Sunday, 14 December 2008

Last Will: Trick or Treat

Last Will from Hide and Seek on Vimeo.

Experiencing the the Last Will on Hallowe'en was a real treat. Unfortunately my schedule didn't allow to me write about it at the time, but it is never too late to spread the word about something this unique. 

Last Will cleverly blurs the boundaries between immersive theatre and computer gaming enabling you and a friend to share a unique and challenging experience. My friend and I were invited to participate in an exclusive preview designed to help test and refine the system as the game evolves. On October 31st, at the allocated time, we attended  Butterworth Rosenberg Solicitors (at Cordy House in East London) to discover the story behind the last will and testament of Thomas Madigan, an old man, whose extraordinary life experiences were revealed as we solved a range of challenges. 

While one of us played in the physical world, the other played using a desk top computer. If successful the virtual player helps the real world player progress through the game, but both have to work together to solve the challenges. The twist is that players cannot communicate directly conveying the sense of a magical, even mystical experience, that subtly echoes the storyline.  

This genre-defying protoype aka as a Multiplatform Immersive Theatre Experience (MITE) was created by the talented Punch Drunk crew, Alex Fleetwood of Hide & Seek (known for its annual pervasive gaming festival and monthy Sandpit events in London and Brighton), Interactive design collective Seeper, and HP Labs.

Whilst somewhat clunky at times, the experience transcended any bugs that will no doubt be ironed out by its next iteration. The contributing partners are to be commended for creating a new and exciting form of participatory entertainment with tremendous potential to engage audiences.  

Sunday, 19 October 2008

More on ARGS

New Media Age recently cautioned against blindly following the ARG trend. Fair point although it is worth pointing out that McDonald's sponsored The Lost Ring, created by Jane McGonigal, engaged more than 2.5 million people from 100 different countries. Not a bad achievement for an emerging genre.

Jane McGonigal's newest gaming initiative, developed with the Institute for the Future, a not-for-profit think tank based in Palo Alto, California, Superstruct sounds fascinating. This massively multiplayer game is designed to forecast the future. Although the game has begun, it is still not too late to join in the fun. Many many non-profits are embracing the approach including The Red Cross with Traces of Hope communicating the plight of Ungandan refugees.

For those interested in learning more about the power of games including ARGs, check out Playful - London Game Design event this week. It features a range of speakers including Don Ho of Six to Start, makers of The Shadow War for Puffin and Toby Barnes of Pixel Lab who is organising the event.

Saturday, 20 September 2008


i-design08 brought together a unique group of speakers (including yours truly) from wide ranging backgrounds including design, technology, anthropology, media, advertising and branding to explore the theme of meaningful interaction and the future of interactive design.

This eclectic mix led to rich conversations raising a number of issues including the need for greater collaboration between the disciplines and the opportunity for designers to move up/along the value chain in terms developing and implementing their own products/IP.

The best examples of this potential were presented by Brendan Dawes, of Magnetic North, creator of the acclaimed Mixa (pictured above) and Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, CEO of technology and design consultancy Tinker it!, who showcased some of her team's innovative work using Arduino.

Timo Veikkola of The Future Laboratory also gave an inspiring talk about digital and other trends including womenomics, ambient intelligence, emotion technology and the body as an interface.

Altogether an interesting day. Will write more later about the "Where's the money?" panel I participated in.

Friday, 5 September 2008

From Audio Tours to iPhones at Tate Modern

Spent an enjoyable day with innovative museum folks taking their institutions into the 21st century with the help of handheld and mobile devices at this Tate Modern Symposium. Heard all about best of breed multimedia tours from the Louvre to Momo as well as a host of other large and small UK and US galleries and museums.

Whilst much of the most ground breaking work was designed for the ipod touch/iphone, everyone agreed applications should ideally be device neutral. Knowing the myriad issues relating to interoperability, this may take some time to resolve. Specialist supplier Antenna Audio have tackled this issue by creating their own device thus saving the cash-sensitive sector frequent upgrading costs until these issues are sorted out.

Jane Burton, Creative Director of Tate Media, helpfully questioned what we mean by 'tour' and has developed a number of resource effective ways to create and distribute digital content both for real and virtual gallery visitors expanding and enriching the tour definition and experience. For example, in addition to ambitious gallery-wide tours, Burton has proposed and implemented simple (and cheap) video podcasts, known as Tate Shots, that can be watched online or downloaded to a handheld player.

