Author: Daniël van Gool

PICNIC on Crowdsourcing Cars and Apple Stores

We return to ARGNet’s coverage of PICNIC 2010 with more coverage from day one of the conference, themed “Redesigning Design.” The first speaker of the afternoon section, Tim Kobe, is founding partner of Eight Inc., referenced as “8_” throughout the presentation (and for the rest of this article). 8_ is a combination of many different things, all rolled into one company: design agency, architectural firm and “collaborative design innovation studio.”

Their output, so to speak, is design for both residential environments, products, and commercial buildings and spaces. One of 8_’s most famous projects was developing the architecture and design for the Apple Retail Stores. According to Kobe, 8_’s goal is to find strategies to design for brands to engage the consumer.

Kobe’s presentation was titled “Making Design Real,” but mainly served as a showcase for what 8_ does, starting off with a clip from Men in Black where several applicants for a position at the MiB need to fill out a questionnaire while sitting in egg-shaped chairs. Kobe followed the clip with a quote by Charles Eames: “The extent to which you have a design style is the extent to which you have not solved the design problem.” In Kobe’s own words, design is equal to serving a certain purpose as best as possible.

_8 works with clients like Apple, Citibank, Coach, Gap, HP, Nike, and Swatch and embrace the fact that they make things (even though they are not fabricators), preferably things that change the way people think, feel, and act. They pride themselves in building “irrational loyalty” as Kobe calls it. And why do they have that opportunity? Because, apparently, 80% of production companies think that their product is differentiated in its market, while only 8% of the consumers agree. Kobe notes that 50% of all purchases are done based on word of mouth, and 80% of word of mouth is generated by direct experience.

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Jeff Gomez Reveals Secrets to Transmedia Franchise Development at CineKid

This past week, Amsterdam played host to Cinekid, the annual international film, TV, and new media festival for young people. The festival also provides separate sessions for professionals working in these entertainment media. One of these sessions, the Junior Cross Media Market, brings together producers of transmedia content for children with international financiers and co-producers, including broadcasters, networks, and entertainment companies.

The Junior Cross Media Market was held on October 28th, and while ARGNet was unable to attend the Market in its entirety, we were able to attend and report on Jeff Gomez‘s transmedia masterclass.

Gomez has made quite a name for himself in the field of transmedia. He’s the President and CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, a company that has been developing cross- and transmedia strategies for big Hollywood companies including Disney and 20th Century Fox along with other major brands such as Coca Cola, Hasbro, and Mattel. Most recently, SRE worked on campaigns for the Tron, Transformers, and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises.

Gomez has been on the advisory board for Cinekid for a few years, and was invited to speak on the subject of transmedia with the specific goal of educating an international audience of professionals in the television and movie industries about transmedia storytelling techniques and devising a transmedia strategy for specific brands or products. Monique de Haas, one of the driving forces behind From Story to Legend, introduced Gomez, remarking that Gomez was a key player in the push to arrange accreditation for transmedia producers with the Producers Guild of America.

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How to Build Legends Out of Stories

During the Netherlands Film Festival the brand new transmedia event From Story to Legend was held in Utrecht as an initiative of both the Dutch Organisation for Professionals in the Movie and TV Industry (NBF) and the transmedia agency Dondersteen Media. The goal of FSTL was to introduce professionals in the TV/movie industry to transmedia and the opportunities and possibilities it has to offer by having several experts who have earned their stripes in the field speak on the subject. And ARGNet was there to report!

What follows below is a recap of the four presentations that were held by the panel of international experts, after which everyone who attended got a chance to join the experts for Q&A in several round table sessions.

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PICNIC: Everything We Know About Transmedia Is Wrong

This installment returns to our coverage of PICNIC with one of the “PICNIC Specials” sessions, and advanced masterclass entitled Everything We Know About Transmedia Is Wrong! It’s worth noting that some speakers referred to the session as Everything You Know About Transmedia is Wrong!, a subtle distinction. The panel was moderated by Seth Shapiro, two-time Emmy Award winner, principal of New Amsterdam Media, and a leader in the field of digital media, having worked for a number of media initiatives. One of these initiatives that may be familiar to our readers is Tim Kring’s Conspiracy for Good.

All of the panelists were first given the opportunity to introduce themselves along with a short presentation on their ideas on transmedia. First up was Dan Hon, co-founder of Mind Candy and Six to Start, currently a senior creative at the London branch of Wieden + Kennedy. Dan started by showcasing one of W+K’s recent major success stories, the Old Spice viral campaign. He then prefaced his definition of transmedia by discussing The Beast, a game that many consider to be the first alternate reality game. Hon reminded the audience that The Beast played out on the pre-YouTube, pre-Facebook and pre-Twitter “archaic web”, a time when sharing and collaboration online was synonymous with email. The Beast and its launch was based on the principle of “Internet archeology”: if you start digging for something online, you might just discover a story and even get involved in it. So, in the case of The Beast, people intrigued enough by a brief mention of a “sentient machine therapist” working on the movie A.I. to search further would stumble upon a deep narrative.

