Feb 132008

1 iFob Me Off

I have had a working phone iPhone in Oz now for a few months – currently jailbroken 1.1.2’s – for R&D purposes only 😉

One of my favourite applications is ‘installer’ which is the portal to a vast array of free, community created, grass roots applications. One popped up yesterday in Recent Apps, iFob which intrigued me.

“wireless, social, real – turn your iPhone into a social network WiFi beacon”.

OK its not rocket science, nothing more than a simple wifi stumbler/stalker app but what sets it apart is the element of exposing elements of your personality, via statements, photos, age, gender to those around you. In other words a sort of RSVP/Facebook on the go, to those around you in the WiFiverse.

Of course the real killer app’ness is that it works the other way – you walk into a crowded Starbucks full of ‘charming’ laptop, iTouch and iPhone users, you pop open iFob and sample who is there. I think the ‘comment’ part is the most powerful aspect, sort of broadcast SMS, and can imagine lots of whispering ‘are you the one who likes playing Pink Floyd while dancing around in the bathroom, dressed as a Panda’ (or similar!). I am off to Sydney CBD on Saturday and will be actively trying out my iFob on unsuspecting, I mean consenting iFobbers.

2 Chasing the Dragon


Those who follow LAMP will know that on the first day of our residentials we play a cross-reality game. A sort of locative scavenger hunt for story fragments in parallel and linked to a similar environment in the virtual world. Great fun and designed to introduce people to the location, bit of team bonding and game play experimentation. Details on our wiki here. We think these mixed-reality, game based services are going to get big and it comes as no surprise to see what looks like a ground-breaking model being launched in Japan today for the next couple of weeks.

Called “Treasure Quest: Enoshima – Treasure of the Dragon” (the link takes you to the Japanese site) is designed by a company who plan tourist ‘hunt game’ events. This one is free to all DS owners who fancy travelling to a small island south of Tokyo and playing the game over a six hour period, wandering as teams and individuals around the real and virtual spaces. The various puzzle clues are contained at key locations on the island and transmitted via WiFi to the DS’s which also has a virtual version of the terrain. Now to check for cheap flights to Sydney to Tokyo, well perhaps not.

Orig – Pink Tentacle

3 Second Skin

Been waiting for a definitive documentary on the phenomena behind the vast swathes of humanity moving into Social Virtual Worlds and MMOGs and this looks like it. A trailer has just been posted on YouTube and already got 23 000 hits in a day, a feat in itself, and it looks like it tackles the subject head on with depth and sensitivity vs sensationalism. It features Mr. Clickable Culture himself, Tony Walsh “There’s so many people involved in this” who was over here as a LAMP mentor last year. Enjoy, more blurb after the embed of “A Documentary on virtual worlds and the gamers who inhabit them.”

“Second Skin takes an intimate look at computer gamers whose lives have been transformed by the emerging genre of Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs). World of Warcraft, Second Life, and Everquest allow millions of users to simultaneously interact in virtual spaces. Second Skin introduces us to couples who have fallen in love without meeting, disabled players who have found new purpose, addicts, Chinese gold-farming sweatshop workers, wealthy online entrepreneurs and legendary guild leaders – all living in a world that doesn’t quite exist.”

Jun 072006

Yesterday I chaired the Mobile Content World Australasia 2006 Conference in Sydney and moderated a couple of panels. I gave an opening (provocative as far as an industry conference goes) address and a few people have asked for copies. So as powerpoints were banned (by the switched-on Terrappin organisers), and as my notes eventually turned into a script (I prefer not to read scripts – no room for personalised delivery!) – well I had it to hand. So here it is. Short, succinct and afterwards I list the people on the panels during the day – and when I get time I will give some opinion, add on what I thought of the event, the discussions and a few of the toys I saw such as a 3D phone and some great social network services, very cool.

Where are we? Where is mobile content on its evolutionary path? Is it well adjusted late teens or is it still a screaming adolescent? What are the real signs of maturity in the industry?

