Tag Archives: Web 2.0

CTIA 2008: The Walls Are Crumbling…

In fairytales, things usually happen in threes. At CTIA 2008, I espied three trends that promise, if not a fairy tale ending, at least a major game change in the future of mobile usage in the U.S. The evidence was everywhere that the garden walls surrounding the carriers’ pick of content for mobile users is still there, but crumbling. Hastening the inevitable, broadband mobile Internet made a strong showing at CTIA, proving its inevitability. Lastly, the number of companies pitching easy ways for Internet content creators to “mobilize” their content was amazing. Since I’ve been a big proponent of all three of these directions for the mobile content market, I had a happy time at the show.

Let me just draw attention to a handful of the companies I met with and a few of the items that caught my attention. First, one of the stars of the show was RIM’s new clam-shell Blackberry Pearl 8220.

new Blackberry Pearl

new Blackberry Pearl 8220

I’m perfectly happy with my Blackberry 8830 World Edition, but if a clam-shell Blackberry rocks your world, more power to you. And the new Blackberry does have quad-band support so it’s a world edition too.

I also had a fun time in the Yahoo booth where I got their new voice search application downloaded to my Blackbery. It’s a lot of fun to play around with, although it can’t always make sense of what I say (and that’s probably not the application’s fault), I can easily correct what appears in the browser. For the free download, go here.

QuickPlay Media is all about trying to make the mobile internet experience successful, says vp of marketing Mark Hyland. “Our CEO Wayne Purboo’s vision was that networking speeds were going to get faster and that broadband wireless would be big,” he says. “We believe that you can’t take a PC web browsing experience and cram it on to a mobile device. Mobile is very location and context specific. It makes a difference where you’re using it.”

At CTIA 2008, the company began beta-testing a brand new service for media and entertainment customers to cheaply, quickly and easily publish video to the iPhone. “And ultimately to all video-enabled devices, but we’re focusing on iPhone first because of the interest,” says Hyland. “In 5 minutes you can take existing videos in any format and create a full video site for iPhone.” This new product is expected to be released by Q4 2008; the price is not yet set.

I checked in with Nokia‘s Kamar Shah with regard to Ovi, the company’s entertainment and media sharing service, as well as the company’s future plans in the entertainment space.Once again, the mobile Internet came to the fore. “From my perspective, in the area I work in, I want to show relevance of Nokia within this market in the Internet world,” he says. “I would justify that two-fold: we’re not taking the Internet and putting it on the mobile device. We’re redefining and evolving the Internet experience. That is based on what the consumer wants. Social networking makes up 20 percent of user time – after search and mail. It’s a phenomenon. We want to take that further and make it relevant to the consumer. We also have to make the advertising relevant, we have to get it right. There’s a very low tolerance for spam on the mobile phone.”

Referring to filmmaker L.M. Kit Carson’s “Africa Diary,” which he is shooting with his N95 camera, Shah also noted that this year Nokia partnered with MTV to supply N95s to the network’s journalists for Super Tuesday; content was streamed to MTV sites. Stay tuned to MobilizedTV for more news about Nokia and the entertainment world.

UIEvolution is an answer to the cacophony of mobile’s competing operating systems, devices and networks.”Mobile phones are so fragmented in terms of operating systems,” saysKeith O’Neill, vp, business development. “The thin client technology puts a layer of frosting that gives a seamless system so you can develop on top of that without worrying that it won’t work. We can work with PCs, STBs, consumer electronics devices , and automotive audio systems.”

UIEvolution's Keith O'Neill

UIEvolution's Keith O'Neill

Fragmentation prohibits growth and innovation because it becomes cost prohibitive for content creators without deep pockets, says O’Neill, and to that end, UIEvolution is rolling out Blender, a new web developer tool and service that takes web content–text, graphics and video–and mobilizes it. The business model is based on a revenue-sharing model. The web content creator pays a set-up fee, and then splits revenue with UIEvolution, the percentage of the split depending on volume. “For all that, we host and cover all the on-going device support.”

