sad admissions.

I am probably going to go to the Fido store nearest work on monday, to see what my options are in procuring an iPhone.

Mock away.

moo cards - round one.

broken gentleman Moo Cards - Round One.

In circulation starting July 28, 2008.

adbusters decries remixing of culture (more or less).

Adbusters isn’t a publication I’ve ever found myself agreeing with.  Mostly because it’s core proposition is based on self-deceit: that you can create a worldwide brand based on anti-branding, anti-capitalist values, and still judge popular culture as deluded and vapid.

I did not, however, think I would find a place where Adbusters, and the copyright lobby, would agree with one another so precisely.

The final sentences of the article titled ‘Hipster: the Dead End of Western Civilization’ are as follows:

We are the last generation, a culmination of all previous things, destroyed by the vapidity that surrounds us. The hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture so detached and disconnected that it has stopped giving birth to anything new.

The idea that combining previous ideas, previous works, cannot result in new culture, not only denies the entirety of popular culture’s history, but it also very clearly explains the distaste with capitalism that defines the magazine – if only wholly original creations count, there would never be a need for business to make things better, or more valued.  With this mindset, capitalism is a factory that re-hashes the beautiful and original, making it valueless.  Obviously, this is true in some cases.

But I’d argue that remix culture has resulted in profound statements, both from a political standpoint, and a beauty standpoint.  I’d argue that melding past elements into a new ideal or aesthetic, is how culture (and business) moves forward.  Adbusters disagrees, and wants you to stop doing what other people are doing, because it feeds the machine.  The copyright lobby also wants you to stop mixing and matching the work others are doing, unless you pay heavily for it, because that would stop the machine.

Someone, or everyone, has to be wrong here.


crowley's second rule.

I’m proposing the following social media uncertainty principle:

At the moment you are unable to respond personally to the volume of comments and emails generated by your commentary on social media, you are no longer participating in social media.

This came to mind when I read a recent post talking about how great twitter is as a research tool, that simply asking one’s list for recommendations is far more useful than checking a site dedicated to the topic. This is certainly true, for a comparatively small number of pundits. But if you can do that, you aren’t really using social media. You’re being famous on a platform designed for the ‘Famous for 15 People’ world of augmented social interaction. And really, this level of internet fame makes it impossible to really comment on how social media works.

You can’t tell me how twitter, or tumblr, or even blogger works when you’re using it in a way 99% of people will never use it. You aren’t talking about how social media works. You’re talking about being internet famous. And as wise and informed as your perspective may be, it’s not a perspective that benefits most users.

So, the short version is, fame breaks social media. It alters the experience to the point where it’s unrecognizable, and often, breaks it so completely that the internet famous individual gets sick of the vitriol thrown their way and gives up.

You can’t comment on social media without experiencing it. And often, I find the social media punditry crowd is really just talking about personal publishing. It would help me, I think, if I thought they realized it.


explaining the coming radio silence.

I'm off to British Columbia tomorrow morning for a work event.  So, it's unlikely I'll have anything new up until Tuesday, although I'm trying to put something together for tonight.

Sorry for the interruption in service.  I'm sure the weekend will result in another torrent of inspiration.


six misconceptions about the future of music.

I had a great conversation with a friend from school today, and the following misconceptions about the future of music came to mind:

  1. Piracy has ruined the business for everyone except the massive acts.  Actually, the massive acts were generally the only ones making lots of money (for the recording industry).  Piracy has cut back on that, so labels can no longer offset the losses from other projects with the massive income from a few hit records.
  2. The label system / the recording industry is dead.  No way in hell.  What's dead is that entire engine existing to create recorded music, and make money off recorded music.  What's coming is a label system that focuses on it's ability to break acts, broker cross promotions, and generate income from it's network of merchandising partners.
  3. Independent artists will suffer.  Independent artists always suffered, if we're defining independent as 'not a major act'.  If we're defining independent as 'mainstream but angrier', please go read a different blog.
  4. 'Real Fans' will pay for music.  Music, now that it is available in unrestricted (and infinitely copyable) digital files, isn't worth money.  Real fans will pay for an experience, or a collectible, or a memory.
  5. Fans will pay for ease of use, or a simpler experience.  Piracy is, for a notable segment of the population, easier than having a credit card.  Therefore, piracy is not going to be trumped in terms of ease of use, or user experience.
  6. NIN / Radiohead / Livenation will figure it out.  These entities are going to figure out how established names continue to make large amounts of money in a changing marketplace.  But, this has no real bearing on discovering how to freshly establish names, and then make large amounts of money, in this new marketplace.
Keep this in mind while you consider how to change this industry.


a soon to be unpopular opinion.

