The “Cardboard arcade kid”, vs “Push button to add drama” – value in viral video?

Two weeks ago I posted a quick blog post about a video featuring 9-year-old Caine Monroy, who built a cardboard arcade over a summer vacation, and waited for his first customer to turn up.

Well, after two weeks, the result of his first customer happening to make a video about him, and then organising a flashmob via Reddit and Facebook is in.

Almost $200,000 dollars has been raised from what began as a child creating something cool with some old cardboard boxes, and it has a following that many brands would kill for. So what lessons could you take from something like this in terms of viral video?

  • Doing something interesting is key – if Caine hadn’t built his cardboard arcade for the fun of it, and then won over his only customer, filmmaker Nirvan Mullick, then none of this would have happened.
  • Relationships count – to make the flashmob happen, Mullick had help from the Reddit community, and also from friends and contacts who were able to post the event on popular LA recommendation sites and Facebook pages.
  • Spread it far – obviously we all put our videos on Youtube, but in this case, Vimeo actually received more views. Do you only focus on the first-placed site of it’s kind?
  • Give people inspiration – part of the effect has been kids around the world building there own cardboard arcades, which are constantly being featured on the Caine’s Arcade Facebook page etc.
  • Give people quick and easy ways to contribute – the scholarship fund suggests contributing ‘$1 or more’ to help Caine and other children prepare for college. Or you can buy a T-shirt or the film’s theme song via iTunes.

So basically:

  • Interesting.
  • Inspiring.
  • Relationships.
  • Shared.
  • Easy participation.

But what’s also missed in a lot of digital activity and promotion is that there was no guarantee that this particular video would take off. Besides Mullick’s time and energy in capturing and editing the footage and his promotional efforts since then, the reception it has received has been down to the people seeing it and responding, which led to media interest putting it in front of more people.

And yet still brands focus on big stunts and extravagant campaign approaches to video and asking people to do things. A lot of people have also been sharing this video for a new television channel launch:

OK, it’s a cool idea, and it does involve some participation in terms of kicking off the action by pressing the big red button, but then what? The audience watches everything unfold, and then possibly pays attention to the launch of a new TV channel in Belgium. Or not. It doesn’t lead onto anyone doing anything except watching some TV shows.

  • 29 Million Youtube views
  • 733 Likes on Facebook
  • 80 Followers on Twitter.

A couple of parody videos have been created, including a nice Lego version, but that’s about your lot. To put it another way, the big TV advertisement may have driven awareness of the television channel launch and resulted in higher audience figures initially, but most of you reading this would have comparable reach online, because messaging you is likely to give some interaction.

The question is what effect you want to achieve…

The ‘second screen’ is an integral part of life…

I happened to watch the excellent Concrete Circus on Monday whilst staying with my parents (It’s available via 4OD at the moment). It’s a great programme about five amazingly talented urban sports stars attempting to make their latest and greatest videos, and heavily references the audience they’ve attracted by sharing their athletecism on Youtube.

I’ve always been a fan of urban sports (skateboarding, urban trials, parkour and BMW in this example), and for once the description of ‘jaw dropping action’ is pretty true. But I was also a little surprised when I suddenly realised the difference apparent across the living room.

My dad was sat engrossed in the action in his chair, occasionally chatting to me about what was on screen. At the same time, I’m sat with my laptop, sharing some thoughts on Twitter and also picking up on each mention of the Youtube clips which made each athlete famous, and saving each one to watch later. It wasn’t that I was using my laptop whilst watching TV – it was the fact that it was so natural that I didn’t even acknowledge it was out of the ordinary until my parents mentioned it after around 30 minutes or so.

Incidentally, having already seen videos of Danny McAskill and Kilian Martin, it was the parkour that amazed me the most, e.g.:

What I started wondering was whether it’s right to call the PC or iPad the ‘second screen’ as TV broadcasters and most media firms would have us believe. Or is it actually that the TV now occupies a similar spot in many ways to radio, in which we’ll have it on, but only pay attention when something grabs us. If I looked at my Twitter usage on a Sunday, I would guess that it builds for about 30 minutes before each MotoGP race, stops for 50 minutes while the race is happening, and then kicks off after the finish, as I mix the pre and post-race interviews and commentary with my thoughts and reactions, and those of my friends and peers.

