Johanna Blakley

Media | Entertainment | Fashion

Archive for online culture

Black Twitter, Scandal & Must-Tweet TV

scandal

A few years ago I noticed a bunch of hashtags appearing in the “Trending Topics” section of Twitter that I just couldn’t make heads or tails of. Each one I clicked on revealed a sea of black faces and I thought, Oh! This is some kind of in-joke in the African American community. When I could figure out what the tweets were about (and often I couldn’t), they were often really funny, sometimes poking fun at black celebrities or taking white people to task for their ignorance of black culture and the black experience. There were also a lot of provocative topics such as #thingsblackpeopledo, which often played with sensitive racial stereotypes (think watermelon, unemployment, etc.) sometimes inverting them or re-invoking them in clever and surprising ways.

This development was really exciting to me because I believe that one of the huge social and political benefits of social media networks is that diasporic communities – dispersed groups that have shared interests – can cheaply and easily find one another, exchange ideas, build community and work together to accomplish shared goals.

Fast forward to 2013: we had just launched the new Media Impact Project at the Norman Lear Center and I was looking for a way to collaborate with the Annenberg Innovation Lab, a group at USC that had been publishing some very interesting research on Twitter. I was thrilled when Kevin Driscoll, a PhD student in the Lab, told me that he was hoping to drum up some interest in researching Black Twitter. We had both noticed that academic researchers hadn’t really grappled with the topic yet, even though the phrase was becoming more common in news media after Black Twitter was given credit for focusing media attention on the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis cases.

We were also a bit surprised that academics didn’t seem to be responding to studies demonstrating that African Americans were seriously embracing Twitter.  A research team at Northwestern found that black college students were over-represented on Twitter and Pew found that an astounding 28% of African Americans use Twitter with 13% using it on a daily basis. Just to give you some context, only 12% of whites are on Twitter and only 2% of all online adults use Twitter in a typical day.

Whoa. Read the rest of this entry »

The Social Impact of Social Media in India

apogee

One of the more amazing side-effects of having videos on TED.com is that you receive invitations to speak all around the world. For the last two years, the intrepid organizers of the APOGEE conference at the Birla Institute of Tecnology and Science (BITS), one of the premier technical universities in India, had invited me to visit their obscure corner of Rajasthan and speak at their signature annual event. I had been warned that I would probably have a lot of difficulty traveling alone as a white woman in Rajasthan, and so I had to decline their requests until I could line up a male chaperone.  Luckily for me, he materialized last Fall at a conference at MIT – BITS Pilani’s sister university, as it were – and we planned our great Indian adventure together.

When I alerted the BITS Pilani crew to my traveling companion’s bio (John Beck had been the Director of Photography for all of NASA’s Mars missions for the last 18 years), they invited him to speak at the conference as well.

I have long been an admirer of Indian textiles, the incredible classical music and dance, and like most city dwellers, I fight with my friends about who has the best Indian take-out. But I had heard many grisly tales about the filth, the misogyny, the appalling poverty, and the deeply ingrained institutional corruption.

But the overriding reason that I decided to make the journey was because I could not turn down the chance to witness the incredible change that is afoot in India. I was thrilled when the organizers asked me to speak about the social impact of social media in India, a topic that I’ve been following closely for some time.

Even though the Internet penetration rate is extremely low in India, the 17% of Indians online already account for the third largest Internet population in the world. They will move up to number two next year, powered in part by a 91% increase in smart phone ownership by 2016.

And just in case you didn’t know, Indians are really, really social. Facebook, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn are flourishing in India, where 25% of all time online is spent on social networks.

Last year, LinkedIn celebrated luring 20 million Indians to their service, making Indians the second largest member base. Google+ has attracted a much higher share of online Indians than it has in the States (78% vs. 44%). I was greeted with loud applause when I displayed data from GlobalWebIndex demonstrating that online Indians are far more likely than online Americans to own and use social media accounts on all the major social media platforms.

