All 10 entries tagged Audiences And Institutions

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April 18, 2008

Google 2008 Advertising Results

Google shrugs off ad sales fear

See BBC Business for full report

Google Image

For the first time, the California-based firm earned more revenue abroad - 51% of total sales - compared to its home market. This was partly due to a slump in the weak dollar which increases the value of non-US earnings.

Shares in Google, the darling of the technology sector in 2007, saw its shares reach a peak of $741.80 in November last year, making it the fifth biggest US company by market capitalisation.

But since then, its shares have been hammered on worries that it faced an advertising slump amid mounting evidence that the US is slipping into a recession.

Clicks on Google's sponsored links in the US slowed from a growth rate of 25% in the fourth quarter of 2007 to 1.8% in the first quarter of this year, according to comScore.

Google's Change of Adverstising Tactics

But its upbeat results suggest the reason for this reflects a deliberate reduction in the number of ads on each search results page to deliver to advertisers better matched visitors who are more likely to buy their products.

What's Happening to Google's Competition?

Yahoo is desparately looking at ways to escape being bought by Microsoft.  As a result it has even even teamed up with arch-rival Google in a two-week experiment which will see search-driven Google adverts alongside the search results of Yahoo's website.

US SEARCH MARKET SHARE
Google: 59.8%
Yahoo: 21.3%ut
Microsoft: 9.4%
AOL: 4.8%
Source: comScore March figure

From these figures which summarise the search engine market in early 2008 it is clear that the Microsoft bid for Yahoo is a very sensible one. Yahoo is gradually losing market share to Google. It desperately needs to get this market back but Microsoft which started trying to take-over Yahoo nearly 2 years ago should be confident that it is doing the right thing. Certainly there is no clear evidence that Yahoo has the capability to win back users from Google.  

Google and the British Advertising Market Place  

Extract below from Rory Cephlan-Jones the BBC Technology Correspondent:

And what are most of the eager young Googlers doing? Selling advertising or talking to Britain's biggest brands about how they can move more of their marketing budget online. Because it's easy to forget that as well as being an extraordinarily innovative firm, Google is also rapidly becoming Britain's biggest advertising business. The latest figures - released on Thursday evening - show how rapidly it is growing in the UK, earning $803 million( about £407m) in the first three months of 2008, about 40% up on a year ago.

Let's put that into context. Last year, ITV's net advertising revenue was £1.5 billion. So, even if you just multiply Google's earnings by four and assume no further growth this year, Britain's biggest commercial television business - the original "licence to print money" - is about to be overtaken by an American upstart which only arrived in the UK in 2001. You could not ask for a starker example of the threat to traditional media from the online world. (Emphasis added)


January 30, 2008

iPhone Bows to Winds of Recession

iPhone Bows to Winds of Recession

iphone_apple_logo.jpg

Who is going to be tempted by this little offer ?

Better deals for UK users of Apple's iPhone are being launched as operator O2 overhauls tariffs less than three months after the mobile hit the stores.

The lowest £35 monthly tariff is to offer about three times as many texts and minutes, while the current £55 deal will be cut to £45 from Friday.

In the US only two months after the iPhone's launch in July Apple slashed the price.  Obviously you don't this when sales are steaming ahead! Nevertheless  Apple tried to put a good face on the situation by announcing that it had sold one million iPhones keeping ahead of its target date of the end of September. 

The same thing is happening in Britain. Sales are obviously slowing fast after the busy Xmas period as the credit card bills come in and houses continue to decrease in value. O2 tried to put a good face on the situation according to the BBC: 

Sally Cowdry, O2 UK marketing director, said: "The iPhone is already our fastest ever selling device and this added value will allow us to appeal to an even greater segment of the market - it is an unbeatable proposition."

Just hang on what is this "added value"? Loads more texting? The people good at texting are my students: behind their backs, blindfolded, under the tables naturally they will all be rushing out to spend £280 to get more texts.....

People texting

Looks like iPhone is the top texting mobile !  

January 05, 2008

Blu–Ray versus HD–DVD: Will Warner make the difference

Blu-ray versus HD-DVD: An eye to the future!

For more recent comment please see X-Box & BT Link

Bluray disc


Introduction 

This format war between two sets of industrial giants one gathered around Sony and the other around Toshiba has been chundering on for over two years. As a result any consumer who remembers as far back as the Betamx - VHS battle which Sony eventually lost,- was a case of better technology being sidestepped by better audience and market development strategies from the VHS people. This was financially very irritating for Betamax buyers myself included. Like lots of other people I've no intention of buying into either Blu-ray or HD-DVD as a single player burner until things are sorted out. The same situation has been rumbling on between SACD and DVD-Audio. As a result people have stuck with CDs.

Perhaps one of the exceptions to this rule of the audience staying away until a universal system is established is the iPod. On the whole the iPod is the 'killer' technology and machine which has gained a firm market dominance. But it can play MP3s which are slightly lower quality than AAC so that's an important issue. The iPod buyer has universal access the Blu-Ray / HD-DVD disc player buyer has not. Apart from the cost nobody wants yet more boxes cluttering up the place. If they leave it any longer faster download speeds will make them both redundant! So let's look at the latest story on this competition. The Financial Times  of the 5th of January thinks that a company the size of Warner Bros which is coming down on the side of Blu-ray might make the difference. 

The FT Story

Warner, one of Hollywood's largest studios and its leading player in home video, had been publishing its new high-definition DVDs in the Blu-ray format and in the rival HD DVD one pioneered by Toshiba.

