Tag Archives: semantic web

5. The semantic web & social periphery (2009 Trends)

17 Feb

Of all the potential trends for 2009 I think Social Periphery is the most interesting. It effects everything we do and changes everything we will do. It influences the future form of interactive creative work as well as the way interactive narratives or campaigns should be structured.

It also encompasses another old favourite of mine –  the concept of nodal points.

A long time ago (well 1997ish) this was a subject that I once tried to debate with an interviewer at Andersen Consulting as a way of understanding and predicting internet narrative networks. I’d first encountered nodal points as a means of trying to reveal and analyse the often bewildering “narrative” of  Finnegans Wake and felt that if we were to treat the net as a whole as a hypertextual narrative then nodal points were a way of extracting meaning. Synchronously it was also just after Gibson’s Idoru where Colin Laney has a talent for identifying nodal points in social data and using them to predict the future.

Unfortunately the Management Consultants didn’t seem to think this interweb thing was going to catch on and rightly asked the strange babbling blonde chap (yes, it was a long time ago) to leave – but they did give me some good fencing tips, apparently they were after good fencers, must have had a team or something.

Anyway, I’m going to be exploring Social Periphery and nodal points in our next whitepaper but until then here’s a quick summary of some of the notes…

  • The semantic web means sophisticated personalisation of content – automatically finding and then showing only what is relevant to you.
  • It is a future with “web addresses” for content itself rather than content pools – a future of bitcast content where only the most contextually relevant bits are parsed to the end user.
  • It is a future that needs better filters/browsers and it is a future that is converging with location and mobile based services.
  • Location-based services start with a focus on fulfiling your immediate needs – finding stuff near you now. However, as they grow beyond this then the introduction of the concept of location to technology means increasingly focusing on your relationship with place AND people.
  • Loopt and Google Lattitute show that people are not afraid to post their physical whereabouts online if there is a social benefit. The potential is more than mapping where friends are, phonebooks that tell you who is available, e-mail that is smarter/semantic and can help prioritise (based on a person’s relationship with you). Sci-Fi? Not quite: The Obama iPhone app “Call friends” function organised contacts by swing state. The Google search app already returns geographically local search results (and can use voice commands). This has benefits beyond the frivoulous. Good web and mobile services allow people to create social objects (things around which either shared endeavors, processes or communities take place) that add value and enable connections. This is the potential of Social Periphery.
  • Social Periphery is about aggregating & serving data in socially useful ways. Location-aware mobile devices capture slices of reality you couldn’t before but there is the potential for too much data. The potential for data noise means that semantic technologies are vital to turn it into intelligence. This is means the two trends must converge.
  • Our actions leave traces on the web (manual & increasingly auto generated), we can use these traces to see what is happening next in our social lives ==> social peripheral vision semantically filtered from your feeds and delivered at the right time/place.
  • As the semantic web and social periphery converge we have a future where we can have as much peripheral information at our disposal as a World of Warcraft player…
  • In marketing terms this combination of the semantic web and social peripheral information changes our campaign signalling strategies and throws up the potential to create nodal points (narrative patterns in vast amounts of data). How do we detect/who will detect and use these nodal points? How will they affect our privacy?
  • Again in creative communications terms it affects the concept of the story beyond the article and how interactive campaigns really work and will need to be structured. Communications will become more complex and fragmented and we will need to design and create ideas accordingly.

2009 Interactive Creative Trends

17 Feb

Predicting trends can be notorious woolgathering for creative and strategy folk, often coming across as a mix of someone guessing the end of a detective thriller while taking a peak at page 400 in a choose your own adventure novel. But when you’re confronted with the annual “What’s next?” question it is a chance to alchemise some of the gold you’ve been thinking about into the base metal of Keynote slides.

Over the last month I’ve been sharing some thoughts about Interactive Creative – plus things we’ve been playing with and developing, as well as great stuff other people are up to – with our clients and other colleagues in the industry, and its been good to get some insight into what they think is going on.

Obviously the forthcoming “Second Great Depression” and the potential of +3million unemployed people is the elephant in the room.  Interactive can’t live in isolation and 2009/2010 is going to be extremely challenging; every day sees more pessimistic news that tends to render any predication optimistic.