DeviceAnywhere was another interesting destination. Any content developer worried about making the video playable on the hundreds of devices out there can do so…remotely. DeviceAnywhere is an online service that provides access to hundreds of real handsets, on live worldwide networks, remotely over the Internet for developing, testing and porting. Once again, a great solution for web creatives who want to mobilize their content without becoming computer/wireless geeks.

Thumbplay launched Thumbplay Open, says president/CEO Are Traasdahl. “It gives the ability for any content creator to sell their content to 250 million wireless users across every carrier, operating system and handset,” he says. “It’s been hard for anyone creating content to get distribution because it’s beeen very carrier controlled. “The wall is down. Now it is one big happy garden.” The challenge has bee to build a platform that works not just across handsets and operating systems but across all billing systems and video codecs. “Our system is built so it automatically detects what handsest is trying to access the content and it converts on the fly to whatever the handset requires. Our system will convert to 2,500 different handsets and it’s all seamless.”

So far, the system is launched for visual artists and musicians, but will expand to video. Click here to try it yourself.

Once the content is uploaded into Thumbplay’s system, the content creator can distribute and sell the content (the system only accepts uncopyrighted material). The system allows you to create a widget which you post to your MySpace, Facebook pages. Or you can get your own URL and sell your content from that site. “You pay nothing to put your images or music up there, although we are evaluating if there should be a fee,” says Traasdahl. “You have to pay to consume the content, either per download, which costs $1 – 3, out of which the artist gets $.50. Or you join the Thumbplay service which is $9.99 a month. Any time someone signs up for the service through the artist’s page, that artist gets $5 to 8.” (Tay Zonday of Chocolate Rain fame made $10,000 in three months but, says Traasdahl, “he’s a very smart marketer.”)

Also new from Thumbplay was the announcement of a partnership with Comcast to provide the cable MSO with mobile entertainment services include ringtones, games, video, and music.

Last but not least, I met with David Danon of SonicBoom Media, a company that launched “Name That Tune,” a mobile music game in 2003 (which has a great back-story too long for this report). The company, says Danon, is now a leader in creating “the bridge between Web 2.0 and mobile.”

“We reach out to people in their social networks, so they feel comfortable upgrading their web experience to the phone,” he says. “It’s more profound to share an experience on the mobile that your friend has sent you from the web.”

Danon is also a big believer in the future of user-generated video content on the mobile platform: and he isn’t just talking about YouTube. Speaking to that belief is the company’s product Videomaker, due out the end of the year, which allows the user to make long-form movies from 15- to 20-second clips taken with the mobile phone’s video camera. The clips are arranged along a timeline and then connected via transition effects. The result can be sent to a mobile phone as an MMS or to a website as Flash. Also on SonicBoom Media’s agenda is the Hot America mobile beauty pageant completely on cell phones. Each state will have a competition and send its winner to the national contest. This launches in late November and the first winners will be declared in Summer 2009

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You Suck at Photoshop Returns: Creators Talk about Interactive Storytelling

First, if you are one of the three people on the planet who hasn’t seen “You Suck at Photoshop,” go straight to My Damn Channel and check out the travails of Donnie Hoyle (and perhaps pick up a few tips on Photoshop while you’re at it).

YSAP’s co-creators Matt Bledsoe and Troy Hitch, who make up Big Fat Brain, came out of the TV commercial world, which may say something about the short-form, high-concept chops needed to pull off online comedy. As has been reported by Time magazine, the two put out the first episode of YSAP as a one-off, and, after getting thousands of hits, decided maybe they were onto something.

The good news is, yes, Donnie is almost back. June 27 will unveil the first episode of YSAP’s Season 2 and perhaps reveal some of the mysteries of Donnie’s disappearance.

Mobilized TV spoke with Matt and Troy about the new model for interactive storytelling, why “quarterlife” bombed and if there’s a mobile future for Donnie.

How much did your background in advertising lend to the success of YSAP?

MATT: We did use a lot of our talents from the advertising world–how to get a message across and communicate. Troy has a theater background so he was able to marshall a lot of his theater skills into bringing that character to life as well as his Photoshop skills.

TROY: Matt has a history of screenwriting and film school. So we have a good amalgam of experience and talent. It was a lot of sweat and a little bit of luck to make it work.

What happened once it evolved from a one-off into a series?

