The Widgetized Self

I keep hearing that the future of the Web (“Web 3″ as some are calling it) is going to be like Second Life. We’ll all be hanging out in rich visual spaces decking ourselves out in fabulous fantasywear while making lots of money with remote colleagues. And who’s to say that’s not going to happen.

But that’s not what I think will happen. I think that we are going to move further and further away from going to websites toward using personal portals decked out with zillions of dazzling widgets that bring the web to us.

The extent to which we are increasingly spreading ourselves out over more and more online sites is just not sustainable in the long haul. It takes too much time. We have to remember too many logins (a problem that things like OpenID and ClaimID try to address). We have to recreate content in too many places (Virb goes some way toward handling this by allowing the import of flickr feeds, youtube videos and forthcoming rss importing). Social networking sites are proliferating at an absurd rate, as though there’s a limitless populace of people eager to build profiles for sport, or huge tribes of nomadic social groups perenially on the prowl for a new space to colonize (too bad for the sites in which they’ve lost interest). Fan groups are becoming increasingly distributed. There are still many fan communities at a URL on the internet with their own ways of doing things just like I wrote about in Tune In, Log On. But my sense is that more and more, clusters of fans are spreading themselves out through multiple sites. They meet again and again in fan sites, p2p trading sites, social networking sites, blogs, and many other online places. Your online community is the collective you bump into in multiple online locations (for instance: I am thrilled to find an old The Fine Arts Showcase video on YouTube, and then realize that it was uploaded by someone I know from Its A Trap, who is a friend on, and with whom I’ve emailed several times. That’s one example, you’ve probably got your own.)

What I need, and what I think everyone else needs too (even if they want to hang out in Second Life a lot) is my own portal that I can just set up with a collection of widgets that bring all the sites I care about to me. Start pages on steroids. In my dream portal I can read and write to all the sites I want without having to leave my page. I can leave comments on blog posts, post to an online discussion on a forum and do everything else I want to do — and make it available to others — from my own little spot. Widgets gone wild.

My vision of radical me-iffication through widgetization got a boost when I heard of this: Media Master is letting people upload their digital music libraries and display and stream it through widgets. People can publish streaming playlists or (I think) make their collection available for shuffling. It generates a spiffy and interactive widget displaying your record covers. If they then go to a social network approach to turning people on to new music based on what’s in their libraries and make that happen through widgets on your own site instead of profiles on a branded site, it would be a very interesting step. Whether this particular site will work out or not, I don’t know, but the concept is golden and I am betting it is one of many services to come that depends on users exporting their information from the branded space into their space of choice rather than spending time in yet another web site.

Update: Not widgets, but Tech Crunch draws attention to Loopster, a social network aggregator. TechCrunch writes:

Sites like Loopster are a sign of a mini revolution happening with the social web, where instead of managing and linking documents, we are managing and linking personal identities. Traditional search engines like Yahoo and Google are very poor at discovering and managing this information since social relationships aren’t always hyperlinked.

Scorpions Bite

The French fan site for the Scorpions, Crazyscorps, is shutting itself down for 8 days to protest what they see as the unfair wrath of the band and its management in the face of their distribution of an already-leaked image of the forthcoming record cover. Their statement (also available in French and German) reads in part:

Moreover, the main reason of CRAZYSCORPS’ existence has always been to give our love and support to the Scorpions so that they continue to exist in the hearts and lives of the fans even when no promotion is officially organized by the main interested parties to this end.This is why, a short time ago, we put on line the artwork of the new album Humanity – Hour 1 we had found on the Internet. Unfortunately, we made the error not to inform us whether we had legally the right to do it or not. We reacted like simple fans filled with enthusiasm by this first concrete detail of the new album awaited so much since nearly four years.

We were informed by the webmaster of the official website that the band itself had been informed of our mistake and that they are angry with what we did. It seems today that the band members and the management hold us responsible for having unveiled the new album artwork and really feel angry against CRAZYSCORPS.

We find this reaction completely disproportionate compared to the error we made. On the one hand because we ourselves had found this image on the Internet and on the other hand because the band should understand that we never did that to harm them but by excess of love and enthusiasm.

I love that these fans are saying “hey, we are providing a service (promotion) for them, and if they are going to get ticked off at us for that then we’ll strike.” It’s an empowering and empowered response (though how effective remains to be seen). On another level, though, there’s a strong sense of hurt — “we love you, we do this to connect with others and build on our love of you, and you go and get totally flipped out over THIS?” And that’s sad, both for the fans and for the band, who ought to be building connection with these people.