Blu-Ray.Com (Obviously an entirely unbisaed company) is crowing:  

Warner has announced that they will be switching to support Blu-ray exclusively. Warner has been supporting both formats since they were launched, but recent talk from top executives suggested that Warner couldn't continue down that road much longer, and that the all important holiday sales would help them make a decision. With Blu-ray winning every week in high definition sales this year, Warner has decided that The Future is Blu.

"The window of opportunity for high-definition DVD could be missed if format confusion continues to linger. We believe that exclusively distributing in Blu-ray will further the potential for mass market success and ultimately benefit retailers, producers, and most importantly, consumers," Warner Bros Chairman and Chief Executive Barry Meyer said in a statement.

Bluray player

A Blue-ray player. They do hold a lot more date than HD-DVD so there is a distinct technological advantage here.

The New York Times has also made a more objective account of the situation:

Behind the studio’s decision are industrywide fears about the sagging home entertainment market, which has bruised the movie industry in recent years as piracy, competition from video games and the Internet, and soaring costs have cut into profitability. Analysts predict that domestic DVD sales fell by nearly 3 percent in 2007, partly because of confusion in the market-place over various formats.

They go to point to the Betamax / VHS analogy I drew attention to (well I was a Betamax owner!). This is a core point for any media student studying audiences and institutions within the media at whatever level. Audiences are not stupid. Thay want equipment that is going to be universal. Previously both Sony and Toshiba had big names behind them and both have a good lap-top market. As the NYT points out Toshiba still have support but the pendulum is definitely swinging Sony's way! People want to be able to lend and borrow each others records CDs DVD etc. or buy a new machine without having mountains of the software becoming outdated. With Warner on board, Blu-ray now has about 70 percent of the market locked up; Walt Disney, 20th Century Fox, MGM, Lionsgate and, of course, Sony have all been backing Blu-ray. The Warner announcement comes after a marketing war in the USA in the run up to Xmas:

Consumers were inundated with marketing from both sides during the recent holiday season. Wal-Mart, as part of a temporary promotion, offered Toshiba players for under $100. Sony and its retailing partners, including Best Buy, responded by dropping prices on Blu-ray players, although not to the same level. Blu-ray players can now be purchased for under $300.

Well Toshiba could chuck them into its cheaper laptops to be used as HD-DVD burners that would tempt a lot of buyers and keep them in the game perhaps? Their official response was that they were 'quite surprised' by Warner's decision. Well very disapointed anyway! 

Toshiba HD-DVD

With rumours flying about of large sums being offered to Hollywood studios this sounds as though it has been a pretty dirty game. I'm wondering who has got the Chinese and Indian markets tied up though. Increasingly the game is being played ona global basis, both have large cinema audiences and film fans. somehow I don't think the fat lady is going to sing yet.

Mind you I'm biased we've got 2 Toshiba laptops in the house then the Telly is Sony that's consumerism for you.  I don't suppose any of the films I like will come out in either of these formats at an afordable price anyway. Perhaps the real story of the moment regarding technology which is really going to move the world on or not in this case is the fact that Intel seems to be messing up the One Laptop Per Child Campaign! Occasionally its good to keep things in perspective. With most people in the world not having a telephone let alone a computer what is Intel up to? Will there be a FairTrade computer chips campaign from AMD? 

Let's defeat the digital divide: after all "we have the technology" !! 

Webliography

Globe and Mail Article 05/01/08

New York Times 05/01/08  



December 30, 2007

Facebook: Galvanising the Power of Consumer Advocacy

Power of Facebook affects law

Internet law professor Michael Geist looks at how Facebook has the power to affect legislation.

(Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law.)

In this story Geist tells of how a concern he posted on Facebook about proposals to changes in copyright law to a few friends rapidly galvanised tens of thousands into action. Here he argues that this is perhaps the most important issue to takeaway from 2007 which has definitely been Facebook's year in terms of profile on the internet.   


December 29, 2007

(Red) Facebook over Beacon Advertising Technology

Redfaced Face Book in climbdown over Beacon Advertising Technology

Introduction

Below I take a look at the ill fated initial attempt by Facebook to install an intrusive Advertising programme called Beacon onto its platform in a clear breach of privacy. From the examples below it seems clear that users of social networking sites will have to remain very vigilant if they are not to be exploited by the provider.  

Beacon Advertising Technology

Mark Zuckerberg the 23-year-old founder of Facebook, said the company had “made a lot of mistakes” in building its new Beacon technology. The Beacon technology sends messages when a Facebook user makes purchases on outside websites.

Beacon has proved the most controversial of several new money-making technologies launched by the social network site last month. Facebook has come under pressure to perfect a revenue model after a recent Microsoft investment valued the company at $15bn. (FT Kevin Allison December 6 2007)

In its original version the Beacon software would  broadcast a message  to a user’s friends automatically unless the user elected, within a certain amount of time, not to broadcast it.

Friends of a Facebook user who buys a book on Amazon.com, for example, may see a message about the purchase when they log onto Facebook. (FT Kevin Allison November 30 2007)

Internet Privacy

In the face of 50,000 complaints and the beginnings of a Move on campaign (details here) Facebook backed down . Mr Zuckerberg said Facebook would further tighten Beacon’s privacy controls by allowing users to opt out of the service altogether. Last year, users protested about breaches of privacyafter it introduced “News Feed”. This was a piece of software which allowed users to keep track of their friends’ actions on the site. Google became the next company to fall foul of user wrath at breaches of privacy:

On December 14, Google’s RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed reader application, Google Reader, introduced a new feature that lets you share posts with anyone in your Gmail or Gtalk contact list. The problem is that you don’t want to share some of these posts with your boss or maybe with your mother, or anyone in your list that you hardly speak to. And as if this is not enough, Google Reader provides no way to opt out of the feature short or deleting every item you’ve ever shared. (E Flux Media)

Google Blog Reader

Google responded in the following way on December 26: 

We'd hoped that making it easier to share with the people you chat with often would be useful and interesting, but we underestimated the number of users who were using the Share button to send stories to a limited number of people," said the blog. (ibid).

