any clear form of expression or execution—what it doesn’t begin to touch upon are the moving parts found within the various methods that we employ in order to contribute to a product development environment.

I’ve been thinking about the evolution of my own creative method for a while now, as I’ve moved from personal expression to defining Design methodologies for both start-up & large organizations over a 20+ year-long career. So if you’re inclined to join me on this journey, be warned up-front: I’m going to start at the beginning and that goes way back.

Being an Artist

Before art school, I was a “drawer”—I’d go directly to pad with either pencil or rapidograph, often to remove cognitive processing altogether with blind contour drawings; my portfolio for art school was filled with them. The subject matter was mine to define, and I finished when I felt it was complete.

As I became more focused on the craft of illustration, I’d spend time ideating through the subject matter and prepping for the pen to paper in a number of ways—from taking photographs to sketching to cutting images out of magazines. If the illustration was for a class or a client, I’d invest as much time conceptualizing as would illustrating. This was the moment where my creative process evolved to include other people’s input for the first time.

artist ad design
“Dunk” (1988) & Sunkist: Nature’s Temptation (1991)

Undergrad Advertising Design

My illustration focus at Crouse College quickly took a turn to advertising design, and with it a whole new set of challenges were introduced.

We discussed faux business objectives and campaign parameters in studio, and then sequestered ourselves to research, sketch and write. Relatively quickly, we’d return to class to present three concepts and receive a full-on design critique. Repeat, narrow down, complete. It may not sound like much at first, but being able to clearly pitch an idea, and then take criticism as constructive rather than presenting a defensive posture, is as important to a 20 year-old’s professional development as the ideation process itself.

Towards the end of my undergrad career, we collaborated with Newhouse copy writers, prepping us for the machinations of a real world creative team (note: I never pursued a traditional print & tv agency career). This was a commercial design process, but one with greater degrees of complexities than illustration when it came to client input and iterations towards sign-off.

Game Design

After undergrad, I spent my days designing CD-rom edutainment games once landing an internship at a design and production studio. The biggest contrast between then and now is that the notion of a downloadable patch or a version update simply didn’t exist. We were pre-web, so production houses didn’t staff and operate with the concern that developers constantly needed to be busy shipping product.

We began each project with a single, clear goal of burning a gold disk to take to a reproduction house on a specific date far off in the future. There was no iterative approach, no outcome to meet other than great reviews. We were 100% big bang.

big bang product development
From nothing to everything

Our creative process looked something like the following:

  • the writer develops a linear script
  • our team translated it into a non-linear, node-based script and made material changes as necessary
  • we storyboarded key frames and the interaction model
  • environment, sprites, and animations were identified
  • we then focused on final animations and artwork

As we made progress, the development team would ramp up their technical requirements and begin to shape their architecture; new details from the design team would impact their approach and they’d iterate accordingly. We would intensely collaborate, and the engineers prototyped both good and throwaway code. The process felt much more like collaboration found in film production than a web-based product.

Our reputations and compensation were dependent on releasing a finished product that actually found a market. We were 100% outcome based. Our distribution partner placed the product into the limited sales channels that existed prior to the robust long-tail of online retail, so we only had one chance to make a impression with both reviewers and customers.

If you ever see me twitch when an MVP is mentioned, that’s simply muscle memory from a product age long ago.

Agency Life

As east coast game production dried up, I transitioned to the web and cut my teeth within a couple of agencies; first as an interactive art director, and then as an information architect.

  • The creative process as an IAD was somewhat similar to undergrad—though pitches and critiques absolutely stepped up in intensity—and my experience in the gaming world prepped me for collaborating with a development team. Similar to gaming, online campaigns, websites, screensavers, etc. were a first impression pursuit— the notion of iterative updates was nascent in adoption.
  • As an IA, the work was much more focused on defining and then translating requirements into sketches, schemas, taxonomies, etc., but the ideation, presentation and executing processes were highly similar. The “new” element was the explicit notion of documenting user requirements as a point in the process. Functional requirements (user + business + technical) and strategy docs were the foundation for how we ideated solutions

= = = = =

In the late nineties, when agencies were in the luxurious position to offer soup to nuts services, development teams didn’t have the agency to drive innovation as they enjoy today. Engineers were explicitly beholden to the client initiative, which didn’t align with launching experiments in-market due to the economics of the time and our collective understanding of the medium. Aside from collaboration around information architecture and design deliverables, engineering innovation was boxed within the core vision of the client, the strategy team’s position paper, and the design process.

linear design process
Traditional process for one-off production

Only the best of the best shops could honestly tout a record of pushing the boundaries of the medium with their work, and those shops were doing it with top notch collaboration and deep client partnerships. My time spent time at Organic exemplified such a business environment. These days, firms such as IDEO and frog have diversified with such quality and talent that they can demand the proper price to bring innovation to the table.

Conversely, smaller studios and boutiques have to be creative in how they sell themselves, otherwise they fall into a game of pitching beyond their capabilities. Clients may invest upfront to bring in a shop to provide specific thinking—forever the value of an external team—but businesses are leaning more and more on newly formed in-house product design teams to take on the majority of design thinking and execution capabilities.

collaborative-ideation
Collaborative method for ideation

While full lifecycle innovation is difficult in the agency space, outside consulting can fosterinnovation within this climate through ideation around notions such as brand experience development, ideation workshopping, and targeted behavioral and industrial design approaches. The challenge ahead for studios will be to move to a business model and underlying IP creation method that can adapt to the shifting world around them to redefine a. what innovation looks like and b. how an external team can provide it with clear and understandable ROI.

