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Seven Days

A few months ago when I was on my Hyper Island course, one of my fellow students told us about a show she had worked on when in development, a show which was apparently being touted as Channel 4′s replacement for Big Brother.  Coincidentally one of our visiting experts then gave us an exercise where we had to brainstorm ideas for the digital side of the same show (his company had pitched for the contract, I seem to remember).  So I’ve had longer than most to mull over the idea, in theory at least, and was particularly interested in last night’s launch, especially as I was led to believe that this could mark a new episode in interactive/social tv.

If you didn’t watch, the premise is that we’re following a series of residents of Notting Hill, docusoap style, with the unique selling point in this case being that it’s happening almost in real time.  In tv, you see, that’s considered groundbreaking because unless you’re live, it tends to take ages to do anything.  Unlike Big Brother, the participants are able to see the reaction to the show, and what’s more we as audience are being encouraged to interact with and help them decide how to lead their lives.

So far, so unoriginal.  It’s Paddington Green with bells and tweets on, but without Todd Carty and the weird wigmaker.  The initial irritant is the location the production team have chosen; Notting Hill.  I can see why they’ve done it (U.S. sales?)…but judging by Twitter reaction it’s a potentially fatal flaw.  We know what the rest of the country feels about London and London-centric media, and I’m sure that most Londoners have the same opinion of cliched Notting Hill-billies.  Play a game with me now; if you didn’t watch the show, guess who they’re featuring….

Blonde sloaney type who calls her mother ‘Mummy’…check

Gay hairdresser…check

Models…check

Property developer (ok he’s entertainingly bizarre; the frozen cat anecdote made last night worth watching)…check

Young black youths who hang out and do pull-ups in the street…check

Now unlike many of those on Twitter last night I’m not going to get involved with slating the participants.  It’s not what I do; what right have I to criticise other people’s personalities?  I just think that the casting is desperately cliched and therefore I’m not sure I want to get involved with their lives on the level Channel 4 expects of me.

So did it work as an hour of tv?  Not really.  I really didn’t learn much, cared even less, and the attempts to make the whole thing up to date were ham-fisted to say the least (radio bulletins, staged chats about the day’s headlines).

Did it work as an hour of interactive tv?  Potentially.  I found interacting with the Twitter feed (#sevendays) more entertaining than the show (the Channel 4 website crashed so can’t comment on that but it doesn’t look a patch on what we came up with at Hyper Island)…but maybe that is the point.  I suggested at one point that perhaps Channel 4 execs might be more interested in tweets than ratings, and certainly as the series progresses and we see the effects that ‘fame’ has on the participants, and potentially a two-way dialogue between them and us, there could be interesting consequences.  I do feel for them if they were following the Twitter feed, however; most people didn’t have the same attitude as me when it came to offering opinions on their personalities.

So will I watch it again?  Yes.  I’m genuinely interested in how the whole thing pans out but more from a professional than personal standpoint.  I do think that tv has to get more interactive and social if aspects of it are to survive, so I do hope that the series is a success in the long run.  But I do fear for a project which gets caned by Brian Belo from Big Brother (no I don’t follow him, I spotted his tweet in the timeline).

If you didn’t watch, here’s the link, although another irritant is that for a supposedly modern, interactive tv show, C4/4OD have uploaded the whole episode onto YouTube but have panicked and disabled embedding.  So here’s the link: Seven Days Ep 1

Twitter grows up

One of the ironies of Twitter has been that the more successful it has become, the more users have turned to third party applications (Tweetdeck, Ubertwitter etc) to run their Twitterverse, the general feeling being that although we love the micro-blogging concept, the host platform itself hasn’t offered us much to keep us there.

As they now look to make their millions (and deservedly so) from their efforts, Twitter Towers have clearly decided that one of the ways they’re going to do that is by encouraging us to spend more time on their site and not on others.  So the new Twitter started rolling out last night.  No idea how long it’s going to take to reach us all but when it arrives, it promises us a far more integrated experience.  We’ll be able to embed videos and images with ease (they’ve signed partnerships with many of the multimedia hosters such as Flickr, TwitPic, YouTube etc) and there’s the addition of a second ‘details’ pane which will offer either a user profile or additional info relating to a tweet (@ replies, geo-tagging, other tweets by the user etc).

