Archive for the 'Trends' Category

theorycast.63 :: What is Transmedia?

Download theorycast.63 :: What is Transmedia? (.mp4 / 52mb), or watch this on Youtube, Facebook and Subscribe to theorycast on iTunes.

At the Futures of Entertainment 4 conference in MIT, I asked academics Xiaochang Li, Sheila Seles and William Uricchio of the Convergence Culture Consortium on their definitions of transmedia.

As defined by Henry Jenkins in his book Convergence Culture (2006 // see book and video), transmedia storytelling is published across multiple forms of media with each element making distinctive contributions to a viewer/user/player’s understanding of the story world. By using different media formats, it attempts to create “entrypoints” through which consumers can become immersed in a story world. Jenkins also compares highlights sticky media vs. spreadable media, where we once stuck viewers into specific media, now we’re now encouraging the content to be perpetuated across media and users.

MIT Press Bookstore FOE4 selection
MIT Press Bookstore selection @ #FOE4

Why is transmedia a big deal now?
I expect that the first point is technology, where we see the proliferation of networked media forms, such as video games, the Internet, and mobile platforms. The second point is cultural, such as the Web 2.0 movement, where the participatory design, distributive ease and integrative form of digital media lends itself well to stories flowing across media platforms.

Inspired from Lucian’s analogy of greek mythology, one of the obvious questions on transmedia lies in its distinctiveness. If stories have been reiterated across media (even tablets and statues) since the early B.C., isn’t that already a form of transmedia? If so, how is it different from cross-media or intertextual forms of productions?

From our video interview, Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program, Prof. Urrichio, describes transmedia as a new “lens” for us to make sense of experiences, both present and past (thus history is ever exciting). The concept clearly existed long ago, but only now are we gathering more precise vocabulary and practice for it. Perhaps it’s like seeing new colors for the first time.

An instance of transmedia in the everyday is Wikipedia, where users are co-creating and co-sustaining the continuity of the online encyclopedia, as well as reproducing the content in print and through development of mobile applications. Prof. Urrichio argues that the magic of transmedia practices, like Wikipedia, lies in its algorithm. In any transmedia practice, it is the algorithm (I offered rule-making) which defines the social outcomes of the story. If a transmedia story were an organism, it seems to me that the algorithm is much like its DNA. Open user participation on a transmedia story means that we can’t really predict how users (or fans) would re-shape the storyline, but with its algorithm in place, we can expect how it would eventually look like.

Futures of Entertainment 4
FOE4 session 3: Transmedia for Social Change (video). The Harry Potter Alliance is ingenius!

Transmedia inevitably offer a canvas for free-play, which leads us into the idea of games, specifically alternative reality games (or ARGs). To explain, Cayden Mak shared with me a neat paper by Henrik Örnebring entitled Alternate reality gaming and convergence culture: The case of Alias (2007). In it, Örnebring describes Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) as a form of internet-based mystery game in which participants are immersed in a fictional world and engage in collective problem-solving.

What makes this paper particularly interesting, is that it takes into account the potential exploitative aspect of transmedia (and ARG) practices. While part of fan culture, the paper problematizes the fact that many ARGs are actually marketing tools.

An ARG I’ve personally observed was called, in which a seemingly innocuous web site gets hijacked by an A.I., offering clues throughout the site. As documented by ARG researcher, Christy Dena, “I Love Bees (42 Entertainment, 2004) was a radio drama delivered through fragmented sound files that were released one-by-one to the players as they answered over 1,400 payphone, in over 50 states, in eight countries. Once a call was answered and a challenge was successfully completed, an ‘axon’ (sound file) was unlocked for the players online.” Thing is, I Love Bees was essentially a marketing campaign for the Halo 2 game.

While not explicitly a game, we do see online services such as Facebook come under fire when their terms of agreement seizes the copyright of media shared by its users. On the other hand, Wikipedia threads the line carefully as it remains non-profit and posts no ads. This awareness of potential online exploitation brought about the recent conference called The Internet as Playground and Factory (Nov 12-14, 2009).

I vote @mikemonello for Best Laptop Lid Theme evar  #foe4
@mikemonello, best known for producing The Blair Witch Project, has awesome laptop stickers from Vinylville

FOE4 Conference Aftermath
If you’re wondering how the Futures of Entertainment 4 conference went, let’s just say there’s way too much for me to write about. Thankfully @rachelclarke liveblogged all the sessions, so just scoot over to her blog and search under “FOE”. Here’s my favorite session which she documented, FOE: Producing Transmedia Experiences: Participation & Play. Also, videos from the FOE4 sessions are out on MIT TechTV. I video captured some of the sessions and tweeted them from my iPhone OWLE rig, but they’re not as professional.