It is clear from these examples that users of social networking sites do have the power to change the way in which the institution concerned delivers its services. This is clear difference to the days of the centralised models of mass media which delivered products to audiences who had little or no interconnectivity with each other.  In this sense those companies seeking to ride the wave of Web 2.0 are required to be very responsive to their audiences stated needs otherwise they can easily evaporate into cyberspace.

In the EU we seem to have more protection from this sort of thing than in the US through a privacy directive:

The Directive is Directive 95/46/EC (as in the European Commission). The precedent is the “Safe Harbour” Agreement. This privacy Directive was meant to standardize the exchange of private information within the EU Member States. A significant aspect of the common market is the capacity of consumers to shop and purchase in other Member States. The need to permit private information to flow freely prompted the creation of the Directive, which set rather high (in the mind of a USA-based marketer) standards for the use of private information. (EU for US Blog)

Webliography 

CNET News on Zuckerberg apology

PC World on Beacon

ITN News on Facebook and Beacon

WickiHow How to Block Beacon on Facebook


Facebook still in the News

Facebook Still in the News

Facebook’s transformation from a quirky internet start-up into one of the most talked-about companies in Silicon Valley is sure to be remembered as one of 2007’s biggest technology stories.(Kevin Allison: FT December 28 2007)

In May 2007 Facebook announced that it would allow outside developers to develop applications for Facebook such as games and slide-shows for use in the site. This gained a very favourable response as Facebook has a large and growing market. As the Money Programme puts it below, however it asks searching questions which are related to to any media company either on or offline. How has it outstripped the opposition and will the audience remaion for as every media company knows audiences are fickle: 

Facebook seemed to come from nowhere to everywhere in 2007.

One person in eight in the UK has become a registered member.Why has Facebook been so successful against stiff competition from other social network sites?And as the company tries to turn its popularity into profits, will its millions of members stay faithful? (Facehooked BBC Money Programme)

Comscore an organisation which tracks webtraffic estimed that Facebook received over 92 million unique visitors in November 2007.  This compares with 104 million unique visitors for MySpace in the same period which is a far more established company. The rate of growth for Facebook since November 2006 has been an impressive 400% compared to MySpace's 26%. Whilst an impressive rate of growth from a relatively low base is easier to achieve in a short time clearly if these figures were to continue Rupert Murdoch's MySpace as  the foremost social networking site is under threat.

Business interst in Facebook is underpinning this growth and gaining widespread interst amongst the business community. Given that Facebook's audience is amongst university students soon to be embarking upon successful careers the potential for longer term audience retention and the possible growth in advertising revenues can hardly be ignored. As reported in a previous posting Microsoft made an initial investment buying up 1.6% of the company. This was closely followed by Li Kashing a Hong Kong businessman of $60 million.



Comscore Chart

Above Comscore chart of Facebook usage pattern from Aug 05 - Aug 06. Unsurprisingly for a site devoted to university students usage goes down in the holidays. Roll on more wireless internet laptops under the sun umbrellas!



Overall these deals value Facebook at $15 billion. This can be compared to the price Google paid for YouTube of around $1.65 billion overall. In general terms then social networking sites with an established audience are becoming increasingly valuable. These figures also help to put the value of Linden Labs Second Life in perspective. currently the number of residents of about 11 million with aroud 38,000 online at any one time is still not attracting the bigger players. Microsoft is clearly intersted in audiences numbering tens of millions. 

Allison analyses the three constituent groups who comprise the audience and instituional combination which defines the media equation of the site but who have competing desires:

  • The users whose social connections power the site
  • The developers whose applicationskeep people interested
  • The advertisers upon whom Facebook is reliant for making money
“Facebook has these three constituent groups and it’s a really difficult balancing act, especially when you are trying to be innovative,” says Jeremiah Owyang, an analyst at Forrester Research (Cited Allison ibid)

Two groups have been frustrated over the past year. Users have become concerned over privacy issues - to be dealt with later- whilst  software developers have found the frequent changes to the site's software through tweaking awkward to deal with requiring immediate tweaks of their own. Currently the situation is very fluid as the key perspective from the viewpoint of Media institutions is how to monetise the assetts of social networking:

“We are in an early stage in trying to monetise social media,” says Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Venture Partners, a venture capital group that is an investor in RockYou, one of the leading makers of Facebook applications. Speaking of Facebook’s trouble with Beacon, Mr Liew says, “there are bound to be mistakes made” as social networks experiment with new advertising models.(Allison ibid)

Social Networking and Advertising Futures

Liew is confident that in the medium term a stable model of advertising driven social networking sites will emerge and that looking between 5 or 10 years this will have happened however over the coming few months there is still likely to be a lot of experimentation. Unlike audiences who may be preparedto put up with a few issues if they are changed rapidly in response to audience feedback marketers who are putting the money up front are unlikely to be so tolerant.