It’s definitely a step forward but I’m unlikely to abandon TweetDeck because I find their column set-up perfect for following certain users and tags.  I want to know less about a particular tweet and more about tweets in a wider context.  But as my new mantra is ‘change is good’ I’ll give it a go when it finally reaches Carshalton.

Here’s Twitter’s official explanation of it all which seems pretty clear, and their explanatory video which doesn’t really explain much, least of all why they’ve edited it like this:

For another take on the new Twitter, check out Mashable

Apple updates iTunes, IOS, Apple TV, iPod, Chris Martin and…Ping

A vaguely considered review of the new Apple updates announced by Steve Jobs minutes ago follows…apologies for the lack of pictures but I’m sure you know what an iPhone looks like.

So I was babysitting today and as I promised myself I’d keep up with all things techie from now on, I attempted to juggle following the update live on my iPhone with In the Night Garden, bath, book and bed.  Martha (18 months) is now fully au fait with the full product range but is a little dubious as to their new foray into social networking.  More on that in a bit; just don’t tell the mrs that I wasn’t paying full attention to the small person.

First thing to note is that the whole thing was streamed live, iPhone compatible, naturally, which is always impressive.  If Apple do one thing very well, it’s pulling the collective geek-strings of the world to create a huge buzz around their new product launches.  Less impressive was the lack of a jump forward button in the timeline so even though I was running a few minutes behind live (Special Agent Oso was on so I couldn’t jump on it straight way) I couldn’t skip the boring bits (no, not Chris Martin, the ads and stuff).

So…the updates.  Gadget reviews aren’t really my thing even though I’m as prone as anyone to new stuff so I’ll keep this brief:  iPods are getting smaller.  Really small, and the Nano is now touch screen.  Presumably surgeons and concert pianists will be fine picking the album they want but the rest of us might struggle.  Oh and the iPod touch is getting even thinnner.  That was one announcement which the assembled audience didn’t bother whooping.  Also, iPhones are getting an update next week which should fix bugs (which is as close to an admittance of fault as you’ll ever get from Apple) and the new iOS 4.1 includes HDR (‘High Dynamic Range’) photo capability.  This latter update sounds interesting although I’m dubious as to how much you can improve your photos when your source is the pretty poor iPhone camera.  It apparently takes 3 photos with 3 different exposures, merges them to collate the ‘best’ image and offers you that as an alternative to your original.  Also included in the free update is GameCenter which apart from being incorrectly spelt opens up your games to live multi-player gameplay.  Beyond that, 4.2 will roll out in November and will mainly concentrate on the iPad, offering wireless printing and AirPlay, an updated version of AirTunes, a wireless music streaming service.

More interesting to me was the news that they’re giving Apple TV another aggressive push.  Accepting that it has never really taken off, Jobs and co and offering the new, 1/4 size box at $99 (or £99 over here, apparently).  It’ll offer HD, streaming content for rental from several major U.S. networks (TV shows for 99c) and first run movies for $4.99 including compatibility with NetFlix.  YouTube will also be supported although apparently still no support for the iPlayer.  At that price it’s going to tempt a whole new market into the possibilities of streaming media on demand.

For me, by far the most exciting news of the day was iTunes v10.  No, not the new icon, the announcement of Ping, Apple’s new social network.  I say ‘exciting’, as that’s with my digital head on, but at the same time I’m really wound up by it.  In a nutshell, it’s a social network run through iTunes where you can connect with friends or artists on a musical level, so share recommendations, leave messages, find out about gigs etc etc.  Fine; I get that.  It’s like…Facebook for music.  Sort of like…MySpace.  What??  Haven’t we been here before?  It’s a new social network to belong to which focuses on one subject (music) and which has no apparent links with the outside world.  Oh, and you have to do it all on iTunes which for all Apple’s worth is clunky at best in my opinion.  Someone on my Twitter feed just said it was like being on a social network in a jail.  I may be wrong; they may open up the API to allow it to link to other social networks but I’m doubting that.  I’ve got a feeling this is Apple’s attempt to suppress the might of Facebook and to a lesser extent, Twitter.  In the spirit of research and digital open-mindedness I’m going to give it a go (apparently the download is available today but not yet, apparently), but if I’ve got to do it through iTunes, and if I can only use it to talk about music, it’s not going to win me over as much as a thinner iPod might.

