Finding intimacy in the infinity of Clubhouse

Clubhouse is, as they say, a thing right now.

A self-styled drop-in audio app, it’s moving from beyond just the darling of the dilettante set of Valley media hobbyists, spiralling outwards past the long lines of social media specialists, and into that hot new space of brand opportunity.

There is a deliberate queasiness to that definition, of course, but fairly I think.

A cursory glance down the Explore section of the app, breezing past the bitcoin bunfights (“Hyperbitcoinization Underway! Are you a Lord, or a Serf?”) and delusional despotism (“Building an empire through your brand”) invites comparison to the Hunter S. Thompson misquote

[Clubhouse] is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.
There’s also a negative side.

Yet rather than writing about it before really using it meaningfully, I wanted to feel what is what actually like to run a room, rather than just skulk at the back.

So Anjali Ramachandran, Zoe Scaman, Mark Earls and myself got together yesterday to talk about what even the hell this thing is on the platform itself.

What follows below is a collection of quick thoughts, captured during and afterwards, all products of the conversation we had together, and the questions from some of those listening too.

A format free-for-all

Because it is in its infancy, there are no standard rules of engagement here. In in listening around to various rooms beforehand, we noticed that there are various different formats people are trying out. Is it like morning talk-show radio? A panel in a massive conference? A professionally scripted podcast? A chat between friends?

All of these bring different cues for a Clubhouse room to follow, but the underlying infrastructure (e.g. moving people between ‘stage’ and ‘audience’), creates opportunities for different formats to emerge over time, and might allow/encourage for rapidly switching between modes in sessions.

Structuring unstructured conversations

We’d prepped a little beforehand, structured loosely around a tool I’ve iterated over the years called The Obliquiscope (part of TENETS). It encourages you to think about the social and material construction around something over different time periods.

Whilst we didn’t need to reference it at all in the session, thankfully (try describing that on an audio platform…). It helped frame some questions and thoughts around the thing we were looking out. Also, it felt that we had a centre of gravity for the conversation, which allowed us to explore ideas in different ways.

Enjoy the silence

Beforehand, we’d come up with a little ‘card’ that all of us could play at any point, which we called A Question To Sit With. At any point in the conversation, when we felt it was important we could ask a specific question. This would be followed by thirty seconds of silence as people considered answers.

This turned out to be a really valuable thing which helped turn the conversation in different directions, and helped create necessary space for a little thought and reflection. Clubhouse seems very, very noisy as times, in part because…

Media is a place to dwell, not a place to sell

We were talking about the tendency a lot of speakers have in rooms to grab the mic and never let go. It’s like they’re playing a round of Just A Minute, and need to speak ‘without hesitation, repetition, or deviation…’

People are trying to grab the space to sell themselves, their past achievements, their current activities. It feels like the scene at the job fair at the end of The Big Short, a desperate, endless hustle.

Yet people are coming to rooms to give you their time, hang out, listen awhile, maybe learn, maybe reflect, maybe contribute. Formats and structures need to be better thought through to reflect this, perhaps, particularly by hosts.

Built for bad behaviour

There is something obviously problematic in building a social technology where there’s no proof of what went on in a room. For all the community guidelines and the like which are being built in from the start, it’s hard to see what genuine tools to identify, report and act on abuse exist on Clubhouse.

Come out and play?

“We know some people from your company. They’re pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you’re hiding? Can they come out and play?”

The Cluetrain Manifesto

There’s something really nice about how close it brings you to people in a room. Hanging with Elon Musk is one thing (and it’s not mine), but imagine companies start using this as a platform to talk directly to fans and customers. No agencies, no branding, no celebs… it might deliver well on a promise seldom kept in the social web.

The tension of Intimacy versus Scale

Finally, as we completed our little experiment in Clubhouse, it felt like we’d done something that was just the *right* size. Yet so many rooms are chasing numbers, and the platform itself will chase more numbers… more people, bigger rooms, more paid-for tickets, higher revenue…

There’s an interesting paradox here. It might feel best when it’s intimate. Being one of fifty folk listening to your favourite artist as an example. But those fifty tickets won’t support the artists, they’ll need to do that fifty times…

It’ll be interesting to see how that unfolds.

