There are a handful of artists out there making great progress and learning how to meaningfully connect with their fans, build communities around themselves in new ways – one of these news ways is by bringing the fans deeper into the creative process. But there are still many agencies and traditional artists running fly-by-night ‘campaigns’ or superficial ‘create a logo for us / do an ad and win $500’ dis-respectful call-to-actions. Things have changed and the ‘wanna be an extra in our indy film’ does not cut the mustard anymore in a world where the users have already tasted self-publishing – nowadays we are talking about solidifying loyalty by integrating existing fans into the creative process at from the birth of the project through to the final distribution.
This post, which is a follow-on from my Co-Creating Transmedia Communities post in Sept, looks at the levels (specifically six kinds) of crowd sourcing engagement and takes it one step beyond.
THE NEW RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ARTIST AND ‘CREATIVE’ FAN
We all have our favourite artists – musicians, directors, sculptures, painters, TV personalities and we all have varying degrees of relationships with them. There is a big difference from appreciation at one end to super (obsessed?) fan at the other. But with the new breed of wonderful, stable online collaboration content networks available, the super fan can now become meaningful collaborator. The nature of ‘fanatic’ has evolved:
DISTANT – Worship from afar and happy to just enjoy pushed, finished, packaged content
COLLECTOR – Collects extra insight content from and about the artists
PHYSICAL – Regularly goes to experiential events and concerts and may possibly have low level interaction with the artists
ACKNOWLEDGED – The artist nurtures the fans into a community, a tribe that builds its own identity. They may change their personal look and brand themselves as being part of the artist’s ‘tribe’
CONVERSATIONAL – A dialogue, direct and often in real time between artist and super fans
CREATIONIST – The artist and tribe make ‘stuff’ together
It is of course the last three of the new types of relationships above that have come to the fore in recent years.
COLLABORATIVE ENCOUNTERS OF SIX DIFFERENT KINDS
As I was formulating the previous 6 levels (yes I like doing levels!) I suddenly thought of one of my favourite films, from my youth. I have always been fascinated by Speilberg’s Close Encounters…and particularly the meaning behind the ‘Third Kind’. As we know it is actually a reference to J. Allen Hynek‘s 1972 scale of interaction with extra-terrestrial life forces. (There are actually seven levels listed on Wikipedia but the sixth one is redundant being a duplicate of number 2)…
A sighting of an extraterrestrial craft
Physical evidence of the extraterrestrial
Seeing live extraterrestrial beings
A human is ‘taken-in’ or acknowledged by the extraterrestrials
On-going, real time, communication between extraterrestrial and humans
Procreation between extraterrestrial and human
So as you do, I decided to merge 2) the escalation of our extraterrestrials with 1) the evolution of the fan and I came up with, drum roll – Gary’s Online Crowd Sourcing Levels of Six Kinds: (lets assume a level 0 which is basically passive consumption of everything that follows)
Always keen to see the latest, worthy research into those young wipper-snappers that apparently are our future so was lucky to be sent some insights today into Australian Youth, 4 million of them aged 16-30, from Urban Market Research (UMR) a joint initiative between Lifelounge and Sweeney Research.
There are the usual eye opening statistics, multi-tasking, mobile texting, overuse of social networks and so on (listed below) but the research is more interesting as it digs a little deeper and explores a few emergent behaviours, from years of doing all of the above.
The survey shows that multi platform storytelling, while slightly alien to those older folk indoctrinated with linear, mono media is an absolute natural space for this age group – they swim and immerse themselves in multi media and like the proverbial fish are unaware of the water they breathe and that surrounds them.
“While multitasking when consuming online and other media has been growing in recent years, it is now the norm. The research confirms life online is frantic, with over 80% of the youth market ‘doing other things’ while surfing the web and being active on social networks…it also reveals ‘interruptive’ marketing tactics are out, in favour of a more ‘discovery-led’ approach that allows young people to unearth new products, artists and fashion labels in their own time, and bank the street cred that comes with it.” – This group also cannot live without “An internet connection and mobile phone were rated the two top things UMR respondents couldn’t live without (30% and 20% respectively) over their car, TV, alcohol, favourite piece of clothing, drugs and favourite movies. Being connected is important.”