Despite this there is the potential for great work to break through and enter popular culture/social currency – to effect real change. As the economic pressures increase and budgets get tighter, then the old faithful building-block plans of tired techniques can no longer be justified as effective. It becomes more vital that we create work that is not another microsite contribution to the marketing web.

The new work does require a confidence and realisation of how the web really works, and it is this work that I’ve been calling Brand Reality Creative. It is the work that will hopefully be the norm when we emerge back to growth in 2011/12.

But before I post again about Brand Reality Creative I thought I’d share some of my notes/slides about 2009 Interactive Creative Trends. Like I said, Interactive can’t live in isolation so I’ll start with some of the things from the “real” world…

  • Consumers trading down
    • But using brands & technology to provide access to the things and habits we traded up to during the age of excess. GDP down 3% and consumer spending down 2.6% as employees are “much more cautious” – stats and understatement from Ernst & Young Item Club
  • Cheap is in (not frowned upon)
    • Loyalty is not abandoned but based on rewards and value exchange rather than brand image
  • Home as sanctuary
    • Home entertainment, nostalgia and trust, “staycations” (a dreadful word that hints at local breaks rather than expensive trips), back to basics and security
  • Room/need for playfulness
    • As a relief but not excessive due to “the guilt & hangover”
  • Firmware/software updates
    • Not expensive hardware upgrades which can be put off but cheaper and more fun
  • Technology a source of escape
    • Fun and interactivity embraced by marketing as the added value rather than expensive extra features/materials. Playfulness means being hands on and having control…
  • People want to retrench & be in control
    • They see the trouble we are in as being caused by “other elites”, the bankers, politicians, and hedge-fundes they do not understand

In light of these wider world trends here are the 7 Philosophies/trends/technologies (and some examples of how they are already happening) that I think seem to offer the most hope and potential…

Seven Interactive Creative Trends for 2009

  1. Clouds and Crowds
  2. Further Convergence
  3. Play is social in the mainstream
  4. Sitting back with broaderband
  5. The semantic web & social periphery
  6. On is off/Off is on
  7. Augmented Reality/Digital Magic

The detail follows over the next day (and I promise I’ll fill in all the example links and pictures this time…soon)

Next… 1 Clouds and Crowds

Brand Reality Creative – Breaking away from the objective correlative in advertising and interactive.

14 Oct

Traditional advertising and marketing communications are frequently based on the concept of the objective correlative4 – where an object or person (signifier) represents a value or function that is transferred to the product or service (signified). The link between the product/service and the signifier does not have to be a literal or strong one but the “objective correlative, with its own logic that bonds so well with subjective work [makes] the connections seem plausible, even self-evident”5. Because the Crowd’s connection with brands is inherently weak we need creative actually to become the connection. As David Searls once said, “There is no market for messages.” This is Brand Reality Creative, where useful, usable and delightful interaction engages the Crowd and helps them connect, either functionally or for the purpose of self-actualisation across both real and digital spaces.

Brand Reality Creative has the value exchange firmly in the favour of the user. When applied to online advertising it should lead to semantic windows on personally relevant content and live, real events and features. Interactive creative is not inherently interesting because it is digital, it is interesting because it can provide a way for real people to connect and do things together – social networking was just the village pump on a global scale where we used social media and applications to present aspects of our real or imagined personalities. Reality and content will be sought after and valued by Crowds, and online advertising needs to evolve to account for this or else it will be filtered out and switched off. It needs to be valuable in itself and get people closer to content and reality.

Brand Reality Creative ties in with the post-credit crunch desire or need for tangible value over slick expensive fictions. Traditional object correlative advertising masking underperforming or non-useful products/services is sub-prime. Brand Reality Creative’s goal is to do something useful, helpful and valuable – to show not tell and embody the brand in the process.

“People won’t buy brands as entertainment, they want products that entertain. Brands will need to be something people connect with and will want to engage with”6, something that does something for them rather than interrupts them. It does not have to rely on a blatant do X and get Y message. It can rely upon people’s natural curiosity.

CNN.com’s T-Shirt Headlines Project used small T-Shirt icons next to headlines to draw peoples’ attention to their improved video offer. Clicking on the icon would lead them to a custom t-shirt shop where they could purchase a t-shirt with the headline on it. The shirts were emblazoned with the “I just saw it on CNN.com” tagline, along with the date and time of the headline. People could choose shirts with headlines they liked, were appalled about, found surreal, or just whimsical by actually interacting with the videos. It also spread the wider word as people wore the shirts, gifted them to their friends or broadcasted their purchase on their Facebook News Feed.

