SXSW 2011 Q&A: Andrew Lewellen

Melissa Sepe   March 11, 2011

The Breakdown: In the final Q&A in the SXSW 2011 series, we chatted with Razorfish’s own Andrew Lewellen, a Chicago-based Content Strategist, about his panel “Interactive Narratives: Creating the Future of Storytelling.” The panel (Monday, 12:30) will explore the various sub-genres of interactive storytelling and will discuss professional opportunities for writers, developers, and designers in the growing field of interactive narrative creation.

S/G: What are the major types of interactive narrative being produced today?

Andrew: To me, there are two primary kinds of interaction with stories in the digital space: one is interaction in terms of users generating content to participate in a story. The Old Spice campaign last summer—“The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”—is probably the best-known good example of this. Though not specifically a story, it was definitely a pervasive experience.

The other type of interaction is one of physical interaction with a graphical user interface, e.g. clicking on a link to see a new page or swiping your finger across a screen to control how you view content and media. I really look to the work of ScrollMotion, like their Esquire app, as a great example of this.

S/G: Can you tell us about the participants on your panel?

Andrew: Esther Lim is based in San Francisco and is a digital marketer, social media strategist, and game analyst. Robert Pratten is also in San Francisco, and he has a background in film and recently launched a new project, Transmedia Storyteller, which provides a platform for individuals and businesses to build transmedia experiences. Josh Koppel is a co-founder of ScrollMotion, a company based in New York that works with major publishing companies to convert their books into mobile apps.

With our presentation, we really want to show people how to use both types of interactive narritve to create more engaging story experiences. To do this, we’ve put a new media spin on an old fairy tale, “The Story of The Three Little Pigs.” Here’s how we’ve executed: Josh has built a mobile app for the story, which will function as the core story experience. Esther developed social profiles for each pig. Robert incorporated participation by creating Twitter accounts for each of the three pigs and the wolf. The audience controls the fate of these pigs by tweeting “run” to their accounts or “blow” to the wolf’s account. People can participate by going to this site. The mobile app includes functionality to view the pigs’ social profiles and the Twitter feed.

What this work demonstrates is how to use social media and participation to improve discovery and exploration of a core story that exists in a defined application or space. This is really the evolving approach to creating stories and engaging audiences with them.

S/G: How did you become interested in/involved with this type of content?

Andrew: I’ll give you two key events: when I was in grad school, getting my MFA at Southern Illinois, Robert Coover came to campus and gave an informal talk to the English Department, in which he asserted that literature would eventually exist in digital formats. Coover’s talk made me start to reconsider all my previous conceptions about writing and books.

A few months after that, I heard this interview with Les Paul in which he talked about his work to develop an electric guitar. He said the reason he started doing that was just because he wanted his music to sound different. That idea of his really struck me: use technology to change your craft. It made me realize that progress and change is the natural course of art. I always wanted to create writing that was unique and new. And new media presented itself as the best option to do that.

S/G: What is the greatest challenge facing developers and writers of interactive narratives today?

Andrew: There’s no [established] model. It’s hard to learn how to do something when there’s no model. I believe writing is a craft. As with any craft—whether it’s novels or cabinets or barbeque—you need to serve an apprenticeship to learn how to make that craft. Then, if you learn how to do it, you head off on your own and try to make a living doing your craft.

Writers have been relying on the same models—novels and short stories—for going on 150 years. And if a writer learns how to create work in one of those forms, they might be able to make a career for themselves. Learning to create writing and stories for new media is asking people to learning something new—and learn to do something that has no guaranteed audience. And in a format that is perceived as a threat to the form in which they learned to love their craft (books). I think that’s a lot for a writer to swallow.

S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?

Andrew: I’m most looking forward to meeting the people on my own panel. I’ve never met a one of them in person. We’re having a lot of fun creating this presentation; it’s the kind of work I’ve wanted to create for a long time now, and I’m excited to see it come alive. Other than that, I’m just looking forward to being at SXSW and meeting people who have similar interests and passions as me. The energy at these types of events can be infectious, and it can make you conceive of or take on work you had never thought of before.

Explore the rest of the SXSW 2011 Q&A Series. And we’ll be back when it’s all done, with a recap or two.

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by tantek
Badge – by adactio
Microphone – by hiddedevries
iPad – by smemon87

SXSW 2011 Q&A: Kaiser Wahab

Matt Geraghty   March 9, 2011

The Breakdown: SXSW is just a couple days away. We spoke with Kaiser Wahab, a Partner at law firm Wahab & Medecnica LLC. He’ll be be leading a panel called “Reconciling YouTube and Grokster: Business Models for Web3.0” tackling the critical subjects of the future of content distribution, viable delivery models, the DMCA, monetization opportunities and the implications for digital content creators going forward.