I am Gary Hayes, Director of the Laboratory of Advanced Media Production in Sydney, part of a government initiative run through the Australian Film TV and Radio School. We work with major ‘heritage’ media producers to prototype next generation cross-media services. We will have prototyped over thirty eight services by October many of which utilise mobile devices. I am originally from a digital broadcast and broadband TV background and when I was senior development producer at BBC New Media for 8 years I started out by putting the first audio, video and vr services onto broadband PC too. This makes me sound old but this was only ten years ago remember. I also worked in the US for a couple of years developing broadband TV services. The only thing mobile was useful to the broadcaster, when we were beginning Interactive TV services six years ago, was to vote, SMS chat or send in text messages – at premium rate of course. Have things changed that much?

The mobile industry today reminds me to a great extent of the early digital TV and broadband PC days back in 1996/7. We weren’t sure if putting video (or TV as we used to call it) onto the web was really going to work. We were not sure if communities and social networks would grow with any permanence on the web, which in those days were mostly shopping malls and advertising billboards (web 1.0) – and we weren’t sure that people would really use the web to be creative – many thought the web was about email (simple communication) and information. Ring any bells?

On mobile phones, of which the current incarnation has evolved out of the early web so the comparison is slightly flawed, we certainly have lots of walled gardens, chat communities and ubiquitous shopping malls. We have first generation services streaming live video (or TV as we used to call it) and video downloads – and in trials people are using DVB-H for up to 20 minutes a day. We also have games that are catching up to the quality of PS1 consoles of the mid-90s and communities in a sort of trial phase. Then there are the tablets, the iPods, PDAs all part of a convergence as everything becomes connected and we can store all the content you would ever need, at any one moment in time at least.

But mobile devices, particularly connected, location senstive ones have so much more potential, even now. What is holding them back from becoming the epicentre of consumers media universe? Price? Storage? The Experience? Interoperability? Quality of Service? The Business Model itself? ROI or Greed?

In the last five years things have changed considerably on the web – and now web 2.0, as it is called, is flourishing, and millions are actively participating and creating content. Blogs, vlogs, podcasts, shared spaces and mass multiplayer online role playing games are everywhere. People who play online games are not watching TV anymore, in fact they are not doing much else besides these social network based, online games. So why did this happen, what can we learn?

Part of why this happened is that firstly TV, a medium that used to be the media hub, has not evolved quickly enough for the active consumer – who need to share, communicate and participate ‘in’ the medium itself. Sure TV (the form – bite sized chunks of entertaining video) is gradually breaking free of its chains in the corner of the room, slowly becoming connected on the web, but we all know it will have to quickly morph and change its stripes to survive the next decade. Those early broadcast interactive services I had a part in creating or the early TV walled gardens such as Sky’s Open… (RIP) were in retrospect, stepping stones towards the great triple play of IPTV – also known as broadband content delivered to the large screen we used to call ‘a TV’. So why did this happen, what can the mobile industry learn?

People move to where media (their own and that which they pay for) is easily shared, published and moved between all their devices and friends and family. They buy content for themselves and not one device. They go to where their voice is heard and where they can be active participants. Any platform that locks the active ‘panther-like’ consumer in a cage, in the medium term, is doomed to failure. Early web portals like AOL and digital TV walled gardens know this. The mobile industry needs to take stock and grow up. Break down the walls, create interoperable marketplaces that will create traffic, activity and flourish. It also needs to treat the consumer as an individual and it has such potential to be the test bed for real personalisation – in fact that is it’s USP, its saviour and the true thing that can set it apart in the platform jungle. Getting the right ‘rich media’ content on top of each individuals portal in real time, on the move is key and ARPU will increase exponentially.

Speaking of personalisation, or rather customisation, I forgot to tell you I am a flasher. Not in the pants domain no. Dismayed by the amount of relevant rich content on various 3G portals I tried, I decided to flash my Moto v3x phone a few months ago. Yes I joined the dark side of the force, the modder community and now, move ‘my paid’ for content freely between PCs, iPod, PDA and phones. I suspect there are many more that would like to do so too. Beware of that crowd, unless you deliver quickly they will be looking elsewhere and WiFi, WiMax and Bluetooth connected (non mobile phone) mobile devices are getting itchy feet in the queue behind you.
Imagine now Ennio Morricones theme tune as we quickly look at the Good, The Bad and the Ugly of the mobile industry, the themes that we will be exploring in today’s conference.

