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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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    Amsterdam events

    There are a few events lined up in Amsterdam during the next few weeks/ months that might be valuable for anyone that is involved in new/ social media.

    First, there is the IBC Conference and Exhibition, the world of content creation management delivery, to be held September 12th to 16th. This year’s highlighted topics are D-Cinema, Mobile TV, Digital Signage, and IPTV. Entrance to the exhibition is free as long as one registers beforehand.

    As part of the activities around it, the Final Cut Pro User Group SuperMeet will be held on September 14th. From the event’s description:

    “The world famous FCPUG SuperMeet will be coming to Amsterdam, The Netherlands on Sunday, September 14 during the week of the giant IBC trade show. This event will be held on the grounds of the beautiful “Culture Park Westergasfabriek” inside the massive Gashouder building and tickets are now on sale.

    Final Cut Pro User Groups and Digital filmmakers and artists from the USA, UK, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Mexico, France and dozens of other countries will all gather under a single roof for a single night. Yes, this will be the largest gathering of FCP Users and Gurus on the planet during IBC week.

    If you live in Europe and/or are planning to attend IBC, then this is the one event you do not want to miss. Agenda will be set sometime in August, but as of now Paul Saccone, Director of Technical Marketing in Apple’s Applications Marketing group, will visit and provide us with the latest news on Final Cut Studio 2. In addition there will be presentations from Blackmagic Design, Adobe and Thomson/Grass Valley. Plus filmmakers from around the world will show off their work and tell us how they did it”.

    From 24th till 26th September, the annual PICNIC conference will be held in Amsterdam This is an event I enjoy every year, and a great opportunity to network, meet others, get out of the office and generally kick start the new season after the summer. From PICNIC’s website:

    PICNIC brings together and disseminates the ideas and knowledge of the world’s best creators and innovators, through a top-class conference, a broad selection of seminars, a series of hands-on workshops and many many other events.

    PICNIC spotlights cutting-edge products and services at the intersection of media, technology, arts and entertainment, and brings together entrepreneurs, investors, creators as well as scientists, and other industry leaders. Bright minds, all of them!

    And at PICNIC you can do more than pick up new ideas and network with your peers. Save the world.. Create a new service.. Experience new tools… Find a business partner.. Admire the arts.. Get inspired..And of course party with Europe’s digital elite.

    If anyone is planning to attend any of the above, leave a comment or drop me an email, as I will most likely be attending all three (unless I find myself caught in some last minute traveling).

    Joi Ito is working on a beautiful photography book to be licensed under Creative Commons.

    There is also a Slideshare of the project, with some great photos.

    (Note to self: must own this book when it comes out).

    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.

    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.

    Worthy readings

    I come across a lot of good articles and posts that deserve attention, so I am starting a new (semi regular) section today.

    Without further ado, today’s links:

    • I already mentioned Marc van Bree’s ambitious project. He has continued developing the strategies for a new media communication plan from an orchestra perspective. It’s a must read for anyone working in cultural institutions. Follow the development here. New sections of the document are updated daily.

    • We are Media is is a community of people from nonprofits who are interested in learning and teaching how social media strategies and tools can enable nonprofit organizations to create, compile, and distribute their stories and change the world. They are also running a very worthy project: a wiki/ manual of sorts to assist Non Profits in the how-to of implementing Social Media tools. First part of the Strategic Track can be found here. However, all modules are worth a read. Beth Kanter, of How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media is behind this project.

    “McKinsey’s second annual survey on the business use of Web 2.0 technologies—including wikis, blogs, social networks, and mash-ups1—were asked which of these social and interactive tools their companies have adopted and for which purposes, what they are doing to encourage adoption, and how satisfied they are with their use of these tools.They were also asked to what extent they are using such new technologies to interact with their employees, customers, and suppliers—and, ultimately, how important these tools are to their companies’ competitive edge”.

    • A news release from the Library of Congress:

    “More video material has been uploaded to YouTube in the past six months than has ever been aired on all major networks combined, according to cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch. About 88 percent is new and original content, most of which has been created by people formerly known as “the audience.””

