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X Media Lab & KR8V masterclasses – Sydney, June 2013

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By Kaye Blum

Harbourview Terrace, MCA

View from the Harbourview Terrace, MCA

For the past five years I’ve been trying to attend a X Media Lab (the “X” in X Media Lab stands for cross-platform, cross-disciplinary, and cross-cultural) conference, but for various reasons, missed out. This year it was back on home turf to celebrate its tenth anniversary after holding events in over a dozen countries.

Founded by Brendan Harken, X Media Lab events have covered as much ground in digital topics as it has geographical locations. Themes have included global media cultures and ideas; the future of journalism; animation and games; location based services; storytelling in the digital age; digital music; cross-platform and immersive media; and, in Switzerland this month, transmedia (wish I could be there). 

This year’s event comprised a highlights day conference designed for “time-poor” creative industries executives, held at the stunning Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MCA’s) Harbourview Terrace; plus two days of KR8V masterclasses, held at the University of NSW College of Fine Arts (COFA).

The highlights day featured over a dozen national and international academics, digital professionals and artists; each limited to a snappy 20 minute presentation (the full list of keynote speakers can be found here). Here are my picks:

Kristen Taylor, Digital Community Strategist for Al Jazeera (previously at The Huffington Post, FourSquare and the BBC New York) shared some poignant insights to why a digital community needs narratives. She talked about context and curating an archive that accrues value over time, such as tumblrs by The New York Times and National Geographic’s ‘Found’. Tumblr and Instagram are her preferred social media channels.

Key take-out from Kristen: “The internet continues to run on kindness… networks have self-healing properties – they heal themselves through kindness.”

Kate McQuillen from Mememe Productions had just won an interactive Emmy award for dirtgirlworld, an “organically designed transmedia project” including an animated kids TV series, merchandise, website, live events, garbage trucks, seeds, and more. There are only eight Emmys in Australia so it’s a fantastic achievement. It was fascinating to hear her journey from having the seed of an idea based on core values such as love and sustainability, and meeting future colleagues in the loo at X Media Lab ten years ago.

Key take-out from Kate: “We wear our hearts on our sleeves and don’t apologise for being ‘out there’.”

Author and presenter Dominic Knight talked about story and structure; the hero’s journey (Robert McKee, Joseph Conran) and the importance of knowing the rules, but where you can innovate.

Key take-out from Dom: “Stories are the conceptual framework that help us understand the world.”

Alvin Wang Graylin, CEO of minfo (China’s leading mobile search service), and founder of Guanxi Inc (a location-based social discovery platform), provided an overview of what it takes to be a tech entrepreneur. And judging by the long list of criteria he shared, there’s obviously a lot more required than just having the idea.

Executing the idea is only the beginning, he explained. A strong work ethic is critical, and being prepared to do the stuff that no one wants to do. Self-esteem, focus, creativity, patience, selling acumen, passion, in-depth industry knowledge, and having a strong team around you were just some of the points he covered. Having savings in the bank and being in a position to take risks were other crucial points – ones that often get ignored, usually to the detriment of the start-up.

To help get investors on board, Alvin provided a list of critical questions that need to be clearly and confidently answerable.

Key take-out from Alvin: “Be healthy – it gets tiring.”

I attended Alvin’s Masterclass on Saturday to hear him share a generous amount of detail on creating integrated mobile marketing campaigns. He also provided some terrific insights to the mobile market in China.

As a digital producer, Galvin Scott Davis has developed top lifestyle apps, business apps and kids games. He is the founder of Protein One, a boutique digital design and development agency in Sydney. His presentation opened with the question: are you a “why” or a “why not”? Creatives realise early on that they are “whys” – they’re always asking questions even as young children, he explained, then they realise it’s more fun to be a “why not”.

It was asking “why not” that pushed him through the challenges of creating a children’s app that required a technology that hadn’t yet been developed. (This process was explained in his masterclass.)

Key take-out from Galvin: “Creatives have imagination, innovation, and talent. We forget to have bravery, stubbornness, and persistence. We need all of the above.”

And one more: “if you’ve got stories, don’t let other people saying ‘no’ get in the way…. Embrace your hurdles – it can be dangerous but rewarding.”