I actually quite like the new Facebook layout.

metrics that matter.

I was thinking about this before I went to sleep last night, and I thought it was important enough to post.

In terms of web traffic, I don’t really care about unique hits. My number one criteria for success is simple: how many people have the site in the bookmarks bar of their browser. How many people love this site enough that it requires one click, no menus, to get there.

Obviously, if the average visitor spends 20 minutes on your site, visiting 10 pages, that’s wonderful. But I’m more interested in how habitual their patronage is. How incorporated into their daily life a site is.

The most important thing for a person, a product, or an outlet to be, is habit-forming. So, unless people are reading your RSS feed, and making visiting your site as simple as possible, I don’t know that they really care about what you do.

I should note that I can guarantee no one has my site in their bookmarks bar. I don’t. But I have notcot.org, and ilovenewwork, and digg. And you can bet those are three of the sites I evangelize most.


perceived barriers and consumer behaviour.

The perception of a barrier is more important than the realities of that barrier.

This is equally true of whether or not you can get someone to pay for a product or service, whether they will pay twenty nine dollars but not thirty, whether they will change their behaviour around your product or service, or whether they will watch / eat / do what-have-you in a new location.

The issue isn’t simplifying the barrier, or even minimizing it.  The issue is the existence of that barrier.

The reason itunes is important is it carefully removed the perception of barrier from the music buying experience.  You use the same program to buy music that you use to play music.  Once your details are logged, you just click through.  In the same window you use to play your music.

Buying a song has the same fundamental user experience as playing a song you already have, or subscribing to a podcast.

So, to dispute a point I made earlier, it is still logical to attempt to make money selling music.  Assuming the manner in which you sell music is not too divergent from what your market would be doing anyway.  It’s not the price point that matters (25 cent MP3s are just as expensive in terms of time and effort as 99 cent ones).  It’s the perceived barrier.


ratings systems are terrible.

While perusing potential sources of new information on tumblr, I came across a post which included this tidbit:

I know it’s impossible, but it would be interesting to see how much more money this movie is going to make because it’s not rated R.

This caught my attention because rating systems are (always) a negative thing for creative products.  Frank Miller (creator of 300, Sin City, etc) has had a lot to say about this, but I can summarise his argument fairly well in two points; rating dictates audience dictates money, and people should be media literate enough to know what’s appropriate.

Any R rated movie has a smaller audience.  This is fair, not everyone is mature enough to see the things in an R rated film.  At the same time, attaching an arbitrary age range further limits the number of people who will see it.  The real problem, though, is that films (as the most prominent rated medium) are written, filmed, and edited to the desired rating – meaning as a creative product, the rating outranks all artistic concerns.

Think about your favourite book.  Now consider if it wouldn’t have been published unless it was edited either 2 hollywood ratings up (i.e., from G to PG-13), or 2 hollywood ratings down.  Would it still be your favourite book?

The second point is that ratings don’t really protect anyone.  The people who care, or want to protect their children, should be able to tell from the title, posters, and trailer, which movies are appropriate.  The people who don’t care will take their kids no matter what the rating is.

I’d like to live in a society that assumes people are smart enough to entertain themselves appropriately.  I realize how absurd it is to have to say that, but here we are.


ARG promotions and the dark knight.

I caught a midnight showing of The Dark Knight, and was far more than impressed.

However, I don’t do movie reviews here.  So instead I’d like to ramble about something I’ve noticed in myself repeatedly – ARG (alternate reality game) regret.

A short list of creative products I’ve enjoyed, but not participated in the ARG for, include NIN’s Year Zero, Cloverfield, and now The Dark Knight.  Inevitably, the film or album ends, I become enamoured with it, and then I research the ARG, and the world-extension content that was a part of it.

Now, the design of these campaigns is for this to happen in the opposite order.  We’re supposed to build anticipation through the ARG, and therefore share that anticipation and interest with our friends.  But here’s the core problem with that:

I don’t have the time.