More thoughts soon, perhaps. See you at the back of the room.

A blacksmith makes their own tools

This week, I gave a talk (with a little bit of workshopping) as part of the third module of IPA Excellence Diploma. This was a course I did back in 2007/8, and without doing it, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I do now, and definitely wouldn’t be thinking about things in the way I do.

It’s never a substitute, but people have asked if I’d be sharing the slides, so here you go. Just imagine that when you get to the ones that make no sense, I am in front of you saying something really profound. Ignore that pesky internal voice of yours that questions that how likely that would be, and just go with it…

It was an honour to be invited back by Amelia and Sera from The Fawnbrake Collective, who have taken over and reimagine dates course for the 2020s. Yet it feels like a gift, because being asked to reflect on 12 years of making / thinking and spot patterns in your own process has given me a view of my own work I’d never have seen otherwise. We alway look at the mountains ahead, rather than the hills behind.

The title of course comes from Dan Dennett’s 2013 book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools For Thinking, and quite clearly I’m still a sucker for anything that extends the blacksmith metaphor…

Working Out How The Internet Works

I did a wee talk at the fabulous IAM 2016 conference in Barcelona. In it’s second year, and conceived and run by Andres & Lucy of Wabisabi Lab, it’s the kind of weird experimental conference that London was great at a few years back, but seems less so, now, I think?  Something something gentrification something something.

(actually, maybe that’s another blog post for another day – the lack of joy in NeuLondon, in all forms of work and play)

I spoke about Metamechanics, and working out how the internet works. Or, indeed, not, because that isn’t the point.

There will be a video some time soon I believe, and at the time, I did a simultaneous Periscope of it (but ‘you had to be there’ as they say, given how Periscope streams expire after 24 hours or something…)

….but until then here are the slides, and two pics Scott sent me afterwards where it looks like I’m showing people who big the internet a) was and b) is now.

JVW at IAM16 - 1

JVW at IAM16 - 2

Computer, remember this…

I’ve been retelling an anecdote from IBM’s speech-to-text experiments recently, and couldn’t remember where I’d got it… and indeed, I couldn’t remember if it was even true, as happens when you retell teh same story again and again…

Searching for combinations of things like “speech-recognition”, “IBM”, “faked test” and so on wasn’t getting me anywhere. But I’ve finally found a source: Jeremy Clark’s Pretotyping@Work eBook.

I’m posting the main bit of the anecdote here for two reasons. Firstly, I think you might find it interesting, and perhaps useful. Secondly, now that I’ve put it on my own site, using the aforementioned search terms which are the ones I clearly use to look for it, I’ll find it easier to find in future, hopefully…

“In the 1980’s, IBM was in discussions with several important customers about a radical product idea: hardware and software that could turn spoken words into a text on a screen. The fundamentals of the technology were still years away, yet customers seemed very enthusiastic: many declared they would pay generously for such a solution.
Traditionally, IBM would have launched an R&D effort to develop the algorithms and electronics necessary to demonstrate a prototype. In the case of the Speech-To-Text idea, however, a team member had an intriguing alternative suggestion: they should pretend to have the solution, to see how customers actually reacted to the capability.
What the team did was to create a movie-set like testing lab, in the form of a typical office space of the day. Customer subjects would be briefed on the Speech-to-Text solution, then seated in the space. The subject would speak into a microphone, dictating a variety of office correspondence, and would almost immediately see their words appear on the screen on the desk in front of them. What the subjects didn’t know was that the electronic output was being produced by a typist in a nearby room, listening to the dictation through headphones.
What the IBM team learned was that, in practice, customers didn’t like the solution, not because of flaws in the product (the transcribed text) but because of a host of hitherto-unseen environmental challenges: speaking taxed the subject’s throat, there was concern for privacy surrounding confidential material that the speaker would not
wish to be overhead, and so on.
Actual exposure to the essence of the proposed solution completely reversed the earlier customer enthusiasm.”

