The buzz of an emergent community

I was chatting with a friend who was evangelic in their description of the emergent community on the AltSpace VR (virtual reality) social network They had met great friends, the kind of meaningful interactions that seldom occurs on your Facebook wall now.

But was this about the power of VR? My take was that it is a minor factor at best. VR acted as a filter, it brought similar likeminded early adopters together. In many respects this mirrored other technology filters: the early days of dial up bulletin board services (particularly in the US with free local calls on the Bell network carriers),  AOL and CompuServe chat rooms or the Usenet.

Filipino community gathering under the HSBC building

The power of connecting likeminded people can be a transformative experience in the minds of participants.

If I think back before my time on the internet, my friend’s experience in the emergent community of AltSpace sounded like the people I met at the Hacienda. It sounded like the experience of many of the regulars at acid house club Shoom – which was hosted by Danny Rampling out of a small gym in South London.

These experiences are once lived, often never recaptured experiences rather like being on a school or college sports team. They only exist for a fleeting moment in time.

It was like being an early member on Flickr, or my friend Ian’s experience on CompuServe chat rooms (where he met his future wife).

So what makes these communities special?

  • Likeminded people who are likely to share a certain amount of norms and have common grounds to be there
  • A relatively small number of people. This number becomes inexact. In a good nightclub it would be a certain amount of exclusivity because not everyone knew it was there, rather than a strict door policy. The strict door policy is usually a remedial item done once the norms try and break down
  • Agreement to a set of common behaviours, for many years a common etiquette held sway on networks like Flickr. Facebook doesn’t have this except in tightly managed private groups

So what happens to these communities?

  • A number soldier on, particularly around passion points such as Harry Potter books / films / games
  • A small minority (cough, cough) Facebook for example transcend their community and turn into a utility with pockets of interest hidden in secret
  • Things move on. Think about restaurants or nightclubs that are now sites of investment properties in London or Manchester

About the photo: I took this on an early trip to Hong Kong. Every Sunday the Filipino and Indonesian communities would gather in different parts of the city to see friends, eat, sing, dance and trade items. This picture is of Filipinos,  taken in the private public space under the HSBC building in the Central district. Some years later this was a site for the Occupy Central protesters.

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五) | 금요일에 다섯 가지

I’ve been laid up so this has been a long time coming.

I am a big fan of manufacturing videos that show how iconic products are made. This one on Pelican cases isn’t one of the best, but it still gives a good overview of what goes into the cases.

Amerigo Gazaway’s latest mash-up project

Homeboy Sandman & Edan #NeverUseTheInternetAgain – which I think I heard first on Matt Muir’s Web Curios newsletter

Capturing Chına: from civil war to rising superpower  – photo agency Magnum put out a book on China

Louis Vuitton channels French space opera comics such as Moebus and Valerian on the promotion material for its latest collection.

Oprah time: Über by Kieron Gillen

Back in the day reading graphic novels like the Über series would have been a niche interest at best.  Now with the rise of Marvel and DC universe films they are part of mainstream culture.

Über invasion

But not all comics are about accessible hero stories with easy cinematic adaption. My preferred writers like Gillen use the superheroes to ground the stories more in a gritty reality.

Garth Ennis from Preacher to The Boys has looked to subvert and examine comic franchise conventions. Gillen tried to get us to examine our own conventions and pre-conceptions about war.

I see clear parallels between their work and the ‘political’ spaghetti westerns of Franco Solinas in particular.

Gillen’s Über uses superheroes to explain the kind of damage cased by massed Russian artillery in the march to Berlin and atom bomb blasts a la Hiroshima.  Superheroes make the horrors of war more relatable.

It is also interesting how what would seem to be a ‘diesel punk’ series hinges on transformations that are outside the the power of medicine even now. Finally, there is a clear parallel and differentiation between Captain America and Über.

In summary, if you want a good thoughtful read and aren’t squeamish; start reading Über.

Five things marketers can learn from the life and career of Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin at Madame Tussaud's New York

Aretha Franklin left a great body of work behind her over a five decade career in music. Her career had its degrees of twists and turns, both of which are reasons why she will sit along icons like David Bowie and Prince. But don’t you just die a little inside when someone on LinkedIn takes advantage of a celebrity death? They post a catchy headline like the one above about Aretha Franklin.

The then come up with five general points that could fit into most people’s lives. They think that they are profound as Chicken Soup For The Soul or a Maya Angelou quote. In reality they are asinine crap.

There are others who with list marketing tropes that probably first read in Philip Kotler’s Principles of Marketing; but they think are gold dust. They aren’t.

So before you put finger to keyboard in order to boost your visibility by capitalising on the name of a dead person – don’t. I get that you want visibility to help your business or career, but at what cost? You give the industry that I work in a bad name. Which is the reason why we see commentary like this one by Bill Hicks. When marketing and advertising is trying to be relevant to society, why would professionals want to alienate society further?

  1. Did you actually know the celebrity? If not, now is not the best time for your article.
  2. Would your article be read out at a funeral as a eulogy? If not, don’t press publish.
  3. Will the celebrity’s fans appreciate your contribution to the celebration of their career? If not don’t publish.
  4. Is your article designed purely to capture the wave of interest about the celebrity? If so, don’t publish.
  5. Search your motivations, is this about you appearing as an expert rather than celebrating the career of the celebrity? If yes, or you’re not sure – don’t publish.

Ramblings on consumption

We think of consumption as part of the very stuff of modern life. I clear out items on eBay. My Mum and Dad have boxes of things unopened since they moved house in 1981. A lady who lived up the road who died last year had people working for five days to clear out the things she had hoarded. The house had been packed with items from ceiling to roof.

