Oct 26

Rather than simply looking at my website concept at face value, I figured I would take a deeper look at what I would be trying to provide for users. An age old exercise in advertising, an example would be that the ready-made cookie company is not simply selling chilled cookie mix, but rather the feeling of family and togetherness that one experiences while baking cookies. Essentially, one is selling (or providing) to satisfy a person’s needs (in the aforementioned example, a need to feel closer to one’s friends/family) and not just a product or service. With this in mind, it becomes necessary to look deeper into what users want and expect and focus less on the micro scale of things, for websites being the detailed content itself.

Considering what I would want to provide creating a website such as this, I realized that essentially, my aim is to instill a sense of community back into music. In a sense devolving from what our musical tendencies have become, the website would remove users from the sheltered environment of their MP3 player and expose them to the interests and tastes of others. With the architecture of a social community built in, surely this process would start with one’s immediate circle of friends, but ideally would branch out from there through various degrees of separation and allow a greater number of people to appreciate a greater variety of music. Inevitably, my hope would be for the website to broaden the musical horizons of the users, if even incrementally.

While social interaction would certainly be the driving force behind the success of the website, its finest element would seek to spread the knowledge and appreciation of different styles and genres of music.  With multiple sites driving toward this end (if even unintentionally) I chose three that would likely most approximate the function:

  • Pandora – The ever-popular Pandora is the ultimate in automated music suggestion (done right, according to some).  Leveraging the Music Genome Project, the website creates what is essentially a customized “radio station,” playing songs similar in style or structure to an initially queried song or artist.  While an excellent service for discovering new music similar to one’s currently-held tastes, the site makes no effort to attempt to nudge users to try new music (which it is not expected to, clearly aiming to recommend similarities).
  • Last.fm – Taking a similar approach to Pandora, Last.fm uses a plug-in installed on the users computer to capture what songs are played.  Aggregrating this information over time, the website uses it to generate suggestions for, again, similar music.  The site also makes an attempt to compare the listening habits of users to other users and make suggestions for like-minded listeners.  The feature often dissuading new users is the presence the website takes on their computer with the plug-in.
  • TwonesStill in beta at this point, Twones takes more of a macro approach and attempts to take services like Pandora and catalog the user’s listening habits, online instead of off the desktop like Last.fm (incidentally, I was mispronouncing the name of the website until seeing their banner, “One.  Two.  Twones.”  In an age where branding is more important than ever, they might have considered a more definitive name).  The site takes a user’s preferences over a variety of online music streaming services and allows them to share with friends via Twitter or a number of other methods.

Where I see my site concept differentiating is the human element and the presence of a continuous, uninterrupted conversation.  As the makers of Pandora attest, people will be the best judges of musical worth for the foreseeable future (as opposed to complex algorithms), taking certain intangibles of music into consideration.  My site would allow them to discuss and share down to the finite details (such as in my aforementioned example, going beyond discussing Led Zeppelin and discussing Robert Plant’s singing personally).  This information, however, would be linked between all the different points of discussion (artists, albums, concerts, etc.) allowing a user to set out seeking certain information and perhaps landing elsewhere to be pleasantly surprised by the results.  Essentially, the site would strive to make music recommendations more socially-driven, but still allow for intricate technological solutions (such as those found at Pandora).

Oct 20

Having come across Naked Conversations before, I found it interesting to read anew with a different perspective.  First encountering the book in business school, I was naturally suspect of and moderately offended by a number of the claims made.  While surely the intent of the book’s authors was to create something that is largely instructional, my interpretation was that it took what is an overall complex industry and profession (marketing) and boiled it down to its most finite and simplistic elements.  I found it hard to believe that something I had devoted six years to learning was on the precipice of collapsing, and if it indeed was, did not garner a following of people intelligent and savvy enough to right the ship.  Moreover, lumping all marketers and advertisers into the category of those ignored and detested by the general public is a crude generalization.

Delving back into Naked Conversations from a technologically-minded perspective, I was certainly able to see the other side of a number of arguments contained therein, but still came away with the mindset that marketing becomes maligned in a very general sense.  While I would be the first to question the overwhelming pervasiveness of advertising and the (at least American) commercialism with which we’ve become inundated, I don’t think turning on marketing and those who disseminate it is the right move.  Watching merely an hour of American television will make a strong case for the lack of creativity and innovation that has befallen advertisements over the past decades.  There are, however, occasional examples of the talent still present in the advertising (and inherently, marketing) industry, creating noteworthy work that might be considered tantamount to art, but more importantly, succeeds in captivating consumers and inevitably selling products (Apple, with its simplistic ads once being an example, has seemingly fallen into the inevitable creative rut brought by success).