And mobile is bringing this out with us, whether it’s the likes of QR Codes and Augmented Reality, or even something as simple as Google search. At the National Space Museum recently, I came across some information about astronomer Tyhco Brahe, and found the name familiar for some reason. Within seconds I’d realised it was from online comic Penny Arcade, and confirmed it via Wikipedia. And again,  whilst watching Exit Through The Gift Shop, I ended up researching elements of the programme for friends whilst watching it.

What’s interesting is that in all of these occasions, the computer/mobile usage was part prompted through my own desire for knowledge, and mainly prompted by the social aspects of being able to answer questions/provide context and sharing the knowledge I had access to. Plus there was a strong element of fact checking with a little error correction as well!

Given the value humans put of social activity as a species, it’s not only the interactive screen which should probably be denoted as the ‘first screen’, but it’s becoming vital that whatever you’re doing to get the attention of people, whether via broadcast media, or in a museum, you need to be aware of how to accomodate the ‘first screen’, or be able to successfully compete with it (a riskier strategy unless you can jump over buildings etc).

Twitter traffic overtakes mainstream news

Twitter website traffic has overtaken both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal for April 2009, as picked up by PaidContent and expanded on by ReadWriteWeb.

Which is a handy stat, but….

Are we really comparing like for like, or is this as misleading as comparing print and online figures?

For starters, we’re looking at website traffic, and although publication has numerous ways to be accessed online, I’d risk assuming that Twitter’s proportion of mobile and desktop client access is greater than that of the newspaper sites – which probably means the numbers went past the paper sites long ago.

And where’s the measures of interaction for comparison? While not every Twitter user is interacting, and newspaper sites are building in increasing routes to conversations and communities, surely it’s the engagement, interaction and effectiveness of Twitter versus other sites which is of as much importance? Even when it’s breaking news, e.g. Mumbai, the ability to converse with both the source and others is built into Twitter to a far greater extent than the paper sites.

Finally for a comparison – what amount of data is being generated by the different sites?

That’s surely of major importance considering the changes happening in general searching:

First hands on test with Wolfram Alpha

Google search tools moving closer to ‘real-time’

And considering the current wave of new and improved Twitter search tools:




Oh, and major changes to Twitter Search itself.

Whether or not the current buzz and celebrity/mainstream adoption continues, or whether a backlash increases along with the pretty high drop-out rate from people trying Twitter for the first time, it’s the levels of data and engagement which are key to the longterm success, and routes to monetization for Twitter, rather than sheer mass audience numbers. Particularly when the types of both advertiser and advertising which are going to be most effective will also be quite different from traditional publishing outlets.

Isreali Consulate using Twitter for Press Conference on Gaza

Just spotted that the Israeli Consulate is using Twitter for a press conference on Gaza attacks.

Spotted via Doc Searls.

More information, here.

Really interesting example of how politics and world events are intertwining with what some people still see as a niche networking platform – but one which in my opinion radically changes the dissemination and interaction with information.

I wonder how international diplomacy may change with UK, U.S and Canadian politicians already in evidence. For instance, UK ministers on Tweetminister, US Congresspeople on TweetCongress, and the same opportunities and tools for collaboration and interaction which individuals and businesses are already able to benefit from?

Update: @rafaelprince has a log of the conference here.

Update 2: It’s also inspired a great post by Laura Fitton on ‘Microsharing as Humanitarian Act‘ – well worth reading.

Breaking the habit of broadcast media

UK newspapers by franckdethier on Flickr (CC Licence)

UK newspapers by franckdethier on Flickr (CC Licence)

It’s only when you try and break a long held habit that you realise how much we’re all influenced by the way we’ve always done things. Since starting my efforts to cut down and stop smoking, I’ve managed to get to the point where I only have the occasional cigarette once the family has gone to bed – but it’s the hardest one to drop. And when I get writers block, my intake rapdily goes up because I’ve spent so long finding inspiration by getting outside and getting the hit of nicotine while my brain kicks into gear.

And I’ve also started to try and challenge the broadcast media habit of trying to get the biggest audience with the least work. For years we’ve focused on audience figures to suggest that by doing the bare minimum, you’ll reach the biggest audience.

Whereas in the modern world, we need to work harder than ever at making as much of what we do remarkable, and to pursue as many opportunities to the maximum as we can. Otherwise we’ll keep finding someone else that does!