According to Dan, there’s a major challenge facing the traditional alternate reality game, something we might nowadays call transmedia entertainment: people seem to associate them with massive collaborative problem solving and puzzles. One of Hon’s major complaints with current alternate reality game and transmedia development upon which he as waxed eloquent in the past is that ARGs are not mainstream enough because they “incorporate obscure shit that no one want to see or do” by relying on tactics such as steganography, cryptography and solving stupid puzzles. Hon chastises developers, saying,

Stop doing this! Your audience is not stupid. If you put a work of fiction in front of them, they will understand what it is and we do not have to pretend that ‘it is not a fucking game.’ The number of people who are interested in mathematical cryptography is very very small; instead, let’s make stuff that just entertains people. I don’t want to jump through hoops to enjoy something, I want to view Charlie bit my finger on YouTube.

What if, Hon posits, the first alternate reality game wasn’t based on a scifi movie, catering to a geek audience? What if it was based on the movie Amélie, which also came out in 2001? An interesting question. What would have happened? It begs the question: are we are using the alternate reality gaming genre in the right way?

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Redesigning the World with PICNIC

This article is the first installment in ARGNet’s coverage of PICNIC 2010. Over the coming days, Daniël van Gool will provide summaries of the sessions he attended as part of ARGNet’s media partnership with PICNIC.

PICNIC reinvented itself once more this year. The self-proclaimed largest conference on innovation and creativity in Europe, held annually at the end of September in Amsterdam, managed to pull off another rather spectacular festival. Reinvention was a prominent feature of this year’s conference, as seen through it’s theme “Redesigning the World,” focusing on changes that are going on around us on different levels and with different impact.

This is ARGNet’s fifth year in a row covering the conference, and while many aspects have been reinvented, some thing remain constant.  The PICNIC Club, which serves as the central hub of the event, looks amazing. The Club was impressively decorated, brimming with things to do and see and buzzing with people lounging, networking, eating (in actual picnic fashion) and browsing the offerings of several high and low-tech innovators. There was the 3D Lounge, where you can submerge yourself in audio and video using Sony’s new 3D TV system, as well as a setup of Microsoft’s Kinect (which, incidentally, if rumors are to be believed, will not feature the much-hyped Milo & Kate game that Peter Molyneux talked about extensively at last year’s PICNIC).

Over the next few days, I will be reporting on some of the sessions I attended, starting here with David Roman’s thoughts on emerging industries and the emerging markets they will (need to) be catering to, in a presentation titled ‘The Next Generation Enterprise meets the Net Generation Consumer.” Roman is the Chief Marketing Officer at Chinese-based PC manufacturer Lenovo, and has a history working with companies including HP, NVIDIA, and Apple.

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From Story to Legend Initiative Brings Together Transmedia Talent

Do you know what distinguishes a legend from a mere story? A legend is a story  that is carried by its audience, often gaining some of the audience’s own perspective. This definition resonates with the working definition for transmedia storytelling.

To discuss and expand on this topic, several parties in the Dutch professional film industry have teamed up to organize From Story to Legend,  an initiative to get leaders in the transmedia realm together to talk about their experiences in creating stories and worlds and share these experiences with professionals in the field of traditional media.

On September 27, during the Netherlands Film Festival, prominent speakers will share their thoughts and experiences. Their combined input will be turned into a masterclass on transmedia and film, which, apart from professionals in the film industry, will also be open to students in the relevant field.

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PICNIC 2010: A Preview of Things to Come

PICNIC will be holding its fifth annual conference at the Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam from September 22-24 this year. PICNIC is a conference/festival in beautiful Amsterdam that started out as the “Cross Media Week Festival.” And while it is becoming harder to define every year, PICNIC describes itself as “a festival that blurs the lines between creativity, science, technology and business to explore new solutions in the spirit of co-creation.” ARGNet is pleased to announce that we will be a partner of PICNIC 2010, and are able to offer our readers a discount towards registration. Details on applying the discount can be found at the end of this article.

This year’s conference theme is Redesign the World, focusing on innovation in Life, Cities, Media and Design. Speakers include PICNIC veteran Charles Leadbeater (author and former advisor to Tony Blair), Cory Doctorow (co-editor of BoingBoing and author of the novel Little Brother), Jeff Jarvis (journalist and former creator and founder of Entertainment Weekly), and YouTube phenomenon Moldover (the “Godfather of Controllerism”). For further information on the program, check the conference’s Speakers or Program Highlights to learn more about this year’s PICNIC.

The conference attracts attendees from a wide variety of backgrounds, including “creative agencies, artists, scientists, designers, marketers, brand managers, content producers, (new) media experts, government leaders, programmers, investors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, freelancers, inventors, technology providers, games developers, services providers, students and teachers.” If you are looking for an idea of what to expect, take a look at ARGNet’s previous coverage of PICNIC.

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Lewis Hamilton’s Secret Life

97535117KR010_Lewis_HamiltoThere’s a lot to envy about Formula 1 driver and former World Champion Lewis Hamilton: competing in the fastest sport in the world, being surrounded by beautiful women and earning ridiculous amounts of money while doing so. It turns out however, that even this life isn’t exciting enough for Mr. Hamilton, and that is why he’s involved in a whole other “secret” life on the side. Courtesy of Reebok , the company Hamilton has been commercially involved with since 2008, we now get to have a look inside this Secret Life.

A few weeks ago, Reebok launched, giving visitors a little sneak preview of Lewis Hamilton breaking into a big mansion utilizing high tech gear, with the help of a pretty girl with a headset and some Reebok sneakers. The site also sported a timer, counting down to March 10.

