Thinking Outside the Web

This talk, ‘Thinking Outside the Web: How the Entertainment Industry is Integrating All Media and Why’, delivered at Web Standards Group, Australia Museum, 2nd August, 2007. The following is a transcript of my talk, the audio is also online.

For the last few years I have been researching a PhD in the changes to entertainment over the last few years, and I also work as a strategist and consultant and mentor to companies, to publishers, TV and film producers and that, helping them to understand what’s going on in the changes to the industry and how best that they can sort of address with their content. So today I will share with you some of the big picture views, and the very sort of detailed views about how the changes to cultural paradigms, about what’s going on are being viewed now and how they are being addressed in the entertainment industry.

I will start off with a term that Toffler came up with, I think it was in the ’90s, called demassification and in the industry it’s also known as audience fragmentation. Basically the idea that there are so many media channels now, we have got TV, radio and iPod and PDAs and mobile and all that sort of stuff, that basically audiences have fragmented. They are using a whole lot of different media platforms. So before audiences could be reached via the television, for a TV commercial for instance, you could have mass audience reach. But now, because audiences are using a whole lot of different media platforms, they can’t be reached with one media platform. So they call it audience fragmentation, demassification and so on.

Another thing is consumers are, or people are, using more than one media at a time. So there’s a lot of studies that have been going into simultaneous media usage, concurrent media usage and so on and here’s just one of the definitions here. Individual consumers being exposed to more than one media system or approach at a single point in time. In short, it describes the increasingly prevalent consumer activity of multi-tasking. Example being online and watching television at the same time, reading the newspaper whilst listening to the radio, or reading the mail whilst talking on the telephone.

Now all of this might seem, of course like common sense, but what’s happening is content creators are trying to figure out ways that they can leverage this awareness and send across messages happening at the same time. So for instance, if they know, they have put studies into well when someone’s watching a, when someone’s on the web they are more likely to have a documentary on in the background, because they can surf on the web and they can listen to a documentary and there’s not much conflict of attention going on. Or they will read a newspaper whilst listening to the radio and so forth. So they are trying to figure out what exactly are the combinations that are happening, and so advertisers are basically trying to figure out how they can pinpoint you at a certain point in time to sort of try and surround sound effect you, and at the same time there are creative approaches being developed to basically utilise you being online whilst also watching the television. For instance, Big Brother and big franchises like that.

Another factor, that’s been spoken about is the idea that reason is out emotion is in. That people are not making decisions any more according to facts or details about products or about entertainment properties etc, for instance who it was made by and so on. What people are making their decisions by is their sensory reaction to it and how it actually makes them feel, and so both marketers and the entertainment industry are trying to market by getting people to experience stuff and that means they are moving more into creating content. So we are seeing marketing moving more into actually being pieces of content and they are actually using more than one medium to try and get that sensory coverage. The idea that there’s oral and there’s visual and that people can go into live events and so on.

So all of these factors come together and other ones, and what we are faced with is this complexity. There’s all these mediums, people are all over the place. You can’t get the same audience reach that you had before, people need to have emotion going on and so the response has been, because the technology has not necessarily been there, the response by the entertainment industry has been to try and figure out a way that they can join the dot. They can help make sense of what’s happening with all of these fragmentations that are going on within the content and within people’s heads and they are doing that by continuing, for instance, continuing story lines and continuing properties. So for instance, rather than having an episode continuing on just in one medium, they will have it start in the TV show and then continue into a computer game. So they are trying to link things together by increasing the dependency between them. So people are starting to make links between them rather than see them as isolated events and I will show you a few examples.

So basically the point was that the links are being made in people’s heads. Now The Matrix is one example that has been given by Henry Jenkins who’s a media theorist and it’s been studied by a lot of people. In this particular example, he cites how in the animated DVD Animatrix, the [anime] DVD, there was a short sequence called the Last Flight of Osiris, and what happened in this short episode was basically they found out that the machines were boring into Zion, and so they needed to get that information back to the Nebuchadnezzar crew. So by the end of the series they had posted the letter in the actual, sorry at the end of the episode, they actually posted the letter into the letterbox which is inferred would then go on and notify the Nebuchadnezzar crew. So there’s that one element, but then the next element was actually in the video game, Enter the Matrix, in which the mission of the player, the first mission of the player, is to retrieve that letter from the Post Office. The letter that was posted in the actual Enemy, and then in the opening sequence of The Matrix Reloaded the feature film, Naobi hands over the contents and the information that was handed in from the letter that was retrieved by the player that was posted in the anime DVD. So these are just come of the examples and the Wachowski Brothers are held up as being some of the most innovative examples of this form of transmedia approach to content.

