Mar 24

SXSW – Behind the scenes with Mad Men on Twitter

How did characters from a show based in the analog 1960s fast forward to become a sensation on Twitter? Tweeters behind the profiles of Peggy Olson, Betty Draper and Roger Sterling discuss how it happened, why it happened and–most importantly– what does it mean for the future of entertainment branding?

Helen Klein Ross Partner, Supporting Characters
Michael Bissell Pres, Conquent
Carri Bugbee Pres, Big Deal Productions

  • CB:Madmen on Twitter came out serendipitously. I saw a tweet about don Draper on twitter.I loved it never thought it was official, but wanted to join in. So I registered Peggy Olsen, thought it was fun, thought I would do it over the next few weeks. Over the next few hours got about 160 followers, people were getting into it. I thought it would be interesting, a case study, so I treated it as a job, to the extent that it was possible, I deleted the snarky tweets and went to get inside the character. On the same day there were more people involved, over the next few days most Mad Men were on Twitter and it garnered a huge following and lots of pieces about it.  A lot about whether it was by AMC or not. At that point I kept quiet about it was me – I got a kick out of the speculation and writing.   Later, there were issues with getting into Twitter – they had suspended the account.  I had really got into Peggy and was loving it, but the minute they took the character away I was wringing my hands. Got an indecipherable email from Twitter about copyright (so I then emailed my lawyer, just in case). Watched the stream and lots were annoyed about it, it got reported, eg Silicon Valley Insider, who reported from Twitter there was a DMCA takedown notice.  All I could think about that night was oh crap a network was going to sue me. The following morning, lots were writing about how AMC had failed, how it was wrong to do a take down.  A day later, the journalists were contacting other characters.  We did not tell anyone, we kept it quiet. Later they let us go back up…reportedly on the advice of the digital agency.  Lessons:  Brands/Shows reserve your screen names.  Lessons: you may not be able to achieve it.  Lesson: if in middle of PR problem, don’t bury your head.  Give them something, speculation is not good.  Lesson: use your fans to your advantage.  this has not really been absorbed by people who create content.    Once we were back in action it was the long slog of building followers.  It was just word of mouth.  You should use Twitter to follow your brand, to see what people are saying.  You can get real-time feedback about the show and characters.
  • HR: I’m Betty Draper.  I started by being followed by Betty and Don. I thought this was another brilliant promotion by AMC. I had already seen them seed subway cars with business cards and they had wrapped a car in promotion.  I blogged about it about how brilliant AMC was and I was shocked when they were taken down. When they came back up, I went to see what was avalable…no idea why. Just thought it was a brilliant idea, a new kind of marketing. I picked up Francine (betty’s friend) and a few others. I saw it as a form of fiction.  To generate spontaneous fiction.   I could create mini-dramas across my characters to entertain followers.  We made characters live between episodes and seasons.  We enabled Mad Men fans to interact with the characters.   All of us have strived to remain parallel to Matt Weiner’s universe.  I have a whole 1960′s library know, had to do a lot research.  We’re only half of this..the other half are tweets from fans.  Our Mad Men on twitter would not be exciting if it was just us.   I come from advertising … have tried to think about what does this mean for entertainment marketing.  How we think about and consume entertainment has changed. We can expect to have some active participation in it. The old contracts were a very passive model…media heads put a lot of focus on impressions when deciding on which show to advertise on. They are looking now at expressions now, how many are willing to engage with show.  To get 80% reach you used to be able to buy a spot on 3 networks, now it’s 100 networks.  Advertisers have to stop siloing it.  Consumers are changing. Neilson has a convergence channel..combining internet and TV. We think that Mad Men on Twitter is something different. We’re not just fans, we’re professionals. We are transforming fan fiction into a new form of marketing – it’s not fan fiction, its brand fiction
  • MB: I’m Roger Sterling. When first contacted, i thought it was silly, but I went to look for Don Draper, but ended up with Sterling.  It was perfect for me..the tweets about the hangovers etc were not just fiction!  The research, definitely needed.  The Long Island Iced Tea was not invented until the 70s..I did not know this but the fans did. I changed it. Twitter is very transitory, it’s gone. Twitter is very Buddhist, it’s in the now.   But for tracking, it’s very Stalinist..you have to regular on a schedule grab all the data.  There’s the peekaboo followers, who follow and unfollow. You don’t catch these in regular stats.  So the people who say they have this figured out are assuming that world will not change again. We started in Aug, when the most followed had 40k followers. There’s an article today about Twitter has peaked. You have to watch and track and know the universe is changing.   The outside stuff was interesting, how people perceived the characters.  The WSJ which came out a few months ago gave very little in traffic or views…
  • Q: does it make sense for an agency/professionals to do this?
  • CB: if I was the agency or client, i would absolutely want to own it.  There is so much more you could do..but we can’t do as we are not sanctioned.
  • MB: Look at Star Trek…Paramount has had pseudo fanfiction that they have managed, to let fan world grow but push it in the direction the want to go
  • Q: Are you getting work out of this?
  • MB: can;t confirm or deny.
  • HR: but we could do it for you or teach you to do it.  We hope to teach others to do this
  • Q: Did it feel like work?
  • MB: we saw that. there were characters that showed up, but no longer there. It is so time consuming.
Mar 16

SXSW – Bringing TV to the Web

This is an advanced session from Six to Start and Roo Reynolds and Jo Twist from the BBC – learn how broadcasters and new media companies work in bringing about the intersection of broadcast television and online both now and in the future.

Claire Bateman Jr Games Designer, Six to Start
Adrian Hon Chief Creative, Six to Start
Daniel Hon Ceo, Six to Start
Roo Reynolds Portfolio Exec Social Media, BBC
Jo Twist Multiplatform Channel Editor, BBC