S/G: What can we expect from your Panel?

Kaiser: First: A debate where the black letter of the law meets the real world experience of those charged with making the content flow.  Second: an actionable set of “best practices” for content distribs and producers to avoid liability and missed monetization opportunities.  Far too often the debate over Copyright’s boundaries are purely academic and rarely take into account how real world copyright enforcement is moving further away from the black letter.  What’s refreshing (or dangerous) about the Viacom line of cases is that it lays bare the inner workings of YouTube and is many ways a lesson in Startup 101 and Content 101.  And everything from the history of the DMCA to actual emails sent by YouTube founders and Viacom execs can and are being picked apart by pundits, in order to produce a knowledge base for how to do things right the first time, rather than by trial and error.  Our goal is to provide the “legal” (i.e., how do we avoid lawsuits?) knowledge base from those cases in a one hour format.

S/G: What are some of the cases you’ll be speaking to to frame the discussion on digital content delivery models?

Kaiser: Obviously, the YouTube/Google and Grokster cases loom large in the debate.  Ironically though,  most of the case law is in flux because the only two cases on record that have matured into judgments are YouTube/Google and Veoh (both of which are more solidly cast as DMCA debates) and Grokster (which gave rise to the so called “copyright inducement” standard.) Moreover, although the lower courts ruled on YouTube/Google, all those issues are up for grabs at the 2nd Circuit (and then perhaps the case goes to the Supremes.)  There is a small universe of cases that raised the same issues, but those never made it to judgment due to being settled out of court (e.g., Imeem).   So unfortunately, all of us are left with a very short list for reference and that is precisely why the YouTube/Google case is so seminal. It may single handedly make the prime rules governing all copyrighted content on the Net for the foreseeable future.

S/G: What are the main hurdles in making digital content delivery a viable industry?

Kaiser: There is a solid shift culturally and economically towards on demand and now even HD content for free that has been brought about by YouTube like technologies.  There’s no going back and it’s becoming increasingly clear to most that Copyright as a “weapon” just doesn’t work well.  So meanwhile, there is a robust and potentially crippling copyright damages scheme (and not merely for original works, but their derivatives as well), but the day to day reality is a far different portrait.  The tension between the two, despite stopgap measures such as the DMCA is increasingly an obstacle for rational conversation between distribs and users.  As a result, content owners have had to make “behind the scenes” adjustments to how they do business, while content distribs wait in fear for a “decapitation” style lawsuit.  Moreover, as new technologies increase the ability of distribs to screen and police content, there is uncertainty if those will increase the duties of the distribs to do so.  And in the meantime, practicing attorneys must advise their clients in the midst of this tension.  There has to be a dedicated push by all parties to create alternative schemes that can be ultimately codified as law.

S/G: Who are some of your panelists and what unique perspectives will they bring?

Kaiser: Two of our panelists in particular provide unique and “rubber hits road” viewpoints.  Jeff Dodes, EVP of marketing for  Sony/Jive has had to navigate the tension between the daily infringement of top artists like Britney and the fact the infringers are his purchasing constituency. As a result, he has had to find alternative ways to monetize user content derived from his catalogue.  That means working closely with YouTube to assure user creativity and enthusiasm are harnessed, while maintaining a window for the user to actually buy the music. In addition, Adrian Sexton, a digital branding consultant and former head of digital at Lionsgate, founded New Medici to advise large brands on the very same issues, as well as using digital media for high risk branding opportunities.  And that kind of experience can be invaluable to other content creators/ distribs.  I’ll be the moderator in a suit, for what it’s worth (I’m a lawyer after all), and my partner Olivera Medenica, widely published on the topics involving the Net and IP, will bring the “best practices” to the table.

S/G: What are you looking forward to at SXSW?

Kaiser: Not wearing suits most of the time.  Mostly we’re looking forward to the very open, very raw discourse on everything from fear of robot overlords to whether Lamebook gets a legal “pass”.  It’s just not often one sees this depth and breadth of future thinking  crammed into a single set of conference rooms.

Explore the rest of the SXSW 2011 Q&A Series.

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by tantek
Badge – by adactio
Microphone – by hiddedevries
iPad – by smemon87

SXSW 2011 Q&A: Jim England

Rachel Lovinger   March 8, 2011

The Breakdown: SXSW is just a few days away. As we pull into the final stretch, we spoke with Jim England (@JimEngland), co-founder of Keepstream about his panel “Humans Versus Robots: Who Curates the Real-Time Web?”

S/G: What inspired the creation of Keepstream?