The role that consumption plays varies but taps into deep emotional ties. I felt both an emotional journey that I can only equate to grief and a certain release on getting rid of my record collection. I moved country for work and the bulk of it had to go. What was more distressing was not being able to make sure that it went to a good home at the time. It had defined me, brought me joy and latterly had been a weight that I only felt by its subsequent absence.

Consumption and identity are also intertwined.

In my pre-internet days you could get a sense of someone by visiting their sitting room or their bedroom.

  • What kind of books did they read?
  • What posters or pictures did they have?
  • Was there sports scarves, or signed shirts?
  • Family photographs
  • Taxidermied animals in either rural or ‘hunting, shooting or fishing’ households
  • What kind of videos did they have?
  • Where they a gamer?
  • What CDs, vinyl and cassettes did they have?
  • Did they have a system of hi-fi separates? What were the components like? Did they have headphones?

You were able to build up a picture in your head about the person, their tastes and some historic touch points.

Much of this now remains out of sight in the sitting room with the rise of cloud based services. But the picture is still here, though you will need a screen to see it.

For many people homes are a mix of the digital and the analogue. Some young people may adopt analogue items for ‘authenticity’ in their lives. For older people its the archeology of their lives. Photos not converted to digital scans. Music that had meaning or was at a certain stage in their life. Souvenirs from holidays.

If I look at my own parents:

  • They were more passionate about active collection of music in the 1960s before they settled down. They have finally got rid of a Philips mono turntable in plastic that hadn’t worked for years and a Sony reel to reel tape player. Both devices chosen for their luggabilty rather than quality. They had lived transcient young work lives, working away from home and living in digs
  • My Dad had spare time from shift work that he used to read a mix of reference books and fiction from the 1950s – the early 1980s. Since then he mostly reads caravan and crafting books
  • My Dad has a vast amount of tools in various states of repair that he accumulated. From when he started his apprenticeship to electronic meters bought this year
  • My Mum has a mix of cookery books from the 1950s to the 1990s and notebooks stuffed with clippings from magazines of recipes. In the notebooks are hand scribbled recipes that she exchanged with friends
  • They have carpets and stools that they crafted from kits in the 1960s before multi-channel TVs

With time, more hasn’t mean’t better ‘quality’ consumption. Technology has provided us with more reliable electronics. Unless you are a hi-fi buff you are unlikely to know about the fragility of valve electronics or the weight of discrete solid state circuits.

Globalisation has brought consumption of more ‘just good enough’ products. My parents still have some of the furniture that they bought when they got married. It isn’t Vitra or great Danish design, its mass producted items of its time. But the quality of the construction and materials contrasts with flat pack furniture bought later.

Less consumption seems to have had a number of sides to it:

  • More conscious choice on quality. You couldn’t just order another on Amazon
  • Greater focus on curation of items
  • Less clothes but of a better quality
  • A macro view on ‘need’, rather than the micro view defined by the now

You had the vintage well tailored tweed jacket or furniture that had been in the house for generations. In years to come what will all the delapidated Billy bookshelves and tchotchke fridge magnets say about us? Maybe this is a good part of the authenticity at the centre of Peter York’s ‘Hipster Handbook‘?

I started to think about these things following a death in the family. My uncle lived in the ancestral home; which is a small farm in the west of Ireland. I had spent a good deal of my childhood there with him and other relatives. Life had got in the way of going back in person and there had been bigger gaps in time to my visits than I thought.

Going back to the farm brought thoughts about consumption into sharp focus for me. My Uncle’s approach to consumption was very different to mine and likely yours as a reader.

  • He never owned a car or combustion engine-powered farm machinery. He hired in contractors and machinery when it was needed
  • As a child I had played amongst decaying wrought iron horse drawn equipment, that would have been used before the widespread use of tractors
  • I can remember when electricity was installed
  • Had a modern television but didn’t use it. He actively preferred the radio as his media of choice
  • He had a solid fuel cooker that provided central heating for the house. He also had an electric cooker and microwave oven, but refused to use the microwave
  • His music collection had been gifted to him by family over the years. They assumed that he liked local artists playing Irish traditional music. I don’t think that he went through the process I had done of exploring new music and tastes
  • He regularly read a local paper, but owned no books bar a booklet on the value of notes and coins
  • He had never travelled for leisure, but had been gifted souvenirs from my cousins. These came from Donegal to Dubai
  • Presents that he had been given decades ago remained in a drawer in case he would need them, from ties to aftershave
  • The family had tried to force him to have a cellphone and he only relented when he was in hospital during his later years and a neighbour gifted it to him
  • His idea of interactive gaming was a Benson & Hedges-branded deck of playing cards with four people around a table for a game of ‘Twenty Five

IMGP3019.JPG

His house remained unchanged from when my Grandmother had lived there. There wasn’t his ‘footprint’ in the house at all. From a personal point of view it meant that I could understand my Uncle in terms of ‘what’ he did; but not the ‘inner life’ that we are used to understanding through ‘reading the tea leaves’ of consumption: books, music etc. At the time I came away perplexed, a mystery that I would never understand.

He lived in many respects a pre-industrial agrian approach to life. Time moves at the pace of the farm work rather than the clock. Your mark on the world was in the continued existence of the homestead.

This brought into sharp focus for me the newness and ‘abnormality’ of modern consumerism. Perhaps ownership of the land provided the ‘weight’ that mass consumerism provides for many of the rest of us? And what would it mean if you had felt that ‘weight’ all of your life as my Uncle would have as the oldest son in the family?

In contrast, my Grandmother had been more modern in her attitude to consumerism. She loved the television. She got rid of old wooden chairs that would need the occasional coat of paint for black powder coated steel and vinyl cushion seats.

Into her late 80s she loved DVDs of traditional Irish music performances. A tape of electronica and early rap that I made at the age of 15 so she could understand what I was into at the time was a step too far for her.