Since then, it has become clear that Mr. Hamilton spends his free time stealing back art and other artifacts that were previously stolen from their rightful owners. And the good news? You get to help him do so! Lewis Hamilton: Secret Life provides players with an opportunity to help Hamilton train and prepare for his endeavors, solve puzzles and retrieve artifacts. The game is available in nine languages and can be played on the web and via mobile phone.

According to the buzz, the game has been in production for over 12 months and going by the look, feel and production value, players should be in a for quite a ride. “Lewis Hamilton: Secret Life” is being produced by nDreams, a digital media/games company set up by Patrick O’Luanaigh, former Eidos Creative Director.

Follow Hamilton’s escapades via and his Twitter account. Unfiction has a thread following the game here .  You can also follow the game at (in German) and Fais Moi Jouer (in French).

PICNIC ’09: Day 3, Rebuild

PICNIC 2009The final day of PICNIC’s three day conference was themed “Rebuild” and focused on world-changing developments and the visionary people behind them. The day started with Start Breathing, a short presentation by independent writer and consultant Linda Stone. Stone told us about the importance of breathing and the dangers of a phenomenon called “E-mail apnea.” 

E-mail apnea refers to when people hold their breath while reading and writing e-mails or text messages. Stone put a lot of research into this common condition, and was told by several medical specialists that irregular breathing can contribute heavily to stress-related diseases. Stone suggests that we do not suffer from information overload, but rather from information overconsumption. If you want to know more, check out her op-ed on the subject for the Huffington Post.

Next, Nicholas Negroponte delivered his keynote speech, which served as the highlight of the third day and possibly even of the entire conference. Negroponte is co-founder of the MIT Medialab and spearheads the One Laptop Per Child program. He’s considered a true visionary and, especially with OLPC, has been working on projects that literally change the world. Although it has been over 15 years since Negroponte asserted “computing is no longer about computers, it is about life,” the sentiment remains highly relevant today.

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PICNIC ’09: Peter Molyneux on Innovation in Entertainment

molyneux1In our previous coverage of day 2 of the PICNIC conference, I skipped over Peter Molyneux’s session called Innovation in Entertainment because it warranted additional attention. In case you’re unfamiliar with his work, Molyneux is a computer/video games mogul who has been working in the games industry for over 20 years now. His work pioneered several genres of video games through projects like Populous, Theme Park and Syndicate  for Bullfrog Production, now integrated into EA UK.

Molyneux later moved on to Lionhead Studios, where he created ground-breaking games including Black & White  and Fable. Molyneux is currently the head of Lionhead Studios, which was acquired by Microsoft Game Studios in 2006. Since June 2009, Molyneux has also been head of the European division of MS Game Studios.

Molyneux started his speech by showing his passion for games and the games industry. He declared that games are one of the most creative endeavours in existence because they take technology and use it to present a story in the most engaging and immersive way imaginable. For Populous, this involved using a 5×4 pixel grid for a characters face, making it rather hard to show emotions. Molyneux noted that the distance between the screen and the player is still huge: current resolutions are still far from reality. Moreover, games today mostly seem to be for one of only two categories: either for corporate use, or for the hardcore gamer. Games require a lot of manual dexterity, use complicated controllers and create other barriers that prevent players from having an enjoyable experience.

This is where Project NATAL comes in. You have probably heard of NATAL, the new technology allowing you to use your body as a controller, from Microsoft’s showcase of at the 2009 E3. NATAL is not just a motion detection technology, however. It also offers the possibility of facial and voice recognition. Molyneux and Lionhead have been working on taking these technologies and combining them with advanced versions of the AI and adaptive learning systems used in games like Black & White to create a whole new entertainment experience called Milo. Milo is a little boy that lives in your Xbox who interacts with the user in several very interesting ways. The best way to get an idea of what Milo can do is to watch Molyneux discuss the project.

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Not Your Ordinary PICNIC: Exploding Media, Part II

PICNIC 06This article resumes our PICNIC coverage on day two of the conference, which focused on the theme of “Exploding Media.” The second half of PICNIC’s Exploding Media coverage explores branding campaigns, location-based entertainment, and the development of special effects. 

Jessica Greenwood, deputy editor of trendwatching magazine Contagious, took the audience on a tour of innovative branding and marketing campaigns that are all on the frontlines of the changing media landscape. One of the quotes she used in her introduction was one of Douglas Adams: “Anything invented before you were 18 has been there forever, anything that turns up before you’re 30 is new and exciting, and anything after that is a threat to the world and must be destroyed.” Adams’ quote raises an interesting notion, indicative of how innovations are often received. Greenwood elaborated on several innovations in the marketing field that did receive favorable receptions, and, probably more importantly, were also quite successful in reaching their goals.

The first case was Virgin Mobile’s Australian campaign Right Music Wrongs, which kicked off with a video of musician Vanilla Ice apologizing for his music, asking the public to vote on whether he was guilty or innocent of ‘music wrongs.’ The project had an initial budget of only $150k, launching an engaging campaign around the musician and the concert he was going to give in Sydney in March ’09. It ended up reaching 22 million people and getting hundreds of thousands of people engaged in several online activities.