Jim: Keepstream evolved from the development of another web app (CorkShare) we built while in college at Case Western Reserve University. Starting with no professional contacts outside of our university, we used Twitter to connect with developers, marketers, and other startup founders and built a group of important advisers and mentors. On Twitter, we saw meaningful conversations and important resources being shared, but did not find an easy and effective way to save or archive these interactions.

The turning point for the ideation of Keepstream was at last year’s SXSW. While we did not attend in person, we were able to follow a number of panels simply by reading the official hashtag of the event. These hashtags were great live, but it was difficult to find these relevant tweets in the future and there was no place to store or archive a curated list of these tweets.

We felt that there needed to be a website which would help in the saving of social media, so we built Keepstream to preserve and share these collective experiences within our social media streams.

S/G: What interesting uses of Keepstream have you seen so far?

Jim: We have purposely built Keepstream to be a flexible, open-ended platform and have been excited by the collections our users have built so far. Some of my personal favorites include a Twitter Q&A with Entourage actor Adrian Grenier, highlights from the Austin City Limits Music Festival, and a recap of articles on a new product launch.

S/G: Your panel is described as “an old fashioned smackdown between human and semantic-powered curation.” Can you tell us about the panelists, and what each of them brings to the debate?

Jim: I believe that curation applications should provide powerful tools for manual curation, keeping the content personal and relevant to the curator and to their audience.

Xavier Damman is a web entrepreneur from Belgium and co-founder of Storify. Xavier previously founded Publitweet, a platform to publish tweets on news sites such as European news outlets and EuropeanVoice. He believes that social media turns everyone into a reporter with curation as a manual process to turn bits of data in the cloud into meaningful information (stories) that can be used to inform the world in a better way.

Hank Nothhaft is the co-founder of Trapit, a virtual personal assistant for web content incubated out of SRI and in the same AI project (CALO) as Siri (acquired by APPL in May after their SXSW Accelerator win). Hank’s company comes at the problem from the “robot” side of the equation, creating a “Pandora for web content” based on advanced machine-based curation.

After spending five years as Chief Marketing Officer for Bazaarvoice, Sam Decker is now focused on aggregating, curating and displaying social content as CEO of Mass Relevance.  Sam believes that automation has to be a part of the curation process in order for the appeal to scale beyond the most hardcore digital enthusiasts.

Our moderator for the panel is Megan McCarthy, founding editor of Mediagazer and the first human editor at Techmeme. Megan has been described as the “Borg Queen of the Blogosphere” in an interview with American Journalism Review, so she has experience with both “robotic” and “human” forms of curation.

S/G: Do you think humans and robots can ever learn to get along? What do you think it would take to make that happen?

Jim: Each of the four startups on our panel are a blend of both manual and automatic processes, with variations on the percentages in the mix.  Robots and humans will learn to get along if we use algorithmically curated content as a starting point for human curation. In addition to a robotically curated base of content, it is necessary for humans to provide the finishing touches by removing some content and adding beneficial pieces that algorithms may have missed.

S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?

Jim: As a co-founder of a curation startup, I can’t wait to hear from an expert in the field: Steve Rosenbaum in “Curation Nation: A Model for Makers and Gatherers”.

I am also looking forward to supporting local Austin panels including Jason Cohen’s “A Bootstrapped Geek Sifts Through the Bullshit” and Josh William’s “Beyond the Check-In: Location and the Social Web

As for keynotes, Christopher Poole (canvas) and Seth Priebatsch (SCVNGR) are going to absolutely crush it!

Explore the rest of the SXSW 2011 Q&A Series.

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by tantek
Badge – by adactio
Microphone – by hiddedevries
iPad – by smemon87

SXSW 2011 Q&A: Jon Voss

Melissa Sepe   March 4, 2011

The Breakdown: Our latest SXSW 2011 Q&A comes from Jon Voss (@LookBackMaps) founder of LookBackMaps, a project that uses photographs, maps, and augmented reality to engage users with history and historical photography. Jon spoke with Scatter/Gather about his upcoming panel, “Innovating & Developing with Libraries, Archives & Museums.” The panel will focus on emerging opportunities for developers to leverage historical collections and data in creating public-facing experiences.


S/G: What can we expect from your panel?

Jon: You’ll get a quick update on the innovative collaborations in the world of libraries, archives, and museums, and see how these institutions are reaching out to 21st-century audiences in exciting new ways.

S/G: Why is it important to make historical data and archives accessible to the public?

Jon: Historical data and imagery are a critical part of our shared culture—[they’re] part of the fabric that ties us to a place and to other people around us. For most libraries, archives, and museums, sharing these assets is a key part of their mission. They do a lot of other things too of course, but as one archivist summarized to me, “[W]e preserve history to share it.”  What’s exciting is how these institutions are finding new ways to meet expectations of tech-savvy populations and a younger demographic that has a very different way of interacting with media than previous generations.