MATT: The one thing we learned is that there’s a big difference between “TV on the Web” and a real Web 2.0 experience. Once we found out we had an audience, we decided that we should take them on a little different ride. Rather than having them passively wait for each episode, we started building in experiences that happened outside the actual content.

For example, Donnie Hoyle decided he wanted to auction his wedding ring. We actually posted it on an eBay auction and 50,000 people came in four hours. Maybe 70 or 80 people actually bid on it and got it up to $750 – and it was a $5 ring from the pawnshop. In eBay, there’s an opportunity for the buyers to ask the sellers questions about the product. We had hundreds of people ask funny questions about the series and the character. They were asking things like, If this ring comes with infinite sorrows, what happens if I buy it and my sorrows are not infinite? The answers were just as funny as the question. We were ripping them out 15 and 20 an hour. And people were cutting and posting the questions/answers and putting them on blogs. Within 24 hours, there were over 10,000 mentions of the Q&As on blogs and on various news sites.

TROY: What we decided was that this was the real opportunity. We had the audience, but what did we do with them once we had them? We took them on a ride. Out of the 10 episodes, we had four or five different off-content experiences that ranged from Facebook pages to a real corporate website for the fictional characters to work at during the day.

What we discovered is the idea of distributed storytelling. The content is only the beginning of the story. If we’re touching the audience as deeply as we think we can, they become willing to participate in the story and it becomes something wholly different than watching TV.

It sounds like you’re talking about interactive TV in a very different way than simply choosing between different paths for a story.

MATT: This is why the establishment is having trouble with interactive TV. Your property can’t be too precious. You have to be willing to abandon ownership of the characters and stories to the audience. Web viewers want to call the shots, to control the experience. If you put too strong of a harness over your characters or stories, they’ll walk away. We had to learn the delicate balance of playing along with the audience and keeping the integrity of the story so we can mix in new characters. But you have to be willing to let the audience take the reins. We can do that because we don’t have high-level executives looking over our shoulders. And it can have unexpected consequences.

What are some of the most memorably good–and bad–consequences of letting the audience take the reins?

TROY: I guess from a good side, the eBay auction was the one that told us there’s something good in this if we take a chance and don’t know what the outcome will be. We actually haven’t had any bad consequences. On “Snatchbuckler’s Second Chance,” which we saw a spin-off with its own storyline, we have had so many YSAP fans storm the castle demanding Donnie’s return that we became more flexible on the storyline and re-introduced Donnie through this other series.

MATT: We had the ten-episode breakdown for Snatchbuckler’s Second Chance that we threw out the window when we realized the fans were taking us on a ride. It hasn’t ended our own vision of what “Snatchbuckler” can be, but we’ve taken a detour to tell other stories–and we’ve built up a strong audience. More good can come from this than bad when handing over the keys to the kingdom.

What else has YSAP’s audience taught you?

MATT: Since we’ve been along for the whole ride, we see how people become a community around a property. Usually web videos are skateboarding accidents or sleeping kittens. When you create a community with loads of characters, community forms. Some people really think Donnie Hoyle is a real guy. There are people who are new to the YSAP series, and they don’t realize this is a put-on. They think that it’s actually a Photoshop tutorial that went horribly wrong. You’ve got another group of people totally in on the joke and know Troy and I are behind it and Donnie is a construct of our imagination but they suspend their disbelief and play with those people who think it’s real and educate them about what it’s about.

There’s a viral community, and Troy and I can’t help but listen because they’ve invested so much of their time and interest into the series–almost as much as we have. We want to keep it going for them. We scour the web to find all their comments. We do that on a daily basis to keep up with the pulse of Donnie-dom out there.

Like all things, we’ve got an idea for the vision of where the second season of YSAP will go. But again, our relationship with the fans of YSAP and Snatchbuckler will determine that later on. We’re not sure where it’ll go. That’s what makes it so watchable for people. The prevailing wind of the community becomes a forceful element in the storyline and the episodes.

TROY: You can see where we’ve taken specific fan comments and worked them into the next episode because we think it’s a great way to dialogue with people. We want to give shout-outs to our fans: Hey, we listened to you and took it in this direction because you thought it would be fun.

Can you give me an example of that?