= = = = =

Engineering Leading; Engineering Billing

After stopping by for the tail-end of a startup experience (Tripod)—where method wasn’t much of a focus—I experienced working within a development-centric organization for the first time. As the Chief Information Architect of a consultancy spun off from a global IT shop, my charge was rather specific—to develop an information architecture practice within a creative team methodology that was flexible and scalable, and could roll out across all of our domestic offices.

Aside from forming strong allies with creative directors in each office—which became a difficult line to toe as they (understandably) felt comfortable running their own teams as they saw fit—the largest problem I faced was that ancillary teams (business analysts and developers, in particular) operated in an object-oriented, UML methodology where “user needs” was a poorly tracktable notion. Engagements began with client-focused JAD meetings that lasted days, sometimes weeks, and stacks of business and development documentation were produced for the project’s build.

I’m sure good thinking came out of those sessions, but it looked like ceremony for ceremony’s sake, especially as I came to understand that the majority of the work turned out to be websites with less than innovative aspirations, degrees of difficulty, or complex user needs. The scale and complexity of the challenge ahead of me was clear.

How to drive a designer crazy, 101
How To Drive A Designer Crazy 101

My primary goal out of the gate was to figure out how to get tech management on-board with user-centered design in the midst of client engagements kicking-off across the country. After rounds of discussions outside and within the context of active projects, I realized that IA had to own as much of the actor-driven UML documentation as possible or we would have no leg to stand on when delivering user-centered experiences to our clients.

While we were successful in taking ownership of certain aspects of the process—from key insertion points to deliverables—we just couldn’t nudge the overall methodology, which was a nightmare.

As our team attempted deeper degrees of change, our efforts quickly became a game of tug of war with management. This was the time we lived in (2001)—many of my design peers were experiencing similar struggles with development-centric organizations across the industry. The attempt to convince an entrenched executive technology staff that Design needed to have a seat upstream to inform development of what users needed, even with wins in tow, quickly devolved into a street fight.

Technical documentation = billable hours.

Looking back, the daily struggle for optimizing how Design fit into a potential innovative space created a blind spot for me to the possibilities of more collaborative opportunities. Maybe we could’ve figured out a pre-Lean UX / Agile approach, or complimented JAD with design activities. At the end of the day, I believe our intent was good—we wanted to build trust and deliver highly useful work—but we were too early to a philosophical problem that not enough people had yet encountered with clarity.

Over the next five years, I unceremoniously took on the role of being a change agent for Design, which unbeknownst to me at the time was as important to me as producing innovative work.

Product Design Where No One Considered Product As A Thing

In the period following my uphill battle within the IT world, and just prior to the rapid evolution of Extreme Programming & Goal-Directed Design, I took a position to design streaming applications in the financial industry—well before the FinTech descriptor was anointed. Not only was this particular domain ripe for Design to impact innovation, but the financial industry as a whole was a chasm for our craft to fill.

As with my previous stop, it took results to seal the deal of institutional change.

Over the three years that I was in the employ of Datek / Ameritrade, Design moved from a position of downstream application to an upstream presence that impacted every aspect of the brand made available to the public. But to describe our methodology in a simple sentence just isn’t possible.

Both firms knew they were providing a service to their clients, but at the highest positions internally the authenticated space simply wasn’t perceived as what we commonly understand Product to be today. It was treated as the “flip side” of the marketing layer; the logged-in space that pushed traffic to pages or applications that triggered trading charges.

When Ameritrade bought Datek, the Business provided Development with direction that prioritized desired projects and Marketing was accustomed to providing all visual assets when applicable. After successfully navigating the domain for a few years, I positioned myself to staff a UX Design team to design a new trading platform after a deep, collaborative analysis of user needs.

The Active trader platform, Apex, was born and we had real, innovative work to do.

cooper design
We ran a modified version of Cooper’s Goal-Directed Design

While our process was more waterfall than not, the front-end engineers were in our group (UX) and they were constantly prototyping our designs for user testing and skeleton development. Looking back, I considered us to be the D in an early EPD team, with the evolutionary notion of Product still stuck between the business analyst and project management roles.

Without this team approach, waterfall would’ve stopped development in their tracks, but our collaboration was top-notch. At any given time we had 10-15 active projects prior to the era of collaborative platforms (e.g. Basecamp). Our productivity would’ve grounded to a halt if it weren’t for how well our internal processes adapted to produce both on-time and above expectations.

We pushed forward within a Goal-Directed Design framework to innovate an experience designed specifically to support scenarios particular to our active trading clients. The opportunity to apply human-centered design thinking in a broader manner was limited by our place at the bottom of the engineering reporting structure.

True collaboration between Design, Development & Business had a ways to go.

Calling The Shots, And Not

For much of the past ten years, I operated a design shop that would flex in size depending on the opportunities in front of me. Similarly, the particular engagements I landed (and the domains behind them) greatly influenced the process and methods available for me to employ.

Example: Over two years, I engaged with a huge player in the media industry, Scripps Networks, building out my FT distributed team to six to completely re-imagine how they published to their online brands, which received millions of views per day.