Galvin also delivered an information-packed Masterclass on Saturday, called Reversing The Publishing Model – How To Reinvent Your Story Across Digital Media To Getting A Book Deal. Using the creation of his Dandelion e-book app as a case study, he generously shared the process from concept development through to reaching the Number 1 downloaded app in the Australian AppStore, then scoring a 3-book print publishing deal with Random House. It was fascinating, informative and inspiring stuff. 

Adam Good, director of digital media and content at Telstra Media, also had plenty to share in his presentation. He explained his concern with creative leadership in business and the two areas where he believes more training is needed. Strong leadership is one mandatory skillset; creativity is the other. “You need to flex both of those muscles to succeed” he said, naming Steve Jobs as an example. 

Adam believes there are not enough CEOs in Australia that have both of these attributes, with many coming up through financial management but lacking the sales/marketing/artistic side. He said he sees a lot of businesses failing due to this; there are not enough of these type of leaders here. I wanted to ask him why – is it because our culture places less value on creativity? If you’ve grown up enduring more than an occasional ribbing for being creative like I have, then it’s easy to assume so. But that’s a debate for another time…

The MCA Vivid Festival

The MCA illuminated for Vivid Festival

Back to Adam’s presentation, which moved on to Telstra’s future vision. There were many informative stats but 20 minutes wasn’t nearly enough time and the presentation ended prematurely, with the promise of providing the rest via a Twitter link (which I followed up on). 

Key take-out from Adam: “We need to change the mindset of people who don’t pay for content.”

Michael Naimark, media artist and part of the original design team for the MIT Media Laboratory; and Horst Hörtner, founding member and Director of the Ars Electronica Futurelab, a world leading interdisciplinary research project uniting art, technology and society in Austria, both shared some valuable insights in their presentations.

Key take-out from Michael: “Wearable tech is inevitable.”

Key take-out from Horst: “The next revolution: key technology that has the potential to change fundamental paradigms of our society…. 3D printing, we believe, is the next revolution.”

Vivid Festival and the International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA) were held in Sydney at the same time as X Media Lab and the city was literally bursting with creative energy. By night, Vivid’s stunning light projections transformed the Opera House, the MCA and other city buildings into dazzling palettes of colour and light. The post-conference networking event on the MCA’s balcony provided a spectacular view and an impressive end to an information-intense day.  

SXSW final wrap-up: transmedia, mobile & making it through crowdfunding

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By Kaye Blum

My final wrap-up of SXSW Interactive and Film sessions below. SXSW Music reports will soon be published on my music blog eyeswideclosed.com (in production).

SXSW13 Hipster warning

SXSW13 Hipster warning: If only they read the signs…

My main areas of interest at SXSW Interactive (and Film) 2013 were social media, transmedia and mobile. There was a huge range of sessions and workshops on social (of which I attended as many as was physically possible), hence it gleaned the majority of my report coverage.

SXSW queues for mobile

The queue for a session on mobile at SXSW13

SXSW13 mobile session queue blues cured by Chevy

SXSW13 queue blues cured by getting mobile in a Corvette

As mentioned in my first post from SXSW, there weren’t a lot of mobile themed sessions. Of the few they did have, most were held in a small venue called Wanderlust, which was a yoga studio with around 100 seats (if that). With the huge growth of mobile it was a surprising choice of venue. Consequently there were queues stretching around the block for these sessions and I missed out on both (one just after the opening night party which I’d forfeited to ensure I could get up early enough the next morning to attend). I consoled myself by taking a test-drive of the latest Corvette around the block (what a great branding exercise from Chevy).

I was also keen to attend any SXSW Film sessions featuring transmedia, interactive or cross-platform projects. Given the Film sessions overlapped between Interactive and Music, it was a challenge making the five or six I’d highlighted in the schedule. I managed to make it to two. The first, Exploring place with cross-platform storytelling, included some excellent speakers providing insights to their projects (Michel Reilhac, Liz Nord, Danny Harris and Mike Knowlton).

The second, 10 things I learned fro Kim Jong IL to make an interactive doc, featured Ann Shin and Hannah Donegan from Fathom Film Group; plus Media Ridha and Adrian Bellna from Toronto-based Jam3 (who made the award-winning Bear71).

They presented some great insights to the making of their interactive doco The Defector including spreading the word, doing your research, finance options, pushing boundaries, and the importance of testing.