I’m not assuming I’m busier than anyone else, or my work is more urgent or important.  I waste a lot of my time on less than intellectual pursuits.  But I can’t imagine how I’d be able to schedule my work and social commitments around random automated phone calls from fictional characters, or scavenger hunts.

But my lack of participation doesn’t matter, because I can read about it online, and think to myself ‘oh, isn’t that cunning.’

I guess my point is, the advertising value of an ARG is likely split along an 80/20 rule: 80% of interest generated by an ARG is in non-participants, through coverage of the campaign or by catching up after the fact online, and 20% is active participants who move the game forward, and aspiring active participants who follow, but don’t actually get to participate for whatever reason.

This is another case of the product being less important that the wider influence the product has on behaviour.  The Dark Knight ARG gets people thinking about the wider world of Batman, even if they aren’t interacting with it.  That’s what matters.

Read more about the Dark Knight ARG here.

why are you trying to sell music?

The majority of discussion when it comes to music and new media is the creation of new business models. This would be fine, except for one core problem; every innovation worth watching has been a product from an artist who was already well known (Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Saul Williams), or at the very least associated with someone well known.

I’ve talked ad nauseum about NIN, but the important thing to figure out isn’t how to monetize the music business at a time when digital files are free to the majority of consumers, but instead how to develop an interest and fan-base for an artist, and then transition it into income for that artist, without ANY DEPENDENCE ON THE ESTABLISHED SYSTEM. Why does the argument always include some method of selling recorded music?

That last sentence excludes every MySpace band that developed a following DIY style, and then signed to a major and sold a pile of albums. The prior ones discount anything innovative we’ve seen in distribution, because those moves have been made by famous refugees from the label system, who are inarguably still indebted to that system.

If we’re talking about someone who isn’t part of the system, won’t be part of it any time soon, and is well known, the only name that comes to mind is Girl Talk. And it’s impossible to say whether he’s avoided working with major labels, because the complicated pseudo illegality of his mash-ups (which are insanely great) means they wouldn’t touch him with a ten foot pole.

The short version? The money, from now on, is probably in performing. The money has always been in performing, to a certain extent. I wouldn’t focus entirely on how to sell music in light of our new digital reality. I’d focus on how to distribute music to the largest number of potential concert attendees / merchandise buyers. Your album is now a non-rival good, something that can be replicated endlessly for no cost. This makes it hard to argue it’s worth money. But if 1) music is a great promotional tool, and 2) it promotes rival goods, like a concert seat, a tshirt, or a poster, I don’t see the music industry falling apart, just the CD and mp3 selling industry

It just moves recorded music another level away from the money.


state of the blog update.

This is just acknowledging some changes, but recently, beyond the increased post volume, I've updated links, added my LinkedIn account to the sidebar, written new About Me / About BrokenGent blurbs, etc.

Welcoming suggestions for other links / information / etc. that anyone feels I should attend to.

Many thanks.

five things to learn from nine inch nails.

  1. When selling a product, offer options that will appeal to your different types of consumer.  One offer, at one price point, is a massive number of potential consumers disappointed.
  2. Offer an experience that goes beyond just the music – the music is essentially a digital file, a non-rival good.  It’s hard to convince people to pay for something that is infinitely copy-able, and therefore objectively valueless.
  3. Offer both instant gratification AND a reward for investing.  If you’re competing with instant gratification (piracy), then that is your bare minimum offer.
  4. The most mainstream products are both the most important from a promotional standpoint, and the most likely to be pirated.  Accept this, and use the mainstream product as a promotional tool, and the experimental product as the collector’s item.
  5. Adapt your business model not to the differences in distribution, but instead to the differences in consumer behaviour and interests that those changes have enabled and created.

These points are examined at length in posts here, but I figured a quick refresher would make everyone stop and think about Trent Reznor’s recent contribution to figuring out how established acts can make money in a digital music marketplace.


acne paper: brand extensions that are not advertising.

Style Salvage recently posted a great write up on Acne, maker of beloved jeans and now Lanvin collaborator. It’s definitely worth a read, if only for the section on Acne Paper at the bottom.
Acne Paper is, in my limited experience, totally amazing. It manages to teach you something about the ideas behind the brand, offer great (and non-commercial) fashion shoots, potential inspirations, etc. the best thing about it is what it isn’t.

