A Literacy of the Imagination

a deeper look at innovation through the lenses of media, technology, venture investment and hyperculture

Filtering by Tag: storytelling

Story Evolutions

Try this mental exercise for a moment: Remove an ad unit or an advertorial or a listicle or an aggregated news feed from your line of sight.

What do you see?

You might find a contextual truth about a person, a company, a place, a region, a mission and/or an idea. Call it 'data'. The substance presented to a 'consumer' (let's call him or her an 'observer' to be a bit more respectful here), and represented through individual and collective narratives, is one that really stretches across time and the imagination itself. Call the substance itself a 'story'.

Any person who connects with a story will retell it and own it as their own -- this has been the case for centuries. Whether that person advocates a product or a service is another matter, but suffice to say, stories told well and curated meaningfully build relationships between people. The participatory nature of storytelling itself is actually what makes media social to begin with. And networks have existed long before the wonders of modern technology such as the telegraph, the phone or the web ever came to be. (Have we already forgotten this?)

As I've espoused for years, the duty of any company is not to manipulate consumer segments or audiences into believing that they need products and services via their 'brand', but to give them questions and/or ideas that empower them to think about why things matter... Whether products and services are sold or not. In turn, a real relationship can be had and maintained, and the opportunities to explore various fictional and non-fictional modalities are abundant (hence the multi-dimensional power of evolving and hotly debated disciplines like 'transmedia storytelling'). Not only that, the functions of a participatory relationship denote untold prospects for co-creating value -- the kind of value that builds better products, empowers employees, creates new markets, and makes honest men and women out of organizational leaders. Believe it or not, that leads to more profit and sustainable revenue streams.

If you want examples (or more of them), feel free to sift through myriad posts on this blog, or gander a presentation or two, and certainly check out some of the folks I mention who are doing great work across domains.

But for now, I'd like to challenge you to expand your thinking: Perhaps it's time we looked past what 'content' can do inside of a search field or a communications plan or on an affiliate link, and think more about what stories can do to transform the way we think about ourselves and our ecologies.

How does this actually translate to better marketing and digital media practices?

How can we monetize products and services without having to sacrifice the integrity of the information we put forth, or more importantly, the people with whom we share our information?

What are we doing to enhance our roles and respective disciplines inside and outside of organizations? (Are we not just relying on automation, compartmentalization and optimization to prove our value?)

Addressing these questions head on is the mark of future success for any company and news organization. You can count on it. In fact, it's already happening.

We are moving from broken economics in media, to a 'new' economic system of story. And story evolutions have always been here for us to use responsibly!

Some Truth About 'Big Data', Agnostic Storytelling & Journalism

A couple weeks back I gave a talk at the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab on how to use data and the stories behind the data to build intelligence and sustain markets.

It's an hour-long, so I thought I'd summarize some key points for you:

 - Immediacy and importance with information leave us, as readers and media participants, grappling over the choice of information we want to consume or with which we want to interact;

- Data isn't 'big' so much as it is curatorial and relevant given a particular context or set of contexts;

storytelling in 21c.png

- Normative methods for measurement (clicks, views, page rank etc.) don't represent true or scalable value, and actually commodify the media market, to include 'content' and the creators of it; 

- Discovery and serendipity (not filtering) are vital for critical thought processes;

- Stories are in actuality the predicates for markets and their growth; the question becomes how we look beyond the need to push content out into media environments and instead look at how storytelling is used to leverage cultural and business behaviors;

- We need to relearn how to think, and ask better questions, knowing that the 'answers' may not come to us right away or ever;

- Central or 'meta' narratives have been constructed over time to influence our perspectives of the world that often run in conflict with what we know to be true in our hearts; the choices we make (our freewill) can shift these perspectives and create new realities through personal and collective stories;

Whole Self & Narrative.png

- Cognitive bias can be reframed to look at 'truth' and 'circumstance' as inferential; the idea is that information streams have phases or stages that provide pivots through which we can understand operating context -- the thing that enables us to understand information and make better decisions;

- The future of the media business as a whole hinges on three things: 1. emergence (allowing stories and ideas to flourish without media or advertising bias), 2. socialization (syndicating information streams as part of the storytelling process), 3. learning (adapting to what we discover, when we discover it). 

Be vigilant in your pursuit of context. Think and act critically. Always consider your fellow (wo)man. Be kind, be generous, be unreasonable in protecting your civil rights, and those of others. Make great, inspiring media. Most of all, always be informed, and if you’re not afforded the opportunity, then trust your intuition... All fundamental truth resides in your heart. And with that, the stories you tell, the information you share, can only be, and will only be, magnificent.


Building Intelligence: How Data + Storytelling is the Ultimate Act of Creation

I waited a bit to post this (not really sure why), but it's from a talk I gave late last year in Sydney, Australia at the StoryLabs event run by the multi-talented Gary Hayes.

It covers off on unique methods and use cases for developing story-driven platforms that comprise various uses of data, content and media, along with considerations for revenue opportunities and scale. There's heavy emphasis on co-creation with audiences and stakeholders, and how we can enable people to participate in meaningful ways. 

Deck is below, audio podcast can be found here.



Gunther Sonnenfeld

The Future of Advertising Isn't Advertising (As We Know It)

My good pal and The Big Pivot co-author, Sasha Grujicic, and I ran a series of discussions at the Banff World Media Festival earlier this month (June 9-11) that pulled together stakeholders on the brand, media, creative and technology sides of the business.

To kick off the day, we gave a brief preamble to the overarching theme: The future of advertising. The discussions went really well, so we decided to take some of the insights and blow this theme out for y’all in the websphere so that we could keep the thought generation flowing.

The following is a Slideshare presentation with embedded audio; it’s more of conversation format than narration (a wee bit on the rambling side, but oh well). You’ll see that we placed a lot of emphasis on the notion of what an agency service model(s) looks like in a business landscape that is flattening and whose resources are becoming more distributed.

We hope you get a lot of value out of it, and secretly, we hope you bother us about it. Cheers.

P.S. Our work with nextMedia (Banff event organizer) went so well that we are developing a new format to get the stakeholders mentioned above and investors to advance these discussions and rapidly prototype new business ideas. Stay tuned.

Attention Marketers: The Real Money is in Ecosystems

What people really think about “brands” and “ads”.

There are a host of studies that address the ways in which people are affected by ads and onslaughts of marketing messages, as well as how they feel about them. Most of the data and insights are inglorious; probably the most telling are the studies based on “native advertising”. This one from MediaBrix and Harris Interactive is a pretty good indicator of why consumers have become activists in editing and avoiding ads altogether.

Granted, many of these studies don’t even ask the right questions, or questions more oriented towards cultural behaviors or daily rituals. Choosing between the better or lesser of evils ("Would you rather go with option A, B or C in this rotation?") isn't exactly leading marketers in the direction of enlightenment.

Brand studies are even more elusive; my favorite (I’m being facetious) is this series conducted by Interbrand, which provides geographically designated results on brands in different markets based on variables that have little to do with company operations, sustainability or customer relationship metrics, and everything to do with “brand perception” based on fixed (and arguably irrelevant) variables.

The Bhutan approach to relationship metrics (specifically GNH or Gross National Happiness) is really where these survey questions should lead... But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

brand studies.png

What this says is, as an industry, marketing and advertising is still talking to itself in a giant echo chamber, and is making huge, sweeping assumptions about customer behavior when it doesn’t have to. In short, companies, via their brands, have an opportunity to ask far better questions. And this is precisely where companies will continue to make or lose money.

Marketing is intended to actually build markets.

One of the smartest things I’ve heard recently came from General Electric CMO, Beth Comstock, who unapologetically proclaimed that "Marketing is now about creating and developing new markets; not just identifying opportunities but also making them happen".

Comstock looks at GE as the world’s oldest startup, and this is the kind of thinking that has sustained GE as an innovator across industries for decades.