S/G: How can organizations present their data so as not to overwhelm users with an avalanche of information?

Jon: One way is to make this information machine-readable on the web, and I think libraries, archives, and museums will take a leadership role in the development and adoption of Linked Data technologies in the next few years. By sharing data in both human and machine-readable formats, a person or a program can query for information based on a subject, a keyword, or a location across multiple data sources. So instead of “checking in” to your neighborhood bar with your favorite place-based social network, you might just as easily check in to the saloon that was there in the early 1900’s, and see a picture of the long-gone patrons that shared drinks at that very location.

S/G: Can you think of a particularly innovative example of historical information being presented in an especially accessible, entertaining, and/or educational way? Why, in your opinion, is it successful?

Jon: Not to toot my own horn, but the LookBackMaps website and iPhone app [have] really captivated people’s imaginations in the last year or so with the simple way we’ve mashed up historical photos with current day views. With our site and app you can find a historical photo on a map and see what was there in the past. In the case of the app, you can overlay the old photo on your camera view and literally see the past come to life before you. It’s a new way to explore history, but its success is rooted in the fact that it brings history to people where they are, and that is in location-based apps. People want to know more about a place than where their friends are, or where the best coffee is. People want to know what was here before us.

S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?

Jon: The greatest thing about SXSW is the convergence of so many disparate ideas in one place. I’m hoping to catch some sessions on applications of the Semantic Web, the future of location-based apps, and different ways technology, media, and culture can advance the common good.

Explore the rest of the SXSW 2011 Q&A Series.

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by tantek
Badge – by adactio
Microphone – by hiddedevries
iPad – by smemon87

SXSW 2011 Q&A: Christine Connors

Rachel Lovinger   March 1, 2011

The Breakdown: In this installment of the SXSW Q&A series, we talked with Christine Connors (@cjmconnors) of TriviumRLG LLC.  She told us about her panel “Semantically Yours: Dating Tips for the Semantic Web” and how anthropomorphizing your data can make it smarter.

S/G: What is a “data persona” and how does it help us make smarter applications?

Christine: A data persona is not much different than a user persona. User personas are utilized as part of the design and development phase of websites and applications to ensure that key user needs are met – interaction and information needs.  User personas detail fictionalized characters that represent the prime demographics of the target audience – the who, what, when, where, why and how of the users choice to use an application or website. This context allows the design team to craft a more positive interaction for the content prioritized by the business.

By anthropomorphizing data, an organization can identify which characteristics of the data may be of most use to its users and extend the persona paradigm to enable views of or uses for that data. Again, think of the 5Ws: Who is the data? What kind of data is it? When is the data in the prime of its life? Where is it most applicable? Why would someone want to use it?

S/G: What are some interesting semantically enabled applications people can look at to get a better idea of what’s possible?

Christine: I love Zotero, an open source tool for managing and sharing research resources. Also, the Drupal content management system has a wealth of semantically enabled modules based on work from MIT, DERI Galway and Structured Dynamics. The core of Drupal 7 itself is semantically enabled and I’m looking forward to the reports on its utility that should begin arriving soon.

S/G: What can people expect from your presentation?

Christine: My good colleague and friend Kevin Lynch and I have been struck, for years, by the difficulties explaining the benefits of the semantic web and semantic technologies to business people and consumers. We intend to present, in a light-hearted accessible way, why the semantic web is worth getting to know. After all, it’s often the prettiest girl in the room that doesn’t have a date – all her potential suitors are too afraid to speak to her!

S/G: You’re one of the panelists on a monthly podcast called The Semantic Link. Who should be listening to it, and what kinds of topics will it cover?

Christine: We have a great regular panel of experts on the Semantic Link podcast with technical, business and content backgrounds. We do our best to present all angles of a topic, and welcome application developers, content producers, executives and managers to listen in to – and more importantly ask questions of – our gang. We will cover hot topics – new products, new standards, upcoming events; and discuss recurring challenges in the semantics industry.

S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?

Christine: I myself am looking forward to seeing presentations on the intersection of technology and art. I am fascinated with the ability of semantic technologies – machine and human powered – to extend, visualize, challenge and provoke awe in the arts of all kinds: film, music, visual and more.  Making the fine arts more interactive, engaging active participants rather than passive viewers – these ideas are what excite me.  

Explore the rest of the SXSW 2011 Q&A Series.

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by tantek
Badge – by adactio
Microphone – by hiddedevries
iPad – by smemon87

SXSW 2011 Q&A: Jess Hemerly

Matt Geraghty   February 25, 2011

The Breakdown: In the latest installment of this year’s SXSW Q & A series, we talked to Jess Hemerly at University of California, Berkeley.  She gave us a sneak peak on her panel called “Music & Metadata: Do Songs Remain the Same?”  With her panel she’ll be exploring the topic of why metadata for music is so critical for the industry and what we as lovers of music need to know about it.