Brand Reality Creative like this is organic not viral, it has more usage loops and can be used by people for self-representation. It nurtures and incentivises invites and it cares about the retention rate rather than chasing installs through brute force. It is not the archetypal one hit widget – the type that cluttered up your old Facebook Profile page, the Viral App that is essentially spam. However, it is not just about Brand Utility.

The theory of Brand Utility arose in 2006 from the desire of agencies like Barbarian Group and Anomaly for the valuable communities, sites and experiences they create for clients to live beyond the average three month marketing campaign’s lifecycle. Soon it became the belief that brands should be “genuinely useful to their customers, employees, suppliers and the people they touch”7. Since then it has become a cliché to mention brand utility and Nikeplus in the same breath. Much comment has been made about this technological partnership between Nike and Apple since its revolutionary debut. The great combination of a useful training tool with sharing personal performance and comparing runs embodies Crowd focused brand utility. Yet it is Nikeplus’ recent evolution to form the heart of the Human Race 10k that transforms the campaign to one of Brand Reality Creative. Effectively “it’s translating…intangible propositions into the result of something more basic and useful for society [rather than] just advertising through a medium the individual can use to make it less interrupting”8. The creative is a useful embodiment of the brand that affects the real world, not a metaphor or a distraction. It is not a tool with a logo either.

In its ultimate form Brand Reality Creative needs to offer an experience you can’t get anywhere else. People will pay for things that they see as scarce, not things – digital versions – that they see as intangible and abundant. The digital element has to do more or be used for more. This has been the dilemma facing the music, game and film industries, indeed anyone involved in the creation of the new digital currency – content. The music industry, of all the content creation industries, has reacted to recent advances in the connectivity of Crowds as a threat rather than an opportunity. For every claimed “MyTube/YouSpace” basement success story, the major labels have seem to have ten lawyers with a handful of writs. Instead, it has been left to music’s actual practitioners, grass-roots movements and technology firms like Apple to forge the new business models for the Cloud and Crowd enabled world.

In October 2007 the band Radiohead shocked the music industry almost as much as the birth of Napster when their self-released album In Rainbows was sold online for only as much as people were willing to pay for it. Their digital honesty box confronted one of the downsides of the Crowd – intellectual property theft over file-sharing and peer-to-peer networks – while also generating a huge volume of PR and media attention. The digital version was effectively free but the real, enhanced physical boxed set retailed for £40. The experiment only lasted for 3 months and sales allegedly averaged £2 confirming that consumers, while valuing content, were not prepared to pay the old prices for purely digital copies. When something is “free” it is hard to go back to paying – ironically this situation is probably the ultimate end result of the industry’s own debasing of its currency via years of cover-mounts and newspaper giveaways.

Licensing/brand association, a future content business model

Licensing/brand association, a future content business model

Radiohead’s experiment altered the industry so much that nine months later Prince conducted the physical release of his new album free through the Daily Mail. What Radiohead started, Prince took to the next level by ushering in a new era of business models based on brand association, product placement and live experiences; an era of brands supplying tangible access to content in return for Crowd engagement.

However, the new model does not mean that brands have to give the Crowd everything and expect nothing in return. Brands can use the Crowd creatively.

Once again one of the best example of using the Crowd to generate content comes from the Radiohead stable. After the initial PR success of the In Rainbows launch came the second phase of the campaign: promoting individual singles. Because the band was not signed to a major label they could not rely upon the traditional methods of single promotion – methods similar to those employed by the average fmcg launch – repetitive, expensive exposure of the message/music until it becomes engraved in the audience’s mind and they cave in and buy. Instead, they launched an remix competition – Nude ReMix. While net remix competitions are not new, indeed through projects like Looplabs or even technical mashups they are actually an ingrained part of internet culture, Nude ReMix was smarter. It was done where the audience was – on iTunes and on their Facebook pages – so it felt open and natural. It didn’t exist solely as a self-contained, controlled, exclusive product driven website where everything was approved by the brand team and compliance. The useful parts of the track (stems) were sold – SOLD – for self-assembly on iTunes and people could use their Facebook pages to distribute their work and gain votes.