  • RR: TV and the web…so ask audience, how they watch the TV and do they use the web. Is it linear – when it’s on. or in catch up, with an online surface.  Most of the panel play catch up TV with live news/sport. Most of the room are Cs. For me, Most of the stuff about TV on the web is really quite boring – the video bit on the web. i think there is more
  • DH:TV on the web is done. we can do something more interesting now. Linear video on the web is just a matter of streaming.
  • JT: it is important not to underestimate who important web stuff is. But as a commisioner, I challenge production companies to fill in the creative gap
  • AH: video on the web is done.  It’s the things that surround it that make it interesting. Eg the MTV back channel. You can gossip about the show
  • DH: we have got distracted by the wrong thing. It’s not about delivering video; yes shorter episodes are different. It;s just slightly cheaper as it’s not broadcast quality. We can do far more than that – it’s still just broadcast.
  • JT: what I like about the backchannel it;s about how bitchy can you be…people do like to be cleverer than what they are watching and that is a mechanic useful to multi-platform
  •  DH: a lot of people talk about the mobile web and web as different, that is stupid short term thinking, You should be able to develop for the same whatever.  Mink says that when you are out and about, you carry a story in your head. With always on you are surrounded by this fictional field. I like to e able to access content where ever you are. So shows could exist anywhere and be always evolving
  • JT: we want mainstream numbers…the majority of audiences want to be entertained. they are online to be with friends, so how can we play to that, that does not require much effort and still be involved.
  • RR: when you are in a gamespace,
  • CB: the golden circle..you want barriers to having a game being everywhere, you want borders, that what you are doing is within a world that exists.  If the story/game can be anywhere, you still need structure and the boundaries to choose to be in a space and behave appropriately.  On public transport, you ignore people, if you are in the game and you see somewhere you recognise, you can talk to them in the game. The fictional field has some kind of shape around it.  A lot of tools in trad Tv, the construction set, are good for this
  • AH: something like Lost does not scale easily on web for all tv.
  • JT: when we talk to our audience, it depends on genre, eg with a drama, the 16-24 don’t what to engage – or they say that. But when you get really compelling drama (eg Being Human), we did a lot of behind the scenes things, getting fans closer to the mindset of the world.  We are thinking of making that stuff into a TV show.  Another example was Briony Makes a Zombie Movie, which was a documentary about making a crowd sourced Zombie show.  It was TV reflecting the web/ We’re not challenging enough
  • DH: you are taking a dominate media form and supporting it online, but you are not creating a new form. So what is TV good at and what can online learn to create qualitative new experience.
  • AH: there is now a real spectrum of interactivity; the spaces inbetween are interesting
  • JT: to think of TV is a red herring…it is a device and a platform (DH..but where the money is). I’m interested in much more connected entertaining experiences. Again, what can you do in crafting different experiences?  TV is a product that has a beginning and end and then you leave it/
  • DH: when we started working with TV companies, we introduced agile processes…which to us TV did not really do. It’s a gamble to out something out there and improve it over time.
  • AH: look at what we have done – wetellstories.co.uk, Net Native fiction.   different forms.  this is making entertainment for the web, that can only be done on the web.
  • DH:to pre-empt..we don’t know how it is going to be monetised,. It is so early in the game, but there is so much potential, we have to try things,
  • AH: wetellstories got 300k uniques, not that many compared to a tv show.  there are few online stuff that attracts numbers.
  • Q: will you release your measurements..the engagement metrics as well as audience
  • JT: we have a lot of data like that and I think it is really important. How is the impact, how is it changing how people are thinking. We have no understanding how the culture of thought is changing as the result of a show etc. Those measurements we have are TV, but we are getting better.
  • AH: Ch$ did Sexperience. it was about Sex education, they got 50k+ to do STD tests.
  • DH: we look at time spent, it is at least 10mins a session
  • Q: you know something that will be useful to us, so how can you release
  • Q: How did you feel about TV etc…working with them
  • DH: some of them are great to work with. We get involved with some at the concept stage, before they have even pitched. So it’s integrated. Then there are the TV production companies…they ‘get’ the web..which means they put video on it!
  • AH: while some broadcasters are funding stuff like ARGs, they underestimate the effort and budget required.  TV is where the money is…
  • Q: how do you achieve the culture shift
  • DH: you do stuff like this and wait
  • JT: you work together (in her role) with the TV commissioners.  you have online people in the teams.  the best example are around kids..Briony makes a Zombie..
  • DH: Jeremy Ettinghausen had access to an innovation fund with the express interest to try things. We worked with the creative talent and got them interested in what can be done.  They get excited about other ways of telling stories.
  • Q: Not seen many things online that are Lost like..they are doing shiny things, we shoul be past that
  • JT: i see people putting things online that won;t fit into the Tv  /it’s not good can we put it online’
  • DH: we can do some seriously good stuff!   We tell stories is like a multimedia CD rom…tech speaking we are way past this point…
  • AH as the guy who made it….the stuff we do could have been done a long time ago. But it’;s the accessibility…that is an issue.it is diff for anyone to get into an ARG..
  • Q: What about local access, community etc.
  • CB: local community is not the same on the internet, it’s just community.
  • JT: it’s reflecting your cultural world..it does not have to be local, it can be. I’ve seen local project fail so many times.
  • Q: The strength of TV is it can make us eyewitness to events. The weakness is it’s linear.  Why aren’t we seeing less linearity?
  • DH: it is difficult. We’ve tried doing non-linear and it works in some cases.  Linear is easier to follow, people don’t ness want to work at it
  • AH: Linearity is not ness a weakness, it is just a property.
  • Q: TV can be repackaged..the web stuff can have a shorter life – it’s PR/marketing etc? is that how you do things?
  • AH we’re not maintaining them (no budget) but it’s not how we ness think
  • JT: you want to create an ecosystem that allows people to create. It’s a cultural shift, just because the TV show is over does not mean the story is over.
  • DH: an current traditional ARG is not repeatable, they run live.  It limits audiences, it is liked massive primetime tv that you can’t record nor can you buy box set.  We don’t have replayability. 
  • Q: How is UGC video impacting?..web creation impact
  • JT: it;s difficult…it’s interesting when they have a following. It has to be really known talent or really good content. Or we document the process of cultural process.
  • Q: how can ceative people use the web more?
  • CB: just find some geeks!
Mar 16

SXSW – What can we learn from games

Experts from three different (bit connected) industries talk about game design, learning theories, collective intelligence, transmedia entertainment, and the value of play in a participatory culture.
Henry Jenkins Co-Dir CMS, MIT
James Gee Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies, Arizona State University
Warren Spector GM Creative Dir, Junction Point – Disney Interactive Studios