S/G: Tell us about your panel and what you’ll be discussing.
Jess: Our panel is called “Music & Metadata: Do Songs Remain the Same?” and we’ll be talking about music metadata as information and as culture, and where and how law intersects both. One of our big thematic questions is, “What is metadata?” and we look forward to engaging in a really interesting discussion from there.

S/G: Who is on your panel, and why did you invite them to participate?
Jason Schultz is a clinical professor at Berkeley School of Law. Prior to Berkeley, he was a Senior Staff Attorney at Electronic Frontier Foundation. Jason’s interest in both intellectual property law and media and culture at large make him the perfect person to discuss music metadata from the legal perspective. Our other panelist is Larisa Mann, a PhD candidate at Berkeley Law’s Jurisprudence & Social Policy program. Her work at Berkeley is legal anthropology, conducting ethnographic research on copyright law and local creative practices, specifically within Jamaica and the Jamaican diaspora. She is also a great DJ—DJ Ripley—so she not only brings a researcher’s perspective, she also depends on metadata in her role as a performer and artist.

S/G: How much of the digital metadata landscape is the wild wild west? Is there any one source that ensures the accuracy of this information?
Jess: We’ll look at this more in depth in our panel, specifically the tension between proprietary sources like AllMusic and CDDB and open sources like discogs, MusicBrainz, and FreeDB. I am doing my master’s research project on MusicBrainz, an open source music metadatabase, and one of the things that users continue to stress is the importance of their ability to see and correct bad data. With MusicBrainz, you can log in and fix something. With closed services, you can send a note complaining, but you never know where that goes or if anything will change. And then there’s the issue of really obscure that may never find its way into proprietary sources, which affects its completeness. These are just some of the trade-offs between different metadata sources, and we look forward to really digging into these issues at our panel. The idea of a single “perfect” source is hardly a reality. CDDB has mistakes, MusicBrainz takes work to use, and even sellers like Amazon gets track listings wrong. It’s also important to note that because metadata is relevant to the social context of music, there isn’t really one “right” way to organize metadata. Different communities, subcultures, genres, and styles rely on different metadata and you won’t know what’s relevant until you know who is interested.

S/G: Musicians have enough work just hustling for their next gig. Now they need to be managing their metadata?
Jess: If they want to be found, yes. Metadata is what we talk about when we talk about music. An artist’s name is metadata. An album name is metadata. A release year is metadata. If they want to be found in the digital landscape, the last thing they want is to be left out of metadata sources because these sources are increasingly tied to discovery. More information means more ways to discover something you might like. “Track 02″ on “Unknown Album” will not help fans discuss it with other could-be fans. Bad metadata makes it harder to find things within a fan’s collection. We’re also really looking forward to discussing how we can push the boundaries of what qualifies as metadata because it goes far beyond just the tags on an MP3 file.

S/G: Can you elaborate on the legal implications of musical metadata and how that plays into the conversation?
Jess: Various battles over metadata have hit and could hit nearly every major aspect of intellectual property law, e.g., trademark, patent, copyright, and data scraping. Who legally owns metadata has serious implications for the ways that people and even artists can use that metadata. The ownership of metadata is also important when identifying materials sampled or shared in another work, allowing a fan to really understand how different pieces of works come together while simultaneously appropriately attributing a sampled work to the original author. Jason has some really great audiovisual examples of how this plays out, as well as a laundry list of precedents that either have shaped or will potentially impact the future of music metadata.

S/G: What are you looking forward to at SXSW 2011?
Jess: It’s actually my first time at SXSW, so I’m really looking forward to just the overall experience. I am definitely excited for our panel and to get people involved in the metadata conversation. We have some audience interaction planned, so that should be fun. I’m looking forward to Chris Poole’s keynote and to the panel with the Gregory Brothers (“Too Soon? Timing Topical Web Videos”) because I am a huge fan of Auto-Tune the News. I’m also looking forward to the Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights: You Decide because it’s both a timely and extremely important topic.

Explore the rest of the SXSW 2011 Q&A Series.

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by tantek
Badge – by adactio
Microphone – by hiddedevries
iPad – by smemon87

SXSW 2011 Q&A: Richard Nash

Haven Thompson   February 11, 2011

The Breakdown: In the latest installment of this year’s SXSW speaker Q & A series, we talked to publishing innovator Richard Nash (@R_Nash). In 2009, Richard left his gig running Soft Skull Press to launch Cursor, a new publishing model that aims to bring communities into the publishing equation. He gave us his predictions for the industry and the scoop on his intriguingly-titled SXSW panel, “Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted. Not!”