Our design process with the internal project management and development teams was steeped in an early-stage (2007) Agile method with a blend of GDD, as we needed to understand and meet the needs of a cross section of internal users—editors, designers, media buyers and product management. It also had the challenging objective to be generic enough to be used by teams across multiple brands publishing to differing front-end templates.

After beginning the gig with a round of research to understand the role-based needs of the product, we kicked off the work by identifying key scenarios to pursue, beginning with the “publish and edit article” scenario.

My team, located across the US and the UK, would hold our own daily scrum each morning prior to joining in for the client scrum in the afternoon. We (myself, the PM and dev lead) discussed where we were in designing for the scenario in play, and what we’d complete over the following three week period. We would sketch, review, and specify, and then work with dev.

As this was an internal application for a high-profile brand, a certain degree of politics limited our iterative learning capabilities. If I were in-house, I probably would’ve engaged harder to make such learning a reality. As a consultant, I did the best I could delivering what we had promised to deliver.

The lesson from that experience is that methodology decisions matter, as method—how we choose to collaborate, research, iterate, prioritize, be agile, etc.—directly impacts the creation of a useful experience for actual human beings.

Design Thinking With A Side Of Innovation?

We began with a process of design, which seems ridiculously simple looking back across this essay, and here I am, fully taking in how much I’ve had to adapt to my environment over the years to survive, let alone thrive.

While I’ve operated in a manner to nudge others to shift their perspective on how to work with Design over the past 20 years, the evolution of my understanding of Design, and how it fits across industries, form factors, and customer types has immensely changed as well.

Just as business leaders shift their operational tactics as the world evolves around them, we designers must also evolve in order to produce quality work in an ever-shifting technological environment with varying expectations from users in market to business partners alike.

My d/Design interests have never led me to submitting entries in an awards chase. I don’t care about accolades; I care about results. My interests lay squarely in the realm of leading a team of practitioners, contributing to an excellent product vision, understanding human needs, innovating solutions, and executing designs to the point of wild success.

What framing gets me there is still yet to be defined… as it should be.

Ramping Down & Moving Forward

change in view

It won’t come as much of a surprise to those close to me that I’m planning on retiring dotmatrix studios as a business this winter. Housekeeping will keep me billing clients as such until the end of this calendar year, but any aspiration of evolving the business passed a few years back. It’s time to move forward, or as my favorite philosopher once said:

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
Alan Watts

I’ll continue to consult independently while I shift my focus to pursuing the right fit of an in-house design management position.

Quite honestly, it’s a few years past time for me to return to the challenge of building, collaborating and developing professionally with an internal team. And regardless of the results of my full-time pursuits, I’m going to pursue work that is more strategic in nature, which is not to say I won’t dive deep on projects, but at this point in my career I’m exponentially more valuable upstream consulting strategy, defining direction, mentoring designers and working cross-functionally.

Before my life becomes too hectic in this next phase of my career, I figured this might be a good time to document the history behind my studio (RIP), hash through its evolution and take into account the positives that I took away from these past 10 years. By no means do I consider this to be a case study of any particular importance, but it could provide interesting fodder for those looking to strike out on their own.

86 Bedford Street

When my stint with Ameritrade ended a decade ago and I moved from Jersey City to Greensboro, my professional goals were simple enough: to open my own shop. After three years of negotiating the waters of a development-centric organization sans executive Design support, I had become disillusioned with the politics of leading an in-house product design team, on deadline, while fighting turf wars to meet the needs of our clients.

In comparison, the notion of running my own shop, making decisions that fit my approach to design, business and the ripening opportunities of the web was more than appealing.

After a few months of consulting I quickly came to realize that I wasn’t interested in constructing a traditional agency; I had zero desire to get caught in the loop of chasing down work in order to maintain a bench of designers. That was when I took inventory and came to understand that my interests revolved around three distinct axes:

  1. to collaborate with as many of the best and brightest I could find
  2. to work on projects that I found to have value beyond a paycheck
  3. to immerse myself in community-building efforts

This “mission” is what drove the choice of the dotmatrix name and mark. Riffing off an analog printer’s output—imagining individual members of a team or community coming together to create something larger than themselves—within the spoken equivalent to a top-level domain, the branding was ironic, cryptic, geeky, aloof, and executed with sophistication (thanks, Tina)
sean coon office

After putting 10+ years in the industry, I was still an artist at heart who trained as a designer and learned the art of business out of necessity. If I was going to run my own shop, it would be by my own rules, so I decided up front that I wasn’t going to chase RFPs and local clients—let alone propose panels and angle for speaking engagements—but rather invest my time and efforts in openly posting my thoughts and ideas about our quickly evolving 2.0 world and attempt to meet potential collaborators.

From ’05 to ’07 I attended a good number of conferences—from SXSW to Emerging Technologies at MIT—and met some brilliant folk along the way (such as Tara, Doc, Nate, and David). The more I posted, the more I became a part of the 2.0 conversation and the more project feelers I’d get in return. Over the last ten years, every project I’ve worked on was the result of either a past colleague reaching out, a referral or someone pinging me based on my writing.

dotmatrix studios never marketed itself with a website or a twitter account; we were the speakeasy that you came to know by word of mouth.

The Work

One of the advantages of setting up shop in a city like Greensboro is the cost of living, which can give you the opportunity, if you’re so inlined, to balance your time between paid gigs and creative pursuits.

