Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Monday, August 30, 2010

Building Community Online - Where's the Town Square?

I've been spending the last couple of weeks recharging my batteries, so to speak, in relation to my social media activity.   It's not exactly a creative block - I know, generally what my next several vlogs, audioboos, and blogs might be about - but I'm also after a more productive use of these resources.  

Productive, in my case, extends to both the practical (how can this help me really) to my more community-based interests.

The concept of community online is a bit difficult to grasp - especially as technologies change, new sites develop, and new concepts emerge.  In the real world, a group of communities form a city or, at least, common geographic area with common interests.   In the YouTube world, there are countless communities based on individuals (or more generally speaking, channels) - but few opportunities for the larger YT community to "gather" to explore common interests (to "grow" the overall community, for example).  

There have been and continue to be attempts - websites and attempts at limited community governance - to bring this world together for the "common good."  The "Common Good," of course, may be as hard to define as "common sense."  Still, I think there's a great opportunity in certain areas to act in concert to achieve individual goals, while at the same time preserving and expanding the vibrant individual communities each YouTuber builds.

One of my hopes for Vidcon was/is that it can offer the opportunity to create unified efforts to help build the community - an effort, perhaps, not based on the corporate YouTube structure, but on the establishment of vlogging as a platform (living largely on YT, but ultimately not limited to that world).  Combine Vidcon with BillTVMacon's online NoCon concept, and the result might be the beginning of a central community "town square."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Do You Hear Me?

I'm intrigued with, the podcasting site (it's not a particular preference - just the one I came across).  With a blog and a vlog, why would I want to extend my activity into the audio realm?

I don't intend to duplicate my other efforts.  I believe that the audio format in some ways is more flexible and accessible than video, and lends itself to some pure, creative storytelling.  The casual podcast I include with this blog was a spur of the moment piece recording in a Denny's Restaurant;  if wouldn't have happened on video - my lunch friends wouldn't have been comfortable.  I can think of a number of potential interview subjects that might 

(Go over to the site and follow me there, if you're so inclined...)

I also love the idea of developing this as a storytelling platform.   I'm a big fan of the late Jean Shepherd, the legendary radio monologist (and writer/narrator of the classic film, "A Christmas Story").  I certainly won't stop telling stories on my vlog, but I'm intrigued with the challenge of creating an engaging audio program.  Remember, I'm a video guy.

I'm also curious about the opportunity to create a connected experience across all of these platforms - vlog, blog and audio podcast (audio blog? ablog?) - connected thematically, and each offering a different perspective on the subject or story at hand.  I'll be giving that some thought.

Of course, there is one major question that I'm curious about above all others - is an audio platform even attractive?  Will anybody listen?  

I Experiment with Podcasting!

BillTVMacon, a vlogger I enjoy on YouTube, recently tweeted a few podcasts he's posted on, which appears to be somewhat of an audio version of YouTube.  I thought I'd give it a try.  Tell me what you think, and if you're intrigued enough to check out the site, follow me there....


Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Entertainment Industry Still Misses the Point

[Check out my vlog on this topic for more]

As ubiquitous as YouTube has become, it's most engaging features have largely gone unnoticed outside of the "active" YouTube community. 

As I pursue my evangelistic shtick (how's that for a combo!) with the traditional media community, educating as many as possible about the reality of interactive social media, I've found a surprising lack of awareness of the ability to set up an account, comment on videos, and become part of a community of one's own design - even if one never posts a single video.  It's a real stubborn misconception that, I think, hinders growth in certain areas of this world.  

The other day, I received an email about the VARIETY Entertainment and Technology Summit, which will be held this fall at Digital Hollywood.  There is quite a list of noted "players" in the mainstream "digital world," from the studios, production companies, Google and so forth, but there's very little coverage of the developing social media model - more accurately, the YT take on social media.  Even a panel called "Web Video: The New Content Creators" completely ignores this world, and focuses on the web's take on traditional media - web series.  While that may be a viable approach, it's not the only approach, and far from the most exciting.  Perhaps it's so far out of the norm, and depends so little on the mainstream production structure, that it's beyond their perception.

The traditional media industry remains clueless about the potential of YouTube and YouTube-like content creation.  I perceive the sea of YT content creators today as a vast R&D for third platform entertainment.  I remain convinced that this will develop into a viable (ie profitable) form, but I suspect that opportunity will not come from the traditional entertainment sources.  

