"Everything’s amazing, and nobody’s happy." —Louis C.K.
The iPhone 5 was just released. And the usual pageantry unfolded: the detractors detracted, the defenders defended, and all-the-while the press blogged, tweeted, and then tweeted about their blogs. But the overall air had strange feeling to it… there seemed to be a sense of disappointment to everything.
There were new features, but not all the features that could have been. And the design changed, but it didn’t really change-change… what gives? Apple has implicitly promised that every product they release is world-changing. Towers fall, paradigms shift, angels weep with tears of sugar and honey.
But with paradigms still firmly sitting in everyone’s pantry, there’s a sense of disappointment from both sides of the fence.
This four-ounce 2.31 by 4.87 inch box can take panoramic photos, check-in your flights, and play music from a cloud.
And the best critique of that is “Well, this other phone already does that for a cheaper price.”
How incredibly wonderful is that? These magical boxes send signals into the sky to access the entire sum collection of human knowledge—and we are bored because we could already do that.
Everything’s amazing, and nobody’s happy. Well, except me. I’m pretty jazzed about the whole situation.
As a sidenote, Louis CK will be visiting Minneapolis on October 4th and 5th.
The world of podcasts is fantastic, but it can be hard to know where to start. Natalie and I made a quick round-up of podcasts each with an episode to get your feet wet.
This American Life
An on-going radio show, Ira Glass and his crew collect and produce short stories based on a weekly theme. Sublimely crafted, the stories come from all-over and range from funny to truly tragic.
Episode: “This I Used to Believe”
Design Matters with Debbie Millman
Debbie Millman, Partner and President of the Design Group at Sterling Brands, interviews various designers about their work and lives. Millman dives deep asking about how designers built their career, or developed certain philosophies and ideas. She keeps the conversation at a steady clip while blending in her own opinions and stories.
Episode: “Alex Bogusky and John Bielenberg”
Roman Mars feels like a candymaker to me. He blends a calm narration of a story paced with music cut perfectly morsels of nougat and chocolate. Each episode is around the ten minutes mark which makes for an easy listen when you get a break.
Episode: “Frozen Music”
NPR Planet Money
Planet Money episodes usually consists of a brief check of latest financial news, and a larger story that the staff had been researching. The stories aren’t number-based, but rather stay on the human-interest side of things. The energetic reporters keep things bouncing along despite the normally dour news.
Episode: “Does Medicaid Actually Help People?”
A British podcast hosted by David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton. Each episode is an interview with a philosopher revolving around their particular research expertise. The two hosts do a great job of parsing the more complex concepts while delving deeper into the subject matter.
Episode: “Mark Vernon on Friendship”
New Yorker: Out Loud
The format of the “Out Loud” series has changed slightly from its older incarnations. Each episode provides a recap of the articles published in the print edition of the magazine. They then pick one of the articles’ authors, and record an extended discussion about the article’s topic.
Episode: “The dramatic effect of e-books on book publishers.”
Stuff to Blow Your Mind
Listeners of Stuff To Blow Your Mind are often confronted with the nagging desire to contribute little known facts to everyday conversations. Somehow, everything becomes a segue into musical hallucinations, ethical robots, the Stendhal Syndrome, or gay animals. You’ll be a wealth of knowledge but beware, you likely won’t remember much of anything beyond a cursory explanation.
Episode: “This is your brain on art”
Radiolab is in the same vein as This American Life where in each episode they collect stories that relate to a chosen theme. They lean much more in the science world, finding odd curiosities and relating them back to human-interest stories. Radiolab is worth listening if only to hear the hosts’, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, infectious enthusiasm for the stories they find.
Episode: “Musical Language”
Have you listened to any awesome podcasts lately? What are some of your favorites and why?
Our eyesight, hearing, even the way our brains work are the result of two forces:
- countless, random genetic mutations that turned out not to kill us, and
- our ancestors avoiding predators and not falling off cliffs long enough to breed.
Life is infinitely complex, but the rules are fairly straightforward. If you’re able to detect the rustling of the leaves before your buddy, you can start running from the bear sooner. And if you have large floppy ears, but you’re able to breed more successfully, the human race becomes a species of large floppy-eared creatures.
I see companies and corporations the same way I see organisms and evolution. Some are large hulking behemoths that lumber across borders and stock markets. Others are tiny hummingbirds that only feed on one type of orchid. For the longest time, companies existed like floating microbes in the ocean. If it brushed against amino acids, it would eat it. If something was pricking its cell walls, it would run away. They simply reacted.
Today, we welcome the age of social media - Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. These social platforms are a company’s eyeballs, ears, and vocal chords. We’re given an immediate sense of the world around us, an ability to better react to changes, even act before any changes occur. And as empowering as that is, dealing with a constant flood of new information can be disorienting.