The Good – three of them:
1 – mobile phones are still the most effective way to connect, mobile people. So we have two sessions dedicated to how mobile communities can increase traffic and ARPU. In publishing consumer content there has been some innovative phone user generated TV shows such as Syamekke in Japan, Cult TV in France and even a dedicated TV channel Tu Media in Korea showing nothing but viewer content. Using the phone as a tool to vlog and publish onto TV will both educate and inspire the audience and inspire.
2 – Another good seachange is at MyNumo.com for example. They are creating tools to allow consumers to sell content (ringtones, wallpaper and create webpages) to each other – micro viewer economics that really drove traffic for eBay, MySpace and a few virtual shared spaces on the web like Second Life.
3 – Also in the good camp is the phenomenal success of the mobile phone billing system. Some have called it ‘implied commerciality’ – people accept they have to pay for everything – but that also means people are far less eager to try new things which is also…

…The Bad – to me bad is still the simple lack of interoperability and the walled garden. Interoperability between mobile devices, between operators, and across the off-portal piece – but really, between consumers. Sure things are improving but without simple ways to share and move media consumers will find alternate routes as digital content wants to spread. No one operator can fulfil the need of any consumer so providing easier routes to get to off-portal content is critical and providing a higher quality experience on that journey is even more so. We have sessions looking at fulfilling the promise of 3G and on and off portal internet

The Ugly – We can do so much more to get the right content to right consumers. Personalisation, targeting and easier search are critical. Finding content is sometimes ugly at the moment, no in fact it is very ugly. Deep menus, busy interfaces and superficial content once you get there– we have panels today focusing on the consumer experience and how to create stickiness through usuability that will hopefully help us out of this maze.

OK enough from me time for some statistics now and a look at What Consumers Actually Want from the Australian mobile perspective, from Claudio Sagripanti of AIMIA and Venture One.

Welcome and Opening Remarks from the Chair
Mobile Content State of Play – the good, the bad and the ugly
Gary Hayes, Director, Laboratory for Advanced Media Production

Mobile content industry landscape
What consumers want – results from the Australian mobile phone lifestyle index
Claudia Sagripanti, Chairperson, AIMIA MCIDG and Venture One

International Keynote
Engaging customers through mobile entertainment
Ira Rubeinstein, Executive Vice President,
Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment

TV to Go – Effective programming for the mobile
Jim Shomos, Creator and Executive Producer,
Forget The Rules

Panel Discussion. Carrier Panel session – Fulfilling the promise of 3G
Gary Hayes, Moderator
Michael Padden, Head of Mobile Content, Telstra
Mark Mulder, General Manager of Content and portals, Optus
Adrian Crouch, IPX Country Manager, Ericsson
Richard Sherwood, General Manager of Mass Markets, Vodafone Australia
Scott Taylor, General Manager of Content and Services, 3 Australia

Communities – find the way into the truly viral market
Jennifer Wilson, Head of Mobile, HWW

Panel Discussion – Exploring the benefits of mobile communities
Jennifer Wilson, Moderator
Olivia Hilton, Chief Executive Officer, Jumbuck
James Cleary, Founder and Managing Director, Amethon
Paul Gruebar, Product Marketing Manager Premier and Youth, 3 Australia
Gregan McMahon, Regional Director Australia and NZ, Yahoo! Mobile

Creating a compelling – customer focused experience
Gary Hayes, Moderator
Annie Mackin, Head of Mobile Content, 3 Australia
Cyrus Allen, General Manager, Telstra Product Management, Telstra Corporation
Steve Watson, General Manager Group Portals and Entertainment, Legion Interactive
Oliver Weidlich, Managing Director, Ideal Interfaces
Trevor Goldberg, VP Global Partners, Bango
Arun Gupta, CEO, Mauj Telecom

Mobile Media: Mobile as a new opportunity
Peter Egberts, Business Development Director, South Pacific Region, Netsize

Speed Networking

Creating mobile content differentiation and brand experience through a consistent user interface
Dr. Yan Zhuang, Director Business Development, QUALCOMM Internet Services

Roundtable discussions
Roundtable one: Mobile Communities
Facilitated by Jennifer Wilson, Head of Mobile, HWW

Roundtable two: User Experience
Facilitated by Oliver Weidlich, Usability Specialist, Ideal Interfaces

Roundtable three: Mobile Media
Facilitated by Peter Egberts, Business Development Director, South Pacific Region, Netsize

Closing remarks from the Chair

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006

Jun 022006

…and the never changing human.