I ran into this story through, where a stream of anti-Scorpions rhetoric has been unleashed in the comments. My favorite: I guess they are going down the “We suck the corporate cock of Satan” Path.

What should the Scorpions have done? Sent them a few more secret preview things to share through the site to help build more excitement for a band who haven’t left the masses breathless in years.

Here is my funny anecdote: I was in the Albuquerque airport about 20 years ago and in came this kind of dumpy overweight nondescript guy with an anvil briefcase and a woman who was about 6 inches taller than he was, in stiletto heels, looking like a supermodel, and I thought to myself “that man is the tour manager of a successful rock band.” And then the Scorpions walked in. Sometimes social cognition really works well.

Fans as Import/Export Mavens

A topic I find increasingly fascinating (and which I am working into a proper research project about), is the role of fans in the export of Swedish music, particularly indie music. This is one manifestion of a much broader trend in which volunteer fans are serving a new (international economic) role in promoting entertainment media across international boundaries.

One example of this is the blog SwedesPlease, by Craig Bonnell whom I interviewed here. Another is Its A Trap, an all purpose news blog, mp3 blog, record store, record label, message board (to which I sometimes contribute record reviews and mp3 blurbs), you name it run by Avi Roig, who is up there in an elite class of music bloggers to whom artists and labels need to attend.

I keep meaning to interview him myself, but in the meantime, here is a nice interview with Avi (originally done for the Swedish press, here in unedited English form). It’s interesting background on Its A Trap and on his take on the increasingly chic Swedish scene (paging Peter Bjorn and John, of whom I can honestly swear to being an early adapter). Here’s a couple of bits about IAT in particular:

How long have you been running itsatrap?
Since September 2002. It’s been slowly getting more and more time consuming ever since.
You have to remember that it wasn’t always so easy to find information about Swedish music online – there was no myspace back in the day and a lot of bands didn’t even have websites, much less ones in English. I saw my mission as a challenge and still do to an extent. How is it that some American kid who barely can read Swedish (me) can track down all the latest music news much better than the local press? It defies all logic and I love it.

How many visitors do have?
It varies quite a bit, but I typically see something close to 3k per day at my most recent count. You must consider however, that it’s not always about how many people you reach as long as you reach the right ones. That’s something I feel I do very well.

I agree that defies all logic and is something to really love about the internet that someone like him can do what he does with the level of success I think he achieves.

It seems like there used to be some really clear boundaries: Bands had a presence that was controlled by their label, with which they generally played along, then they had a presence that was created by the professional music press and professional radio programmers (ok, there was college and sometimes community radio). And then there were the fans who bought it and dug it and did their own social things with and around it, but who generally didn’t have much ability to promote it outside of their own immediate social circle. And we didn’t have international instant easy free publishing media. But now we do. And one consequence (of many) is that fans are serving as cultural ambassadors and promoters, exporting music across national boundaries by writing about it, posting it, explaining the networks of relationships behind it, and doing it in English (many, if not most, Swedish indie bands sing in English). As I say, I’m on the cusp of plunging into a deeper analysis along these lines (with Robert Burnett), so any thoughts you have on this topic — general or specific, background, references — are most appreciated.

Nine Inch Nails Tell a Transmedia Story

Monsters and Critics has what seems to be a nice write up about Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails’ “Internet scavenger hunt,” or what folks like Christie Dena would call transmedia storytelling (she writes about the NIN thing here), in the promotion of their forthcoming record:

‘Year Zero’ came to life in early February when Web-savvy fans discovered that highlighted letters inside words on a NIN tour T-shirt spelled out “I am trying to believe.” Savvy fans added a “.com” to the five words and, voila, located a thought-provoking, eerie Web site. Other associated sites created by 42 Entertainment were soon discovered, including, and, where a dark future reigns supreme.

And if dayglo tshirts tied to mysterious (and well-done) websites weren’t enough, there were even drives planted in bathrooms:

According to one post, a male fan, allegedly by happenstance, found a USB drive in a bathroom stall during a NIN concert at the Coliseum in Lisbon, Portugal. This flash drive (yes, Reznor`s idea) contained an MP3 of album track “My Violent Heart.” Additional USB drives were purportedly found in Barcelona and Manchester, England; they included MP3s of album tracks “Me, I`m Not” and “In This Twilight,” respectively.

