Here’s a bit of a confession, in the world of the web that I have been exploring with great excitement since 2004, the thing that has interested me least is marketing. Blogging, podcasting, wikis, Twitter, Identi.ca, community filtering and big online datasets, and many other things have been thrilling to me because of the sorts of things they allow individuals and groups to do that they never could do before. Any artist with a tiny tiny bit of tech savvy can now get their work out to the whole world. Anyone with a message has nothing standing in their way. Even more exciting, groups of individuals scattered across the globe can collaborate on massive projects in ways never before possible. You always wanted to write novels? Well nothing is stopping you now. What about exploring your world of bespoke tailoring? Turns out there are people who want to read about it. Host your own radio show? About music, or about health problems in Africa, or interviewing old timers in rural areas – all of this can be done, at almost no cost.
What has been called Web 2.0 has changed the dynamics of the universe. While there are some who think that Web 2.0 is just a marketing term, it was very real to me. I set up my first blog in July 2004 (using blogger – then I migrated to WordPress); and made my first Wikipedia edit in September 2004. Uploaded my first Flickr photo in October 2004. Made my first podcast in September 2005. These were my 1.0 to 2.0 events, when I went from being a consumer of the web to a creator as well. It was a thrilling change, and I am still awed by the great possibility that comes with the web.
But something funny happened with all this wonderfulness. The marketers got hold of Web 2.0 – or what some call social media. (Note: I should admit that some of my best friends are marketers). And frankly, the thing which has interested me least about the new web is marketing. Or at least, the only thing about the new tools of marketing that excites me is that it is now so easy for one person or a small group with good ideas to find people who want those good ideas. But the marketing side of social media, well, it’s just never been my thing.
So it was very puzzling to me when I started developing a friendship with Mitch Joel. He is, after all, Canada’s digital marketing rockstar, a world recognized thought-leader in how new digital channels change our relationship to brands, and how companies and people need to adapt.
So what was I doing enjoying spending time with Mitch so much? At first I chalked it down to Mitch’s history as a music reporter in Montreal – marketing guru or not, you gotta like someone who made a living for years interviewing Gene Simmons and the guys from Whitesnake. But that didn’t seem to be enough; after all, unless someone told you about Mitch’s background, you’d never know that his youth was spent attending metal concerts for a Montreal newspaper.
A couple of years ago, Mitch and I, and fellow-Montrealer Julien Smith started having lunches together once in a while, then it became a regular thing. And these lunches were always the highlight of my week. We would pontificate about the future, about what technology changes meant, and rage on about things that were changing too slowly or companies that just didn’t get it. These lunches were thought-provoking and engaging and inspiring. They were great, even if Mitch was a marketer.
One time, Mitch and I drove back to Montreal from a conference in NYC. And in the car Mitch said something that made it click for me, made me understand why I liked Mitch the marketer so much. He said: “I want to totally change the way marketing is done. I want marketing to be about getting people who love something together with the people who have it.” (I am paraphrasing my memory of the quote). And in a flash, it all made sense to me. I understood why I like Mitch so much.
My greatest interest in the web is the ability it gives to people to create wonderful things. And Mitch’s real interest is helping connect wonderful things with the people who want them.
Having been knee deep in the web for a few years now, I am always surprised that what seems so obvious to we webby echo chamberists is not necessarily so obvious to the rest of the world. And I’ve long thought that someone needed to pen a book that would explain to people – primarily to businesses – what the hell all this stuff means.
Mitch has a new book out today that does just that: Six Pixels of Separation. What’s so refreshing though is that he has written it as a business owner and entreprenneur, and not as a pundit. As a webby person, I found his insights about business to be deeply satisfying; as an entrepreneur, I found his take on the web to be extremely useful. He talks not so much about specific tools or channels (though he does that too), but instead about people who have used these new channels to do wonderful things (disclosure: my project LibriVox.org gets a mention).
The world has changed, and will continue to change. That has implications for anyone with an idea they want people to hear about, a thing they want to sell, a cause that is important to them, a group of people who depend on them. It has implications for individuals, and multinationals. Six Pixels of Separation is a great guide to the changing world.
For the price of a beer (or a pitcher, or a round), you can support VisibleGovernment.ca … the non-profit that promotes online tools for government transparency, openness and accessibility around government and civic data (yay!).
They’ve got a little fundraiser going, in celebration of Canada Day: Beers for Canada …
How we’ll spend your money
We work on several aspects of transparency:
Creating new tools: We work with developers and designers to build websites that encourage citizens and governments to communicate openly.
