From Dusk Till Dawn – Art & Comment for Insomniacs

A couple of weeks back, I met up with Chris Thorpe of Jaggeree, formerly of the Guardian, and now co-founder of Artfinder (think Last.FM for art).

 

Anyway, over two large cups of Earl Grey, we started talking about how Chris might take some of the stuff they’ve been building and turn it into something for the Guardian SxSW hack day, which was this weekend just gone.  The hack day was about finding new ways to present news & cultural information to people.

 

Chris sums up the idea here:

 

“We’d get real people to tell us how different bits of art made them feel, get their impressions and the put them together in a sort of image and audio slideshow and then see what came out”

 

…and this is what Chris put together to show at the end of the hack.

 

 

It’s wonderfully calming, I think, to hear gentle, considered opinions on the pieces from other people… too many audio guides in Museums don’t really work for me, they’ve too formal / haughty / monotonous in tone.  Full of detail and facts, not warmth and feeling.

 

I think there’s something very soothing about hearing a random mix of folk commenting on a piece, and the interesting, different takes on the same pieces takes your thoughts on lots of different journeys.

 

It’s very apt title that Chris bestowed upon the project “From Dusk till Dawn – the insomniac’s ambient audio guide to art in Austin”.

 

Anyway, you should sign up for an artfinder invite, and see what comes next…

 

BMW; back in the film business, but now in the future business

Years ago (in the early noughties), BMW made some films.  They were great, lavish, statement making films.  They had Clive Owen in them.  They had freakin’ Madonna in them.

 

 

They told you this:  BMWs are for driving fast, looking amazing, living dangerously.

 

Especially if you were an insurance salesman in the home counties.

 

Looking back, it’s easy to see how the mental picture of the BMW driver was a gregarious, suited, loudmouthed wanker… it was all about the badge, that shiny BMW medal of belonging for Kevin and Justin and the golf club mafia.

 

Now, BMW are back in the film business.  But in a wonderfully different way…

 

A series of four films based around “The Future of Mobility”; a look to the future where we need to create a sustainable lifestyle for the human race.  They’ll all be released this month, and first is up here now

 

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That guy?  That’s Buzz Aldrin.  Yes, the second man on the moon.  “You get where you wanna go, when you wanna go, with the least fuss… that’s what we need”.  Doesn’t sound like the message Kevin & Justin would bandy around the 19th hole.

 

It’s well worth a watch.

 

What’s beautiful about the films, and the idea, is that you get a sense of BMW as a group, a movement, an ideology… not because it’s chock-a-block full of BMW people (it isn’t), but because this is the kind of statement they want to make about themselves to the world.

 

And the thing about an ideology is that it can last forever, and transcend whatever it is you physically make or do as a company in any one era.  It’s probably as much of a message internally to BMW as it is externally for us.

 

In 1975, Theodore Levitt said this of marketers:

 

“To survive, they themselves will have to plot the obsolescence of what now produces their livelihood”

 

I guess “The Future of Mobility” feels like a future for BMW too… now let’s see what actions they use to back up the words.

A compact post on the compact disc

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We went looking at cars yesterday. Second hand, enough space for kid and stuff, that sort of idea.

The salesman at one garage, after going through all the spec of the car, leaned over slightly, and with a conspiratorial twinkle added ‘…and it’s got a six-CD changer in the boot’. He might as well have said it was steam powered.

On Thursday, I met a lovely guy who writes music for ads, and produces bands too. So he’s got a good inside track on the music industry. “You just hear so many stories” he said “of well established bands who just can’t make the financials on CD sales stack up”.

This morning, I used this picture of my CD player as the latest submission to http://Instaterrestrial.tumblr.com. It looks like a lovely, friendly robot. But I realised it’s the only thing I’ve used it for in months and months… it sits dormant, the CD tray unloved & unused.

It’s the dog end of the CD days, isn’t it? And I don’t even see a small, passionate fanbase for the format like you have with vinyl.

“You can spill coffee on them and they’ll be fine” they said when they launched CDs. Very soon, all we’ll be using them for is coasters.

The death of Myspace… and lessons for everyone else

Last weekend, I had to build a Myspace equivalent.

 

No, not the whole thing from scratch.  That’d have taken longer.  Five days, maybe…

 

Nope, just a page for our band, Gamages Model Train Club.  Over the course of an afternoon, by stringing together bits of Tumblr, Soundcloud, iTunes, Facebook, Google Analytics and Feedburner, I made something that meant we’ve got somewhere where people can:

 

i) listening to / buy songs
ii) declare their love for the GMTC (or ‘like’ as Facebook would have it)
iii) follow what we’re up to
iv) subscribe for future updates

 

It’s here, if you’re so interested:

 

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But hang on, you say, Myspace is still in existence, and gets millions of people sailing through its straits every day.

