Political Wisdom

Last night I went to hear a panel of political bloggers at KU’s Dole Institute of Politics called “Blog to the Chief.” It was very interesting in lots of ways, not least the discovery that at least on the metalevel, conservative and liberal bloggers have pretty much the same take on blogging. For instance, I was very interested to hear Joan “McJoan” McCarter from Dailykos, Scott Johnson from Powerline, Erick Erickson from Red State, and Jerome Armstrong from MyDD all agree that the leftie blogosphere has a sense of community and social movement, while the right side of the blogosphere is mostly a bunch of individuals attacking the mainstream media. And it was fascinating to hear Patrick Hynes’s (of Ankle Biting Pundits and blog advisor to John McCain) explanation for it: People on the right think that they’re smarter than everyone else (“you mean we’re not?” quipped Erickson), and that means each person starts his own blog, and then after a while the inspiration dries up so no movement gets formed. And, not surprisingly, they all agreed that the lefties are more effective.

There were lots of ways in which many of the points these folks were making apply to fandom — my favorite was probably a point McJoan made at the very beginning that politicians need to understand that you don’t talk at a blog, you have to get in there and interact and show up in the comments. It’s a smart audience and they know when they’re being used instead of engaged. On the right, Erickson responded that the Republicans are only just now figuring out that they need to learn to work the blogs while Democrats got it several years ago. He said blogs are more likely to harm than hurt you, but you have to engage them.

The parallels are pretty obvious, I think, if you’ve got an online fanbase: they’re going to be more effective (and easier for you to work and work with) if they’re organized into communities instead of a whole lot of loosely connected individuals), and you’ve got to be in there interacting with them if you want them to really get behind you, even though you might not like what they have to say about you all the time. People want and expect real connection with the figures around whom they rally and if they believe you really care about, understand, and value dialogue with them, they’ll work for you.

They also had some interesting thoughts on Barack Obama’s social networking site which I’ll return to tomorrow. I promise not to turn into a political blogger, but remain intruiged by the similarities between rallying voters and rallying fans.

Wrapup of week’s online music developments

In case you don’t follow these things as closely as I, there were some interesting developments (or potential ones anyway) in online music delivery this week. First, Steve Jobs published an open letter urging record companies to drop DRM (yet he showed no interest in dropping DRM from any of the independent records sold through iTunes music store), and now EMI is considering selling their whole catalogue as non-DRM mp3s. EMI has often been one of the more forward-thinking majors on this issue, so if anyone’s going to lead, they’re good candidates.

Meanwhile on a different front, Last.fm and Warner Music Group reached a deal to allow the entire WMG catalogue to be streamed through Last.fm’s radio, which will dramatically increase the size of their streamable catalogue and ought to get more people listening to more WMG music. Good news so long as the indies don’t get too squeezed out of rotation as a result.

Last.fm also debuted their new upgrade this week, about which most users seem to be saying “and the point is…?” Major usability issues left untouched, radio moved to the center of the screen where no one seems to want it (as they made clear during the beta only to be, once again, ignored). But the exportable radio feature is massively cool, though I still can’t get it to embed in this page (I did get it to embed just fine in my KU site). Those of you yearning to listen to NancyRadio, can however find it here.

I hate to rag on Last.fm because overall they do a brilliant job and I am, frankly, totally addicted to the site and I so desperately want them to be flawless (fandom, anyone?). They did incorporate one of the pieces of feedback I insisted on in the beta (though the implimentation left something to be desired). Plus my explorations of the alternatives thus far have shown me that they all have problems and I still think that for most purposes, Last.fm is the best of the alternatives.