So there’s one example, and another one is as I cited before, the idea of episodes going across lots of different media forms, so the 24 TV series and then the 24 game, which was set half way in between season 2 and season 3. But the narrative basically continued on via the game rather than being an adaptation, which is the way that is has happened before. In feature films, this is a film from, was it My Super Ex? My Super Ex-Girlfriend and there was a scene in that in which the main character Professor Bedlam suddenly refers to one of the characters and says, contact me any time, and he has his own website at So what a lot of these creators are doing now is they are just putting in little links like whether it being referring to a url, referring to a phone number, referring to an email and it’s basically inferred that the audience will follow up on it. So every time they mention one of these things, they have to actually create a working email or a working website etc., and this one there was also the main movie site with My Super Ex-Girlfriend which referred to the Professor Bedlam one as well.

Another example is, this one has just come out, it’s an Australian one with a book that was actually done by Kylie Robertson and people from Girl Friday. They have just brought this one out in which you buy the book, and part of the story of the book is that the characters create a tandem storyline using their mobile phone, and so the readers of the book can participate in that by actually submitting an SMS which is actually part of the story, which is part of the fiction in the book. That one has just been launched over at Penguin there.

Another example of course we have seen Virtual Worlds and especially Second Life. It has been in the news quite a lot, and this is one, this is a dance film called Thursdays Fictions which was just recently screened on the ABC, and it was actually in theatres and straight after the dance film people were invited to then go into Second Life in which they created what they call an immersive environment, in which you can go in and walk around the settings that are featured in the feature film, which is actually an adaption, or a continuation of a novel as well. So they are all trying to figure out ways in which they can basically, rather than have all these media and these isolated media that basically get the audience to keep moving across them, and they are doing that, as I said, by increasing the narrative dependency across them. But one of the pivotal most interesting examples about how this use of lots of different media, and use of lots of the different characteristics that we are seeing now in terms of collaboration and web 2.0 and all that sort of stuff, is a genre called alternate reality games. Now alternate reality games they started back in about 2001 with a game called The Beast, and they were basically started off to try and market a whole lot of products, but they have a very vibrant, independent gaming scene as well.

So what I will do is I will just show you a clip from a marketing company called McKinney Silver, and this is their description of why they actually decided to create an alternate reality game and a bit of description about how they did it. This alternate reality game is called the Art of the Heist, which actually includes in the creators of it, the creators of the Blair Witch Project.

So basically with all of these products, or basically the companies who are behind them who are commissioning all of these projects, the idea is that they can’t reach people. Of course they want to get buzz and they want to get media hype, and the best way they know how to do that is by distributing a whole lot of elements across a whole lot of media which forces thousands to millions of people to retrieve it themselves, join it together, work with their collective intelligence to solve a whole lot of puzzles, and that swell of activity just to actually piece it together and solve the mystery creates the buzz. An authentic buzz as they say and it follows on from there.

I have mentioned The Beast, but I will just mention that there are a few here. These are some of the ones that have been commissioned over the last few years, extended experience, alternate reality games, lots of different names for them. These ones are sequential ones, which means they were basically commissioned to be experienced at the same time as another media property. So for instance in 2001, The Beast, although it prefigured Steven Spielberg’s film Artificial Intelligence, it was actually, it kept playing just a little bit over the beginning of it as well. Metacortex was a grass roots created alternate reality game, which a whole lot of fans basically created before The Matrix came out, before the 3rd Matrix I think it was came out, the 2nd Matrix. Monster Hunt Club, The Lost Experience as I am sure a lot of you are aware of because Australia had a large part in it. I Love Bees, which was commissioned for the Halo 2 project. Push Nevada, ReGenesis, Heroes 360 Experience is another one the NBC are all around it. Year Zero Project which is Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor, who basically created his own alternate reality game and the marketing companies behind it are taking the acknowledgement for it.

This is the sort of the primer video for Vanishing Point, which was a Microsoft commissioned game which was distributed across all over the world and had a whole load of very complex puzzles, and I wanted to show you this because I just wanted to show you how they are actually prompting people to act, and how they are targeting particular consumers, a rising amount of consumers who are media savvy, and who are basically interested in being proactive and taking control of things. It’s a bit cheesy at times.