I also attended a session on crowdfunding called Hacking the crowd – artists as entrepreneurs featuring musician Kim Boekbinder (The Impossible Girl) and

Molly Crabapple, Founder of Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School. Both have built careers through crowdfunding and on their own, no management or labels or galleries involved.

They provided informal yet detailed accounts of their lives, creative drives, and how crowdfunding provided a powerful platform to launch their careers. Key take-out was a comment from Kim: “What we used to call art, photography, writing and music is now just called content. I make my living as a creator – it’s not about the content I’m putting out… I’m really really lucky, and I’d like a world where everybody’s that lucky.” Hell yeah.

Overall, SXSW Interactive was a full-on, intensive and pretty exhausting experience – but I still got a lot out of the sessions I attended and found it an enriching – albeit information-overloading – experience.

Being a first-timer, I learned some valuable lessons on how to make it a better experience next time. These include getting to Austin a few days before the conference actually starts to get your bearings on the many conference locations spread across town and to get over the jet-lag. I flew in from Australia via LA the day before it started which was almost two days in transit – I think it took me the whole first week to recover.

SXSW transport alternatives

Quicker than the bus? Smart SXSW transport alternatives.

I also recommend securing central accommodation at any cost (if budget is not an issue as it was for me this time) to avoid time-consuming bus rides or relying on the virtually non-existent cabs. City hotels start booking out in August, so be quick.

Plus, make an effort to go to as many of the social events that your liver can handle: it’s a great way to meet peers (I spent too much time running from panel session to workshops to more sessions, not wanting to miss out!).

Most importantly: accept that you can’t do everything on offer (and there were  over 1,000 interactive sessions to choose from this year). Try to choose a few sessions that are completely unrelated to your chosen topics – these are the sessions that can provide the most inspiration.

Would I go back? To be honest, I’m not exactly sure it provided enough bang for buck, with the cost of travel thrown in. It seemed to be over-subscribed, too much going on at once and too many people (there were 30,621 Interactive participants, plus 16,297 for Film and 25,119 for Music, although some of these numbers could have attended all three – the stats provided don’t specify).

However I fell in love with cowboy boots, duck tacos and the city of Austin itself; so I’d like to return one day and see it in its usual state without the 70,000 or so SXSW punters jammed into the city. For now, Austin, it’s over ‘n’ out.

It’s all systems go for SXSW

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By Kaye BlumNeon-DontLiveHere

So much for my wild notions of blogging every day from SXSW Interactive – it’s Day 4 and I’ve hardly had a chance to catch my breath. No matter how many tips you read or advice you get on preparing for this mammoth conference, you just don’t realise the scale of it until you’re actually right here in the thick of it!

Highlights so far:

Lean forward, lean back: tablet news experiences (Friday March 8, 2013)
Sara Quinn from the Poynter Institute generously shared their research and statistics on tablet reading behaviours and presented other relevant factoids. Maria Garcia from Garcia Media and Dave Stanton from Smart Media also shared their well-researched and relevant insights on tablet design for news. Notable takeaways: every study they did shows that eyes first go to photos on a tablet page; and no-one wants a tablet news app that looks like a newspaper.

Show and Smell 2: marketing experiences beyond visual (Saturday March 9, 2013)
These happy science boffs gave a great presentation of the latest tech developments in gadgets and devices that enhance the senses. From ‘the scent of your city’ to projected sound beams, it was a fascinating and entertaining presentation. Notable takeaway: non-visual brand cues are often stronger than we realise…Plus, a demo of a tiny wee Instagram image projector that works like an old-school slide projector but is small enough to hide in the palm of your hand. Their presentation can be reviewed at http://www.tmsw.com/sxsw2013.

Exploring place with cross-platform storytelling (Saturday March 9, 2013)
This panel session showcased transmedia and cross-platform film projects that explore place using technologies such as geo-tagging, augmented reality and interactive video. Michel Reilhac’s transmedia project combines scenes from Paris locations in classic films with actual locations in an app with themed walks around the city. It allows you to re-make the film scene and upload it, access information about the film and the location, and more. It is scheduled for release in June 2013 and will be syndicated to cities such as Rome, Berlin and New York. Mike Knowlton from storycode.org MC’d the panel and provided his own valuable insights. Favourite takeaway from this event (a quote from Mike): “All the technology in the world doesn’t mean anything if the story stinks.”