After contracting with Behavior Design to rethink and design the Media Matters for America platform, I had the opportunity to assemble a full team to design the CMS for Scripps Networks, which was to be used to publish, manage and monetize content for multiple high-visibility online properties (i.e. The Food Network, HGTV, DIY, etc.). I’d co-lead scrum calls on Skype and interview users on location every few weeks. Working out of offices Knoxville and NYC with a team based in both, including London and Minnesota, the project was a bonafide feat of collaboration.

In my (few) off-hours, I ended up becoming waist deep in the local music scene, and after watching my musician friends struggling landing crowds at shows and getting their music to the masses, I came up with the idea for the dotmatrix project (DMP). Encompassing all three of dotmatrix studios’ mission elements (collaboration, value project, build community), DMP was an experience design challenge both online and off.
dmp banner greensboro

Offline, we crafted the shows to be experienced by the audience as a mixture of a studio recording, a video shoot and a live show, which got the locals talking and showing up in numbers; online we posted high quality documentation of the shows and promoted both the documentarians and musicians as if they were all rock stars.
dmp-site

The goals of the project were large (win grants to pay documentarians and open a venue were just two), and the commitment exhausting (I carried equipment with the engineers, contributed to designing & hanging show posters, produced the shows, managed all creative collaboration, etc.) and in the end it was just too much to juggle with full-time paid design work. We produced our last show in May of 2010 and imbibed a few tall ones to celebrate a good run of close to three years worth of monthly shows—all through the efforts of a volunteer community of more than 200 local, creative souls.

For the last five years, dotmatrix studios began the slow ramp down from taking on team-oriented projects to individual consulting projects, with me eventually teaming up with a few different shops: Bluespark Labs (where I took a UX Director role for a minute until I felt the itch to try one last time to make dotmatrix work) and my current partner, Analogous. The work has been challenging and interesting—from the startup Knewton.com to FXCM.com to Indiana University Libraries to the Inter-American Development Bank—but priorities change.

It’s A Wrap

Sometimes I look back on where I was in 2005 and wonder if I made the right decision to move from NYC to the south; to leave Silicon Valley offers on the table in order to startup my own business. I have zero regrets. While ten years removed from being employed by a large company might make it difficult to transition back into a full-time product team, too many amazing things have happened to me over the past ten years to think twice about my decision.
family

If you ever have the chance to do your own thing, regardless of the obstacles that lay in your path, be sure to go for it. Take that risk, as life is too short, or as the kids say nowadays, “YOLO.”

Traditional Vs. Non-Traditional Journalism

Chris Anderson and Will Hearst talking shop in May of 2006:

Publisher, Will Hearst, on the evolution of journalism:

[..] In the era of 20 years ago, there was a notion of a professional journalist — I’m not saying let’s race back to that era — what I’m saying is that notion is utterly gone. And what we are seeing as so-called professional journalism is really freelance material, shot in Baghdad, shipped to New York, somebody voice-overs it and that’s supposed to be “live news.”

And we’re covering Israel out of London and we’re covering Nairobi out of Tokyo, you know, we’re kidding ourselves. So in a way, I think the cure is not to go backwards, but to go forwards and to label that stuff and get more of that material and do away with this pseudo-professional news, which it really isn’t.

I mean if we’re gonna have “citizen journalism,” then let’s have it. […]

I completely appreciate the sentiment, but Will Hearst knows better than anybody that isn’t going to occur through the existing mainstream channels.

Mainstream news outlets — television and newspaper alike — are busy attempting to figure out how to keep the best parts of their old revenue model in place while leveraging the independent voices of the information age.

While the conglomerates look for new ways to count the same beans, innovative distribution models with decentralized reporting have already taken hold.

This shouldn’t be the cornerstone of the conversation, though. Even without an organized effort to distribute decentralized reporting, there are already 30 million active blogs in play around the world.

The news is becoming hyper-local and hyper-topical without the steady hand of industry drivers to guide it; traditional journalism is going the way of the stock broker.

Now traditional ethics? Well, that’s another story entirely

The Bottom Line Of CrowdSourcing

crowdsourcing
Wired News
Gannett to Crowdsource News
By Jeff Howe

[…] According to internal documents provided to Wired News and interviews with key executives, Gannett, the publisher of USA Today as well as 90 other American daily newspapers, will begin crowdsourcing many of its newsgathering functions. Starting Friday, Gannett newsrooms were rechristened “information centers,” and instead of being organized into separate metro, state or sports departments, staff will now work within one of seven desks with names like “data,” “digital” and “community conversation.”

The initiative emphasizes four goals: Prioritize local news over national news; publish more user-generated content; become 24-7 news operations, in which the newspapers do less and the websites do much more; and finally, use crowdsourcing methods to put readers to work as watchdogs, whistle-blowers and researchers in large, investigative features.

“This is a huge restructuring for us,” said Michael Maness, the VP for strategic planning of news and one of the chief architects of the project. According to an e-mail sent Thursday to Gannett news staff by CEO Craig Dubow, the restructuring has been tested in 11 locations throughout the United States, but will be in place throughout all of Gannett’s newspapers by May. “Implementing the (Information) Center quickly is essential. Our industry is changing in ways that create great opportunity for Gannett.”

[…]

Well, it looks like Jay Rosen‘s NewAssignment.net isn’t as much R&D as he and many others have thought.