  • JG: my 6yo got me into games. I realised that I had never learnt anything that new for 30ys. I realised that games use learning as a gateway drug.   I write books about it and why I play games.
  • HJ: at MIT, going to USC in Sept. Blog etc. I’ve been part of Education Arcade, how they put into practice educational value of games.  Alos workign with Macarthur foundation, looking at learning.
  • WS: believe I’m the oldest still making games. Started in 70s, did Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Worked at Origin.
  • HJ: worked with son, on the Sims, who had to manage his budget.   His son bought all the big ticket items, not about doing plumbing and eating. It applied to his life and he ‘got it’
  • JG: the Sims is often looked down on. but it brings a lot. The Sims players often give challenges..eg simulate what it is to grow up poor.  The game itself is not too good at this, it lead to thinking about how the game was put together.  It is digital, thinking about the world, thinking about how the simulation works
  • WS: games are good at problem solving, how to think about things, how to solve issues
  • JG: you discover think about yourself as a learner. When I started I tried the same thing 300 times until 6yo suggested I try something else.
  • WS: I’ve been making games that are about problems not just puzzles. We had to train players…to be able to make choices and solve problems  In video game sit is infrequent that we ask people to think There is this movement now of getting players to think.
  • HJ; we are learning to depend on others for advice and gaming, though the networks etc.  Schools only recognise only autonomous problem solvers, any kind of collaboration is seen as cheating, there is a different style of learning through the games
  • JG: the Sims example show emotional intelligence and a social intelligence.
  • HJ: the Lure of the Labyrinth is a game we are developing.  We set it up so that kids have to communicate to others about solving the problems, It is abut strategies of solving problems not the answers they have to share.
  • JG: so many games are saying you have to be designing part of it,
  • WS: I’m a little of a luddite, a little more into a traditional narrative and how it combines with gameplay. I’m willing to give up control of gameplay but not the narrative.  There is a thriving community of Spore players, making stories etc.  The most wonderful experiences for me, about the last games I did, if you look at forums, the conversation is different about hwo they talk about my games. It is not about saving puzzles, it is about the narrative, how could you have killed this guy, how could you have done this thing.  A community came to me, at a conference, we went to the bar….and some of the guys started an argument about the a game..it was about politics and ideology, that is the power of interactive narrative it is is about letting you behave one way and seeing how it plays out.
  • JG: narrative acts in many different ways in games.  Doesn’t the narrative in the game have to fit in the gameplay, it can’t just be an addon.  Look at Braid, it has a weird story and a weird gameplay, making people think about how thay match. It’s just a 2d gameplay….there’s a lot of theories about the story.
  • WS: it’s a very lets deconstruct the medium approach, it is very off-putting.   Games are about what you do, so it has to be about the mechanics.
  • HJ: the games come out of a school of theory, people who had gone to game school. You had the same with film, a group of people who had the same language, You are going to get the same in games, designers who are schooled in the theory and can talk the same ideas and the audience who understands this and is seeking content out and can educate themselves.
  • JG:you can have a good story, but the player is in the middle of it. These themes can float around, you see pieces of it, you see bits at ta time. The player can take the themes and make something of it (Deus Ex)
  • WS: with Deus Ex i tried to make the most accessible mainstream game (it failed though). It gave you the chance to try different ways to solve problems. Pick the way you want to play it. I also let you ignore the story if you wanted it.  Games are work and I wanted to disguise this fact, masking the work is something that games to really well. There is a world  work out there that happens online, or just doing your taxes; a more gamelike account could help ease past the work
  • HJ: teachers don’t always recognise the work in a games.  The key word is engagement when it comes to games. A good game makes us engage in a task that may be frustrating and long and boring but will keep involved.
  • JG: when the initial work on Flow, it was about work, the flow state, to make it more engaging.
  • WS: we take things that in other times would be boring and hard and we make them fun.  Some games have control schemes that are more complex than Turbotax -we should be able to make these fun. Find a way to apply game paradigms to real world of work
  • HJ: games to a spectacular job of introducing complexity, spreadsheets etc.   Teachers have not yet caught up this.
  • JG: you play some of these games, pore over the graphs of the results and plan the next strategy. This is valuable skill.
  • WS: this is what the tabletop games do well, give you a framework to build things and learn about stuff. I learnt about medieval Japan, how to run a castle, WWII espionage.
  • JG: you see something as a system and how the systems interact, it teaches you about science and thinking about systems
  • WS: I agree, and I look at most games..they show the world as a system but often a simple system that could mislead you. So thanks that Will Wright exists that show you simple solutions can be a bad thing,
  • HJ: research shows that kids learn a lot of things from games, but don’t look at the game structure.  We have to couple gamespace learning and media literacy. Learnign this, thinking critically, gets people to be able to design themselves etc
  • WS: most of peers believe their work is ideological pure, that they are not defining a world view but this is wrong.
  • HJ: as an artist you have to have a world view…we may not be preparing kids adequately for the Apocalyse but we should be making them thinking about stuff!
  • JG: there’s a whole space their to connect at an emotional level.
  • WS: we have an indi game industry, with skills and distribution etc all that helps. This is great..
  • JG: serious games have not taken off with a speed that was hoped.  Niche games, such as Flower etc, have taken off, I don’t think serious games have been good enough.
  • WS: one thing that games can do well is teach process.  That is not what games do fundamentally. But serious games have tried too much for process and not fun
  • JG: what is good about the games is the engagement, the ability to make choices et. Game designers are trying to model the system, and that is what scientists are doing. We have wrong education theories and that is why we make bad games.
  • Q: What thoughts about how games can be used to get people to think different about their world context?
  • WS: that is what games do, you can walk in someone else’s shoes. It is an experience of being in another place. It is what we do everyday
  • HJ: games are the only media that lets you feel guilt – if you do something bad you have a stake in the consequences (quoting Wright again).
  • WS: my wife has never finished Deus EX as she killed a dog in the beta.she felt such guilt she never went back
  • Q: Do you see development of narrative of games to problem solving? and is there real support to keep them out of classroom to reinforce accidental learning
  • JG: game sin classroom are often to support text books, We have to change theory of learning before we can do this…put different games in classrooms
  • HJ: Labyrinth is not about beng in the classroom, it is to be played outside but then discussed.. Games in schools does not work – the timeframe does not fit in the lesson.  It is not the efficient way of using time. Students look to knowing what they need to know to ge the test. School is not seen a place to play and we have to change this. Until we expect responsibility, then games will not be properly used in classrooms.  But how do we give kids without computers at home access to the skills that game players will have.
  • Q: is there a distinction for difference in narrative between a novel and game? I call it contextual narrative.
  • WS:we don’t have consistent terminology, I call it shared authorship
  • HJ: it is a form of narrative based on world building. Scifi and fantasy os often this.  Worldbuilding narratives invite creativity in a different way to plot driven narrative
  • Q: so how can brand use game theory and gameplay to engage audience in social media.
  • WS: hire a game designer for a few weeks.
  • HJ: it is huge growth area, that appears to a different type of players. I would be wary of learning too much from current theory. Hire female designers etc, bring diff types of social expertise to the table, who understand the networking.
  • WS: Read Rules of Play, has a lot foundational work.  Tracy Ford Game Design Workshop, It will give a vocab to discuss.
Mar 15

SXSW – Dead Space a Deep Media Case Study

This in-depth case-study reveals the method and the madness behind Electronic Arts use of cross platform marketing to communicate separate, self-contained elements of the much anticipated release of their first survival horror game, Dead Space. For this release, EA packaged a comic book, a prequel DVD, and an online experience in order to build, create, and cultivate an audience around the Dead Space brand prior to the official ‘street date’ launch.

