Sunday night found Claire and I rolling up to the cool new backdoor of the Auckland War Memorial Museum to attend another Karajoz Great Blend, I’m a regular reader of Russell Brown’s Hard News, which you’d have to say was the corner stone of the Public Address site. (None of the other contributors are even remotely as interesting to me.)
Last year it was at the nicely outfitted but somewhat pokey Grey Lynn Community Centre, so the move up to the brand new conference facility at the museum was a huge step – but the main room really is rather caernous, so even with (what seemed to me to be) a good turn out, it didn’t feel full.
I knew quite a lot of people there, so making conversation while drinking the delicious free Karajoz Coffee before the evening’s proceedings got underway was very easy. Darren & Amanda were there, Karl & Louise, Simon & Lin, Robyn, Tom (who Claire and I met through Adam & Sandra, first at their wedding in the Chch last year, and later at their place in AKL), Mark/Talios/Naked, and various friends of friends and friends of friends of friends.
It’s got a nice feel about, the people seem smart, they seem to be interested in learning things about things, and they seem to think about how to best go about learning things about things. I think I’m like this too, I certainly hope I am, so I feel like it’s a nice community for me.
So we chatted, and drank coffee, and admired the fabulous views out the not-quite but close-enough-to 360 degree panoramic views of my favourite city in the world, and it was good.
First people in the hot seat with Russell were Matt Heath & Chris Stapp who I first knew about when they were doing their early Back of the Y stuff, whenever that was. I’m pretty sure Francois first pointed me in their direction. Anyway, they were good fun, talking about their show, how they got started, what they’d done over the years (including doing their same ol’ shit in the UK) and climaxing with a teaser for their feature film…. Which looks fucking awesome. I’m really looking forward to it. It doesn’t hurt that I worked (though in a different department) with Matt at Ihug, and while we didn’t talk a lot, when we did talk he was a really nice guy.
Then it was slightly-too-loud DJ time while everyone had more coffee or beer or wine and conversation, before the panel discussion started.
Now, let me just say that I really enjoyed it… But.
It could have been better, perhaps if it had been split in two or something?
Rick Ellis from TVNZ, who I’ll call the big corporate guy.
And Some Annoying Woman from The New Zealand Herald. I’m going to call her the annoying one that didn’t appear to have two clues to rub together.
(I’m sure I’m wrong about her, Russell must have thought very highly of her to have invited her onto his panel, and I will certainly give her a chance again if I see her speak in future. But I can only form my opinion from what I’ve actually seen so far. And it was disappointing. I want stuff made in New Zealand to be awesome, but the Herald, while I’m delighted it is online and free’ish, is not quite awesome enough to make me proud. And if that’s not one of their goals? Well I don’t care, if matters to me even if it doesn’t to them.)
Now, the problem with the panel was partly the big corporate guy and lotsly the annoying one. I would far rather have seen a panel with more good guys. People that actually get things done. Not people that stop things from getting done.
The annoying one is going to fail (if success is something like ‘making the NZ Herald relevent in the information age to a great enough extent that they can continue to sell enough advertising to produce a great product’) until she realises that a properly formed community, using intelligent technology, is awesome. And magnetic. With a neutron-star-like gravitywell that just keeps sucking more and more cool people in until your site has a critical mass of awesomeness. While on the other hand a heavily moderated system just plain sucks.
Here’s a hint, if you let a community police itself, it will. If you make people register with a persistent username, they’ll learn that reputation is something that matters even more online than in the meat world. If you provide a ‘this post is offensive’ button, people will use it when they see offensive content. If you let people rate comments, the cream will float to the top. And sure, real people do need to be involved in this process (to check that posts marked offensive really are, and drop the banhammer on repeated fuck-ups), but they don’t necessarily have to vet every single post before it goes online. And thinking that they do will keep you firmly in the old media world, i.e. irrelevent. You’ll just fall further and further behind. You shouldn’t ‘use’ these people just to get feedback on your content, you should let them provide their own. If nothing more, it’s a great way of filling pages with cheap content you can put ads on.
Now, of course it will take a long time for your failure in this new world you find yourself in to kill you, but you sure will deserve it when it happens. (For one thing, lots of people will keep buying your paper product even if you such. But even that will change eventually – display technology gets better every year, and at some point there will be a display which is so convenient and cheap that your content will be vying for space on my screen alongside Hard News and State Highway One when I’m on the bus or in the break room, and you’ll lose, because they’re passionate about what they do, and you just have shitty reporters that can’t spell and HATE writing about flood damage in the Far North. So just don’t let it get to that, embrace all this new stuff that scares you so, some of it might turn out to be a dead-end, but don’t be scared just because you’re confused by it (oh yes you are), because maybe the ODT will break out of their confuzzlement sooner than you do (though admittedly they don’t show any signs of this yet, but it’s going to be super easy to leapfrog what you have now – RSS is EASY, forums are EASY), and don’t forget that they found their way online before you did, so they can’t be as retarded as their geographic location might make you think.)