Who knows what new platforms will be arriving over the next couple of years, but whatever they are, they will see an increasing share of Indians using them. And traditional media – film, TV, publishing – both in India and all around the world, will never be the same. Read the rest of this entry »

Myth Girls & the Art of Making Books

For several years now, I have been on the board of an experimental literary press where we have spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how to keep the printed book vibrant and alive. At Les Figues Press, we decided to publish books in unique dimensions and we coupled each author’s work with the visual work of another artist, hoping against hope that the resulting physical object would convince even the most cyber-savvy readers to purchase our special little hunks of pulverized tree.

So I contantly keep my eyes peeled for efforts to revitalize interest in the printed book. My most recent encounter with an inspiring innovation was in Medellin, Colombia, where the intrepid forces behind Proyecto Liquido - a group that explores the overlapping territory in fiction, art, science and technology - had transformed an online short story published 18 years ago into a surprisingly layered tactile experience.

With a black rubberized cover (not unlike the one on my iPad), Kij Johnson’s Chicas Miticas (Myth Girls) feels more like a machine than a book.  Everything inside is dual: from the bilingual translation (Spanish and English) to the double-sided format (the book is basically composed of two pamphlets facing one another). While one side is devoted to a disturbing tale about the terrible cost of freedom, the opposite renders the story into sleek, hyper-polished illustrations by Oscar Gonzalez, one of the five collaborators who transformed Johnson’s story into this unique material object.

If the book were simply illustrated, and bound in this surprising way, it would have been arresting enough. But three pages into the lushly animated version of this stark tale, you finally see a depiction of the main character, but only from behind, and rendered on vellum, so that you can see her ghost-like presence in two inhuman vistas, extended by a trifold. A few pages further in, you reach the material heart of the work, where lush illustrations bleed into layered vellum inserts and – I kid you not – a ripped quilted jacket is sewn directly onto the page. Read the rest of this entry »

Launching the Media Impact Project

MIPlogo270

Yesterday, I was very excited to launch the Media Impact Project, which aspires to be a global hub for the best research on measuring the impact of media. Supported by $3.25 million in initial funding from the Gates and Knight Foundations, I’m optimistic that the Norman Lear Center can help make media more accountable to audiences and contribute to a better understanding of the role that media plays in people’s lives.

The New York Times picked up the story and I was thrilled to see reporter Michael Cieply focus on this aspect of the program:

Read the rest of this entry »

How do you measure the impact of TED?

TransparentMeasurement

Not only do I get to go to TED this year (hooray!) but I also had the great pleasure of participating in a truly brain-tingling workshop whose goal was to help TED figure out how to better facilitate the spread of breakthrough ideas.

Of course everybody (and their mother) is obsessed with web analytics these days: how many hits did I get? How many likes? But media engagement pros (and the workshop was chock full of them) realize that counting clicks doesn’t really begin to tell the full story. Who’s clicking and why? Did they talk to their dad about that TED talk over breakfast? Did they laugh or cry? Did they feel empowered to do something? Did they make a donation? It can be really difficult to accurately measure the impact of any piece of media (including a TED video) without finding a way to bridge that daunting divide between online click trails and offline actions. One way to do it? Surveys!

I’m a big believer in supplementing rigorous web and social media analytics with survey research. And I’m an even bigger fan now that my team at the Lear Center has developed some innovative new methods for taking into account self-selection bias in media consumption (i.e., only certain people decide to see certain TED videos – there’s nothing random about it – which makes it tough to accurately measure impact).

So, imagine my delight when I heard that the Knight Foundation is partnering with TED to work on amplifying and measuring the impact of their content as it “ripples through society, producing technology tools and best practices for connected action.”

One key theme that emerged at the workshop this weekend was the importance of sharing the discoveries that TED will make when they develop their new kick-ass website and state of the art dashboards for tracking engagement. Information is power and nothing is more empowering to an engaged audience than access to information about how their beloved TED talks, along with all the content and actions that they themselves have generated, are moving the needle.

I’m looking forward to what comes of this . . .  stay tuned!