Also of interest are Tate's research findings indicating multi-media tours not only enhance the user experience, but increase visitor satisfaction and significantly extend museum reach when also distributed online. Online distribution can include third party sites like itunes/iTunesU and YouTube. Burton shared a funny story about a Mark Wallinger video posted on YouTube which generated a significant amount of negative commentary and resulted in some satirical remixes. Hardley surprising that taking the gallery out of the gallery is not for the fainthearted.

Undoubtedly the most exciting conversation came towards the end of the day with talk about the next generation tours. Here Koven J. Smith of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York created a vision for a new approach to curation driven by the imaginative harnessing of user experiences and user generated content. "Why not give real-time feedback to all gallery goers about the day's most popular paintings, best room to visit if you are hungover or feeling blue...", he proposed.

The organisers have set up a wiki where they are posting the conference materials and ongoing contributions. I highly recommend checking out their illustrated mind maps covering conference themes which they created in the previous day's workshop.

Why was I there? Having recently proposed a multimedia tour for a client, I thought what better place to gain cross sector learning experiences and I was not disappointed. In addition, I am now in a position to share a multitude of opportunities with my colleagues who work on the sponsorship team.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

The internet makes us smarter

Previously, I touched on the concept of crowdsourcing (i.e. outsourcing idea generation to selected stakeholders) but never really delved into its implications for our work. Now, I am inspired to after reading about Brain Reactions a new site that facilitates competitions for ideas.

Whilst many examples of crowdsourcing exist, this one is worth watching as beyond an initial free brainstorm which you can do for free, it will charge to use its tools and access the wisdom of its primarily Gen Y crowds. Assuming a critical mass of idea-makers, this could be a good toe-dipping exercise, for companies who want to get some experience in this area. It will be interesting to see if the business takes off.

Perhaps the best example of full integration of the crowdsourcing ethos into an existing business is Dell's Idea Storm. At the time of writing, Dell's IdeaStormers had generated 9834 ideas. These ideas can be commented upon, promoted and ultimately adopted by Dell who regularly report which ones have been used in its product launches.

Since the infamous Dell Hell situation, Dell has successfully re-engineered its business putting its customers centre-stage. Embracing crowdsourcing has clearly enriched its business leading to further innovation. This innovation seems to know no limits. Dell has just launched its latest online community, Digital Nomads, dedicated to the evolving digital workplace. Amongst other things, visitors are invited to contribute to the 'What is a Digital Nomad' white paper. This site is a great resource tracking cutting edge nomad developments.

So although embracing crowd sourcing requires a new approach to doing business, it seems clear to me the benefits outweigh any disadvantages. Although I'm not promoting general uptake as the drivers are different for every organisation and each situation needs to be assessed individually.

FYI: The Digital Nomad twitter feed is a treasure trove. Latest tweat is all about Nomad Marketing.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Alternative Reality Games

There is something inherently appealing about the idea of Alternative Reality Games - who hasn't thought of exchanging their world for one of make believe...not only is it appealing to the game participant, it sounds like lots of fun for the makers.

Thinking along these lines and because of a great fit with our consumer insight, I recently proposed (and indeed co-developed concepts for) such a game for a prospective client, but was met with some concerns from colleagues who feared the such a solution might be too niche. What an interesting conundrum.

Digital marketers are constantly seeking new opportunities for their clients and to me the appeal of such games is that they are highly engaging and work across media platforms in new ways - the fact that they would showcase this client's core technology while meeting their business objectives was a bonus. However, for those with more traditional media backgrounds, they seem (to be blunt) a bit geeky.

So how do we get over this perceptual barrier? The data indicates that digital and play (as well as entertainment) are converging. This is particularly true for Generation Y who (almost) always enjoy having fun (no surprise) and have grown up with modern consoles which are becoming more and more mainstream and mobile.

If my experience is anything to go by, some of us may need to think more carefully about the language/terminology we use when pitching games to non-experts. If you've delved into the work of expert/futurist Jane McGonigal or Keri Facer of Futurelab, you will know there is tremendous evidence for the the core benefits of game play on many different levels (learning, teamwork, fun, problem solving, etc). Brands can be the enablers of these benefits (how compelling), but for now to convince them, the opportunity may need to be reframed with a focus on play with technology as a background enabler.