    The whole piece at Faster Future can be found here. If you work in anything remotely related to New/ Social Media, go read it. It’s an excellent explanation of why you should have a strategy that includes communities. Also, this post at Communities Dominate Brands makes a great point:

    “Language and accent are deeply intertwined with otherness and class and therefore belonging.

    This evolving democratisation of languages are signifyers of sameness – Crossing points if you will towards mutual understanding””.

    In a previous post I wrote about what I perceived as classical music being poorly presented to audiences and how pop culture could offer a lesson or two in that regard.

    Patty, at Oboeinsight made a comment that got me thinking: “we seem stuck in our ways”. And I believe therein lays part of the problem. Classical Music is a genre that, per se, doesn’t necessarily foster innovation. Of course composers innovate and musicians create new and progressive pieces within the genre, but as a general rule, Classical Music is about permanence, lasting and enduring through centuries (hopefully even millennia). The whole premise of the genre is, precisely, that trends and fashion pass but that, which is classical, will resist the test of time. Composers, programmers, interpreters are all educated for years within such boundaries. It is not surprising that part of the problem probably raises from this mentality. Classical music is an oasis of permanence in a world that is constantly changing. Three or four generations can gather and listen to the same piece and share a moment that brings them together through time. Through classical music, listeners have something in common that resist this test of time. Grandparents can share anecdotes of their youth and the young ones can relate because the musical piece from which this anecdote stemmed has not changed. It is (with minor interpretative differences), the same piece that their grandparents listened to.

    So how does someone market classical music, with its suspicious regard for change, in a world where audiences want newer, louder, shinier forms of entertainment? Classical music has to compete for patrons with entertainment corporations that have embraced new media since day one. These corporations, mostly devoted to pop culture, “get it”. They have established their presence around new forms of dissemination and have managed to draw audiences to their websites, on line communities and marketing initiatives in a way that classical music institutions are failing at. Take a look at this website or this other one (I just picked two out of dozens of similar ones) and now take a look at Classical Music’s nemesis. Whereas MTV strives to establish an emotional connection with their audience, Classical Music Institutions present dull, non interactive design that actually alienate their potential audiences, particularly new and young ones. Where are the communities? Where is the personal touch? the interactivity? the emotion? Classical Music institutions are not using the one distinctive quality that would set them apart from the rest: storytelling. Some gifted individuals within the genre are doing it and they are indeed setting themselves apart but for the vast majority, their new media presence is an afterthought, something they clearly do not believe in.

    Another recurring issue I have come across is the apparent detachment of Classical Music marketeers from their audiences. They claim they want to attract youngsters, children, newer public but they are not tailoring their message to them. As an example, I present any tween’s nightmare: last year’s Halloween Children’s Concert at The Austin Symphony. What were these PR and Marketing professionals thinking when they designed this press release?! Have they forgotten their own childhoods?! Any pre-teen’s bad dream is expressed in one single page to alienate them even further. Dorky parents embarrassing them in public wearing The Incredibles outfits? Check! 45 excruciating minutes of public exposure enduring the company of said parents? Check! Nondescript Classical Music with absolutely no enticing introduction or emotional connection? Check again! It’s the trifecta of marketing failure applied to an event. I do not have all the answers, but I suspect the marketing of Classical Music to young people would be more successful if they established these emotional connections, knew their potential audiences better and probably, if the people behind them did not forget their own childhoods and teenage years when creating press material.

    As for the rest of their promotional efforts, telling the stories is fundamental to keeping people engaged. I would love to see community initiatives, social media that tells the story from the audience, composer or interpreter’s perspectives. Someone fell in love while listening to a certain symphony. Someone’s child was born while a sonata was playing in the background. Someone mourned the passing of a loved one in the company of a certain composer. Someone proposed with a particular aria… I could go on and on… those are the stories that make Classical Music great, and a fundamental part of people’s lives, even if they do not realize it, even if they say they find Classical Music “boring”. Still, it’s probably been part of their lives, and the lives of their parents, grandparents and so on… Want to attract people? Let them tell their stories… and tell them the stories that set the genre apart, that make it unique and engaging. Tell them the stories of permanence.