Update 1: This theorycast video is now featured on (thanks Sheila!) and the MIT Comparative Media Studies web site (thanks Andrew!).

Update 2: I have to point you to the Futures of Entertainment 4 conference videos. If you have time, they are a treasure throve of real-life case studies and experiences. A must-watch is the keynote session by Henry Jenkins entitled “Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: Five Key Principles of Transmedia Entertainment”. Session 3 “Transmedia for Social Change” is relevant to folks like me. Very inspirational session, esp the Harry Potter Alliance project (mindblowing!). Session 4 “The ROI of ROFL” is where Grant McCracken, author of Chief Culture Officer, lead the panel on the disconnect between “corporation and culture”. I’ve yet to blog about my interview with him. Watch them all 8 sessions here, or download all 8 videos to iTunes, then sync to your iPod to watch.

Speaking @ PRSA Buffalo: Social Media – Strategy Over Tools (Part 1)

PRSA: SocialMedia - Strategy instead of Tools
You can now download the slides (.pdf) directly from

Thanks to Jess Manocchio, I’ve been re-invited to speak at PRSA Buffalo, kicking off their Sunrise Seminar series on social media.

While my previous talk in February focused on listening in social media (Part 1 & Part 2), this time I’ll be bringing folks on a journey through how social media strategies are created. Along the way, I’ll recommend the use of conversation filtering and analysis tools such as cotweet and JamiQ. You should be able to follow along 8am EST today (Aug 5th) via twitter #PRSAtalk.

For your convenience, the must-have books I’ve mentioned in my talk today include:
Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies (2008) by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
Community Building on the Web : Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities (2000) by Amy Jo Kim
Designing for the Social Web (2008) by Joshua Porter

UPDATE 1: Jess told me that we had around 50 happy participants today! I’ve added the my presentation slideshow at the top of this post, and you can download the slides (.pdf) from (easier) or Please share these slides if you see fit, and do let me know what your colleagues think about it.

UPDATE 2: Part 2 is now available and it features the video from this talk. Enjoy! :)

Interview on CBC Business News: Examining eBooks

On 12th June 2009, producer @NishaPatel invited me onto CBC Business News to talk about the eBook phenomena. I think I talk a little slow for television, but oh well, that’s that.

I initially passed this opportunity to Dr. Alex @Halavais, whom I knew was in the process of digitizing his entire personal book library. He had given me great advice on the evolution of media industries from analogue to digital, specifically on how the book publishing industry is likely to mirror the course of music and movies industries into the digital domain.

Here are some questions from CBC News, as well as my responses:

1. Why are eBooks taking so long to turn mainstream?
Short answer: Aesthetic experience. Music and movies tend to be experienced same way be it analogue or digital (i.e. screens, headphones), while the experience of browsing a physical book hasn’t been replicated in the electronic form. I think we’re compensating by recognizing the new-found features of ebooks, including the ability to search within books and to carry along more books with us than physically possible.

2. Who are going to be the real losers here? Bookstores, publishers?
If we were to look at the demise of Tower Records, or the state of Blockbuster today, it’s quite certain that if ebooks were to take off, then the brick and mortar bookstores would be next to go. As much as we romanticize the loss of physical browsing, bookstores might have to adapt themselves around alternative aspects of business. I’m seeing many bookstores take the Starbucks route by turning themselves into The Third Place, which focuses the business on communal aspects of books, such as operating cafes, hosting author readings, and catering to book clubs.

3. Which device do you think will lead the ebook revolution?
I personally enjoy reading on my Amazon Kindle, as well as my iPhone. They compliment each other very well, and the convenience and comfort these devices bring to reading ebooks make them strong contenders as mainstream devices for the publishing industry.

If you’re interested to see why the Kindle and the iPhone rock for reading, check out this recent discussion I had with my fellow Kindle fans.

UPDATE: The RamblingLibrarian now offers his thoughts on ebooks as well.

On Tiananmen’s 20th anniversary: How China is becoming a Giant Singapore

Tiananmen Square protests of 1989
The Tank Man: Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 – Jeff Widener (The Associated Press). Also see NY Times “Behind the Scenes: Tank Man of Tiananmen

You might be aware that I’ve been on a blog hiatus since I writing on my dissertation on Cyberactivism in China. With the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square this week, I’d like to brain dump what I’ve come across so far. Please let me know what you think.