Don't look for Fox or Disney to become players in this world.  They may eventually create hugely successful web entertainment - but they're likely to remain distant from the ground-level "action."  After all, how does a studio fit into a world where a single person writes, produces, directs, performs, edits and markets their work?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Technology, Gaming and the Age of Milo

While this blog generally ruminates about social media, I had to include this video, just released from by the people at, a unique non-profit dedicated to "Ideas Worth Spreading."  This video features an update on game developer Peter Molyneux's "Milo," essentially a video game incorporating advanced artificial intelligence, motion and voice detection, and a series of technologies that give the user the illusion that he or she is actually interacting with the character on screen - in this case, a 10 year-old boy who has just relocated with family from London to the USA, somewhere in New England.

While details of the game are still somewhat sketchy, it's similar in general concept to "The Sims," albeit on a vastly more sophisticated level.  The user takes on the identity of an imaginary playmate of sorts, and will have the ability to direct Milo's actions, and thus change his future path as a person.  Imagine a horror scenario in which Milo responds to threats with bravery or cowardice or even recklessness, depending on how you've treated him.

I've always found this concept incredibly amazing - and once available (or if - that's still unclear), I would likely buy the Xbox game system to experience this cutting edge technology.  Milo's a product designed to work with the new "Kinect" add-on for the Xbox, which allows for the video and audio interaction.

There's a great deal of skepticism about the reality of this product - even Molyneux admits that this AI (artificial intelligence) child incorporates "smoke and mirrors" to create the illusion of interaction - but viable or not, it's the future of interactive entertainment.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Avoiding the Periphery

One of the challenges in using social media is thinking social media - looking at everything we do from a perspective that recognizes the myriad of communications tools at our disposal - while at the same time, recognizing the possibilities that these same tools make possible.   The commercial world is particularly challenged by this concept.

Why blog?  Why vlog?  Why Twitter?  Why Facebook? Why social media?  There's plenty of advice out there - websites, vlogs, blogs and good old fashioned books - and all present lists and step-by-step instructions on how to best use the resources at hand.  The how's are pretty much taken care of - the why's really provide the greatest challenge for many individuals and firms that haven't looked closely at the social media landscape.

The legendary Sears Department Store maintained a thick general merchandise catalogue for over a hundred years, only to stop production in 1993, just short of the online retail revolution, and perhaps missing the chance to remake themselves into an Amazon-like retail giant.  A new concept - new blood - made online retail possible.  In the 80's, it would have been inconceivable to imagine that IBM wouldn't still be a primary force in today's home computer market.  Again, new blood was essential in building that industry.

Sears and IBM are still very much around - but perhaps their absence in areas that once would have seemed a perfect fit is a result of corporate arrogance, institutional lethargy - and the inability to take the risks necessary to push forward.

The Future is the Why of social media.   For many individuals, refusing to engage in social media technology may eventually relegate them to the peripheral reaches of their chosen profession.

Friday, August 13, 2010

What's 21st Century Literacy?

Once again, I'm reading and hearing opinions that the current generation in the U.S. will be the least read of any in recent history.  Generally, the argument suggests that the flood of technology and the world of 140-character tweets are making kids growing up in contemporary America are unable to maintain an attention span long enough to allow for the responsible accumulation of knowledge.

On the other hand, I would suggest that the current generation will be one of the most well-informed, best prepared generations to function in a diverse world society. Teens accumulate information faster and more efficiently than any generation before them;  they're absorbing information through multiple sources simultaneously - redefining the meaning of multi-tasking to an extreme.

I wonder if it's fair to call them the least read.  They certainly read differently - but are they really reading less?  Are internet-savvy kids growing in less-literate homes in fact more exposed to reading than their equivalents a couple of generations ago?  The teens today are the same kids that read through thousands of pages of Harry Potter over the last ten years - a series that flew in the face of the same assumptions floating around ten years ago.

Teens, of course, need to learn to responsibly process information - that's a function of quality education - which in turn demands teachers savvy enough to interpret the voice of this generation.  That's always a challenge, I would expect, but never more than today as communications technology surges ahead.

I still recall the doomsayers who condemned my own generation for our bad handwriting and excessive exposure to television.  Regardless of the predictions, I don't think we destroyed the world (yet!) .

The current generation will seem to read less in a traditional - but they'll absorb so much more.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Disconnect - Social Media and the Old Guard

I'm constantly fascinated with the extent to which  "traditional media" outlets are consistently misunderstanding the unique opportunities in the social media platform.

If you're reading this from my blog, you'll notice that I've added to the masthead, "Thoughts and Impressions Exploring the Third Platform."  As I've expressed here previously, I consider social media creation - in particular the most creative YouTube programming - to represent a developing third entertainment platform beyond Motion Pictures and Television.   My new subtitle is just the first part of my developing effort to express this particular concept.