Ian Schafer CEO, Deep Focus
Chuck Beaver Sr Producer, Electronic Arts
Andrew Green Online Mktg Mgr, Electronic Arts
Frank Rose Contributing Editor, Wired Magazine
Ben Templesmith Dir, Singularity7

Some live blogging from the panel

  • FR: it’s a successful video game but more than that – Deep Media, (deepmedia blog). we’ve had linear story telling and now the web is encouraging a new story telling. To watch and participate.  these are entertaining and immersive. eg BSG, Dark Knight. EA entered this wih Dead Space – allowing stories to be told elsewhere.  It’s not about doing spin-offs. It’s the same story told across a panoply of different media.
  • CB: it’s a 3rd person scifi survival horror. In the future, a lone protagonist. Similar to Alien, isolated, alone. Isaac has been sent out to correct a communication blackout on a ship.   It’s not a blackout.  It’s not licensed, we did it ourselves.   When we started, we were steeped in licenced games. We were interesting in doing new IP, to own the properties.   It took about 18month to get greenlit.   The dismemberment was from Glen Schofield, our exec producer, we had to rein it back a little. It fits with zombie law.  Some games don’t consider story as essential, we thought it was. We wanted to have a natural story, took it very seriously. We watned to dev a frnachsie so did a whole canon. 
  • AG: it was not just a marketing tool ,We got involved early on, about 16months before. It was the first timeas a marketing team when we got involved with passionate devs. We got 500yrs of back story, a comic book etc. We had to figure out what to do with the great assets, create a strategy around it to build an audience that would be with us to game launch.  It’s a new ‘paradigm’. We wanted to make sure all the products lived on their own. The customer decides what they want to do, you have to give them a reason to come through the door.
  • BT: I got a strange email, I replied that this sounded interesting.   I said that I’d do a comic to do with the game.   I expected it to be like previous ones, a sideline, or just the game story. But as I got further in, they wanted to tell the story from the beginning, this really appealed to me. Usually I get told what to do, it’s restricted. But here, I had tremendous free rein within our part. It can stand on its own or you can follow to other parts.  The visual style was ‘me’ I’m known as the horror guy in comics.  That they got me, with my reputation, meant they were taking the comic side seriously.  Feedback is great, that they did a complete story.
  • CB: we had enough story to allocate bits to different media, the comic, the animation and hte game. Then on the web we had other stories we needed to propagate.  This was driven from Glen; I was in charge of the production.  These were rolled out over a period of months.  We worked with the structure of each media; eg comic books can have a 6 month run, 1 per month, others driven from timing.   How did we keep the story straight? We had a big master timeline, we segmented the story so they would not overlap too much.  A lot of co-ordination.  We had to make the universe.
  • FR: how do you know the property will support all of this stuff?  Did you seed it with takeoff points?
  • CB: yes. We tried to focus on not having a one time event story. We established the canon document, with a centralised universe story.
  • AG: the document had lots of stuff that was nothing to do with the story, but lots of details about the world. We could create new stories and characters from the details.
  • FR: How did you draw the line between defining the canon and overdefining?
  • CB: we did not want the team to feel they were just filling in blanks. We gave the story and feeling. they did all the story development.  We had little to show BT, just concepts.
  • BT: there was a lot of art, I had to extrapolate from that, had to make it work in the civilian setting.  Got to create own assets. Got a little disappointed that I could not draw all the cool stuff?
  • AG: accessibility was a big thing for us on the web, so you would not have to buy a book. We created new assets, which could spin off new stories. We took print assets and created comic book videos, pulled the images together and added VO.  We got lots of views in these.
  • FR: So how do you build something like this in the web.
  • IS: the previous story were linear, on the web we launched noknownsuvivors.com, it was far more fractured. you had a different experience depending on the decisions.  Based on original scripts and then extended. We had to keep aesthetic similarity, we had to ensure it went well in the flash environment.  We had to go to studio and get all the assets, 3d renderings etc.  It was not just tech, the tech served the story.   It was to facilitate a connection between the brand and the people who wanted to play. To share the experience, to take the content onto their own spaces.   It was a  week experience, each week another chapter. We had to roll it out slowly., About 500k, site visit 10min on average.  A fair few said it was a key driving factor in the game.
  • CB: the animated feature, it was sort of between comic and game in the story. 
  • FR: how did Deep media benefit the game?
  • AG: you got a lot of people engaging with the world, they came and asked questions, it generated excitement. It gives people a reason to want to interact with brand.
  • IS: it’s how people want to interact; we did some research about a tv show – the brand of the tc show is more than the show on TV -  it’s about what you share with others.   I did film marketing before, you can’t market too early as by the film comes along they think they have seen it. With this, you got people into the storyline, deeper an deeper.
  • AG: I think the comic book/videos were the most successful.  The web was deep and rewarding but the comics took advantage of dissemination, easier to port videos everywhere.  the liner narrative is only one type of content, you will only get so much punch. But it was only one part of a stockpile of ammunition.  Each played for a different audience.
  • FR: what was the biggest surprise?
  • CB: we were surprised at how difficult – we’re a game maker, not a comic publisher.  It was new, we were making up the rules and trying to hit the quality bar.
  • AG: an observation but could have been why it was successful. It was team of people wanting do something well. Everyone interacting, pushing through the late nights, like it was the own pet project.
  • IS: it was visible to end user that it was telling not selling, people respected the credibility of a good story.
  • CB: with EA, for them to treat these not just as marketing one-offs, not just as selling channels, they understood that they were valid in of themselves. We established quality throughout
  • AG: that is the test of deep media, that it’s not just marketing.   It has to be about the passion, give the story tellers the freedom.
  • IS: in context of advertising. When money spent on impression, it could not compare to the hours spent interacting with the content. It’s not impressions you can buy, it’s about creating lasting impressions.  Allow you to spend less on paid media, more on earning respect.
  • FR: what next?
  • CB: it would be great to be able to produce a live action movie, nothing is in the works yet.  We have a new story line for ‘Extraction’ out this fall.  New story, in the world.
  • Q: do you need a lot of budget? Do you need all these pieces to do it well?  What resources are required?
  • AG: You need a passionate creative centre and give it to the community, you can create a deep media experience that could grow. It is all about starting. You have to create.
  • IS: it’s about the expectations of the sale. if you are launching  product, budget accordingly.
  • Q: Would you do the website again?
  • AG: yes. from an ROI the engagement was huge.  You also got analytics (which you can’t necessarily get from other networks. The data set is taken away on ning etc.  I could change content on the microsite based on analytics.
  • IS: from a world of mouth it helped to have something people could be worked through.  it build buzz etc.
  • AG: Deep Focus drive a lot of editorial hits etc.  Got people viewing it.
  • Q: for web site what were the biggest traffic sources?  What was traffic after 6 weeks?
  • IS: Many by editorial mentions, from blog mentions. 
  • AG: getting hits from right blogs, eg Kotaku, Wikipedia was the biggest one.  We have a link on official site, tht gets 100k/200k. upwards of 10k new a week.  they can jump in many places.
  • IS: a fifth is after the game release
  • Q: Dead Space came to me via PS3, all the downloads. I slowly got into it, even though can’t stand horror. We played the game…we got to the end and thought ‘what did that mean’. So was there any plan around the ending
  • CB: that’s a fairly delicate thing for me to talk about. The ending does have a structure, has meaning, and I hope to be able to explain in the future.
  • Q: how important is premium downloadable content after the game?
  • CB: it’s a consumer expectation, so you have to do it or it’s a negative. we have to figure out how to make it happen as it is a drain on dev team
  • AG: the economy and expectation of it is driving a new way of selling games.  Expansions are good. Stprytelling is about blocks of content I guess game makers are going to be planning and budgeting for this.
  • Q: you talked about dolling stories in bite sized..did you give away too much? how did you recover?
  • CB: the final trailer…the marketing wanted to show the final boss.  The devs did not want to this. The PR team wanted this…the rest of the story was fine
  • Q: what did theis process show you about new IP?
  • CB: it is so risky, that is why EA did licensed IP, it’s a safer model. We have been critically rewarded from this, I think you will see more from this.
  • AG: Ben you create new IP all the time
  • BT: putting on paper is easy.  But in this, it was good as they did not drive changes, I’ve had more control on others, eg Marvel and DC. there is more that you cannot mess with. So Dead Space was part of a larger thing, but free rein.
  • IS: it was pretty ballsy, about placing control in other hands about telling the story.  It was amazing, eg bringing in Ben.
  • AG: budget levels, for games etc, it is a sequel business. When you are up against sequels, it is a difficult game. The deep media elements all helped, bridged the value over to us.
  • Q: Where is this going, what is the potential
  • BT: for me, it’s animation. Comic books should stay static, but will turn online as well.
  • AG: you’re going to see every kind of media feeding the other media, based on resources, ability around it.  It is easy to get seduced by idea of your creativity becoming something else. Trying to create something for a commercial reason is the best to make it fail.
Mar 15