Arcade Fire and Google get it on

As you might have guessed by now, I’m embracing new technology because I’m excited first and foremost by the prospects it offers those of us in the creative industries and also as a viewer.  And when a new bit of tech is combined with music from one of my favourite bands it’s bound to go down really well.  So like millions of others already I’ve been enchanted by the new interactive video offering from Google and Arcade Fire.  Called The Wilderness Downtown

The Wilderness Downtown

and featuring the band’s “We Used To Wait”, as I understand it it’s a showcase for Google Chrome and the possibilities offered by the new HTML5 web standard and its video, audio and canvas capabilities.  My techie knowledge stops right about there; I’ll certainly be doing some more digging into what we can expect and moreover exploit from HTML5, but for the moment like everyone else I’m sitting back and marvelling at the genius involved.

If I’m being picky, for me there’s a certain element of style over substance (or is it the other way round?); whilst I’m excited by the technology involved and I get the whole interactive thing and the fact that you can customise and share the experience, as far as a music video goes it’s no Bohemian Rhapsody.  I don’t know if my browser settings aren’t optimised for it (although I’m running it on a 17″ Macbook Pro 1920×1200 screen) but I found the window sizing and placement distracting rather than an enhancement to the video.  Could the sequence have been cut into one window?  Would that be defeating the point of the whole thing and regressing it to a traditional, linear video experience?  I’m being picky; I’m sure the point was to showcase the technology rather than create the perfect video, and I for one certainly couldn’t do any better.

If you haven’t had a go on it yet, you’ll need to download Google Chrome first and then go to The Wilderness Downtown where you input the address of where you’d like the video to take place.  Towards the end of the video you get your chance to get all Tony Hart and to create your own postcard which may be used on Arcade Fire’s next tour.  I’ve done one for Oxford United fans featuring the 3-sided majesty that is the Kassam Stadium if you’d rather see that than your own:

Wilderness Downtown – Oxford United’s Kassam Stadium

If you can’t even be bothered to run the video, here’s my poor but United-spirited attempt at a postcard message:

Arcade Fire/Google Interactive Postcard

If you’re geeky like me and you want to know more about the technology involved in making the vid, you’ll find it here:

http://www.chromeexperiments.com/arcadefire/

So what do you think of the whole idea?  As a viral campaign I’m sure it’s already assured of victory judging by the Twitter traffic generated by it, and I’d be interested to see how it affects Google Chrome downloads…

The Next Big Thing: Facebook Places

Another first in a series, this one’s called ‘The Next Big Thing’ because if you’re even vaguely into your digital media you’ll know how we’re constantly bombarded with new technology which we’re expected not only to embrace but also master.  I love it; part of the reason I’m doing this is because I’m excited by it all, and I’ve learned not to fear change, unlike some people I used to work with who will remain nameless.

Joe Sheephead Worsley fears change

I’m still not naming him.

Change is good.  And once you accept that you don’t have to master every new innovation and you don’t have to add every new app, it can be liberating.