Traditional Media sometimes seems limited in its perception of YouTube as a commercial resource.  In addition to a video sharing site, and a means to promote traditional media content, it might also be seen as a talent pool as well - there have already been a number of musical, special effects and other artists that have been "discovered" on YouTube (i.e. Justin Bieber).   Popular vlogger Hank Green reported on his Vidcon Blog titled "Crossing Over," that YouTube star Michael Buckley was contracted by Fox to host the online red carpet coverage of the Teen Choice Awards, where several YouTube stars were represented  (Shane Dawson, a top YouTuber, took home an award for his work).  

What seems very clear, however, is that, for the most part, traditional media doesn't yet recognize that many YouTubers are in fact successful (by any measurement you choose) not simply because of their onscreen persona, but because of their abilities as writers, producers, directors, camera people, editors and marketers.  Regardless of their objectives in creating on YouTube, they are an extraordinarily talented bunch - and they're uniquely connected to their audience.

When television began, it's worth remembering that the motion picture industry first ignored that platform out of arrogance, then fear of the new "threat"  - acceptance and involvement by the studios in creating television content didn't come until later.    It may be some time until traditional media truly understands and embraces the "third platform" - if they ever truly can.  They may continue to exploit social media - but I believe opportunities will continue to evolve for the individual as well.  After all, can mainstream media ever "create" a YouTube star?  

I recall Charlie McDonnell (Charlieissocoollike), speaking at the Vidcon YouTube conference, expressing his developing experience with traditional media and offline events (hosting live events, etc) - and his emerging recognition that only on YouTube can he truly create freely.   He wasn't giving up on a "mainstream" opportunities by any means, but social media was his home.  

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Common Nonsense

Again, I feel inspired by one of Kenrg's comments on one of my recent blogs, "Social Media: Are We All Frauds?", in which Ken concluded his comments with: It's not fraud or fakery. It's manners and common sense. And lessons we each need to learn the hard way for ourselves.

I generally agree with Ken, but tend to cringe at the concept of common sense, since it, in fact, doesn't truly exist.  Common sense is a direct reflection of the family, society and culture in which each of us is raised - and because our individual experiences are unique, so is our idea of common sense.

Ken's excellent metaphor of the classic neighborhood pub, in which individuals tend to maintain a standard of behavior with the awareness that neighbors and work associates are nearby, immediately brings to mind the clueless semi-alcoholics who throw common sense out the window and let it all hang out - sometimes ruining the evening for everyone else.

The odd factor in social networks is the illusion, even if an individual is fully identified, that interaction is somehow anonymous - or that the same rules don't apply on Facebook as those in "real life".   How much of what individuals share on Facebook would actually make the grade in a typical face-to-face chat with casual friends?

Of course, it's impossible to "block" someone in real life.  But you can ignore them.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Where the Unattainable Isn't

After uploading my two-part vlog, "Juvenile Hall: Connected!", I was pondering the practical impact that social media technology has had on the lives of teens that previously would have lived isolated, remote lives.  Today, many kids across the globe can interact and develop real friendships with other like-minded kids, regardless of where they are.

First of course, is the ease of communication, which extends from all of the usual social networks, to Skype-type face-to-face chatting, to collaborating on all kinds of projects, from writing to web creation to music and video.  It's really not a big deal anymore.  Even video conferencing with several participants isn't a problem.  For some, YouTube forms the center of that communications hub.

Engaging in Multi-player games isn't exceptional, anymore.  A kid in Los Angeles may be just as likely to be playing with friends from his school as friends in England.

Of course, not everyone has the high speed connection necessary to make such interaction routine - but that world is growing everyday.

I can't help but wonder where some of these kids would be without the means they have to communicate with the world.  It's intriguing to imagine that creative talent, personal confidence and a promising future might have been otherwise unattainable if not for the age in which we're living.  In my vlog, I told the story of a boy in juvenile hall who found community online - and I have to wonder how his life might have been different if that community had been there all along.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

New Section Added!

I've added a new section to blog - the new tab, "Juvenile Hall...Connected! (Supplements) is meant to accompany the two-part vlog I just completed on an early exercise in social media, which involved a computer bulletin board system in the early 1990's that allowed for kids incarcerated at Fresno County Juvenile Hall to participate in a specially supervised program that allowed them to become part of an online community.  You'll find the two vlogs embedded under that tab, as well.   Both use footage from my short documentary, "Simple Things: Letters From Juvenile Hall."

The supplemental information, pulled from an textual version of my documentary, tells the story of "Small Fry," a teen participant in the program during that time, and includes actual messages between he and other members of the online community, "Teen Outreach Through Technology" (or TOTT).

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Social Media...1990?

[See the Vlog at ]

My own experience with what we now call social networking actually goes back to the early 1990's, long before the term meant anything special.  In the days before the web, one of the ways like-minded people formed online community was through mailing lists, which were similar to today's forums, except a list of public postings and responses were emailed to subscribed members.