House of Cards motion capture data visualisation

House of Cards motion capture data visualisation

The campaign to promote the next single House of Cards went even further into this world of open-sourced Crowd creativity when instead of releasing a video the band released the motion capture data of a performance. The data was then turned into beautiful visualisations – Crowd created music videos – using open-source techniques and languages like Processing.

At the end of these campaigns the Crowd had created experiences that could never have been created by a traditional marketing campaign. They had generated networked exposure9 through creative interactions that gave value to digital versions of the real product.

James Houston’s Big Ideas (Don’t Get Any)

James Houston’s Big Ideas (Don’t Get Any)

The Crowd based Brand Reality Creative approach also allows effects to last longer and achieve more long-term reach than the “average three month marketing campaign”. After the Nude ReMix campaign had officially ended its influence re-emerged in the form of James Houston’s Big Ideas (Don’t Get Any). This film of a real installation transformed the act of remixing into an art piece that married analogue and digital technologies and took the internet by storm. His reprocessed Crowd piece actually transcended the original and truly embodied the Reader Response Theory that brands are ultimately made by people. Essentially Product + Story + Audience +Context = Content10, or in this case art, proving that “content is the new democracy and we the people, are ensuring that our voices are heard”11.

Despite the obvious quality and success of these examples of Crowd reprocessed creativity it is important to recognize that they are still quite “niche”. The traffic, interactions and attention generated were high but the Crowd communities were still relatively specialised. How do we break away from highly technical/creative audiences and take a broadcast approach to Crowd creation and Brand Reality Creative?

In fact this has already been happening. While the Nikeplus campaign mentioned previously may embody Brand Utility, 2005’s NikeID campaign, where interactively customising the product became entertainment, truly embodies Crowd enabled Brand Reality Creative. As part of the campaign Nike launched an interactive billboard experience that let people use their phones to design a shoe on the Reuters sign in Times Square. Passersby could use their phones to interact with the 23-story billboard, customising and even directly purchasing their own Nike shoe. After designing a shoe on the screen, the user received a text message within seconds. That message contained mobile phone wallpaper showing their shoe along with a link to the NikeID site where they could buy it. People could also create and share their designs in online adverts and on the NikeID site itself. NikeID now forms a central part of the Nike’s overall strategy.

Brand Reality Creative is not limited to so-called “cool”, media or high-tech brands. A similar success story to the Radiohead or NikeID examples is the Lego Factory, an interactive campaign where people can digitally design their own custom creations, share them, discuss them and then order the parts and their own personalized packaging. Crowd based Brand Reality Creative like this, not constricted UGC upload your photo competitions, work on an open, simple mechanic (even/especially if the techniques required are quite specialist) and work with existing communities to drive involvement and the quality of entries. This in turn drives exposure and direct and indirect sales.

“…a sports shoe, a toy. Each has empowered a community of its consumers, and by connecting them together has itself benefited. But these aren’t ‘soft’ [brand] benefits. They’re driving revenue streams, repeat purchase and real engagement – consumer relationships whose strength is founded not on the transient moment of product need, but in the enduring nature of humans as social animals.” Andrew Walmsley, Superbrands.

The potential of Brand Reality Creative for the Cloud and Crowd enabled world is immense but we do need a word of warning before storming this “new utopia”. While it is said that there is wisdom in crowds, the Crowd can easily become a mob. There are already instances of bloggers stopping writing because of over-democracy, because of people hiding behind usernames to flame and indulge in petty arguments. The risk is that sometimes in a crowd no one can hear you scream because everyone is screaming. The Crowd is people – we all got the “brands need to be like people and marketing is now a conversation” memo – and people can be downright ugly. People do not always act with the purest intentions, and the market does not always self-regulate, the great fact you Googled in support of your argument can always turn out to be the fantasy of a teenager from Tipton, something the phenomenally successful Loose Change conspiracy theory film proved. Equally, if an online newspaper were to be generated solely out of most viewed stories it would be overflowing with kittens, sexual accidents and pictures of Britney with no underwear. The next big challenge is how to manage masses of information, how to attribute identity, and how to work out what is truth and what is propaganda – or worse the Big Lie?

The birth of the semantic web touched on at the beginning of this paper, and a new focus on developing filters and aggregators, means we can start addressing these risks of digital fatigue and noise. The issues of identity and authority in crowds are already reflected in projects like OpenID and the move from the freewheeling Wikipedia to Google’s editor influenced Knol. Marketers and communicators need to support and engage with this future if they are going to continue to have any influence.