Now that transmedia is everywhere and the Producers Guild of America have turned the ‘transmedia producer’ into a bona fide (or at least recognised) professional role one thing that rears it’s cross-media head is, who and where are the best transmedia producers going to come from? I have spent a good part of the last 15 years mentoring & training traditional & non-traditional media types in multiple platform content and now question where the best producers of this multifaceted ‘new’ content will come from – academia, film, book authors, social media consultants, game designers, TV, web developers, radio, advertisers, young, old, not yet born? Read on, a ‘hypothetical’ interview follows 🙂 and this is an opinion piece I cannot put in my book or lecture about!
TRANSMEDIA – AMBIGUOUS CONCEPT?
Firstly what is it and does it actually mean anything at all? It is fantastic that the term ‘transmedia’ is now so widespread across the industry and with the official credit (attached ironically to film primarily) but is it a bubble about to burst – is what we have come to know as ‘transmedia’ in danger of being blown out of all proportion.
Here are some of the problems:
Everyone is a transmedia producer – yes you’ve made a website that is attached to a TV show, your a TP. Created a mobile game that has a line or two from the comic, you’re a TP. No one will police this – is it a truly integrated story environment, does it have clever plot links or consistent characters?. A TP is a decathlete (multi-skilled, hard to get a one word answer about what they do in a bar!), gone is nice and simple mono media, a TV producer makes TV shows, film director directs films. You can be a TP if you merge your story across two or more media areas? But more on this later in the post.
Transmedia as a concept is not focused. OK I know Henry Jenkin’s original definition has been spread around the web but it is a definition that is too broad. Perhaps I should exercise my floccinaucinihilipilification and suggest that something that tries to describe everything is actually worthless? Transmedia like a black hole in the universe it tries to describe sucks in everything that has come before (cross media, 360, social media, augmented reality, pervasive gaming and so on). At the other end of this spectrum citing Matrix or Blair Witch or other brand to justify the ‘field’ as mainstream it becomes apparent that the quoted definition itself is rather vacuuous. To quote Jenkins again from an LA Times article, transmedia – “means telling a story across different platforms, each element of which may or may not stand on its own but contributes to an enriched, dynamic, more participatory and “lifelike” experience.”
We are still in the hype phase. Basically anything cool and different those transmedia types (and I point the finger at myself too btw) will take ownership of. I even heard the other day someone say Transmedia is the new Social media and augmented reality even gets a look in. I am not surprised those still getting their head around the ‘story’ potential of social networks or a cute mobile game find it all rather, dis-jointed. Also the increase in experimental and experiential ‘event’ based marketing suddenly meant transmedia is now inextricably linked with brand extensions (TV, film, product) – anything that is not a linear, branded film or TV show. I think for those who live in the transmedia echo chamber this has been the case for many years.
It feels rather academic. Trans-media used to be an alternative semi-academic term to ‘cross-media’ (trans, from the latin ‘crossing’) but is now used to describe everything, non-linear, interactive, extension, participatory, social, brand, play, multi-platform, pervasive and so on. The idea that stories would be told in different places goes back thousands of years but in a modern media context a rich target for study and theorizing. Along came Henry Jenkins who coined the term transmedia almost a decade after the first basic cross-media incarnation. Henry admirably self confesses as being ‘too busy lecturing and presenting about transmedia, to partake’ of the industrial flavour of transmedia “some of it is not well done yet”.
It is still a teenager. It has grown up before it’s time and become a troublesome big headed teenager without any true home and turned into a dysfunctional orphan at once protectively nurtured by over possessive academics, hijacked by experimental ad agencies and hardly understood by flailing stuck-in-time broadcasters. Originally cross-media was an intellectually stimulating concept – memories of mid 90s, pioneering BBC days also my old friend Brian Seth-Hurst who is “Referred to as “the father of cross platform” Hurst coined the term in 1998 as MD of Convergent Media at Pittard Sullivan”. Earlier definitions just talked about story based ‘crossing platforms’ element but since the exponential increase in social media as a place for millions to dwell it has suddenly had the participatory/social part added and also a suggestion that it is now a more integrated form of storytelling, I suppose I should have added a level 5 to my 5 year old (but about to be removed!) wikipedia cross media definition!