While researching a project on kids at risk, I posted a message on a mailing list focusing on social issues, and soon received a private email from an individual answering my question, and providing information on what just might be one of the most powerful applications of online social interaction, and the power of the individual using communications technology to make a difference - even more than twenty years later.

"Teen Outreach Through Technology," or TOTT, created a supervised program allowing kids in Fresno County Juvenile Hall to connect to a private computer bulletin board system and post messages, interacting with volunteers in the community. With interaction essentially anonymous (no real names, only "handles" (approved nicknames), participants felt free to express themselves more honestly, and were encouraged to do so by TOTT volunteers.  Some simply interacted with others, others wrote stories and even a bit of poetry - and still others offered advice to other kids.  For some kids, it was their first opportunity to become a positive part of a community.

At the end of my latest vlog, and in more detail in my upcoming follow-up, you'll meet "Small Fry," a particularly prolific contributor to TOTT.   At the time I interviewed him, he was far from the TOTT program in Fresno, locked up in Sacramento in a facility of the California Youth Authority - the state prison for juveniles.  Almost two years before, however, he began participating in the program.  This was his very first message:

Date: 08-27-90 20:28
From: Small Fry
To: All
Subject:: hellow

HI everyone.I'm Small Fry.Yes I am new in this program but thats allright I wont bight untill I know you better ok?I guess I should tell you a little abought myself but I wount.Yes I am locked up but dont let that wory you I'm a pussycat!
I was thinking does any one out there like HEARD ROCK ? If so right back soon because I'd like to get to know you . I havent benn out for five mo.

Over the next couple of days,  I'll share some of "Small Fry's" messages on the TOTT system, and those who interacted with him - we'll take a look, first-hand, at an early online community.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Social Media: Are We All Frauds?

I had a discussion the other night regarding the challenge in maintaining a social network persona that's acceptable to friends and family - and also work associates.  The traditional boundaries, it seems, have been blurred.  Is it possible, practically speaking, to maintain a Facebook profile, and not accept friend requests from everyday work associates?  With the "People You May Know" feature, the possibility of friending some but not others in the same work environment isn't feasible without causing potential friction in the workplace. 

Some people in jobs with sensitive privacy or security issues, as was the case with the individual with whom I was speaking, are compelled to remove themselves from the social networking environment - in some cases, they're forbidden from participating.   For others however, the idea of  a professional ignoring the social networking environment will soon prove extremely difficult and perhaps damaging in terms of career development.

I think most users of social media tend to find a middle ground, sharing information with a constant awareness of their mixed personal network - and constantly honing a personal brand that serves both work colleagues, friends and family.  Finding the limits of TMI - Too Much Information - is tricky.

In my case, while I might share some past and present family photos, I don't tend to broadcast family news on Facebook precisely because I recognize my audience includes colleagues.  Some Facebook friends include detailed family updates and expressions of their every passion and outrage.  I know more about the lives of vague childhood friends than some of my own family.  Others share details of bad work days or difficult colleagues to an extent that makes me wonder if they've thought through the possible consequences.

Are there compromises in creating a universal personal brand?  Does your online persona - from Facebook to YouTube to Twitter and beyond - reflect your personal reality?  Are we all frauds? Or have we simply been given the tools to present ourselves more accurately to the world at large?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Vlogging For the Masses

In Andymooseman's comment on my last blog, "Why Do People Create on YouTube," he categorized himself as a hybrid of the first and third of the categories I mentioned - in short, someone who enjoys creating on YT for the sake of self-expression, but someone, at the same, who is open to exploring social media as an entrepreneurial opportunity.

It occurs to me that there may be a pathway to creating additional (monetary) value in the vlogs that Andy, Kenrg, OhCurt and many others create on a regular basis.  These vlogs are the modern equivalent of the opinion/commentary pages in your local newspaper (and now are as slashed to a bare minimum).  I'm not writing so much about the "Letters to the Editor" section, but the guest columnists that provided a community or individual voice on issues at hand.  These personal perspectives and anecdotes often provided the reader with a distinctly personal and  independent view apart from the "usual suspects" of reporters and paid columnists. 

Of course, guest columnists were never paid - but I still wonder if that concept can be adapted for the social media world.  Blogging, of course, has a robust presence on many news sites, but I would think that guest vlogs might even be a more attractive draw for the casual visitor.  

Guest vlogs on mainstream news and information sites, in turn, might help bring vlogs of this type to a larger (YouTube) subscription base - which in turn provides new opportunities for the vloggers themselves, reviving interest in this particular category, and widening the YouTube universe.