January 13 - 19, 2006



January 13, 2006


Scooter-freaks.nl, a Dutch website devoted to motor scooters (the passion of middle and lower class youth in a land where cars are heavily taxed and gas costs nearly four times that in the US) ran a story last week on techniques to enhance performance by circumventing the manufacturers’ default safety settings. How? By the creative application of Nintendo’s gameboy. Apparently speeds exceeding 90km/h can be achieved by resetting the scooter’s computer with a gameboy as interface, and the easy to follow instructions have spread like wildfire through the scooter blogsphere.

The lessons? A reaffirmation, as if were needed, of the computing skills of some teens and particularly their penchant for personalization as well as transgressive and unexpected modification (otherwise known as creative intervention). These trends are by no means new, as evidenced for example in game modding, machinima, and musical styles such as hiphop, all of which repurpose commercially available software into new cultural entities. Customization has become a well-established consumer expectation, but these practices -- like the gameboy-scooter modification -- demonstrate that something more profound is at hand. Regardless of the structural latitude a platform provides for user input and customization, some users will push the envelope, in the process creating new applications and values. These modifications, often unimagined by the original producers, are not always appreciated, and are sometimes the object of litigation. But the history of some of our most basic media technologies – the typewriter, photography, telephony, the radio, and so on – is a history of such repurposing. The gameboy will most likely not survive as an automotive hack, but the process of its reappropriation is essential to our ongoing cultural development.

The scooter-freaks example also underscores the interpenetration of the real and virtual domains. Again, this lesson is familiar in the media world, where representation has long been regulated because of assumptions regarding real-world effects and influences. If binary opposition is not the best way to conceptualize these two domains, neither is the notion of pathology, with one domain infecting the other. As developments such as SK-telecom’s Cyworld -- populated by nearly a third of South Korea’s inhabitants – attest, the virtual can facilitate the real (and vice versa), in the process turning a handsome profit. How we model this relationship, and what we can extract from the various interactions, will bear heavily on our understanding and exploitation of new cultural forms and our anticipation of innovative social practices.

Gameboy-scooter modifications are, for many of their practitioners, all about speed. But the 90km/h enhanced motor scooter speeds pale in comparison to the rate of information circulation in the blog sphere. Instructions, comments, subsequent modifications for other engine types, etc., appeared on dozens of sites within hours of the initial posting. The neural networks binding the larger motor scooter community together attest not only to the coherence of a particular subculture, but to the dynamic character of its communication infrastructure. These networks, these blog-facilitated webs of affiliation, provide valuable evidence ranging from the mapping of social influence, to the circulation speed and densities of particular discursive forms. Just as communities can be reconceptualized as markets, so too can networks be repositioned as media channels. The tolerances and demands of such channels are both medium specific and culturally distinctive. The challenge faced by those who would make use of these networks is to step outside of the message delivery paradigm, and accommodate (if not facilitate) the unexpected, the reappropriated, and the real in ways that sustain creative engagement.

Scooter Freaks: http://www.scooter-freaks.nl/


CNN reports, “Mummified body found in front of TV.” No wonder. Nielsen Media Research revealed that Americans had watched more television last fall than a year before, an average of 4 hours and 35 minutes, which is 4 minutes longer than during the fall of 2004.

The living room is not the only place where you can watch TV these days. Target is deploying a three-channel in-store TV in its 1,400 stores. The displays show generic ads for the Target brand, but also customized promo footage tied to the physical context of the screens. On the other side of the Atlantic, in Britain, the Tesco store chain is disappointed in the performance of its own in-store TV network and the advertising sales it generated.

Some time soon, when the e-paper technology triumphantly emerges from the labs, we’ll be turning to the morning papers for a fix of the video news. The signs are clear: newspapers are getting convergence; Lost Remote explored an embedded video player on the home page of the Washington Post and an entire video section on the website of the New York Times.

It seems that one place where we won’t be able to get video content are movie theaters. That’s because the theaters are dying. The bad news is brought by the Toronto Star that writes that iPods with video capabilities will spell the death of movie going. The newspaper argues that the sleek device will revolutionize video consumption the way it changed our music habits. Note that Levi’s jeans now come fully compatible with iPods. By the way, did you know that theaters earn 90 cents on every dollar of popcorn they sell?

Somewhat abruptly, Richard Branson is going to start publishing comics under the Virgin brand, with the first original book planned for the middle of this year.

