Tag Archives: video

The Story of #iranelection

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#iranelection was for many people the top news source for the aftermath of incumbent President Mahmoud Amedinejad’s so-called victory over reformer candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi last Friday. It’s not a new cable news channel, or even a news website. It’s what is known on twitter.com as a “trending topic”, a self-declared association of posts on the micro-blogging site. Every post with the word “#iranelection” self-identifies as having something to do with the Iran situation, be it opinions, links to mainstream news articles, or even first hand reports. It’s a new form of primary historical document, one that combines the intimacy of personal letters, the immediacy of video or sound recordings, and the openness of a mass media broadcast.

Twitter is by no means new technology. I find it very similar the web-based chat rooms I myself used in highschool. What is different about it is that it has repurposed current technology to be used in a unique way. Where other systems wanted to emphasize privacy and security, Twitter emphasizes publicity and openness. Most of the 140 character “tweets” are meant for the rest of the Twitter community and the internet at large. It’s easy to write it off as some kind of narcissistic toy, I’m guilty of that myself. However, Twitter’s status as a toy rather than a serious social networking site probably kept it from being blocked in Iran within the first few hours of the protests. Other aspects of the site, like the 140 character limit and interoperable architecture have allowed bloggers in Iran to deal with shoddy connectivity and the government’s attempts to block communication from within the country.

The result is a riveting stream of human emotion, rumor, and anonymous people from across the globe communicating like they never could before. Take a look at this feed from @Change_in_Iran

from the looks of it they are waiting to arrest all the students! it’s also explains the vans9:14 PM Jun 13th from web

some people are now parking their cars in middle of the street trying to block the vans. #iranelection9:16 PM Jun 13th from web

Police is trying to stop people from gathering around while Intel guys still holding a line in front of the gates #iranelection9:05 PM Jun 13th from web

police demanding people to move their cars and start crashing car windows. more people are coming. I will try to get a better view9:18 PM Jun 13th from web

Down with the dictator! Mousavi, Karoubi; support us! #iranelection9:30 PM Jun 13th from web

my eyes are burning hard to keep them open #iranelection9:46 PM Jun 13th from web

I’m dizzy but ok. some people are getting shelter in the nearby unfinished bank building. police arresting a middle aged man10:11 PM Jun 13th from web

@ahmadinejad no wonder you are OK Mr president 24.5M10:13 PM Jun 13th from TwitterFox in reply to ahmadinejad

it’s 9:54 AM -Amirabad street near Pasargad bank and to be honest I don’t have the courage to leave the roof right now #iranelection10:27 PM Jun 13th from web

There are more accounts like this on #iranelection interspersed with rumors of riot police stings disguised as Moussavi rallies and burning ballot boxes. Some tweets supply the Iranians with lists of proxies to get around the government’s internet filters. A hacker’s toolkit of programs to shut down Iranian propaganda websites is making the rounds. From the rest of the world, there are notes praying for the safety of the protesters, “retweets” of some of the more vital bits of news for fellow bloggers, and criticism of mainstream media outlets for their lack of coverage on the events. To see people communicate like this on such a personal level, the future of totalitarian regimes is doubtful. Any government that oppresses its own people on the basis of the threat of an external enemy cannot survive like this. The Great Satan has no horns or pointed tail, and he’s able to send a twitpic to prove it.

This is not to say that Twitter and services like it are going to replace more mainstream froms of news gathering. CNN doesn’t deserve its own #CNNfail channel for the coverage of the Iran Election. The network has to tread carefully to get the kind of access it has. President Obama had just recognized the USA’s involvement in the 1953 installment of the Shah only a week before. The US would do well to keep its distance and establish that it has nothing to do with the current unrest. Besides, it doesn’t matter whether True Blood is the higher trending topic or the mainstream media has to wait a few dozen hours to report on what it finds. That’s not what this is about. We all have an opportunity now to witness history. If we can’t take to the streets, if we can’t tend to the wounded, if can’t tweet from our laptops on the roof, the very least we can do is watch and pray that freedom wins out.

