12 Lessons on User Experience + Transmedia Storytelling from SXSW 2012
I had the opportunity to attend SXSWi this year, a mega-conference in Austin which is essentially the mecca for internet geeks. The event packs in over 1,000 panels + talks, hundreds of networking sessions + demonstrations and just as many parties in 5 quick days. It’s completely impossible to do everything you want to do, so you basically have to pick what you want to focus on and allow serendipity to drive the rest. I split my time between fun “brain candy” inspiration type things and educational sessions on two primary topics: User Experience and Transmedia Storytelling. Here are a dozen lessons I learned from entrepreneurs like Path’s Dave Morin and media mavens like New York Times’ David Carr on the topics:
…on user experience and product success
- Effective user experience should be designed to convey values + emotions to the user during the experience itself, not just at the outcome. That means thinking about everything from colors, to menus, to page animation and more.
- Think about how device types provide different experiences. Path was built as a mobile phone app only to enforce personal content creation and intimacy. Path is more emotional because you can’t do a lot of things you can do on Facebook, etc.
- Either it’s good or it isn’t. Be honest with yourself or you’ll end up never achieving great. Demanding “great” before shipping was the different between Path 1.0 failure and Path 2.0 success.
- We are in an attention economy. To succeed you need to find new ways to stimulate and provide value continuously, in the face of a generation that is more incapable of paying attention than ever before.
- Information design is critical in modern storytelling. The New York Times architects stories so readers with five seconds, thirty seconds or two minutes each have a complete experience, while maintaining the choice to dive deeper.
- Popular new media apps Intapaper + Flipboard have fantastically enjoyable reading experiences but no business model for content creation. New York Times and other stalwarts have a business model that ruins user experience. Who will crack the middle ground?
…on social’s role in transmedia storytelling
- Your social ecosystem isn’t separate from your other platforms, it’s part of one cohesive story that your brand is telling. Understand how your social hubs can be access points to that larger story.
- Social enables your audience to expand your potential farther than you can on your own. ESPN Top 10 is now more diverse because fans help identify great sports moments in smaller markets and less popular sports.
- Marketing opportunities are more engaging when all touch-points are planned as one. MTV develops 360° programs by planning broadcast, web mobile and social for partners all at once, as illustrated by this year’s Verizon + VMA’s sponsorship.
- Know your purpose across your ecosystem. ESPN knows it can’t always be the one to broadcast every sporting event, but it can be the one to host and drive the conversation for them all. Other brands become curators to help illustrate their point of view.
- Don’t lose sight of meaningful actions in the face of social KPI’s. Causes was fantastic at building audiences empowering “armchair activism”, but it hasn’t yet figured out how to move participants up the ladder.
- The goal of a mashup is to enable people to see something that already exists in a different way. Similarly, understanding creative ways to tell stories beyond just straightforward narrative will make your content more compelling.
The truth is most of what you take away from SXSWi can’t be captured in a number of bullet points. Spending the majority of a week focused entirely on trying out new mobile products (I had four different ambient awareness iPhone apps running simultaneously on my phone), meeting new people and feeding thought-provoking concepts into your head is something we should all do at least once a year, if not more. That alone is a lesson in itself.
This content is cross-posted from Kevin’s personal blog.
The Online-Piracy Bills Were Killed by a Generation’s Expectations
This article was originally published on The Daily Beast.
Hyperbole is so helpful. When tech companies used social media to kill the anti-piracy bills in Congress this week, breathless observers heralded the dawning of a new age in Washington. Old media was out; new media, officially, finally, was in. Tides turned; eras crumbled, we were told.
Really? Highlighting the fact that social media brought down the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is like saying Yankee Stadium is responsible for 27 world championships. It’s not the grass; it’s the talent that takes the field. The social uproar around SOPA didn’t arise because it threatened a generation’s favorite new media, but because it threatened their whole value system.