It’s a branded product that doesn’t turn itself into a mass of advertising for the brand.

Acne Paper doesn’t really try to sell you Acne. Instead to offers you a glimpse into the background of Acne as a brand, the inspiration, ideas, and creative culture that makes it work. It’s a brand extension that isn’t advertising.

This is a different beast than brand extensions for a creative product, which are themselves creative products. This is a creative extension for a commodity product. And they did it without making the entire thing a glorified catalogue.

I have no doubt this was done for the love, not for a potential increase in market share. But these kind of actions lead to people seeing Acne as a signifier they want attached to themselves.


microsoft will never be cool.

Not too long ago, I read an article in Fast Company about Crispin, Porter and Bogusky being hired to more or less make Microsoft cool. This is a reasonable task, from the outside – one of the most prevalent, powerful, successful companies in the world. The problem is that Microsoft is inherently the antithesis of cool. As evidenced by the recent unveiling of their new Xbox 360 Dashboard project at E3.

This is an important moment in Microsoft history. They’ve finally stopped copying Apple, and started copying Nintendo.

Microsoft wants to be cool, that’s easy to understand. Cool equals new customers. But Microsoft, to me, seems based on a simple premise that’s very hard to pull off. They wait to see what resonates with consumers, and then they remake it, with the benefit of having the most money, the best people, and the largest built in market of users.

This isn’t cool. This is the opposite of cool. And despite the model working in every other aspect of the business, you can't copy someone else's ideas and become cool. No matter how much money, time and talent you invest.

Microsoft buys success by operating on a level above, strategy-wise, from their competitors. But not as a leader or a puppet master. As a very rich, very talented follower.

I feel for CP+B. This is an impossible, endless task.

increasing complexity of identity management.

I think it’s been established that people are now brands, especially if they decide to participate actively in social media. It’s not a binary ‘brand / not brand’ thing, it’s an issue of success and ubiquity, mom and pop vs. walmart. This, however, has complicated identity management beyond what any previous generation has to deal with.

I have two jobs, and as such am a representative of those brands. My publicly accessible actions, photos, profiles, etc., have been (to an extent) constructed to exclude content that would be harmful to the brand I represent. Basically, I’m censoring myself in several instances, because I have to make sure that my actions, even in online manifestations of my personal life, maintain the decorum that my work life demands. Lots of people I know deal with this issue by locking away their online profiles, forcibly (and incompletely) segregating their identity.

I’ve decided not to go that far, because my social / online identity is at time useful currency in work related situations, and I’d throw away the chance to get to know more about people who are initially work contacts.

I also write this blog, and therefore have to carefully watch what I do and say, as that is the sum total of control I have over the perception of the broken gentleman as a concept. I put the ideas out there, and people decide what they mean. You’ll notice I more or less keep my personal life off this blog, and I intend to continue to do so.

I’m the only person responsible for the Jon Crowley social brand online, and it has, more or less, been subjugated to the benefit of the work life / blogging brand values.

The reason I, and I assume many of you, use social media is the benefit in creating a trackable past, both for yourself and those you encounter, as well as connecting to others without having to worry about time or location.

As a transition generation, I think the ‘why’ of using social media is going to suffer in service to offline life, professional life, etc. This will probably continue until we decide that seeing evidence of something happening isn’t all that different from knowing it’s happening but ignoring it for propriety. Until values shift, social media is going to suffer as we try to put the genie of transparency back into the lamp.


moo cards and social objects.

After agonizing about it for several months, I decided I should get some ‘blog cards’ that I could give to non-professional contacts that I meet in my random social endeavours. I think it’s important to keep my personal life out of my work, as similarly I don’t think it makes sense to give non-work contacts my work card (with office number and work email address).

After talking with my friend Lindsay (the same friend who introduced me to the Tumblr platform) I decided to try Moo cards.

The process was quick, easy and simple. For the relatively low total cost of 28 dollars (including shipping) and less than 20 minutes of my time, I have 100 cards (in three varieties) that should arrive in the next few weeks. I’ll post up pictures, etc. The cards I purchased are very simple, a line of text on one side, and 5 lines of contact info for me on the other.