If you were to look more closely at the word marketing, it would seem that this approach in building markets is a given, but of course it isn’t.

Developing an ecosystem of ideas and resources (not just ads and inventory).

The big talk at the CM Summit this past week (May 18th, 2013 onward) has been around building a new kind of ad ecosystem. This ecosystem specifically refers to things like a “native advertising” or “programmatic advertising” format, which basically focuses on real-time bidding in exchanges that peddle inventory or content for cents on the dollar.

While I think these discussions are important in transitioning our broken ad models to better places, I think they also miss the bigger picture.

For one, they presuppose that innovations in developing the company-customer relationship are predicated on technological advances (read: fancier features). For another, they almost completely ignore the power of people, their communities, and the ways they are willing to participate when the terms for consumption are more equitable.

This includes our functional uses of content, data, and the contexts through which we can build customer relationships, engender trust, and monetize channels without grossly manipulating the market itself.

From a content perspective, here’s what an ecosystem would ideally look like:

content's new context.png

If we can accept the Kurzweilian precept that technology is an extension of biology, then we might be able to reframe these efforts more constructively.

What this really points to is a profound shift in priorities, one that takes us from models based on opacity, forced messaging and a reliance on commodified inventory, to models that place openness, adaptivity and conscientiousness at the heart of marketing and communications.

The Coca-Cola problem.

Many of you are probably familiar with Coke’s escalating issues with obesity. If you’re not, you should be, as this represents a classic example of how traditional marketing and communications (to include “social media”) can’t solve real world problems -- problems that are not only complex, but those which require a whole new way of doing business.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the idea isn’t so much that brands and their products or services need to be perfect, but the overarching idea that they do need to be more humane. This means that operations must be far more empathic in how they treat people (customers and employees), and means that companies must do their best to empower hyperlocal economies.

I will make a much stronger economic case for this in an upcoming white paper, but suffice to say that things like P/E ratios, EBIDTA, market capitalization and increasing profit margins are hardly leading indicators for a sustainable brand, or a profitable brand, for that matter. Further, it will be impossible for companies to maintain the types of margins they have now without more earnest investments in the socioeconomic environments on which they lean, directly or indirectly.

What Coke can do to align its business and brand interests.

A lot of the work I do involves creating scenarios, or imaging possibilities, so that more positive and productive futures can be realized. So, I thought I would take the Coke use case and provide a snapshot of what “newer” disciplines like data journalism and participatory storytelling can do to revitalize the socioeconomic relationship between brands and consumers. (It is also a central use case featured in the book I’m co-authoring, “The Big Pivot”)

story as a lived experience.png

The graphic should be fairly self-explanatory; it basically takes you on a journey from the moment a perceived issue erupts, and shows how a different way of extracting and cultivating a story lends to the consensual development of ideas that not only become authentic brand artifacts, but those which provide a basis for product development and job growth.

You’ll notice that we go from a phase of understanding an issue, to uncovering its intentionality, to finding the purpose behind it in actions on the ground, and ultimately, developing the true meaning of its impact in the form of actionable solutions.

Under normal circumstances, the usual suspects -- media agencies, PR companies, social media vendors, product innovators, sustainability firms, et al -- would work mostly in isolation. More critically, the idea of storytelling reverse engineers a very staid and cumbersome set of processes that doesn’t actually move the needle of the business or nurture stakeholder relations. In this case, notice how real world solutions can be crafted from mostly closed data loops to those that reflect a group or collective intelligence.

Welcome to the future, which is right now.

It is not difficult to see what is possible. We have the tools and the means. What is difficult is to shift the mindset away from a heavy reliance on automation and quantitative reasoning and towards interactions on the ground. These will allow people to become true advocates of a brand, and influencers of ideas that matter, whether they exist as messages, stories and/or pure informational utilities.


On Storytelling & The Challenges of Multi-Platform Media, Part 2 #transmedia #crossmedia #media

Part 1 covered off on a somewhat crude but personalized timeline of events surrounding the evolution of multi-platform storytelling. There are many examples I didn't include, but I wanted to give folks a reference set for understanding the "macro challenges" of what it means to be a storyteller in a wildly unpredictable and fairly hegemonic Internet economy.

Further to that, my intention is not to scare anyone, or deter them from taking on or developing new projects, but to help people see:

- The importance of building storytelling vehicles as real products that can be modularized, monetized and scaled;

- The importance of socializing the associative models within communities and peer groups;

- The importance of taking those learnings and packaging them up as potential use cases for regulators and legislators who ultimately determine the fate of our media ecosystem(s) as a whole.

In short, storytelling these days requires us to connect dots and to "feed the dots", as it were. It's not always fun, it's never easy, but it's a creative responsibility we must take on, that is, if we want to keep building markets for our ideas, now and into the future.


On Storytelling & The Challenges of Multi-Platform Media, Part 2 #transmedia #crossmedia #media

We're all digital consumers, but are we really prepared to become multi-platform content creators?


It's All In a Conversation...

Someone called me recently to ask if I would be interested in helping his company develop an "independent transmedia franchise platform" out of a series of book properties it had just purchased. The company had allegedly built a core technology to distribute the material, and intended to "strong-arm" the studios and networks into specific channel deals based on the distribution footprint.

I said sure, why not, but threw out the caveat that I needed to ask him a few questions first. He agreed. So, to my own detriment I suppose, I immediately "led the witness":

Me: "What's your definition of 'transmedia'?"

Him: "Excuse me?"

Me: "What's your definition of 'transmedia'?"

Him: (chuckles, then) "I'm not sure I understand the question."

Me: "Um, ok, what's your definition of a franchise?"

Him: (chuckles again) "Are you serious?"

Me: "Ok, lemme ask you this -- do you have a distribution and revenue model in mind?"

Him: (laughs, then) "That's why I'm calling you, dude!"

Me: "And I really appreciate that. Really, I do. But you haven't given me a definition of transmedia, or a definition for a franchise, and I need to set expectations here."

Him: "Is this a creative issue? Do you not have the right people?

Me: "No, that's not it..."

Him: "Well, I don't want to hire (so-and-so) or (so-and-so). I need someone who isn't gonna sell me a bunch of black magic or charge me a shit-ton of money to produce storyworld elements, or an automation system to distribute stories. I need scale."

Me: "Actually, it sounds like you need an audience..."

Him: "The books have an audience. A pretty big one."

Me: "No, the books have readers. We would need to build the audience and maintain it. One does not necessarily facilitate the other."

Him: (clears his throat) "Ok sure, fine, but I need scale. The investors were sold a transmedia platform, a franchise platform with multiple revenue streams."

Me: "I get it. Believe me, I get it loud and clear..."

Him: "So can you do the work?"

Me: "I'm not worried about getting the creative work done. I know lots of people who can do that -- people a lot better at it than me, quite frankly -- but I need to have some idea of what we're trying to build here, you know, as a business."

Him: "We have a business plan..."

Me: "Sounds to me like it's more of an idea than a business plan."

Him: (suspiciously) "Really..."

Me: "Yeah, we would need to create a framework. A real distribution model and a real revenue model, before we hire a single writer, designer, programmer or director. Have you considered how you're going to license these properties? Established terms for use? Creative commons considerations ala 'freemium to premium' or something like that?"

Him: "Sort of."

Me: "Then we'll have to look at various licensing models and strategic partnerships. We'll need to know what's in front of us, you know, obstacles and opportunities. We'll need to make deals with both publishers and distributors, as well as with open communities, even if we create our own content because we want people to distribute some of it themselves -- the question is what part of it. "

[pregnant pause; shuffling in the background]

Me: "Look, I don't sell transmedia. I can't. I shouldn't. I help build platforms that hopefully make money, and I can measure success with unique tools in my arsenal, and I can continue to do so over time. Isn't that what you want?"