I’ve included two of the current television ads below that I think are a success for two different reasons.  The Levi’s ad, being of the more abstract variety, could otherwise be mistaken for a short independent film were it not for the logo at the end.  While some may criticize this ad for not being about the product at all (a common complaint of advertising), it has certainly succeeded in creating a conversation amongst consumers.  While this conversation has revolved around the perversion of a great American poet’s work for the sake of selling wares, it is inexorably connected with Levi’s thereby making the public discuss a once great brand again.  Pertaining to Naked Conversation, this is exactly the type of discussion – positive or negative – that a company seeks to generate and foster.  While I may be a bit biased, already an avid Walt Whitman and Johnnie Walker fan, I think both ads achieve the objective for which they set out.  The Johnnie Walker ad (of Diageo ) just happens to take a more direct approach, creating a series of images and emotions that are geared directly towards what they think is the ideal Johnnie Walker scotch drinker.  In either account, it is a comforting thought to occasionally see an advertisement worth celebrating rather than ignoring.

Oct 13

ThumbnailSearching for inspiration for a new website, I found myself in the local Best Buy looking for new music (yes, I know I’m one of the dwindling few who still buys CD’s).  With no particular destination in mind, I set out browsing the entire selection.  Spotting a variety of my favourite artists, I came across an album that had been released several months prior of which I was completely unaware.  Without the time or patience to keep track of all of the artists I’m currently listening to (a list which seems to irrevocably expand), I thought it would be helpful to have a service that alerts me to when bands or artists are developing a new album or EP and when they have released it.  Expanding upon this initial thought, the website I envision will encompass various features all revolving around people and their love for music.

With the ability to “subscribe” to artists, a user would be able to select a variety of different news sources (such as band news or album releases) and receive the information in an email (or various other contact methods).  Beyond bands, there would be would also be the ability to follow individuals.  Led Zeppelin, for instance, will seldom have band news being released today, but singer Robert Plant still performs and releases music, allowing the user to receive both his news and that of Zeppelin.  There would also be an integrated map and calendar feature that allow the user to see which of their favourite artists is playing nearby and when.  And, beyond the multitude of artists currently for sale in major outlets, users would be able to create their own pages for their band, allowing them to inform others of what they’re currently developing and where they’ll be playing.

The key component to the majority of the site would be the integration of social network.  Given how communal music has always been, it is only natural that people would want to discuss and share it with each other.  Each component of the site would allow for the ability to add commentary.  Concerts (in the future or past), artists, or even individual songs (listed within a discography) would have the ability to be shared and analyzed by the community at large.  The concept of being informed by a friend that a certain album is about to be released that deserves a listen is nothing new.  However, being able to discuss the music with a multitude of friends, analyze the contributions of individual band members, and contemplate attending the band’s next concert all in an integrated fashion is a concept I find quite appealing.  Is the effect that iPods have had on us, making us into musical introverts, too strong to reverse?  I’d like to think we can bring community back to music.

Tune Tracker

Oct 7

The results of our Second Life scavenger hunt:

- Five animals at a zoo

- Domestic university

- Foreign university

- Dragon

- View from the top of the Eiffel Tower

- Dance club

Oct 7

The concept of a “gamer” had always more closely resembled a homely troll of a person you might find camped in front of a screen in some dark, dank basement.  As disturbing as that image may be, the movement of gaming into the mainstream has done a lot to make it a thing of the past.  No longer is a gamer necessarily antisocial, teenage malcontent, but the designation could extend to those as varied as an aspiring four-year old to a grizzled veteran.  In the grand scheme of things, this has not been a lengthy transition (several decades or less), but in that short period of time, the video game industry has flourished, gaining millions more potential customers and a new sense of legitimacy.

Gilette Markets Specifically to Gamers?

The ubiquitous representation of video gaming’s stake to legitimacy today is the Nintendo Wii.  While it’s certainly a prime example of the industry reaching out to a whole new set of customers and users, the Wii is not the only movement in this direction.  Aside from the obvious copycat efforts by Microsoft and Sony with their motion controllers mimicking that of the Wii, the number of user friendly video games has been burgeoning, feeding off Nintendo’s success.  From Nintendo’s (arguably more successful) DS using a simple button configuration and stylus combination to the completely intuitive game play behind the Apple  iPhone/iPod games, it has become easier than ever for anyone to embrace video games.

While much has been of the excessive nature of childhood video game play, the positive aspects of playing video games are gaining attention.  Benefits such as improved visual processing and boosted cognitive skills are receiving attention in the press that might have seemed impossible 20 or even five years ago.  Also somewhat of a news phenomenon has been the elderly use of the Wii; specifically the proliferation of Wii Sports bowling leagues.  Essentially, by taking a risk and pushing the boundaries of what defined a video game buyer, and more specifically, a video game user, Nintendo opened up a world once belonging entirely to the aforementioned recluses to those who may have once been considered Luddites.

There is no doubt today that the video gaming industry has inexorably changed, but before Nintendo’s bold venture into casual gaming, many questioned their potential for success.  By abandoning the “hardcore” gamer demographic, Nintendo committed what some considered industry suicide.  Today, however, not only do video games seem to be ubiquitous (with cell phone gaming provide uninterrupted access), but gamers seem to be ubiquitous.  Surely, the hardcore gamers still exist, but it would not be unreasonable to find three generations of game players in the same household.  So acceptable it has become, gaming is likely to show up in the most unlikely of places: