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Archive for the ‘Web 2.0’ Category

I recently wrote on the subject of Museums and the communities they serve and, coincidentally, today, I found an extremely interesting article on this same subject on the excellent blog Museum 2.0.

This is a must read for cultural enterprises that would like to start taking steps in the social media arena.

From the article:

If you get people in a museum (or library) for WHATEVER reason, chances are they’re going to notice the exhibits sometime. And hopefully, start to value them”.

and:

The key to these benefits is not the volume of online content produced but its reach. Don’t look at the number of videos, photos, or reviews. Look at the number of views (how many times each has been accessed). The Ontario Science Center YouTube meetup didn’t just spawn hundreds of videos before, during, and after the event. Each of those videos has hundreds or thousands of viewers. Some of the videos have as many as 35,000 views. And while not all of the videos mention their host by name (in fact, few do), the museum venue is frequently present in related text and links. Plus, folks who attended the event link to other videos shot at the museum, such as this “888 favorite” (shot in 2006) of someone using an exhibit. Number of views? 170,000 and counting.”.

This is, in my opinion, the future of any cultural institution that wants to be part of a community. Art should not about some detached view from the outside, it should be part of our lives, a fundamental component of our social interactions. For me, art is about the aesthetics that shape our world view and make us richer as a result. I might be a Utopian, but if art is worth anything, it should be for its power to change lives. Once someone has been exposed to the beauty of human creativity in any of its forms, they cannot go back to ignoring that side of humanity, and if we are lucky, they might start exploring their own creative sides as well.

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Last week YouTube unveiled a new channel, The Screening Room. I hadn’t had the chance to view any of the featured films so far, but that changed yesterday, when I finally got to spend considerable time checking them.

And what a wonderful concept this is! I first found out about it through Cool Hunting. Their review of “4960” was stellar, so that was enough to get me interested:

One of the must-sees is from New York Based director, Wing-Yee Wu. Her haunting short, “4960” conveys more chilling emotion and evocative story-teling in 14 minutes than many directors manage in two hours. Shot during her graduate film studies at NYU, the film is set during the siege in Sarajevo and follows a young couple as they attempt to communicate from two different sides of the world. Raised in Sweden by Chinese parents, Wu did her undergraduate studies at Central Saint Martins College in London. With such a unique, international background, her work conveys the universality of emotion that transcends barriers of both language and geography.

They got it right. The film is mesmerizing and of such high quality. As a matter of fact, the whole selection is a feast for the eyes. YouTube is up to something big with this new channel. I wonder when we will see complete feature films in high definition, opening the door to a new world of indie film distribution. This is a service to keep an eye on, both for consumers of good quality films and for directors and producers who would like to reach new audiences. I wonder if we are witnessing the baby steps of a new digital distribution era.

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Dave Pollard, at Salon blogs, writes about the 12 tools that might follow the way of the fax machine and the CD:

“Out of my research on this has come a list of tools, technologies and other artifacts of my generation that will probably disappear within the next generation, just as Fax essentially disappeared less than 20 years after it first became popular, and just as CDs, which my generation thought were the last word in music storage, are disappearing even faster”.

From the list, the one that caught my attention immediately was item number 5:

“Corporate Websites: I recently co-judged a competition of nominated best-of-class business websites, and I was aghast at how unnavigable and useless most of them were. My own research has indicated that most people who visit these sites are job-seekers, the media, and competitors. A combination of marketing/PR hype, just-in-case recycled internal junk, and self-congratulation, most corporate websites are devoid of useful content, and those that do have useful stuff have it buried where it can’t be found. You just can’t put a filing cabinet up online and expect people to wade through it. And your relationship isn’t with Company X, it’s with Individual Y at that company. Individual Y’s blog, with lots of contact info, timely, casual-style articles and useful links, and instant connectivity options, is to the corporate website what your personal company rep is to walking into the company cold and asking for help. Next-gen blogs by individual employees — personal, casual, chatty, accessible, hosted but uncensored by the employer — will soon blow even the best corporate websites out of the water”.

The question here is, where do Cultural institutions and artists stand nowadays in this regard? Some of them, like New York’s Museum of Modern Art, are making efforts to create a presence with a social media bent. Their website features a YouTube channel, an iTunes link to download content, a comprehensive and abundant list of audio guides to download, stream or listen to on site and a link to their Facebook presence. All of these, steps in the right direction in terms of audience engagement and availability of tools to make the museum experience richer. Still, I am missing the community experience, the active participation of audiences in the museum’s life. All of the above initiatives, still seem to be “top down” strategies, where the museum graciously “gives” the public something and not where the relationship is of mutual feedback, one where the museum gives something and the community gives back.

Other museums, like Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh Museum are not even as forward thinking as MoMA, offering static websites, where the only “participatory” experience is the ubiquitous webshop.

There are many ways in which museums could take the center stage of their communities and become tools of change, education and cultural dissemination. Social media implementations would take them to the next generation and at the same time, redefine their roles as static displayers of artifacts turning them into institutions generating new content while creating value by preserving the past. A few ideas that come to mind that could, if properly implemented, create a totally new museum experience:

  • Artists blogging during exhibitions. I could think of a myriad ways in which modern artists could offer reflections and explanations of old works that served them as inspiration, engaging the community and audience with commentary, sharing this inspiration with the newer generations and bringing a new light into works that are not always accessible for the general public.
  • Audience curated exhibitions. How about letting the public vote on what they want to see once a year and bring together those works that are not always accessible or lack visibility?
  • Forums. Let your public share their experience of the museum visit, let them talk to each other and foster that community by allowing them to relive the visit, discuss it and perhaps, in the process, discover works that they didn’t know about.

    If corporate websites, as a static collection of pages and data are following the fate of the fax machine, the websites of cultural institutions are not up for a different future. The only way to remain relevant will most likely be through the reinvention of their web presence including and fostering community participation and the use of new technologies.

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    I have been using Google Trends for a while, mainly to keep an eye on the ups and downs of what people are searching for. It was a good indicator of how media stories could have an immediate impact in triggering interest on certain subjects. For those of us working on media related roles, such indicators are good pointers to explain how we can increase awareness of the organizations we work for, helping them generate “news” as opposed to “press releases”.

    It looks like Google released a new and improved version of Google Trends, called Google Insights. The added value of Insights is that it also displays searches related to your query. For instance, a search for the composer “Chopin” will return not only the volume of queries related to him, but also the geographical location of these searches, the media stories that triggered peaks of interest in the composer and also the related search terms that people used when searching for “Chopin”.

    One may wonder what exactly is the value of related search terms. I’ll try and give a concrete correlation of this value. Say you are trying to create awareness for a foundation devoted to education in Classical Music. People who are looking for this composer, are specifically looking for “Chopin music sheet”. Such factual insight could be the basis for a new project within the foundation, to release music sheets under a non restrictive copyright license like Creative Commons, creating awareness for the foundation’s existence and purpose, while at the same time fulfilling the foundation’s objectives: education in Classical Music.

    In my experience, many cultural enterprises fail because they are not necessarily paying attention to what audiences, public and patrons want or need, but mostly to what they think is fashionable or interesting. A tool like Google Insights can keep such whims in check and help create value by analyzing what people are really interested in.

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    Perhaps it’s been a synchronistic event, but in the past couple of days I’ve come across several articles and blogs that deal with “the death of the art and cultural critic”.

    Art critic Jonathan Jones at The Guardian wrote about it in a blog post:

    “What has passed away is a certain kind of revered and influential critical voice, it is sometimes said: where are today’s equivalents of the poet and critic William Empson, the art critic Clement Greenberg, the critic of the novel FR Leavis?”

    Daniel Wakin also wrote about this for The New York Times back in June:

    “Classical music criticism, a high-minded endeavor that has been around at least as long as newspapers and reached an English-language peak with George Bernard Shaw has taken a series of hits in recent months.

    Critics’ jobs have been eliminated, downgraded or redefined at newspapers in Atlanta, Minneapolis and elsewhere around the country and at New York magazine, where Peter G. Davis, one of the most respected voices of the craft, said he had been forced out after 26 years”.

    James Seaton at The Wall Street Journal also regales us with his opinion on the matter, and gets bonus points for using technology as a red herring: 

    “It may be hard to imagine — given our current obsessions with television shows, movies, instant-messaging, Facebook and blogs — but literature was once at the center of American cultural life. In the middle of the 20th century, novels and poems, of varying quality and aspiration, were widely read and widely talked about. And literary merit was discussed and hotly debated by critics whose essays, in Garrick Davis’s words, “courted the educated public with their elegant prose.””

    More musings on this topic can be found herehere and here.

    There seems to be an undercurrent, declaring the death of the critic as a profession, as an art form in itself. Newspapers and media outlets are eliminating the positions, moving the topics to the entertainment sections or just doing away with the theme altogether. James Seaton goes as far as tangentially placing the blame on social media and technology for this apparent demise. He does not, however, elaborate on the incendiary statement that opens his piece, leaving the exercise of linking the two any further to the reader.

    In their paper “Conversations with the Field”, published in 2006, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters formulated some valid points on this tendency. (I am not linking to the paper because I couldn’t find it in their website and I am unaware if it is available, so I am quoting from my copy of it):

    Decline of Effectiveness of Traditional Media

    Some audience challenges are the result of long-term trends such as a continuing decline nationally in the space and attention devoted to the performing arts in the print media, especially in the newspaper category – traditionally a medium noted for its public relations and marketing effectiveness. In an effort to boost readership and to protect advertising revenues, most newspapers have adjusted their readership development strategies and editorial focus to reflect popular culture, morphing tastes, and emerging media options. Concurrently, the ranks of feature writers, critics, and reviewers are shrinking, even among category leadership newspapers, like The New York Times.