[another pregnant pause]

Him: "I'll call you next week."

I never heard back from this gentleman again. By the way, I've had more than a few conversations in recent months that transpired just like this one, with a couple that have taken more positive turns.

Creating Accessible Standards For Growth

Here's the bigger rub.

We've had an opportunity -- a good number of us in the creative community -- to define what transmedia or crossmedia or multi-platform storytelling is and, for whatever reason, we haven't been able to do it very well.

Sure, people have overlapping definitions, and use cases, but there aren't many scalable revenue models from which to borrow or leverage. There is very little to be deemed as "industry standard". Just like, for the most part, they're aren't many in social media. Just like we didn't define what video or DVD distribution should have been when they came out.

Enter DRM, IP management, piracy, privacy, astroturfing, franchise licensing and the like, and we have an overwhelming smorgasbord of issues that just won't allow is to tell stories the way we think we might want to.

Maybe certain standards can't be put in place. But, if we look at a storytelling platform by the channels in which it is comprised, we probably can. And there are models that do exist for channel-specific distribution, mostly those which are "proprietary". I've developed some of my own through various engagements and won't be sharing them here as I'm not at liberty to do so, and because I share a lot already as it is (probably too much at times ;)

That said, I don't mean to come off as hypocritical; what I'm saying is that we don't necessarily have to dive into core methodologies -- that is something which makes us as individual entities competitive (in a good way), and something through which we can create value and markey viability -- but we do need to share as many use cases as we can so as to provide context. The context piece is what we can all collaborate on to empower the market as a whole.

More important, when we don't develop standards for growth, experiments or not, we lose out to the gatekeepers -- media brokers, lobbyists, legislators and other private and special interest groups, you know Old Media, that don't want us to break out of our little creator and consumption boxes.

But, again, there is hope in building a sustainable marketplace. I think.

The Go-Forward Considerations (And a Friendly Tip)...

Right here in Los Angeles, in my own backyard, Google and Facebook are moving into bigger, hipper, bolder offices.

Why? They're taking over where studios, TV networks and banks refuse to go, or anywhere they can't go. Internet companies, along with Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach (a funny new label for the west side of LA), are getting deeper and deeper into the distribution business.

Twitter, in my honest opinion, is probably threading this needle in the most innovative of ways. Its foray into the broadcast space has a lot of promise, and the platform is already attracting strategic partners from the highest ranks of media, as well as content creators who have made a name for themselves cutting through the clutter of crap on offer in most social media channels (like YouTube).

Whether these folks are proven multi-platform storytellers is not the point; they are looking to reinvent what does work out of the more established Old Media and branded content models, and hope to lay the groundwork for where New Media can play a more definitive role.

What's Twitter really doing? It's looking at audience development in an entirely new way. Google is approaching it from a different angle, which is the premium channel route, and, through its robust suite of utilities which are now integrated into G+. Facebook is betting on distribution ubiquity by empowering folks to use Timeline as a storytelling and curation tool, and by leveraging its new array of mobile platforms. Yahoo! is making a run as a premium publisher, and is looking to leverage its communities of users to do it. AOL is using the HuffPo relationship to feed its content syndication model that hopes to stretch across a variety of New Media. Bing is making a stronger play in location-based services, which includes the development Microsoft has undertaken to allow people to connect through stronger social media interactions and various forms of interactive storytelling, particularly through its gaming platforms.

Harking back to the early days of the 'net, these companies are coming around, full circle.

But Internet companies, as much as they like to portend that they are actually media companies of one sort or another, are not storytellers. Most of them (not all) don't really understand multi-screen audiences. They're just now learning how to build real fan bases, and not like studios or TV networks or brands do when they do things right (which is, of course, a tragic irony in all of this).

In short, Silicon Valley will not solve our storytelling problem. Not by itself, at least.

Don't get me wrong, I have tremendous respect for these companies. I really do.

But they're not looking out for the media ecosystem itself -- they're not really democratizing production along the web, and they're not doing it just for creators or consumers, as much as they like to say they are. The reasons for this are far more complicated than the viewpoint presented here, but let's just say that they can't -- some are public companies tied to inextensible ad models and quarterly earnings reports and investors who only care about the bottom line... And putting ideaology aside, I suppose we can't blame them.

And guess what else?

These same companies are becoming the banks of the future. They've got way more cash on the books than any of the retail institutions (probably combined), as well as alternative currency and transactional systems, and they have the distribution pipelines to boot -- you know, captive users.

In addition to taking on the disposition of banks, if they look like studios or networks, and they operate like studios or networks, then they probably are studios or networks.

If this is the case, can they also fight or continue to support our battles around an open Internet? Do they even want to? Studios want to do the oppposite, and to date, have poured millions into lobbying for paywalls and encryption technologies to charge consumers for content at every turn...

... And so a sobering reality remains...

...The media world is still based on scarcity. Investment is scarcity-led. The Internet doesn't really operate on scarcity, but unless you are an Apple, an Amazon or a Netflix, you're either in the content distribution business, the device manufacturing business, or the audience building business, and no one has figured out the latter. (Hint: It won't be done through a single algorithm either...)

Not yet at least.

A piece of advice to all you storytellers out there: Learn how to build, cultivate and maintain audiences. Develop a model for it. Or five of them. But do it, and do it fast. Knowing how to spread stories is one thing (and a very prized skill), but knowing how to keep audiences satiated and "engaged" is the holy grail of our media existence.

With all that said, I am still a firm believer in good storytelling (that can mean a lot of things, but still...).

So I'll remain a storyteller, and as a technologist, I'm placing my bets in other areas: Solving the legislative problems we have, the distribution challenges we face, the Big Data opportunities we have, and the economic barriers that keep us from being creatively free.

Think about how this relates to you, and the role in which you're comfortable playing. Think of this guy, if you need a dose of inspiration:


On Storytelling & The Challenges of Multi-Platform Media, Part 2 #transmedia #crossmedia #media

Hopefully, one day soon, transmedia or crossmedia or multi-platform storytelling will just be storytelling that can be enjoyed and shared by all.

And we will get there, sooner rather than later. Believe me, we will.

On Storytelling & The Challenges of Multi-Platform Media, Part 1 #transmedia #crossmedia #media


As a companion piece to a recent post we wrote over on the WWTID blog regarding curation, and as a follow-up to my last piece on proving out models within the creative industry, I wanted to expand on the concept of storytelling in today's highly charged, highly fragmented and highly regulated Internet environment.

By now, you've probably heard the terms "crossmedia" "intermedia" and "transmedia" ad nauseum in conjunction with the notion of multi-platform storytelling and experience design. This will not be a post about term definition (I promise -- I've all but given up on that endeavor), but rather an exploration of business challenges revolving around any one of these terms.

In short, it seems we have two core challenges:

1. What it means to actually tell stories;

2. What it means to distribute and scale stories across platforms.

Telling stories -- at least those with which a number of people seem to gravitate toward, interact, participate and share -- is incredibly difficult in an increasingly intermediated landscape (yes, you heard that right). The cost of production has gone down, while the cost to distribute, even among a variety of channels and device options, has gone up. At the end of the day, it probably has less to do with creative abundance as it does with the struggle between Old and New Media.

Here's some personal backstory on this paradigm, and why, even as we improve storytelling disciplines, a real battle needs to be waged in the board rooms and legislative confines of corporations and institutions.

An Imperfect Evolution

[from Wikipedia]: The Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) was the first notable attempt by the United States Congress to regulate pornographic material on the Internet. In 1997, in the landmark cyberlaw case of Reno v. ACLU, the United States Supreme Court struck the anti-indecency provisions of the Act.

The Act was Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It was introduced to the Senate Committee of Commerce, Science, and Transportation by Senators James Exon (D-NE) and Slade Gorton (R-WA) in 1995. The amendment that became the CDA was added to the Telecommunications Act in the Senate by an 84–16 vote on June 14, 1995.

