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Moving image as a business tool and a corporate value

I was lucky enough to work with the University of Sussex recently and helped organise a discussion about television values and ideology.

The topic might sound a little highbrow but it addresses some of the fundamental issues around the use and abuse of a powerful medium – whether you’re:

  • bloggers looking to introduce a little video into your mix
  • commercial television companies seeking the next X Factor
  • charities trying to tap into public consciousness
  • commercial organisations looking to oil the wheels of doing business
  • or audiences looking to be entertained, or informed (or a bit of both).

It got me thinking…

Say the word “television” and I initially think of the traditional box in the living room but this is way too old school. The ‘vision’ bit is fairly self explanatory. ‘Tele’ comes from the Greek for ‘far’ or ‘distant’. I had to look that last bit up, but I’m glad I did.

Looked at this way, television is a more apt catch all term than video or audio-visual when it comes to describing the many ways moving images are now delivered into our personal living rooms: that bit of tech space we surround ourselves with as we navigate the world.

If I watch a YouTube video on my smartphone to keep boredom at bay on a train journey, or dip into a Ted Talk on my computer, instead of getting on with some real work, it is, to all intents and purposes, tele-vision. It just so happens that traditional television, delivered and consumed in a linear fashion, accounts for the bulk of it. But the lessons learned can be applied much more widely.

The presentations that formed part of the University of Sussex event covered a huge range of material from how the traveller community has been framed by a Big Fat prefix that modulates our perceptions of their culture and values – some fantastic work done by the event’s organiser Roberta Piazza, Senior Lecturer in English Language – through to Clive Jones, Chairman, Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), and his thought provoking insights on how a disaster appeal must also have televisual appeal if it is to tap into mass market heart strings and purse strings.

You can download a full list of speakers and topics at the end of this blog.

Images as part of the giving process

Mother nature doing her worst under the baleful gaze of the camera can focus attention in a way that aid workers working discreetly in politically fraught environments cannot.

Identify an aid worker by showing them on television one day and one faction or another might take a shot at them the next. Nonetheless, the giving public evaluate available images as part of the giving process. It is a transaction. I receive an image that triggers a response that provokes me to give. Quid pro quo.

Of course, not all of us are looking at this from academic or charitable perspectives. But any organisation considering moving images needs to think about both value and ideology.

Value first. Why use images and is there additional value in images that move?

There is significant research that indicates that images can have a powerful impact. They can aid charitable giving and foster trust in commerce. The images need to make sense.  Whether you’re selling a cause or a product they need need to work and not just take up space (attention and real estate) – show after as well as before, particularly in the case of charitable campaigns.

Givers need to know how money will be spent and be shown images that support this. In the commercial world, potential purchasers respond positively to images of past customers in receipt of their purchases.

But what about images that move? The value of movement has long been recognised. Laws of public decency used to pivot around this point, making nudity legal when static but more desirable when in motion.

But what got me excited was some research I came across under the title ‘At the Heart of It All: The Concept of Presence’ (Lombard and Ditton, 2006), which indicates that virtual reality simulators, video conferencing, home theatre and HD TV provide users with an illusion that: ‘a mediated experience is not mediated’.

In effect, the more like reality it is the more we take it at face value and believe what we see. Moving images are more lifelike. The more like life then the greater these images may play in helping us store information, retreive it and and make decisions based upon it. Moving images also create a degree of harmonised experience shared by watchers. Powerful things all.

Now to ideology. That’s a tricky area.

In a commercial sense this has to be the system of ideas and principles that underpin use. In terms of an organisation looking to use moving images this would seem to cover not just having an ephemeral vision but practical strategy governing that use and budget and goals that can be as ambitious as you like, but have to be evaluated against actual performance (who came, who saw, who bought/gave). Moving images are sexy but that’s not a good enough reason for using them.

If I have an issue with regular TV it’s that as the images have become more real the values and ideology that underpin them become less so. So-called reality TV shows are now no more that poorly rehearsed dramas.

If there’s a fly on the wall it’s only because the documentary-style footage on often smells distinctly fishy.

Finally, to this paradigm I add the concept of self. If as an organisation you plan to use moving image you are also up against not only your competitors and peers but the global audience of individuals who both record moving images and upload them through social media. Welcome to the world of ME-TV. And the subject of my next blog.

Archive

Values and ideology in TV discourse: A one-day interdisciplinary colloquium on recent research, University of Sussex – School of English, Friday, November 22nd 2013. Speakers and topics: Values and ideology in TV discourse

Governance – where to draw the line?

