March 28, 2014

Episode Forty Seven - Building Better Worlds; Mobile; More video

0.0 Station Ident

It's 8:36am and I'm at the State Theater Centre in Perth for today's xmedialab conference, the reason I'm in Perth. I've been up since 4am, but that's not so bad because it meant I had time for a one hour Facetime with my wife and son, the latter of which gleefully showed me how to pull all the toilet paper off the roll. 

1.0 Building Better Worlds

On the way to the hotel in Perth yesterday I had a good conversation with one of my fellow speakers. We were talking about - and, generally, processing - the implications and strategy behind the Facebook/Oculus Rift deal, and got onto the subject of and the various internet titans' recent projects du jour of bringing connectivity to the bottom of the pyramid - the four billion or so people on our planet who subsist on under $2.50 US per day.

Now I'm lucky to have the benefit of knowing a good friend who works in the development area - lots of projects with the US State Department, Clinton Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, DFID, all that sort of stuff. And this guy's smart - he doesn't want to waste money and he genuinely wants to make a difference, plus he's a more-or-less believer in economic progress and capitalism being a driver to help bring people out of poverty and to higher standards of living. 

From his point of view, the problem isn't connectivity - not bandwidth or networking. It's things that are lower down the stack - like power. Because when you get out in the sticks, you don't have the generators and you don't have the power lines and while you might have cell service, you definitely don't have anything to stick your charger into to once your battery dies.

Electricity? Now there's a thing. Electricity brings with it light, refrigeration and yes, a way to power and charge all of those phones. 

From my naive and external viewpoint to both international development *and* the machinations of the internet gods of Google and Facebook, all three of whom organisations undoubtedly and unassailably employ smart people, it looks like the latter two - the Valley internet gods - see problems in terms of the context that is around them. They see a chronic, debilitating lack of connectivity, because connectivity is what powers them. 

Note what I'm saying here: I'm not saying that deploying drones and aerostats and 'loons is bad - it's just that there's a fair chance it doesn't and won't fix the whole problem and is merely a piece of the stack further up the chain. Connectivity may well be a human right, but there's work to be done further down Maslow's stack. This isn't a zero-sum game. What I suspect is frustrating to some people, though, is seeing the resource being deployed at solving problems higher up the stack when there exist opportunities further down. But hey, I'm a pragmatist - I'll take what I can get.

It's easy when looking at this influx of foreign aid as some sort of colonialism 2.0, but having learned its lesson from the last time and genuinely bringing gifts of data that aren't virally laced. Well, not much, at any rate. 

So this is what I'm getting at: it's not colonialism. 

It's terraforming for capitalism.

You have an environment that's nigh-on inhospitable or at least hostile to capitalism. You get your Weyland-Yutanis in, with their Atmospheric Processing Units or their 'loons or drones and install engineering projects designed to change the environment so that it's conducive to capitalism and economic growth.

2.0 Mobile

I mentioned the other day that I'd been asked to speak about video, social and mobile for this conference in Perth. I covered video yesterday, and only just realised that I'd also covered the social part in episode forty four's section on danah boyd. So here's the last bit: mobile.

This is probably going to come across as a bit high-level and simplistic, but hopefully some of you at least will get something of value from it. 

The thing about mobile is that, alongside video and "social", it's at least an order of magnitude more important. I felt pretty pleased with myself when I was able to categorise video as a content-type, one whose format boundaries are changing but ultimately "just" content. I felt less pleased about my insights about the social thing because, honestly, they're basically danah's insights and she's a smart person we would all do well to pay attention to. And that social is, well, one of looking at it is a directed graph description of behaviour. 

But mobile. Mobile is the big one, because mobile is the interface. In the talk, I paraphrase Douglas Adams by saying:

"Mobile is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's (or, for that matter, the PC revolution), but that's just peanuts to mobile."

Because the simple thing is this: mobile's the force multiplier. It's what computers were meant to be, but computers were tied to desks and computers were for doing work things and you needed to have a reason to have one - the justifications were so much higher up Maslow's pyramid, whereas the proposition of a mobile phone is this: you want to talk to people. Moore's law was the trojan horse that enabled general purpose computing to infiltrate a formerly single-purpose device, and with that, not the Mac, was the personal computing revolution *really* ignited.

I have a shtick about Tetris which to be honest I'm not even sure if I've already used here or not. It's the one about everyone being able to understand that Tetris was a cultural phenomenon when it was in its Gameboy instantiation, and if you thought *that* was big when you needed to justify having a portable game-playing device, imagine how big Angry Birds or Candy Crush is when you *don't* need to justify having a game-playing device with the corresponding social implications, because hey, it turns out your social-fulfillment device or business-doing device accidentally also does a good job of playing Angry Birds.

This is why mobile is big: it's all the reasons before, like it's the first time the majority of people will experience the internet and it's the first time the majority of people will experience general purpose computing. It's what the internet and computing were *meant* to be. Not hulking things tethered to desks thanks to the gravitational force of our planet. Mobile is Steve Jobs' bicycle for the mind unbound.

Everything but everything has the opportunity to be remade again.

3.0 More video

In response to yesterday's section on video, Dan Williams was curious to know what I've learned about storytelling through video: how does it work? How do you know if something's good or not, "compared to all the ukelele music startup demo videos where some Gmail users stalks his ex-girlfriend".

I wish it were easy to articulate. One of the things I think I've learned - and it's all been through osmosis and praxis - has been a sort of Shannon-esque information density for effective storytelling. There's only so much you can accomplish in terms of coherent information transfer in fifteen seconds. Only so much in thirty, sixty or ninety. You're constantly struggling to balance novelty (an interesting and new creative idea to hook attention), clarity (it's no use if no-one has any idea what you're saying) and a third thing, because the rule of threes.

And then sound design. And then the editing. And then casting. It's a stupendously complicated process. 

In his email, Dan mentioned that he thought the Lisagor Sandwich Videos were good - and on that point, I think my (somewhat) considered opinion is that I disagree. They're certainly competently put together, from my point of view, but they rest (and again, perhaps rightly) on the product, and not the actual storytelling. When we were working on the launch film for Facebook's Paper I remember looking at all the reference we'd pulled and the problem was that it was *all* Sandwich Video stuff. And there's a shtick and a formula to what Adam does, which is patiently explain using a talking head and a locked-off camera what the product is, and they all accomplish their goal effectively. So are they good? They're fine, I suppose. Are they great? I don't think so. But they're probably stupendously cost-effective *if* your product is right.


OK. Big conference day today. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you on Monday. 

As ever, I appreciate all the notes.