In Europe around the same time, EU policies would present a different side to the same coin: Self-regulation. This would eventually rear its own ugly head in terms of how people could access and share information on their own terms.

What this meant: A threat to the constitutional notions of free speech, and something that prompted a wave of issues tied to content creation, content sharing, technology adoption, and copyright law.

1997. I'm three years out of undergrad. Mobile and email are just starting to take off. Websites are being built for as much as $5M a pop (or more). Web companies are being funded for obscene amounts based on ideas, not revenue models or pro formas. Content creators, of all types, are starting to experiment again beyond the CD-ROM or interactive DVD fold.

I remember sitting in an office at NBC, literally a room in a trailer on the studio lot that I shared with some of my friends and co-workers, having these long, drawn-out chats, sometimes hours long, about convergence and the future of media. We were convinced that the world was changing and that "format" would no longer be an issue in the world of storytelling. We talked about how characters in a story could take on media lives of their own, how fictional and non-fictional elements might blend into stories or contribute to emergent narrative arcs, how formats would actually change because of it, and how new markets would form around it.

I'm pretty sure that it was the first time I ever heard the word "transmedia" or "crossmedia" used in a sentence.

A few of us had interesting professional lives: We were writer-producer-directors at the network (show segments, on-air promotions, broadcast design campaigns, early web and digital properties) who would come in early (usually 5 AM), produce our material, ship it for air, and then go to our "other" gigs in the afternoons.

Being ambitious to the point of sadism, I had three of them.

One was a startup called "Homemade Entertainment" that was backed by a co-founder of EDI (which later became AC Nielsen-EDI). We were basically an early version of YouTube. We had lots of great ideas, an interesting website, a little bit of cash on the books... And no distribution. At that time, all the telcos couldn't build Internet pipes fast enough. We didn't have broadband. There wasn't enough of an audience, not enough eyeballs, not enough justification for an ad or a subscription model. We lasted almost a year and then let our lease go to another company.

Around the same time, ventures like DEN (Digital Entertainment Network) and iFilm were flaring up, becoming the darlings of Wall Street, as well as Madison and Vine. Those of us who were content creators for these platforms were having somewhat of a field day -- we were not only experimenting with format, but we were creating material that could live on multiple screens. It was a lot of fun, and we made pretty good money, even if the companies themselves didn't.

Again, we didn't really have an audience. And without much revenue (if at all), we operated at a burn rate that would give investment bankers and venture capitalists ulcers.

Most of these companies would go under; a few (like iFilm) would survive through acquisition and by building up asset libraries, diversifying, and pivoting to different areas of growth as extension arms of other media companies.

I moved on and started creating feature film campaigns, as well as got involved in some independent film projects and some related software projects, wondering when something like "transmedia" or "crossmedia" and true convergence would take hold of the digital and analog worlds.

That same year, in 1997, Lance Weiler and Stefan Avalos would create "The Last Broadcast", described as "the first desktop based feature film".

Stories, Technology Acceleration & The Problem of Scale

Cut to 1999. "The Blair Witch Project" becomes a mega success. We all know about what it did, and probably what it meant, and all I could say was: "Yeah -- that!"

Lions Gate acquires the film and uses it as means to build its own asset library. With every intention to blow it out as a franchise, not much happens after that.

Cut to 2001. BMW Films releases its first web series "The Hire" and all I could say was: "Yeah -- that!"

The brand garners a lot of views and a lot of buzz, and even redefines how agencies can market, how stories can be told across platforms, and how brands can sell their products beyond advertising. Save for a few exceptions, this would remain an anomaly in the "branded content" space.

Cut to 2003. I get involved in a spin-off of a military simulation and gaming company. We architect a pre-visualization and real-time rendering software that allows media companies to integrate digital properties and distribute them with ease, as well as save tons on post-production costs. We were solving a pretty major business problem, and a big media problem.

All I could say was: "Yeah -- that!"

Unfortunately, we have issues selling it in as a product to different companies and different verticals. At one point, a big cable net wants to buy us for a nice chunk of money, but we don't have enough due diligence on the core model, and we run out of money after 18 months. We are absorbed by the parent company, us principles leave, and the assets are split up or sold off.

Cut to 2005. A friend of mine who works with a big music label recruits me to help him build a platform that allows new artists to be discovered. This is a storyworld with various characters (industry archetypes) and a narrative about building a creative business (a record company), utilizing early social media (MySpace), microsites, widgets and social games, each asset and character contributing uniquely to the overall narrative, and enlisting audiences as participants. We have phenomenal adoption -- over 200,000 fans on MySpace alone within the first two months, and we create a websidoc series, a documentary series (early reality TV) and a feature film around the property.

On Storytelling & The Challenges of Multi-Platform Media, Part 1 #transmedia #crossmedia #media

We were actually solving a significant business and cultural problem...

On Storytelling & The Challenges of Multi-Platform Media, Part 1 #transmedia #crossmedia #media
... But ran into issues of scale. Scale of all types and sizes.Including what regulators at the music labels were going to think.

And what happens?

No proven revenue model. The label pulls the plug after several months and the rest is history.

Same year: The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issues a Broadband Policy Statement (also known as the Internet Policy Statement), which lists four principles of open Internet,[16] "To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to:"

Translation: "We're going to determine what is lawful in terms of content and how it is shared."

Cut to 2006. Henry Jenkins comes out with his critically acclaimed book, "Convergence Culture". All I can say is, "Yeah -- that!"

Same year: At a digital agency, we build one of the first broadband platforms for a major brand, which comprises a number of interactive storytelling elements, including audience participation across channels. It launches, takes on a few iterations, and eventually runs out of funding.

Cut to 2007. I work on an interactive narrative game that I later find out is called an "ARG" (alternate reality game). All I can say is, "Yeah -- that!"

The game does fairly well, but we run out of money. And as a platform, it is shut down.

Cut to 2008. I'm recruited to develop a gaming property in which we implement a similar construct -- we build an amazing story world -- and more or less the same thing happens.

Same year: At my own agency, we build two multimedia storytelling platforms, both for non-profits, and both launch but run out of funding within several months. They would later be revamped as different projects.

Same year: [from Wikipedia]: The FCC auctions off the 700 MHz block of wireless spectrum in anticipation of the DTV transition; Google promises to enter a bid of $4.6 billion if the FCC requires the winning licensee to adhere to four conditions:[17]

Translation: Licensors and licensees are at the beck-and-call of regulation, which can be bought and sold by the highest bidder(s).

Cut to 2009. Same scenario involving a military project I join, same outcome. The cause? Believe it or not, government regulations.

[from Wikipedia]: In September of that same year: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski proposes to add two additional rules on top of its 2005 policy statement, viz., the nondiscrimination principle that ISPs must not discriminate against any content or applications, and the transparency principle, which requires that ISPs disclose all their policies to customers. He also argues that wireless should be subject to the same network neutrality as wireline providers.[19]

Translation: Policies, not regulation, will dictate Internet distribution. Again, those can be bought and sold by the highest bidder(s).

2010 to present day. I get involved in several projects, some film-based, one TV-based, one game-based; they get some traction, but more or less experience the same scenarios as listed above.

[from Wikipedia]: In May 2010, after it was believed the FCC would drop their effort to enforce net neutrality, they announce that they will continue their fight. It was believed they would not be able to enforce net neutrality after a Federal court's overthrow of the agency's Order against Comcast. However, under commission chairman Julius Genachowski, the FCC proposes reclassifying broadband Internet access providers under the provisions of Title 2 of the Communications act in an effort to force the providers to adhere to the same rules as telephone networks. This adjustment is meant to prevent, "unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities or services."[21]

Translation: Redefining classifications and regulations such that other bigger cable operators don't go bankrupt or telcos don't abuse their power while they surreptitiously monopolize.