Oh, and by the way, your new website design SUCKS, this isn’t because I’m scared of change, it’s becuase it’s not a good design. Yes you have RSS feeds now, but I asked you for RSS feeds in 1999. And you didn’t give them to me, so I went to other sources when I first introduced outside news to the Ihug website. You’re late to the party and have a lot of catching up to do, and making your page take up so much damn space isn’t a good thing. It doesn’t make it look like you have a lot great content to dive into, it makes you look hyperactive. And not knowing what a simple term like ‘scan’ means in the context of reading? Bad sign.
Rick Ellis, big corporate guy, was a cool customer, clearly well practised in smooth delivery of his lines. And I don’t really have any particular complaints about anything he said. I do have a couple of questions:
1. You already own a metric fuck load of content that is copyright to TVNZ, what the hell is holding you back from letting me download that content, right now? Look what the BBC is doing, just do that. This other stuff can all wait until a lot of other questions have been answered, I don’t really expect to be able to download Heroes or The Sopranos off you, so just go ahead and leave that, do the easy stuff now. Do the hard stuff later.
Okay, that sort of sounded like a complaint. So perhaps I can make it through the second one without any further whining?..
2. With freeview (or whatever the new digital platform is going to be called) it seems that there is the potential for dozens or more channels. You’re not going to be able to afford to fill them all up, what is stopping you from providing a channel to be populated with user generated content? I might only be good at producing highspeed / backwards shots of me riding my scooter to a soundtrack of yakkity sax, but some people find that friggin’ funny, and I’ll put it on your channel gratis (or if you play advertising around my clip, for a small cut of the filthy lucre). And yes, I know I’d probably have to use some non-copyrighted music, or something, but I’d find some way to deal with that. But other people can produce even better stuff. Just look at Ze Frank’s The Show, he does it every single week day. Sometimes it misses, other times it is just flat out awesome. It costs him about a dollar. I’m sure Ze’s New Zealand equivalent would let you run it for a cut of the big pile of advertising that you could no doubt sell. (And listen, you and I both know that a channel like this could be cheap as shit to run, so the advertising could be cheap enough that your advertising sales team wouldn’t have a problem upselling current customers on a large order of fries, or a corn cob. I bet one of the old Ihug Digital TV guys could get it feeding into your broadcast system for a few tens of thousands of dollars. I’m not going to pretend to understand all of this stuff, it’s well outside of my area, but properly encoded files fed from the right hardware in as simple a playlist as you wanted would fill up every minute that wasn’t advertising just seems like something that should be ridiculously easy to manage.)
The corporate guy and the annoying one should have been joined by two more of their ilk on their own panel. I even have a title suggestion ‘how the Big Guys are trying to do it.’ Yes, with the italics. It would be funny.
Getting the suits their own thing would leave the lions share of time to the cool young guys that get. things. done. But with a couple more examples of the species to round things out. Now by no means am I suggesting myself as one of these people. Depending on your perspective, maybe not ever, and certainly not lately. The last year or so of my business kind of sucked a lot of the creativity and drive out of me, and starting at the new place is where I’m going to be putting all I have for a while, so it’s going to be some time before I get back to making cool shit for your viewing pleasure. But there are heaps of examples of people that make good stuff, Karl von Randow is probably one. He’s built HEAPS of good shit, and now you only need one more. Better make it a girl, but I just can’t think of one off the top of my head right now.
Goodger was interesting, talking about some of the decisions behind Firefox – for instance how easy it was to decide to block popups out of the box, and some of the thought processes behind the decision not to include and ad blocker in the same way. Rob McKinnon was also interesting, but perhaps a little mean to the corporate guy and the annoying one. I mean, they kind of deserved it, but then again, it might have just been better to seperate the cool guys that know how to get things done and don’t understand why the old guys don’t from the old guys that don’t. But now I’m just rehashing what I’ve already said.
Also, there really needed to be a better approach to getting questions from the audience. I had a bunch, but the way questions were sought was quite simply intimidating. At other panels I’ve been to, a raised hand will have a guy bring you a wireless microphone, if you could have an understanding that even while the panelists were talking, you could have the MC keep an eye out and at opportune times get the latest audience question.
Another option, even better for shy folk, would be to put up a number to txt your questions to, only questions with a name get read out.
But making people shout out, when nothing else was happening, was quite an ask – and explains why only one dude actually spoke up.
Oh, and the dancers with all of the cold cathodes or glow wire or whatever were just friggin’ cool. They really need to be on a stage or something (it was quite hard to see them a lot of the time), but what I could see I simply loved. Especially the white coloured one with the ‘o’ face. So cool.