Archives for category: Remix culture

Last night I went to the launch of the British Council’s Film Collection. It was a wonderful evening – great to see the films, and very satisfying to see a process I helped begin back in 2009 come to such marvellous fruition. I’ve blogged about it all in more detail over at allumination, where I’ve also picked out three of my favourite British Council short films.

But I wanted to post ‘Island People’ here, too. It’s a marvellous film – culturally fascinating, but also a masterclass in how to pack an awful lot of information into a short, highly watchable package.

And there are many more equally good films to explore over at the archive. They’ve been released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, so you’re free to play with them as well as just watch them. Enjoy!

Having introduced the idea of an Experience Channel in a previous post, I thought I’d sketch out what I meant by it in a little more detail. So, a few more thoughts on what exactly I think an Experience Channel is:

Poly communication

In an Experience Channel, communication isn’t one way or two way, but multi-way. Anyone can talk with anyone, whenever they want to. Interaction opportunities are created from as many different kinds of media as possible. Coherence develops from a single theme or set of themes shared across multiple platforms, rather than from use of a single, central content platform.

Three degrees of channel engagement

There are three different ways of engaging with an Experience Channel; as a content creator, a poster or a lurker. Content creators create or add new content. Posters comment on existing material. Lurkers are an audience in the traditional sense; although they could interact if they wanted to, they choose to sit back and watch the Channel develop.

Web presence, not website

An Experience Channel’s front end isn’t really a particular website; it’s a page of search engine results. It does not use a single, exclusive site as a platform. It can be accessed through multiple portals, and exists on multiple sites. Everyone who engages with it is free to pick and choose from these different portals / sites, mixing up their own personal version of the experience Channel.

Evolution through interaction

Experience Channels are in a constant state of evolution. They develop through conversation between content creators and posters. Ideally, regular new content should constantly be triggering new bursts of conversation, to both inspire existing content creators / posters / lurkers, and bring in new ones. As much as possible, evolution should be open and unmoderated – it’s the community that creates and steers the channel, not one single channel owner.

Keeping it real

Experience Channels exist in the offline world too; they’re not just about virtual engagement. Formal and informal events bring together channel members to meet and engage with each other, and share relevant experiences. These experiences are then recorded / talked about online, providing a further basis for Experience Channel evolution.

That’s a very basic definition of a what an Experience Channel is; but why are they useful? What’s an Experience Channel for? Well, some thoughts on that -

Engagement

Experience Channels facilitate in-depth audience engagement with your brand, organisation, or even just your particular, personal obsession. They make it easier to reach relevant content by making it more pervasive, and they accommodate multiple browsing styles (the random Googler who just wants to check out a website, the committed Tweeter who wants ongoing updates on their iPhone, the blog poster who loves chatting with like minded people, etc).

Education

They make it easy to share rich information about your brand, organisation or whatever in a wide variety of formats. They also ensure that that information doesn’t just come from you; external Experience Channel Content Creators / Posters add to the liveliness and variety of the channel, in effect advocating on your behalf. Lurkers might even help bring new eyes in. They won’t be taking part in the conversation, but they could well be forwarding links to their own online networks.

Conversation

Constructive conversation is always a good thing. At their best, a fully functioning Experience Channel allows you to support and become a member of a group of committed, creative people who share your obsessions, and are willing to constructively engage with them on an ongoing basis. At a more basic level, they give people who want to talk and share information about your brand / organisation / obsessions the tools to do so.

So, that’s the initial Experience Channel definition. I’ve touched on one below – the Red Bull Experience – but in my next post, I’m going to dig up some more practical examples.

There’s one EC I’m definitely going to include in there; the one built around everyone’s favourite meerkat, Aleksandr Orlov. VCCP have done a superb job there – more on exactly why I think it’s so good when I get a moment to sit down and write about it!

Well, a fascinating Friday afternoon at the BBC Web at 20 documentary launch, surrounded by true web royalty, from Sir Tim Berners Lee down. Having been appropriately awed by said royalty, I decided that I am in fact a web urchin, and then sat down to enjoy the show.

There doesn’t seem to be too much point in rehashing the content – you can catch much of it here and here, and it’s been well commented on all over the place – so instead, I’m just going to make a note of a perception about formal and informal media that really leapt out at me as I sat there.