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Not Your Ordinary PICNIC: Exploding Media

PICNIC 04It’s time for day two of PICNIC, and a new day means a new theme: Exploding Media. The theme brought with it an exciting schedule, filled with more on social media, but this time focusing on trying to find parallels between social media and brands and marketing strategies, as well as on games and interactivity.

The first speaker was movie director Chris Burke, who is also the creator of This Spartan Life, the world’s first and only “talkshow in game space”. I hadn’t previously heard of This Spartan Life and thus wasn’t familiar with the show’s format, where a host (Burke)  interviews a guest (in this case, Gerri Sinclair, CEO of the Center for Digital Media), while playing Halo.

Apparently,  This Spartan Life has been a big  hit since 2004 and has gathered quite a bit of praise for its innovative presentation. I can see how the concept might work well with smoothly edited episodes showing Halo game play supplemented by added voiceovers. However, as a live concept, I thought it came off as a forced way of trying something new. The Halo backdrop compounded by the clumsiness of Sinclair trying to master the controls of the game were so distracting that I hardly followed the actual interview.

Sinclair, hailed by Burke as a “gaming professor who actually knows what she’s talking about” has a great track record when it comes digital media and narrative . Most of the times when the interview took an interesting turn, though, the conversation got interrupted by shrieks of “Oh no! I fell of a ledge!” and “someone is shooting at me!” or with Burke trying to keep track of where his interviewee went in the Halo level. It’s a shame, because I would have loved to hear more of what Sinclair had to say on gaming and the changing ways of delivering narratives.

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Not Your Ordinary PICNIC: Turning Points, Part 2

PICNIC 02Onwards to part two of the first day of the PICNIC conference schedule–this section of three consecutive panels and presentations was all about the shifts in demographics: the role that race and ethnic background play in producing theatre on Broadway and in emerging online communities, and the role of a changing audience and the way that audience divides its attention on “traditional” media.

First off was a presentation by renowned producer David Binder, who talked us through his experience bringing Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun back to Broadway for a modern day revival. As  A Raisin in the Sun is a classic African-American play, Binder wanted to honor its roots, which to him meant that he had to find an African-American director. Broadway isn’t exactly brimming with diversity (of the 40 directors active on Broadway last season, 36 were men and only one person of color), so Binder had his work cut out for him.

What followed was a mildly interesting relay of his quest for a director (he ended up working with the then relatively unknown Kenny Leon) and cast (he managed to snag Sean Combs aka P Diddy for the lead role). I think my appreciation of Binder’s excited monologue was slightly hampered by the fact that my knowledge of all things Broadway is virtually nonexistent and the fact that as a European, I’m a lot less used to such a heavy emphasis being placed on race, so some of his points sounded (literally) rather foreign to me.

On a personal note, Binder gets a lot of credit from me for having the creative guts to bring The New Island Festival to New York City. The festival is based on two important Dutch theater festivals, Oerol and De Parade. From what I gathered from his talk, reviving a play like Raisin in the Sun took a lot more guts than that.

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Not Your Ordinary PICNIC: Turning Points

PICNIC 01Not your ordinary PICNIC:  that’s the tagline I found plastered all over the Westergasfabriek terrain during PINIC ’09. And PICNIC indeed is something quite out of the ordinary. 

I arrived Wednesday around 11:00am, a few hours before the official opening of the conference part of PICNIC, which meant that I could take some time to explore the impressive central area of the festival, the PICNIC club. A place to meet, to eat, to tweet (there was a Twitter tree set up in the main area, with UTP cables hanging down its branches) and to look at all the interesting stuff that PICNIC’s official partners, including UPC and Microsoft, were showing off.

The area was brimming with activity. During the morning, several sessions of PICNIC Young had already started, which is a collection of workshops and seminars for teachers and students, exploring technology and creativity and their possible adaptation to school programs. PICNIC Young is only one of many “tracks” running alongside the main conference schedule of PICNIC, and if you wanted to cover all of it, you would need at least 5 or 6 people on the ground.

Other interesting events were also already going on at the various PICNIC Labs that were scattered among the conference area, like the Digital City Special, or the Augmented City Lab, exploring present and near-future adaptation of various mobile augmented reality technologies. I did not attend any of these sessions, but if you’re interested in what augmented reality can do today, check out the iPhone 3GS app that the folks at Layar have launched at PICNIC.

The main conference has a different theme for each of its three days. The first day’s theme was “Turning Points”, focusing on social changes that have their impact on society and social media, and kicked off with a familiar face: Israeli conductor Itay Talgam. I had heard Talgam speak at PICNIC last year and his ideas on leadership really stuck with me. The one-liner he kicked his talk off with this year: “In these times of insecurity and crisis, people are sick of leaders. It’s about communities now.”

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PICNIC ’09: A Preview

PICNIC 2009Wednesday September 23rd is a day a lot of people in the creative industry have been looking forward to, as tomorrow the fourth installment of PICNIC will kick off in sunny Amsterdam.  Previous incarnations of this intangibly sparkly conference were self-defined as a “crossmedia conference” but this year, the organization of PICNIC didn’t even try to put a tagline on the event.

And I can understand why they didn’t: it’s hard enough to describe what PICNIC is really about, let alone catch its essence in a one-liner. The past three installments were a melting pot of creativity, attended by major and minor names from everywhere in media, art , the digital world and several other industries.