-- CNN’s mummy in front of TV: http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/01/10/mummifed.body.ap/index.html?section=cnn_topstories

-- Americans Watch More TV: http://www.lostremote.com/archives/007131.html

-- iPOd may kill theaters: http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Render&c=Article&cid=1135896621633&call_pageid=968867495754

-- Popcorn Economy: http://www.slate.com/id/2133612/

-- Target’s in-store TV network: http://digitalsignagenews.blogspot.com/2006/01/target-deploys-in-store-tv-network.html

-- Tesco’s disappointment: http://www.brandrepublic.com/bulletins/br/article/533842/tesco-instore-tv-falters-lack-advertisers/

-- Virgin Comics: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/4594968.stm


Speaking of bad news, Henry Blodget of the dot-com fame came out with an article warning about dangers of overhyping Google’s success since the company relies on a single major revenue stream. Click fraud is gnawing on the clay legs of the AdWords giant and can bring the company down in no time, Blodget says.

For Google itself, this has been an eventful week. Google started testing a new ad format on its Maps site. The ads are reported to come up as blue balloons in addition to the red ones indicating search results. The company has also filed an application to patent mobile click-to-call ads.

(In the Netherlands, an eBay company Maarketplaats is testing a “click-and-get-called banner”. When you click on the ad, a pop-up window asks you for your phone number and a company rep calls you up.)

Google made it's Talk IM client available for Blackberry devices. Chicago Sun-Times began publishing Google's classified-like ads through a test of the new Google Publications program. And in the biggest company-related news of the week, Google launched its own video store, already criticized for a weak interface as well as a small and overpriced range of available titles.

Lawrence Lessig will be doing a book signing in the virtual world of Second Life, scheduled for January 18, while our own David Edery reports that Wells Fargo is rumored to be planning a move of its Stagecoach Island property from Second Life to the greener pastures of Active Worlds. In other but related news, Engage became the newest addition to the handful of agencies helping to place ads into games (in their press release, they claim they are the first). Their first project included plastering Subway billboards throughout a first-person shooter Counter-Strike.

Andrew Fischer, the guy who last year sold ad space on his forehead for over $50,000, is having an upfront season of his own and is making his forehead available for ads once again. Alex Tew, a similarly enterprising college student who created the first and now widely imitated Million Dollar Home Page where he sold a million pixels for a buck each, has just ebayed off the last block of 1000 pixels for $38,100. Perhaps the two could to work together on a million-dollar forehead.

Oh, and McDonald's is testing a new store design that the company hopes will appeal to the hipster crowd.

-- Lawrence Lessig in Second Life: http://secondlife.blogs.com/nwn/2006/01/lawrence_lessig.html

-- Ads in Google Maps: http://www.clickz.com/news/article.php/3576956

-- Google’s mobile ad patent: http://www.clickz.com/news/article.php/3576931

-- Google print ads: http://www.marketingvox.com/archives/2006/01/10/google_print_ads_run_in_chicago_suntimes/index.php?rss1

-- Google’s video store: http://www.lostremote.com/archives/007139.html

-- Click-and-get-called banner: http://www.adverblog.com/archives/002270.htm

-- Engage In-Game Advertising: http://www.engageadvertising.com/

-- Forehead ad guy: http://news.agendainc.com/mt-agenda/content/archives/2006/01/post_358.html

-- New layout for McDonald’s: http://brandweek.com/bw/news/recent_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001841837&imw==Y


Podcasts are becoming increasingly popular, especially among dedicated fan communities. One of the frontrunner in streaming video podcasts for fan communities has been World Wrestling Entertainment, which hosts a streamed Internet talk show with behind-the-scenes news each week. Last week, wrestler Ken Kennedy appeared and, despite playing a villain on television, asked fans on the Web program BYTE THIS! what he should use as the name for his new finishing maneuver. Several fans called in to give him ideas, including calling his move The Kennedy Assassination (clever, eh?). This space, when used correctly, can be a great place for brands or media properties to embrace their fan community with the curtain down and even collaborate with them, two trends that we strongly urge here at C3.

If you've never investigated what name pops up first when you search fan community online (and you probably haven't), it isn't a major conglomerate media property or even a picture of Henry Jenkins! Instead, you get the Web site for Glasgow-based alternative rock band Franz Ferdinand. They may have come out of nowhere, but they have developed from an unknown underground group to one of the most popular indy bands in the United Kingdom and at the top of a lot of critics' lists. Since they apparently are the most sought out fan community out there, they might be worth taking a look at. IN SECOND PLACE...The Artist Currently Known as Prince.



Compiled by Ilya, Sam, Alec, Geoff, Ivan and Parmesh
Edited and signed off by Ilya (ivv@mit.edu)

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