What’s On Thursdays: Clark And Michael

clarkandmikeWell, Michael Cera has a new comedy out, and apparently I was the last to know. Clark and Michael is the story of two hapless writers making a documentary of their journey to get their TV pilot made. They have to battle shifty agents, sleazy realtors, clingy neighbors, rival writing teams, and even their own stupidity to make their dreams come true. The humor borrows heavily from the iron-clad earnestness and obliviousness that made Arrested Development such a cult hit. Clark Duke and Michael Cera so intensely believe that they’re going to make it, even after they’re told no time after time, and even after they drunkenly paw at both male and female television executives. With a guest list that includes Andy Richter, David Cross, and Tony Hale, I have to wonder, why this was made in 2007, and I only heard of it last week?

The show is a great, self-contained experiment. It was made with low budget and it’s only 10 episodes long. Yet somehow, I got the feeling it was actually too self-contained. If there’s a place anywhere for quirky little experiments like this, it is on the internet, but I get the feeling that even if a show isn’t used for advertising, you should at least be able to click a link somewhere on there and get to more content like Clark and Michael. It would have been nice to see the show while new episodes were still coming out. I would have gladly clicked any banner ad that told me I could see a show like this. Networking is the very essence of the internet. Michael Cera and Clark Duke can do whatever they want with their own website, but when content this good isn’t used to its full potential, you can’t help but notice.

Clark and Michael can be found at www.clarkandmichael.com

What’s On Thursdays: The Guild

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They work in our offices. They shop in our stores. They murmur to each other in a pidgin dialect only the depraved would understand. Some of them even look like us. Every day they lock themselves into electronic insane asylums across the country. They are players of what some call Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games.

MMORPGs have been addressed in sitcoms before, most famously in South Park‘s “Make Love, Not Warcraft” episode. The concept is generally deemed too nerdy to become a regular factor in such shows, so the characters forget their addictions in time for next week’s installment. As I know, and as the producers of The Guild know, it’s not just a game, it’s a lifestyle.  The Guild follows the misadventures of six online adventurers and their terrifying real-life encounters with each other. Dr. Horrible‘s Felicia Day is cast as Codex, a human healer who when not unemployed in real life has her existence turned upside down by Zaboo (Sandeep Parikh) who shows up at her apartment to proclaim his love after misinterpreting a few winky-smiley faces.  Vork the fighter (Jeff Lewis) is the long-suffering guild leader who tracks his mustard supply down to the millimetre. Clara the mage (Robin Thorsen) uses the game to take the pressure off of (not) raising her three kids. Rounding out the cast is Bladezz the thief (Vincent Caso) and TinkerBalla the ranger (Amy Okuda), who both consider Machiavellian treachery a personal hobby.

This show could have been like the torrent of gaming comics on the market that make fun of video game addiction. Instead all of the characters play the game for different reasons. Clara tries to relieve boredom, Bladezz is looking for rules he can easily break, and Codex seems to be looking for order in a life that doesn’t seem to have any. The best moments of the show come when the characters try to apply the logic and consistency of the game world with the real world and the results are often hilariously tragic. The production also has a polish and quality that many web shows just don’t have. The Guild is extremely deserving of the popularity it now holds. The only gripe I have with it is that the secondary characters don’t seem to have as intense an inner life as the main characters, and seem to just drive the plot rather than have motivations of their own. The Season 2 DVD just came out on May 19th, and it looks like they’ve secured funding for a third season through Microsoft. This is great news for web shows in general, so I look forward to the new season, which is scheduled to start shooting in June.

Introducing: What’s On Thursdays

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the internet as if it was the coming media apocalypse that would wipe out the wasteful and decadent traditional media that canceled your favorite TV show. Truth be told, if such an apocalypse happened today, (let’s just say for the sake of the argument that the switch to HDTV didn’t go so well) not a whole lot would be left behind. It would be a vast sea of ads and pornography punctuated by roving bands of cannibalistic mutants that use the “Numa-numa” song as their war cry. Not many people know exactly how to make money off internet content. A lot of the systems and business models that allow it to happen are generally in the experimental stage. It seems like the only people making money off internet advertising are people who sell advertisement systems. Yet still, actors, writers, and filmakers are trying to make content for the internet without the hassle of studio systems, executives, and thousands upon thousands of script notes. The question is, who are they, and where can we find them?