Back in the days of the wild, wild, west, gun fighters and bank robbers ran amok. Gentle folk were afraid for the lives and street brawls were commonplace. Okay, it was exciting, but reputable companies – I mean folks – stayed in the big cities and left the frontier towns to the lawless.

Aw shucks, it’s another metaphor.

The good thing about all those gunslingers and rot gut whiskey drinkers was they opened up opportunities. It was their all round recklessness that pushed the boundaries. But before these new opportunities could be truly capitalised on, somebody had to impose order.

Enter the sheriff…

The sheriff slung the drunks in jail and ran the gunslingers out of town. Sheriffs were also pretty handy with guns themselves. Not a few gunslingers were hired by towns to police their streets and gun down the ‘bad guys’. In fact, apart from the presence of the sheriff’s 5-pointed star, very little differentiated the law man from the lawless.

So, when you’re policing the streets, where do you draw the line? Okay, we’re ditching the metaphor now.

In terms of rolling out the concept of digital governance to wider audiences, I’ve chosen legislation and regulation as my entry point*. This is because, in lawful societies, the risk of legal penalty is a sufficient deterrent (particularly if you’re a big company with a lot to lose). It’s also something that attracts the attention of the board room, which, sorry, content per se does not

*I started to group together some of the more pertanent rules and regs in my previous post

But when you seriously consider what could impact on the correct governance and risk mitigation of digital content, you begin widening your scope – quite considerably.

For example, culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, plans to publish a Green Paper setting out the scope of a new communications act by the end of this year. If you think this is just about hacking and tabloids, think again – and read the below…

Hunt gave a few clues as to areas on which he may focus, but appeared to indicate that one may be regulation of programming content on the internet.

Under the current EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive, “TV like” services, such as the BBC iPlayer, are subject to regulation. However, the level of regulation is less than that imposed upon traditional TV channels.

“Whether we are watching a broadcast live or through catchup TV services, via a TV or a computer, it is the content that matters, rather than the delivery mechanism,” said Hunt. “So should it be the case that the method of delivery has a significant impact on the method of regulation? Or should we be looking at a more platform-neutral approach?”

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/jan/19/jeremy-hunt-communications-act

There’s data protection and eprivacy and the implications of the European Data Protection Framework (EDPF) Review (don’t ask me, I’m new here) and the Digital Economies Act; some might say the latter was rushed legislation aimed at pirate downloaders and which now seems to be languishing somewhere in Brussels. PRS for Music, which brings together the two royalty collection societies MCPS and PRS, is also looking at the whole area internet piracy and controlling copyright online.

Plus:

  • The EUs general concerns and overall remit around data protection and how personal data is used.
  • The ongoing digital implications for copyright and its infringement including ideas floated by the Hargreaves Review.
  • The impact of changes to internet protocols.

Then there’s the whole area of cyber security , the Government’s plans for a cyber security strategy, the implications of the Home Affairs Committee inquiry following last year’s riots, a warning from head of GCHQ’s about a ‘disturbing’ level of cyber attacks, as well as high-profile security breaches involving big names such as PlayStation and Google.

It’s not that organisations and governments are not increasingly on their toes when it comes to critical issues such as hacking and data protection. As early as its 2008-2009 report, the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee raised concerns about the potential threat posed by cuber crime, not only to the UK government,  but also ‘critical national infrastructure and commercial companies’.

We therefore welcome the fact that this threat has been recognised and that cyber security is now listed as a Tier One national security risk. The new funding that has been made available, as part of the SDSR (Strategic Defence and Security Review), to fund cyber security work is a significant step forward.

Source: 2010–2011 Annual Report, Intelligence and Security Committee

All fine and dandy. But its the next bit of their latest report which attracts my interest…

Whilst the priority and funding are to be welcomed, structural issues continue to cause us concern. We have noted 18 units with particular responsibilities in this field across the three Agencies, two law enforcement bodies and five government departments. Between them they cover policy, management, intelligence operations, protective advice, detection and analysis, with some focused on crime, some on hostile activity from overseas, some on Counter-Terrorism and others covering all three. This risks duplication and confusion and cannot be cost-effective. We therefore recommend that work be done to rationalise the existing structures.

Source: 2010–2011 Annual Report, Intelligence and Security Committee

Some 18 different agencies all getting their head around cyber security. Cooks? Broth? Anybody?