Danger of being hijacked – Alongside all of this we have a ‘clique’ of so-called experts who try to describe something which is so simple on one hand (stuff on multiple platforms) yet so ambiguous on the other (fragmented narrative effervescence) – time will expose the Transmedia echo chamber I suppose.
Of course I have nothing against the term per-say in the absence of alternatives having created transmedia entities/sites like Transmediadesign.org or lamp.edu.au or muvedesign.com – all transmedia in focus – but lets start thinking about the emperors clothes. Indeed the Producers Guild definition of the TP, however bold in its intention, is still a little ambiguous about the precise elements of the role to say the least
A Transmedia Narrative project or franchise must consist of three (or more) narrative storylines existing within the same fictional universe on any of the following platforms: Film, Television, Short Film, Broadband, Publishing, Comics, Animation, Mobile, Special Venues, DVD/Blu-ray/CD-ROM, Narrative Commercial and Marketing rollouts, and other technologies that may or may not currently exist. These narrative extensions are NOT the same as repurposing material from one platform to be cut or repurposed to different platforms.
A Transmedia Producer credit is given to the person(s) responsible for a significant portion of a project’s long-term planning, development, production, and/or maintenance of narrative continuity across multiple platforms, and creation of original storylines for new platforms. Transmedia producers also create and implement interactive endeavors to unite the audience of the property with the canonical narrative and this element should be considered as valid qualification for credit as long as they are related directly to the narrative presentation of a project.
Transmedia Producers may originate with a project or be brought in at any time during the long-term rollout of a project in order to analyze, create or facilitate the life of that project and may be responsible for all or only part of the content of the project. Transmedia Producers may also be hired by or partner with companies or entities, which develop software and other technologies and who wish to showcase these inventions with compelling, immersive, multi-platform content.
TRANSMEDIA – CONTENT (THE TRUTH ABOUT ARGs?)
But this post is not just about the word – there are hundreds of blog posts even now still trying to really get under the surface of what transmedia means and it is too easy to fall down the semantic rabbit hole of terminology and the endless subjective splits between academics, industry and wannabes. Perhaps something more concrete can be found in the ‘transmedia stuff’ itself. What is this stuff and who is making it?
Reflections by me? Been a bit slow off the mark blog wise this year as endless layers of projects overlap and blogging has fallen off the list. But there are some goodies about to be blogged here, just simmering, almost ready for serving. Smell that goodness.
For the moment though two of my ‘thinks’ that others published for me. The first from Bettina TIzzy’s great (‘What the World Needs Now is‘) Not Possible in Real Life (NPIRL) blog who posted a selection of my slightly half-baked thoughts re: virtual worlds. Following that, also featuring SL & Telstra, a rather positive retrospective from ITWire extensively quoting me, about how companies can engage properly, The Pond is a build I created back in early 2007.
OK to the post. I know, a lazy re-posting but there are a few nuggets in here…over to NPIRL.
Sydney-based Brit and marketing wiz, musician, composer and rich content creator in virtual worlds Gary Hazlitt (aka Gary Hayes), is already done celebrating the incoming year, while we wait for a few more hours in the Western Hemisphere for 2009 to arrive.
I welcome Gary’s guest blogpost and knowledgeable take on the recent past and the coming adventures of virtual worlds. Happy New Year, everyone! – Bettina Tizzy
In the social Virtual Worlds context, 2006 was about hype… another new frontier ‘kid-on-the-block,’ but became about fast bucks and cheap and cheerful PR. We saw that bubble gently burst in 2007 as the realisation that one world in particular, Second Life – (which is still the leading example of culturally created virtual content), was really about creative communication and artistic expression versus the local shopping mall or a crude business tool.
Last year, 2008, we witnessed a distillation in what Second Life (and by implication other customisable worlds) is really about, leading to a proliferation of new, niche virtual worlds meeting the cultural and entertainment needs of much broader demographics. We effectively saw the ‘fat’ surgically removed from Second Life and an acceptance that this new medium and form is still in its very early days, but in 2008 there are clearer reasons for being a part of the social web mix:
1. An immersive expression of community – Facebook and MySpace-meets-World of Warcraft. This community can create their own environments or swarm around trusted film, TV or lifestyle brands, too.