Sure, Jay will have tons more room to explore the creation of a collaborative news model with value for the reader, the participants and the domain alike, but with this news from Gannett, it’s obvious that the owners of these newspapers are finally getting that change is an eventuality.

My question: Is their approach to CrowdSourcing as pure as Jay’s?

As Jay tells it, NewAssignment will evolve over time (without the pressures of a bottom line, as it’s root is based in academia), discovering and iterating different methods of collaboration with citizens who are willing to put time and effort into a story because it absolutely concerns them from either a personal or community perspective.

No matter how much Gannett, the organization, talks that talk, their institutional and primary shareholders will not allow them to walk that exact walk. This is not an egalitarian shift in operating procedures; this is a shift based purely on industry competition and the potential loss of capital.

The motivations of editors and journalists within these organizations align much more with the drivers behind NewAssignment, but the bottom line for their careers is that they are at the mercy of the business drivers of the Gannetts of the world. So when an organization decides to run in this direction, I can only imagine the types of conversations to be found at the water-cooler.

The Future Of CrowdSourcing

My net takeaway of this announcement from Gannett is positive, but only in as much as their organizational methodology doesn’t attempt to leverage the free output of people as a mechanism for reaching a bottom-line. For if people’s creativity, perspectives and thesis’ are tapped into—beyond the aforementioned proactive participation of watchdogging, whistle-blowing and researching—then we’re heading down a path that isn’t progressive; it’s a reversion to the underpinnings of the industrial revolution and the techniques of mass production, only now within the information age.

This isn’t an easy subject to take a position on because technology isn’t a static delivery platform. Take the search industry as an example.

When a search engine (corporation) indexes billions of web pages (other people’s work) and returns search results with advertising affixed, that search engine is essentially CrowdSourcing to establish their bottom-line. Now, because the vast majority of people and organizations whose web sites, blogs, services, applications, etc. receive a huge benefit of consistent exposure from such an arrangement, the search industry is considered to be a benefit rather than exploitation.

But a particular news organization does not fall into the same sphere as a search engine.

A search engine indexes everything, from the base domain to the most granular content found within. If/when news organizations venture beyond working the wisdom of the crowd in a participatory fashion, and begin to algorithmically tap into the meta-data of external amateur output—whether it be blog posts, video, photography, podcasts, etc.—the fine line between collaboration and exploitation will be crossed in order to impact the bottom-line.

Other people, afar and local, are thinking about these issues as well:

  • Chris Messina is a tireless advocate for community and open-source, so his perspective on CrowdSourcing goes even deeper into the fundamental drivers of our capitalistic society. This interview is an interesting conversation along these lines.
  • Local blogger, The Shu, posted his meandering thoughts along the lines of this very same issue early last year—particular to the announcement that the Greensboro News & Record planned on creating a “Town Square” with the participation of local bloggers—and was painted by journalists and many local bloggers in the comment thread as being everything but a conspiracy theorist.

In numerous circles, the term information age is considered synonymous with the term information revolution, but that association is tenuous at best in my mind.

Are we going to let the revolutionary aspects of technology explicitly serve the capital masters of the world, turning our personal expertise, opinions and creativity into the equivalent of a virtual assembly line of mass media production? I truly hope not.

NBC: Kinda, Sorta, Somewhat Getting Web 2.0

nbc

Back in February, NBC made a completely bonehead business move by making YouTube take down the hugely popular video short Lazy Sunday. My instant response was to fire off a salvo at NBC for being old media ogres (NBC: We Get Web 2.0… Sike!) and not working within the limitless parameters of the web to strike a business deal that suits their needs to protect their copyright, while allowing us to continue to enjoy their content when we want and how we want.

Well, today NBC announced that it’s embracing a few of the ideas I previously lobbed into play:

[…] “Under the deal, YouTube will create a separate channel for NBC video, so that visitors can easily pull up the half-dozen or more items that NBC plans to offer at any given time. It will be similar to channels that other companies, filmmakers and everyday users create. […] NBC and YouTube officials acknowledged the possibility that fans will reject the clips if they appear simply as promotions, but YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley said fans would likely embrace the video if it is compelling and not available anywhere else.” […]

Promotional video is somewhat of a start — I suppose you can’t expect major change from a major television network without them testing the water first. Give the experiment a few months; if uptake begins across numerous types of unbundled content, I’m sure they’ll be banging on YouTube’s door, attempting more creative ways to “let” people upload their content.

Affecting The Interface

In terms of the user experience, I only ask one thing of YouTube: please refrain from creating a pulldown of “channels” on your interface.

Asking people to assign ripped video to a “media channel” in the upload process makes sense:

  • It alerts you (YouTube) to content that needs to be assigned a “shared monetization flag” and
  • It automatically assigns network metadata to the video object to help people finding content they desire

Balancing the two-way participation of a user base with the business opportunities of old media is a difficult conversation to manage and execute, for if you transform your main interface too far towards the navigation of paid-for, primary channels, the entire participatory, community vibe will begin to deteriorate.

Remember, your brand is YouTube.

NBC: We Get Web 2.0… Sike!

SNL_Digital_Short_Lazy_Sunday

Remember the SNL clip, “Lazy Sunday,” where two dudes from the Long Island comedy troop Lonely Island hit the streets and blew up a hip-hop trip to go see The Chronicle of Narnia? I posted about it two months ago with a link to the youtube.com hosted clip, and literally thanked NBC and SNL for finding local talent and participating in the share and share alike culture of Web 2.0. Apparently, NBC really doesn’t get it.