    As ink and attention dedicated to the live performing arts has diminished, not only is it more difficult to engage audiences with the prospective and exciting new-next-thing, informing audiences about artists and events in which they have typically shown interest is also challenging. Every event within a newspaper’s circulation geography competes for space and attention. Reduced space translates to fewer stories and greater risk of low event awareness among audiences.

    Radio, like newspaper, is also a far less effective news, informational, and advertising medium than it once was. Disruptive technologies like the iPod have transformed radio into one of many audio content providers. It is inconceivable to many younger audience members that anyone would allow some stranger to dictate a music playlist. Nor are they willing to tolerate commercial message interruptions of their music head-space. Radio’s once-powerful channel to audiences trapped in traffic during drive time is not entirely a thing of the past, but its effectiveness is fast diminishing”.

    And then, they hit the nail on the head:

    “While presenting organizations might be characterized as real-time engines of social aggregation, many younger audience members are meeting their needs to connect and communicate in virtual counterparts like MySpace. The internet is not only a channel for information and entertainment, it is an interactive forum within which participants are socialized and acculturated in addition to being informed and entertained. Many presenting organizations are novices at encouraging or facilitating these virtual networks to cross the chasm from the virtual to the real – to move from the electronic to the analog experience of the real, in real time – and together”.

    It seems that art critics are disappearing, and recommendations are being made on social networks instead, with audiences themselves filling the vacant position, using word of mouth as an effective form of advice. Art, it seems, has not been immune to the foils that plague other means of production. Corporations have long ago spotted this trend, rewarding product reviewers, consumers and bloggers, directing their marketing efforts to attract those who have a substantial readership and followers.

    What do cultural institutions do in view of this new and pressing reality? Mainly try to remain unaware of it. Alternatively, just pretend it’s not happening and hope it will go away. You know, ignore the elephant populating the living room. The always brilliant John Rockwell says it better than I could:

    “Junior critics and reporters, or those working for marginal outlets (like, now, the blogs to which I contribute), can expect dismissive treatment from most press agents, who spend much of their time fending off requests for free tickets”.

    I paused for a moment after reading the statement above. I cannot wrap my mind around it. Agents must be aware of this decline in art criticism in traditional media, at least, they should. Still, they are ignoring the one source of dissemination that would compensate for this apparent loss, treating bloggers like an annoyance, less than an afterthought. Fear of the unknown seems to be leading their strategy.

    Corporations are doing their best to lure bloggers, showering them with expensive gifts, hoping that these bloggers will write good reviews. Marketeers know the value of user generated content and word of mouth publicity. The future of many arts and cultural enterprises may very well depend on “getting it” as well.

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    Yesterday I got a bunch of press kits from a new customer. This is not some inexperienced, “just out of school” musician trying to build a career, but a well seasoned composer with a reasonably well regarded name and reputation in a particular niche of classical music circles. Let’s say he is no Daniel Barenboim in the “fame meter” but he is certainly not an unknown interpreter. So, I was quite shocked with what I saw: badly written releases, a default Word document lay out… you get the idea. The Spanish version of the kit was full of typos, to the point that in one page, they had misspelled the composer’s name (and this was written by his agent, who is a native Spanish speaker). The English one appeared to have been translated by Borat.

    I weeped… and then I got to search for some other Classical Music composers and interpreters so that I could send my customer some examples of what his direct competitors were doing. And then I weeped some more.

    I checked the top results in Google and what I saw was not just inconsequential text. It was bland, boring and dull beyond belief. Fifteen page press kits packed with text in small fonts (warning all links go to PDF files) or an inane collection of newspaper and magazine clips. Or this other example, where the ego driven agency splashed the entire release with their logo in such prominence that I am unsure weather the soprano in question is Ana de Archuleta or the unfortunate Elizabeth Caballero.

    Compare the above press materials with this, this or this, also from the top results but in the pop music category.

    Classical Music institutions, programmers, and artists have to struggle with the general perception that the genre is boring, elitist and not worthy of mass consumption. I generally disagree with these statements, but obviously many marketing professionals working in the area are not helping much to dispel these myths. In these visually driven times, how you present your content has become as important as the content itself. I am afraid many cultural institutions could learn a lesson or two from pop culture.

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    Sounds & Fury Top 50 Classical Music Blogs: 2nd Quarter 2008

    Good and comprehensive list. I’ll certainly be checking many that are new to me.

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