TROY: Many many people thought Dane Cook was behind YSAP, so in the second episode, Donnie filled up his folder with pictures of Dane Cook and labeled them things like ‘douche’. We didn’t say we were or weren’t Dane Cook, but we reflected that we heard peoples’ talk. We’re not an anonymous entity churning content out. We fanned the flames so thousands of fans are still certain that Dane Cook is behind it. Which pleases us to no end.

Can T-Shirts and mugs be far behind?

MATT: With lots of [content], people will think, Well, how can we monetize it? If this were a Saturday morning cartoon series, we’d get the merchandise pumped out. If and when we decide to do this, it’ll have to be just as participatory and interactive from a marketing standpoint [as it has been from a storytelling standpoint]. We wouldn’t force a T-shirt down anybody’s throat. We may be able to put together a fan site where people can design their own stuff and fans can help decide what to make.

TROY: Now, [merchandising] is an unnatural extension of what we’ve done. It seems like a drop-kick to try to take advantage of it now. We made the decision not to do the merchandise, to not do interviews as Donnie Hoyle. Often, we decline to talk about him at all. The mystery of him was what drove it. There’s magic behind Donnie and we don’t want to cash out on that for a couple of months of T-shirt sales.

Will we see a mobile component to YSAP?

MATT: That’s a great question. One thing is a little out of our reach now as far as what we control with regard to distribution. We have partnerships with My Damn Channel who have their own ways of distributing content.

TROY: We know mobile is a very viable medium out there. Technically, however, YSAP might be difficult to transition to mobile because there are so many details to the visual elements. That might be sort of challenging but we’re game for bringing our sensibility and comedy to mobile devices.

I understand you’re already using Skype as an element.

MATT: Yes, Donnie and Snatchbuckler both have Skype accounts. People skype these guys. Troy is the voice of Donnie and I’m Snatchbuckler. People have this incredible epiphany when they call the Skype accounts and actually get us. They find a clue and see what it’ll yield. They’re playing a game and then have a one-on-one conversation with a character in the show. The calls are from people all over the world. We get about a dozen a day, and they laugh their heads off when they have a conversation with me in character.

Aren’t you worried that thousands of viewers will call?

TROY: We don’t have to talk to all 10 million viewers to get the message across. They’ll tell anybody and everybody that they spoke with Snatchbuckler, which grows the viewership and keeps this ripping through the viral world.

What ways are you innovating interactive entertainment with “Snatchbuckler’s Second Chance”?

MATT: The premise is that Snatchbuckler goes to an online rehab center [called Peopleburg] for people recovering from online game addiction – but it’s actually an online game itself, so that’s the great irony. We didn’t just use the Second Life machinima engine, we created our own game to make Peopleburg be that much more real. Our intention–and it’s worked–is to make people think that Peopleburg is a real place.

TROY: Doing an extension of Snatchbuckler to mobile medium is a natural next step. We’d love to see how it plays out on mobile devices. So we’d open the doors to Peopleburg and people can come and have a real-time immersive-content collaboration experience, allowing people to walk around the set of the show being produced.

MATT: Suppose you could enter the world where we’re filming the content and you could kick around and run into the characters and maybe even get cast into the series?

When will this happen?

MATT: To be determined. This first season is a seasonette, moving back into second season of YSAP. Snatchbuckler will be on a short hiatuas.

Did you learn anything from the failure of “quarterlife”?

TROY: We earned a lot from “quarterlife.” There was so much buzz and hype about it because it was a series on the web transitioning to TV. To me, that seems totally non-intuitive. All the things we do in the Web 2.0 universe to make this content participatory–if we stripped this away and turned it into a 22-minute episode, it would lose all of that. There’s a certain ability to be able to watch a piece of content and then go and experience all these other things, and it has to happen in a web environment on your own time. We wouldn’t ever want this to get outside of the web. Then all the fun goes away.

Does that mean that TV is dead?

MATT: I don’t know. People have been talking about it for a long time. I just don’t watch it anymore so I can’t answer that question. TV isn’t even on the radar and doesn’t make any sense for what we’re trying to do.

TROY: As long as “Deal or No Deal” is on, I think TV has a shot.

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