It reminds me of a post I read earlier today, which sadly I seem to have misplaced, commenting on the problem facing the A-List of blogging. Namely, the fact that people like Robert Scoble, Chris Brogan and Gary Vaynerchuk are finding it hard to scale to respond on an individual level to every email, post and tweet they receive, and in effect, become mini-broadcasters.

The simple answer is that they still remain increasingly popular because they put in a huge amount of effort to stay more accessible than mainstream media. They don’t have to make time for everyone, but by attempting it as far as possible, it gives hope to those who don’t grab their attention at a particular time. It’s why I count myself fortunate to have had messages from the likes of Chris Anderson and Hugh McLeod, but I don’t bombard them with emails, or suddenly thinkg they’re my best friend and will respond to everything I do – they’ll do it if what I say is interesting and they have the time available.

The other option is to scale it, and for them to find someone as similar as possible, or someone they can trust, to work alongside them.

That’s where broadcast media should be. We still have far more resources than the top bloggers, so why not scale back on the coverage that everyone else is parroting, use link journalism, and focus on becoming closer to the spirit of individual response that blogging has fostered.

After all, it’s what we laud Zappos, Dell and Comcast for doing.

But there is a habit of resisting the idea of putting in that much effort for what will be less profit in total. Despite the fact that everything so far has shown that it’s harder to get similar levels of profit from online audiences as you would in print, radio or TV, and that the only way to really be successful is to aggregate lots and lots of individuals monetisation.

Annoyingly, the great David Armano summed this up far more succinctly.

The Corporate Social Media Curve by David Armano (

The Corporate Social Media Curve by David Armano (

At the point before the curve starts to dip, we need to put in the extra effort to keep that line climbing. Now if only I hadn’t needed a cigarette to think of all this!

LinkedIn got Twitterized!

Hello, Mr Plod!

Today I received an uninvited email from LinkedIn, and unlike most uninvited emails, it was actually useful. I generally regard LinkedIn as a internet-based protection racket – you get nothing for your money except avoiding a threat that wouldn’t be there without them. But today they may have turned themselves into the neighborhood “bobby” – alert and passing on information that keeps us ahead of the game.

LinkedIn got off its . . .

I have done some digging and it seems that I have received a weekly Digest Email on a Tuesday morning British Summer Time (GMT or near as damn-it). I will continue to get emails if anyone writes directly to me.

The weekly email is extra, and tells me whom of my contacts has updated their profile or asked a question. I am not sure if LinkedIn edits the list. I am not sure if they consolidate the information. Generally, updates are kept for 5 days and are limited to 15 entries. So possibly I will know what happens on every day except Tuesdays and Wednesdays (!) and if you happen to be in the top (?) bottom (?) 15 on the list!

I liked it though. It was nice to see at a glance who is doing what. It is nice to know whether I should take time to log in or not. It is nice to have a reminder that my profile should communicate to people (give some idea who should beat a path to my door). It was nice to have contacts’ questions and though I have a packed day, I thought I had specific expertise or contacts that might be useful and I fired off five pretty comprehensive answers.

So LinkedIn has put in a cheap service that

  • Saves me keystrokes
  • Acts as an alert
  • Reminds me of the game (communicate, don’t dump)
  • Lets me show off expertise and gain expertise by phrasing professional material in answer to different queries
  • Builds the community by reinforcing my own contacts and prompting me to introduce people to each other

This is a brilliant example of smart social media design.

  • Keep it quick
  • Keep my attention
  • Engage me in an interesting task
  • Help me learn
  • Welcome my interaction

And how is this related to 140 chars?

The email I received from LinkedIn is an email – nothing more. They could have sent it sooner.

I perceived it as more though. The email has a Twitter-like quality.

So what are the great attributes of Twitter?

Instant, easy, personal – yep those are the obvious surface features.


  • It is Just In Time.

We flick a light switch. We use it when we want and for how long we want. We pay for what we use.

And we don’t have to be too bothered. At Bucks08 Media Camp, we talked about social media being infrastructure. Twitter is definitely infrastructure. Proof? Look at how incensed we get when Twitter fails. It is supposed to be like lights and water!

By sending me an email, LinkedIn transformed itself from the equivalent of generator in my back garden that I have to fuel with diesel from a jerry can to the national grid. A light switch! Quick and easy to use. Ignored when I don’t want it.

I am redundant!