SXSW – report of the first day

Arriving in the US, I’d ticked ‘pleasure’ on the Customs’ form, the TSA immigration officer decided that was not the correct designation and insisted that I was here on business. Given I work in digital marketing and the SXSWi is about interactive stuff I can see how he can get idea, but for me, this conference is not about business it’s about fun, connecting with old and new friends and just really enjoying myself.

Yesterday, I went to 3 panels, mostly OK, some new stuff learnt. The Privacy Panel was interesting but very theoretical; the keynote from Tony Hsieh, taking about Zappos was great and then the Core Conversation with Zoe Margulis went in unexpected ways (feminism, US media and US legal system) but was good anyway.

Lunch was with Jeremy, Ted and Ashley, great mexican at the Rio Grande. We bumped into Lucretia, GeekMommy and a whole bunch of the Eleven Moms at Walmart, some of whom took up Ted’s challenge to lick him to get a free T-Shirt.

In the evening, a great series of parties. First up was the dorkbot party, where I bumped into zeroinfluencer (David) where I caught up about his latest project (it’s going to be fun!). Then we wandered along to the Razorfish Opening party, just missing people. A busy place, we only stayed for one before catching up with friends at Six, where Crispin Porter Bogusky and a company whose name just completely escapes me now! A little more space here, far better to cartch up with Faris, Katy, Adam andDamiano.

After a few margaritas there i left them to it as jetlag was hitting, heading home but calling in at the Maker’s Mark party, which had a cracking band playing. Didn’t stay long as bed was calling; sleep and then up bright and early for today.

Mar 14

SXSW – Zoe Margolis – Blogging How not to get Fucked

While bloggers have a lot more power than ever before, there are still plenty of risk involved with personal publishing. Talk about the best ways to survive this tangled maze.

Zoe Margolis Blogger/Author, Girl With a One-Track Mind (this was a conversation, so names not used. each line is a different person commenting in the thread)

  • ZM: blog was about sex life; got a book deal, 3 days after publication was outed by paper. Lost anonymity and had life changed.
  • ZM: In 2009, is it still worth it, is a good place to speak your mind?
  • In the US over the last 8 years, it has been scary of putting out their opinion. People putting out political opinions have been getting fired because their opinions are out there.
  • It is a privilege that those who are professional media person to live life publicly. It is not a right.
  • In academia, you can’t blog! it is supposed to be an open field
  • I had to fire a person who would not use picture or real name on blog
  • There are some places you have to be careful about your religion, if you are unconventional and express your opinion you are likely not to be trusted..not one of ‘us’.  I teach, you can’t discuss students, you always have to be careful what you put?
  • If you are going to be careful, so why do it?  If there is a risk. So you want to express your opionion, but you have to be careful
  • So talking about your sex life is one thing – but using a blog to talk about students is a different things.
  • You choose to blog and have to make a decision,. Making a decision to blog, means you have to take responsible
  • True, if you want to live in a fascist state. Your boss did not own you outside of work in the past. 
  • ZM: are we taking enough care – the stuff is there all the time
  • I’m a retired journalists and a new blogger, I’m doing investigative blogging. I have evidence for what I’m looking at, but still careful about what I am going to stay.
  • (Me) libel laws are the same…
  • you just have to defend your self.  if you write for a company, you have their lawyers!
  • (discussion about legal laws, libel etc)
  • There’s bloggers liability insurance now.  Very careful about how say things. Insure express opinion. I was worried about political stuff , to prevent having career being ruined.
  • Don’t make anyone mad!
  • Investigative journalism is one of the last bastions of local journalism, one of the things that keep gov and authorities held to account. This is disappearing and blogs may not cover it.
  • Opinions..how can you do this. A food blogger, how can you do this?  It is all opinion
  • So what about a public figure…blogged about Tila Tequila. Got a cease and desist to take down all mentions of her, her name was trade marked. 
  • Food bloggers have been sued…for giving a bad review.
  • There’s no regulation?
  • You can always be sued..you can pick someone to sue. You need the wherewithall to defend it.
  • this has coming down to reviews on sites like Yelp. Putting anything up there is open to be sued.
  • Is it about a bad experience, or about accusing them of something the business had done?
  • There are companies that will manage the web reputation…send out cease and desist and manage online mentions
  • So how anon is anon? 
  • There are anonymising services on the web.  Your IP address is traceable
  • ZM; but all it takes is 1 error and you can be found.  I don’t believed you can be 100% anon.
  • For sex bloggers, what are the morals about talking about someone else?  about talking about these things.
  • ZM: i amalgamated people, I pulled out situations. When I was outed, the ex-lovers could recognise themselves, but no-one complained.  Now, everything i write (about others) is with permission.  It does make it difficult, people are concerned about being blogged about.
  • Discussing about people, other people, it depends on the relationship. How far away they are from you. So how do you maintain relationships?   I won’t date anyone in the industry
  • Celebrities etc make a choice to be out there, to be written about.
  • ZM: I object…for 10 or so days I was dragged through the press, all my friends, family etc got hassled by the press.  The newspaper that outed me had sent me a mail before hand with lots of details about my life, saying they would publish this unless I went to a photoshoot.  They went after my parents.   My experience was only a small amount of what a celebrity goes through…they’re game..but so are there families. i don’t think that’s fair
  • Is anyone going to argue that the press needs to be regulated.  I was talking about the personal stuff…are you suggesting specific steps to take?
  • ZM: There’s no anonymity. You have to be aware that.  But I do feel that people have the right to privacy.
  • I’m troubled that there’s a right to privacy in a public forum.  You put all this stuff out there but you want to be private.  Is there any other media that allows this?
  • Look at Donny Osmond..in the 80s he was considered a ‘joke’ he sent out a song anonymously, it was a good song and his career increased again.
  • In the US, we are so scared about sex that you have to be able to do anonymous
  • ZM: I chose to write anon as I was afraid to be judged. I lost my job because of the writing.  I have had so many public attacks about my looks etc.
  • if you want to further an agenda..you’re an activist for that agenda.  It goes back to the public figure idea, you get judged whenever you do this.
  • As a woman, you have another issue, you are far more easily attacked.
  • Why would you think that the web would change things..humans are human and the tech will not change.
  • People do say things on the web that they would not say face to face. 
  • Do people have to give up every piece of information on the web if they say one thing?   Why can;t they choose what they want to make public?  Is it automatic that everything is open?
  • There’s a degree of that based on what you are blogging about it.   Depending on what you are doing, you may want more transparency (eg politics, gov stuff).
  • Where is the line?
  • It’s individual. It has to be what you are comfortable with it. No faces, face no name etc. It is everyone’s right to be what they want to be,
  • I’m in the tech industry (there are no many female software developers). I created a space for similar to get out there, to have a presence. We’re too afraid as a community to put ourselves out there.  So created a space for women to publish together.  For my community, you’re fucked if you don’t blog.
  • It’s interesting what you say there, something that gives you umbrella legitimacy.
  • Attacks aren’t against one individual person, it’s a group.   There is less situations of this
  • Unless its a feminist group blog..then they’ll take the site down
  • this media can bring out very weird sides of people, the tools we have may over allow for this behaviour to occur. It’s not to excuse it..weird paradigm of interacting with computer screen
  • Everyone here seems to be thinking about the repercussions of blogging…does not always happen. I’ve been asked to pull things (or remove names) as sometimes what you say now – you’re not sure how it can impact you inthe future.
Mar 14