And the real beauty of this story is that the RIAA promptly demonstrated just how massively clueless they really are:

Excited fans then began swapping and sharing these music files online. Another Web posting alleged that all this activity resulted in entertainment blog Idolator and other sites receiving e-mail from the RIAA, demanding that they remove the MP3s from their sites.

An RIAA representative confirms this, a move that boggles the minds of many. “These . . . idiots are going after a campaign that the label signed off on,” the source says.

The article claims that only songs meant to be leaked through the campaign have actually leaked. There is more and more of this going on (Boston LiteBrites anyone) in television promotion, but I think this is the first time it’s been done to this extent in music. Please right me if I’m wrong on that.

Rolling Stone piece about this, with loads of thoughtful comments, is here.

Update: Billboard‘s original story about this (from which Monsters & Critics seems to have taken the quotes) is here.

NIN fans, if you’re paying attention, comments about this are welcome!

5 secrets to success

I guess you’re finally IN the blogosphere when you get tagged with a meme, and far be it from me to turn down my first. So Joe Taylor has tagged me on the “5 things you do everyday that make you successful” meme, which is rather flattering since it presumes that I’m successful and that I have secrets to that which I could share… wherein lie the difficulties!

I’ve been reading what some others say in response to this meme and it reaffirms my sense that I am so Not Highly Effective! I thought about presenting the idealized version (“I schedule my time to ensure that I get the tasks done on time”) but the truth is that one of the top things I do to be successful is:

1. I rag on myself for not getting more done, not being more organized, not being more efficient, procrastinating, etc: Guilt is not going to be the subject of self-help books (Making Your Guilt Work For You!), but if I’m going to be honest, the sense that time is running out, that I haven’t done anywhere near enough, that others are doing more, that people to whom I’ve committed are going to be annoyed and disappointed by me, and that piles are piling ever higher is often my most powerful daily motivator.

And then there are, it’s true, some healthier strategies as well.

2. I sleep a lot: I’ve seen curves of the average amount of sleep that people need, and I am at the outer edge of ‘need lots of it.’ I don’t push myself to keep going when I’m tired. When my eyes droop, I’m off to bed, and it’s guaranteed that after a good night’s sleep I can do in 10 minutes what would have taken me an hour when tired. I also firmly believe that during sleep the mind is working hard on all the things I’m thinking about and making more progress than my conscious mind might.

3. I follow my creative impulse whenever I can: I always have a to-do list with many tasks of different sizes and shapes. Everything from ‘schedule a meeting’ to ‘review a journal submission’ to ‘write that book I just signed a contract for.’ I have never been able to slot out times for different tasks, though I bet it works great and I wish I could. I sit down and work on the thing that catches my interest that minute unless I absolutely HAVE to get something done before a SERIOUSLY IMPERMEABLE deadline (like the students are going to riot if I don’t get the grading done). My philosophy is that work goes quickly and well when you’re ready, and slowly and inadequately when you’re not, and eventually it all gets done, so I try to work on the pieces that appeal to me that minute as much as I can, even if they don’t necessarily belong at the top of the to-do list. I guess I have a very intuitive approach to work in this regard, I don’t plan it all out ahead, I let it bubble up out of me and try to balance what’s bubbling with what Has To Be Done in ways that don’t kill the bubbling too much. So (almost) every day I spend time on work that I feel like doing, not just the work breathing down my neck. This keeps me in touch with my creative spirit, keeps the good ideas flowing, and keeps work fun.

4. I keep up as best I can — and this is a challenge. I spend a lot of time every day with email keeping in touch with and building professional networks, I skim my feeds several times a day. The longer I’m around, the more I realize that those things they say about ‘it’s who you know’ are true. I try to know good people and to keep up with them when they make their way into my path.

5. I step away from the machine. I don’t work out every day like many who’ve answered this, though I bet I’d be happier and healthier if I did. But I do make an effort to remind myself to stand up, walk around, go outside, put on some tunes and dance in the kitchen while cooking dinner, and, most of all, spend some time hanging out having fun with my super-cool kids and husband.

6. Since everyone’s doing more than 5, I’ll posit my last thing, which is one I’ve been using as a Daily Rule of Thumb since at least 7th grade: I try to be nice to everyone I encounter. I don’t always succeed, but I have certainly found that treating people kindly comes back in spades over time.

So now I’m mulling which bloggers might have secrets to success I might want in on, so I’m going to tag: Henry Jenkins (I totally want a piece of his kind of proclivity for brilliant productivity!), danah boyd (ditto, though I bet she’s too busy being successful to do memes!) Sam Ford, David Silver, and Intellagirl, who seems to be on quite a roll these days.