Further translation: Practices will change where the money changes hands in Washington.

On December 21, 2010, the FCC approves new rules banning cable television and telephone service providers from preventing access to competitors or certain web sites such as Netflix. The rules also include a more limited set of obligations for wireless providers. The rules would not keep ISPs from charging more for faster access. Republicans in Congress have announced plans to reverse the rules through legislation.[22] Verizon has also indicated that it will challenge the FCC's decision in court,[23] and Colin Crowell, the former Senior Counselor to the FCC Chairman, has called such court challenges "inevitable."[24]

All the while: Piracy and privacy concerns mount as revamped fodder for special interest groups, especially those supported by Big Media companies and Hollywood studios. In 2012 alone, we see legislative bonfires sweep the Internet world over in the form of SOPA, PIPA and ACTA, with more on the way...

Translation: Policy formation and regulation are completely out of whack; for one, they become a party incentive, not a policy imperative. For another, no one seems to be reading between the lines; Old Media -- starting with the MPAA, primetime and cable nets -- are trying to destroy the openness of the Internet. And with that, we not only have a media problem and a distribution problem, but a democracy problem.

Patterns, Patterns, Patterns...

There's a central theme running here.

No, it's not the fact that you or I are gluttons for punishment (which we may be); in every case stated above, we had an opportunity to tell stories in very interesting ways, but would be stymied by distribution and scale. Sometimes this came in the form of cut-off in funding, in media dollars, in time, in interest, or all four.

Looming in the shadows have been regulators of all types, looking to "control" stories and their respective media for their own monetary gains, and not for the benefit of audiences.

To be perfectly clear, I absolutely love the idea of "transmedia" or "crossmedia" or "intermedia" storytelling. I love the idea of agnostic (or even channel specific) storytelling, but to be honest, I don't really know what it means anymore, at least not in terms of a business or even a value proposition. To be more clear, I don't position anything I do in this realm as a "storytelling project" anymore; it's either a platform, an audience-building mechanism or both.

More on that in a bit.

I remember when social media first exploded onto the scene. Everyone got so excited (as they should have) about all these new networks, and conversations, and sharing, and whatever else, and soon enough people started to realize, "Oh yeah -- we need good content! (And maybe we need to learn how to tell better stories!)" And so began the notion of earned, paid and owned media, throwing traditional models out of whack and putting media companies on their heels.

Lost in this mix, of course, was an emphasis on telling stories themselves -- this became another play on media. And we all have some idea where media has landed in the mix of distribution.

A good buddy of mine, an exec at a media holding company, said to me recently that multi-platform storytelling should be what good integrated communications planning is, just that folks in the agency business tend to think that stories and messages are the same thing, and they probably aren't. Sort of like, by default, how social media and content development have been thought of in the same way.

I tend to agree, but for different reasons; among them, advertising art and copy, or social network interactions, or commercials, or webisodics typically don't employ narrative structures that can be scaled through clear archetypes, identifiable conflicts (like real social issues) and extended narratives (sub-plots, what have you). Why? Because media buying and placement get in the way.

Also because, ironically, creative ideaology gets in the way.

There's another argument to consider here, which is that marketing and storytelling might not be the same thing. Yet, I would assert that they've been put into that position via, among other things, rigid media buying practices (in part, controlled by lobbying and legislation). More important, they should be the same thing if they want to be, shouldn't they?

So back to the theme of being "cut off".

Multi-platform storytelling, crossmedia storytelling, transmedia storytelling, whatever you can or want to call it, is really, really hard to do.

I'm not talking about franchise properties like Star Wars or Lost or The Simpsons that have been blown out over the years into myriad other narrative or franchise properties. I'm not talking about game companies who can do all sorts of interesting things beyond the console, or creative shops who can tell such good stories that you don't think you're actually being marketed to, you're just taking part in an incredible experience, with a fan base that participates in truly unique ways.

I'm talking about the notion of "pure transmedia" or "pure storytelling adoption" or "pure multimedia creation", you know, building a brand and a property and a storyworld from the ground up -- creating a platform that can sustain itself and its fans -- free of media and distribution and legislative biases.

I'm talking about how folks are using this construct to create or tap into social movements. I'm talking about telling story in a way that actually transcends the media and channels through which it runs. I'm talking about how to sustain a relationship, a dialogue, with an audience even when it's not watching or buying or interacting directly with your material or your product.

Does a pure transmedia or crossmedia or multi-platform play like this actually exist? Maybe. Are any of these platforms sustainable beyond the life of a project or a campaign? Not usually.

To do that, it takes money, time, commitment, and most of all, belief from the "power structure" that is already in place. If you think that's a load of crap, or defeatist in some way, then think of it from this angle:

If you create an independent project, you don't have to go through a studio or a network or a big production company or big design shop or a big brand. But you still have to fund the project somehow. Everyone from private capital investors to private equity to venture capital to banks and even microlenders (yes, them) are going to look at examples. Where do examples come from? Most commonly from commercial successes. And even most commercial successes fall short, in some ways, because they have challenges of scale.

In other words, they're not true platforms. And that's a whole 'nother issue at hand.

We'll explore what this means in Part 2.

A Literacy of the Imagination: What is it? Why is it? A Personal Backstory. #creativity

Some of you know that I've been working on my new book (same title as the headline: "A Literacy of the Imagination") between all the tech development and advisement that I do. I'd like to share with you the backstory, the abridged version, of what compelled me to forge ahead with this material in the first place.

You see, socialized interactions have changed my life, quite literally.

I'm not just talking about the communities of amazing minds with whom I've connected through the likes of Twitter, Facebook, G+ et al, I'm talking about the people and the relationships I've formed through knowledge sharing and development. People of all walks and vocations -- storytellers, futurists, artists, educators and financiers, who in their own ways, have come to terms with their roles in the world and the childlike ambitions they can no longer do without.

A Literacy of the Imagination: What is it? Why is it? A Personal Backstory. #creativity
Like many people I know, I came into the world with a number of interesting challenges. I was given the gift of being able to draw and paint (one form of creativity), and I was also given the gift of being able to compute, to connect dots, not so much through numbers, but through patterns and symbols (another form of creativity). My left and right brains were always at odds with one another. And while I was afforded the opportunity to learn at a high school that embraced unique talents — I was an "art major" and an "English major" as a sophomore and junior — the institutional and commercial world dealt people like me a much harsher hand.

Case in point: Academics. I always tested off the charts on certain diagnostic exams and critical thinking exercises (including Mensa) — I've always been what you might call a "long-form thinker." I didn't care for most multiple choice tests, or processes that were laborious and uninspired. I always felt that there was always more than one answer, and certainly more than one "best" answer. My fear and dislike for mathematics , for example, was borne out of conditioning; I was taught to approach numbers and computation with the same, consistent, banal thought process. As I approached high school graduation, I essentially had two choices: Go to art school on scholarship, or go to a really, really reputable university (like Stanford or an Ivy League) and get a degree in "something important".

I wanted neither. I ended up finishing college early, and I loved the experience, but like a lot of people, I still felt pretty unfulfilled and unclear about what I should be doing to harness my interests in the arts and culture.

When I entered the working world, my creativity was constantly stifled. I held very respectful corporate positions starting in my mid-twenties… And more or less grew to hate them all. People weren't really the problem — for the most part, I've met and worked with some salt-of-the-earth folk — it was just that I didn't believe in what we were doing. I didn't care about what "the system" wanted us to do. And I always wanted to do more, and do more than one thing.

At one point, I thought that making compromises for some unknown benefit was going to be my terminal existence – that these were the ways of the world, and that things wouldn't ever be any different.

And then came the Internet.