As the introductory video began, with Fatboy Slim pounding out as background music, it struck me that there’s a big difference between the kind of professionally produced content that fills the traditional mediasphere, and the more informal creative work that thrives online.

The Fatboy Slim track was a first cue to formality. If I wanted to use it in a short film, I wouldn’t be able to; I couldn’t afford the licensing costs (in fact, I ran into licensing issues at the Tate only last week). The BBC, of course, can – and so its presence here became for me a signifier of the BBC’s commercial and creative heft, its status as the kind of organisation that works with, and creates, formal, rather than informal, media.

Then, there was the editing of the video itself. It was wonderfully crafted, clearly the product of a highly skilled professional; but again, the  sheen that that professionalism gave it very firmly placed it in the formal media camp. It didn’t feel like the product of a personal obsession, of someone working out a tool as they went along in order to use it to say what they desperately needed to say.

That sense of formality was also present in the broader structure of the event. The main speakers – Sir Tim Berners Lee, Bill Thompson and Susan Greenfield, MC’d by event and programme host Aleks Krotoski – sat on a little podium, variously giving speeches, talking with each other, and responding to questions. The questioners sat on bar stools off to one side; Chris Anderson beamed down from a video screen. We – as audience – audienced before them.

It was a physical structure that mimicked the audience / content relationships of traditional media forms. Experts talked; other experts interacted with them; and everyone else observed. Chances to interrupt the smooth flow of expertise (although in the case of Susan Greenfield, I use that term in its loosest possible sense) were few and far between; chances for informal conversation, rather than formal Q&A, were non-existent.

This formality contrasted very strongly with the various Web inspired events that have been becoming more and more popular. Unconferences, Tuttle Crowd / Tribe / Team workshops, meet ups of one kind or another, and even more traditional conferences and exhibitions – all have made a virtue of open, conversational informality, and deliberately created spaces within which hierarchy is erased and content follows shared personal obsessions.

Of course, that happened at the Web At 20 event – but it happened afterwards, when everyone was chatting over drinks, and felt very separate from the main flow of things. I felt very distant from the main event itself; in fact, I felt like I was watching it on television, rather than actually present. I didn’t even manage to get an audience question in, which is very rare indeed!

And of course, that’s not to say that it wasn’t a very enjoyable event; who couldn’t enjoy really interesting people talking about really interesting things? But it was very formal indeed, and for me it highlighted a fascinating problem that the Web at Twenty production team are going to have to deal with over the next few months.

The BBC – by definition – demands formal content; but the web thrives on informality. Web at Twenty is a BBC production about the web, so it’s going to have to engage with both the crafted professionalism of its parent and the obsessive amateurism of the online world. How’s it going to mediate between the two?

Will interviews be shot by professional cameramen, or by Zi6 wielding researchers? Will the final edit of each show happen in a BBC edit suite, or on a laptop running iMovie or Windows Movie Maker? Will incidental music come from Fatboy Slim, or Golders Green’s finest bedroom kosmische guitarist?

Will all footage come from the production team, or will people pop up online with invaluable content they’ve shot themselves? Once it’s all coming together, will people be able to remix Web at 20 content any way they want to, or will it be licensed in such a way that that’s impossible? Assuming it happens, how’s all that remixed content going to interact with the broader BBC web presence?

The Web at 20 production team are a very creative, seriously sharp bunch, so I suspect that their answers to the above are going to be fascinating. And the launch event? In the end – and despite the above – I think it was a very positive achievement.

It didn’t fully embody the informality of the web, but it’s content did do a very good job of introducing the concept of it to the BBC. It planted an informal media seed, and from now on, that seed’s going to grow. Of course, we can all be a part of its growth, following it and engaging with it here. It should be very exciting watching it develop!

I’ve been chatting to David and Tom at ag8 about the project that would become Purefold (a further, excellent summary here) since last year, so it’s fantastic to see it finally hitting the public domain; and very exciting that it’s getting such a positive reaction.

However, I’m not how much what’s truly revolutionary about it has really been picked up. In fact, even though I’ve known about it for a while, I didn’t really understand just what is so disruptive about it until – oddly enough – I got sucked into ‘Toy Story’ the other day.