When veteran filmmaker Antony Thomas went to China in search of “The Tank Man“, he showed this iconic picture to undergraduates at the Peking University. Back in 1989, this university served as the nerve center of the Tiananmen Square protests.

None of the students recognized the photograph.

Lacking any context, the four Chinese students mustered their best effort and proposed that it was some kind of military parade (watch 1 minute into video). Continue reading ‘On Tiananmen’s 20th anniversary: How China is becoming a Giant Singapore’

Watch Henry Jenkins discuss Transmedia Storytelling (video)

Henry Jenkins is the director, Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT. In this viral-info-snack he discusses the power of media in a 21 century trans-mediated world. A world where converging technologies and cultures give rise to a new media landscape.

Thanks to the ever wise Cross-Media Specialist @ChristyDena, I checked out Henry Jenkin’s short video on transmedia, which discusses the origin of media and how it’s transformed today. The video showcases much of the phenomena I’ve been illustrating in my recent presentations on the social web.

Starting with storytelling shared within tribes, it goes onto the modern day commercialization of media owned by a few powerful conglomerates, and finally today’s re-tribalized media which is reproduced and remixed by anyone handy with digital tools as well as participates in online social networks (e.g. Youtube, Facebook). Evidence of this remix culture can be seen in Youtube spoofs of major events such as the Gitmo torture and the Obama campaign.

More importantly, Jenkins discusses the emergence of transmedia, which is an affordance of such democratic media tools. In short, transmedia refers to the idea that a story can be told across various media. A popular example would be The Matrix, where the story is told across three movies, an animation series, a video game and so on. Extending further, we could also consider fan-made works as part of the transmedia experience, where we see variations (e.g. spoofs) produced and shared by fans all over the world.

In summary, today’s experiences are best served flowy. It’s not just about letting content be in the hands of fans, but enabling them to remix them in their own image. This participatory way of production isn’t simply fan-inclusive; it invites them to help us sustain our stories beyond our means.

theorycast.56 :: Is “MINE” the future of magazines?

Thanks to @JessManocchio and @joonian, I’ve got my first issue of MINE. It’s an experimental, personalized magazine from Time Warner Inc. Is it a worthy mashup or a frankenstein of a magazine? See what I’ve to say.

MINE: My Magazine. My Way.

What is Mine magazine?

  • A free five-issue, 10-week, experimental magazine
  • User-mashup of five Time Warner/American Express Co. magazines
  • Personalized magazines end up with 56 possible combinations
  • MINE has been compared to a printed, expanded RSS feed
  • 36-page print edition for first 31,000 respondents
  • Online version goes to remaining 200,000 respondents
  • MINE magazine has mobile reader version, including a Blackberry app
  • Features four single-page ads for the Lexus 2010 RX
  • Lexus ads personalized based on subscriber’s geography and taste (see video)
  • Probably environmentally friendlier than traditional distribution
  • Magazine personalization isn’t new: Xerox helped subscribers put their own photo on the cover of WIRED (March-July, 2007)

mine - the future of magazines?

USA Today: Made-to-order magazine lets readers choose by Ryan Nakashima (March 18, 2009)
Fast Company: Time Inc.’s Mine Magazine is a Printed RSS Feed by Ariel Schwartz (March 18, 2009)
Will Time’s Customized “Mine” Magazine Be a Print Success Story? by Leah Southers #PublicRelations (March 26, 2009)

Japan’s cyber homeless living on the net

BBC’s Matt Frei visits a cyber cafe just outside Tokyo, where some homeless young people are choosing to live in the tiny cubicles. Some take-aways from this short, depressing BCC report:

  • 60 x “coffin-sized” cubicles for rent at around US$500/month in Tokyo
  • No windows to the outside world, except for computer
  • Cubicle residents mostly young, intelligent, retrenched
  • Cubicle neighbors rarely talk to one another, no friendships
  • Sense of sadness and lifelessness. Respectful = silent?

Reviewing similar cyber-drifter reports from other news agencies:

  • Cyber-homeless are nicknamed “freeters” – a compound of “free” and “Arbeiter” (German for “worker”)
  • “Freeters” are a by-product of the economic crisis that hit Japan and its lifelong employment guarantees in the 1990s
  • “Freeters” drift between odd jobs, earning around US$8/hour (1,000 yen)
  • A modest 30 square metre (320 square foot) flat in Tokyo easily cost US$1,250/month
  • Living in such Internet cafes costs $12-$20 a night. Residents get free soft drinks, TV, comics and Internet access. This prices even beat those of Japan’s famous “capsule hotels”, where guests sleep in plastic cells.
  • Living in cybercafes also grants an official registered address to many laid-off contract workers. Critical for job hunting.

