avin narasimhan

often rambling, but hopefully always interesting

Posts tagged webculture

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TedTalks: The Beauty + Power Of Data Visualization

Seems like everyday there is someone offering up the latest infographic of the day or a new take on data visualization to wow your senses. But, not surprisingly, this Ted Talk courtesy of David McCandless is quite an amazing and inspiring display of data visualization unlike most others. Particularly impressed with the selection of data sets he works through (from media interest in violent video games, to $ figures randomly thrown out in news reports that are meaningless without context).

Well worth 15 minutes of your day. And a nice dose of inspiration for the next time you need to present absurd amounts of data in a way that won’t put everyone but you to sleep.

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Post-Conference Hangover: Thoughts on (half of) ROFLcon

This past weekend was my first time at ROFLcon, and it was a fantastic event. Have to caveat this post by saying that, unfortunately, I was only able to attend day 2 of ROFLcon due to a rather crazy week at the office. But half a conference was absolutely still worth the price of admission. Met some great people, saw some ridiculously smart folks on panels throughout the day (the highlight was far and away the final panel on Mainstreaming of Web Culture, but more on that later).

My note taking consisted of my stream of consciousness tweets of interesting quotes throughout the day until my glorious iPhone battery gave out on me, but I’ll still do my best to recap some of the themes and interesting bits that arose from the various panels on day 2. After sorting through twitter feeds from day 1, feel like at least some common themes were shared, but anyone who can help add some more context from Day 1, feel free to chime in (particularly disappointed to have missed the keynote as well as the stellar panel on Race in web culture). Each of these deserves more time and thought, but just want to get them down while it’s fresh. In no particular order…

Protecting the core of web culture.
While the notion that web culture and mainstream culture are increasingly becoming the same was a common theme through the day, I also feel like ROFLcon is one of the last remaining events that brings together the core of web culture as it was intended to be. Fierce protection of anonymity, openness and lack of control, spontaneity and unpredictability. As many of these elements or ideals of web culture are becoming more fuzzy or going away altogether due to mainstreaming, ROFLcon serves as an enduring reminder that there is value in remembering where it all started and why. While there was a sense that mainstreaming of web culture is, in the end, probably a good thing because it places those who are leading it in a more prominent position of power, a strong desire permeated through to not completely lose what has always made it special.  A quote from Ben Huh (one of many fantastic soundbites during the day) of icanhazcheezburger fame, captures the overall shift, and part of the reason why there is potential for dilution:

The increasing supremacy of copying over creation.
Adrian wrote about this notion a few weeks ago, and it was perhaps best brought out in the panel on Pop meets Internet culture, with Dan Walsh (garfield minus garfield), Randy Hayes and Xavier Nazario (The Juggernaut, Bitch), Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda (Chad Vader), and moderated by Rob Bricken of Topless Robot. Among many things, the panel discussed how copyright laws today seem to be out of step with where culture is at (ie the booming popularity of mashup and remix culture), highlighting the need for updating antiquated plagiarism standards and definitions. Similar to what many of us in the agency world have been kicking around for some time— and which Gareth highlighted nicely in his recent transformers talk— it’s not so much what we do (or what the original content was) that matters, but rather what people do to it, and what further content is created from the original ideas. So much of digital culture is about building off of what came before, paying homage to other creators and keeping elements of that original creation alive by putting a unique spin on it— it doesn’t make sense to punish those who would choose to do so. Captured nicely in this quote (though unfortunately I failed to capture who exactly on the panel said it).

Marketers overthink the shit out of digital culture and ideas.
Perhaps a bit of an obvious one, but worth mentioning again (and again) either way. As the panels rolled by and the major successes in internet culture gave their POV on what they think works or doesn’t work, it was all the more clear that marketers, as often happens with things the marketing world doesn’t quite understand, overcomplicate and overthink everything about digital culture in misguided attempts to simply have their brand ‘be a part of it’. It’s so easy to forget that at the heart of any technology is still the underlying human desire to share and connect, regardless of where or how it happens, online or off. We get so bogged down in brand objectives, core attributes, tonality etc that we lose sight of the need to simply start with what people actually want to do and work back from there. We often end up with ideas that don’t quite fit in the broader context, and feel every bit like a brand trying to fake its way into a culture that it doesn’t understand. Moot of 4chan, though he was speaking in broader terms than brand initiatives, dropped a quote that works quite well:

The lines are being drawn: Facebook vs Web Culture.
While there is a certain grudging acceptance of what facebook is and what value it serves, the overwhelming attitude towards facebook was very much an us vs them mentality, from panelist and audience alike. For some I’m sure this is a bit of a mindfuck— how can the webs largest social platform be at odds with web culture. And yet it couldn’t be more true. Much of what made internet culture what it is, Zuckerberg and Co have taken a completely different direction with their own ventures and business. Personally, I don’t side with some of the panelists as much in their anti-facebook beliefs, but I certainly do understand where they are coming from. Anonymity in particular has taken a major blow in the era of facebook, and those at the center of web culture rightly (arguably) see facebook as representing something wholly different than the ideals and values of web culture. The opposing sides of web culture is something I imagine most marketers have little understanding or even awareness of, but it’s absolutely something they must understand particularly in the wake of facebooks recent open integration across the web. Many marketers are obsessed with implementing these new features as quickly as possible, sometimes without taking the time to really understand if their communities wanted all of it to begin with. Just because we can, doesn’t always mean we should.

A bit on the lighter side, one of the other facebook themes that arose was the notion that it has essentially dumbed-down the social web for the masses, much the way AOL did back in the 90s. To that end, can’t forget one of the most memorable facebook quotes of the evening from Ben Huh:

Sidebar: where were all the iPads?
Not really a theme of the conference content, but something anecdotal that took me a bit by surprise. Over the past month or two I’ve debated many times about making the plunge and buying a first gen iPad, despite the fact I know it will only infuriate me when the 2G comes out at half the price and twice as fast. So far, I’ve resisted. And what truly struck me was the fact that, at one of the geekiest and most tech crazy conferences around, I could count the number of iPads I saw on one hand (maybe one and a half). I have to imagine that after the same amount of time had passed back at the launch of the iPhone, a conference like this would have been overflowing with people on their iPhones and comparing notes. The fact that this wasn’t the case was quite odd— particularly given todays announcement that 1 million iPads have been sold, hitting that mark faster than the iPhone. Perhaps it signals a shift in who buys the latest Apple invention?

Interestingly enough, while I don’t have a witty quote from ROFLcon to go along with this, as I was writing I caught this bit from @aplusk— love him or hate him, he sort of hit the sentiment spot on (particularly as it relates to those who want to push internet culture forward):

Surely this is not a comprehensive list of things to take away from ROFLcon…
But captures most of what I found to be interesting and unique. Can’t wait for next year and the next iteration of what is a fantastic conference borne out of a desire to celebrate the greatness of web culture. Big, big thanks to @timhwang and crew for putting it all together. If you need more ROFL goodness, troll back through some of the feeds (including Saturday night’s afterparty), and catch some of the pix here (courtesy of laughingsquid).

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