Friday, May 28, 2010

Packing the Dahon

One of the big questions arising as "departure for summer" day draws nigh is whether there will be enough room in the Mustang to fit my bike -- along with the suitcases, technostuff, 4 books (small), two kitset bedside tables, a food preserving kit, and whatever Budweiser and Pepsi remains in the fridge at leaving time.

A short empirical test, featuring a piece of standard airplane carry on luggage as the benchmark, suggests that there will, indeed, be enough room.

Phew. It would have been tough leaving those tables behind ...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Zen + Tweakers: Creatively Elegant

Sometimes it's a challenge to find ways to pass time on planes, but I have to confess that on numerous occasions I have been saved by locating a current copy of the Skymall catalogue. On several occasions this has resulted in making a purchase and, as the saying goes, so far so good.

On a recent trip I saw some tiny red "boom" speakers in the catalogue, but forgot to take the latter with me when I left the plane. I remembered the speakers were called "tweakers" and once back on terra firma I found that amazon had them, and Michele's one click purchasing -- everyone knows *I* am not the consumer -- soon had the request in process. (I felt bad about not getting them from Skymall, but convenience won out on this occasion.)

The tweakers turned up yesterday and I lost no time in connecting them up to my wee Creative Zen player -- the one that is the exact same size as a credit card. They play a treat, and the entire system -- Zen + Tweakers -- weighs about the same as my Zune player alone (or, say, an iPhone), give or take an ounce or so.

Even if the sound were not so good I would still love the set up for its sheer convenience and elegance. The Zen runs an SD card as well as the hard drive. The card functions as a standard drive, which means you can load music file folders to it without having to go through all that corporate nonsense of iTunes or Windows Media player. Just dump the folder, give it a name, and it shows up intact and good to go. I rarely use the player's hard drive these days; just carry multiple cards of suitably formatted material.

As for the tweakers, they run on a rechargeable lithium battery and come with a USB adapter for easy recharging. They have retractable cables for connecting the speakers to each other (which also serves for recharging the battery), and for picking up the sound from whatever device you want to play from. The speaker bases are magnetized, and the speakers clamp together and, with a twist, stay together, inside a tidy wee drawstring carry bag -- think: two egg cups end to end. The speaker tops twist and untwist to "spring out" and "go back in" before and after playing, so that you get the necessary conditions for a decent "boom".

At between 2 and 3 hours of play time per charge I reckon these will get a lot of use.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Mainstreaming the Web

We're now in the final symposium session of ROFLcon. In front of us are:

Tim Hwang opens the panel with "Oh shit! The internet is here!" Christina asks the first question of the panel to describe their favourite meme that's gone mainstream. Kenyatta nominates "Downfall" meme as his favourite meme because it changed take-down notices on YouTube. Jaime Wilkinson likes "All Your Base" because it was one of the first memes to go mainstream. Ben Huh nominates Chat Roulette Keyboard Cat. Greg Rutter loves the 4-panel CSI Miami meme. Moot likes Epic Beard Man.

Jaime argues that internet culture is winning over the mainstream. Kenyatta discusses how the 1990s was a time when people realised that geeks had won; and now the similar realisation is taking place regarding internet culture. Moot talks about how commercialisation of popular meming is inevitable.

Jaime points out how clothing designs cannot be copyrighted which forces creativity--and the commercialisation of clothing design drives it forward. Christina asks whether the traditional captialist model (e.g., of monopolies) still holds for memes. Ken talks about how the prliferation of popular things online means that monopolies simply cannot hold. Know Your Meme is user-content driven, and they have a strict policy on plagiarism. Ken points out that its difficult for them to locate stuff copied from elsewhere and they rely on users pointing this out. Ken talks about reputation and referencing/crediting origins matters among the LOLcat community.

Christina asks about whether these services play an archival role. 4chan isn't archived--moot argues that good content reappears and bad content "goes off the site". The ephemeral nature of 4chan contributes largely to 4chan as a meme generator. 4chan doesn't operate on the reputation model beacuse everyone posts anonymously.

Tim points out how there are people out there who are curating memes for themselves. They're keen to share things because they love the things they're sharing.