On both Saturday and Sunday I missed several sessions (mostly with mobile themes) due to queues stretching around three quarters of the venue’s block, which was hugely disappointing. There is so much to choose from with so much going on simultaneously – and just so many people – organisers and locals encourage ‘going with the flow’. I’ll give it a shot… But right now I’m off to a panel called How to Measure Social Media, then to my next workshop called Storytelling – the Next Wave of Engagement.

Written by Kaye Blum

March 10, 2013 at 12:49 pm

A newbie’s quick road-test of The Age newspaper’s iPad app

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By Kaye Blum

Attending yesterday’s Cool New Toys session at MWF2011 has provoked further reflection on some of the comments that were made by the audience, including myself, regarding Fairfax Media’s newspaper apps for tablets.

I only recently bought an iPad2 and have barely had the chance to give it a thorough road-test. I did, however, download the free app for The Age from iTunes. I didn’t really know what to expect but I was very pleasantly surprised. With sponsorship from Telstra, they’re offering a free trial (for a limited time) of the daily plus weekend editions and most of the supplements. There’s no indication of how long the free trial lasts or when users will be asked to subscribe, so I’m making the most of it and am thoroughly enjoying the experience as an iPad newbie.

I’ve never been a daily newspaper reader – too time-poor, broadsheets too big and difficult to read on a packed peak-hour train – but I do love browsing the weekend editions. When I’m living in Melbourne, I also buy The Age on Thursday for the Green Guide, an excellent supplement with a critical guide to the week’s television programs; and the EG (Entertainment Guide) in Friday’s paper which provides a comprehensive listing of all the live music gigs and other interesting happenings in Melbourne for the week.

I was impressed to find both supplements provided in the iPad app. However, the Green Guide doesn’t provide the full TV guide that comes in the printed version, which is disappointing. Yet the EG provides a full gig guide listing as per the print version. As a live music fan, this really got me in.

I’ve used The Age app the most often out of the 20-odd apps I downloaded in my first week with an iPad. The interface is reasonably intuitive; I love the scroll and swipe format and that I don’t need my glasses to read the text. I appreciate the occasional video content added to a story which is relevant and enhancing rather than superfluous and unnecessary. I also like that I don’t have to go to the shop to buy the paper and that I don’t have to deal with a broadsheet blowing in the wind or taking up too much space on the coffee table. And no more inky fingers. The advertising is minimal and unobtrusive (so far). Then there’s the whole environmental can of worms of not using paper; although I’ve raised the issue of energy consumption for the production of e-books at previous conferences and there doesn’t seem to be a cut-and-dry comparison of the environmental impacts of e-publishing that I’m aware of – I guess it’s still early days.

So, at yesterday’s Cool New Toys session, I expressed my enthusiasm for The Age app and asked Stephen Hutcheon, tablet editor of the Sydney Morning Herald (sister publication of The Age), how they managed the formatting process from print to app on a daily basis. He said they’d retrained some of their print designers and they work from 6pm until 2am re-formatting the print content into the interactive version for the app.

Another audience member completely disagreed with my enthusiasm, stating that the app didn’t seem to have all the content of the paper version and was not updated as quickly as the website. So in his view, as a news source, it was disappointing and he was not interested in subscribing. In my view, the app isn’t meant to be the kind of instant news source that the web delivers. Tablets are a ‘lean-back’ device (as opposed to leaning forward to view and interact with a computer). This term was used by a panelist yesterday, but I first heard interactive media specialist Jennifer Wilson use it several years ago at a new media conference in Byron Bay.

I’m using my tablet on the couch and in bed. I don’t use it for writing – the keys are too sensitive; the return key is where the colon key should be which I keep hitting by mistake. I can’t type fast enough on it. I was hoping it would replace my notebook in lectures but I’m not sure I can master touch-typing on it, so for now I use it mainly for reading. And I love it for just that. Any serious research or work can be done much quicker on my laptop, with two hands. For now, my iPad is a ‘one-hand’ device: tap, touch, swipe. My other hand is free to sip my cup of tea. As William Powers said yesterday, it’s difficult to multi-task on the tablet and that actually allows us to focus more on the material we’re reading. I see that as a real plus for my easily distracted attention-span.