A funny thing happened when that came around: My imagination kicked in. All the things that I truly loved to do — write, draw, build, ideate, transact — came out in spades. I started to see the world differently. I started to connect with people who, like me, had a lot more to offer than a fancy title or a bucket of skills. I started to do things that I had dreamed about as a child and as a teen (like writing crazy algorithms, architecting software and making films). I built businesses. I experienced lots of failure. I enjoyed sporadic success. And it was well earned, because I realized that I could build a future based on some of my own terms, and more importantly, because I knew that I was capable of seeing it through.

Cut to the present moment, there's a thirst for discovery and intellectual curiosity that is undeniable. Yet, many of us over the years have been forced into isolation by surface environments that don't seem to care or want to nourish these quests for truth and meaning. That is, until each of us found ways to buttress this isolation and turn it into its own form of discovery.

In short, my true education, my literacy, has come through other people.

I've cobbled together a string of quotes from Einstein that I feel reflects this evolution so well:

 "... All dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper ... Who, however, see in the service to the community their highest life problem ... Of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice have prevented me from feelings of isolation.”

These three elements — truth, beauty and justice — are the drivers for what I call a literacy of the imagination.

In the world we live in now, and the world of many possible, synergistic futures, there is no readily identifiable, common language for understanding the value of human expression and good intention… Not yet at least. But there will be very soon. And when there is, we will share experiences through operating systems of our own design, and those that are hyperpersonal, and at once, hyperrelational. Building technologies and approaches to these various forms of applied learning are at the heart of the work I do.

A Literacy of the Imagination: What is it? Why is it? A Personal Backstory. #creativity
They also endeavor to develop the literacy I speak of — one that is developed through collective means, by way of individual identity, and through the fortification of selfless expression for reciprocal gain. This means that we really can co-exist, and the systems we repair, recreate and co-create, can make us wealthy, in every sense of how human values emerge and align.

This means that we are entering a new period of enlightenment, in which our imaginations take us to places we never thought were possible. They form the new literacy. Perhaps a rediscovered literacy that harks back to the origins of our existence… Or one that predates it.

A literacy that may or may not involve technologies given a particular moment or situation. A literacy that might trascend media. Or business. It might change governance. It might do things that force us to be uncomfortable… More so than we might be right now.

What it does involve is meaning, and more specifically operable context, via the imagined self, imagined collectives and imagined futures. A cooperative of thought and action.

The human metastory.

I look forward to building that story with you. Out if it, we will build the cultures and businesses of the imagined future, tomorrow's world…

…Or, the Future Now.

What All Multi-Platform, Cross- or Transmedia Initiatives Need: Data Rigor & Strong Revenue Models

As someone who builds content & analytics systems for a living and helps develop strategies for their use – particularly in various marketing capacities – it’s been a bittersweet challenge: How do we prove out value and identify what success looks like?

As co-creators and producers of multi-platform narratives, we can be equally confounded: How do we sustain those successes?

What All Multi-Platform, Cross- or Transmedia Initiatives Need: Data Rigor & Strong Revenue Models

The folks I advise, from content producers (such a branded entertainment companies) to technology ventures (such as branded applications), constantly ask me why funding is so hard to come by at times, or, how they can sustain relationships with brands that are unsure about spending “experimental” dollars on multi-platform initiatives.

My pushback is commonly this: What problem(s) are you actually trying to solve for these companies?

Is it a consumer problem? A marketing problem? A business problem? A brand problem? Does it satisfy a market need? All of the above?

Here’s another angle: What’s the true purpose of your idea?

From a storytelling perspective, the challenge is no different from any other we’ve faced in the media world for decades, only now the issues are more complex -- for one, “new” approaches to storytelling have been brought forth with the intention to liberate the media spaces we operate in and provide some sense of scale; for another, these same approaches seem to have us scrambling for new, more effective ways to source creative material, to create revenue and in some cases, to develop viable “franchises”.

And while creative approaches to storytelling continue to evolve – and methodologies around them arguably become more abundant – very little discussion has gathered around the data and analytics frameworks associated with things like audience composition, fandom, market segmentation and media attribution.

Further, few creators seem to be serving up the one thing any media buyer, studio, network or brand really needs: a revenue model, or a business plan (not just a media plan or pro formas tied to exhibitor relations, for example).

Now, I’m not at all suggesting that this is a new concept.

In fact, there are quite a number of folks who have been pushing this agenda forth for years and have even enjoyed some success in doing so. There are also a good number of ventures across the globe that have developed platform offerings to include media asset distribution, cross-channel measurement, product integration techniques and the like.

What I’m suggesting is that revenue modeling, business planning, product scalability, what have you, are no longer solely in the domain of the media, network or studio stakeholders... It’s our domain as creators.

So, if we want to sell our innovative storytelling wares to the money folks and partners that own the distribution and supply chains, we need to develop and own the disciplines regarding how we cultivate data, how we provide meaningful analytics and how we can apply them to adaptable revenue models.

And that goes for independent producers and studio, agency or network divisions alike.

Cases in point: Many of the great transmedia or multi-platform initiatives discussed over the last 10 years were either amazing “bolt-ons” to studio or network production efforts that were already well under way, or, they were wildly inventive independent film, web or TV efforts that somehow took on creative life of their own, partially adopted by fans within social media environments and/or by way of good ‘ole word-of-mouth.

Similar to problems we’ve faced in areas such as online display and rich media, the data challenge in its own right is multi-fold: click behavior alone isn’t going to cut it.

We need to dimensionalize behavior. We need to understand what the cultural triggers are behind sharing and purchasing. We need to get a lot smarter about who we engage and why we engage them. We need to contextualize what makes a good story, a good product, or a good story product.

I would assert that the respective media we serve up – whether in the form of film, TV, webisodics, games, apps, graphic novels, music, consumer goods or otherwise – must be packaged as scalable product, in and of itself, or, as platforms with indefinite scale.

Perhaps this is why stories (in the form of messages or longer-form narratives) tend to come and go, and why media assets tend to be laid to waste. But all of this can be preempted with smart, integrated planning... And a little bit of chutzpah.

Think about it: In an ideal business context (say, to build a storyworld with specific product opportunities and integrations), we, as creators and producers, want to be sitting at the same table with other writers, directors, studio heads, web developers, brand managers, merchandisers and product engineers... Yet, most often we are not.

We speak different languages and operate with different intentions, but more specifically, we’re managing different P&L sheets (or different P&A budgets).

The upshot?

Creative context equals business context.

It’s the world we live in now (the 21st century), and it’s what drives our commerce systems via social means. Let’s remove the money issue by developing solutions to address it from the onset.

So as a storyteller, constantly ask yourself these questions:

What consumer, brand or business problem am I solving?
Specifically, what’s the market need?
What am I really offering (of scale)?
What do I need to know about my audience?
How can I sustain their interest?
What can I offer them (or what can they offer each other) in return beyond the “product” itself?
How can this scale to new stories and through new media (beyond established buys)?  

Then there are the questions to ask that are specific to data and analytics:

What does engagement really look like? (remember: every situation is unique)
What constitutes fan behavior?
How do I attribute these behaviors to purchasing patterns?
What patterns are direct? What are latent?
How can my media plan or my product plan be adapted?
What are some likely scenarios?
What are some key learnings I hope to find?


Join us in San Francisco at the StoryWorld Conference + Expo, October 31-November 2, as we tackle these issues head-on and explore myriad solution sets...

What All Multi-Platform, Cross- or Transmedia Initiatives Need: Data Rigor & Strong Revenue Models

New Edition of StoryCentric Focuses on the Role of Data in Multiplatform Storytelling | InteractiveTV Today

[itvt] is pleased to present the latest edition of StoryCentric, our video column from Brian Seth Hurst, CEO of The Opportunity Management Company and former second vice chair of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. StoryCentric focuses on the business, technology and art of interactive storytelling, and highlights new technologies and other industry developments that have the potential to fundamentally change the way we create and interact with stories and narratives--in television and beyond.