What does seem certain is that social networking is going to become a massive creator of adertising revenue. The content will be user generated but oiled by useful and entertaining applications. Rupert Murdoch renowned for being media-savvy and being able to develop and influence trends was certainly perceptive to invest in MySpace. The fact that Microsoft has made a move into this niche market after years of experience in networking with MSN shows that this is likely to be the fastest growing area of advertising revenue in the coming years. As Gabriel
Ready from the Open University has commented there is no such thing as a free web-trip or (lunch in cyberspace):

As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg explained, quite simply, these sites are based on a business model of selling targeted advertisements. Targeted advertisements, unlike traditional broadcast adverts, rely on information about their targets. And we--the users--are the targets. It's inevitable that companies like Facebook will want to gather more and more information about us as users, because it is that rich mine of data about us that advertisers are willing to pay for. (My emphasis, Ready: OU Open2.Net)

Webliography 

Facebook set for a delicate balancing act


December 22, 2007

Virtual Worlds and Second Life: A Changing Media Environment

Virtual Worlds & Second Life: A Changing Media Environment

Philip Rosedale and his avatar

Philip Rosedale the founder of Linden Labs who run Second Life alongside his avatar.

Introduction

One of the most fascinating developments in new media is the growth of virtual worlds with Second Life currently the leading virtual world in the marketplace although there are other ones being developed. Here I start to examine the growth of the virtual worlds and discuss whether phenomena such as Second Life should be considered as a game, a social networking site, or as something else in its own right. A quick search on Amazon UK reveals 11 titles currently available on Second Life. But these are largely not academic more like Lonely Planets Guides. An academic one just published is linked below. It is the first in a stream that will undobtedly appear in the next 18 months.

This page has developed out of my attempts to encourage my AS students to investigate Teen Second Life as part of their Audiences and Institutions: New Media Technologies Unit. It would be interesting to develop a media teaching environment in there so any media teachers / lecturers teaching this age range please drop a comment in the box. 

Game or Not: A Convergence?

The Uvvy wiki points out with a clear position on whether it is a game in the opening to its entry:

Second Life is a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents. Since opening to the public in 2003, it has grown explosively and today is inhabited by millions of people (August 2006) from around the globe. Second Life is not a videogame, but a complete platform for business and entertainment. ( My emphasis: Uvvi wiki entry 22 / 12 / 07)

Uvvy itself can hardly be said to be neutral on the issue as they are:

uvvy is a full service Internet, Virtual Reality and Metaverse consulting and engineering team

Here some of the ideas are explained:  

The uvvy is the ultimate p2p communication device invented by the mathematician, computer scientist and science fiction writer Rudy Rucker. The uvvy does not exist yet but maybe coming soon.

Academia hasn't quite caught on to the fact that computer games represent the convergence and the flowering of the most ambitious frontier efforts of the old twentieth-century computer science: artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and artificial life." Rudy Rucker, "The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul" (My empahsis).

Well this gets us around the question of whether it is a game or not - sort of!

The Virtual Worlds Review 

Virtual Worlds Review has a useful page which analyses several types of virtual world:

A virtual world is an interactive simulated environment accessed by multiple users through an online interface. Virtual worlds are also called "digital worlds," "simulated worlds" and "MMOG's." There are many different types of virtual worlds, however there are six features all of them have in common:

1. Shared Space: the world allows many users to participate at once.

2. Graphical User Interface: the world depicts space visually, ranging in style from 2D "cartoon" imagery to more immersive 3D environments.

3. Immediacy: interaction takes place in real time.

4. Interactivity: the world allows users to alter, develop, build, or submit customized content.

5. Persistence: the world's existence continues regardless of whether individual users are logged in.

6. Socialization/Community: the world allows and encourages the formation of in-world social groups like teams, guilds, clubs, cliques, housemates, neighborhoods, etc. 

Below there is an interesting attempt to develop a more politically astute environment.

Agora Exchange

This site has led me to an interesting  site in which a political game is being devised. It is taking a range of ideas from contributors who must first of all log in. It has actually been commissioned by the Tate Gallery online:

Commissioned by Tate Online, through funding from the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and Technology. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Changing Concepts of Cyberspace 

The 07 Siggraph Conference brought out some interesting ideas relating to virtual worlds. As Amy Bruckman suggested in a paper reported by the BBC. 

Already online worlds such as Second Life challenged notions of what was meant by "cyberspace", said Amy Bruckman, associate professor in the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Coined by William Gibson, cyberspace has been defined as the "place" where a telephone conversation appears to occur. Increasingly it has been associated with online spaces, often games, where people go to play and socialize and are represented by an avatar.

However, said Prof Bruckman, it was becoming obvious that blogs and MySpace and Facebook pages were also in cyberspace, even though they also had strong links to the real world, because they were used to showcase events such as birthday parties, excursions or the birth of their children.

How will the Audience Develop?

Exodus to the Virtual World

Published by Palgrave in the US in November 2007 by Edward Castronova  this is one of the first of what will soon be a stream of academic publications on developments in Virtual Worlds.  

The appeal of online virtual worlds such as Second Life is such that it may trigger an exodus of people seeking to "disappear from reality," an expert on large-scale online games has said. (Edward Castronova, Associate Professor in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University to the BBC)

But he stressed there will be a group of people that spends all their lives there, and that the big question is the size of this group. (Ibid)

Castronova goes to some pains to differentiate between escapism - somebody avoiding a  situation say a weak marital relationship -  compared to a refuge from the world in which somebody can make a go of things whilst in conventional life they were being discriminated against. He also comments that it is likely to have a strong appeal to those in low paid low skilled jobs. however wherever people congregate there is usually exploitation and they will be paying to be exploited twice just like going to the movies, but if they enjoy themselves and they feel there is some element of control in their lives maybe it won't be so bad.