Senor Hontar: “We must work in the world. The world is thus.”
Father Altamirano: “No Senor Hontar…thus have we made the world. Thus have I made it”
Final lines of the film ‘The Mission’

There have been several events this week that have focused my attention on the nature of immersion. Within AFTRS and LAMP I have been giving presentations to traditional storytellers and filmmakers about cross-media alternatives to the linear ‘tale’. I have also been preparing to chair the Mobile Content World Australasia next week while today I saw a great presentation from Philip Brophy on “Sexual Robots and Plastic Humans in Anime” – and I have been getting further into the rabbit holes of Second Life (SL) and World of Warcraft (WoW). Now this combination of things has drawn me into trying to answer the age old question of “What defines an immersive service”, why do some experiences keep people hooked until the wee hours, why is TV, particularly getting a bad rap, why films in cinema have a level of ‘temporal’ engagement and why games (especially Mass Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games MMORPGs) keep you entranced. This post may turn into the usual stream of conciousness – but hey thats the wonderful world of blogs. Lets look at some stats before I go any further.

There is a great post from the Daedalus Project in January that has some startling statistics from a sample of 2000 people using mass social network services (and role playing games specifically) and who ‘used’ to watch TV. To sum up, across the board they spend more than 3 times in connected games environments than they do watching TV.

Looking at the chart above (linked from the Daedalus site) we can see across a wide demographic that TV is becoming a ‘nice to have’. Here is an excerpt off the post:

MMORPG gamers spend on average 21.0 hours per week playing the game, and spend on average 7.7 hours per week watching TV. The national average for TV watching per week is around 28 – In other words time that was spent watching TV has been displaced by MMORPG playing. Of interest is the spike in play-time among female players over the age of 35.

Research from many other areas also show that TV is becoming more and more an ambient media type. That radio and now TV are things to have on in the background while you do more engaging things. Here are a three comments from this post again that illustrate this…

I can absolutely confirm your findings. I watch almost no TV anymore since I started playing MMORPGs. TV is pretty much a solo activity, while (at least for me) playing a MMORPG has a large social aspect.

I have the TV on while I play the game. Just as backround noise, otherwise I go nuts. I included time the TV was on as ‘watching TV’ when I took the survey… because I do, rather. I just don’t pay as much attention to it as I usually do… and, it could easilly be replaced with a few good music albums. :shrug:

I’ve noticed a trend with my online friends and myself. We’ve moved a tv into the computer room. Most of the people I play with are male between the ages of 18-40 but still tend to watch ‘cartoon’ or ‘anime’ while playing. We also use voice over ip while playing and comment on the shows while playing.

That last comment about anime leads nicely onto the talk today but first it also shows how TV has become only a small part of a simultaneous mix of media and also against the more immersive media has been relegated to “background noise”, something you put on to fill in the gaps, or perhaps surprise (see later). Why is this? I believe it is the formulaic and mature nature of TV. There is very little truly original or out of the ordinary. TV has become stuck in the thing that once elevated it – the schedule. With a constant cycle of news, ads, reality, soaps, quizzes, murder mystery, etc etc: there is nothing new for younger audiences who are making their own drama on other platforms. Now people make their minds up in 0.2 seconds about a website and what it represents, the same way that young people scan across thousands of TV channels – making their minds up quickly about ‘what it is about’, they are simply speed reading formulaic production. Even broadcast interactive TV (something I was part responsible for creating) is a thin veneer of interactivity that occassionally engaged but only for the small windows of time it was on. Now of course scheduled TV is being diced and sliced and made available in bite size proportions on on-demand mobile and broadband platforms. Anyway back to experiences on the rise and more about immersion from an escapist viewpoint.

This has no alt to stop low life traffic!Philip Brophy came into AFTRS today and presented an interesting talk called “Sexual Robots and Plastic Humans in Anime”. I am not going to talk in detail about this but highlight a couple of things. He talked about some of the real cultural differences between the country that creates most of the games in the world, Japan, and those who consume it, the West. Something that resonated with me was that the Japanese psyche is all about cosmological connection, that everything is inter-linked and the fantasy that can spring from that leads naturally to forms such as Anime and a game producing culture. Whereas in the spiritually ‘vacuous’ West the perspective on these games are about monetization, escapism and losing the spiritual subtlety inherent in them.