This week I will be posting a new weekly series called What’s On Thursdays.  It’s not about shows that are on Thursdays, these shows that can be seen any day of the week if you like. Each week I’ll be reviewing a new internet-only video series to explore what’s in store for the future of the medium. I’m choosing to focus on internet video because it’s seen as the final frontier for the internet. The internet has proved that it can distribute text, pictures and audio better than any medium on the planet. Video is still held back by distribution of broadband speed levels. It’s also one of the most labor-intensive forms of media out there. If any industry could use a reduction in overhead, it’s TV and film. Tomorrow’s review is going to cover one of the most popular internet video series out there: Felicia Day’s The Guild.

Sony CEO:I’m a guy who doesn’t see anything good having come from the Internet…

Dave Rosenberg’s column will fill you in on the details, but Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton had this to say in front of an audience of journalists and students at a breakfast at Syracuse University:

“I’m a guy who doesn’t see anything good having come from the Internet…(The Internet) created this notion that anyone can have whatever they want at any given time. It’s as if the stores on Madison Avenue were open 24 hours a day. They feel entitled. They say, ‘Give it to me now,’ and if you don’t give it to them for free, they’ll steal it.”

No one argued with Lynton that media content, like Sony Pictures’ movies, were flowing through the internet without the original creators making a dime. The problem here, is that with the internet around, you CAN have the stores on Madison Avenue open 24 hours a day. The marginal cost of distributing a piece of music, text, or video is essentially zero, so you’ll have a hard time selling something that consumers know is pure profit. Instead of using the technology to its full potential, he wants to impose legal roadblocks that keep technology at the level that his business can use forever.

This isn’t the first time that Sony has caused controversy with their remarks towards the internet. Sony was also responsible for including a root-kit on CDs that interfered with the vital functions of computers that tried to play them. One of the attorneys for Sony BMG famously stated:

“When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song.” Making “a copy” of a purchased song is just “a nice way of saying ‘steals just one copy’,”

The current controversy is reminiscent of previous legal battles over new technology, such as VCRs, audio cassette tapes, even terrestrial radio. In each of these circumstances, media companies were able to make billions without resorting to the kind of restrictions they were howling for in the first place. Why do we keep having this debate every time media distribution gets easier and cheaper?

On the surface, you could say that people don’t want to spend any money that they don’t want to, so any change, good or bad, is going to be fought tooth and nail by any business. I think the problem runs deeper than that. Most of the cries of indignation do not come from the artists themselves, but from the companies that represent them. In other words, they are the people who press the plastic discs and make all the deals necessary to get them to the stores. They are the sales people. Artists aren’t happy playing the same songs or acting the same lines over and over again, but salespeople would gladly sell you five copies of the same movie or the same album.

The real reason salespeople don’t want their business to change is that they do not consider what they do to be real work. If they wanted to do work, they would get into carpentry, engineering, or flower arrangement. Workers in those industries have to compete with each other to produce better products, but not salespeople. They’re happy to sell the same loaf of bread in a different bag, and will fight tooth and nail against doing otherwise. We as a society allow this state of affairs because we expect no better of salespeople. We don’t consider sales to be real work either. If a product gathers more sales because it has a better name or packaging, we consider it cheating. Our media is flush with stereotypes of sleazy salespeople who will do anything for a buck except work for one. We consider the ability to “sell ice to eskimos” as the mark of a good salesperson.

The truth is that sales IS real work. The cold calling, the knocking on doors, the networking, all of it. We need to enforce the idea that responsibility of the deal lies not with the producer, the consumer, nor market that created it. It lies with the salesperson himself. If you can’t sell this product, find a better one. If you can’t find a better one, improve the one you’ve got. If you can’t improve the one you’ve got, include a free gift. Salespeople will do what they have to do to make a living, but the fundamental fact here is that the central relationship in a salesperson’s professional life is between him and his consumer. Invoking the powers of government to maintain your bargaining position is no substitute for this kind of rapport. I’m not saying that giving movies and music away for free is the answer, but trying to hobble technology for pure profit is not the answer either.