However if you check out the Densu Virtual Tokyo initiative below they are aiming to use Second Life to conduct high added value services like selling real estate. Clearly there are a number of ways in which this world might develop its audiences in the plural.  

Identity in Virtual Life

It is remarkable to see the reactions of people when one talks to them about Second Life and the possibility of spending a considerable amount of time in one / several virtual worlds. Is the fear / attraction of escapism from "the meat" as William Gibson describes it?

One thing is for certain the issue of identity is likely to be the core one when it comes to the success of these worlds. Many of my own students either quickly expressed an interest or reacted quite strongly against the possibility.  

Historically it might be possible to equate these virtual spaces to the societal role of the masked ball or issues of carnival written about by Bahktin. These are spaces where people can legitimately "transgress". Psychoanalytic accounts based upon Lacanian thinking will probably come to analyse these spaces as ones of the remainder. Probably different worlds will develop different codes of behaviour and perhaps different worlds will prove more attractive to different classes and types of people and come to be understood as functioning differently there are after all lots of different types of pubs and clubs and Bourdieu's notion of cultural capital will, I'm sure, be applicable in due course. It is if course far to early in the development of these worlds to be anyhting more than speculative.   

Here is a long paper by Judith Donath teaching within the MIT media department on "Designing Sociable Media" in 2001. It is quite an old paper now but the issue of identity and deception is even more important now than it ever was. Donath's course had many intersting elements. Here we can see that she is applying her research into the early MUDs into the beginnings of the developing online virtual worlds:

Nearly all of the avatar systems in current development (or in fiction for that matter) are graphical versions of real-time conversation systems (Rossney 1996). This is not surprising, since many social cues that are needed in a real-time conversation - such as emotional expressions, indications of attention, turn-taking signals, and awareness of presence - are problematic in a purely text-based world. Many of the distinctive vocabularies and discourse patterns (smileys, emote commands, etc.) that have evolved in these environments are attempts, given the very limited communicative channel, to introduce expression and other non-textual components of real-world speech (Cherny 1995). Graphical interfaces provide a promising new medium for conveying this information. (From Donath: Inhabiting the Virtual City). 

Donath's key point here is that avatars will effectively become and already are much more effective means of communication incorporating a wealth of non-verbal communication. It might not be real life but then it's not meant to be! It is a media and communications system.

Avatars from Worlds Away

Donath has illustrated her paper with this image of avatars from the World's Away environment dating from 1996. Obviously things have moved on a lot since then.  This environment  originally run by Fujitsu is now owned by VZone

Making Life Easy or Making it Worse?

As we increasingly move towards shopping on the internet there could be distinct advantages in doing this in a virtual world environment points out Philp Rosedale the founder of Second Life:

Shopping on Amazon might be much easier and enjoyable if you could turn to one of the other 10,000 or so people on the site at the same time as you and ask about what they were buying, get recommendations and swap good or bad experiences. (Philip Rosedale in BBC interview - 14th Dec 2007)

The Developing Institutional Context

Thus far it seems as though the media giants haven't invested in Linden Labs and Second Life yet however I'm sure Rupert Murdoch has a close eye on it especially its possible business applications. computer companies are definitely getting very interested and IBM once one of the largest companies in the world is linking up with Linden Labs to develop Avatars:

A virtual character, or avatar, for all the virtual worlds in which people play is the goal of a joint project between IBM and Linden Lab.

The computer giant and the creator of Second Life are working on universal avatars that can travel between worlds.(BBC Technology pages)

The project started by IBM and Linden Lab aims to create a universal character creation system so people only have to create a digital double once. (ibid)

Clearly there is an expectation on the part of IBM that virtual worlds are going to grow and this development could make it much easier to move through a great variety of these worlds. If this sounds strange to some readers now remember it only about 12 years since the web started up with a graphical user interface and things have moved exponentially since then!. 
If you don't believe me then take a look at the impressive line up for the forthcoming virtual worlds conference in 2008 and also take a look at the topics being covered.

The Future Media and Communications

Dentsu in Second Life

One of my AS students kindly added this link from the Financial Times Aug 2007. The advertising agancy Dentsu has spent an enormous amount of money with Second Life establishing a virtual Tokyo:

Virtual Tokyo gets a virtual Second Life Tokyo 

By Mariko Sanchanta in Tokyo, FT.com site
Published: Aug 22, 2007

Dentsu, which spent about Y10m ($870,000) to acquire the 85 hectares in Virtual Tokyo, is aiming to recoup its investment by lining up 30 or so blue-chip companies to build a virtual presence within the first year.

Mr Aihara said: "We're aiming to create a virtual Japanese Wall Street, where major Japanese financial institutions will have a presence.

"For example, users would be able to negotiate a virtual home mortgage with a bank to then buy a virtual flat. (My emphasis). 

Virtual Business Tools for Second Life 

Just as this site uses Google Analytics to monitor usage and to help develop pages and audience relationships so a range of business tools are being developed for Second Life. This image comes from Maya Realities who have develop a Second Life Analytics.

Maya Realities Analytics Screen

Equally important to where visitors spend time on your land is where they are located in real life. The above map helps determine what languages to offer your products and services or what cultures warrent focused resources.

Work in Progress on Virtual Tokyo 

The Japan Times of Oct 25th 2007 reprots the following:

A work in progress, Virtual Tokyo so far houses online representations of such entities as Keio University, the TBS television network, Mizuho Bank, as well as a takeoff ramp for ski jumping and a sports stadium.

