Can consumer creativity become mass

Can consumer creativity become mass?Can consumer creativity become mass?

The idea of consumer participation has been in the headlines in the last couple of weeks; first with the rise of the citizen journalist and yesterday with the announcement that key Google investors would also be investing is Zazzle.com (a site that allows users to put their art on stuff). Also, Business Week has a whole piece on consumer-created advertising. Last Friday the BBC reported from the TED Oxford conference stating:

“Digital technology is providing people with the tools to produce and share content like never before, and it is set to throw the relationship between them and institutions into turmoil, say experts.”

If one was to join all the dots and one could easily be led to believe that the gates have been opened and a torrent of consumer creators have been unleashed.

The problem is the analysis is all rather general. What’s the participation we are talking about here? Is it putting a picture of your kid on a t-shirt, shooting mobile video at a bomb scene, or making a hit record?

Currently there are some things that are holding the true mass development of participation. There’s clearly a scale at work, that is just like the classic pyramid; with the true artists at the top and those less talented at the bottom.

What’s changed is the means of access and distribution. We all now have the chance to do it. There are no excuses; we can publish and sell books, make music and release mp3 files, take photographs and get our stuff seen and heard by thousands of people.

However, most people believe that you are either really creative or your not. There is no middle ground and after being told that you are not creative, often there’s no turning back.

However, this might all change if some new entities emerge.

Tier One: Find new stars

Who:”New Middlemen/Editors”

They sift through the mass talent; find and nurture the ones that could make it. Once a few of these people make it, this could be the signal for a lot more people to get involved.

Tier Two: Give potential stars the means of production and distribution

Who: “New Distributors/Publishers/Studios”

They allow consumers to publish,create and distribute. These include; Lulu.com and cafepress.com and Amazon is also moving into this space its purchases of Custom Flix and BookSurge.

Tier Three: Educate the wannabes to take it to the next level

Who:”Artistic educators”

With increasing opportunities for personal expression among the mainstream consumer base, there could be a role for creative educators to help consumers add new skills and to critique their work. Imagine webeducation courses, etc…

Tier Four: Empower Everyone

Who:”Brand Personalizers”

Personalization is a key driver for all consumers and important for brands to embrace wherever possible. Nike ID is a great example and it has been extended brilliantly with the store where you book an appointment with a designer who helps you design. The model could obviously work for lots of brands in the fashion space; empowering consumers to design their own products and then giving them the opportunity to create enhanced designs through collaboration with creative professionals.

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Smart and human

Influx interview- jeff macarthur-commandNInflux interview- jeff macarthur-commandN

commandN is a new type of television network, one that’s based around vidcasting and built on typepad software. The network is getting rave reviews and has around 50,000 viewers for each of its shows. The network focuses on technology and brings to life tech stories in an interesting and compelling way. Influx Insights got a chance to ask Jeff MacArthur, head of Business Development at commandN a few questions.

Here is the interview:

1.What’s the production cost for each show?

Our production costs are principally incurred in relation to the amount of hours we all spend on commandN. Without considering all the business stuff I do for the show, I would say that we spend about 40 man hours total each week to get an episode out. The value of those man hours is anyone’s guess, as we sure ain’t getting’ paid for ’em! :-)

2.Do you believe your format is the future of television and if so, why?

commandN is dedicated to producing television-quality content with ever-increasing production values. We do believe that vidcasting will impact the television industry, although we hope this isn’t accomplished solely by replicating TV content. Television (for the most part) has the selling of advertising as a principal goal. This tends to put a lot of focus on production quality and doesn’t always guarantee the best content. Vidcasting has it the other way around: content must be king while production values are secondary. We believe that, as vidcasting becomes more popular, the best shows will be able to compete with television while also maintaining a very grass-roots connection to the online community something that is not as embedded in conventional television.

3.How has your viewership grown over the past 6 months?

Our viewership has grown very quickly since we launched in June 2005. Our downloads for October and November have exceeded 5 TB (more than 15 times what it was in June) and we now have an average of roughly 50,000 viewers per episode.

4.Who is your typical viewer?

Because we have received emails from all over the world, from kids to grandmothers and everything in between, it isn’t easy to describe our “typical” viewer. However, I would estimate that our most common type of viewer would be a 20-35 year old North American male, although we have gotten a great deal of response from female viewers as well.

5.How are you planning to evolve your content?

commandN has been constantly evolving its content since the beginning, with the most significant change happening at Episode 18 with the launch of our new graphics and music package. We have moved towards a more segment-ized production (as outlined on our website) and this is working very well for us. We are planning more “on the road” segments in the future, as well as delving into some specialized topic areas in a little more depth.

6.What advice do you have for anyone else thinking of setting up a C21st television network?

I think the one thing that we really hold on to from television is the expectation of new content at specific intervals, so I think a big priority has to be to release your production on a regular schedule (whether that be weekly, monthly, quarterly, or whatever). Another piece of advice would be to interact/pay attention to your audience, as an online production gives us unprecedented ability to do that. Finally, make sure you actually like what you’re doing/covering – there is a great deal of (unpaid!) work in producing a well-crafted vidcast, and both you and the audience will enjoy it a lot more if it’s something you’re truly interested in.

