Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage

Oct 10

Jiangsu Broadcasting learns about transmedia, social media and multimedia at Annenberg

Posted: under Politics & New Media, television.
Tags: , , , , , ,

So this happened: I got asked to help train a team of 25 bright, ambitious, clever & talented people from Jiangsu Broadcasting. I believe they are headquartered in Nanjing, and they were set loose in Los Angeles for 20 days (missing out on some big & important holidays in China) to learn what they could about how to adapt to the shift from traditional broadcast TV, to a more multiplatform approach.

Here’s a gallery of images from the last day, when they had to present their projects.


Yeah, I read the caption to this too – “loser … instantly … falling into a pit…” and realized that China’s gameshows are totally badass.


Here are the contestants, perched on their precarious peninsulas (see what I did there?), waiting to have questions fired at them by the stern hosts.


The students partied it up while they were in L.A., and experimented with Vine to post pictures of themselves toasting their success with California wine.


As part of their presentation, one of the teams of students built sequences into their Prezi, where they took the letters U-S-C and used them to talk about how much they enjoyed their time in L.A. They were particularly impressed by the cheerleaders at our football matches.


I think this spells out “M V” — maybe they saw the old Village People “YMCA” hand gestures, and figured they’d one-up it?


So my students think I’m “Sully” from Monsters, Inc. Large, hairy, kinda goofy, by generally friendly and harmless. I guess this represents progress of a sort – usually, my students call me Hagrid.


They were challenged to think strategically about how best to incorporate social media into their marketing and programming mix.


Contestants on the singing contest show “The Hidden King” put on masks and perform against each other. Some of the masks really get ornate.


One of the other ways that the students considered to drive traffic, awareness and interactivity with their content, is to start using the gossip sites to send out photos of Chinese celebrities making fashion faux pas. Zippers undone, bad armpit hair-shaving, etc. Somewhere, Perez Hilton nods and murmurs appreciatively.


They’ve gotten the message that to compete against the market leader – a spinoff of “The Voice” – they are going to have to use a mix of social media strategies to try to build up a more engaged audience.


Unable to built a real high-quality mask of their own, the students resorted to sticking post-it notes to the foreheads of their singer. I gave them extra points for resourcefulness and creativity. And, of course, silliness.


The promos for “The Hidden King” would not look out of place in a Thor movie. Some huge guy, dreadful, menacing music … swinging a hammer with a glowing symbol in it … if it was a movie, I definitely would go see it.

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Feb 24

Gawker’s Nick Denton: “Privacy has never really existed”

Posted: under journalism.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Thought-provoking take in a Playboy interview of Gawker Media’s Nick Denton, one of the most-hated men on the internet. Also, one of the most successful.

His premise may be a little self-serving, in light of his whole net worth being based on prying into people’s lives and then shaming the shit out of them on his web properties. Then again, you might also legitimately say that his web properties are devoted to outing/shaming/calling B.S. on people because that’s the ethos he lives by.

PLAYBOY: You’re more willing than most people to organize your life according to principle and see how the experiment turns out.

Nick Denton, displaying some of the “let it all hang out” spirit.
Photo credit: Village Voice Blogs

DENTON: You could argue that privacy has never really existed. Usually people’s friends or others in the village had a pretty good idea what was going on. You could look at this as the resurrection of or a return to the essential nature of human existence: We were surrounded by obvious scandal throughout most of human existence, when everybody knew everything. Then there was a brief period when people moved to the cities and social connections were frayed, and there was a brief period of sufficient anonymity to allow for transgressive behavior no one ever found out about. That brief era is now coming to an end.

PLAYBOY: That doesn’t jibe with your other theory about how we’ll judge one another more kindly when we have no privacy. Human history is not a history of tolerance for deviation from the norm.

DENTON: You don’t think there was a kind of peasant realism? You hear these stories about a small town, seemingly conservative, and actually there’s a surprising amount of tolerance. “So-and-so’s a good guy. Who cares if he’s a pig fucker? His wife brought a really lovely pie over when Mama was sick.”

I grew up in Small Town America in the 1970s. Tucked back into a musty corner of the Upper Midwest, rural Wisconsin pretty much ran along the lines that Denton is describing. You can’t live with a family for generations without pretty much knowing all about their business.

You’d know without asking what their opinion was on pretty much any matter of import without having to ask, because their opinions were shaped by their grandparents, their parents, their siblings, and their life experiences.

As were yours.

The idea that we are free to become who we say we are, to invent ourselves – that is a curiously American concept, and one that functions only in fairly large urban environments. Even there, if you become suitably prominent, all the locals will pretty much be all up in your bidness, as the Southerners say.