The New York Times
A Video Clip Goes Viral, and a TV Network Wants to Control It

When a video clip goes “viral,” spreading across the Web at lightning speed, it can help rocket its creators to stardom. Alas, the clip can also generate work for corporate lawyers.

As anyone with an Internet connection and a love of cupcakes can tell you, “Lazy Sunday” is a tongue-in-cheek rap video starring Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg of “Saturday Night Live.” NBC first broadcast the video, a two-and-a-half-minute paean to New York’s Magnolia Bakery, Google Maps and C. S. Lewis, on Dec. 17.

Fans immediately began putting copies of the video online. On one free video-sharing site, YouTube (www.youtube.com), it was watched a total of five million times. NBC soon made the video available as a free download from the Apple iTunes Music Store.

Julie Supan, senior director of marketing for YouTube, said she contacted NBC Universal about working out a deal to feature NBC clips, including “Lazy Sunday,” on the site. NBC Universal responded early this month with a notice asking YouTube to remove about 500 clips of NBC material from its site or face legal action under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. YouTube complied last week. “Lazy Sunday” is still available for free viewing on NBC’s Web site, and costs $1.99 on iTunes.

Julie Summersgill, a spokeswoman for NBC Universal, said the company meant no ill will toward fan sites but wanted to protect its copyrights. “We’re taking a long and careful look at how to protect our content,” she said.

YouTube and others in the new wave of video-sharing sites have so far managed to avoid major legal problems even though they often carry copyrighted material without permission.

“This is an example of the copyright troubles that are waiting for YouTube, Google Video and all the other video hosting services that rely on user-posted content,” said Fred von Lohmann, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group.

Several online commentators noted that NBC’s response to YouTube, while legally justified, may have been short-sighted. The online popularity of “Lazy Sunday” has been credited with reviving interest in “Saturday Night Live” at a time when it is in need of some buzz.

Ms. Supan said VH1 and other television and movie producers were increasingly putting their own clips, trailers and music videos on YouTube in hopes of jump-starting their own viral phenomena.

“We got e-mails from college students, and a lot of them said it’s the ‘Lazy Sunday’ clip that turned them on to potentially watching ‘S.N.L.’ again,” she said.

Exactly. I hadn’t watched SNL in years and that skit actually brought my eyeballs back to NBC. How much profit is enough? Don’t they realize that the viewers who watched the skit the night it aired represented the cut-off point of ROI before the blogosphere, Kazaa, etc. started passing it around? For the last two months, they’ve received extra eyeballs because of the video-sharing, which has put money in their pockets directly or indirectly. This is the thanks we get?

Dumb… like a stump. Instead of busting out the lawyers, why not take these lemons and make some lemonade. Here’s an idea for all of you suits in NBC, CBS, ABC, etc. land:

  • Work out a deal with YouTube, Google and whomever else so that you receive a fair cut of the ad revenue from any page with your copyrighted content being displayed
  • In turn, YouTube, Google, etc. can evolve their upload interfaces to include a “channel” option
  • If I upload something taken from, say, NBC, I simply choose “NBC” in a pulldown menu and upload the video
  • Once verified as an NBC property, post-upload, the *additional revenue* of click-through ads goes straight into NBC’s pocket

Multiply this scenario by the potential number of unbundled clips, contributing users and video services over a continuum of expanding users and I think you just might be able to afford that ski trip to Aspen this year.

Asshats.

UPDATE: A Boing Boing reader tells the following story:

YouTube user “aretired” posted a clip from Thursday’s CBS Evening News showcasing Jason McElwain, the autistic highschool basketball player who scored 6-3 pointers in the final four minutes of the game. The video clip shot up to #15 in alltime viewings on YouTube with 1.5 million hits in just three days—then, it was suddenly and inexplicably pulled.

User “aretired” reposted the clip and was again pulled within a day, still no explanations.

CBS sent DMCA complaints for not just that McElwain clip, but all 11 of the user’s other CBS-related clips that had up till now gone fairly unnoticed, by anyone. And, despite their huffing and puffing and pulling over a 2-minute feel-good piece of the year, you can still catch your fill of Oprah, Letterman, Degeneres, Dr. Phil and other CBS content at YouTube.

Do they want us to hate them?

Writing 2.0: On Being Transparent

transparency

We who blog, incessantly rave about the progressive attributes of transparency. It’s not a beckon call that we own; political activists have been screaming for transparency in government since, well, forever. Transparency provides credibility. The truth shall set you free. You pick the cliche, they’re all spot on.

Well, in this Web 2.0 world that we live in, transparency is beginning to take root in interesting ways. Take the age old process of writing non-fiction; I’m starting to see authors not only openly talking about their books in gestation, but reaching out to Joe Q. Public for participation in the writing process itself.

Since April of last year, Chris Anderson has been publicly blogging his thoughts about The Long Tail, the term he coined proper in 2004. His blog tagline describes his transparent approach as, “A public diary on the way to a book.” One of his recent posts, Death of the Blockbuster, is a perfect example of the transparent methodology I’m talking about:

I’ve been collecting data on just how bad it’s getting in the music industry, and this useful list of the 100 all-time bestselling albums offered another lens on the meltdown. I looked up the release dates of each and grouped them in half-decade bins. The data speaks for itself:

Chris Anderson graph

If you want to do your own analysis, the underlying data is in this spreadsheet.