I think there is a real danger that as the digital wild west becomes the tamed west that we could end up in a situation where the streets are populated by too many sherif’s, firing off their six guns for offences no more horrendous than jaywalking. I’ve read the phrase ‘governing the internet’ more than once and frankly it worries me. Didn’t Canute try something similar?

But it’s not all bad news…

After the gun  and the guns for hire, and the early day sheriffs who relied on their quick draw, there came judiciary and laws than formalised the processes for identifying bad from good and exacting appropriate penalties. That’s where I think we now need to go with digital governance.

Those of us involved in content, its creation and implementation are ideally placed to step into and exert our  influence in this area. I used the word ‘influence’ rather than, say, ‘control’, after careful thought. Think traffic police rather than Big Brother. It’s all about enabling the flow of communication while mitigating the risk of pile ups.

We already act as the linchpin for a whole range of disciplines. The image below was created by Richard Ingram and is one of many of his stunning visualisations that go towards explaining our turnkey positioning.

• We already have, and continuing to improve, a range of tools and methodologies that allow us to guide clients in project choice, rationale, implications and implementation.

• This is alongside the deploying of the actual content itself across an increasing array of channels and delivery mechanisms.

• To this array of tools and services we ‘simply’ need to  add governance tools and methodologies, such as a suitable content risk matrix that will allow us to identify the more important issues that clients need to address – and mitigate.

I’m going to show you what that content risk matrix might look like in my next blog.

 

10 really good reasons (no, honestly) for postponing what you could do today about your website content

Walk around client offices and marketing seem to have a spring in their step. Even the guys in IT are whistling ’1000 Points of Hate’ by Anthrax (this is a good sign). But… Well, there’s always a but, isn’t there?

Just sometimes I hear those sit on your hands excuses in some quarters. They may get trotted out just before you press the big fat ‘Go’ button, after all the discovery, auditing, interviewing, planning, workshopping etc has gone on. And, of course, they’re always really, really, really good excuses reasons for not doing something. They’re so good, in fact, that I thought I’d list them here.

1. ‘We can’t start the web project until we’ve…”

This is an excellent reason for not doing something. It’s worth making a real effiort to find another piece of work that requires time / budget and which can be positioned in the way of the proposed web project. Particularly if that proposed web project might take your organisation outside of its comfort zone.

2. “All this background and planning work is fantastic. But we need to spend some time considering the next step.”

Okay, if used in moderation this is fine, valuable even. But, to quote Dionne Warwick: “Weeks turn into years – how quick they pass.” Of course, it makes perfect sense to see any web project as a single, HUGE project that can’t be broken down into sections. It’s a much better idea to think about things really slowly and lose all the forward momentum. With a bit of luck all the prep work will be out of date and useless.

3. “We’re currently advertising for a Head of Interactive Experiential Human Interfacing and all projects are on hold until we appoint and they have a chance to review everything.”

Maybe it’s just me but didn’t you know you were planning to get a new Head of IEH before we started working on this project?

4. “We want to carry out your recommendations but we haven’t got sufficient resources.”

Maybe it’s just me but didn’t you know there were resource issues before we started working on this project?

5. “Thank you so much for all the time and effort workshopping taxonomy, Information Architecture and topic headings but we don’t want to change the current site navigation.”

Yup. That makes perfect sense.

6.  “Rather than make some changes now we’ve decided to wait until we can afford a totally new website in a year or so.”

We totally agree. Your site users will be quite willing to wait and it shouldn’t impact on sales or your brand one jot.

7. “You seem to be suggesting that there should be collective responsibility for content creation and maintenance and we can’t just leave the job to… Our people just don’t have the skills or the time.”

Of course you can give people skills, processes and methodologies that help create the time (efficiencies) and also impart a collective shared enthusiasm for the power and benefits of web-based communication. But heck, I’m just messing with your head.

8. “The chairman’s wife does a little creative writing and we’ve asked her to look at the website.”

Okay, I only heard this one used once and that was several year’s back. But it’s still a corker.

9. “We haven’t got the money to do everything we want so we’re not going to do anything”.

Do you want me to pop the toys back in your pram now?

10. “This is David. He’s working as an intern with us over the next six weeks and will handle most of the implementation.”

Hi David. How many pairs of hands have you got?

How online audiences are treated – and why?

I was talking to CDA co-founder Clare O’Brienabout her her presentation to the Content Strategy Forum in Paris and how online audiences are treated (and the role of metrics in framing that relationship). That got me thinking (slowly) and the below is the result.

