Saturday, 30 January 2010

the iPad!: media in the online age

Steve Jobs' annual presentation at Apple is always hotly anticipated with rumours of new product using flying around for months beforehand. This week, it was widely known that Apple would be unveiling some kind of portable screen device or tablet- trailed by some as the iSlate. In the end, it was called the iPad, but did what was expected- acted as a big 'reader'. Some would say it is just an iPod touch too big to fit in your pocket, or a laptop without the ability to multitask onscreen. But that won't bother Steve Jobs or Apple, who have confidently trashed rivals in recent years with the iPod and then the iPhone. Next up iPad.

It won't be released until the end of March in the USA and possibly not till june in the Uk, but what is it going to do that will make it yet another big selling success for Apple? Well many pundits are suggesting that it will almost certainly kill off the Kindle- the book reader which Amazon sell. In setting up iBooks, Apple hopes to corner the electronic book market in the same way that it captured the market for MP3 downloads with iTunes.

Set alongside the Kindle, with it's 9.7 inch screen compared to a 6 incher, it immediately looks impressive. Although it will retail at almost twice the price for the most basic model, that is still considerably cheaper than the Macbook.

But as with all new Apple products, the backlash started almost before the product was announced. On Twitter there were endless comments dismissing its capability. More interesting though the web parodies began as soon as the announcement was made. The product name caused some mirth due to its connotations for women (sanitary pads), with the term 'iTampon' quickly trending on Twitter and an old clip from US TV re-emerged on youtube which had sent up the iTunes ads at the time.

There's a link from it to a sendup of Steve Jobs' original presentation where he goes online

And the inevitable meme from Downfall (actually a whole load of them- this is one without swearing)

There's even some spoofs of Jobs himself

The launch coincided with Obama's 'State of the Union' address, which is reflected in this spoof

There's even one made in Machinima here

So what does all this tell us? originally I was going to blog about the significance of the iPad, but as soon as I saw all the spoofs, like most people surfing Youtube, I got caught up with those instead. Once again, looking at these videos- and who knows, by the time you are reading this there may be hundreds more- it is very striking how quickly any news event or cultural occurrence is re-worked and re-made, given new meaning and then viewed by thousands of people in a very short space of time.

oh and if you do want some serious points about the iPad, try Stephen Fry in The Guardian, witty and knowledgeable as always and the video on the Apple site.

Creativity: G325 Questions on production work

One of the possible areas you could be asked about in the exam is creativity. The projects you have undertaken will hopefully have felt like an opportunity to display your creativity, but you will need the chance to discuss what you understand by creativity and what it might mean to be creative.

The assignment options at AS and A2 all offer constraints for your work, whether it be making pages for a music magazine, the opening of a film or the packaging for an album; one of the reasons why you aren't offered total free choice is because people often find that working within constraints gives them something to exercise their creativity, whereas total freedom can sometimes make it really difficult to know where to start. It's why genre can be interesting- how has something been created which fits with certain structures and rules but plays around with them to give us something a little bit different?

The word 'creative' has many meanings- the most democratic meaning would really suggest that any act of making something (even making an idea) might be seen as a creative act. In more elitist versions of the term, it is reserved for those who are seen as highly skilled or original (famous artists, musicians, film-makers etc). an interesting third alternative is to think about how creativity can be an unconscious, random or collaborative act that becomes more than the sum of its parts.

An example would be the surrealist/dadaist game 'the exquisite corpse' which you may have played as 'consequences'. In this game, a group of five people each contribute a line to a sort of semi-random poem. There is a structure or set of rules, which each contributor has to follow.

The first contributor writes down 'The' plus an adjective, such as 'Exquisite', then folds over the paper to hide their contribution.
(the game is quite useful for learning parts of speech too if you'd never been taught formal grammar)
The second contributor writes a noun such as 'corpse' and folds over their bit, so each successive contributor has no idea what was written before.
The third writes a verb, such as 'drinks', then folds it over
The fourth gives the game another 'the' and an adjective such as 'new'
And the fifth writes another noun.

The paper then goes back to the first person who unfolds it to reveal the full one sentence poem.
Thus in the first ever version of the game; 'the exquisite corpse drinks the new wine'. This collection of words can make sense, can be bizarre, can be anything! It has a structure, from the rules, but is essentially random from the choices of a group of collaborators who are unaware of what each other is doing. Hopefully, if you worked in a group on productions, it wasn't like that, as your products did have to make sense; though it might be possible, for example to make a music video from a combination of random contributions from collaborators.

When I tried the game with a group of teachers recently, we had some interesting results:

The cold book exploded the magic beach
The furry tooth crawls the fabulous cake
the dynamic basket rolls the pretty television
The stupendous dog ate the minute tree
The glamorous monkey strikes the old heaven
the lovely traffic cone shook the coconutish pupil
the phenomenal raisin sucks the shiny tiger
the exploding statue juggles the foolish house

I'm willing to bet if you google any of them as a full line, they will not appear in their entirety anywhere else, showing that even a short sentence can be unique- probably never uttered or written down before.