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Wal-mart wants all your money

Wal-mart wants all your moneyWal-mart wants all your money

Business Week recently reported on Wal-Mart’s move into financial services, its latest move came with introduction of the Discover Wal-Mart credit card, a partnership with GE Financial services.

It has also started to make a move into in-branch banking with Sun Trust. They currently co-operate 45 branches and have plans for a total of 100.

Wal-Mart is aiming to sell financial services to the un-banked and low-income customers that frequent its stores. Banking appeals to the company as it leads to an increased frequency of store visits.

Wal-Mart only needs to look at the UK to see how successful grocery banking can be. The market leaders, Sainsbury and Tesco now have a total of 5.8 million customers, 9% of the credit card market and 2.6% of the loans market. Success has come from the grocery stores not just relying on location, but introducing competitively priced product. Taking on established financial institutions wasn’t easy, but the grocery stores had one thing in their favor, trusted brands.

As Wal-Mart expands into financial services, brand trust is going to be critical. It’s currently fighting a battle with skeptics over this issue and although its future success isn’t entirely dependent on this, but still it’s a war Wal-Mart wants needs to win.

Its recent PR moves have been aggressive and perhaps a little naive. They were recently ridiculed by Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.

It’s always possible that Wal-Mart might respond to critics with concrete actions that would speak louder than any PR campaign. Actions that could instantly re-gain brand trust.

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Who will rule the living room

Who will rule the living room?Who will rule the living room?

Following the over-hyped E3 announcements of PS3 and Xbox360, there is much debate amongst gamers on the processing power of the consoles and if the visuals shown at both presentations were pre-rendered or not. This being E3, it’s about gaming, but clearly both consoles are about far more than that or are they?

These consoles are supposed to represent the future of home entertainment and it’s interesting to see how Microsoft and Sony each has a very different visions of what that should be. These visions are essentially extensions of each company’s core competence.

Sony presented PS3 as a quantum leap in gaming as an experience. It offered up a compelling vision that was almost a sc-fi writers view of gaming’s future; a place inhabited by lifelike characters and massively imersive environments, where separating the real from the fake is almost impossible.

Add to this, PS3’s ability to play the next-level in DVD quality in Blu-Ray and you have a machine that is all about the enhancing the entertainment experience in the living room.

Microsoft is on a very different track. It is certainly highlighting the power of the console as a games machine, but they are also heavily pushing community, connectivity, customization and commerce. These are four attributes that the Internet has already brought to the PC and things that Microsoft knows quite a lot about. Microsoft’s living room is starting to look very different from Sony’s.

Ultimately, the consumer will decide which one they prefer, but it seems obvious that Microsoft has the biggest challenge ahead of them, not only to catch up with Sony, but also to sell their new vision. Microsoft desperately wants Xbox to expand beyond the current hard-core group of gaming users and reach a mass audience, but the trouble appears to be that much of what Microsoft is offering is already available for the masses on their PC.

Why would a consumer want to buy an additional machine, if the only benefit is doing what you do on your PC, in your living room?

For Microsoft, customization is a nice addition, but only if the machine performs and commerce is something of a double-edged sword; while it suggests flexibility and ease, it also shows how gaming could be an increasingly expensive pastime.

So to succeed, Microsoft must develop a single-minded positioning that focuses in on the Xbox360 as quantum leap in the gaming experience, because it combines both power and connectivity. This could be compelling enough to move non-gamers from their PC to an Xbox360 in their living room, where they can happily engage in commerce and customization.

So despite the hype over the future of the living room, the starting point for both companies has to be about the future of gaming. Both companies clearly have different visions of this; Sony is about power and Microsoft is about connectivity. If they start with gaming, it will be much easier to add in the other elements that have the potential to transform the living room experience.

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videogame

New videogame defies the rulesNew videogame defies the rules

Video games are becoming increasingly predictable and regimented, with their clearly defined genres and within them, it’s often just about launching sequels. This is understandable, as development costs skyrocket, there is so much money at stake and it’s often hard to take risks.

Once in a while a game comes along that takes a risk and defies category norms, such a game is Okami from Clover Studio.

In Okami, the game takes place in a three-dimensional brush painted Japanese landscape. The graphics look like ancient Japanese brush paintings and are a far cry from the hyper-reality of most of today’s games.

The game is based on a classic Japanese folk tale about a wolf with magical powers. The player’s goal is to help the Wolf obtain powers and protect him from spirits and enemies.

Interestingly the game’s inspiration came from the original watercolor character design sketches, the design team wondered if they could be turned into 3-D, and the idea started from there.

The artistic aspect is even used in the game-play. As a player, you have the power to stop the action and transform the world into a flat piece of paper. Here you can use a brush and draw certain marks that will impact the game when you bring back the action.

Although it Okami has a planned US release in November 2005, it’s obviously likely to fare better in Japan, but has the potential to become something of a cult classic over here.

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