So in that light: does social media represent a phase in human evolution wherein we all voluntarily put ourselves back into that small-town pressure cooker, where everybody knows all they need to know about us all at a glance? And is that a good thing or a bad thing? Can we even stop it at this juncture – and if we did, would we really want to?

Because there is this thing about small towns: after a certain amount of time, it becomes next to impossible to really pull the wool over everyone’s eyes.

It’s like my career with the paparazzi taught me. Somebody talks.

Somebody ALWAYS talks.

In our modern media landscape, so littered with charlatans who take advantage of ignorance and misinformation to skin the rubes, maybe this kind of brutal enforced honesty is not the worst thing after all.

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May 08

Turning “Likes” into Schwag: American Airlines and Klout

Posted: under advertising.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

One in an occasional, erratic and occasionally erratic series

Time is money. Image is everything. Manners maketh man. Your reputation precedes you.

And now, having a high (enough) Klout score wins you entry into the American Airlines first-class lounge, where you can look down your nose at the hoi polloi, and raid the “Continental breakfast with liquor” setup before your flight.

American Airlnes Klout score

I know this is going to result in me getting spammed mercilessly by American Airlines for the next millennium. The question, as always, is – is it worth it?

The mutability of your online reputation, as measured by any of the upstarts trying to put a wrench onto this social media/word of mouth monster, into actual real-world rewards is a very tricky thing. Having a lot of YouTube followers (or blog readers) gets you onto the red carpet for movie premieres.  Mommy bloggers get to test-drive new models of minivans.

But in the past, these kinds of corporate reacharounds usually had the intervention of a PR agency. This iteration goes through Klout, and asks you to connect AA directly with your Klout account (and thru Klout, to all the social media sites you included in Klout to try to boost your score).

Insidious? Evil? Useful? I guess it depends on how sanguine you are to turn over all your personal data & connections to friends in return for something that can run a couple hundred bucks, and make waiting for your flight a lot more pleasant. Certainly a consideration, if the sequester cuts ever kick back in, and we face 8-hour delays again.

Still: “When you don’t know what the product being sold is … the product is you.”

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Oct 30

Hurricane Sandy Coverage on Storify: An Inflection Point?

Posted: under Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Major news outlets use Storify to aggregate & make sense of social media flow about Hurricane Sandy

In the last two days, as we’ve all been inundated (pardon the lame water-related pun) with near-constant TV, radio, web & social media updates on the progress of Hurricane Sandy, one thing that stands out this time around (as opposed to previous disasters) is that, having had time to prepare, the major media outlets turned to Storify to pull together live coverage of the storm, via the thousands (millions?) of ad-hoc citizen reporters who were posting so many TwitPics and Facebook updates.

storify front page showing stories about hurricane sandy

The front page design of Storify has gotten much better over the past year, and shows the clear stamp of the current trend towards “Pinteresting” everything. Still, when you look at the content mix that has made it to the front page, you can see just how widespread the Storification of Sandy has been…

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Jul 01

Sweet Mother of FSM, Google+ Is Smart!

Posted: under Design, Digital Migration, google.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In less than five minutes, I responded to an invitation (that is probably still in pretty high demand) and signed up for Google+.

Being able to add people to the circles is an absolutely frickin’ brilliant move! The little animations are absolutely killer. I have been wanting this and talking about this and boring the living shit out of my tech-dw33b friends about how the one big problem STILL with social media is that it’s damn near and all-or-nothing game.

No longer. Someone at Google “got it,” and this is a killer feature that Facebook DOES NOT HAVE.

Also: Google+ aggregates my information from all manner of sources, so I don’t have to go through that goddam tiresome “OK, let’s fill in all the blanks on this profile page yet again … wait, what? … it timed out? (long cursing session)”

Check out the screen cap below – this is after only a few minutes of cursory work:

dave lafontaine profile on google plus
All this got added to my profile automatically. It borders on the creepy … except for the fact that I wrote and posted all this info about myself in the first place, and I approve of it and can tell instantly where it came from. Also note on the right-hand side: all the various places where I have established a social profile, all aggregated in the same place.

I kinda disagree with this post on AllFacebook, where they focus in on how Google has made it “compulsory” to be part of Google+, and that the key to all this is “time on site.”

While tech pundits are widely praising Google’s new Plus product, I’ve found the one feature that could take away from Facebook where it’s most dominant: Time on the site.

Facebook users are known for staying on the site for over half an hour a day, something no other site could compete with… until now.