I asked him why the Japanese are less into MMORPGs then, than other parts of the world and he replied that there is a strong belief that the relationship with avatorial representation (online or not) is as relevant in the physical space (they dress up as anime type characters) as it is in the virtual space – in fact if they want to personally represent characters they prefer the physical space. Identity is amorphous in Japan, a tree, cat, plant, human are all relevant and interchangeable – very fantasy RPG. The Western (mostly US) attitude to MMORPGs in that it is often about creating, playing in and generating a new world, a frontier, a land grab with associated, rampant capitalism. That is certainly true of Second Life which at times feels like the Wild West – perhaps a replacement for the real world that is oh so over populated and where Western culture can live out its dreams – for a fee. The key point about immersion here is that the Japanese have an existing ‘storyworld’, deep connection or grammar that permeates the anime form and is passed from film to film, game to game. The games they create naturally continue this narrative continuum and these experiences are enticing to western audiences who are after spiritual fulfillment as much as game play.

US flag in SL As an example of how the ‘west’ tends to corrupt what are potentially wonderful sandboxes of how we may evolve as a species (who knows one day on other bits of rock in space;) here are a couple of very recent experiences in Second Life (see previous posts on ARGs and Personalization in SL) – and the associated ‘agency’ or engagement that goes with it. The first is nationalism and bringing the old world into the new. One of my houses is on a hill. Someone, ‘presumably’ from the US, has bought some land next to it and immediately erected the American Flag. OK this may not be as bad as a nuclear power station or a skyscraper that others have had to endure, but why on earth would you want to flaunt real world nationlism in a borderless, country-less virtual, nirvana type world. I have politely requested they reconsider their motives of course. Anya, a neighbour, had another land issue, this time more about land access and neolithic, militant attitude. You can follow this on her post – Outrageous Militia Style Behaviour. The point here is that in social networks things can become very personal – when you have ‘space’ of your own that is impacted by and impacts those around it. This resonance is key to immersion.
In reference to environment in Second Life there are endless real world representations – everything from fantasy islands to recreations of real cities but mostly endless malls. Yes like ‘anytown’ America large buildings lined up on grids selling the same stuff you get in the real world. In World of Warcraft I have experienced a great deal of pack animal activity, which is actually part of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ type of narrative in that world – but I do find it less compelling for reasons above (the west mis-reading of the fantasy genre) and my points in a previous post.

Virtual MallAre we cheating on ourselves and playing it safe. Adopting the same old attitudes, following formula yet again, regardless of the potential of these open environments? I believe most humans are indeed afraid to break the mould and be different, they need to be guided by narrative, to have clearly identifiable characters in films and role play games. Given unlimited possibility or something remotely familiar most of us will go for the latter. There is also a point about identity that is worth mentioning – the differences between a true Role Play Game vs something that is more improvised or free form vs something formulaic. Being able to represent yourself ‘in’ the medium (which is why so many people still want to get on TV) obviously goes back to our evolution – trying to be accepted by our peers, the tribe/pack (now by showing off in virtual spaces or on a quiz show) through to our persona being resonant in the experience. Virtual worlds that allow a Japanese style, connection to any living form is actually part ‘of’ our evolution. This could get deep here but I will stay in shallow waters and just say – being able to personalize yourself and your environment and not be fixed a playing a wizard, a character or ‘being’ a quiz contestant is highly empowering. Empowerment is critical to immersion.


So why are these ‘new worlds’ becoming so addictive to many millions? Why is staring at a screen becoming a turn-off? Why are mobile devices never going to be the one and only device through which any kind of immersion takes place? What ‘are’ the ingredients of immersion. Here are eight key ones that quickly spring to mind to aid ‘experience’ producers and offer an alternative approach to service creation. These are non-exhaustive and echo the above ramble:

1 SCALE – of the experience. The size of the screen and the amount of story world to explore has enormous impacts on immersion – as well as the detail of individual objects within the ‘world’. This is why when I have been recently looking at mobile content, the only ones that stand out are services that connect people, that create something larger than the isolated thing in your hand, the pawltry representation of you. Mobile has to involved sharing content, telling stories and using physical space – sounds like the Japanese psyche again! One of the reasons cinema will exist for a long time is that the large dark room filled with people is a captivating environment. Now, imagine a cinema where the image is a locked off-shot, of a shared world and all the audience are controlling and representing different characters engaged in a common goal or story. Ummm.