I’m really looking forward to attending again this year and reporting on the event for ARGNet. I just received notice from the people at PICNIC that the conference event is completely sold out, and the lineup of speakers is probably one of the reasons for that. I wanted to give you a short preview of things I’m looking forward to at PICNIC this year:

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PICNIC ’08, part six: From Crowdsourcing to Collaborative Creation

argnetpicnic2008.jpgEditor’s Note: Daniël van Gool, an administrator at the Unfiction forums, was on the scene at PICNIC ’08 on behalf of ARGNet. We were impressed with Daniël’s work covering PICNIC ’07 and, as media partners of the annual cross-media festival, were invited to a number of special events in addition to the speaker sessions. This is the sixth and final part of Daniël’s comprehensive look at this year’s event in which he outlines the highlights of day three of PICNIC ’08. All pictures are courtesy of Daniël as well.

I arrived at PICNIC early on Friday the 26th. When I arrived, the main conference hall was mostly empty, but it was filled with the ambient noises one would expect at a picnic — crickets, a flowing creek, and the occasional buzzing fly. This is why I love PICNIC so much! The smell of fresh coffee slowly filled the building, even though PICNIC’s Espresso Factory was closed for the morning, and life was good.

The focus of day 3 of PICNIC ’08 was on the collaboration within the creative industry, which mean that there would be a ton of showcases by different entrepreneurs that are developing several innovative concepts that provide means for creativity and/or collaboration. Before this ‘parade’ of mostly very ingenious commercial concepts, Matt Costello gave a speech presenting his thoughts and ideas on creativity in games in a highly entertaining form. Costello is mostly known as a games-designer, having worked on The 7th Guest and Doom 3, and on several novels and games for TV (PBS, BCC, the SciFi channel). He introduced himself as somewhat of a cross media schizophrenic.

He started out by talking for a bit about the concept of Story, by telling a tale about a personal encounter with a shark that he had while diving. He then read a passage from a novel he co-wrote that used that personal experience to base the storyline upon and engaged the audience in a conversation about the differences.

He stated that the audience often knows something that the protagonist in a story doesn’t know, a point he illustrated by bringing two members of the audience on stage. His point was that a good story creates the illusion that something is going to happen, but then causes something else to happen, making the audience the surprised party instead of the protagonist. The unexpected and the unknown are two important factors in storytelling, interactivity and games.

Costello went on to demonstrate a lot of his other points by having members of the audience perform several tasks. Again, it is very hard to convey his points by merely describing what happened. During his address, I was chatting with people on IRC following along through PICNIC’s live feed, and I said the following:

<Gisk> yeah, Matt Costello is a fun guy
<Gisk> very good points he made about storytelling and gameplay
<Gisk> unfortunately, almost impossible to write up… you need to see his interaction with the audience and the creation of illusion to convey what he was talking about
<Gisk> which is exactly his point
<Gisk> so, figures 🙂

I guess this is the best summary I can give, so I’m afraid it’ll have to do.

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PICNIC ’08, part five: Virtual things in a virtual world are so passé!

argnetpicnic2008.jpgEditor’s Note: Daniël van Gool, an administrator at the Unfiction forums, was on the scene at PICNIC ’08 on behalf of ARGNet. We were impressed with Daniël’s work covering PICNIC ’07 and, as media partners of the annual cross-media festival, were invited to a number of special events in addition to the speaker sessions. This is the fifth part of Daniël’s comprehensive look at this year’s event, a continuation of his analysis of day two of the event. All pictures are courtesy of Daniël as well.

Another very interesting talk followed, titled Commercial Collaborations: Tools, Things and Toys by Michael Tchao from Nike. This talk expanded some more on the theme of connecting the physical and online worlds and even a little bit on data visualization by addressing one of Nike’s most successful ventures of the past years: Nike+.

In short, Nike was looking for a way to connect the physical activity of running to a digital community, creating a buzz around their brand by creating indispensable tools that connect consumers to each other and the Nike brand.

Looking at runners, there’s only a small group of people that is actually self-motivated. A lot of runners need motivation though, and this is where Nike+ proved to be a valuable addition to the concept of running: digital technology can now provide data, such as distance ran, pace, and calories burned.

Another trend is that music is growing rapidly as an important factor when it comes to running. Forty percent of people say they would not run without music and participation by people who run with music shifted from 25% to 75% in a few years time. Also, fifty percent of iPod owners say that they use their devices in some form or other for sports. This is why Nike teamed up with Apple to develop Nike+, which builds a digital set of information around the iPod functionality: a website that collects statistics and has you set goals for yourself. In short, it provides motivation.

Upon request from its users, a Challenge function was implemented, so people could challenge themselves or others to reach certain goals and keep track of progress. People have met through this community, challenging each other online, but also making friends in real life. The community has taken on the challenge ability to make very interesting challenges (for example, Europe vs Japan, Cat lovers vs. Dog Lovers, Simpsons fans vs. South Park fans, etc.)

Expansion of the community element is still going on: Nike launched a web store, which sold selected T-shirts, available only for people who reached a certain milestone — the 100 Mile Club, for example. Also, you can now create an avatar that you can plug into Facebook to communicate your running progress to your friend and that will motivate you to run if you didn’t.