It’s a funny idea that I need to be redundant to get a good service. I suspect marketing guys get this all muddled up! It is a matter of “levels of analysis”. I might come-and-go, but the “flock” or the “crowd” must be there for the system to work, and as I come-and-go as me, marketers still need to talk to me and make me happy and to achieve the crowd effect.

The right metrics though are not “click-through”. The national grid doesn’t try to persuade us to flick our light switches on and off! I did not have to answer any of the questions on LinkedIn. What matters is that somebody answers them! We need to generate a handful of good replies. That is the metric of interest.

I could continue with the grid metaphor but a pub works better. I want someone friendly to be in the pub when I go in. I don’t want to have to be there if somewhere else is more exciting. A nd I don’t want to talk to the same people every time. The pub has to attract just the right number of people to make it likely a good friendly crowd will pitch up so that a good friendly crowd pitches up!

If I switch back to the grid metaphor, the national grid doesn’t care when I switch on and off. But if something happens which will change the pattern of switching one and off across the country, such as the minute’s silence before Princess Diana’s funeral, then the engineers have to quickly re-envision the service. They need to redistribute the load fast because the pattern of need has changed.

The metric we need is a system metric. Can the system respond rapidly to demand at many different points (all unknown in detail) with just the right amount of impact – not too much and not too little! .

It is public.

Well, LinkedIn isn’t. It still runs on the club model – ownership, exclusivity, 1.0. At the moment I have to manage my network. It is akin to keeping candles in every room in case the power goes off. Or akin to having a back-up generator complete with jerry can of diesel.

If the network was fully public, how would I receive questions I am interested in? I don’t know but I bet someone figures that out quite fast.


It allows division of labor.

Flicking on the light switch is easy. Using a wall socket takes a little more thought. Using the fusebox is more complicated but hey, in this apartment at least, you don’t have to re-wire the fuse (been there, done that!). There is some gradation in skill but we get to the point that being a consumer requires little skill.

There is some heavy duty engineering and finance behind the light switch, but as consumers, we don’t need to know much about it to play our part.

It is sophisticated.

The engineering and finance behind infrastructure is heavy-duty. A lot of people who know a lot of deep stuff have to work together and the system is no longer transparent to us, or necessarily to them. The credit crunch tells it all. We need some smart legislators to be able to see ahead and see what is necessary to keep us in the style to which we have become accustomed!

Social media for politicians! Who is seriously onto this issue?

So that is my offering for the first part of this week.

  • Through no action of mine, I am getting a useful email from LinkedIn.
  • One small, cheap action on their part, seems to me to be a giant leap from a platform in the cost-of-doing-business park to a far more attractive platform like Twitter.
  • And the transition helped me think through some of the key factors concerning social media as infrastructure (any more that I haven’t thought of?)

As managers of infrastructure, we will be

  • Just-in-time – seen and not heard – doing well when we are invisible and cheap to the consumer
  • Thinking about a system in which individual demand affects collective demand, and v.v.
  • Managing a system that has capacity points – sizes that allow demand, financing and technology to be in balance
  • In the public domain, therefore requiring political input and political output
  • Some sort of futuring because both our technology and our needs change

And all of this out of one email from LinkedIn?

Twitter sets a good example. It looks frivolous. Quite often turning on my lights is frivolous.

What else out there could learn from Twitter?

[Well this post could be 140chars for a start!]

Is Twitter actually communication?

I’ve been a twitter user for a little while now, and yes, it is addictive. You get used to posting all kinds of stuff as often as possible.

It’s especially addictive when people you have never spoken to start following you for no good reason! It’s the best, so thank you, all my followers.

What quietly bugs me about Twitter is that I wonder if by default, it is really a form of communication.

Plenty of twitter users just pump out the tweets as if they are a lone voice broadcasting to a world who clings to their every word.

As I was informed recently: “You’ve got it (Twitter) all wrong, you don’t hear from your followers, you hear from those you follow”.
This for me, seems wrong. I am not an egotistical evil genius so therefore am into Twitter only for actual communication – not for just pounding out what I’m doing with little regard for others.

I am all into following back my followers. If I am of interest to them, then we can be twitter friends as far as I am concerned.

Twitter takes a little effort if you want to consider it as a mini-social network. I have evenings where I feel like ‘getting myself out there’ and so concentrate on replying to people who have been tweeting and having a little chat.