The web has offered far more opportunities for such random art work however. If we take that set of lines and drop them into the engine at, it will make a picture out of them, for which I can alter the shape and the colours. Here goes:

Notice how it has eliminated all 'the' without me asking it to do so. No effort on my part, so is it creative? hmmmm there's a question.

A great shared site for creative random art with some effort is on Flickr with the shared CD meme pool. This is a game where you create a CD cover for an imaginary band and upload it to Flickr; the trick is you have to create it from 'found' materials, again following a set of rules.

1. Generate a name for your band by using WikiPedia's random page selector tool, and using the first article title on whichever page pops up. No matter how weird or lame that band name sounds.
2. Generate an album title by cutting and pasting the last four words of the final quote on whichever page appears when you click on the quotationspage's random quote selector tool. No matter what those four words turn out to be.
3. Finally, visit Flickr's Most Interesting page -- a random selection of some of the interesting things discovered on Flickr within the last 7 days -- and download the third picture on that page. (Even better: Click on this link to get a Flickr photo that's licensed under Creative Commons.) Again -- no cheating! You must use the photo, no matter how you feel about it.
4. Using Photoshop (or whatever method you prefer), put all of these elements together and create your very own CD cover, then upload it to the CD memepool

Here's my one!

The teachers who wrote the lines above finished their day by making a video made up of post-it notes- a collaborative task where they had to write or draw what they would take away and use from the day. We then filmed it live on an iPhone. How creative do you think they are?

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Wordle of this blog!

If you go to you can have a go at producing instant artwork from your own words...

Monday, 25 January 2010

Media in the online age: Virtual Revolution

I am ashamed to say that I only discovered this project about a week ago and then only by the kind of accident that can only happen on the web! Some of our students had posted a message on facebook asking if any new bands would be prepared to let them use their music for the titles of their video. they heard back from a band called Kids love lies, whose video here was directed by Barry Pilling. I was quite impressed with his stopmotion style, so I clicked on his youtube profile and found this mashup:

In turn, my curiosity took me on to the source of the material, the tremendous BBC Digital Revolutions site. Here I discovered a treasure trove of information and potential activity for Media in the online age...

The BBC has been making a series of programmes about the digital age over the last few months; should be interesting... and they start this saturday on BBC2 at 8.30. But this site offers something much more interesting- all the raw footage from interviews, locations and graphics can be downloaded and re-used by anyone to make anything. The BBC asks you to agree to their version of Creative Commons and to say that if you re-upload something you have mashed up from this footage you will put a link to the source, but what it puts in your hands is some amazing stuff.

All kinds of web experts and pioneers like Tim Berners-Lee (WWW) and Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia) offer insights into the extent of the changes that the 'digital revolution' has brought about and you can take this footage and shape it in new ways. It seems to me that just playing around with it and making something new from it would probably help you remember some of the things that they talk about and would certainly give you the chance to play around with the meaning of the material. The makers set up a competition in the autumn where you were asked to create a short film or trailer for the series. Take a look at Cassetteboy's work:

Anyway, it starts this weekend on Tv, so don't miss it- essential viewing for the A2 exam topics of Media in the Online Age and WeMedia (and all the others!) could have some fun with the footage. Just go to Digital Revolution.

Just started watching the first ! Absolutely fantastic in every respect. Record it, keep it, re-watch it and revise from it. Download it from iPlayer, stick it on your iPhone. This is your no.1 resource for G325!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Media in the online age; Microseries on the web

A really interesting phenomenon which the web has enabled is the microseries or online little TV series either on dedicated websites or on channels within youtube or other video sites. Early examples were often single character, even pretending to be the webcams of real amateurs online, which in many cases were later 'outed' as actors, such as 'lonelygirl15', discussed in detail here in Wikipedia. An early episode can be viewed here.

Other examples include the tales of Kate Modern which ran for a year on Bebo and was from the same company as LG15, this time involving the audience in choices about the development of the story and making full use of the opportunities afforded by social networking. Again, Wikipedia is a good starting point for finding out about it.

Many microseries are built around comedy, frequently with an appeal to a niche audience, using lots of in-jokes, both visual and verbal. Online gamers are a particularly fruitful source, as can be seen in 'The Guild' much of which takes place in front of the computer screen. A whole set of characters has been developed , taking the programme through a number of series with quickfire wit and lots of gamer gags. As can be seen on the programme's main site, there is a range of merchandise for fans to buy and the programme has even been made available on DVD.