Sceptical and Critical Views of Second Life

The Phoney Economics of Second Life

Summary

The more I research about virtual worlds the more convinced I am that they will be normal for a lot of people in advanced industrial societies in 10 -12 years time. The enormous potential for interactivity will make older media forms seem like the dinosaurs they are. As the number of these world's increases we are likely to see the smart media money from the Rupert Murdoch's of this world move into the arena once it becomes a little more established. In world advertising will probably drive these environments making the cost of entry very low in order to attract mass audiences. Obviously the broadband systems will need to be far better. The likely outcome if this scenario unfolds is for low grade TV channels to disappear. Who wants so called reality TV when you can have a much more intersting time online elswhere? I would rather put my pension fund into Linden Labs than ITV (The current 84.4p, up 1.4p on Thursday) that's for certain !

For my students I'm hopefully preparing them for what will become more important in media, communications and cultural studies departments at an undergraduate level when they get to university. Right now a lot of research that has been going on will come on stream and new courses will start to emerge just as these worlds are likely to take off.  

As can be seen above the prospect of a multiplicity of virtual worlds is upon us. Just like early colour TV sets there will be much that is a bit flakey in terms of quality. But it seems clear from this brief round up of things as they stand at the back end of 2007 that the future of virtual worlds is currently a rosy one. Despite some figures suggesting that Linden labs has lost some members in November it is sensible to take a medium term development view. Dentsu a big advertising (media company) is clearly a large early adopter and is making a clear developmental push to develop quite a sophisticated audience. It is likely that this trend will continue. As the dollar equals around 2 Linden and the Pound Sterling is around $2 there are clearly some entreprenuerial opportunities awaiting! I still wonder whether there will be avatars queuing out of the Second Life Banks on a Satureday morning though! Things seem to have moved on steadily from a year ago and the the pieces are gradually moving into place for a much larger adotption rate of residents to begin who will swamp the pioneers. Lets hope Linden have got enough servers!

Webliography and Online Resources 

Search Term on Google: Identity and Virtual World. This leads to a list of scholarly articles. The ones at the top of the list are the classic ones. You will need to go down a couple of pages to find more up to date material

B. Book. Moving Beyond the Game:Virtual Social Worlds

Stephen Webb : Avatar culture: Narrative, power and identity in virtual world environments (You will need to pay for this one or have subscription rights).

BBC money Programme: Virtual world Real Millions

Elizabeth Daniel is Professor of Information Management at the Open University Business School check her blog here.


November 19, 2007

Video–Games: Genres and Markets

Video-Gaming Genres

Introduction

For all the hi-tech mumbo jumbo and huge investments going on in the video gaming world we are still stuck with the same old populist genres which aim to make a bit of money out of people by 'shocking them'. The story below is a typical case of wrapping the same old junk in new clothes. I'm not a fan of horror I'm afraid, who needs it in a World full of wars, genocide, malnutrition and disease as well as the usual poverty. It's exploitative rubbish but astonishingly it gains a big enough audience to keep going.  Why can't the puerile watchers of this stuff do something useful with their time? (Especially postmodernists!)



Manhunt 2

More puerile populism? An image from Manhunt 2.



Manhunt 2 was developed for the Wii and PS2 boxes. The game wasn't awarded a certificate by the BBFC (British Board of Film Censors) whose director David Cooke said:

There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game.

A spokesperson for Rockstar the production company of Manhunt 2 as well as other controversial videogames commented: 

The adult consumers who would play this game fully understand that it is fictional interactive entertainment and nothing more.(My emphasis).

Of course for the word  "adult" read "total moron". Why is it that the most puerile or unpleasant forms of "entertainment" are described as "ADULT"? They also seem to be defined by a threatened masculinity.

The video game Manhunt 2 was rejected for its "unrelenting focus on stalking and brutal slaying", the British Board of Film Classification said.

Below we see the result of some "ADULT" activities 

The original Manhunt game caused huge controversy and was blamed for the murder of Stefan Pakeerah.

The boy was stabbed and beaten to death in Leicester in February 2004.

His parents believe the killer, Warren LeBlanc, 17, was inspired by the game.

Webliography 

Censors ban 'brutal' video game

Banned video game is 'fine art'


April 10, 2007

Sony Trumps Apple iPhone with Vaio Micro UX1

Sony Vaio UX1 Ultramobile Computer cum ....






Vaio as Business Lifestyle







The Marketing & Promotion

I first spotted the ads for this machine in the Financial Times Weekend Colur Magazine. The written text is unremittingly sexist it "packs a techno punch; it's the ultimate boy's toy... ". Actually its small size is very likely to appeal to women but it's huge current price will not unless women break through the 'silicon ceiling'. It seems to be aroun £2K right now but as the advertising says occasionally a new technology product "can chqange the paradigm". iPod did that to the Sony Walkman so maybe it's Sony's turn to do it to Apple?









Vaio Micro UX1 1






Well its certainly ultra-mobile. Can it compete with the trend towards all in one devices which Blackberry, iPhone and most mobiles are aiming for? It certainly beats the competition offered from Samsung but at a price. Well it's certainly in the running!  It has 32GB of Flash memory not a hard disc drive HDD  which makes it fast and reliable and proves the sharper predictions of the technology press 3 months ago were right as they said the next big leap forward would be based upon  huge flash memory capacity what companies like Samsung have predicted will be "Super-Blackberries".