To be honest, my gut reaction after using Google Plus was initially, “Why on earth would anybody switch to this from Facebook?”

However, when I loaded up Google Finance as I do every morning, I suddenly realized that I was asking the wrong question. The reality is that users won’t have the option of not using Google Plus.

However, later on, they kinda stumble into something interesting, that’s also come up recently in the kerfuffle over the “Open Letters to RIM” — that is, that tech companies are starting to realize that what will really make them successful, is making it easy for developers & propellorhead-types like, well, us … to come and play in their sandbox.

Add to that this very insightful dissection of what was at the core of MySpace imploding – the same thing at work, i.e. pissing on indie developers — and you start to see something fascinating emerging in corporate thinking … for those intelligent enough to read the tea leaves (or Cheeto crumbs, if you will).


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Oct 10

The Newsroom in Your Pocket Training Session at ONA 2009

Posted: under Mobile commerce.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Ask not for whom the Mooseinator tweets…

Last Friday, I conducted a training session for the reporters attending the Online News Association’s national conference to demonstrate how to build the basic skills needed to cover a breaking news event using mobile phones.

That sounded rather cold & stilted.  Let me re-phrase:

I created a scavenger hunt (which, if you want to be picky, is technically an Alternative-Reality Game (ARG)) to be the spoonful of sugar to entice the journalists into using their phones to cover a “breaking news” event that I had designed beforehand.  I have put a full description of what the basic steps are to create a mobile training session like this up on our main Artesian Media site.

The lucky winner of the "Alaska Canned Moose." Like I said at the time, this is the kind of persistence and ingenuity that won Brazil the Olympic Games that very morning...

The lucky winner of the "Alaska Canned Moose." Like I said at the time, this is the kind of persistence and ingenuity that won Brazil the Olympic Games that very morning...

The conceit was that a visiting national candidate has had her pet moose (gee, I wonder who that could be based on?) escape into the hotel. I then doled out clues that led the reporters on a scavenger hunt where they had to use their phones to interact with both the real and virtual worlds. I drew on my short experience designing D&D computer games (my agent in the 90s got me a couple of commissions writing game modules, but none of them were ever used – trust me, it’s a Hollywood thing).  I tried to make the training experience challenging enough that the reporters would stick with it to the end to unravel the puzzle of what happened to the poor beast, and to collect a (somewhat) valuable prize.

My aim was to get the journalists going through this training to use ten basic skills:

  1. Use Twitter and Twitpic
  2. Take a picture with their cellphone cameras, and then use a wireless connection to email that picture into a CMS (I used Posterous, because it’s the simplest open-source blogging tool I’ve found recently – posting there is as simple as sending an e-mail.)
  3. Receive an e-mail message on their phone, and act on it
  4. Watch a video on Flickr, and follow up on a story lead contained in the video
  5. Browse Facebook, and find information on a social-media profile
  6. 6. (The next five skills were deleted because of limited time and uneven bandwidth at the hotel.) Write a two-sentence news summary of events and post it to a WordPress blog
  7. 7. Use GPS to navigate to a location
  8. 8. Create a photo gallery, and geo-tag the photos
  9. 9. Stream audio/video live to the internet, and then upload the same local recording to a podcast/vodcast directory
  10. 10. Transmit/share files with another reporter’s mobile device

All these were taken from examples of real-world news events, and the various skills the journalists had to have to cover the news live & in-person, using only the tiny (yet increasingly powerful) mobile phone. Unfortunately, once I got to the Hilton in San Francisco, I quickly learned that I was going to have to scale back my training a bit.  Quite a bit, in fact.

Twitters from that ungulate-obsessed madman, The Mooseinator.

Twitters from that ungulate-obsessed madman, The Mooseinator.

The effects of having more than 700 of the most internet-savvy journalists in the world in one place – and then adding the mobile-phone crazed USC college students who had made the road trip to watch their team play Cal – overloaded the hotel’s internet connection.  I could barely send/respond to email through the hotel’s wi-fi system, and I quickly found out that despite San Francisco’s rep as the epicenter for all things cool & new in digital technology, the 3G cellphone coverage in and around the hotel was abysmal.