 

What It Takes

I’m hooked on the new Sleater-Kinney album, “No Cities To Love”. If you follow me on twitter, you’ve probably guessed that this week. Sorry. You’ve probably unfollowed me already.

I’m calling it as the album of 2015. Already. Really.

I mean, listen to this:

Or this:

I started wondering why this album has made such a deep impact on me, like no other has in years. This is a band who’ve not done anything for ten years, but who I loved and followed back then. But it’s not a nostalgia thing. Because they’ve not done that terrible thing of playing 157 gigs playing ‘the hits’, before going in to the studio to strangle their muse one last time.

If you watch this interview (and you should, the whole thing), you’ll get an idea of the craft, dedication and vision that they put into the process of making this album:

They started it in May 2012… that’s nearly three years ago. They canned loads of earlier songs… they just weren’t good enough. It’s almost as if the process of going through those songs were more about discovering how to work, rather than being about the work itself. They didn’t tell people. It was so secret that the first anyone really knew about it was when a track was released in the box set remasters of previous albums in October 2014. That’s two and a half years of quiet, committed, focussed creation.

It seems quite counter to how a lot of records, no, a lot of projects of any type, are created now. Maybe this is what it takes in some cases. There’s no one right way to make the best work. There’s just the best way for you.

Crowdfunded Media Buying

This is fascinating, from change.org… sign a campaign, then you’re asked if you want to donate money to place an ad to show to it to more people (and a very specific amount of people) who might also then sign it.

How long until there’s a “design your ad” feature on there too?

 

Flow Engines vs. Fracking

I ran an innovation session yesterday for The Network One, to a group of owners and CEOs of various nimble, independent agencies. I was going to just explore some of the ideas in Fracking The Social Web, but given it was an afternoon session I tried something new.

(Also, as a rule of thumb, just talking in an afternoon slot isn’t as good as getting people to do things. I can’t remember where I first heard this theory, but it’s always worked for me. Mornings are for heads, afternoons are for hands.)

By using the Flow Engine approach to set up ‘different ways of working’, and using Artefact Cards as went, we moved through three steps.

Firstly, I asked people to write on a card the biggest issue for them in bridging the gap between traditional marketing structures and the more fluid, granular approach needed for working on the social web. In their groups, they then shared these in the centre of the table; some would be similar, some different, but what was interesting was the conversation betwen the teams about the different issues.

Secondly, we then used the Fracking themes to think about why agencies need to work differently; as I went through the themes and examples, the participants in groups would be noting down things on cards (either direct points, or ideas set-off by the thinking), so that in small groups they could start addressing the points in the centre of the table, building out a map of the territory.

Finally, I asked people to looking at the map and just write down a final card for themselves on what they would change tomorrow when they got back to the office, taking inspiration from the map they’d created together.

The slides are up here, so you can get an idea of the session. In hindsight, I think I tried to do slightly too much in the allocated time, it’d have been nicer to have some extra reflection time.  Apart from that though, it seemed to work pretty well – thanks to everyone there for throwing themselves in, and thanks again to Paul, Victoria and Doug from The Network One.

Innovation isn’t what you bring, it’s what you leave behind

I was delighted to put together a talk with Tracey Camilleri for today’s Innovation Stories 14 event about The Key To Leadership project we created last year (alongside Thomas Forsyth, Chris Thorpe and Fraser Hamilton) as part of the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme at the Saïd Business School.

UPDATE: David Burton‘s done a terrific set of sketchnotes of the whole event, here’s the one for our talk:

David Burton Sketchnote innovStories_6

Also, check the Innovation Social site for links to other summaries of the day.

In reflecting on what had happened before, during and after the programme, we realised that so much of the project wasn’t a simple, straightforward interpretation of what we did at the time. When you look at it from distance, and the effect it’s had on other parts of the organisation, it’s something that had a set of a series of brilliant, if somewhat unintended, consequences.