But as I have groused about on this blog before, Last.fm seems to make the same mistake over and over again, which some users have characterized as “adding bells and whistles” while not getting the core problems fixed. And it does trouble me no end that this is now the second beta period in a row where the #1 dominant response from the subscribers doing the beta testing was left unchanged in the upgrade. I think it leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of users who cared enough to give feedback, and I think the attention to things like radio placement, which was not broken, paired with seeming inattention to things that are broken also makes users question their priorities. I see in this the classic tension and power struggle between fans and producers, in which producers want input and feedback only if it supports what they already want to do, but to give the fans/users what they want outright is just giving up too much control. I know from running the Association of Internet Researchers that you can never get it right for everyone, for everything you do to please one group, another group will object (for instance, with our conferences, people wanted more diversity and more time to present their papers, but they also wanted fewer concurrent panels). But when feedback is totally consistent, I think you ought to give the people what they want, even if it’s not what you want them to want.

(p.s. I know some last.fm staff read this from time to time, please feel free to respond in comments!)

Meet the Smithereens

One of my favorite albums ever is also one of the first I ever heard, Meet the Beatles (I still have the mono vinyl my parents bought when it came out). Now New Jersey powerpop band, The Smithereens, has just released a track-for-track remake of the whole record in order entitled, not surprisingly, Meet the Smithereens (“the Jersey beat meets the Mersey beat” they say). And where did they get this wacky idea?

The idea of covering the Beatles at all, DiNizio says, came from a concert the Smithereens performed at an Abbey Road on the River festival in Louisville, Ky. After that, he recalls, “We started to get e-mail from fans, When are you gonna do a Beatles tribute album?’ We put the word out on the Internet to Smithereens fans and got a terrific response. Then I had the brainstorm to do [Meet the Beatles!] and it was full speed ahead from there.”

Very silly, and can they really better what the Beatles did (I want to hold your hand still makes me grin every time I hear it), but who cares? It’s great to see a band have fun and listen to their fans at the same time.

I saw them a LOOOOOOOONG time ago because the opening band was Paul Kelly and the Messengers. Paul Kelly was great. The Smithereens were boring. Maybe I’d have liked them better if they’d been doing Beatles covers!

The Power of Fan Cultures

This has been Boing Boinged, but in case you missed it, here’s notes on a panel from The National Association of Television Program Executives called  Engaging for Insight: Putting the Power of Fan Cultures to Work for You.

The panel included:

Moderator(s): Stacey Lynn Koerner, President, The Consumer Experience Practice, Interpublic Group of Companies
Panelist(s): Larry Lieberman, Chief Marketing Officer, Virgin Comics LLC
Lydia Loizides, Vice President, Media & Technology Analytics, The Consumer Experience Practice, Interpublic Group of Companies
Jim Turner, Vice President, Digital Media, A & E Television Networks
Ilya Vedrashko, Emerging Media Strategist, Hill Holliday

Good reading.

The power of fans according to Disney

Online TV fans often question whether anyone behind the screen is paying attention to them. Toward that end, this report on Disney Company CEO Robert Iger’s keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show has a couple of interesting tidibits. First, we know that sports pages are the killer apps for network websites, but it’s still pretty amazing to hear Iger’s stats:

He said, sports fans spend an average of two hours each day on ESPN’s website, researching their teams. Disney owns ESPN. Shows offered on the company’s website have been played or download 120 million times over the past year and Disney was the first to offer its movie catalogue to viewers over Apple’s iTunes music service.

Appearing with him was Evangeline Lilly from Lost since, as he put it, “there is no show that demonstrates the importance of the Internet, than Lost”

“ABC created this worldwide phenomena called Lost,” he said. “It has become the most successful multi-platform show ever. ABC.com has been overrun with fans coming to watch podcasts, discuss the show or view full length episodes.”

I especially liked Lilly’s comment about why “it’s particularly challenging to work on a show that has such a loyal online following”:

“The fans have a lot more control over the show than we do as actors,” she told the attendees at the conference. “We are really at the mercy of the fans. Producers go online to look at what is being said and they react to that.”

Of course, what’s often left out of these discussions is that fans never seem to speak with a single voice (Agnes Nixon, one of the best and most revered soap opera writers of all time, once noted that they know they’ve got it right when fan letters were evenly split between loving and hating what they were doing). Still, it’s unusual to see it recognized that to a great extent celebrities serve at the pleasure of the fans, and that the internet only enhances this power dynamic.