Contextual Dissonance

Contextual Dissonance – When clearly commercial content is offered during a time when I’m not in commercial mode, it just feels off.

John Battelle nails that feeling you get when you notice a brand trying a bit too hard to insert themselves into a conversation. To advertise at scale on the web brands resort to algorithms. But trying to algorithmically insert an ad unit into a newsfeed [rarely] [ever] [works].

Conversations require you to listen and respond. If you aren’t really listening, you’re just talking at someone. That is the value of a media property, they aggregate an audience around a topic and host the tone and theme of that conversation. Because they play the host, they are that much better able to match the advertiser to their audience.

This matchmaking is why advertising on a media property is so much more effective than on a social media site. For several years the conversation has moved away from media sites to social media sites and the advertisers followed. But I feel the pendulum is swinging back the other way as brands realize that they are more effective in getting their message across on media sites which share their audience and interests.

This is not to say advertising on social media sites is in danger. There will always be room for diversions of entertaining snippets sprinkled throughout. But substantive marketing pieces that inform engaged readers will only work on vertically-focused media sites.

Comanche, the new kid in town

Photo by Onne Van Der Wal
Photo by Onne Van Der Wal

In the world of sailing, the big boats are the Super Maxi class ocean-going racers. Netscape billionaire Jim Clark has commissioned Comanche, a 100 foot vessel that only a nautical architect with unlimited resources could dream up.

Comanche

Built in Maine for a cool $1.4 billion, it is currently on a ship enroute to Australia where it will compete in the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge in Sydney Harbour on December 9th, followed by the Rolex Sydney to Hobart race after Christmas.

Designed to win races and break records, it boasts an 11,000 square feet spinnaker.

h/t to my colleague Eli who sails the San Francisco Bay

The Sharing Economy

Joi Ito

Joi Ito gave a brief preamble to a gathering at Digital Garage in San Francisco today, Unlocking the Power of Japanese Content in Worldwide Markets.

He spoke about the history of remix culture and differences between Japanese and Western commercial attitudes towards fan fiction and derivative works. Historically, the act of reproducing someone’s work required the manifestation of that copy in a physical artifact which required an investment. If you made a mixtape you had to purchase the cassette and source the original music. If you shared a film, you copied it onto a VHS tape along with the scary FBI warning.

FBI warning

The act of copying something in the pre-digital days was a “trigger event” that could be codified into law and enforced.

When you had to pass around physical media, it cost money. Because of this cost, you needed to create a business to support duplication and distribution. When works became digital, the distribution costs went to zero and the need for a business to manage duplication and distribution went away.

In this new world, the enforcement of the trigger event became ludicrous. Joi reminded us that every time you browse a web site, your browser is making a copy of everything on that page. The act of copying something is fundamental to the infrastructure of the internet. Ownership is hard to enforce and, when done so, threatened the very relevance of the institutions that tried.
The software that runs a majority of the internet, was developed through commons-based peer production where no one institution owns the software.

Linux is not on anyone’s balance sheet. It is not part of anyone’s GDP.

Joi’s work with Creative Commons was an attempt to resolve this incongruence by simplifying the licensing contracts and baking it into the structure of the internet. What was interesting to him and the topic of the afternoon was the difference in corporate attitudes towards ownership of content between Japan and the United States. While Japanese manga culture welcomed derivative fan fiction works produced by their otaku followers, traditional US comic houses heavy-handedly squelched any adoration, killing off their core audience.

Walt Disney is famous for their enforcement of their copyright. I  knew someone in Hong Kong who spent all their time touring the markets in Hong Kong and China serving notices to violators who sold unlicensed reproductions of Disney characters. Marvel, and DC Comics are no different. Copyright law is written in such a way that lack of enforcement can lead to forfeiture of rights. A publicly listed company has a fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders to enforce their copyright.

But the times have changed. Otaku and fan fiction culture is winning. Publishers that allow their fans to remix their brands enjoy a halo effect that is helping market them on social media channels. A stiffly isolated character is less likely to go viral than one that has been remixed to blend into an environment in tune with the context of its surroundings (more on that tomorrow).

Japanese law is written very strictly to enforce copyright but the honne of Japanese society looks the other way when a publishing house slips rough cuts to its fans to allow them to extend the storyline. The rest of the world is catching on and understanding the commercial benefits of a rabid fanbase.

This week’s news of Taylor Swift’s removal of her entire back catalog from Spotify is significant in that she is probably one of the last acts that will be able to do this and drive record commercial sales based on artificial scarcity. In the digital age it is not the artifact of the recording which drives revenue, it is the performance, either in live concert or in the contextual packaging of that recording with other works.

The mp3 is just meta-data to the (live music) event.

The Japanese have known the value of the otaku community for a long time. Pokemon started as a simple video game but grew into a media franchise through its community which it embraced. Western creators such as J.J. Abrams with the Lost TV series have benefited from large fan bases that carry their narrative far beyond the original creation. Wikia (Craig Palmer, CEO, was also a speaker at the conference) is positioning itself as a platform for these communities.

While original media from Japan may be limited to a fringe collection of weird game shows and cos-play conventions appreciated only by those outside Japan that can break through the difficult language and cultural barriers, the concept of remix communities as an important part of a brand’s success is taking hold in the West and driving commercial success to those that embrace it.

Old School Mac Evangelist

My friend Michael Guinn has been running a concierge Mac support and repair service in Santa Barbara and just celebrated 8 years of business. As an Apple Certified Consultant, he makes, “Apple Certified House Calls and Repairs.”