 

And what’s more, they’ve recently launched their new version.  It’s easier to use than before.  It’s got lots of different and new features…

 

Why not keep using it?  Why leave now?

 

Well, there’s three things contributing, from a personal ‘end user’ perspective, all of which I think are good lessons for Facebook or indeed any social platform that’s being built to last.

 

And these are they…

 

 

Never stand still

 

Nobody can ever accuse Myspace of ever having been terribly easy to use.  Wanted to change your profile?  You had to learn some HTML (or at least have the ability to copy it from other places).

 

But before the News Corp takeover, at least there were piecemeal improvements… week by week, new things would emerge, be talked about, asked for by the community or created internally by the team.  And it gave the people at myspace something to talk to people about.

 

Then it stopped.  Dead.

 

I think what happened is the same that happens when any big, old company takes over a small, nimble, new company.  The new company becomes subject to the same rules and expectations as the new one.

 

Don’t launch things small and often, let’s launch things infrequently, but talk about all the changes we make at once.  So don’t talk about anything in between that spoils this, please.  Oh, and we need a major review of what we’re doing with the site, platform, tech, so don’t do anything till that’s complete….

 

…and so and and so forth.  By trying to sort everything all at once, as old, established companies want to, and as you’d have to do with a newspaper redesign, Myspace stopped evolving.

 

It was dead in the water whilst the new crew sat around debating, discussing and analysing what it was that made the engine work best.  And the good ship Facebook sailed right on past…

 

Lesson one:  keep evolving in the open, trying things consistently with the people who know your platform best (i.e. NOT you, your keenest users)

 

 

 

Aim for simplicity 

 

Here’s the new Myspace home page.

 

In between the ads, it’s and endless array of buttons, options, drop down menus, updates, messages waiting…

 

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Every time someone has a good idea, it seems to get ladled on top of what’s already there.  I’ve started to lose track of where everything is, and how to do things.  I can no longer work out how to remove some old songs from our profile (and believe me, I’ve looked through all of these options).  there are ten ‘major menus’ along the top.  TEN.  And then, to add to the confusion, the eleventh is a drop down offering ‘more’…

 

It’s an awful user experience that keeps getting worse.  And this is the new improved version.  No wonder people leave never to return… they probably can’t work out what they were there to do in the first place.

 

Lesson two:  if you do keep adding stuff, then more sure you keep taking stuff away too… clutter sucks

 

 

 

Small networks can make you… or break you

 

Despite the other two being important, I think this one is the killer.

 

Myspace for the GMTC has become a cold, dead world, inhabited by the occasional spectre of another band pleading ‘…please… come and see our band…

 

Of course, this is just our little corner of Myspace, where our friends, fans and other bands we like have stopped participating.  It’s not true for everywhere.  Not yet, at any rate.  So why is it important?

 

If (as Shirky, Watts et al propose) we are tightly connected as small groups, and loosely connected as large groups, the disappearance of a small group can have bigger repercussions than just the people within that group.

 

 

 

 

 

When a social network passes out of favour in a small network, the large network suffers.  The loose connections that held the wider network together start to disappear.  So the occasional thing which crossed over into different tightly knitted groups has also disappeared.

 

Our group has stopped functioning as a node in the network.  Just one small network has disappeared, yet the repercussions go beyond just that group.

 

There feels like there’s less going on, there’s less diversity.  If this starts happening with more and more small networks, it’s obvious that the large network suffers.  It becomes a less interesting, less lively place.  It becomes more boring.

 

And when it becomes boring, people have got no reason to come back.  Which is a pattern which can start repeating across the whole network, but spreads like a virus from small group to small group, as they’re loosely connected to each other.

 

All common sense, really.  And something you’d try your hardest to stop happening, if you were running a social network.

 

However, it’s really hard to spot it.

 

The more you’re focussed on the big, overall network numbers (this many unique users, that many daily hits), you’re going to miss the disappearance of small networks.

 

Or, rather, you’re not going to miss them, because the picture you’re looking at is far too big.

 

You really need to focus on early groups that were once hives of activity, but have dwindled to nothing.  Or those who were in your first 10% of users, but haven’t logged on for a month or more.

 

Lesson 3: Large network numbers are important, but put attention to what’s happening in your small networks. 

 

 

 

 

So, three things, admittedly all from a very small network viewpoint too.  But it’s really important for social platforms to develop and keep that perspective as they grow (or indeed are bought by bigger companies).

 

Because people aren’t on your platform because they’ve invested emotionally in your platform.

 

They’re there because they’re emotionally investing in the relationships with their friends.

 

And if their friends move on… so will they.