This edition of the column features the first part of a two-part discussion in which Hurst and Gunther Sonnenfeld, SVP of Cultural Innovation and Applied Technology at Omnicom-subsidiary RAPP, focus on the role of data in multiplatform storytelling.

North America



Here is the video to the conversation...

Some personal insights on experience planning... #agencies #RAPP #strategy #brands #creativity

My friends and family often ask me what it is that I actually do.

Aside from being a brand strategist who helps clients overcome significant challenges (such as understanding the cultural dynamics that affect things like purchase decisions)... I help develop customer experiences.

Yeah, I know, talk like that induces a lot of head-scratching.

Well, it just so happens that Ishan Shapiro and Marija Coneva were kind enough to put this series of video remixes together to help tell that story better than I ever could. The footage is a compilation of keynote and interview segments as well as stuff I shot while I was cruising around Europe this time last year. Enjoy.

Part IV of FIVE EASY PIECES: Curation in a Federated System #content #Quora #DemandMedia #AI #semantics #ThinkState

Part IV of FIVE EASY PIECES: Curation in a Federated System #content #Quora #DemandMedia #AI #semantics #ThinkState
[image created by @GavinKeech]

We’ve discussed why federation is important, but we haven’t yet discussed what it actually is.

Federation finds other instances and connects them, as opposed to instances working within themselves. In other words, it matches content, context, intent and action so that we don’t need to filter... We build and grow.

As explained by friend and colleague, Ishan Shapiro:

“Let's say we define federation as ‘aggregating without filtering’, in other words, the structuring of information without biases of algorithmic presentation of information.

Curation is storytelling using available knowledge and information.  We create narratives through that information that can impart feelings, insights, results, etc.  Curation has a conductive quality - curators act as lightning rods that ground the information, focus it and communicate it to other entities of the system.  The qualities of good curation are relevance, salience, discernment and communication.

At the moment, curators are woefully under-equipped to communicate those stories or insights with the most relevance across communities due to the fractured quality of both proliferated information and of those of the core or extended communities themselves.

It can be said that this is all we can ever do - tell the best stories we can with the incomplete information that we have, and this is true.  But what if we can better design ways to access that content and knowledge?

By using federated systems of information organization, we can vastly bootstrap our ability to curate relevant information, interact with it and communicate those insights through a wide spectrum of forms and mediums.

Further, content curation inside a federated system implies bringing together fractured communities.  Communities at the moment are spread across platforms and tools, some with interoperability in the form of APIs, some not, with no guarantee that the content will stay on that platform or that the platform will continue to exist. Content is often on multiple platforms or services at the same time, fracturing the conversation and interaction with the content itself.

By dealing with the fundamentals of knowledge and content organization, we can provide the means to bring together these fractured communities and conversations, therefore allowing the communities themselves to better curate their own content and communicate that to a vastly larger audience.

We are all curators of our own content ecologies - by being given an infinitely stronger system to access and interact with the exaflood of content available to us and share our personal insights with others and be allowed access to their insights, we can vastly increase our ability to grow and learn, individually and collectively.”

The notion of content ecologies is quite powerful, but cannot be mistaken for content hubs or content farms. The natural tendency of media entities is to “syndicate” rather than federate content and relatable experiences.

One example of this is Demand Media’s model: it understands what search engines are doing, spreads out the costs for that content, sells more ads and then hedges the spread.

This is a smart business model given the current climate, but clearly it isn’t sustainable. In fact, it could be incredibly damaging to a market of journalists who now have little or no incentive to curate stories that are meaningful. And without good stories, there is no good content, no ads and therefore no revenue.

Demand Media is literally helping to cannibalize the very marketplace it chooses to play in.

Sound familiar?

Let’s use an example that seems to reside on the opposite end of the spectrum - Quora.

Quora is a wonderful proposition for the liberation of ideas and content, except for one, undeniable fact: it rests on a bedrock of cannibalized, unfederated media. Here, we can begin to see the ancillary challenges through a host of core questions:

  • Does content moderation improve or intermediate (flatten) quality?
  • How does sourcing of information scale, grow or self-manage?
  • Where does content intend to go, and can it build onto itself?
  • How are the associative experiences indexed into search?
  • Who are the true experts?
  • If there are none, what validates fact versus fiction?
  • What does validity itself even look like?
  • What is the difference between ‘accumulating’ knowledge and ‘discerning’ its meaning?

If semantics – what amount to pages of web content - are the catalytic elements, the “edges in between” (the Semantic Web), then we have some serious thinking to do around what word associations mean within the context of everyday life. Remember, the search paradigm is already hampered as it is. And severely hampered at that.

Does this mean that the semantics are not a stage-gate for the evolution of the Human Web?

Not exactly.

Enter computational learning.

Empowering language & intent: the role of AI (artificial intuition) and computational learning systems.

Natural language challenges our ability to learn, adopt, adapt and process. This is a known fact.

The average word in the English language, for example, has roughly 16 different meanings when put into palatable context (ex: running a search query). This also means that the more we index, the more we search and the more confused we become... We literally lose meaning in the cycling of the very knowledge we seek.

The brunt of the technology and media systems we have today simply cannot correct this. When we look at curation, and its associative disciplines, this places us in a very precarious position.

As articulated by Chris Arkenberg in a Twitter conversation we had recently, what’s even more interesting is that SMS, hypertext and code or character-based systems (what used to be early language systems in the form of sigils, hieroglyphs, etc.) are fueling the compression of more info into less syntax.

We are literally creating a new meta-language. And the only way we can process it is by allowing machine learning to mimic behaviors, and allow machines to develop their own.

But, please, do not think of this as some doomsday Terminator or Matrix scenario.

Think of this as a means for providing strong, ethical, illogical objectivity to the way we are conditioned to think via more reductionist lenses. In other words, where we tend to get lost in emotion and spirit, or can’t articulate meaning through those elements, machines can help. They can help us transform.

This is where AI – artificial intuition - comes critically into play.

As stated by colleague, Monica Anderson:

Computers currently do not understand semantics of human languages (e.g. in text). Attempts based on grammars, taxonomies, and other models of language or models of the world have failed because all models discard context, and in semantics, context is everything.

A new proprietary algorithm named ‘Artificial Intuition’ implements context-based understanding including perfect language disambiguation in conventional computers with large amounts of memory.

This completely new, fundamental capability will revolutionize document classification, data mining applications like threat detection and legal discovery, OCR correction, and speech understanding. Earliest applications support web search, spam filtering, and document classification.

This new algorithm also provides language generation, enabling applications like document summarization, dialog-based customer support, automatic copy editing and context-sensitive spelling correction, machine translation, and voice I/O for PIM and civil or private intelligence uses.

Extending language competence seamlessly into world competence leads to problem domain competent systems for computer-based document evaluation and curation, automated research assistants, and general knowledge federation systems.”

Hopefully, we can now see the reach and efficacy that federated systems can have – which is to change behavior and apply more universal frameworks for how we think, feel and act. It also means that stories are the linchpins for innovation.

In the last piece of this five part series, we will examine the role of transmedial thinking in the discovery of how storytelling can solve the challenges of Big Data and Big Business, and walk through what an interface experience might look like in the merger of content, intent and federated commerce.


The following illustrations manifested by Gavin Keech represent the infocology of how content develops as a fluid experience. Hopefully now these images carry more contextual resonance for you.

First, is the infocology of content as a fluid experience. While you can identify a pentagram shape within the design, do not be alarmed ;) Our intention is to build technologies around or representative of these flowcycles.

Part IV of FIVE EASY PIECES: Curation in a Federated System #content #Quora #DemandMedia #AI #semantics #ThinkState

Here are the precepts, or experiential drivers, for content interface variables. Please note that these are explorations, frameworks if you will, that address content dynamics, but do not intend to identify all of them (as dynamics constantly change).