So yeah, Facebook Places; last week’s Next Big Thing (I have been busy you know), or for those who don’t like change but who will remain nameless, ‘not another thing I have to get my head around; why can’t we just talk to people like we used to?’  The world’s tech bloggers have been hard at work debating the pros and cons of the social networking giant’s massive step onto the geolocation map since the launch a few days ago.  For my two penn’orth, I’m excited by it.  I’ve been reading that geolocation is the next big thing for a year or so and I love the idea of the likes of Foursquare and Gowalla, but until they pick up significant traction over here, they’re pretty limited in what they’re going to offer.  If none of my mates are telling me where they are (or maybe there’s a different reason for that), if brands aren’t bothering to offer check-in ‘specials’ or recommendations there’s nothing really ‘social’ about it.  I don’t particularly want to broadcast my location on Twitter for the sake of it because that’s dull for everyone else, but it would be a different matter if I had people in my network who might be interested.  I’m sure it’s a different case in USA where these sites have picked up a lot more traction, but over here at least, we have a way to go before geotagging becomes the norm.  Facebook have the clout and the members to bring this technology to the masses and I’m confident that Places will mark a new shift in the way we communicate.

If you’re not as geeky as me and you don’t know what it’s about, it’s Foursquare for lazy people.  And if you don’t know what Foursquare is about, check it out (and check-in) here.  I’m on there…here.  I have one friend which kind of makes my point about traction.  If you can’t be bothered to do the research, here’s the glossy promo video for Places.  All well and good, we get the idea, it looks nice but have you seen anything as cheesy as this since the 70′s?   The acting and directing are shocking; whoever thought that real, 21st Century tech-savvy Californians behave like this needs to take a long, hard look at themselves.  Check it out at about 30 seconds in.  Have you and your mates ever ‘hung out’ in a park like that, without attracting weird looks from Police Community Support Officers?  And how’s your baby going to benefit from using Facebook Places?

Maybe I’m being unfair.  Anyway, whatever the merit of the promo video, Facebook Places is huge news.  Perhaps predictably, many people chose to focus on the privacy aspects surrounding it but I really can’t be bothered with all that whingeing.  In fact I so can’t be bothered with it, I’m going to write a blog specifically about privacy issues when I get round to it.  And when I find the article I read in Wired about Facebook and privacy.  In a nutshell; get over it.  If you’re a member of social networking sites then I’m sorry but your privacy as you knew it no longer exists.

I was going to watch the footage of the official launch from Facebook’s HQ until I found out that it’s almost an hour long.  I did get about 10 minutes into it and gave up, but if you’ve got time to watch it, it’s here; let me know what it’s like:

Watch live streaming video from facebookinnovations at livestream.com

Aside from the launch itself, one of the interesting things to come out of this was the way the UK side of things was handled.  As usual, the technology has been rolled out in the US before we’re able to get our grubby mitts on it, so Facebook’s UK PR had a job on their hands answering initial questions from keen Facebookers over here.  These were expertly handled in a very modern and supremely efficient way on Twitter by their PR @sophysilver – and I’ve got to thank TNW’s Martin Bryant for bringing that to my attention:

The Next Web – Facebook Places story

Ok so I’ve waffled a bit but I’m new to this blogging thing.  The question is: is Facebook Places the new Facebook or the new Google Wave?  Let the debate begin…

Hello

Hello!

Thanks for stopping by.  After months of saying I was going to get around to doing this, I’ve finally done it.  It’s by no means finished; I’ve got to get a showreel up and more example videos, plenty more links and then there’s the blog to think about, but it’s a start.  As I’ve said on the ‘Resolution Who?‘ page, what I’m trying to do with this is have a half-portfolio, half blog site thing going.  So hopefully I’ll be able to pick up new work from it but I’ll also come up with interesting stuff to blog about.  I think I’ll start with splitting the blog into pesonal/random stuff and more digital media/social media-based topics but I’ll see how that goes.  I’m pretty new to blogging so if you’re not and you’ve got any tips for me it would be great if you could comment or send me an email and of course bookmark/RSS me.  I’ve already lined up a few people I want to talk about and I’ll stick something up every time I do something of interest on a job (one to follow shortly) and of course I’ll post stuff I find on Twitter or elsewhere.

To those of you who know me from Channelbee, I’ll be sticking up what videos I rescued before I left, certainly the ones I had a hand in, on my YouTube channel.  Gradually.  We may have a music issue but I’ll keep my fingers crossed on that.

I’m going to crack on but should be posting again shortly.

Neil