The interesting part of this is that the format Moo operates in allows you to design 100 different minicards for an order of 100, if you wish. It’s inspired me to start doing editions (for as long as I need the cards, or for as long as Moo still offers the service).

Each edition (after the first set that all have the same text) will feature 10 copies each of 10 phrases, usually snippets or quotes from the blog. I figure this will serve as a both a conversation piece (each card having a fairly cryptic or argumentative line on it) and as a timeline – each sentence will be for that edition only, so people will be able to track what edition they’ve met me during.

Really, I’m just impressed at how simple Moo has made it to create a social object that is designed to be shared with everyone you meet.

corporate colonization: on and offline.

In a recent post I mentioned the type of response that corporate invasions of a digital public space can expect. While pre-corporatized spaces (such as paid-subscription video games) are usually tolerant of colonization, free and anarchic spaces aren’t.

What’s interesting about this to me is the comparatively nonexistent backlash when a company invades a real-world public space, in blatant contravention of law. This is what illegalsigns.ca does, draw attention to how often, and how shamelessly the laws protecting public space are ignored for profit and marketing purposes.

This is only a good idea for companies as long as no one cares. Sadly, the kind of public outcry that makes such practices a bad idea is thousands of times more intense in Second Life than it would be in my home city of Toronto, where IllegalSigns operates.

It’s easy to understand why companies think injecting themselves into social networks, and virtual worlds, where they don’t offer anything useful, is a good idea. They’ve been conditioned by the real world to expect that such invasions will be met first by silence, and then by increased sales.

This happens in the real world because we’ve already accepted that marketing messages are unavoidable in public space, regardless of the law. This has already been accepted in the majority of online life, but not in free, immersive virtual worlds.

This is a battleground worth watching, because it’s the best indicator of how tolerant of marketing online identities are – these are the extremes of those who stand against it. If they surrender, we’ve all lost something. In real life, it’s easier to take a different route to avoid a sign, legal or no.


let's try that again (second life).

Upon re-reading, I realized I can summarize that entire Second Life post into one sentence.

As a direct consequence of not having a clear or profitable plan, the Second Life experiment has stayed relevant beyond it's logical shelf life.

stop talking about second life.

This slideshow is a great introduction to social media, why there is no option but to care, and what the basic rules are.  I’m not posting it for this reason, however.  I’m posting it because it brings up what so, so many slideshows, articles, and blog posts reference.

Second Life.

There’s nothing wrong with Second Life.  It’s a playground, an interesting way for people to test out ideas, and a virtual world where people get to decide their own identity, own actions, and own morality.

My only problem with Second Life is that I think it’s become more important as something to be trotted out by specialists, journalists, and scared executives, when they want to demonstrate an understanding of the new world media order, than it is as a world or platform.

Social media is normally about projected selves.  There are varying degrees of anonymity and realism, but the general outcome is a projected identity that reflects how the creator wants to be perceived.  When you read a blog, you are reading a blog written both by John Smith, and the guy John Smith wants you to think he is.

This is important, because the guy John Smith wants you to think he is is the guy who buys non-essential products.  Possessions are often social signifiers, and social media puts on display what kind of projected persona, and therefore what signifiers would interest the person making the content.

Second Life is, by and large, different.

Second Life is a fantastical wish fulfillment and exploration tool.  This is probably demonstrated best by the fact that off the bat, everyone can fly.  Wish fulfillment is useful, except when you consider that only realistic wishes get fulfilled.  And while someone might be able to find a servable niche in a virtual society where a hail of digital genitalia greets uninvited corporate presences, no one who operates mostly out of meatspace has yet.

And they keep trying.

People resist the comparison between World of Warcraft and Second Life, saying that SL isn’t about fantasy, or quests, or winning, it’s to explore.  But, other than a massively larger subscriber base, I’d argue from a business standpoint that there are a total of two differences that matter between WoW and SL.

WoW doesn’t let a corporation try to invade a realm that has no use for it, and WoW subscribers all demonstrably have disposable income that they use for entertainment.

Second Life just manages to keep the buzz going by being less easy to categorize.  


the transition from english lit to communications.

I studied English Literature for two and a half years at Wilfrid Laurier before I decided what I really loved was communication theory.  At the time, this seemed a little nuts, as I was fully committed to English as a path of study, and had taken a totally of one credit (2 courses) of Communication Studies.  I immersed myself in it anyways.