I’ve seen similar partitioned cubicles in cybercafes in parts of China, though I must say that the ones in Japan seem to have the most privacy.

I’d appreciate any photos / videos you might have taken or found of cybercafes around the world. I’d like to compare social conditions.

Here are more reports about Japan’s cyber homeless…
Reuters: Japanese find sleep, shelter in cyber cafes (Text / May 7, 2007)
Roadjunky: The Cyber-Homeless of Japan (Video / Dec 22, 2008)
Reuters: Japan’s Internet address (Video / Dec 24, 2008)

Update: BoingBoing mentions the exploitation aspect. Cybercafe owner makes a tidy sum from their plight: 60 cubicles x $500 rent = $30,000. The polar ends of socio-economics, aka the poor get poorer, vice versa. The inescapable, perpetual dilemma.

theorycast.55 :: Touring the Retro-Media exhibit @ UB

Talk about Geek Nostalgia! Walk with us in this 20 minute historic journey into memory devices lost and found.

Science librarian Ben Wagner gives us a tour of their new Retro-Media exhibit which features all kinds of recordable media over the past century.

Everything from computer punch cards, to floppy disks, to magnetic tape for data storage, to vinyl, 8-track, CDs for music recordings, to 8mm film, U-matic, laserdiscs for video media, and so much more.

The UB Libraries have put together a wonderfully comprehensive history of recordable media on the Retro-Media web site.

GE’s “augmented reality” campaign

GE Augmented Reality

I know GE’s augmented reality marketing gimmick works because I’m seeing at least 35 Youtube video submissions from folks amazed by it (many more blogging / tweeting). Here’s a great video demo from DoobyBrain.

Try it with your webcam at
Tip: Try blowing into your webcam and see what happens…

Augmented Reality has been used in a number of places, but is particularly seen in marketing campaigns (Nissan Cube 3D Reality brochure, Volvo Ocean Race 3D Yachts), as well as video games (Sony PS3’s Eye of Judgement, and a bunch more).

I’m more interested in how it would allow us to merge both online and real-world environments in the same place, through the use of location-aware smartphones and video goggles. Applications would include the ability to recognize people and objects, help us find our way around and to help us make highly informed decisions based on our current situation. How Stuff Works has some examples.

Update 1: New York Times today features the release of Topps 3D Live baseball card. Put the card in front of a webcam and collectors will see a three-dimensional avatar of the player on the computer screen.

Update 2: Trying to figure out the magic? GE Smart Grid Augmented Reality makes use of FLARToolKit and PV3D to create a digital hologram of Smart Grid technology in your hands [via Papervision3D].

HyperConnected Beings // From Social Web to Networked Consciousness

Presentation Mindmap: Networked Consciousness
HyperConnected Beings (Slides)

As a guest lecturer at @panomatic‘s Designed Play visual studies class yesterday, I thought aloud of how we are increasingly inter-connected with one another. Although in varying degrees, there are some like me who are inclined to explore the extremities of self-awareness.

Perhaps not now, but little choice later…
Note that I take the perspective of being hyper-connected as a choice at this point, though I believe that it will be unavoidable in the near future. As my friend MrBig already noted, even when he tries to have online presence through pseudonymity, the dilemma comes where his friends connect back to him, verifying real-life information about himself (e.g. Facebook).

Since information shared online by others around and about you would likely be beyond your control, having some form of online presence that’s verifiable by people you know, would act as a findable official reference from which you can control. Even if you aren’t interested in promoting yourself online, having presence acts as a defense mechanism for your namesake / reputation.

To contrast the diversity modes of online presence, I talked about my personal experiences in attempting to share and store consciousness via two routes:

1. Taking the High Road – VIDEO
+ High Cognitive Bandwidth; hard to multi-task / browse
+ Visceral, im-mediate reality
+ Technological accessibility: smaller sensors, cheaper storage
+ Mobile live video streaming (e.g., Qik, etc)
+ Searchable video via thumbnails, keyframe tagging, face detection

2. Taking the Low Road – TEXT
+ Low Cognitive Bandwidth: easy to multi-task / browse
+ Imaginary, requires prior experience
+ Scalable Complexity: twitter (low) to blog posting (high)
+ Democratic participation: twitter, SMS/txting cellphones
+ Highly searchable; naturally mashable / remixable

Points discussed in class during presentation:

Finally, the means of communication often creates avenues for serendipitous encounters, which could explain why we are attracted to use social devices such as twitter.

ASIDE: I’m keeping track of related information at

UPDATE: I’ve share the presentation on