S/G: Tell us about your panel and what you’ll be discussing.

Richard: The genesis of this panel is in a joke, as is the case with most any idea I have. (Or at least, successful ideas—the serious ones never pan out.) I was editing a manuscript and the author asked me how things were going. Halfway through completely rewriting it I grasped that I just needed to flip two clauses and bingo, problem solved. So, I told the anxious author that I practice the art of the Minimum Viable Edit. But of course, I stole the phrasing from the Lean Startup concept of the Minimum Viable Product. I thought how peculiar that editing literary fiction and launching a tech/media start-up should share such structures.

So could we use SXSW as a suitable venue to begin to tease out where culture and technology might have some similarities, deep in each other’s grammar? I remember feeling, after Danah Boyd’s keynote last year, that we might be reaching the outer limit of what technology can do to change society without the engagement of the culture-makers, the people who deal with voice and character and emotion and joy and hate and beauty. And, vice versa, looking at the culture industries right now, it’s clear we cannot move forward economically or creatively without engaging with technologists more robustly. Hence this [panel].

S/G: Who is on your panel, and why did you invite them to participate?

Richard: Well, I wanted straddlers. Not stragglers! Fence straddlers. So Kevin Smokler is an essayist and CEO (of the Chris Anderson-founded; Joanne McNeil runs the blog TomorrowMuseum on fine art, technology and a wee bit of fashion; and Calvin Baker is a novelist who is also Chief Content Officer at the start-up ScrollMotion. Folks who deal with abstraction and the concrete, thinkers and implementers.

S/G: You left a well-respected publishing company, Soft Skull Press, to start a company called Cursor. What exactly is Cursor, and when will it be open for business?

Richard: Cursor is a model for a new publisher. It’s a community-centered one that combines the wisdom of the crowd with the decisiveness of the editor, from the start of the publishing process (editorial development and product acquisition) all the way through to connecting readers with the writers.

This model will work, we believe, not by creating new communities from scratch but by powering existing communities, existing informal networks of writers and readers. The first instance of this, our first community/imprint, is Red Lemonade which is currently in alpha testing but which should be public by mid-April, when the imprint starts to publish its first books, available in bookstores everywhere they’re left…

S/G: What trends do you see happening in the book publishing industry in the coming year?

Richard: One chain, Borders, will undergo a radical shrinking with the help of the bankruptcy courts. An ever-growing handful of mostly women-run independent booksellers will reinvent the bookstore as a cultural community center focused on the social connecting power of the word. The corporate publishers will focus on an ever-narrower group of titles that can provide them with enough volume to stay in business, just about. Independent publishers more than five years old will struggle as the print sales decline but they’ll be more than adequately replaced by thousands of tiny publishers.

The price of digital content will continue to drop, but we’ll start to see more evidence of a diversification of the print product away from generic 6 x 9 inch objects towards a more artisanal mode of production with higher prices and less waste. And we might see the glimmers of the post-eBook world.

S/G: What do you mean by the “post-eBook world”?

Richard: The eBook is quite transitional, a slavish mirroring of the physical book- not, I must add, because it is text-only. We are not on the cusp of vast quantities of so-called transmedia novels. We already have image-and-word-based storytelling: it’s called film and television. We already have interactive story-telling: it’s called video games. No, the way in which eBooks are slavish imitations is that they’re designed to mimic the print book business model, the single unit sold for some number of dollars. The business model of long-form text-only narrative delivered digitally will not be the downloadable eBook. Though I don’t know what it will be, I’ll confess. But there will be some type of cloud-based model that will be to books as Pandora, and Spotify are to music.

S/G: What are you looking forward to at SXSW this year?

Richard: Turning on and tuning in…

Explore the rest of the SXSW 2011 Q&A Series.

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by tantek
Badge – by adactio
Microphone – by hiddedevries
iPad – by smemon87

SXSW 2011 Q&A: Andrea Phillips

Melissa Sepe   February 1, 2011

The Breakdown: The next installation in our series of SXSW 2011 Q&As is a conversation with Andrea Phillips (@andrhia), a transmedia writer and game designer who writes on the intersection of games, storytelling, gender and culture on her blog Deus ex Machinatio. Here, Andrea speaks with us about her upcoming talk “Hoax or Transmedia? The Ethics of Pervasive Fiction,” which will focus on the role of ethics and responsibility in interactive narrative design.

S/G: In a nutshell, what exactly is transmedia?