Christina asks about big companies and advertising encroaching on meme territory. Greg talks about the Old Spice "I'm on a horse" ad and how well it was done and how this helped it to become popular.Ken talks about how advertisers do poach on internet culture and asks whether these companies have a responsibility to contribute stuff back to the community. Tim poses the question about whether memes will become more and mroe extreme--and which will place them well outside mainstream appropriation. Moot talks about 4chan and how it evolved from a gaming and geeky space to something much more extreme, although it's been like this since always. Kenyatta talks about people wanting to explore ideas and being able to put ideas out behind a wall of extreme. Moot explains how there are no limits/no rules--and someone who doesn't understand the internet won't necessarily understand 4chan's /b/ board.

Greg talks about how for him is what's important is to read what came befrore. He says he owes a personal debt to Textfiles. And contrasts this with someone wearing a punk tshirt simply because it's "cool" and not because they've ever actually listened to punk music.

Ken reminds everyone that there are still millions and millions of people aren't part of internet culture--everyday there's someone discovering it for the first time. Kenyatta makes reference to Ethan's opening keynote about the existence of multiple internets and people are in the process of generating internet culture for themselves. Greg talks about how in compiling his list of important memes he chose things that are easily describle and that appealed to him personally.

Ken asks whether there is anyone who works for Facebook in the audience. No-one is. Ken goes on to describe Facebook as "training wheels for the internet"--it introduces people to the internet in a way that few other sites/services have been able to do to date.

Moot then describes how the 4chan developed a Facebook app for April Fool's day this year so that one's own posts to 4chan would automatically post to one's Facebook profile (the audience absolutely erupts with laughter). But it won't work the other way--with a Facebook Connect link for posters on 4chan. He also points out that everyone on the panel will have a Facebook profile (everyone nods). He talks about Chat Roulette and the attraction of its anonymity.

A question form the floor asks about what the panelists will tell kids about the internet in 25 years time. Jaime is making an archive of videos of things NOT to do. Ken predicts that how kids talk about the world will be so different today--which will be itneresting in and of itself. Moot says if he has a daughter, he won't ever allow her to sue a webcam.

A question from the floor asks about what will happen when internet culture--which is basically youth culture--becomes "adult culture". Jaime says that it's already both youth and adult culture--and that it doesn't matter about age. He does describe the "eldernet"--which is all about "Forward this angel onto 7 friends"... (the idea of multiple internets is a big emerging idea here).

Ken talks about anonymity and it's something that actually needs to be repsected by others because so many things we put online come with a digital footprint that can trace you. Moot points out that registering on a site now is the default mode, rather than anonymity.

A question from the floor asks Ken about where to from here--what happens when his company becomes really large (almost 50 people are supported by his online companies, finds ien talks about a lawsuit he got involved in with someone who tried to create a domain name really similar to the LOLcats URL.They ended up resolving it by Ken calling the bloke and explaining the issue and paying a fair market price for the URL and the blkoke himself posting an apology on the website regarding how he'd been trying to exploit the cheezburger URL.Moot asks whether Ken's LOLcats puts something back--moot sees the who service as exploitative. People create content that other people makes money for them. Ken explains how they don't police how people use the LOLcat images. Ken also explains how LOLcats helps to attract people to the internet and contributes to the mainstream that way. Ken gives the example of a bloke who gathered awkward stock photos and was threatened with law suits from stock photographers--Ken saw what the bloke has done as a fair use case and offered to help out with legal defence etc. He sees this an important contribution to the culture, too.

Kenyatta points out how defending oneself from large companies comes down to legal resources. Ken agrees with how important it is to have a community to back you up in protecting internet culture.

The panel discusses elitism regarding internet culture--Grreg talks about how his website pokes fun at the kind of elitism that casts you as a loser if you haven't seen it/heard of it (whatever "it" is).

The panel closes with moot doing a ROFLcopter in his revolving chair. Ken discusses how ROFLcon I and II is a special time in history and how this might be a sign of being on the forefront of internet culture becoming the dominant culture. Greg talks about key moments in internet culture history--like the time the code for cracking DVDs was launched on Digg and captured so much attention and promtoion--and how these will be the things we'll remember.

ROFLing the News

It's 2:30pm on Saturday and we're now listening to a panel talk about poking fun at news reporting.

Mark Hale and Ken Lowry are taking their FakeAPStylebook which is a parody of the news reporting service, Associated Press, and their writing style book. They talk about how the original AP style guide seems to have lightened up a lot since the launch of their Twitter feed.