Anderson engages with his audience, invites them to participate in his thesis and provides the underlying data behind his perspective. The above post has generated a link from USA Today, numerous comments and two follow-up posts that further this particular aspect of Anderson’s thesis. Aside from his trademarked phrase, “The Long Tail,” the entire blog is registered under a Creative Commons license, a copyright permission which allows anyone to replicate his content (as I did above), as well as to use his research finding for their own use (as long as they give proper attribution to Chris wherever they publish).

Share and share alike and build a better world.

This is how open, collaborative, iterative development works. Chris is writing a book, one which he’ll profit from, but his open-thinking and shared research and knowledge will undoubtedly assist others in their ventures, impacting industry in various degrees.

everything

David Weinberger, who is knee-deep in the process of writing his latest book, “Everything is Miscellaneous,” employs a similar approach to writing.

Joho the Blog isn’t a 100% topical slave to the complexities of data, information and knowledge (I rather enjoy his political and cultural posts), but when David does dive in, you can sense where his head is in the writing process. With some posts, he’ll directly reach out for assistance and perspective, while other posts are less direct with explicit ties, but steeped in organizational memes. David blogged before he took on his latest book, so he understands the value of releasing ideas out into the ether. Hell, he co-wrote the book on it.

Ideas out, ideas in. Links out, links in.

Now, this approach is far from widespread, as the majority of books still hit “the shelf” with guarded marketing plans as the only touchpoint into the potential reader community. Authorship equates with authority in many circles — circles which seem to care more about ownership of a thesis, rather than the conversation surrounding the subject matter and the avenues newfound knowledge takes once digested. But since the shelves themselves are changing and mainstream journalists and authors are beginning to blog themselves, this just might catch on and become SOP.

What would be the ramifications of such transparent collaboration beyond the target of binding particular pages?

David hosted an interesting thread about hyperlinks subverting hierarchies a few weeks back where the conversation shifted between the lines of power, organization and connections between people. Following that premise within the context of this post, imagine if authors who write life and death non-fiction (say, covering the war in Iraq) opened up to allow for community participation… Could the impact be greater than the explosion of citizen media alone?

Methinks so.

Chomsky: Media, Democracy and Indoctrination

noam-radio

I stumbled across the no one’s listening podcast site and their interview with Noam Chomsky yesterday. The interview was entitled, Fake News; a title fitting his perspective on the American media. I have to admit though, after reading most of Noam’s work from the 80’s and 90’s, it was good to hear that he’s optimistic about the future.

The following is a transcript of part of the interview:

Noam: The effect [of the media] on the public isn’t very much studied, but to the extent as it has been, it seems that among the more educated sectors, the indoctrination works more effectively. Among the less educated sectors, the people are more skeptical and cynical.

Irene: Right… so what can we do because now I’m depressed. [nervous laughter]

Noam: I think it’s a very optimistic future, frankly.

Irene: Really? You wrote 90 books…

Noam: Look, very much so. There’s something we know about this country more than any other: we know a lot about public opinion. It’s studied very intensively.

Irene: That it’s fickle?

Noam: But it’s very rarely reported. You can find them, it’s an open society, you can find them. What they show is very remarkable. What they show first of all is that both political parties and the media are far to the right of the general population, on a whole host of issues. And the population is just, you know, disorganized, atomized, and so on. This country ought to be an organizers paradise. And the, that’s why the media and the campaigns keep away from issues. They know that on issues they’re going to lose people.

So therefore you have to portray George Bush as a, look he’s a pampered kid who came from a rich family, went to prep school, an elite university and you have to present him as an ordinary guy, you know, who makes grammatical errors, which I’m sure he’s trained to make, he didn’t talk that way at Yale and a fake Texas twang and he’s off to his ranch to cut brush or something.

That’s like a toothpaste ad. And I think a lot of people know it.

Given the facts about public opinion it means what’s needed is something, you know, not very radical. Let’s become as democratic as say the second largest country in the hemisphere: Brazil. I mean their last election was not between two rich kids who went to the same elite university and joined the same secret society where they’re trained to be members of the upper class and can get into politics cause they have rich families with a lot of connections. I mean people were actually able to vote and elect a president from their own ranks. A man who was a peasant union leader never had a higher education and comes from the population.

They could do it because it’s a functioning democratic society. Tremendous obstacles, you know: repressive state, huge concentration of wealth, much worse obstacles than we have, but they have mass popular movements, they have actual political parties which we don’t have. There’s nothing to stop us from doing that. We have a legacy of freedom which is unparalleled, its been won by struggle over centuries, it was never given, you can use it or you can abandon it.

It’s a choice.

So… I guess the question is who’s ready to begin sacrificing to elicit change?

My Progressive Platform For 2006

progressive-platform

Terrance, over at The Republic of T, asks a simple, yet provocative question in preparation of the 2006 elections: What’s Your Platform?

Okay, I’m game. Here are my most imperative policy reforms, in no particular order:

1) 2.0 the hell out of government
Congress was only able to see “finished” intelligence before voting to give the Bush administration power to go to war (as a last resort). In my world, anything that the Executive branch sees, the Legislative branch sees. My voice is represented by my state officials, not the president. This one example of a non-transparent government directly led to the deaths of more than 30,000 human beings.