2. For business, it is more about a place to meet, present and recruit and far less about brand awareness, product sales or vacuous hype. The business model in 2008 clearly came into focus: the community selling to itself – brands needed to court existing inhabitants very carefully.
3. For education, Second Life is one of the most efficient tools in the learning process. Education becomes democratised, everyone can contribute and learn equally, remote learning is far more compelling, fun and immersive.
4 A creative tool. Second Life, in particular, showed significant maturity as we saw a higher number of serious live performance (CARP Cybernetic Art Research Project, NMC, DanCoyote Antonelli, for example), a record number of in-world ‘machinima & TV-like programs’ and by far the largest array of creative statements from virtual environment artists, many members of the NPIRL group. The quality of ‘experience’ creation from talented musicians, designers, photographers, artists, etc., reached new heights.
GROWTH OF WORLDS
Investment across the board – more than $900 million US invested since Oct 2007 – has moved away from generalist worlds like Second Life to more focused niche or user base environments with many starting to exhibit core game elements. These include those with renewed investment after new’ish launches: vSide, Football Superstars, Stardoll, Home, IMVU, Metaplace, Multiverse Places, and Music Mogul.
Towards the end of the year, console social worlds came onto the scene. XBox360 and Wii are very similar in ‘cartoon’ aesthetic, whereas Sony is far more game focused. All have very similar business models – create a space to hang out and be ‘tempted’ by games/film/merchandise. Although these are not yet places for community creation, they will soon learn that to keep inhabitants they will need to be or, like Google Lively, have to pull the plug. Embeddable or layered worlds began in 2008 and are likely to be significant in getting people used to real time communication through ‘representational’ avatars – vs text based ‘social network’ profiles. Also, Facebook worlds like YoVille or Vivaty, or layered worlds like Rocketon or Weblin that are embedded on the existing 2D web. The dominance of the likes of Club Penguin and Webkinz at the tweens end of the spectrum will be duplicated through teens and gen y’s as a series of new, highly focused and targeted social worlds launch next year. This has already begun with Football Superstars and Music Mogul but expect to see many more – including several with user created content as a feature alongside the virtual economy.
HIGHLIGHTS OF 2008
– Graphics in Second Life become teenagers. Still some way from the likes of Crysis, Second Life Windlight turned the world into something far more fantastical for many. It added layers of light, glow and control to a previously very ‘flatly lit’ world. We still wait for dynamic shadows, better environmental sound and an even more useful scripting language (post Mono), but this was a paradigm shift for environmental artists.
– Some companies got it! There was not a plethora of companies or brands entering Second Life but those that did had continued success as they concentrated on the social (people) rather than ‘product’ aspects of their business. Although the Pond leads in dwell terms, new entrants like Warner’s Gossip Girl have done exceedingly well. Car companies still do well even though Pontiac walked away from Second Life, and Toyota, Fiat and Nissan are always in the top 10 brands.
– The quality of machinima across all social and game worlds increased exponentially this year and a growth in communities watching ‘documents’ of the worlds they spend most of their time in. In addition to some machinima appearing in heritage media (“Molotov Alva and his Search for the Creator” and HBO/Cinemax, for example) there has been a growth in long form game-engine films and notably many more serious issues tackled.
– The New Worlds. A fracturing, as it became obvious that Second Life cannot be all things to all avatars – so nearly 70 other worlds all showed up on the radar. Many are focusing on niche interest or are highly branded. Several of the new ‘jack-of-all-trades’ entrants will learn that enabling community creativity and an economy is absolutely necessary. There were several walled garden/locked content mirror worlds and builds in 2008, which will learn to be not about ‘broadcast’ spaces, and realise that their worlds are far more significant than modelling what is around us – “In augmented and online virtual worlds, humanity will exponentially evolve, free from the limiting ghosts of that other virtual world we called reality”.
The second item appeared following my presentation at the Online Distribution and Business Collaboration conference from November 2008 in which I hurriedly went through some good inworld and game marketing case studies. Kathryn Small here picked up on why Australia’s BigPond is working really well – and no, it is not all about the broadband capping situation in Australia. Most of the regular inhabitants are on other ISP’s – anyway the article covers my thoughts on this and I have a much longer analysis with stats for the nearly 2 years it has been active, in the pipeline. (Also worth mentioning something about the item at the start of this one – Tourism Victoria didn’t withdraw its funding, Multimedia Victoria requested I take down a temporary ‘trial’ build of Melbourne Laneways – which had an original 3 month ‘learn as we go’ tenure on ABC Island. Otherwise a good item below.