So there of course were a whole lot of clues embedded, quick shots of particular books and formulas and locations and places, and so that was all the information that people needed and they are doing the same thing in television shows now and in feature films. So basically just leaving things in there and at times being really obvious about, yes you need to solve this, and other times not, but they are relying on people to sort of act on these.

The things about these alternate reality games is they are very low tech. There’s hardly any technology involved. I mean there’s some nice flash stuff like this [oculus] cube which was actually created by a couple of Australian flash designers.

But the majority of it, and they sort of, they try and simulate hacking and things like that for massive audiences. This is one of the sites through Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails, and basically in order to figure out what’s going on you have to, the key aesthetic of a lot of these games is basically a sort of a hacker aesthetic, and once you reveal it then you can access the forum and the same with Heroes.

Heroes 360 experience, they did the same thing they just created this website, but they did the reverse. When you actually turned up to the website they pretended as if it had been hacked and taken over and was giving you a personal message, and then once you actually click on it, you can then access the normal site.

But the majority of the clues are actually offered in the source code of websites.

So, and this is just an example from The Beast which is many years ago, as you can see at the bottom of this web page you have got 2 urls, and then if we look at the actual source code of it, we can see that there are actually 3 urls placed in there. So people basically then go and find, go onto the next site and find out the next clue. This is common practise. The source code and the lines behind the top layer is where most of the games happen, most of the actions happen and they do things like, they leave clues according to their IP address. So when they register the websites they register it from particular IP addresses, because they know the actual audiences will follow it up and try and find out where the IP registration occurred etc. So the whole game play is happening on other sites behind on the web.

But there are other examples of genres that are trying to use lots of different media and a lot of them are pervasive gaming just generally that you may know about. Works like Can You See Me Now? Blast Theory, they toured here in Adelaide I think it was just a couple of years ago, and they have done productions all over the world and basically they use a lot of PDAs, GPS. A lot of these pervasive games use a lot of GPS etc., and in this one they have players on the web talking with players who are on the street trying to catch the Blast Theory runners. So they are using a whole load of technology in communicating with each other, and you can see there the best score, it took Jimbo 50 minutes. The worse score, Mrs Niven, was discovered in 13 seconds. So poor Mrs Niven.

Then of course there are other examples. Locative art, that whole area where people are, artists are using technology PDAs and GPS etc., so when you walk down a particular street as with this work, once you get to a street corner it triggers an audio file which is a whole load of narrative.

A whole load of information that is then passed on to the person. Now this is normal obviously in museum tours and things like that, but it’s actually going out into the street now, and a lot of artists are trying to create works that utilise all these different media and trying to map it with the urban environment.

So what does this mean for you? For technologists, for people who are actually working with software and hardware etc? And I will just talk about some of the paradigms shifts that have been going on that I am sure you are aware of. The dominant logic, in terms of dealing with different technologies and different platforms etc., has been about sort of mediating the technology, about porting and repurposing and conversions. Interoperability, trying to come up with ways that it’s, in the entertainment industry I’m not sure if it’s known elsewhere, but the [Koph] model, create once publish everywhere or anywhere sort of thing, where basically it can be used in a whole lot of different platforms, and the idea of convergence with hardware that your mobile phone can be used for the Internet now as well as a phone, as well as for PowerPoint etc.

This has sort of been the dominant logic in terms of how people have thought about different mediums or different technologies on the net, but there are a few emerging ones that are shifting with this and one of the things that has been said by Mikael Wiberg, who is a cross-media interaction designer, and he talks about the fact that in the nearby future, media will have to obviously move freely across different technological platforms, across different media formats and across different media networks, and he is talking about how it’s reconceptualising about the notion of media. The idea of media as a liquid as something that can, it’s fluid. It can flow, it can spill, it can run out, it can splash, pour over, leak, flood and all of these metaphors of thinking about how media works, because at the moment it’s quite restricted and hard and siloed. But the idea is that the dominant thought and logic about how media will change will be more liquid.