From the perspective of mass media can it communicate in a world which is going unremittingly wireless and internet driven? Well the advertising says it can:




Vaio Micro with Camera










But that's nothing. Just check out the Flash driven advert below which I find fun and convincing. A clear case of the media is the message I think :-)






Vaio Rear Screen
Click on the above image and then click on "Get the full story" box for a very impressive interactive advert which has a virtual stylus which you can use to check out the UX1's capabilities. This is an advance in advertising technique I think.

It has wireless LAN for continuous communication and even two cameras built in so that a video chat can be conducted on the move. With Vista as its operating system and a huge memory you can use the browser of your choice. It even has built in microphone and speakers. As a phone it can communicate to more than one person. With headphones its private. At around the size of a PSP its a no brainer if you've got the cash of course !!

Is it a marker of the technology to come? Is it creating a new paradigm. I think so. I want one immediately whereas the latest mobile phone has no interest for me at all.  Imagine how useful this could be for professional photograhers for example. You can have a full working version of Photoshop and computer with you for less than the weight of a medium size fast lens. Edit and upload your shots while out on a shoot in demanding conditions. This beats a lot of laptops and is a prelude to the way many laptops will be going.

This means that prices will become affordable in a couple of years or less. can Nokia and iPhone bring out competitive products or will it be Toshiba who have a powerful place in the laptop market who are challenged as well. With this one I suspect Sony are on a winner. but clearly the ultramobile computing market is set to take off big time. Watch this space.





Webliography

In depth review from Personal Computer World this also has a link to the Samsung Q1 an earlier cheaper but less effective competitior in the ultra mobile market

For a more typical aspirationally minded geeky macho male check out the entirely predicatble GQ lifestyle magazine way of reviewing things.

The Turbo-gadgets Blog is quite interesting for surface reviews. Check out the SonyEricsson New phone for Japan while your here.  


January 03, 2007

Web 2: Cultural Diversity, Adverts & The Long Tail

Currently there seems to be a debate going on about making money through blogs and websites for small organisations.

Media Studies students will recognise very general issues which occur whatever the kind of media you are using. This post suggests that many people think that it is possible for a small scale blog which is targetting a very niche audience is going to make some money through services such as Adsense which are offered by Google. (The post is from Anderson’s diary about his concept of the Long Tail).

The following quotation has been taken from another blog which is bemoaning the fact that the tiny amount of money generated from her site falls below the minimum amount that Google is prepared to administer:

I’m beginning to have my doubts about Chris Anderson’s long tail, the proposition that cultural boutiques can make a living from audiences on the Internet. One disgruntled publisher complains she’s owed less than the minimum Google can be bothered to pay her. And, as fast as she makes money, Google lifts the threshold. [She writes:] “When I started with Adsense in late 2004/ early 2005 the minimum was $25. Just when was about to hit the $25 minimum, they raised it to $50. Now that I have $45 in my account, the minimum is $100. Granted, I have a site with very low traffic, but how many website owners are getting screwed by Google? If the long-tail theory holds out, there could be millions of dollars of unpaid Google ads. (My emphasis).

I must say I don’t have much sympathy. Of course Google had a low starting point they were trying to encourage creativity which would ultimately generate successful people and Google a fair bit of money. I believe Adsense pays about a dollar a time if somebody clicks an advert on your blog. If you are expecting to magically make money from a tiny niche market you will be disappointed. People can still get a free blog from Google and Google Analytics provides an extremly sophisticated service which many commercial concerns can use to improve marketing or to try and make pages more popular. All these services cost money yet they are free.

I use Google Analytics on this blog. I’m interested in who is attracted to this blog and what it is that attracts them. For example I had 16 hits the other week from Chellaston in Derbyshire. I have also had hits from cities in Chile and in Australia as well as from China, Vietnam and Taiwan and a lot from the USA. I’m both surprised and pleased because much of this blog is targeted to quite tight audiences.

What is Google Analytics?

On November 13, 2005, Google announced Google Analytics, a free Web analytics service targeted at the long tail of small and medium-size businesses that lack a Web analytics solution. While “free” is a powerful word, the Urchin product on which Google Analytics is built is less than a Web analytics powerhouse. The offering will succeed at the lower end of the market, but won’t completely ruin the party for high-end vendors.

The above analysis comes from a business technology company Forrester Research who describe themselves as:
Forrester Research (Nasdaq: FORR) is an independent technology and market research company that provides pragmatic and forward-thinking advice about technology’s impact on business and consumers.

Their analysis of Google Analytics in full will cost you $50-00 if you are silly enough. They may wish to eat these rather expensive words by the look of the client base Google seems to be gaining. (Anyway no links to rip off artists like that!).

The point about Google analytics is that anybody is allowed to use to help them get some income from their site. As that isn’t this sites primary aim then I can use the tools for other purposes such as seeing whether my students are accessing the site. Criticise Google for giving us all a version of big brother if you like but they want you to make money and they seem to be doing all they can to encourage this by letting you study the audience you do have.

Creativity and Diversity

Of course I am interested in the possibilities of individuals or small companies making a living from working in this way! As far as I’m concerned blogs are a fascinating form of media. If people can make them interesting enough then an audience will appear. Audiences are fickle at the best of times as Ien Ang’s classic media book Desparately Seeking the Audience shows. (Please note the publisher is remaining nameless. I could put a link through and if they pay me I will, otherwise you will have to find it yourself. In other words there are lots of opportunities to offer a service to interested parties).