Andrea:  Transmedia is the art of telling a single story through multiple media at the same time. Often those media are the communications channels people have embedded in their everyday lives: Twitter, Facebook, email, phone. Lots of transmedia narratives give the audience members the role of a friend or colleague of the characters in the story, so they feel like they’re a crucial component of what’s going on. It’s great stuff.

S/G: What was the inspiration for your talk?

Andrea:  The general subject [has] been on my mind for several years now. As more people move into the transmedia space, they put a lot of content out there without considering what people will think who don’t know it’s fiction. Plastering flyers for a fictional missing girl around a college campus, for example. People get alarmed.

The tipping point for me, though, came when I was working on the marketing campaign for the film 2012, which was condemned by NASA. So I’ve been thinking a lot about what we could have done differently—if anything—and still told an engaging story.

S/G: Can you tell us about one of your favorite examples of transmedia storytelling? Why was it successful?

Andrea:  My personal favorite is Perplex City, which was one of my projects—but that probably doesn’t count, does it? My absolute favorite that I didn’t work on was the indie game Must Love Robots. It was about a robot in New York and his quest to find true love, culminating in the hero chasing the girl through the streets of New York in real time. The audience had to help him work out where the girl was so he could find her before she left town forever.

My other favorite would be the one that got me into this world—the A.I. game, also called The Beast. It was an extension of the world in the Spielberg film A.I., and it gave you this really intense background that made the film a richer experience than it would have been otherwise. Playing that game was a mind-blowing experience.

S/G: How has the professional practice of transmedia storytelling evolved over the last several years? Where do you see it heading?

Andrea:  Well, when I first got into the field, social media had barely been invented. It’s mind-blowing, but when we started Perplex City—and this was only in 2005, not decades ago—there was no Twitter, and you needed a .edu email address to get into Facebook. But social media has proven to be a natural extension of transmedia narrative. They were made for each other.

And for a long time transmedia was considered not much more than a marketing gimmick, but we’re increasingly coming into our own as a form of entertainment in our own right. Over the next few years, we’re going to see a lot of new studios start up and a lot of net-native original [intellectual property]. The day is coming, and not that far off, where most entertainment will have an extended transmedia element.

S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?

Andrea: I’m really looking forward to the amazing meeting of minds that happens at SXSW—the discussions that happen at lunches and dinners when we’re talking shop. There are so many clever, warm people in the transmedia community that I only ever get to see on Twitter and the odd conference. I wish I could take them all home with me.

Explore the rest of the SXSW 2011 Q&A Series.

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by tantek
Badge – by adactio
Microphone – by hiddedevries
iPad – by smemon87

SXSW 2011 Q&A: Annalee Newitz

Rachel Lovinger   January 25, 2011

The Breakdown: In the second interview in our sophomore series of Q&As with upcoming SXSW speakers, we spoke with Annalee Newitz (@Annaleen), editor-in-cheif of io9, a blog about science, pop culture and science fiction. The author and futurist gave us the forecast on her panel, Social Media Is Science Fiction, which will “explore real possibilities for the next fifty years of social media.”

S/G: The tagline of your site io9 is “We come from the future.” What can we expect from 2011?

Annalee: Too many superhero movies, the beginning of privatized space flight, and, well, I think we’re all hoping that 2011 is the year aliens make contact and help us understand what to do with the book publishing industry.

S/G: Why do bad/lazy futurists have such a tendency to predict “The Death of [fill in the blank]?”

Annalee: It’s easy to predict the end of things – everything dies, after all – and much harder to figure out what will survive. The only kind of futurism that’s at all helpful, however, is focused on predicting what will rise up after “the death of X.” In a way, you could say those of us who predict “the future life of X” are part of the less glamorous, unsung side of futurism. It’s what product developers and policy wonks have to do every day. Figure out reasonable plans for the people and ideas that will be around in 5 years, or 50.

S/G: Who are the other speakers on your panel and what we can expect from the session?

Annalee: The panel is about using science fiction to think about the future of social media, and all of us have experience making new media and science fiction. I’m joined by comic book writer/artist Molly Crabapple, fantasy writer/blogger Charlie Jane Anders, scifi author/ARG designer Maureen McHugh, and media futurist Matt Thompson. Though we’ve all created some science fiction, we have pretty different opinions about its usefulness and what the future of social media will be. So I expect it will be a really interesting debate and conversation.

S/G: What are some of your favorite fictional sources of inspiration for understanding how people will interact with content – and each other – in the future?

Annalee: For understanding how augmented reality and wearable computing might be integrated into everyday life, there is no better novel than Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End. That book affected my view of the future profoundly. Same goes for Maureen McHugh’s novel China Mountain Zhang, which is one reason I wanted her on the panel. She explores the development of AR tech and media on a future Earth where Chinese culture has become as dominant as American culture is on Earth now. Two other great inspirations are William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition (which is about the present, but tells a story about how media will probably be used in 20 or 30 years), and Mira Grant’s Feed (about how blogging finally becomes more trusted than the mainstream media because bloggers are the best news sources during a zombie plague). Then there’s the amazing future-of-journalism show Max Headroom, which everybody should watch – it’s out in a great DVD set now.