But also how are people joining the dots with technology? Well one of the ways that it’s basically happening is we are seeing emerging pivot points or aggregators, signs that are bringing together a whole load of information, either about a whole lot of sites or a whole lot of different media forms. Wikipedia is an example that has been utilised the most. It has sort of become the default pivot point for many, many productions, but then of course you have got software packages like onXiam, in which you can basically found out about all of the sites that you are on, and even Seth Godin’s Squidoo, which has these lenses which are basically links to all the bits of related information, related to a particular topic and it’s situated as being a lens as being a way to give you a perspective and information about a whole lot of stuff. These sorts of programs, programs that allow people to basically get some perspective on what is happening across a whole lot of different media forms and a whole lot of different complex networks now are becoming more and more important.

Also creating integrated forms, creating forms that use a lot of the technologies that are already in existence to create new, interesting, creative platforms. For instance, the whole idea of metaverses, multiverses sorry, where they are trying to figure out, as far as I can see there are 3 approached to this at the moment which is, they are trying to figure out how you can link existing virtual worlds. So for instance if you are in World of Warcraft your avatar can’t go over to Second Life or vice versa. IMB are trying to work on a technology that actually does link the two together. Then there are the people who are working on multiworld technology, so they are trying to create software that allows people to create lots of different worlds with it and therefore it’s not a proprietary single world environment, that people can create a whole lot of little virtual worlds within the same software. Then there are people trying to create, or who are creating there’s a few that are about to be launched, 3D viewers of the entire web. So any web page that you go to you can immediately turn into a 3D environment.

These are just some of the ways and in terms of the approach of thinking about connecting all of these different elements together, and that’s just within the web, and then there is the projects likes PhotoSense which has just been discussed about at TED. So I will just show you a video of that, as probably some of you have seen this but I will just play him describing the technology of PhotoSense.

So I wanted to show you that just as an example of how basically we are going to see more and more of these technologies that come up with ways to connect all of these together and create new interesting projects out of them. And one of the other issues with the Internet is the fact that we are all privy to each other. We are privy to other countries, we are privy to other people’s conversations, their twitter conversations. We are able to see, unlike we have before, what is happening with other people and one of the things that has been spoken about in terms of the complexity that’s going on in the environment that we have now, is that it’s been described as we are moving into a hypercomplex age where basically it’s a system that is orientated towards its own complexity and seeks to grasp it as complexity. In other words, what people are trying to do now is they are trying to grasp complexity by observing each other, observing themselves.

So there are more and more systems that are coming out that basically acknowledge that, and that actually go with complexity rather than trying to simplify it. And I will just point to some bits of software which I think point towards this direction not quite there, but point towards this direction. Obviously we have got a lot of visualisation software which helps to understand complex ideas and communicate them, but then there are sort of more emergent ones, more live ones like We Feel Fine and this Site, basically it comes up with a whole lot of live feeds of whenever someone says I Feel Something, it comes up with a little dot and it’s a feeling and it’s graded according to, there’s a whole lot of different ways that you can view it according to people’s ages, and according to people’s where the weather was at the time that they actually said it and what they said, and so it creates thematic links there which allows people to get some perspective about what’s happening all over the world, they are able to watch each other. And things like this come up where you can have artistic renderings of what people are saying and where they are saying it. And of course there are a lot of things that are happening with story worlds and with entertainment properties, is that people create character maps and timelines and things like that. This is a character map from Lost. So someone has spent a lot of time working out all the relations between the characters of Lost, and just about every TV show or every property you find fans that have created these sort of maps and very complex timelines.

There are so many timelines. What’s happening now is that now it’s actually going across a whole lot of platforms, being able to manage all this information has become pivotal as I have said before.

So we are seeing emerging products that help people to manage it, so I think it’s called Cross Timeline is a new software that has just come out which allows people to create really simple timelines. So here’s an example, people can create timelines of Facebook, the history of metadata, the history of video games, but they are also creating timelines of course for the story world properties. Harry Potter sites Star Trek history, Lord of the Rings and so on. And the majority of them are creating these timelines according to the story world chronology rather than the delivery chronology. Some of them are creating it accordingly to Episode 1, was if it was viewed or published, broadcast on this day. They are actually doing it according to the story world, you know when Frodo and Sam did this etc.