It made us realise that innovation isn’t what you bring, it’s what you leave behind.

It’s the changes and differences you make to an organisation when you’re no longer there. The stuff that keeps creating value in your absence. The big things, yes, but also (and more importantly, perhaps) the little things. The things people will pick up and run with every day as they work on new things.

Our last point was that this makes innovation hard for traditional agency models to find a viable role for. If you’re there to deliver continued value over time (“we are here to do this for you”), as if it was an advertising campaign, then you’re not really leaving anything in the client organisation to make it stronger. Perhaps successful innovation demands a generousity of spirit, leaving as much as it can as continued catalyst, if it is to stick from the outside.

Anyway, here are our slides (with some added narration) if you want a little look. We had a tremendous time, thamks to Nadya Powell of Innovation Social for the invitation, and the rest of the brilliant speakers from whom we learned loads of things today too.

 

MTPW > MPWT – IAPI talk in Dublin

As promised, my slides from the IAPI talk I gave yesterday in Dublin. I’d like to thank my hosts, Tania Banotti and Ken McKenzie, for a wonderful excursion, a great crowd, and some really thought provoking discussion whilst I was there. It was deadly, as one might say in Dublin.

Piketty for Attention

In between reading swathes of Peppa Pig to our youngest, I’ve started reading Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the 21st Century’, the book that’s taking the economic and political spheres by storm.

If you want some quickfire synopsis pieces on it, try Paul Krugman in the New York Review of Books, or the Economist’s ‘Capital summarised in four paragraphs‘.  The book is changing the way that everyone is having to think about capital, wealth, and the widening inequality gap between richest & poorest.

Largely, of course, because it’s based on a lot of hard-graft data work, rather than messing about with theoretical models; as Piketty puts it, “the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for the purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation, at the expense of historical research and collaboration with the other social sciences… this obsession with mathematics is an easy way of acquiring the appearence of scientificity without having to answer the far more complex questions posed by the world we  live in”.

There’s a lesson in that alone for planners and strategists of any discipline.

Rather than get into the economic and politics of the book though, I’ve been thinking about the main assertion that Piketty puts in the book, and wondering how it plays out in the media world.

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Piketty’s point is neatly summed up by a very simple equation: r>g, where r is the rate of return on capital across the system, and g is the rate of economic growth.  The data suggests, say Piketty and team, that having money is greater than earning money.  You can make more money just by having a big pile of it than you can by starting from scratch and trying to earn it, taken across the board at the macro level.

This is the status quo of the capitalist system; through the twentieth century, there are decade long shocks (The two World Wars, with the great depression in between for instance), but we’re now return to the ‘norm’ of this system, and in some countries Voctorian-era levels of inequality.

What I’ve been wondering is if the same pattern plays out at the media level, with attention.

(I’ve been thinking a lot about this across the last year, with the Fracking the Social Web stuff, and if you haven’t read Matt Locke’s terrific thinking in his Empires of Attention then do so now.)

These aren’t answers, of course, but questions.  They’re probably questions that could be answered with data, too, but consider this a formative post to start thinking about the area.

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In short, is the best way to grow attention to have lots of attention in the first place?

By having a big pot of users that people will hand over money in advertising money to access, do have ready access to capital that allows you to acquire more users more quickly than if you were starting from scratch?

This could either be in the form of spinoffs (unbundling one big service in to more smaller services), or just simply buying the rapidly growing competition.  The arms race between the technological giants to buy services which will now never grow to rival them; if they continue to be successful, great, more money for the pot.  If they stagnate, shrink, or even disappear, then fine, there’s one less gunslinger in town.

In the same way that the events of the mid-twentieth disrupted Piketty’s r>g, did the internet disrupt the media only in the short term, when the previous media giants suddenly found themselves exposed to the rapid growth of competitors.  In the medium and long term, are we settling back down into the previous pattern; the only way to get significant attention is to have significant attention?  Are these media giants the ones we’re now stuck with?