2 SENSES – goes without sayiing that the amount of senses that are engaged by an experience gives it most potential to immerse. Now as I have said before we dont need to consider full immersive reality rather make sure as well as intellectual and emotional engagement you consider sounds and the grammar of visual. Probably forget about touch, taste or smell for the moment – leave that to the porn industry to work out.

3 SERENDIPITY – how the world or show you are watching has elements of surprise. As mentioned earlier the more scripted and formulaic the less immersive. People only watch a film for the fifteenth time, I believe, because they strangely hope that there may be something different OR they are peeling back the layers, looking at minute detail and looking way beyond the basic narrative. Something like Second Life has the potential to be very serendipitous, other role plays less so, an unspoilt new film at the cinema can surprise, sadly TV and pop-music are at the other end of the scale.

4 STORY – does the narrative engage. This is obvious, if there is nothing for you to be drawn along by (even your own story in some cases) then you will switch off. What makes the story compelling, what makes it extraordinary, fantastical or deeply and emotionally resonant?

5 PERSONALIZATION – Hence the title of this blog. How much can you minutely affect the world and yourself in it? How much will the world reflect you for being there? Most importantly, how much of your real world personality can you bring with you into the experience. In a TV show that has SMS vote in you can steer it very, very bluntly. Some shows allow you to put personal content into them for all your peers to see, some virtual worlds allow you to move the ornament on the shelf 3mm to the left or turn it into an ocean, blogs allow you to broadcast your views to potentially millions. It is all about making the world feel like you belong.

6 RESONANCE/CHOICE – How much control or agency do you have over the experience? Are your actions permanent and seen by all? Can you really do and say what you want – freedom of choice. True resonance is like a virtuous circle, you do something and there is a response that forever changes the environment. Like real life. The pushed media of TV, radio, cinema has zero resonance, it all happens in your head. Which is why stories ‘have’ to be based on life’s shared drama. In truly interactive models your actions have impact and will reaction will take place.

7 TEMPORALITY – How real time does the experience feel? Scheduled TV never feels real time – the only successful shows in the future will be live events, music, sports, live news etc: Everything else has a dubious future in the scheduled world. MMORPGs feel real time when you are in them because of all of the above. Ones that have scheduled events or require you to invade or fight at a certain time are more about story than true immersion. I could go to second life now and stand still for two hours on a beach somewhere – or I could find some friends to talk to, take part in a game, or go clubbing, explore, or build a house. Each of these is also about choice taking place when you want them to. If you decide to do things as a couple or a group then obviously – like real life – compromises temporally will have to take place.


8 ESCAPISM – or ‘play’. This goes back to my earlier point about the reason for play and associated spirituality. Why do adult females around 35 (to choose an example demographic from the earlier stats) want to play in MMORPGs? Is it as much about escaping reality or constructing ideality? Does the representational nature of these worlds mean so much more subconciously than endless souless advertisements on TV, or another episode of a soap, or fomulaic hollywood film? Does selecting an identity that is impossible to achieve in real life become a most powerful addictive escape? I suspect all of the above. In terms of building ‘play’ – it should be as fun making it as doing it. I have mentioned before that sometimes authors of experience get so lost in the creation process they forget someone has to watch, play or take part in it! Then it is much weaker an experience. Today the experience author has to create tools for play, rather than fixed media and fixed routes through it. Randomness can go someway there – but for true immersion through play, think of how much the imagination can run wild with a piece of paper and some crayons, whereas the latest ‘limited’ electronic gadget ends up on the shelf after and hour.

Which reminds me – my blog time limit of one hour writing is up. Yes I am strict with myself. I will add some more if I get time. But for now I will leave you with the tip – gauge your own levels of immersion as you do different things and work out why you are so. That isn’t easy but no one ever said it would be.

“…thus have we made the world. Thus have I made it”

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006