This is a quick cantor around a fascinating and complex subject which I will write about again. Until then, check out ARGNet.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Debating - alive and well on the internet

Most of us know politicians are using the internet for debate and to promote their policies and positions, but what about the rest of us? Whilst divergent views are all over the web, and self- publishing is rampant, how popular are sites that pull people together for the purpose of debate? A quick scan reveals myriad opportunities to get stuck in.

Debatepedia, "the Wikipedia of debate", is a good place to start. In addition to aggregating the best of current high quality debates, it also allows anyone to start their own as well as centralising "arguments and quotations found in millions of different articles, essays, and books into a single encyclopedia, so that citizens can better understand important public debates and make informed choices.

An open source platform, it fuses the work of innovators from Georgetown University (in 2006) and the International Debate Education Association (IDEA) and has an impressive wide-ranging catalogue covering everything from the Age of Consent to Sado-Masochism and that is only in the Moral category. Set up as a non-profit, it carries no advertising and yet has attracted thousands of users.

In contrast, Friction TV
facilitates debates on an internet video platform. Entirely based on user-generated content, it has a wide range of partners as well as commercial advertisers. It contains debates on topics both serious (knife crime) and light (cats versus dogs) - everything from Aliens (fact or fiction) to the Olympics (boycott or not) - presented in a highly engaging interactive format.

The potential of both these platforms to scale is considerable and if they do, they could become valuable tools for research and education as well as civic engagement.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

How the internet is changing everything

I'm switching gears now to talk about how the internet is changing the media and much of the old social order along with it...This statement is not hyperbole.

As many of the early internet related
predictions have now come to pass, I stand by this statement while admitting the pace of change has been slower than expected and that some of the most radical activity is still happening on the fringes. Watch Joanne Jacob's guide to microblogging/lifecasting on 2gether08 to see what I mean - she speaks convincingly about the importance of Twitter - esp. hashtags - as a means of tracking and accessing information of relevance/interest - yet only 1% of the internet users are currently using Twitter. While I acknowledge that the drivers for change are different for each sector, I don't believe many market sectors are immune and here is why.

With internet enabled media fragmentation and the parallel rise of social networks/media, the way people get news/info and increasingly entertainment is changing. This means social change on many different levels - new business models, industry (re)structures as well as career trajectories and consequently skillsets and educational requirements.

Let's look at journalism, for example. As Paul Bradshaw at Birmingham City University points out in an excellent recent
blog entry, the traditional print media industry is downsizing with the rise of internet self-publishing. The article talks about how journalistic skill sets are evolving so fast that many journalism schools can't keep up - the capacity to curate and work across a wide range of media platforms will become as, if not more, important than the craft of writing. This analysis applies to many fields. The related world of advertising is another one but there are many more.

The need to change has a different effect on everyone and so the pace of change is as much about people as it is about technology. I am fortunate to meet many fascinating people through my work but the ones I admire the most are the entrepreneurs who are leading the charge.

Here are a few of my favourite new business models - I'm always looking for more examples, so please share them with me. A good source is Start Up Squad.
Traditional (yet progressive) organisations are paying heed: 4IP, Channel4's new 50M fund is just one example. In my mind, all of these initiatives are worth watching, supporting and, ideally, participating in.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Social networking goes mobile

A logical next step in the evolution of social networks is mobility, i.e. using social networks while on the move , geo-locating friends old and new for spontaneous get togethers, allowing your location to be tracked in real-time for all or some to see, etc. While it is easy to see a host of related privacy and safety issues, if managed properly, what fun mobile social networking could be.

Typically, Asian markets (in particular Japan, Korea and China) are ahead in this regard with many mobile extensions of existing social networks as well as bespoke mobile networks already doing well. Early US market feedback indicates: ".. .there could be demand, particularly from teens and young adults. Already, 33.2% of 18- to 24-year-old Americans post photos to Web sites via mobile phones, according to mobile consultancy M:Metrics." Business Week, 2006

Given that mobiles are the constant companion of most young people today, it is easy to envisage a future of mobile social networking. The fact that Google now own Dodgeball is a sign of future directions. The links below are indicative of some of the mobile social networking activity currently taking place but not an endorsement of them (more in depth reviews to follow at a later date):

The real coup for these networks will be physical presence detection, and although this feature is on the horizon for most, consumer adoption will be key. With some real innovation on that front happening, particularly in Europe, hopefully, the critical mass of users required to make mobile social networking a success will soon be reached. If the technology (esp. GPS) delivers a seamless user experience and people find it useful, they will no doubt succeed.