Most people accept that online is not a broadcast media and while we are confronted with harnessingf the power of the many we’re actually having mutiple one-to-one conversations in the deeply personal space that exists between the user and their screen. But at the same time we measure in a very broadcast way. It;’s so easy to become obsessed by search volume and clicks.You here audiences talked about as if they were individuals, but then measured as collectives.

Yet some organisations still don’t appreciate what this means in terms of what they say and why they say it. They can be glib and almost naive in terms of the messages they put out, assuming that tricks and finesses will engage users as if they were magpies drawn to sparkly objects.

And just in the same way that a magpie may be attracted as much by a cheap shiny bead as by a precious ruby, so many organisations have come to assume that cheap content will do.

Oh, I know that certain types of content have a value that’s higher than plastic beads, but this value was often originally ascribed in a traditional space – for example, television advertising, or the exquisite glossy brochures much beloved of the high end car market.

But content that developed in the online world came into being, originally, as an afterthought:

“Hey, Joanne, the new website’s up but there seems to be a problem.”

“What’s that Stan?”

“Well, there seems to be all these white spaces. Looks great though…”

“Where are these white spaces?”

“Kinda in the centre of the screen. And on every web page!”

“We didn’t have white spaces like this in the last brochure that went off to the printers.”

“No.”

“Well, can’t we do the same thing on the website?”

“Hang on – I’ll check with IT…”

So words flowed on to web pages, in around the lovingly built online spaces. Often the brochure copy was sliced and diced to fit – hey, it had already been paid for, so it was a cheap fix.

online audiences cartoon

Now that’s all fine and dandy, but online isn’t offline. It’s that one-to-one conversation. Plus, people are online to do something. They require useful content that centres on their needs and actions.

Organisations have picked this up but the cheap thing still seems to linger. And words can be bought by the yard to fill websites by the page.  The fact that content doesn’t have to be words and can be a rich and varied mixture of words,  imagery and interactivity, is still being grappled with in the budget configurations that may operate like glorified jam jars (only one of which is labelled ‘website’). Apart from anything else, once you get into all that other stuff – forms, videos etc – the price starts to go up. Plus you need a cohesive content strategy  that oversees communications across on and offline positions and is coupled to processes designed to evolve communication creative that can be atomised, repurposed and applied across multiple platforms…

Of course, strategy and process can help organisations save on costs. But they would have to think about things very differently. It would also redistributed budget load, placing earlier and deeper emphasis on planning and thinking rather the the cost of the final content output. Yes, there are exceptions to this. but not enough to make a rule in my book.

And while audiences are still being measured as collectives, organisations are unlikely to be too uncomfortable with this words-by-the-yard approach.

The dissatisfaction an individual user may experience is obscured by mass metrics in a medium when we can measure everything and know so very little. The metrics, on the other hand, make for great bar charts and PowerPoint presentations. How you analyse these mass metrics but also hear all these lone voices takes up a great deal of CDA’s thinking time and is the driving force behind CUT – the Content Usefulness Toolkit, which we’re currently developing.

So, I thought, will organisations ever value online content as they ought while they’re still grappling to value individual consumers as they deserve to be valued online? How can content be king when we treat web users as the great unwashed? Valuing content is all about valuing individuals and their experiences. Now, that would be more precious than rubies and just as attractive to magpies.

All kinds of useful stuff

» You can access Clare’s Paris presentation here

» Here’s a little more about CUT

Information entropy – ah, hmmm, huh?

A friend of mine recently reviewed a book chapter for me, in which I examined what lies behind the concept of information overload. She asked why I’d chosen not to touch on information entropy. My answer was simple and somewhere along the lines of: “Duh?”

In the physics lab “entropy” is used to described certain states in thermodynamics. I’m no physicist, so bear with me on this one; the lab rats have been doing their best to explain things to me. So, in lay terms, entropy is used to describe

  1. Energy that is no longer available (an example of this would be a car where the brakes have been applied and where energy has been lost in road friction / heat).
  2. The amount of disorder or randomness in a system. Gas, as it whooshes about, being more random / disordered than a solid. (Or a group of adults who get up from the dinner table on New Year’s Eve and start dancing to Jeff Beck and Hi Ho Silver Lining being more random than the same group when sitting and eating.)

Okay, that’s the end of Thermodynamics 101.

But there’s also Information Entropy. This is very different but you need to know about the physics one  (entropy as the second law of thermodynamics) so you can ignore it completely (for the time being).

Anyway, you can trace Information Entropy back to the 1940s and Claude.E.Shannon (1916-2001), known as the father of modern digital communications and information theory and his paper, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” (1948, Bell System Technical Journal), which looked at the engineering challenges involved in getting a message from one point to another.