Learning how to separate the noise from critical insights requires both a strong intuition and a strategy. And it’s safe to say that only the fittest will survive in this new social environment. At Catalyst, our goal is not to proclaim who’s the “best” at social media, but to build long-term strategies that improve the relationship between a company and its customers. We’re rewiring our brains to see social media not as an extension of the brand, but as the brand itself. People connecting with people.
Because when was the last time you were impressed by the guy who bragged, “Man, I have the best eyesight ever,” but then fell off a cliff?
How do you view social media survival?
What is your company doing today to become the fittest?
It was a curious thing. At the time, Facebook barely made sense itself, much less this feature that was never explained. So we clicked it, chuckled, and collectively moved on. But every once-in-awhile, someone new would join and start asking questions about this-and-that. And inevitably the poke would come up.
“What is this?”
The group would answer, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s nothing”. And while everyone would agree, someone would inevitably tell a little story about how they used it once, or a long time ago.
“I got into a poke war with my best friend.”
“One time, I accidentally poked a girl I liked.”
These stories were a revelation to me. Here’s this little lowly link on this website that did absolutely nothing, and yet there were stories, there were implications of social etiquette. People were imbuing this action with no function with well, something…ish.
Now the other actor, the Like. This button had a purpose. It was declarative. “I see this, and in my opinion, I approve.” This Facebook feature is omnipresent. You can like a post, a photo — you can even like whole websites on the website itself.
I talk about the Poke and the Like together because they illustrate the state of, not just social platforms, but the internet today. Facebook is a toolbox, helping people perform social tasks. And while it’s one of the most complicated toolboxes created thus far, it’s still incredibly inadequate in expressing the full range of human communication and emotion.
The Poke and the Like speak to these inadequacies. The Poke is too ambiguous, people form their own meanings, but it doesn’t immediately translate. Perfect for an inside joke, but doesn’t scale otherwise. While the Like is sharper, it still demonstrates the need for more nuance. It reveals the platform’s weaknesses. It can’t yet account for dislike, disdain, fervent support, apathetic acknowledgement, or enthusiastic love.
The internet doesn’t yet know how to love.
The videogame industry is nearly 40-years old, and brought in $74 billion dollars last year alone. World of Warcraft has 10.3 million subscriptions (each with a monthly charge of $15). Motion-sensor cameras let you move your entire body, while broadband connects you to anyone playing anywhere in the world at any time. The television station, G4, was the first of its kind, creating content geared specifically towards videogamers - it’s not the greatest television, but it does exist. The “geeks” have grown up playing games and are now teaching their own kids how to game. The videogame industry has become its own entity, existing alongside movies and music - a staple part of our culture.
So what is a casual game, and what is gamification?
The easiest mark of a casual game is where it exists. If it lives on your phone, or inside Facebook - it is most likely a casual game, like Cityville or Draw Something. Instead of shooting aliens or saving Princesses, casual gaming tasks the gamer with simple actions, that can be done repetitively and continuously.
As a genre, they are fairly innocuous diversions, so why is it significant to talk about casual games?
The biggest reason: they completely destroyed the zero-sum game.
Back in the 90s, there were the “Console Wars”. Companies like Nintendo, Sega, Sony, (and later Microsoft) were all fighting, primarily over eight year-olds. Their market share was the collective allowances of kids, and maybe how weak their parents were to begging. There were a finite number of kids, so if one dollar went to Nintendo, then a dollar was lost for Sega or Sony or Microsoft.
Casual games changed that. Eight year-olds aren’t necessarily playing Cityville, but their moms are, and their uncles, and their aunts, and their cousins… The accessibility and playability hasn’t stolen market share, in fact, it has created new markets. As aforementioned, World of Warcraft has 10.3 million monthly subscriptions, while Cityville has six million people playing every single day. These are brand-new gamers, people who don’t know Mario & Luigi, but are now spending 99 cents here or $2.99 there to build a gas station in their virtual city.
These games are engineered for new demographics. Easy to start playing, ubiquitous (always on your phone reminding you to build houses), and socially-binding (you always know when your Facebook friends do something on the same game.) Which leads to the other fundamental development of gaming culture: the psychology of addiction has matured. The principles of rewarding players at certain tasks, having your friends play to make it a localized place to socialize, time-delaying certain aspects to encourage returning - these concepts have been refined over the past decades, and are now being tracked down to the click for these “casual” games.
Which leads the other gaming shift: gamification. To “gamify” something is to apply these principles to non-traditional gaming environments. Adding rewards for reading a blog, or collecting points for posting comments. To be able to track your “progress” for shopping, and compare it against other shoppers is a new level of granular psychology that wasn’t possible before the ubiquity of internet usage. You are no longer “keeping up with the Jones’ family” but also the Smiths, the Adeoyes, and the Chengs.
Tim Roger’s essay on Casual Games: who killed videogames? (a ghost story)
Brian Reynolds, Chief Designer at Zynga: A brief interview of Reynolds about how casual games differ from traditional videogames.