Today I’ve revisited The Age iPad app with a more critical eye. I’ve chosen an article from the Daily Edition, Editor’s Choice. Two taps and I’m there. The article is from the Good Weekend supplement and is titled The Old Spice man cometh. Written by Bernard Lagan, it’s a feature article and interview with the video director of last year’s viral marketing sensation for Old Spice, Tom Kuntz. At the top of the article is video footage – a snappy show-reel of Kuntz’s most prolific commercials, including the Old Spice man ad; another award-winner, the Cadbury Eyebrows ad; and a few I haven’t seen before. Excellent – I get to watch these entertaining clips in crisp digital quality without having to leave the app.

There are four photographs accompanying the article. Three are stills from some of the video clips, the other is a shot of Kuntz on set filming his latest ad. They’re reasonably small (about 3x4cm) and I want to see a larger version of the Kuntz image, which is quite an interesting but busy location shot. I tap the screen hoping it will enlarge. It doesn’t. Disappointing. Tablets provide a stunning platform for good photography so it’s a shame it isn’t enhanced in this format. But I guess there’s only so much a small team of designers can do to turn a daily paper into an app overnight.

In the article, Kuntz’s website is mentioned but there’s no hyperlink. I’m assuming this is an editorial decision to prevent readers from leaving the app. If I want to check out his website I’ll have to jot down the URL (or copy and paste it into a memo) and check it out later. It’s probably a good thing – I’m not distracted from the article, I keep my focus.

At the end of the article there’s no ability for readers to leave a comment. This was a point raised at the panel session yesterday by an audience member. But it seems this is another feature that newspapers are choosing to leave to the web. The iPad app enables me to share the article via email, on Twitter or Facebook and I can even add it to a list of my saved articles which is easily accessible back on the main menu. Is this enough? It is for me.

Do I think it’s worth a subscription fee? Absolutely. The reading experience is enhanced and I will actually consume more content in this format than if I had to go out and buy the printed edition.  So now I’m going back to bed to enjoy reading the weekend papers on my iPad, without the inky fingers.

Have you road-tested any newspaper apps on a tablet device? Let me know what you think.

(c) 2011 Kaye Blum.

Written by Kaye Blum

August 27, 2011 at 7:01 am

Cool new toys at MWF2011

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By Kaye Blum

MWF2011 - New News: Cool New Toys panelists

MWF2011 – New News: Cool New Toys panelists

I’ve just attended my first session at this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival. Weeks ago, I scoured the program and selected sessions with a technology theme. This session was free and booked out quickly, so I’m glad I got in early. The focus was on iPads and other tablets and their impact on journalism.

The panel comprised David Higgins (News Limited’s innovations editor), Craig Butt (digital producer at Melbourne Press Club), William Powers (media and technology journalist and author of Hamlet’s Blackberry) and Stephen Hutcheon (tablet editor of the Sydney Morning Herald). It was chaired by Swinburne senior lecturer Andrew Dodd.

Craig Butt opened with an overview of some of the most innovative tools for tech-savvy journalists: Tweetdeck; Audioboo, which can record up to five minutes of audio for instant uploading; and Qik, which enables you to upload, tag and share video recordings taken from smartphones.

David Higgins talked about aggregators: Feedly; Storify (which I’ve already used and love); and GoogleFusion, which is used by The Guardian. “Professional journalism is now in the hands of everyday people,” he said. Indeed it is.

Stephen Hutcheon talked about the non-linear nature of tablets, claiming it is a “lean-back device” that solves the problem of the small screen on mobile phones. “Most people are looking at it in bed,” he added. He believes the future is in bespoke app’s such as the one created for Le Tour de France and ABC’s food app. “This is where the real growth prospects are.”

William Powers noted that it’s hard to multi-task on tablets, which he believes is a good thing, because it helps maintain focus (unlike the multiple distractions online). “We need to be more strategic about how we use these tools,” he added.

My favourite quote from this session, from Powers again: “We are at the very beginning of this [digital] revolution… it’s exciting… but we’ve got a long way to go.”

(c) 2011 Kaye Blum.

Written by Kaye Blum

August 26, 2011 at 4:07 am

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