There were some people I found on Twitter who I followed because they are the internet-famous giants. But for me, those guys can give me no personal contact – they are victims of their own social success. They couldn’t possibly interact with the sheer number of their followers. These sorts I stopped following.

To me, Twitter is all about making friends and networking. I specifically also like to befriend my fellow UK residents, especially if there are geographically near me.

Twitter has to be up close and personal. It’s all about interactive communication.

Getting paid to play… social networking for cash…

A new social network site is offering to pay users for taking part. Yuwie aims to reward users for activity and referring more friends to the network, taking inspiration from old-style pyramid schemes.

You get paid for changing your profile, posting content, and when users look at your profile and content. And you get a share of everything from anyone you introduce, and anyone they introduce, up to the 10th level. So far, so multi-level marketing.

As for the actual site, it’s OK. It’s no Facebook beater for functionality, but it’s comparable to Myspace etc, with more focus on connecting and gaining views than actually on your profile appearance. Not surpising for something which is about getting an absolute shedload of connections in an attempt to grab some cash.

The scheme itself gets detractors picking up on the pyramid nature of the scheme, the high input versus low reward, and the encouragement to spam everyone you’ve ever met in the quest for a few more cents. And I think they’re all valid points.

If you do still want to try it for yourself, obviously I have to advise you to use my referral url:

I also have to say that so far, any commentary on the site gives rise to spam posts from Yuwie fans/employees/bots, so I look forward to 20 comments on this post tomorrow. And then deleting them all.

The interesting thing for me is how many people will be enticed to take part in the experiement. Most Long Tail and UGC fans promote the idea that the prosumers in the long tail aren’t doing it for the financial reward.

I’d strongly and heavily debate that someone spending hours creating videos, songs, apps and blogs isn’t looking for some type of reward, and that it’s a lack of opportunities to be reimbursed currently which has meant a focus on reward from social recognition and status etc. Sharing and exchanging ideas and knowledge improves the standing of everyone involved, but that tends to be more readily accepted by those who can afford to do it.

And when something like Yuwie comes along offering the chance to combine financial reward with social status and recognition it’s an interesting case study.

As of tonight, Yuwie is claiming 183,448 users, 78,471 this month, and 2697 today. That’s a fairly good curve to be on for the short term. How the business idea and interest pans out will be more interesting, as more people will be spreading the word about their good and bad experiences, and others could adapt the business model.

Interestingly Alexa shows a huge growth for Yuwie over the likes of Virb (which is a far nicer networking tool for design etc), although obviously it’s far smaller than most of the established names at present.

If not, there’s always the low paid, labour intensive prospect of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Or Deviantart for artists. Or for musicians, how about Amie Street to upload and sell your music for a web 2.0 crowd set price.

There’s a lot of options for the talented but financially uninterested. And the one great thing about the internet is that if you invest the time and effort, you can hedge your bets by going for more than one outlet…

Now that’s a Long Tail…

Are users really that expert?

I’ve been toying with an idea for a while, and replying on another blog (Rocky Agrawal’s reDesign)reminded me to post.

In years gone by media, advertisers and consumers relied on experts to guide choices. (Think a man in a white coat proclaiming the strength of a particular washing powder

Now everyone is proclaiming the age of the user and peer expert. The bloke just like you who happens to be an expert in a particular subject, and on a forum or wiki of similar experts, can offer better advice than ever before.

If anyone can explain why it has to be one, or the other, and not both combined, please feel free? The traditional ‘expert’ is perceived to be answering off the top of their head, and therefore prone to mistakes and bias. Meanwhile the user is supposed to be fair, impartial, and able to reach a valuable conclusion.

1. Any real expert will not only have an idea of the answer, but more importantly will have a good idea of the best places to research an answer. More often than not, they’ll confer with trusted colleagues anyway, and then present back results.

2. It presumes every question will be adequately resolved in a forum thread or Wiki entry, and won’t meander forever, with no definitive answer.

3. If you’ve got time to involve yourself in a forum, and learn who is expert, who is trusted, and who is out for mischief etc, you’re fine. If you haven’t got time to do all this, you’re stuck. You have to sit around until the majority decide. And even then, majorities can be quite stupid sometimes. Meanwhile an expert in the field could have pointed you to the answer, other experts, and references.

One thing the the new site from my employers at Emap does well is to present professional and user content side-by-side, and mix user forum posts with experts from the motorcycling industry. Being able to combine all forms of knowledge will always be more valuable than selecting just one.