Encouraging government openness: We show elected officials the benefits of open, two-way discourse, highlighting places where information is lacking and celebrating the efforts of those who want to be more transparent.
Public awareness: We emphasize the civic importance of transparency and open government.
Working with other organizations: We share and collaborate with organizations like the Sunlight Foundation, MySociety and Changecamp.
We’re also organizing Code For Canada, an application design competition that awards prizes to people who build web, facebook, and iPhone apps that provide visualization, analysis, and access to federal government data sets.
nfb.ca, the National Film Board’s web site is now live, and open for viewers. Seven hundred documentaries, shorts, animations and general filmy goodness are available in their entirety on the site. I’ve been playing for a while now with the beta, but very happy this is out there in the wild now. I still have some niggles about the navigation and UI, but as long as they keep adding content, I will be a happy man.
The NFB used to make some of the most beautiful films in the world, and was a beacon of experimentation and integrity in the new art of the documentary film. Watch, for instance, this exquisite doc, by the master Gilles Groulx, Un Jeu Si Simple. You don’t have to care a whit about hockey, or speak French for that matter, to appreciate one of the most elegant movies you’ll ever see, a study in brilliant editing. If you are a hockey fan, this is something like uncovering a footage of Greek gods on Olympus.
Oana Avasilichioaei deftly dismantles language and landscape in a whirling collection of poetry. feria is a poetic frolic in Vancouver’s Hastings Park eluding boundaries of landscape, time and narrative. Avasilichioaei writes and rewrites over this image, interpreting its evolving layers. Park and book coincide, and the author finds herself asking what is natural, what is language, and whose voices are we listening to. This is a book that pulls the reader into a wild ride, leaving you breathless but exilirated by the end.
Part of the project included shooting a beautiful film, which was done by another friend of mine, Theirry Collins:
Matt just released his beautiful new book, Ojingogo. (I don’t think you can buy it online yet.)
I’m not a great reader of graphic novels, but I must say I love Drawn & Quarterly’s store on Bernard, and the attention graphic novelists, their publishers, and their readers give to the object of the book. The D&Q bookstore exudes a love of books, everything about them, that’s rare to see these days. Why not pop in and browse for a while, before buying a few books, especially Ojingogo?
I was at the Akoha top secret private screening demo thing last night. It’s ambitious, and complex… but it looks like they’ve done a good job of what they are trying to do (making doing good fun) in a way that just might work. I think many of us continue to think about how the things we are doing on the web can start crossing over into the real world, and Akoha is a clever, and possibly revolutionary, way to make that happen.
Michael Lenczner is one of the founders of Île Sans Fil, Montreal’s community wireless network which comprises over 150 hotspots and serves almost 60,000 registered users. By any standards the project is a huge success. Yet Michael is an unusually thoughtful technologists who asks himself hard questions about whether Ile Sans Fil has really enhanced community life in the ways the founders hoped it would.
For example, Wikitravel, one of the Internet’s most acclaimed travel websites, was launched in 2003 by Montreal residents Evan Prodromou and Michele Ann Jenkins. Using the same wiki collaborative technology that has proven so successful for Wikipedia, the Wikitravel site invited travelers to post their comments and experiences about places around the world in an effort to build a community-generated travel guide.
In less than five years, the site has accumulated more than 30,000 online travel guides in 18 languages, with more than 10,000 editorial contributions each week. The content is freely available under a Creative Commons licence that allows the public to use, copy or edit the guides.
Building on Wikitravel’s success, Prodromou and Jenkins recently established Wikitravel Press, which introduced its first two titles earlier this month. Wikitravel Press represents a new approach to travel book publishing based on Internet collaborative tools and print-on-demand technologies that should capture the attention of the industry for several reasons…
And on LibriVox:
Canadians are also playing a leading role in reshaping the creation of audiobooks. Hugh McGuire, a Montreal-based writer and Web developer, established LibriVox in August 2005. The site is also based on concept of Internet collaboration. In this instance, LibriVox volunteers create voice recordings of chapters of books that are in the public domain. The resulting audio files are posted back on to the Internet for free.
The LibriVox project, which does not have an annual budget, has succeeded in placing more than 1,200 audio books on the Internet, including Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, works from Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and hundreds more.
New technologies are rapidly reshaping the book industry and it is exciting to see how Canadians are quietly playing a leading role in the re-imagining of how books are created and distributed.