Part IV of FIVE EASY PIECES: Curation in a Federated System #content #Quora #DemandMedia #AI #semantics #ThinkState

Clearly, this stuff is dense – we know this – but we want you to engage with us in a discourse around these elements. We live in a world of complex systems; embracing complexity is the bridge to intelligence discovery, and of course, an approach for curating experiences.


A Literacy of the Imagination: Storytelling Approaches for the Collaborative Economy #transmedia #reinvention

This was a fun virtual talk I gave recently for the Reinvention Summit led by Michael Margolis. In it are some core concepts I will be introducing into a new book of the same name, “A Literacy of the Imagination”, as well as a sneak peek of the collective intelligence and dynamic publishing platform we are building in Canada, called UBIQUID.US. I am also working with Scott Walker on blowing out the elements around a new media model, a publishing-based construct that would allow stories to develop and flourish (somewhat) agnostically. It would be great to hear your thoughts in particular around co-creation, IP development and rights management, as our conversations with attorneys and media executives have produced an array of perspectives around these topics, and we would like to see this thinking reflected in the frameworks we are building.

[here is the source Prezi with the YouTube video embeds]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

Times really have changed, and they continue to at a blinding pace. As “consumer culture” continues to shift (I’ve used quotations because I’d rather just think of consumers as people), we have been forced to revisit the way we do things as agencies and businesses, as well as redefine our notions of what art and creativity really are.

It’s interesting because as I write this piece, we are enmeshed in our own little feud between the creative and strategy camps inside the walls of our own agency. This isn’t really anything new, but it certainly poses some new questions about efficiency, and while this doesn’t necessarily mean that the work product is suffering, it is clear that we are fighting over control of something that is ultimately owned by everyone. Our contention in the strategy group is that we want to nurture collaboration and storytelling frameworks; the creative group’s contention is that we aren’t collaborating and that the stories are essentially already present in the work.

Differences aside, we’re both “at fault” in the sense that moving things forward and stretching boundaries requires that we get our collective shit together. What I’m getting at is that this isn’t an agency issue, this is a cultural issue, and one that is deeply seeded in our skewed perceptions of what business practices should look like, as well as what our individual roles should be, particularly as artists.

I didn’t come from the big agency world before I joined RAPP; I did my time at various types of media companies, creative boutiques and start-ups, some that I co-founded and ran myself. Quite frankly - and it may sound a bit odd - I decided to come on full-time here at the agency in order to become a better entrepreneur. If you consider what I am tasked to do, which is to break precedent, to push boundaries, to harness innovation and to challenge anything that might inhibit us from growing as a business, well, then this makes more sense.

I’ve figured that there is no better opportunity than one in which independent business thinking can be applied to brand relationships at the corporate level. I also love the challenge of making business or corporate systems better inside of those businesses or corporations... And of course, all through the lens of doing good or providing more meaningful social constructs.

The main thing I’ve learned over the course of my career as an entrepreneur is how creative building a business really is. If you look at the “consumerscape” and all the demands that the marketplace imposes on the brands we work with, you also see how wildly diverse the client asks are, whether those requests come in the form of RFPs, or are the scopes built into strategic or creative retainers. Basically, clients are more often than not asking for things that extend well beyond marketing and communications needs... They’re seeking business solutions, true cultural insight and ways to adapt to behaviors, affinities or mindsets.

On a more tactical level, they’re seeking business ideas packaged as art.

Borrowing from the late, great Andy Warhol: “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”

And then there is Seth Godin’s take on making art:

  1. Art is made by a human being.
  2. Art is created to have an impact, to change someone else.
  3. Art is a gift. You can sell the souvenir, the canvas, the recording... but the idea itself is free, and the generosity is a critical part of making art.

By Godin’s definition, most art has nothing to do with oil paint or marble. Art is what we're doing when we do our best work.

Beautifully put, as the thinking from Mr. Godin always is.

Perhaps we are all artists, or at least we have the potential to be, as Warhol and Godin suggest, and the very thing we suffer from is a lack of artistic nourishment.

So, how can we provide artistic nourishment?

  • Identify transferable skill-sets. All too often we do not make an active investment in things that fall outside of job descriptions. Think of all the wasted talent that have roamed the halls of agencies or organizations, with no hope of discovery, quite simply because we ignored what was extraordinary or even unusual about people – anything from hobbies to tastes to experiences that may, on the surface, may not appear to be relevant at first. These skills can be just the things that help us become indispensable as businesses (to refer to another Godin concept).
  • Destroy normative identities (and create cultural surplus). Just as cultural mores exist and propagate in the world outside of work, those dynamics of course permeate our thinking around roles and responsibilities inside of the workplace. In truth, account people should be able to think like strategists and creatives, as should media folks or finance and operations people. More importantly, people need the time and the resources to fuel their thinking, whether that comes from outside stimuli, or, actual “hubs” that are put into place internally where they can completely separate from their daily tasks and look at the world in a completely new light. Building cultural surplus, as we might consider it, is the beginning of where and how we can overcome our operational or functional differences and disconnects.
  • Always make it about going above and beyond the ask. Relatively speaking, it’s easy to deliver what’s expected of us; when we do what’s expected, it’s pretty difficult to do the extraordinary. When we deliver the ask but stretch well beyond it, that’s when artistry happens and real innovation is imminent. Every single time, without fail, our imaginations kick in, and multiple perspectives lend to the end game. I’ve been in brainstorming sessions where, under this construct, a direct mail piece, literally, turned into a sustainable platform idea (and was, by the way, sold into the client). And who was in the room? Everyone.
  • Support the act of being unreasonable (and those who embody it). This is naturally antithetical to the corporate mantra and the precepts of control, management and productivity, but, borrowing from Daniel Pink, what science says and what business does are two very different things. We are mired in absolutes and the “way things should be” instead of placing our bets on what’s possible. There are plenty of highly successful organizations such as Google, 3M, Zappos and Netflix, mind you, that have done away with these more traditional constructs, and continue to evolve and succeed as a result.
  • Prepare for failure and embrace it. The concept of failing forward has been discussed a lot as of late, and for good reason: arguably, we know less now than we ever have before. The thing about failure – coming from someone who knows a lot about it – is that it actually provides the best means for being creative. It forces us to think outside of our comfort zones, it pushes us to be resilient in unorthodox ways and affords us the ability to be creative about what we see, going forward, as applied learning.
  • Make storytelling a daily work activity. We all tell stories in different ways – sometimes on a canvas, through a photo, in a song, in writing or simply in conversation. Whatever the medium, storytelling gives us the chance to see the world outside of our conventional media constructs. It breaks us free of our silos. And most important, it allows us greater purview into the things that we might not have thought about as businesses, given that most often our access to possibility is self-limiting.

What are your ideas around artistic nourishment?

What are some of things that you’d like to to see change within your own business culture?

Are you up to the challenge of change?

By the way, I am no longer considered a “creative”, but here is some of my art... Perhaps this might lend some perspective around your own role as an artist inside of an organization, or, inspire you to actually create more art.

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“The Glassy Eye”; frame grab from a viral shoot for TRÜF with Adam Goldberg; 2007]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“The Pixelated Eye”; crayon, pencil & watercolor; 1989]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Junkie”; frame grab from a viral shoot for TRÜF with Adam Goldberg, Botox PSA, 2007]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Architectural Ellipse”; pen & pencil, 1990]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Industrial Transcendence of Trees”; remix of Pink Floyd’s “Animals” album cover, pencil, 1990]


Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Triangularity”; pen & pencil, 1989]


Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Study of the Headless Woman”; watercolor & pencil, 1990]


Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Los Angeles Nightscape”; charcoal; 1990]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Ode to Scott Turow”; watercolor, pencil, crayon & tape; 2000]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Monk in Boardwalk Isolation”; photograph; 2010]