All in all, Nike+ is a great example of a very successful way of using a community in a commercial setting, which should tell other companies something about possibilities.

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PICNIC ’08, part four: Clay Shirkey – Here Comes Everybody

argnetpicnic2008.jpgEditor’s Note: Daniël van Gool, an administrator at the Unfiction forums, was on the scene at PICNIC ’08 on behalf of ARGNet. We were impressed with Daniël’s work covering PICNIC ’07 and, as media partners of the annual cross-media festival, were invited to a number of special events in addition to the speaker sessions. This is the fourth part of Daniël’s comprehensive look at this year’s event, a look at the beginning of day two of the event. All pictures are courtesy of Daniël as well.

Kicking off the second day of the conference was a hugely interesting keynote address by Clay Shirky, famed author of Here Comes Everybody, a highly recommended read documenting the way society is rapidly being changed by emerging social tools.

The theme of Here Comes Everybody is “Group Action Just Became Easier” and Shirky gives 4½ examples of this:

1. The social dynamics behind Flickr

Not too long ago, a Flickr pool on high-dynamic range photography (HDR) was created. What followed was a conversation in the photos’ comments about who uses what software to create HDR material. People found out that it was possible to insert pictures into the comments and kept exchanging ideas on how to improve techniques. The stream of comments slowly turned into a “lecture” on HDR photography, making it a “social object” that attracted a community. It is the process of a social gathering in reverse: instead of starting by getting people with the same interests together into a large group, the social object acts as a catalyst which slowly gathers interested people around itself.

In the past, this would have taken years: a photo shows up, people document it in magazines, it gets picked up by amateurs, people get together in meetings discussing the topic, etc. The HDR on Flickr phenomenon happened within three months and became a vital part of the rapid progression of HDR photography techniques — much faster than would have ever been possible in the past.

There’s was another example illustrated which shows the downside of the same mechanic and it’s also Flickr-based. A separate photo pool exists called the Black & White Maniacs. The name is pretty self-explanatory, and the pool has rules on posting and commenting on black and white photos. The most important rule is that in order to post a picture, you had to comment on the previous two pictures in the pool. It turned out that people either ignored the rule, or found ways around it by just leaving a simple, non-descriptive comment like “nice.” This lead to an expansion of the rule set that was meant to be really simple, which prompted some big fights between moderators and users who just wanted to show the world their pictures.

The bottomline: Flickr has introduced a service of sharing photos, but creates a whole new dilemma on the social dynamics behind the actual sharing. Shirky’s firm statement was that you cannot solve such a dilemma, you can only optimize it. The new design challenge seems to be in how the social organization takes place.

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PICNIC ’08, part three: Social network fatigue and visual asset collections

argnetpicnic2008.jpgEditor’s Note: Daniël van Gool, an administrator at the Unfiction forums, was on the scene at PICNIC ’08 on behalf of ARGNet. We were impressed with Daniël’s work covering PICNIC ’07 and, as media partners of the annual cross-media festival, were invited to a number of special events in addition to the speaker sessions. This is the third part of Daniël’s comprehensive look at this year’s event, still focused on the first day of conference speakers (the first part is here and the second part here). All pictures are courtesy of Daniël as well.

Next up on the first day’s schedule was Stefan Agamanolis, formerly of MIT, now working at Distance Lab, devising creative ways to deal with distance, giving a talk called Duelling the Distance. His rather bizarre but interesting address concerned itself with the communication analogy of fast-food versus slow-food: it’s efficiency versus quality, generic versus personalized, and so on. A mobile phone has the same ‘design mentality’ as fast food, meaning it facilitates ‘anywhere, anytime’ versus specific communication, it’s generic, and it’s the same device for any type of situation.

So Stefan and his colleagues had been thinking about what ‘slow communication’ would be like and tried to build a system based on those design principles. It would have to be free of distractions, like the concept of a phone booth pushed to an extreme.

What they ended up with were two people, submerged in two different swimming pools, each one’s head encased in a helmet that completely blocked their vision, taste and smell, while the water they floated in diminished their sense of touch. At the same time, their helmet, fitted with ultra-high-quality speakers and a microphone so the two test-subjects could communicate, was attached to three flotation devices so that they wouldn’t have to put effort into staying afloat. They called this concept the iso-phone. The experiment resulted in a lot of gestures under water by people who completely lost track of time.

This is a rather non-practical concept, of course, but it does provide insight into different aspects of the fast vs. slow analogy. We use the same communication device to call our lover as we do to talk to our lawyer or the pizza delivery guy, and this brings up the topic of intimacy. Another setup devised by Distance Lab tried to tackle this topic: a subject wears a ring on their finger that is detected by an overhead camera, which makes you able to draw in the air. The drawings are then communicated through projections of colored light onto someone else, creating an intimate way of communicating. Check out more about this project, dubbed Mutsogoto, on Distance Lab’s website.

Another few less intriguing objects were discussed before Agamanolis finished with a project called Remote Impact, which was described as a ‘boxing interface’ that lets you hit a mattress that’s mounted on a wall, where a silhouette of your opponent (potentially across the world) is projected. This setup proved especially popular on several games-related conferences over the past few months.