I didn’t have an explanation for why the transition felt so organic until recently.

My interest in English was mostly about techniques.  I liked reading and analyzing books because I found it rewarding to pick apart how certain effects had been used, what they accomplished for the overall story, the characters, the effects on the reader.  I liked learning about the history and range of different literary devices.

Basically, I liked media theory, studied in a Petri dish.  Arguably the most closely watched, developed medium for sophisticated, durable transmission of ideas in human history, the written word.

I was explaining recently to someone involved in Ontario Youth Parliament that getting an English degree is really about learning how to read critically.  And once you can read a novel critically, really critically, on the level of a trained expert, you can adequately dissect any piece of creative work, assuming you are willing to put in the time to learn the context, the background information, and the tropes of the medium.

The best explanation I can give for why the shift from English Literature to Communication Studies came so naturally is because English Lit is the best place I’ve seen to hone specific dissection skills for creative work, and Communication Studies is for people who want to use those skills, but have gotten bored of the novel.


my english degree vs. my new media savvy

Vacations are good for creating a distance from one’s normal circumstances.  This has been useful as I’ve got a more accurate, I think, view of what I’ve been doing right and wrong in many creative and professional endeavors.  I’m not going to examine every conclusion I’ve come to, but I’ve spotted a large number of holes in how I’ve been conducting my online life, especially through this blog.

I’ve been playing to my personal strengths and habits, rather than the strengths of the medium.  In other words, I’ve been spooging habits from other writing I’ve done in my life into my blogging.  My English degree is showing through the cracks in the following prominent ways.

1)    What I write here is generally far too long.  Reading 1200-1500 words on a blog isn’t pleasant, and most people won’t do it.  But given my experience writing Lit papers, this feels like a short amount of space to express complex ideas from beginning to end.  I’m naturally verbose, but this is an easy thing to fix in two ways, I can either be concise, or break things up into multiple posts.   Which brings me to…

2)    Blogging is naturally serialized.  As in, nothing HAS to be expressed in terms of one long essay and complete idea.  I can take it piece by piece and spread it out, as most of it isn’t time sensitive.  If I published more complex ideas in 3 -5 post sections, it would also help me with my other major problem…

3)    Inconsistency makes it difficult to keep people interested.  I tend to not write at all, and then write 3000 words in a week, then not write for another 6 days.  Things don’t need to be all boom and bust, but here we are.

I’m hoping that by addressing these issues, I can point them out to other people, and watch them more closely myself.  The other big issue, or course, is that all I’ve posted here in a long, long time is text, which is, to say the least, not very engaging to all readers.

More to come.


things i learned while in jamaica.

As I mentioned earlier, I have been in Jamaica for the last week. As a slow intro back into the blog-wilds, here is a short list of things I noticed during what was likely the most un-connected week of this digital native’s life.

  • I get all of my news from social media. If you had asked before I left, I would have said the majority. But I was in a hotel room with satellite TV, with a large enough segment of my family watching it that I should have picked up some news by osmosis. The only thing I knew about the outside world during that week was who won Wimbledon, mostly because there were TV’s over the resort’s main bar.
  • I have no idea how to live without a cell phone. More than a hundred times, I attempted to reach for my phone. This is apparently my first instinct when I can’t find someone instantly, when I need information about something and I am away from a computer, and when I’m trying to organize group dynamics. I cannot express how lost and frustrated I was when I could not contact people (not rooms or locations) at will.
  • The cell phone is the only platform that matters worldwide. In a country with widespread poverty, everyone had a cell phone, operating on a pre-paid basis. This was used socially and for business, but literally everyone I encountered. Resort staff were showing us pictures of their homes and families, then texting other resort staff when they needed to reach them instantly. This technology also enables the ‘side-businesses’ that most resort staff seem to use to supplement their income.
  • I sort through an absurd amount of data, even ignoring work communications and research, in a week. The amount of online magazines, PDF mags, articles, rss items, etc etc etc waiting for me will, I think, take at least three weeks to catch up on, when you take into account work, and the amount of further incoming information.

The next couple of weeks / month should result in some changes as to how I do things on brokengentleman.com, as well as online in general. I’m going to refrain from saying how, because it’s a large overall personal strategy change, and I don’t want to be held to a certain path or timetable.