SXSW – Tony Hsieh and Zappos

At Zappos.com, Tony Hsieh has fostered a culture where extraordinary customer service is the norm.

On Saturday, March 14, hear him talk about how good deeds can help you leverage the power of your audience to massively extend your brand. As a preview, you can read this story for a glimpse of a company that blazes its own trails, including paying its employees to quit.

Survey…lots of hands up who have bought from Zappos. it’s normally 2-1 female to male.

They do tours of the site..got someone from a major Music label….took him to the Customer Loyalty team. He got a team member to pull up his wife’s account – who had spent 62k (err, pretty sure they weren’t allowed to do that!)

They started off with a pizza delivery in college. His current CFO used to buy pizzas, 2 a night. He found out that he was taking the pizza and selling it off by the slice.  We did a .com, LinkExchange, sold off to Microsoft. One of the reasons for the sale was the culture – did not like it. they did not look for culture fit when employing. He hated going into the office.

We sold it, and created an investment company, one of the investments was Zappos. It was the most interesting for me, ended up joining. We sell a lot more than shoes – clothing housewear etc.  The focus is the best customer service, in 10 years time we hope our customers don’t realise we were shoes.  It is about the best customer service, what ever we do. Don’t rule out an airline or other things.   We re proud of what we do, loved we were in the Forbes list of best places to work.  

The focus on service is great. On any day, 75% of orders are repeat orders.  We take the marketing money and spend on service. 1999 was 0, in 2008, was over $1billion. Most is from repeat sales and word of mouth

What is customer service. First, it’s our 1800 number. It’s at the top of every page, we encourage people to call, even if they are not making a sale; most of our calls are not for sales.  The telephone is one of our best branding devices – you have attention for the call. Get it right and they love you. We get >5k calls a day, each call is a marketing opp. It is one of the best branding devices.

We offer free shipping. People buy, try them and send back the non-fits or the non-suits. We offer a year return policy. Some customers do take a year.

these are all policies and any company can copy, and they do. But what happens after you place an order.  This is where we focus. We only show items on site that are in warehouse.  There is value with putting things on site that aren;’t there – you can backorder them, we got 25% of sales. But this was not about customer service though, we gave up this revenue and focused on what we could actually sell…to be true to brand and what we wanted to do

With repeat customers, we often do surprise upgrades to overnight shipping. A lot of customers order late eastern, then it’s on their door the next morning. It is expensive..but we regard this as marketing dollars, not shipping. it gives the WOW factor. We run our services different; if someone wants something that we don’t have, we look on competitors sites and direct them there.  We about a lifelong relationship, not an individual sale. the telephone is not a costs, is is an investment, for branding.

We don’t have strips, average handle times, we don’t upsell. It is not about how quickly you can get them off the phone. We tell our reps to spend as much time as needed to wow the customer.  Our longest call was 4hrs.

We run warehouse 24/7, which is not the most efficient as there is not high picking density. It’s not about the most efficient warehouse, it’s about the service.

customer service is however not the no1 priority, Company culture is the focus. If we get that right, then much of the rest follows.  It starts with the hiring. the Hiring manager looks for relevance and experience, and then the HR team looks for culture fit. You have to pass both. the same things goes with firing. Even if doing the job brilliantly, they still have to fit the culture.  The other thing is training. Everyone goes through the same training. 5 weeks, first 4 weeks in the head office, includes 2 weeks on the phones. You also go for a week to the warehouse, to do all this stuff. Whatever is your role.  At the end of the time, we pay you for your time and offer an extra 2k. We wanted people who were there who believed int he vision, in the company.  Starting pay for call centre is $11/hr, so $2k is a lot. In 2007, 3% took offer, in 2008 2% took it. We think that not enough are not taking the offer, so looking at next level.

The biggest benefit came from people not taking the offer – people had to decide to commit to the company if they do not take the offer, they had to have thought about it.  We also have the Culture Book, we put it out every year. Everyone writes about the company culture and what it means to them. We give it to prospective employees for them to look at.  The other thing that has made a difference is Twitter. Started 2 yrs ago to find parties at SXSW, then personal, to keep things in touch, find out about friends.    We rolled it out to entire company; we have twitter class as part of orientation.  About 400 of the 700 in the Las Vegas office is on twitter. this connects everyone,t ehy meet up and they see people as people

Culture does drive your brand.  The brand may lag your culture, but it will catch up.  Look at the airline industry..most people think airlines has bad customer service. That is the brand, it’s not what they set out to be that.  A few years ago, someone ordered a wallet, tried it out, decided that it was not for her. She had put $150 in the wallet and forgot about it.  She had spent 2 days trying to find out which kid had taken it!  She then got a letter from the warehouse worked who wrote to her and sent her the money back.  He could have kept the money and no-one would have known, but the culture was there as well.  Customer service is the whole brand and company.  it’s not a department. 

In 2009, we want to own the 3Cs Clothing, Customer service and Culture. We want to get the message out about our clothing.   