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PICNIC ’08, part two: Aaron Koblin and the importance of data visualization

argnetpicnic2008.jpgEditor’s Note: Daniël van Gool, an administrator at the Unfiction forums, was on the scene at PICNIC ’08 on behalf of ARGNet. We were impressed with Daniël’s work covering PICNIC ’07 and, as media partners of the annual cross-media festival, were invited to a number of special events in addition to the speaker sessions. This is the second part of Daniël’s comprehensive look at this year’s event, still focused on the first day of conference speakers (the first part is here). All pictures are courtesy of Daniël as well.

Next up was Aaron Koblin, a software developer and artist who works for Google’s Creative Labs and whose work is internationally renowned. He specializes in data visualization, which was another recurring theme through PICNIC’08.

There’s a revolution going on in data visualization, departing from pie-charts and graphs and taking on quite a different, creative route. It took a while for me to figure out why this topic, while interesting, was featured so prominently at a conference like PICNIC, but the theme became apparent after several speakers made it clear that one of the biggest trends on the internet nowadays is the connection between the digital and the physical worlds. Manipulating “virtual objects” online is a thing of the past: interacting with real objects and real data and input from the real world is what’s becoming big. And this is why data visualization is rapidly becoming a hot topic.

Koblin showed us several examples of interesting ways to portray data, including a display of oil production in the form of oil blobs crawling on a map and a very cool graphical representation which illustrated which portions of New York City were communicating via email with recipients around the world. I could write about these demonstrations for a long time, but I realize that, apart from hardly being interesting, they do Koblin’s work no justice, so if you’re interested, visit his website and check out some of his work.

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PICNIC ’08, part one: A healthy dose of cross-media inspiration

ARGNet @ PICNIC 08 LogoEditor’s Note: Daniël van Gool, an administrator at the Unfiction forums, was on the scene at PICNIC ’08 on behalf of ARGNet. We were impressed with Daniël’s work covering PICNIC ’07 and, as media partners of the annual cross-media festival, were invited to a number of special events in addition to the speaker sessions. This is the first part of Daniël’s comprehensive look at this year’s event. All pictures are courtesy of Daniël as well.

The morning of the 24th of September marked the third year I walked up to the intriguing Westergasfabriek area in the West of Amsterdam to attend PICNIC on behalf of ARGNet. In my report on PICNIC ’07 I tried to describe why this area is perfect for a conference that is all about creativity, innovation and inspiration: the Westergasfabriek area just breathes all those things. If you want to try and get an idea how PICNIC looked and felt in 2008, check out the set of rather nice 360-degree pictures made by C360.

PICNIC’s ambition is still growing, and they have taken things another step further this year, welcoming an even larger audience in attendance and hosting even more events before, during and after the main conference in comparison to the previous two years. The PICNIC Club, the central lounging and networking area, was moved to the Gashouder building this year. Previously a huge silo used to store natural gas, during PICNIC it was fitted with large patches of grass, rows of picnic tables, a stage with some impressive lightning, a couple of huge displays of hundreds of images of sheep (I will come to this later) and various booths and domes where demonstrations were held and books and picnic-baskets were sold.

Around 1:00pm. Bas Verhart and Marleen Stikker, founders of the Crossmedia Foundation and PICNIC, opened the event and announced that over 5000 people had registered this year for the main conference and all the partner events. The main theme of this year’s conference was Collaborative Creativity, a subject that has a couple of interesting parallels with the world of ARGs.

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Part Three – PICNIC ’07 – Three days of cross-media madness in Amsterdam

Editor’s Note: Daniel is an administrator at the Unfiction forums and was part of the team that created the Project MU Archive Book. He was on the scene at PICNIC ’07 as a representative of the ARG community and was kind enough to submit a report on his experiences. This is part three of the report. We thank Daniel for his support of ARGNet and his wonderful report and pictures.

main_conference_hall.jpgOn to the Friday then, which, like last year, was divided into three separate ‘tracks’: Feel, Make and Play. Being on a mission to report on PICNIC for ARGNet, and not having encountered a lot of ARG-related topics yet, I naturally chose the Play track. It kicked off with a keynote address by Katie Salen, who is, among other things, executive director of the Gamelab Institute of Play. If you listened to episode 37 of the ARG Netcast series, you might have heard that the panelists were all especially looking forward to this presentation. Maybe this raised the bar a little too high, because I was fairly disappointed in Salen’s talk, but I think this had a lot to do with its length: it was only 30 minutes, which was just enough time to put forward some interesting notions, but not nearly enough to give an in-depth look at them. However, here are a couple of the things that stuck with me:

  • When designing a game, keep asking yourself, “What does the game want?” i.e. what does it desire or require from the player? Sometimes a game might surprise you in this area. Just as poker is a game that requires lying (bluffing), other games require collaboration. Keep in mind what you want your game to require and make sure that what you add to the game fits with how you expect the players to behave.
  • There’s the aspect of lusory (playful) attitude. If a game encourages players to take on an active attitude, you do not necessarily need to design or create as much yourself, as players will bring a lot to the game already. It is important, however, to keep in mind that this works best when there’s a transactional relationship between the game and its players: the players give to the game, but it they should also receive something back from the game in exchange for their input.