I did rather enjoy getting absorbed in it; it’s a very charming, beautifully put together film. But, as I watched it again for the first time in years, I was more and more surprised by the extent to which, beneath the charm, it dramatises a certain kind of fear of the remix culture that Purefold so strongly endorses.

What struck me first of all was my unexpected sympathy for Sid, the evil boy next door. He’s presented as an all round toy nemesis, a very clearly defined villain; but the more I watched him in action, the more I realised that his ostensibly destructive play is in fact highly creative – particularly when compared to that of Andy, the ‘good’ boy.

When Andy plays, he stays entirely within the pre-created narratives that come packaged with his toys. In fact, the film defines his relationship with his toys in such commercial terms that his shift of allegiance from Woody to Buzz is signalled by the appearance of Buzz Lightyear merchandise (a duvet, posters, and so on) all over his room. Andy hasn’t made a new friend; he’s brought, very uncritically, into a new franchise.

Sid, by contrast, is a natural hacker. He refuses to accept any sort of pre-defined narratives, instead fitting toys into his own, completely unrestrained imaginative world. For Sid, bolting a Pterodactyl’s head onto the body of a doll in order to heal it makes perfect imaginative sense; and in fact, as he does so, we see that his commitment to the craft of toy hacking is such that he has a full set of remodelling tools in his bedroom.

And the Pterodacdoll is only one example of Sid’s creativity. The creatures that live around his room (a robot spider supporting a shaven doll’s head, a pair of legs that animate a fishing rod, a walking car, and so on) are equally striking, equally surreal. Where Andy’s imaginative world is defined (and limited) by preset narrative franchises, Sid is a kind of pre-pubescent cross between Max Ernst and W. Heath Robinson.

But, without exception, his ferocious imaginative drive is presented as a destructive force. The toys are terrified of Sid; he’s constantly upsetting his sister; he’s a major threat to Woody and Buzz; and all of this builds to one of the film’s key climactic moments, which comes when the toys defeat him.

Woody’s speech to Sid at this moment is worth quoting in full. Coming to life in Sid’s hand, Woody says (unsurprisingly, in a very menacing way): ‘We don’t like being blown up, Sid, or smashed up, or ripped apart… Take good care of your toys – because, if you don’t, we’ll find out, Sid. We toys see everything. So PLAY NICE!’ (my punctuation).

In effect, what Sid is being told is ‘Don’t redefine your toys’ – don’t hack them, don’t remix them according to your own imaginative or creative needs. In this context, ‘PLAY NICE’ means ‘Play within the pre-determined parameters of your toys’ – or, more precisely, ‘never replace the story we sold you with the stories you can make for yourself’. And that’s the point at which the film’s fear of remix culture is most evident.

Of course, you might think I’m reading too much into the film; that I’m finding a conservative subtext where none exists, or that I’m overstating the extent to which rights holders seek to protect their properties by preventing them from being remixed. But in fact this kind of mashphobia is very real, and very pervasive.

Don’t believe me? Check out Lawrence Lessig’s opus ‘Free Culture’, or Cory Doctorow’s more recent book ‘Content’. Both are available for free download from these links, and both are very absorbing reads. Or, you can watch Lawrence talk here:

Or just take a wander round the internet; whether it’s Sony protecting AIBO code, publishers battling with Harry Potter fan-fic writers, Fox preventing The Simpsons from appearing for a couple of seconds in the background in a documentary about staging Wagner, or Warner Bros issuing cease and desist orders protesting fair use of its musical properties, fear of the remix is everywhere.

But Purefold content contains and endorses no such fear. All Purefold content is going to be issued under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 license, in effect allowing anyone to do anything they want with it, as long as they properly attribute Purefold content and release their new creations under a similar virus.

That means that Purefold is encouraging us to all become Sids; to become people who take what’s out there, whether professionally created or otherwise, and then repurpose it according to our own creative needs and drives.

It’s the anti-Toy Story; and, in thus being, it shows that it understands the form and function of the new world of media that digital culture has enabled far more than the Pixars and the Foxes of this world, and is willing to engage with that world in a way that’s at once entirely disruptive, and entirely democratic.