Social media isn’t even new. Social is now old. It has been used to overthrow despots around the world for years now, elect a U.S. president in 2008, and get Americans talking about income inequality for the first time in memory. We know it has given unheard-of power to anyone with a browser. And we marvel at the new, new things on our phones that send messages, images, and ideas around the world in seconds. That’s historic, potentially powerful–but not new.
For many Americans, nothing is more sacrosanct than the Internet. Call it creepy, but look in the mirror. Did you read to your kids last night before you went to bed, or did you check your email?
Protesters demonstrate against the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) outside the offices of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on January 18, 2012 in New York City. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)
Social media is a platform. It sits there, begging for creativity, hoping that someone, anyone, will stir the passion of its users so it can let loose. It’s like a Ferrari idling. We desperately want a pro to show us what it can do on the track, not a hedge-fund executive taking it to Starbucks for coffee and bagels. It’s kind of depressing, actually, when potential is quashed.
While the technology, architecture, engineering, and science that go into building the pipe is astounding, the pipe is not overthrowing despots. How people use creativity to stir our passion, which in turn catalyzes the social response, is where the power lies.
For many Americans, nothing is more sacrosanct than the Internet. Call it creepy, but look in the mirror. Did you read to your kids last night before you went to bed, or check your email? Even if you read that story, you kind of wanted to take a peek, right?
And for at least one generation, and now almost two, that passion is a given. It’s a right. And for many, it’s a right to get stuff free online. Indeed, research shows that if kids pay for stuff online, they actually feel less good about themselves. They failed as a person. So if someone–say Congress and lobbyists representing big businesses–tried to clamp down on their online freedom, they would view that as a personal affront.
Tech companies, not surprisingly, know this. So as The New York Times reported, Reddit and Tumblr decided to lean into it. They, with unquestioned credibility among their users, began to demonstrate that SOPA was censorship—and censorship is one thing this generation cannot abide.
Look at what censorship might look like, they said. Other sites jumped in, and on Wednesday, the big guys joined. Google, Zuckerberg, Wikipedia, Wired, and all the other kids at the cool table took action. Unsuspecting members of Congress flipped, and that was that. It really wasn’t a fair fight, in the end.
Passion takes many forms. For the same group who think unfettered Internet freedom is (or should be) a right, they also think tolerance, fairness, and open-mindedness are absolutes. They grew up with the Internet and that meant growing up in a space where there is not one central norm but many. They have formed a generation that fosters individuality, self-expression, and plurality.
This group is defined by their age—20-somethings, broadly. But people younger and older than this group aspire to be like them, including teenagers and 50-year-olds who take their laptops to bed.
They support gay marriage and can’t fathom why we’re even having that debate. They support abortion rights as vigorously as they want to protect the environment. They want enlightened immigration and appropriate regulations for Wall Street, and don’t understand why some wouldn’t put education funding at the top of our priority list.
For them, these are not just issues, but values and deeply held beliefs. In political terms, these Americans are the new values voters. And they believe Barack Obama not only shares these values of plurality and fairness, but also lives them daily.
On the other hand, they think Republicans are … well, like the old media companies in the SOPA debate. Republicans, they feel, just don’t get it. They are like their parents, they say: close-minded, living in the past, clueless about the modern world, opposed to things they just don’t understand.
When they hear that Mitt Romney wants a constitutional ban on abortion, they cringe. When they learn that Rick Santorum thinks global warming is “junk science” or when Newt Gingrich says child labor laws are “truly stupid,” they don’t get it. When John Boehner and his House Republicans wants to zero out Planned Parenthood or eviscerate environmental laws or give tax breaks to wealthy Americans, they worry about the future of the country.
And like SOPA, when that political debate is framed as a choice between the president and any Republican later this year, it won’t be a fair fight, at least for this group of Americans.
Once again, we relearned old lessons this week. It’s not about the medium, as interesting and dynamic as that is. It’s about human passion and how leaders can creatively channel it online and in the real world. The tech companies know it, the Egyptians in Tahrir Square knew it, and so does President Obama.
NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX … Facebook?
The Real Opportunity For Content Is Web Series, Which Can Benefit From Facebook’s Engagement
This article originally appeared on Ad Age.
As Facebook continues to grow its user base worldwide, entertainment companies are increasingly trying to find ways to use the platform as a new form of TV channel with unprecedented reach. Both major TV networks and Hollywood film studios have previously allowed people to watch their content via their Facebook pages, including paid video trials such as Warner Brothers renting its “Dark Knight” film from its ultra-successful “Batman” franchise for Facebook credits.
Unfortunately, for WB and others, no early tests of traditional companies pushing their content on Facebook have registered any real success. Audiences simply don’t seem interested in watching long-form, lean-back content wrapped in a Facebook environment (though augmenting traditional TV with a second-screen social context is another discussion).
But new Web-only entertainment creators can succeed where big media failed. Here’s why: they’re producing video content that differs significantly from the classic TV model. First, each “episode” is typically much shorter, commanding less of a singularly focused, lean-back experience. Second, outside of the normal broadcast schedule, users aren’t trained to “tune in” or remember when the next episode will be ready for viewing. Facebook can help content creators meet these challenges in ways that would drive more interest, engagement and repeat viewership.
Push notification systems
Typically, Web-only video series are discovered via recommendations through press or friends, but then suffer steep drop-off in eyeballs for the 2nd episode. This occurs typically via both standalone Web sites as well as YouTube. Hundreds of millions of people, on the other hand, return to Facebook every day. Video series can take advantage of news feed posts, event invites, and top-bar notifications to inform viewers every time a new episode or piece of content is released. In this manner, shows will be able to command much more repeat tune-in than typical Web fare. Shows can also easily fill in the time between episodes with goodies like extra footage and cast interviews in the same tuned delivery system that new episodes flow through to keep viewers interested during down time.
Facebook has an immense amount of user data accessible through its APIs that have been leveraged in interesting ways within content. Advertisers and musicians have already been pushing the boundaries of personalized experiences in exciting ways (see: “The Wilderness Downtown” or “Take This Lollipop“), but original content producers have, for the most part, not taken advantage of the opportunity until recently. AOL’s new Facebook-only show “AIM High” launched with a unique feature that allows viewers to login with Facebook Connect to view a more personalized version of each episode. After connecting, viewers may notice their own faces on posters in the school setting, or even find themselves running for high school class president directly within the plot of the show. While these personalized elements are superficial so far, it’s easy to imagine future shows with much deeper integration. For example, a show could find a way to turn the viewer’s friends into the suspects of a mystery, driving much more engagement and viewer loyalty.
Parallel conversation streams
Newer short-form content series like “AIM High” also seem to benefit more from integrated comments than long-form content can. With episodes no longer than 5-10 minutes, the plot of “AIM High” is always in flux, leaving room for speculation and discussion. The comment box isn’t just a place to voice love or hate for the show, rather it becomes a real-time discussion of what’s taking place and what could happen next. Facebook’s commenting system also allows discussion to take place both on the show page and within people’s news feeds, providing more seamless conversation both when viewers are watching the show and afterwards. 3rd party apps like GetGlue and IntoNow are starting to provide this parallel conversation stream via a second screen, but no companies in this space have yet been able to tie the discussion as close to the content as a Facebook-viewing platform can.
As all content consumption becomes hyper-connected and on-demand, even the major TV networks are quickly noticing the need to evolve in order to meet consumer wants. It may not be as easy for them as it is for digital pure-plays like YouTube, Hulu and Yahoo! (all of which announced a full slate of Web-only shows during this year’s television up-front), but they have to be as vigilant in breaking through. Everyone is experimenting with the most effective way to attract and keep audiences for this new form of content. Facebook, with its unmatched notification system, personalization capabilities and conversation tools, could be just the solution everyone is looking for.