The most applicable 2.0 philosophy for reforming government is the philosophy of openness. From open source to open content, imagine the possibilities of employing a government that makes all de-classified government documents, congressional voting records, appointee resumes, etc. instantly available in a relational database with open APIs for public use. All of this information is available now, but it’s not prepped for accessibility and reuse. This is the future of accountability. Up communication and transparency, reduce the “Fuck You!” noise of the left vs. the right blogosphere to constructive collaboration… that is until government tries to pull something, and then we get back on them like white on rice.

2) Create a nominal tax to directly supplement teacher salaries
Great teachers are few and far between nowadays. Why? Well, you try dealing with kids, administrators and parents all day, adhere to and circumvent the red-tape and legalities of this age with the grace of a seasoned politician and pull in ~$45k per year.

I’m talking about, say, a .1% tax that goes directly towards teacher salaries. I gotta admit, I got the idea from Mini-Me when he appeared as a genius teacher on an episode of Boston Public a few years back. His thesis was that the degree to which students are prepared by their public school years directly impacts their earning potential, so reward their hometown education system with a nominal, flat tax return to impact teacher salaries. Tell ’em. Verne!

3) Rip up the Patriot Act
As alluded to in the first part of my platform, transparency of government will lead to politicians being held accountable to create humane national and global policies. It’ll also foster the innovation of extremely real-time and smart communication user experiences, which can then be applied by government in the authenticated realm of classified material.

This edict of transparency cannot be applied to individuals. Our individual right of privacy is what has distinguished us from the rest of the world for centuries. The Patriot Act is legislation with language that allows for the control, intimidation and investigation of Americans through the guise of terrorism. It’s like the old censorship debate; who defines what is terrorism? The abuse of American rights have already begun.

4) Election reforms
First, all television campaigns are free. Each major candidate (there would have to be some way to determine “major,” possibly something akin to the BSC polls/stats via past political progress made) is provided a set amount of credits to apply to the “purchase” of air time. This opens up the playing field to a diverse class of politicians who can focus on the issues, not their fund raising. I bet Tom Delay would even go for this.

Second, ensure that voting is both easy to access and secure. All voting systems could easily be tied together into one database, while creating alternative voting options, such as over the internet and by phone. We’ve been to the moon people…

5) National health care for everyone… Yes, you too
Riddle me this: Large corporations get major discounts on health care coverage due to the amount of employees they staff, right? Okay, then why not treat congressional districts as semantic equivalents of large pools of employees (citizen residents) by submitting them as huge groups into the bidding process? C’mon, try to tell me why that doesn’t make any sense.

6) Incentivize industry to reduce our dependency on oil and clean up the environment
I know, the oil industry has major power claws dug deep into our political system, but this is my platform, so I’ll risk the blunt gas nozzle to the back of my head. This current administration gave tax breaks to manufacturers who create hybrid vehicles, but capped the production of cars to 60,000 that qualify for the break. Yeah.

First, we create California-like emmission standards and apply it nationally. Second, we apply money to develop alternative forms of fuel instead of planning a trip to Mars or building that damn bridge to nowhere in Alaska. Third… well, I’m not that smart, but these people are.

Well, that’s my platform. God knows there are other extremely important issues (like getting out of Iraq, impeaching Bush, etc.), but that’s all the brainpower I have for tonight. I’m sure many of you want to label me as a liberal communist or some other disparaging nomenclature, and if I just described your take on me, my message to you is grow the fuck up. These are serious times, calling for serious people. The longer you avoid engaging in honest discussions along these lines, the easier it becomes to spot your agenda.

To the rest of you, let’s work together to get these bozos out of office in 2006.

Are You A Disciple Like Rosa Parks?

Louis Farrakhan spoke at Syracuse University in 1989. At the time, all I knew of Farrakhan was his position as the leader of The Nation of Islam, his rumored role in the assassination of Malcolm X and the paragraph quotes, characterizing him as an anti-Semite. Upon deciding to listen to him speak, I ended up being one of about 10 white people within the auditorium (the others being pledges sent on a cruel stunt by one of the rich boy fraternities). I decided to attend because I don’t believe much until I experience it first hand, and, well, college is supposed to be the grounds for learning.

Quite frankly, over two hours, Farrakhan was nothing but eloquent, moving, empowering and righteous. There were no hints of Antisemitism, as he seemed 100% concerned with uplifting African-Americans in America. There wasn’t even a subtle push to join The Nation. And all the time my roommates and I listened to him speak, people protested outside, refusing to hear his words from his mouth.

farrakhan

Until today, I had shied away from posting about the passing of Rosa Parks… and then I watched her funeral service last night on C-Span. Do yourself a favor and listen to this speech. Louis Farrakhan captures the essence of the civil rights movement in his 10 minute speech and bridges time to reflect upon where we all need to go today… following the footprints of Rosa Parks.

Other poignant speeches:
Bill Clinton
John Conyers
Bishop T.D. Jakes
Barack Obama
Al Sharpton

(via freep)

UPDATE: Historically, Farrakhan has been exclusionary regarding gay and lesbian struggles for equal rights. He talked the talk regarding inclusion leading up to the Millions More March, but there were still acts of exclusion on the day of the march.

No one claiming to be an activist in the spirit of Rosa Parks would separate any group of human beings, based on any factor, from the Civil Rights movement. Or, as John Conyers put it, “Civil Rights has morphed into the Human Rights movement.”