Michael Guinn

His newsletters are folksy and remind me of the old TidBITS updates from the early 90’s. Mick is an old school Mac evangelist sharing the joy of making people’s lives better through technology, not using it to one-up themselves and lord over others.

At Mick’s Macs, we don’t see our clients as “customers.”

Although appropriate in other business models, I’ve never liked that word for ours. For me, “customers” denotes a shopping experience, one less personal than the service and support we provide. When people become our client, they’re never a number. Never. It always makes me smile when people call and begin to remind us who they are and when they last worked with us. It’s one of the rare times I interrupt them with something like, “Tom, of COURSE we know who you are! We upgraded your MacBook Pro last year. How are things?” With caller ID, most of the time we answer the phone calls from existing clients like this: “Hi Kathy! How are you? How can we help you today?” Clients seem to really be happily thrown by this.

Congratulations Mick! If you are in Southern California and need your Mac, iPad, or iPhone checked out, Mick’s Macs.

Apple Watch on cover of Vogue

Apple Watch on Vogue

MacRumors posts that Chinese model Liu Wen will feature the Apple Watch on the cover of next month’s Vogue magazine (wearing the gold Edition model of course).

It is telling that Apple picked China to be the first country to feature the Apple Watch in a commercial fashion publication and, after the pop-up appearance at the Paris Fashion Week.  This is the beginning of what is certain to be a well-scripted product placement campaign for the new device.

While pricing for the base model has been announced at $349, the higher end models are still unknown but pundits are already guessing.

shinkansen

A tale of two incentives

Meanwhile, the bullet train has sucked the country’s workforce into Tokyo, rendering an increasingly huge part of the country little more than a bedroom community for the capital. One reason for this is a quirk of Japan’s famously paternalistic corporations: namely, employers pay their workers’ commuting costs. Tax authorities don’t consider it income if it’s less than ¥100,000 a month – so Shinkansen commutes of up to two hours don’t sound so bad. New housing subdivisions filled with Tokyo salarymen subsequently sprang up along the Nagano Shinkansen route and established Shinkansen lines, bringing more people from further away into the capital.

- How the Shinkansen bullet train made Tokyo into the monster it is today, The Guardian

It is standard practice for a Japanese company to pay for an employee’s commute expenses. The government will not tax the company nor will the employee be taxed for the cost of their monthly commute pass. In a sense, the government bears the cost of transporting a company’s workforce, which allows them to spend their resources on locating themselves as close as they can to their customers and vendors who are, mostly, in Tokyo.

As the Guardian article points out, this has allowed for a network of “bed towns” to spring up along the spurs of each of the high speed rail lines to branch out from Tokyo supporting further centralization of the city. Think of Tokyo as a the capital of government, entertainment, media, finance, and business all rolled into one megalopolis. The equivalent of Washington DC, Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago all rolled into one. It is very difficult for a business to be located outside of this center and succeed and, with the commute subsidy, very little reason to do so.

The Japanese commute expense subsidy gives incentives for people to use the public transportation industry so, as a result, Japan has one of the best public transportation systems in the world.

Contrast this with how the tax incentives in the United States work. Mortgage interest is by far the biggest deduction you can apply to your income which supports the housing industry and, more directly, the banks. While this has allowed for distributed population centers to pop up around the country where ever people decide to invest in their home but has also contributed to successive housing bubbles.

Which would you rather have? A kick-ass public transit system that efficiently gets you where you want to go or an over-valued ranch house in the suburbs and an hour commute by car each way into work?

Aaron Swartz’s “crime”

If you haven’t seen the documentary, The Internet’s Own Boy – go watch it. Reminders of Aaron’s spirit are everywhere and just today, while searching for something else, I came across this post from Alex Stamos, Chief Information Security Officer at Yahoo.

If I had taken the stand as planned and had been asked by the prosecutor whether Aaron’s actions were “wrong”, I would probably have replied that what Aaron did would better be described as “inconsiderate”. In the same way it is inconsiderate to write a check at the supermarket while a dozen people queue up behind you or to check out every book at the library needed for a History 101 paper. It is inconsiderate to download lots of files on shared wifi or to spider Wikipedia too quickly, but none of these actions should lead to a young person being hounded for years and haunted by the possibility of a 35 year sentence.

The Truth about Aaron Swartz’s “Crime”

Apple Watch

Apple Watch Pricing

Model Price Source
Apple Watch Sport $349 Announced
Apple Watch $449 Ewan Spence
Apple Watch Edition $549 The Register
Apple Watch Edition $749 Ewan Spence
Apple Watch $749 Ben Taylor
Apple Watch $999 John Gruber
Apple Watch Edition $999 Brian Blair
Apple Watch Edition $1,200 TechCrunch
Apple Watch Edition $1,499 Ben Taylor
Apple Watch Edition $2,000 The Street
Apple Watch Edition $4,999 John Gruber
Apple Watch Edition $5,000 iGen

John Gruber posted one of the most thorough estimates of what he thinks might be the price of the other two Apple Watch models. In anticipation of the flurry of counter-estimates, I thought I’d keep a running table showing what other pundits are putting down as their best guess and update it as I get new estimates via Google Alerts.

But no need to keep others from joining in on the fun. What’s your best guess for the price of the gold Apple Watch Edition?

Apple Watch Edition

a blog by Ian Kennedy