There is no reason why the web should be any different to any other sort of media in this respect. Cheapness of access is nevertheless democratising. Finally we might get to the point where audience and content interact to provide a genuinely new media paradigm.

Being able to publish in a range of different forms when you are ready to is genuinely liberating. Previously media companies were having to programme full schedules now the: what you want, when you want it how you want it culture that new media is developing means that good quality programmes, sites, etc. can be made available for years if need be.

Audiences will eventually decide whether these are worth bothering with. If nobody recommends them then they will die a natural death or adapt. (bit of cyber-Darwinian theory :-). But the woman who is complaining has been given free publishing opportunities, unheard of in the past. Given that it costs Google something to run I don’t think there are reasonable grounds for complaint. Let’s face the now $100.00 payout is miniscule for an advanced Western country. If you want money find an audience or else be happy that you can egoistically be speaking to a few afficionados worldwide.

However, an alternative is that if you are a small-time publisher who is unlikely to ever get those few dollars from Google, why not all club togther and donate to the one lap top per child project. For $100.00 or around £60-00 you can get a child in an underdeveloped country a good computer. Indirectly this is increasing your market so do the world a favour and get that money out of Google’s accounts if it bothers you.

Publishing opportunities

Thanks to Google for allowing lots of people to play with these new technologies and affording some the opportunity to create new cultural voices for nothing. If you are publishing poetry you usually pay the printer for the priviledge, and you feel proud if you get your money back. Most poetry publishers do it because they feel a creative urge often it will only be read by people with similar interests and that’s fine.

In the world of Jazz Derek Bailey and Evan Parker both excellent and highly experimental musicians were making music more for other musicians than for a wider public. Miles Davis made a good living and was popular and so does Jan Garbarek, on the whole their music is less experimental. Often not to many people’s tastes but to enough to enable them to go on making their style of music.

Whatever kind of media you are working in you can either make your art / service with a wider audience in mind or you can target a very narrow audience. At the end of the day it is the audience which drives cultural diversity, not advertising, nor the artist. Without audiences cultural creators are nothing. If people are so egoistic that they only want to make a cultural creation for their own benefit that’s fine, just don’t whinge when you don’t make money from it.

This doesn’t detract from the original argument put forward by Chris Anderson in Wired Magazine:

In the tyranny of physical space, an audience too thinly spread is the same as no audience at all.

On the above link you can find his original concept of The Long Tail.

Is Diversity Necessarily Good Quality?

A point worth making about the issue of cultural diversity is that just being diverse doesn’t necessarily equate to being good in terms of the quality of what is produced. What it does mean from the perspective of cultural citizenship is that many people are finding a voice in ways that were previously impossible. Hopefully the better ones will be able to make a living
without compromising their ideas for the sake of commercialism. Sometimes all people want to do is to communicate thier ideas, and there has never been a better opportunity than now.

The advantage of web publishing as we move inexorably towards a networked society creating what I prefer to think of as a global city it affords opportunities for many. The metaphor of city is more appropriate than Marshall McLuhan’s “Global Village”. The physical city of Modernity liberated people from the claustrophobic control of the Local landowner and the Church. It is getting increasingly hard to disagree with Anderson’s argument that the networked society is freeing many from the ‘tyranny of physical space’ which was previously the prerogative of government or powerful media tycoons.

It appears as though Web 2 is finally begining to deliver on the original promise of the internet. There will always be crass commercialism and so-called ‘celebrity’ culture with sad people talking about ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ the home of has-beens and cheap publicity seekers. encouragingly vast new cultural spaces are beginning to open in a genuinely “popular way”. When I say popular I mean generated and growing from people’s own ideas rather than people being spoonfed with crass programmes like Big Brother keeping the ex public schoolboy ‘inventor’ happy in his mansion in Hampstead.

The Long Tail Market

The Long Tail in Media

So what then is this ‘long-tail market’ that people are doubting. Here is Anderson’s summary contained on his Long Tail diary

In Long Tail markets, hits lose their monopoly on culture as they share the stage with million of niche products. Minority taste rules.There are three basic types of participants in Long Tail markets: consumers, aggregators and producers (note that it’s possible to be all three; these aren’t mutually incompatible). The main effects on each are: * Consumers. Effect: Largely cultural. People have more choice, so individual taste increasingly satisfied even if the effect is an increasingly fragmented culture. * Aggregators. Effect: Largely economic. It’s never been easier to assemble vast variety and create tools for organizing it, from search to recommendations. Increased variety plus increased demand for variety equals opportunity. Also note that just as one size doesn’t fit all for products, nor does it for aggregators. I think the winner-take-all examples of eBay, Amazon, iTunes and Google are a first-inning phenomena. Specialized niche aggregators (think: vertical search, such as the real estate service Zillow) are on the rise. * Producers. Effect: Largely non-economic. I responded to a good Nick Carr post on this last year with the following: “For producers, Long Tail benefits are not primarily about direct revenues. Sure, Google Adsense on the average blog will generate risible returns, and the average band on MySpace probably won’t sell enough CDs to pay back their recording costs, much less quit their day jobs. But the ability to unitize such microcelebrity can be significant elsewhere. A blog is a great personal branding vehicle, leading to anything from job offers to consulting gigs. And most band’s MySpace pages are intended to bring fans to live shows, which are the market most bands care most about. When you look at the non-monetary economy of reputation, the Long Tail looks a lot more inviting for its inhabitants.

Well this blog seems to be largely agreeing with my audience analysis above and interestingly makes a lot of the the notion of a blended world of culture with material life interacting with virtual a core value. It is audiences that make the culture in the final analysis!


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