'Pure Pwnage' about the life of a pro-gamer, is another example; shot in handheld 'video diary' style, the programme again relies on in-jokes and the fan knowledge of its viewers. Again a look at the programme's website gives us a pretty clear idea of the audience and shows the interactive potential- there is even an opportunity (if you were in Toronto in November) to appear as an extra in the show.

Episode 1 can be viewed here

A lot of the comedy microseries are aimed at the male audience; 'We Need Girlfriends' tells the tale of three dumped males and their embarrassing efforts to get back into relationships. Their site provides a link to a behind the scenes blog about the making of the show, as well as T-shirt sales and the episodes in a variety of formats. Here is the very funny episode 1 on youtube.

Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager tells the story of the less charismatic younger brother of Darth, who works in a supermarket and can’t quite handle the difference between life in the store and the problems faced by the empire.

in the first episode, these difficulties become very apparent:

British short film makers have tried their hand at creating microseries too. Last year there was a lot of coverage of a controversial comedy set in Bradford about a cell of bungling potential Islamic terrorists. This time the comedy is around a mixture of popular myths about terror plots from the news and in-jokes from young muslims' own culture. The five episodes of 'Living with the Infidels' were released gradually over a period of weeks to a fairly small audience,given the controversy. The youtube channel figures show 14,000 for the first episode gradually slipping to 2,000 by the last one. Have a look and judge for yourself.

In this clip from one of the episodes, they argue over what should be the style of a suicide video.

Microseries would be a good focus for an answer on Media in the online age in the final exam. Have a look around to see whether you can find some more. You might even try making your own. Oh and look out for these two competing series which start over the next couple of weeks...

Detention Deficit

...if their makers get their acts together!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

WeMedia: the perfect case study!

If Wemedia is about democracy and the media, what better than the story of the Christmas number one single as a case study for the exam?

Programmes like The X-Factor have been offering audiences the appearance of participating in the democratic process in recent years, with some suggestions that more people have been voting in Tv programme personality contests than in political elections. Of course, unlike real elections, you get the chance to vote once a week for the duration of the series, or, if you like, more than once a week, provided you don't mind paying for the calls.

Many people would argue that such voting is just about surface appearance and popularity rather than creative talent and skill; there has long been an obvious opposition in music taste between what have been broadly termed 'rock' and 'pop'- the former tending to be seen in terms of 'authenticity'- the live band, playing their own instruments, singing about something meaningful- and the latter in terms of 'manufacturedness'- created for the image, often manipulated in terms of their appearance and even by technology to enable them to sing, usually covering songs written by other people. Sometimes acts do succeed in crossing the divide- people like Robbie Williams, keen to establish his authentic credentials, has been a regular guest over the years on 'Later with Jools Holland', rubbing shoulders with all manner of 'authentic' acts.

In years gone by, the pop charts really mattered, especially at christmas, when there was enormous interest in which song would get to number one. Since the charts stopped being calculated by sales of physical records/cds sold in shops and moved to a combination of downloads and 'real' sales, they have seemed a lot less important; in the last few years, christmas songs have rarely hit the top of the charts and the placing of the X-Factor final in the run-up to the festive period has been a clever ploy to ensure that the winner's single would inevitably fill the no.1 slot.

So democracy takes its course- a programme whose format is sold around the world, owned by a company belonging to the leading record industry figure who effectively chairs the judging panel, gets viewers to text and phone their votes each week till they have whittled down the contestants to a winner, then releases product for the same viewers to go out and buy or pay to download, which gets another prize of the Christmas number 1 and extra profits. Until this year, when the inevitable challenge of web democracy fought back.

It was a bizarre choice but it gained momentum incredibly quickly; when Jon and Tracy Morter announced the facebook campaign to stop the X-Factor getting to number 1 by asking people to buy Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the name" instead, it gained a lot of publicity fast; and what better place to do this than on facebook? By the time they had succeeded in snatching the number 1 slot after a close fought race, the facebook group had picked up 1 million members. The campaign was initially denounced by simon Cowell, but he later congratulated both the band and the Morters- it had generated more sales for his act, Joe McElderry as well.

The campaign had the added bonus that some of the proceeds would go to shelter, a charity well known for its work at christmas, and that the band took part in a number of interviews with the British media, notably a live appearance on radio 5 breakfast, where they ignore requests to tone down the lyrics of the song and sang the f- word at 9am several times before being faded down.

Could this happen again? Yes and it probably will, but like so much media democracy, it is unlikely to change very much other than for such gestural moments. Rather like the Sex Pistols getting to no.1 (which the BBC refused to acknowledge in 1977) with the banned 'God Save the Queen', it is a memorable moment in popular culture when the hardcore politically conscious edge topples the bland, but it probably won't change the structure of the record industry, television, or the power of Simon Cowell.

Interesting links: the facebook group

BBC coverage

the fundraising site
X-Factor official site