So what is the Zappos Culture. We have 10 core values – committable core values.  That means we are willing to hire and fire on these values.   We have questions for each of these values.  One that trips us up is Be Humble..many people are brilliant at what they do, but have egos, so fail.  One hire like this won’t be a bad thing, but if you keep doing this it all goes downhill.

We have create a little fun and weirdness.  We ask how weird you are.  It’s about the reaction to the question, we celebrate individuality. They decorate cubes etc; you call the service centre different times, you’ll get different connections. we don’t have a fixed way of relating.

4 is be adventurous, and open minded.  We ask how lucky they are in life.  We try not to hire unlucky people.  It was inspired by a research study, which asked the question.  Then asked people to count photos in a fake newspaper…there was a headline telling the answer. the lucky people noticed it and got extra money. It is about how you see things, ot how lucky you are.

It;s primarily about alignment, getting people to think the same way. Which helps the company move forward.

So steps to success.

  • Step one is to DECIDE. you have to decide to do this.  Requires patience to build a long term sustainable brand, you have to make trade-offs to get there.  you may have to walk away from revenue and profit opps.
  • 2nd is to figure out VALUES and CULTURE. It’s for all companies, not just the big ones.   I wish we had done it from day 1.  We asked our employees. It was a year long process. the initial list was 37 items, we combined them BRAND POSITIONING. all our people know this. We hire for culture and fit, so all people can talk about the brand positioning, culture is brand,
  • Commit to TRANSPARENCY.  for all, we ask people to use your best judgement.  People can ask anything as well and they’ll get answers
  • VISION.  whatever you are thinking, think bigger.  It has to have meaning. We focused on customer service when deciding where to move after shoes.  Our employees got excited about our vision, it got them engaged. Chase the vision, not the money. Ask what people are happy doing, what they would be happy doing in 10yrs.  It’s about MOTIVATION vs INSPIRATION
  • BUILD YOUR TEAM. Hire slowly, fire quickly. make sure your team is right
  • THINK LONG TERM. it’s not the short term stuff, it’s the long term. Zappos have been at is for 10 yrs, plus his previous business.
  • So WHAT IS YOUR GOAL?  Do you know where you are going.  Of you ask people what they want, and keep asking why it boils down to HAPPINESS. that’s what people want.
Mar 14

SXSW – Is Privacy Dead

While many assert that "privacy is dead," the complex ways in which people try to control access and visibility suggest that it’s just very confused. Rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water, let’s discuss people’s understanding and experiences of privacy and find ways to 2.0-ify it.

danah boyd Researcher, Microsoft Research
Judith Donath MIT Media Laboratory
Alice Marwick PhD Candidate, New York University
Siva Vaidhyanathan Assoc Professor, University of Virginia

  • db: out panel together to discuss privacy, a group of academics to discuss..we have different definitions of privacy.   There are different cultural views. People don’t ness view in many ‘official’ terms, but look at it as a term of control, what they control. Technology has changed a lot of definitions and behaviours and expectations.
  • SV: writing book – googleisation of everything. focus on nature of transaction between us and Google.  Most only have a usage of tools – searches and email etc. You may be aware that there are some levels of control, but not obvious.  There are 2 annoying assumptions I want to explode – 1 that privacy is the notion of publicity.  Just because you put up 100 pieces on sites it does not mean we don’t care about the 101st. Just because we put up some stuff, does not mean we don’t care about privacy. The 2nd notion is that privacy is a substance that can be traded.    The idea of trading a little bit of privacy for better relevance…that assumes we can break it up into bits. Privacy is not a substance, it is not traded in little bits. It means different things in different contexts. Privacy is a bad word for what we mean.
  • AM: writing on effect of social media on social status. about the sharing of a lot of information. There is a real value in being public…eg Twitter. I’ve interviewed CEOS who would not hire if people don’t have profiles etc.  There is a social value. you have to participate to get value. there is also social support in the network. Have to recognise value, but you have to recognise that the more info you put out, there more useful it is for brands, google etc.  All this info can be aggregated, to create profiles that are valuable.  If you put info out there, you consent to have it used for any reason – I think No.  But how do you reap advantages of public publications without it being used.
  • JD: I look at data visualisation. Public space..spaces where there is some kind of common control what the expected behaviours etc. What is private..is something private to some and public to others.  Online world can collapse the different spaces, mix them up.
  • db: We have a set of properties that we take for granted offline and having to look at them online.  Scale is one thing…eg a scale of publicity we have not seen before.  Tech has changed aggregation, changed the way we can see each other.  So what are the most important
  • SV: no change is purely tech, it has impact from world economy. eg the targeting of goods and services and getting the attention.  That’s why amazon and google grab the data, for both the inperson target and the aggregate.  It goes along with an erosion of the comfort with privacy.  73-76, there was a movement in the US to protect personal info from abuse from the state, with string support from Congress. We got some strong laws – updated the credit control system.   It’s bad, but it works better than most.  Also Watergate…laws passed to prevent one bit of the gov passing info to another. Many of the laws are there today. But most of the strongest have been undermined. Now we take it for granted…we ‘ignore’ it, and are not focusing on the new interface..us and firms.  Not separate from our concern about the gov, as firms sell databases.
  • JD: we are not always aware of the data trail we leave behind, what the firms are building. If we were aware, we may choose to do things different, you need to have awareness to have the choice.  It is hard to have a historical perspective of what is considered normal.  Historically we have come from a unusual level of privacy although before that there was far less – communities were far smaller, people knew everything in the small groups.  Most things in the past have not been recorded – where you are over time, what you are doing. So we have to work out how to manage this
  • db: it gets worked out differently in different populations.  Interviewing young people about their homes, it was not private as they had no control, the internet was more private to them as they had more control, It depends where you are in the power structures
  • AM: Context is one of the key things. Every place has a social context; eg telling doctor something which goes on medical record, that’s fine in that context, but doctor should not tell her best friend. There are specific ways of dealing with information in context.   For firms, should the burden be on the individual on controlling their data or on the firms..NYT had an editorial about opt-out to opt-in (diff US to EU data view)
  • SV: personal info is a form of currency, both in aggregate and individual. If it has value, should I have some form of stake in the data?  I expect to be aware of the extent my information is being used. We have not done this.  Most people here may have been able to manage their privacy, but many won’t be able to – they’re not even aware that there are controls there.
  • JD: when Am talks about context…it highlights the lack of ephemerality of the data. something now could be there in 20yrs and will likely be seen in a different context.  For most people in the US, we are not faced witht he fact that is we say something we are in danger…in many places there is this – but there’s no guarantee that the US won’t ever be the same. There are big serious institutional privacy issues. there is also about how do you want to be seen by people in different contexts.  
  • db: information is currency not just in an economic sense but in a social sense. many here have gained status and even jobs by putting stuff out there.  We are faced with the fact the tech is converging all these contexts. So how do we deal with these contexts as a design and a norm thing
  • SV: I teach about privacy and surveillance, in different classes. Get different reactions.   Get them to read Jane Jacobs. There is a level of surveillance we invite into our lives (eg look out for the neighbour)  we engage in those transactions with each other; ie if there is no power difference, when there is a reciprocity. There’s trade.  When I trade with Amazon, Google, state, there little reciprocity, no feedback. Building in the two way can be useful. 
  • AM: there is bleeding between networks, eg LinkedIn or Facebook. Some have single contexts, others have multiple contexts, how can you manage?
  • db: Celebrities have a different level of reciprocity
  • AM: it is also the same for microcelebrity, with tech
  • JD: how do you have a society figure out what the norms are, about para-social relationships. You have millions of people trying to determine the norms, you can’t have a relationship with millions, but there are nodes the network can focus on and have a conversation around it. We are interested in people paying attention to us.  What is the cost that you are willing to pay to get the benefit of the attention.
  • SV: there’s no zero sum between privacy and publicity. We give up control when we resign that battle. We assume that someone who has a lot of FB friends, a movie star give sup the right to privacy and dignity. We should not assume that someone who engages in public should not deserve some privacy. We don’t always view people who live a public life as real people who deserve dignity and respect.  eg the Star Wars kid.
Mar 08

Books Jan/Feb 09

A mixed couple of months

  • Sword Song; The Pale Horseman Bernard Cornwall. I love the Sharpe books from Cornwall, Here he turns his focus onto the Dark Ages, to the time of Alfred and the wars between the Saxons and Danes. He brings his customary story telling to these early wars, although not quite with the level of historical detail you find in the Sharpe books as there’s just not the documented history. I read a couple in the series from the library this month. A new series to add to my collection.
  • The Boleyn Inheritance, Philippa Gregory. Focusing on Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Jane Boleyn, Gregory continues her tale of the wives of Henry VIII. This was OK, not as good as some of her others, I tended to just skim to many of the sections which went into the detail, I just wanted to know how she was going to get to the conclusion.
  • JPod Douglas Coupland. Weird story, it got very meta when the author turns up.Kept me interested, even if to find out what weird thing happened next.
  • The Burning Stone & Child of Flame. Kate Elliot. I’d ordered the next one in the series from the library and had the happy co-incidence that there one after that was there as well, so two installments of this fantasy series. It’s still going strong, being fairly typical of the genre but having characters I’ve invested with.
  • Mendeleyev’s Dream. Paul Strathern. A history of chemistry (and alchemy) throught he ages, built around the idea of the periodic table. Fascinating journey from the Greek philosophy of Aristotle through the 19th century focus on science and the periodic table dreamt up by the Russian Mendeleyev.
  • On Basilisk Station. David Weber. a free book from Baen, a pretty hard military scifi which at its heart is a story of overcoming the odds. I’m looking out for more by the author.
  • Disobedience, Naomi Alderman. Gorgeously written book about a woman’s return to her origins, an Orthodox Jewish community in London and the impact on her and the community she’d left. Not my normal kind of book, it was authored by someone I’ve met on occasion who ran a blog competition to win a copy. Glad I did, as I got a lot out of this book.
  • Designated Targets, John Birmingham Completely silly book about an alternate timeline, where for some reason, a whole bunch of warships and armed forces have timeshifted from about 2012 to 1942 and what would happen in WW2. Got this from the charity shop and obviously missed the first book. Silly but strangely readable.
  • 7th Heaven James Patterson. Standard Thriller by best selling author. The Women’s Murder Club (a book series I think has been made into TV) look to solve a series of murders and arson attacks. Same fun formula.
  • This is the Day Daniel Blythe A moment in life story, what happens to a couple and their children when the man loses his job and decides to have an affair at the same time as the woman decides to quit her job and do something different. They lose everything and this is the story of how they rediscover just what is important to them.
  • 1632, 1633 Eric Flint. Another couple of free books from Baen. I was definitely on a timeslip rampage this month. In these, a whole town from the US suddenly finds itself in the middle of the Thirty Year War in Europe. These books tell how they sort themselves out and get involved in all the politics, changing the face of Europe (ie managing to get Oliver Cromwell thrown into gaol before he even thinks about challenging the crown)
  • Time Travel. Edited by Barry Malzberg. Another bunch of time travel stories. Most I liked, some I skipped. A good anthology.
  • The Ghost Brigades John Scalzi. A re-read, after my read of Zoe’s Tale last year, I got this one again and enjoyed it just as much.
  • The Grave Tattoo. Val McDermid I like McDermid, never found one of her thrillers/crime books I didn’t enjoy. This one is set in the Lake Distrcit and manages to throw in a whole lot of history about Wordsworth and Christian Fletcher, leading me into a whole load of web reading about the Mutiny on the Bounty.
  • Grub Street Irregular, Jeremy Lewis. This is a series of pieces about the publishing industry, one of my semi-regular attempts to read biography. Not the best choice for me, the first story completely confused me; I stuck with it and some of the later pieces were enjoyable but I never managed to finish it.
Mar 03

Watchmen Review

I got the chance to see the new Watchmen film today, at a bloggers preview sorted out by those nice people at Paramount and PPC. It was a pretty exclusive gathering, the numbers restricted by the less than 24hours notice and the fact it was at 10.30am. I was lucky in having an understanding boss!

I’ve not read the book, so had no idea what to expect. I’ve seen enough graphic novel adaptations – and read the reviews – to know they rarely meet the fans expectations. The reviews for this one have been mixed as well, with people not sure what to make of it. I’m not sure what to make either, except I enjoyed the experience. Here’s a relatively spoiler free review, no plot points, just my impressions.

What I didn’t like

  • It was long, it felt too long. There was whole sections in the middle, exposition and backstory, which I felt could have easily been removed from the film. They helped the story, but were not essential and I think they could have easily been removed and added to the DVD or put online for those who were interested.
  • The excessive and graphic violence. I have generally no problem with films displaying violence/fighting, but this was too much for me. There were scenes when I had to close my eyes to avoid the squirting and breaking and crunching. It was not every scene (in fact, there were some absolutely superbly choreographed fight scenes) but enough to put me off a little

What I liked

  • I liked the movie in general, the stories, the characters. It kept me involved for most of it (with the exception of the aforementioned slow scenes).
  • I liked the complexity. It was not a straightforward ‘superhero’ movie, it made you think. It was a thriller, a murder-mystery, a scifi, lots of stuff in there. I’m still working through the ethical questions it invoked. There was another level of complexity that I’m sure will come clear once I read the novel and go through all the easter egg sites!
  • I liked the film style. At the start they introduced a scene that slowed the action down to draw attention to particular viewpoints, which are obviously key panels from the novel but this technique reduced as the movie went on (which was a good thing from my POV). But throughout, the style was gorgeous

Would I recommend it? Yes. But you will have to go in with an open mind. It’s not a straightforward hero movie, it’s far more complex than that.

Would I see it again. Yes. However, I think I now want to see it post reading about it, so I can get a better idea of the world that surrounds.

Watchmen (screenshot from site)

Watchmen (screenshot from site)