We've just watched Evan and Andrew Gregory's (of Auto-tune the News fame) clip -- Auto-tune the News #11 -- which pokes serious fun of news media. The lads talk about how auto-tuning politicians makes them sound like superstars and opens up whole new career opportunities for them... These blokes are extremely funny in person!! A very poplar episode of Autune the News is Episode #5: Smoking Lettuce. Turns out that Martin Luther King Jr. has the best auto-tunable voice because he was a naturally lyrical speaker. Katie Couric and Joe Biden both tie for second--Katie Couric for her old-school broadcaster enunciation, and Joe Biden for his enthusiastic delivery.

Mark and Ken talk about how lots of journalists enjoy the fake AP style guide. They're not sure what the actual bosses think, though. They mimic the AP's authorattive "we" style of speaking. discuss their work as being a-political. We *still* wish they'd put out a fake*APA*style guide, though!!

The wonderful Dave Weinberger is moderating and suggests that neither set of parodies is not simply just about being absurd. This turns into an interesting discussion about remix and parody and meaning-making.

Jonah Peretti on "Mormons, Mullets and Maniacs"

Still at ROFLcon and having a ball! There are sooo many super-smart people here!! Speaking of super-smart people, We're listening now to Jonah Peretti -- we've long been a fan of Jonah's and have written about his Nike Shoe meme and his Black People Love Us meme in a bunch of places.

Jonah is talking how things get taken up on online and become popular memes. He talks about an interesting phenomenon about "hindsight bias"--where memes and trends are traced back to influential people in order to explain them, but this isn't quite how it works.

He talks about Duncan Watts' music popularity experiment, and how Watts found very quickly that social influence very much shapes what's popular and what isn't.

The latest research shows that we can't predict who can make something popular or what will become popular.

Jonah talks about viral memes he's generated--like the Nike shoes, the New York Rejection phoneline, Black People Love Us, his Twitter-based Pick-Your-Own-Adventure. is a tool that helps you to measure the "social reproduction rate" of things online. It's a metric to show what's getting shared and where.

Users behave in very different ways in very different contexts--they'll behave differently when they're searching, when they're sharing, when they're reading/viewing. For example, something sexual in nature might get a high click-thru rate, but not necessarily have a high share rate.

Buzzfeed uses their metric to help promote things online by watching what has high click-thru and sharing rates and promoting those even more.

Jonah's third strategy for attracting attention online is the "mullet strategy" (business in the front, and part in the back). Jonah is a co-founder of the Huffington Post--which posts serious links and stories on its front page; but then you have the party in the back with commenters saying crazy things, and being rewarded for such, people blogging etc. This part in the back generates the cool stuff which then can get brought forward if they're front-page worthy as per the popularity/performance metric and the traffic its attracting.

Jonah's strategy #4 for attracting attention online is to target "maniacs". He studies what makes people themselves interesting--for example, narcissistic, histrionic personality disorders manifested online.He reads from a psychiatric manual and raises the question of where would You/tube be without people with this kind of disorder...

Elf Yourself, for example, plays into our narcissistic sides. As another example, he tweeted "Twitter is a simple service for smarft people. Facebook is a smart service for simple people"--this was retweeted thousands of times because people were gratified about being smart people for using Twitter, and because it has a dig at Facebook.

Strategy #5: Jonah asks: Which is better: Judaisim or Mormons. He explains that Judaism is a high quality religion but according to performance metrics, isn't performing so well, but the Mormons are actively keeping track of their conversion rates, They actively spread Mormonism, and so on. He suggests studying the Mormons because they have social imperatives, strong networks, a mechanism built in for spreading their ideas, and make evangelism core to your strategy.

Colin asked if becoming more science-y in his approach to contagious ideas, and Jonah explained that becoming more science-y actually helps him to be more creative because he can focus on those ideas that he has a better sense they'll be taken up over other ideas. For Jonah, arft and science very much belong together.

In response to another question about creativity,Jonah reminds us that when you create something and put it online, you lose control over the meaning of it. He talks about how BlackPeopleLoveUs attracted so many different interpretations (so some got it's orioginal intention which was to have a jab at white liberal folk, others saw it as derogatory towards Black folk, and then white supremists took offence at it as well). Jonah is very interested in how people take up an idea they find online, how they interact with it, how it gets spread, and what it gets made into.

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