S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?

Annalee: I don’t know if any SXSW moment can ever match my high point a couple of years ago when I saw the two stars of Trailer Park Boys just wandering around in the hallway. I was so excited that I couldn’t even get it together enough to make a devil sign with my fingers and yell “Trailer Park Boys!” I just sort of stared at them and gulped. But that’s what I always love about SXSW – you’ll go from a geeky panel about social media to seeing cool Canadian TV stars, and everybody is just mixing with each other and having fun.

Explore the rest of the SXSW 2011 Q&A Series.

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by
Badge – by adactio
Microphone – by hiddedevries
iPad – by smemon87

SXSW 2011 Q&A: Kyle Monson

Haven Thompson   January 20, 2011

The Breakdown:  With the success of our first SXSW Q&A series last year, we kick off our 2011 series featuring notable speakers at SXSW Interactive with Kyle Monson (@kmonson) of JWT.  Kyle’s panel aims to tackle the subject of Brand Journalism. We asked him to give a brief overview of his panel “Brand Journalism: The Rise of Non-Fiction Advertising” below.

S/G: What is Brand Journalism?

Kyle: Brand Journalism is, in short, a method of engaging our audience in discussions about the brand. This is done by creating compelling content and messages as well as by incorporating the audience’s own viewpoints. We’re teaching brands to mimic publishers and journalists in how they produce content, and to mimic humans in how they communicate with their audience.

It’s often confused with what we call “branded journalism,” but they’re very different. Branded journalism is journalism that is sponsored by a brand, and there are several campaigns that do this very well. But Brand Journalism is journalism ABOUT the brand, crafting a brand narrative using journalistic techniques.

S/G: When is Brand Journalism most effective?

Kyle: As I see it, there are two main criteria for a successful Brand Journalism campaign: 1) the company has to have something interesting to say; and 2) they have to be willing to say it. These are high hurdles to clear. In order for a brand narrative to be interesting and resonate with an audience, it has to be bold, even surprising in its honesty—and saying bold, surprisingly honest things is not something brand communicators are necessarily trained to do.

S/G: Have you found that businesses resist using Brand Journalism? If so, why? What are their concerns?

Kyle: In my experience, businesses don’t resist Brand Journalism—in fact, CEOs often WANT the kind of candor and openness that Brand Journalism provides. But it does require dedication, effort and willingness to take risks. Setting up a Brand Journalism campaign is a bit like the first week of weight training; it’s a bit painful, because it requires muscles that marketers aren’t used to flexing.

For instance, a good campaign requires near-real-time content creation, which requires nearly immediate approval processes. Also, Brand Journalism requires involvement and commitment from a company’s business leaders, PR team, marketing team, and in some cases even the engineers, developers and partners. Most businesses aren’t used to working like that, even if they recognize that they should.

S/G: How does Brand Journalism differ from public relations/corporate communications?

Kyle: I don’t think Brand Journalism differs from PR or corporate communications. It is just one approach to it. When you think about what “public relations” actually means, it’s fairly obvious that businesses by and large don’t do a very good job of relating to their public. The press release, the business speak, the ghostwritten or canned responses to legitimate inquiries—these are things that keep brands from being relatable. So I think we’re way overdue for a redefinition of what “public relations” really entails, and Brand Journalism is just one aspect of that.

S/G: Who is on your panel and what can people expect?

Kyle: We’ve got some brilliant people on the panel, including JWT’s Worldwide Digital Director and CEO of North America, David Eastman. Brian Clark runs GMD Studios, a shop that has done some pioneering (and award-winning) Brand Journalism work with us for Ford and Microsoft. The moderator is Ad Age’s Bob Garfield, so we’re all coming at this topic from different angles. I’m expecting a spirited debate.

S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?

Kyle: This will be my fifth or sixth year at SXSW and, honestly, my favorite thing about the show is the heroes you randomly run into at parties. Every year, I end up coincidentally meeting and making friends with people I idolize within the tech, film, and music communities. I’ve come to expect that sort of thing to be part of the SXSW experience, and really look forward it.

Explore the rest of the SXSW 2011 Q&A Series.

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by tantek
Badge – by adactio
Microphone – by hiddedevries
iPad – by smemon87

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Scatter/Gather is a blog about the intersection of content strategy, pop culture and human behavior. Contributors are all practicing Content Strategists at the offices of Razorfish, an international digital design agency.

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