Swarms and swarm marketing

Self-organising communities inspired by nature is how I describe Ken Thompson's Swarm Teams or Tribes as he now refers to them. Ken created a manifesto published on Change This which was the beginning of his new enterprise. He studied bees, geese, dolphins and derived that the collective leadership typically found in the animal world was something that we humans could beneficially apply in our own undertakings.

The resulting software platform underpinned by the collective leadership philosophy enables group messaging by email, IM or SMS via an easy to use web or mobile interface. He envisaged swarms to be primarily used in the workplace, but the software has many possible applications. Currently sponsored by Nesta, it is being used by unsigned bands to help them manage their fan base. This could be a great opportunity for the music industry to identify and promote up-and-coming talent and of course many possible brand and cause uses also exist.


I first learned about HP's Mscapers software while at Futurelab where it was used for the previously mentioned Savannah project, amongst other things. Fast-foward 3 years later, and I came into contact with it again.

This time, it was thanks to Katz Kiely of b.tween, who invited me to participate in an Exploding Narrative panel sponsored by HPLabs and the Arts Council of England to look at how the mediascape software could be pushed forward even further.

The software has been continuously improving and growing in popularity with a wide ranging fanbase of practioners, academics and artists keen to help HP with its evolution. Deciding that crowdsourcing was definitely the way forward, a public call for ideas was held using a 'live commissioning' model.

I, and indeed the whole audience at the ICA, gave feedback to the short listed 5, who then refined their pitches which were made at b.tween 08 in Manchester in June. Although all had their strengths, the winning entry was Ben Dalton's 'Our Music, Our City', which will enable people to access a local musical soundscape as they traverse their city, in this case, Leeds. Although piloted there, it most certainly has potential for roll-out throughout the UK and beyond.

Those familiar with mediascapes will know that they are an emerging media platform with the potential to enrich a physical journey or experience with myriad digital content.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

From low tech to high tech

After OneWorld, I went to work at Futurelab in Brisol, a thinktank and ideaslab, focusing on digital applications in education. It was a fascinating place to work where the projects were not only innovative but helped children learn. An underlying premise of Futurelab is that educational software needs to become more sophisticated to meet the needs of digital natives, i.e. young people growing up using computuers, playing console games, etc.

A few mobile prototypes in particular stood out for me. First, was Savannah where with the aid of a PDA students became a pride of lions working together to make sure the pride survived. Next, Mudlarking in Deptford enabled students to go on a guided tour of the riverbed where they could also leave their own commentary in the form of photos and text. Finally, Fizzees, a piece of wearable technology, encouraged students to stay active in order to keep their Fizzee healthy. What all of these projects shared was a high-level of engagement with students as active learners - if only we had such things when I was in school - what fun!

Futurelab is an exciting place with a great website that is always worth a visit. They also extensively publish research including their Handbook on Handheld Learning. All of these resources are free.


I forgot to mention, the inspiration behind Mobile4Good was Daniel Annerose of Manobi who I met in Senegal. At the time his pioneering company was providing market prices to farmers and fishermen. He was a wonderful person to meet. The BBC covered his story back in 2002. He is still shaping the market in Africa and beyond and has also launched a foundation. Someone well worth watching.


When I worked at Oneworld back in 2001-2004, I was fortunate to get funding from the Vodafone Group Foundation to start a digital equality project in Kenya. It was designed to provide content via mobile phones (in this case by SMS) to give people access information about health, jobs and community news (starting in Kibera) that could help improve their life chances.

The idea was to make it a social enterprise, rather than a donor funded project, so it would have a better chance at sustainability. At the time, people were skeptical about whether or not it would work and discouraged us from even trying. In particular, they did not think the informal labour market could be organised. I'm proud to say, that four years on, it is not only thriving, but the model is being used in other markets as part of a social franchise business model which Accenture has invested in.

To find out more visit:,,

Mobile for starters

To start, I'm going to focus on mobile as in my mind, it the most exciting aspect of digital communications and it is highly transformative on so many different levels , e.g. language, art, cutlure, access to information, education, social movements, business, etc.

I'm going to share some of my favourite initiatives and hope to cover a number of themes including youth culture, social activism, CSR, health, community activation and anything else that catches my fancy.

My first dabbling with the telco sector occurred way back in 2000 when I was at and we were building the website for our client One2One - now T-Mobile. For a number of reasons I would rather forget about that experience. Thank heavens more interesting ones have come along since then. Although learning the term ARPU has come in handy in all my subsequent dealings with telcos.