The information content of a message, he theorized, could be reduced to the number of ’1′s and ’0′s it took to transmit it. This idea was gradually adopted by communications engineers and stimulated the technology which led to the binary language that underpins the digital information age. Shannon also coined the term “bit” for a binary digit.

Shannon Entropy, sits within Information Theory, the mathematical discipline that looks at how information is stored, transmitted and reproduced. It measures it, accounting for the possible variables eg a flipping a coin (2 sides) will have less entropy than rolling a dice (6 sides). While Shannon Entropy is strictly applied to the the minimum amount of binary code required to transmit a message from A to B it is also being deployed by non-mathematicians as a way of showing how much information is unequivocally captured within a message (its meaning to the recipient). Shannon himself didn’t get sidetracked by the semantic value (language comprehension and connotation) in the message, just the engineering challenge of transmitting it from A to B intact. In fact, the application of entropy to wider semantic issues of meaning hacked Shannon off quite a bit, apparently.

Time for a joke I think…

Back in the days before email. Way, way, back. People used to send messages via telegram. Such communications were expensive and often charged by the word, so people became very economic with their phraseology. This was particularly evident among professionals who used telegrams regularly – ie journalists.

Back in the 1960s a journalist sent a telegram to the home of veteran Hollywood star Cary Grant. It was a simple question, in theory, designed to establish the actor’s exact age. The telegram read: “How old Cary Grant.” The reply that came back was: “Old Cary Grant fine. How you?”  The joke, I believe, establishes the potential difference between the minimum character / bit count for information delivery and minimum required for accurate message comprehension / connotation. It would have been worth paying for the “is”.

You can also argue, well, I do, that the journalist was also applying data compression – the minimum number of words / bits required to convey the information. They fact that the journo failed shouldn’t prevent us acknowledging that they tried. You can also argue, well, I do, that the problem wasn’t the data compression but in its decompression by Cary Grant and what was probably a very knowing attempt to sidestep the sensitive subject of age.

Data compression is useful because it reduces space in information transmission and storage. But, at a language and messaging comprehension and connotation level, we ‘re also trying to apply reduction (compression) techniques so that we can dispense meaning the the minimum space / time possible. On one level this may be a practical desire to reduce issues around “information overload” but that doesn’t explain the phenomenal success of Twitter where the 140 character limit is almost winsome. Data compression at a semantic level is becoming more important if we believe that one key to resolving information overload is to reduce the amount of information people have to deal with. I have an alternative view about this which relates to how we feel about information and this was the subject of a recent survey on this blog. But I’ll save that for another day.

Okay – back into the physics lab

You remember I told you to forget all about the second law of thermodynamics for a bit? Now’s the time to start thinking about it again. What happened with Information Entropy was actually a bit of a hijack. The mathematicians kinda stole the word entropy and messed with it’s meaning a bit, on the basis that most of the population wouldn’t notice or understand. But there are aspects of thermodynamic entropy that are interestingly applicable for information and how it becomes more random / disordered as changes take place. In thermodynamics the classic example involves the ordered structure of sugar crystals compared with the disordered / random nature of sugar dissolved in water.

If you think about information and how it changes, it’s remarkably like the sugar dissolved in water. Over time, different bits of information get de-structured and mixed with other bits. It can become impossible to disentangle this information and restore it to the order of its original components. Looked at one way, this could result in knowledge. High quality information brought together, some bits lost / discarded along the way, but resulting in something different but useful. (It’s also entirely possible that there is a negative outcome possible where poor information is brought together resulting in dissatisfaction and misinformation.)

This makes for a slightly more refined version of the basic knowledge pyramid, which CDA used as the starting point for its Hierarchy of Mutuality and which is loosely modelled on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs*.

* Maslow argued that human beings required basic needs to be met in a hierarchy before they were free to realise themselves creatively and intellectually.

Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs

Knowledge Pyramid

» CDA’s Heirarchy of Mutuality

The question is, where are we going with all this? CDA is currently actively engage in development measurement systems for online engagement. We believe that these have to be a mixture of qualitative and quantitative data to be truly meaningful and that there comes a point where you have to park interpretation of the metrics; dwell times, page views, bounce rates and simply ask “How was it for you?”

Contribute to the debate

I’m currently working on a second part to the article above which will also cover The Triangle of Truth (thanks Clodagh). I’d been interested in any feedback on the argument so far.

» Email me at the lab cdacontentlab@webwordsworking.co.uk