Brand Reality Creative for the Cloud and Crowd world is just one technique that Brands can use to become a way for people to sort the wheat from the chaff. Ultimately, our job should be to make the Cloud and Crowd work for humanity rather than debase it.

Full PDF version of this whitepaper

4.The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is evoked.” T.S. Eliot, 1919
5.The bottle that isn’t there and the duck that can’t be heard: The subjective correlative in commercial messages” Michael Witoski, University of South Carolina
6. Flo Heiss, The way things go
7. Johnny Vulkan, Anomaly
8. Bram De Maesschalck – PSFK
9.Driven by internet and mobile communications, networks are turning into the major means of doing business… Simply put, networks will make the world go round. So controlling the networks of this world will soon count for more than controlling the capital.” Netocracy, by Jan Söderqvist & Alexander Bard
10. Ian Tait, Crackunit
11. Brian Solis

The Semantic web – humanising information is more important than how you store it

14 Oct

“The semantic web provides a common framework that allows data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise and community boundaries” (W3C). It is a future where computers can understand the meaning of information as well as its format or type and can then serve it accordingly. It is smarter, personalised and almost infinitely granular.

In the semantic web there will be unique machine and human understood addresses for each piece and type of information. There will be countless numbers of distinct addresses available, so each thought, image, and word will have a unique address. A side effect of this is that as the number of these “web” addresses increase then they will lose their relevance to marketing – the old “broadcast model of interactive” based around a slick microsite will become less effective. Traditional Browser-based web page access will become less and less dominant as information becomes more important and accessible than the old traditional data pots, pages and directories used to organise it.1 The first steps are already being seen with the beta release of Google’s Chrome – the browser that aims to have “one box for everything” and acknowledges that “what we really need [is] not just a browser, but a modern platform for web pages and applications.” Google has consolidated the separate search box, employed by Firefox, IE and Opera, into the main address bar. The simplification has removed the usual menu items of File, History, Bookmarks and so forth, which are now are accessible through the address bar, by a dynamic keyword search. The result is a cleaner, more intuitive interface and the browser becomes a smarter, dynamic helper.

The future of advertising and marketing is at the new intersection of entertainment, information and utility. Advertising and marketing will live in, and function as, applications by which we access, filter and pull information towards us wherever we are located at any moment in time. This notion of smarter, anywhere and anytime access to information, entertainment and utility finds its current and near future realisation in the concept of the Cloud.

Continued…The Cloud – distributed creativity, information and access

1 Flo Heiss, The way things go

Interactive in the real world, what’s next?

14 Oct

Clouds, Crowds and Brand Reality Creative: distributed creativity and information, collaborative tools and ideas.

Evolutions of unseen, underlying technologies can often have the most fundamental long-term effects in the world of interactive and digital marketing. Seemingly unglamorous or technically obtuse changes can lead to an explosion in the possibilities of creativity and communications. If the adoption of AJAX signaled and spawned the web 2.0 boom in social networking and media – a phenomenon that has now become an accepted default state for any marketing or net experience – then perhaps the new form of a familiar fundamental points to the next great leap.

In June 2008 Icann President Paul Twomey announced “the biggest change to the way people find each other on the internet since its inception”. Behind this hyperbole is the news that from early 2009 Icann is throwing open the way that top-level domain (‘TLD’) names are administered and created. Apart from .com, .co.uk and the other familiar suffixes, people will be able to acquire .car, .insurance, .love and .hate. Names, concepts, generic words and even brands will be a new organising principle on the net.

At first only certain companies and government organisations get a stab at this potential new gold-rush, in a bid to protect intellectual property and prevent a resurgence in cyber-squatting. Indeed, some names are expected to cost in the region of £250,000. However, it is not this initial iteration that is the most potentially transforming to the way marketing and communication exists in interactive and digital spaces.

Some people fear that the list of TLD names will become endless and the net will become chaotic and disorganised. Actually, this is the barrier that we need to push through. The feared scenario in fact offers the most interesting signpost for the future.

The great potential is that the new domain system will ultimately lead to the development of addresses for information itself, rather than the current model of faux places filled with information. The potential is that it is one of the first steps to the birth of the semantic web.

Continued…The Semantic web – humanising information is more important than how you store it