So these sort of programs will be pivotally important for the rising amount of fans that are actually going head first into all of these major franchises and that. And then there’s programs like Universe which has just come out which is like We Feel Fine by the same creator I think it’s Richard Harris is his name, and basically he’s using the same idea with We Feel Fine, and basically let’s you view a whole lot of things that are happening all over the net as representative of the world according to the past day, week, month and year and it’s all representative as a constellation. So this idea of the software both in the metaphor and in the function giving people perspective and being able to watch each other and watch themselves., it’s a fictional universe, so basically it’s a universe unlike the system out there where I think you can buy a star or something like that. This is a fictional universe that everyone can co-create. You can buy your own solar system and that. But all of these I think attest to the different perspective that people are coming from and the wider world or universe for you that they are actually looking for and then there’s actually linking as I have mentioned before, linking a whole lot of different media platforms. Now the Ubiquitous Computing, I am sure a lot of you are familiar with, was brought out as a notion by Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown in 1996, and they predicted that in 2005 the ubiquitous computing era will take shape and what they said was, ubiquitous computing is fundamentally characterised by the connection of things in the world with computation. The whole idea of what they called the internet of things, where everything in the world whether it be a tree, a person or a product will be connected and so now, and it is actually taking place, there are a whole lot of creators who are trying to actually link everything together. Now of course you are all familiar with a lot of the existing technologies that people are trying to actually use, bar codes, QR codes, [sema codes], RFIDs, Bluetooth and so on.

An example of Bluetooth for instance Channel 4 in the poster up there, they had posters all over the, what is it? The London Underground and things like that, and they delivered a whole lot of a feature films via Bluetooth via the poster. And the Bluetooth posters have been distributed around all over the place as well. One of the products that has just recently come out which is going to change things for the publishing industry, although it’s not actually out, it’s a product yet, it’s just the prototype is the B-link, the Blue Book Project, where basically it’s hyperlinks in a normal book, a normal web page as opposed to digital paper or electronic paper. Basically you can click on words in a book as you can see that little RFID in there. So as people are reading the book, they click on a particular word and it will bring up a webpage with audio files and web sites and things like that, so as opposed to the paradigm that I spoke about before, where creators are doing that manually, the are referring to a url in a TV show or in a feature film and all that sort of stuff.

One of the reasons why that’s happening as I said is because things are complex and they are trying to bring things together, but also because the technology isn’t there but hopefully you will see today that I have spoken about, there are a whole lot of drives that are actually pushing towards there being more connection to things on the technological level as well. And of course this has implications for interaction and experienced design in the marketing industry in the last few years. They have been talking about the idea of touch points, so here’s an experience of someone at Starbucks.

So they come into the location. They get a warm greeting by the staff, but then their experience goes into the horrible zone because there’s a long queue and they have to wait for their coffee. But basically the paradigm shift for marketers is that rather than thinking about, Ok we have a product and we have got to do marketing and we have just got to deliver it out to people, now they are thinking in terms of what they call touch points. They try and figure out the whole life cycle of a customer’s relationship with their product. So this is an example of within the store, but now they have moved it all the way out. Every single bit of contact with the consumer, with the customer on the phone, on a website, in the street with a poster and they try and map out the whole journey for them. So this is already happening with the marketing industry and of course it’s been slowly happening, there’s just an example of across a whole load of different mediums, and of course it’s happening slowly in the entertainment industry as well.

So with the experience design and interaction design, the concern has mainly been in a mono medium paradigm, there is hardly any techniques out there about effective interaction designer experience design across a whole lot of different mediums, and this is the area that’s actually being played out now about how to actually map that. How to get people to move from one medium to another, in an effective immersive way.

So there are some of the implications there. I hope, it’s a bit, not the usual topic, but I hope you found it interesting. Thank you for your time.

Does anyone have any questions. We have got about 5 minutes and then we will have a break. It must have been so comprehensive. Anything?

“Bloody awesome.”

Question: On the website WSG website there was a bio of yourself and there was a word it started with a “t”.

Answer: Transmodiologist?

Question: Yes. What does that mean?

Answer: I made it up. Basically because I have been in academia as well and there hasn’t really been a field that addressed the idea of using a whole load of different media platforms, just like in all sort of parts of industry, it’s always been, oh if we look at the relationships between media platforms we will look at it from an adaptation point of view you know? But now, the difference is that we need to look at all the different platforms, which means as a researcher and as a creator, you have got to have skills and awareness and understanding about all of the different platforms. For researching it means that you have got to know the theories about all the other different platforms, and one of the normal moves is that when there’s a whole load of information and discrepancy, the move has been that Ok we need to have a shared ontology, a shared language, a shared structure, a standardisation in order for people to actually speak together, but I don’t think you can necessarily do that in this age because…