Salen ended her presentation with a nice example that demonstrated all the theoretical points she addressed: Karaoke Ice. It’s a project she did in the past which features a person in a giant squirrel suit driving around in an ice-cream truck which doubles as a karaoke bar. At first, onlookers were given free popsicles, but then they were invited to get into the back of the truck to do some karaoke. Against the expectations of most, people turned out to be more than willing to perform a few songs. One of Salen’s conclusions was that players of a game are generally willing to go along with, say, an alternate reality, if they understand that the point is that they are part of an experience.

This example was followed by some closing remarks regarding interactivity in play — interactivity only works when it’s meaningful, core interaction must be fun and audience/player expertise should be rewarded. I think these are some excellent points that easily apply to the ARG universe. Interaction for the sake of interaction is meaningless and therefore completely uninteresting. Interaction only enhances play if it’s actually fun and serves a purpose!

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Part Two – PICNIC ’07 – Three days of cross-media madness in Amsterdam

Editor’s Note: Daniel is an administrator at the Unfiction forums and was part of the team that created the Project MU Archive Book. He was on the scene at PICNIC ’07 as a representative of the ARG community and was kind enough to submit a report on his experiences. This is part two of the report. We thank Daniel for his support of ARGNet and his wonderful report and pictures.

main_conference_hall_exterior.jpgThe next day started out with a discussion between two people who are both known as quite visionaries when it comes to the Internet. The first was David Weinberger, who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy, is a prominent commentator on internet marketing strategies, and is the author of the book Everything is Miscellaneous. The second was Andrew Keen, a digital pioneer, author of the book Cult of the Amateur and a leading contemporary critic of recent developments regarding the Internet.

This set up a really interesting debate, between a Web 2.0 fanatic and one of its most prominent critics. Weinberger gave a compelling presentation of his views on the Internet, that it was made for one purpose — to organize messiness. Hyperlinking as a concept was invented so that content could be offered in multiple places, just by linking to it. Having user generated content, with Wikipedia as the main example, creates more content and complexity in that content than could otherwise have been achieved, which is A Good Thing.

Keen, however, fundamentally disagrees with this view, condensing his own take on this as “complexity bad, simplicity good” and stating that the media and the Internet should try and reflect the world, rather than trivialize it. Nowadays, the Internet ‘complexifies’ the world and a lot of the information that is being offered is wrong or corrupt. He kept arguing that Weinberger’s approach was much too philosophical and that he needed to be more practical. One of his better examples was the Wikipedia entry for ‘truthiness’, a term coined by Stephen Colbert. Its word count is almost exactly the same as the entry for truth, demonstrating that Wikipedia has no context and that there’s nothing there to tell us what’s important and not.

Weinberger countered this by arguing that incidents like the ‘truthiness’ entry will automatically be dealt with by the community, which is an argument I also tend to rely on a lot. Overall, I thought Keen was coming off as being rather sour and negative, while Weinberger seems to be more of a visionary and has much more of a pioneering spirit. I know one thing for sure — I will definitely go and read Weinberger’s book. Oh, and here’s a funny little fact — Amazon lists Keen’s book as a ‘Perfect Partner’ for Weinberger’s. 🙂

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Part One – PICNIC ’07 – Three days of cross-media madness in Amsterdam

Editor’s Note: Daniël is an administrator at the Unfiction forums and was part of the team that created the Project MU Archive Book. He was on the scene at PICNIC ’07 as a representative of the ARG community and was kind enough to submit a report on his experiences, which we will release in parts over the course of the next few days. We thank Daniel for his support of ARGNet and his wonderful report and pictures.

picnic_club.jpgFor the second year in a row, I was able to attend PICNIC, the Crossmediaweek Foundation’s conference on media, internet, technology and creativity in Amsterdam. Once again, I went courtesy of ARGNet, and like last year, it was a blast! The past few days really flew by… I’ve been to my share of conferences, and the thing with PICNIC is, the moment you walk onto the Westergasfabriek site, where the conference is held, the atmosphere just grabs you.

The site is a rather peculiar place, or at the very least not the typical conference environment. The area consists of about fifteen small and large brick buildings, originally part of a natural gas processing plant, but now built to suit anything from dance parties to exhibitions and conferences. The first thing you notice when walking around is the high production value of the whole event — every area and room features a patch of grass, paths laid out with wood chips, plants and flowers everywhere, wooden picnic tables and of course the obligatory red and white checkered tablecloths.

There is also the PICNIC Club, the main lounging area where demos are being held, at which several sponsors have set up their booths, including artists showcasing their creations and a lot of other interactive stuff. Then there’s the Extraction Hall, the main conference hall, where the stage is actually a garden, complete with flower beds and 50-foot high banners hanging down from the ceiling, lighted in such a way it looks like see ants and other bugs are crawling around, to give you the real outdoorsy feeling. Very impressive.

For those of you not quite familiar with PICNIC, this is the second time the Dutch Crossmediaweek Foundation has organized a massive conference on cross-media and everything related to it. A lot of very interesting people attend, including many pioneers in media, technology, the Internet, and also (pervasive) gaming. This year, in addition to the three-day conference, there were many affiliated events planned as well. Take for example PICNIC JR, an attempt to get younger people interested in media and creativity, or the PICNIC Academy, a mini-conference intended for students. There was also the first Dutch edition of Come Out And Play festival, which turned the city of Amsterdam into a giant interactive playground. For more details about PICNIC and all these partner events, head over to the PICNIC website (

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