ASIDE: I have never had so many dropped phone calls in my life. Maybe this was due to the overloaded cell zone & the usage of all the journos & college kids. But even at night, I found myself wandering my hotel room with my new iPhone held apart from my body like some kind of cell signal dowser, hoping to strike a pose that would allow me to complete a call without having the person on the other end start screaming “What? WHAT? YOU’RE BREAKING UP!!!”  Either all the people whining about AT&T have a point – which is probable, considering the amount of chatter on the web about them – or the new iPhone 3Gs is a great handheld computer and a lousy phone. Which also seems (sigh) likely. All I know is that I had the iPhone 1.0 on this same AT&T network all over the world (Colombia, Moscow, Kiev, Amsterdam, Costa Rica, Mexico), and I didn’t have problems like this.

Back to the subject. With the fragile connectivity at the hotel, I had to scale back the plans I had made, so that I didn’t have frustrated crowds of journalists howling at the ceilings and shaking their phones at hotel staff (although that might have made a cool scene for an ad for some new mobile company).  While I knew that everyone likely to attend my session would have a smartphone and would probably at least have some skills in how to use it, I whittled away some of the more advanced features that are not common to all phones. Given more time and resources, I could certainly make these things work, which would really take the experience to the next level.

Nerd alert: The basic skill set needed to set up a training session like this is pretty much the same one it takes to be a great dungeon master (DM) in the dice-based Dungeons & Dragons game.  You have to set up a framework where you allow your players to use their ingenuity and improvise enough so that they feel like they’re the ones telling their own story – but also controlled enough so that you can lead them from step to step towards the set-piece goals you have established beforehand.

The first thing that I did was to post a handwritten clue in an unused conference room next to the ONA registration desk.  This was a stand-in for a confederate – I was hoping to have someone there to play a recorded statement that I had on a little digital voice recorder, basically telling the reporters “I’m sorry, but we don’t comment on an ongoing investigation.”  Hey, I was going for the verisimilitude.

The next step was to have a couple of people over in the corner giggling over a picture on their phones of the moose on the loose. Again, the hotel was uncooperative.  Seeing as how they’re located in “The Tenderloin,” maybe they had other problems on their mind.  See Dave Mitchell’s excellent blog post “Country Mouse in the Big City” to read about some of our adventures as we tried to leave the hotel on Saturday night (they involved drunked brawling, drug ODs in the bathrooms and SFPD cops circling a handcuffed pursesnatcher).

I had to make do with a foamcore sign on which I posted the link to the Twitter account of someone in the hotel who was an eyewitness to the moose wandering the grounds.

The contestants then had to navigate to the Moose_inator Twitter feed and click on the Twitpic link to see the picture of the place where the next clue was located. Their next task was to go there and upload their own photo of the pool to the Posterous CMS (standing in for the CMS of their paper/TV station/website).

The beast seems to be taunting us, carefree and grinning...

The beast seems to be taunting us, carefree and grinning...

After they uploaded their own photos, they then got an email with a link to the Facebook page of the Moose Inator, who claimed to have  shot a video of the moose in the hotel. I was going to put it up on YouTube and Vimeo, but found that the hotel’s wifi system was clamping down a bandwidth throttle on the video sites.

Flickr was streaming without a hitch, so I put the video up there, with a message at the end of it to come and meet me in the CityScape bar atop the hotel.

By the way, I really put a lot of work into fleshing out the character of the Moose Inator on Facebook. so take a few seconds to click around and look at all the photos that I uploaded, such as this one.

The photos were shot in our backyard here in Los Angeles, but the videos of the moose in the hotel were shot the day of my presentation, using the video camera functionality on my new iPhone 3Gs.  It’s not the greatest video in the world, but it’s low-bandwidth and it was fairly easy to edit using Premiere Pro CS3.

I’d also like to extend a special shout-out to Sony-Ericsson for sending me their cutting-edge smartphone, the C905a. This little beauty comes with an 8.1 megapixel camera, which I used to good effect in setting up this training exercise. If the bandwidth had been a little less iffy, I think I would have tried to do a live video feed using Qik or Kyte from the site.

Channeling the spirit of Lord John Whorfin, grinning and taunting, "Laugh-a-whila you can, monkey boy!"

Channeling the spirit of Lord John Whorfin, grinning and taunting, "Laugh-a-whila you can, monkey boy!"Actually, The Moose Inator tends to issue odd permutations of classic Melville lines, such as "From hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last chaw of Copenhagen at thee!"

The most gratifying part of this whole exercise was the way that some of my contestants came up to me afterwards, gushing that they had had a blast, that they had learned how to upload pictures directly from their phone to the internet, and that they loved the feeling of being immersed in a carefully thought-out experience.  This was one of the few sessions at ONA that actually got the attendees out of their seats and out doing something new, trying to accomplish something on their own, rather than just sitting and listening and watching yet another PowerPoint session.

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