If you’re at TED2013, be sure to check out the Knight-sponsored pavilion centered on Tech for Engagement.

The Benefits of Losing Control (and Exerting It Serendipitously)

My clever friend, Tim Leberecht, is a marketing guy and so he knows just how little control companies have over their brands. The reputation of a brand is basically what a brand is and no matter how much money you throw at it, ultimately, customers, and the general public, will determine a brand’s reputation.

In his TED talk, Tim explores how companies can productively cede control to their customers and employees as well as exerting new types of control and influence in creative new ways in social media contexts. I don’t want to give too much away — it’s only six minutes so check it out!

 

Media In Our Image

Kate, photographed by Jasmine Lord.

I was delighted when the editors of Women’s Studies Quarterly asked me to submit a piece to them about social media and gender. They had seen my TEDWomen talk on the same topic and suspected (correctly) that I’d be interested in pursuing those themes in print. They made another request as well: might I think of a way to add a visual component and a social media campaign of some sort?

Now that’s the kind of thing that takes a village. Thankfully, I have one! I immediately turned to the Lear Center’s terrific in-house designer, Veronica Jauriqui (who designed the visuals for two of my TED talks) and my trusty intern (and social media expert) Sarah Ledesma. Through Sarah we met the tremendously talented photographer Jasmine Lord, who immediately understood what we wanted (you can read about all of them here). I’m incredibly proud of the results, which you can check out on Pinterest and Tumblr.

Now for a little backstory: Read the rest of this entry »

Order vs. Chaos on the Internet

Great illustration by Stephen Doyle

The May issue of Vanity Fair features a great article about the “War for the Internet,” or, more precisely, the battles over Internet privacy, piracy and security. I found myself in alignment with the group of guys that VF calls the “forces of Organized Chaos,” including Vint Cerf, Jeff Moss, Joshua Corman and Dan Kaminsky. The article’s filled with quotable gems (e.g., “Anonymous is more like a brand or a franchise,”) but here’s a nice sum-up of the “Organized Chaos” vision for the future of the Internet:

…the forces of Organized Chaos, by and large, think that the Internet should be allowed to evolve on its own, the way human societies always have. The forces of Organized Chaos have a pretty good sense of how it will evolve, at least in the short term. The Internet will stratify, as cities did long ago. There will be the mass Internet we already know—a teeming bazaar of artists and merchants and thinkers as well as pickpockets and hucksters and whores. It is a place anyone can enter, anonymously or not, and for free. Travel at your own risk! But anyone who wishes can decide to leave this bazaar for the security of the bank or the government office—or, if you have enough money, the limousine, the Sky Club, the platinum concierge. You will always have to give something up. If you want utter and absolute privacy, you will have to pay for it—or know the right people, who will give you access to their hidden darknets. For some services, you may decide to trade your privacy and anonymity for security. Depending on circumstance and desire, people will range among these worlds.

In this context, structuring the Internet around authentication systems that make it impossible for anyone to remain anonymous seems as foolhardy as insisting upon only non-commercial usage of the Web (and, yes, I’ve heard serious people seriously suggest this.) Finding the right balance between order and chaos on the Web is the era-defining challenge we face right now.

Tribeca Film Festival: The Art of Networking

Ironically, these pencils were a big hit at the Tribeca Film Institute's super-high-tech Interactive fest.


Film festivals are tricky events to navigate. Of course they’re about art and commerce and, for some reason, all too many filmmakers are uncomfortable with that combination. Despite the entertainment industry’s craven reputation, there are plenty of people in it – not just indie movie types – who long for something pure: complex aesthetic objects that will transport people to new places and new ways of understanding this world and the many alternate realities we’ve crafted for ourselves. That idealism, and the understandable longing for money and attention to achieve that dream, is prominently on display at fests like Tribeca. And yes, a lot of it is about glad-handing and hitting as many cocktail parties as possible (as well as standing next to the right person at the red carpet premieres), but more and more these days, it’s also about figuring out how to make movies do that the networking for you. Filmmakers who’ve managed to crack the social media code have, indeed, mastered the twenty-first century art of networking.