It’s a match made in heaven: Telstra is Australia’s biggest telco and ISP, while Second Life is one of the world’s hottest social networking tools. So when the media reported that “the game was almost over” for Second Life, Telstra was quick to defend its investment.
Recently, Tourism Victoria withdrew its advertising funding from Second Life’s ABC Island. This prompted Deacons technology and media partner Nick Abrahams to comment to The Australian that “the drop in commercial interest in Second Life had been noticeable over the past nine months”.
Abrahams said that at any given time, fewer than a couple of hundred Australians might be in Second Life.
But virtual worlds expert Gary Hayes said that virtual world ratings should be measured in engagement and user hours, not just hits.
“Immersive online experiences need new metrics, and marketeers and academics are realising that social worlds do provide the potential for very high dwell figures,” said Hayes.
“Facebook has 65 million users on for just four hours per month. 132 Americans watch YouTube but they watch only about five minutes per day or 2.5 hours per month,” said Hayes.
“Second Life (and other social virtual worlds) has the highest rates of loyalty and stickiness of any social network generation, more than 50 hours per month per user.”
Hayes said that Telstra’s islands, known as The Pond, had a steady stream of around 50-100 users at any given time.
Telstra spokesperson Peter Habib quoted figures compiled by The Project Factory which said that BigPond’s islands were the most popular in Second Life.
The Ponds were founded in March 2007 with 11 islands (now 16) which have hosted virtual concerts, ANZAC Day commemorations and even New Year and Australia Day events.
BigPond recently hosted an AUSTAFE event which involved live streaming of the event from Adelaide into Second Life.
The Ponds also contains five residential islands for users to build themselves virtual real estate to live in, at near 100 per cent occupancy.
Telstra spokesperson Peter Habib told iTnews, “BigPond’s commitment to innovation, interactivity and entertainment in Second Life is a key part of our success.”
Habib said that BigPond has opened a virtual in-world service kiosk that allows Second Life users to interact with BigPond customer service staff in a virtual way.
Hayes said that The Pond’s approach to customers differentiated it from many other brands.
“The real success of The Pond is more about the regular events, the creativity of the builders who often come from the community, elements of nationalism, and many of the organic spaces that promote stickiness by their ‘ambience’ rather than superficial interactivity. This has been a real differentiator.”
Habib dismissed the concerns of other providers with success on Second Life.
“While other companies may not share BigPond’s successes, we are more than pleased with the popularity of our Second Life islands”
Hayes said that companies might not succeed in Second Life for two reasons. First, that many brands were brought into Second Life for the wrong reasons, and with misunderstandings about the social network. “You cannot build into a social network and not be social,” said Hayes. “Early entrants simply did not act human; they acted like a corporation, and built clones of the real world, and didn’t think experientally.”
Second, Hayes said that companies needed to change their offering to virtual customers.
“We are seeing the natural exodus of ‘showroom, build-it-big-and-boring’ brands and the settling of second generation ‘social’ and ‘purposeful’ brands. So The Pond, Accenture, Playboy, The L Word, and about five other key brands are really getting to grips with setting up a virtual base in a social world.”
John Brand, research director at Hydrasight, agreed.
“Only organisations who want to be perceived as ‘bleeding edge’ should ever have been involved in Second Life in the first place,” said Brand.
“Now that Second Life is entering its relative teenage years (measured in Internet years at least), the early adopter bandwagon has well and truly been jumped on.”
But Brand (edit: Hayes) noted that Second Life is not the only virtual world.
“There are at least 50 other mainstream entities and the total audience (according to a trusted site on this topic, KZero) is well over 300 million. In the second quarter of 2008, $161 million was invested in 14 virtual worlds, in the first quarter $184 million put into 23 virtual worlds, so the total this year alone is $345 million across 37 new worlds.
“Australia is a tiny market compared with Europe, Asia, South America and the USA, so fluctuations are highly likely. The fact that the user base of one virtual world fell by 23 per cent in a year is common with any service coming out of a hype phase into a stable mature phase.”