I thought it was terrific that Tribeca devoted an entire day of the Fest to a conference on interactive media. The event was held in Frank Gehry’s gleaming IAC building, in front of an impossibly long wall of screens. The shallow wide room was packed from start to finish with a mix of digerati (I was thrilled to meet Christina Warren the entertainment editor for Mashable) and people who’ve been toiling in the traditional media trenches all their lives. The implicit goal was to figure out how to make sure that filmmakers learn how to adapt to an increasingly interactive media space – something more easily said than done. These days, film projects of all sizes are expected to have some sort of online presence, not only for the purpose of promotion but for something far more ephemeral: audience engagement. There are generally no accepted standards to measure the latter, but it usually means that you’ve managed to convince passive potential audience members to take an active role in promoting, extending, or even reimagining the film itself or its subject.

For all too many filmmakers, a transmedia campaign includes a basic formula: a Web site, a Twitter feed, a Facebook page and the coup de grace, an iPhone app. Much to the consternation of app developers like Michelle Byrd from Games for Change, creatives working in traditional media industries often assume that audience engagement just happens on these platforms: as long as you build it, someone will come. But take a quick look at all the apps you’ve installed and don’t use on your phone, and you’ll recognize that even scoring an install doesn’t necessarily lead to one iota of “engagement.”

Learning how to port linear, narrative art forms over to interactive platforms is a tremendous creative and technical challenge. Read the rest of this entry »

Remixing Mad Men

One of the highlights of a recent trip to New York was attending a Mad Men Remix party hosted by Pop Culture Pirate Elisa Kreisinger. I’m a big fan of the show and so it was great fun to watch the season finale from last year with a group of knowledgable viewers, and then to see Kreisinger’s provocative remixes of the show.

Her Internet-ready Mad Men: Set Me Free is a clever remix of the women of Mad Men singing the Motown standard “You Keep Me Hanging On.” Devised to be spreadable on social media sites, I suspect this video – which was co-created with Mark Faletti – will quickly communicate to a broad audience the painful gender issues explored in the show.

And that kind of commentary is pretty desperately needed. I recently attended a screening of Missrepresentation, a thoroughly laudable documentary about problematic representations of women in film and TV. I was dismayed to see clips from Mad Men woven into its visual tapestry of media misogyny. I had believed that most viewers of the show recognized that it was quite critical of 60s sexism, depicting it as an appalling problem and creating sympathy for the women who suffered from it (including our own mothers and grandmothers). But just a few days later I found myself having exactly this conversation with a male friend who felt guilty about loving the show because it was so sexist. He said he felt terrible for the plight of women in the show, but it never occurred to him that his response might be the one the show was hoping to elicit.

All too often, I’m afraid, people equate the representation of something with its endorsement. I often used the TV show Married With Children in my pop culture classes to address exactly this issue: the selfish and reprehensible Al Bundy was not depicted as a role model for viewers – instead we laughed at him for being a bad father, and for bringing into stark relief what a “good” dad ought to do. In many ways, Married With Children was as effective at endorsing ideals about the nuclear family as The Cosby Show was.

Pop culture remixers like Kreisinger have a tricky task on their hands, remapping cultural memes in order to draw attention to things we might not have noticed in the slickly produced pop culture objects that make up our media landscape. It is their task to shake us by the shoulders and say “What if?” Such is the case (in spades) with Kreisinger’s QueerMen: Don Loves Roger remix. Whether you believe that the remix reveals a “subconscious” sub-plot of the show or not, it gives viewers the opportunity to imagine it. This has long been the strength of fan fiction, which has been taken to entirely new and enticing levels due to ever-expanding access to bandwidth and the rise of robust social media platforms.

One troubling side effect of remixes  is that the original can seem a bit less itself after viewing them: or, at least, that was my experience watching the much-anticipated season five premiere of Mad Men last night. Where were the subtle psychological insights we’ve come to expect? Maybe we have to wait for a remix to reveal them.

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