Category Archives: convergence

Virtual Reality And The Future Of Storytelling

virtual reality

Photo: Pixabay

“Just so I understand this correctly, it’s possible to experience death in virtual reality. To experience what it’s actually like to die, in the brutalist of ways even. And as our senses develop — touch, smell, things like that — this experience is only going to get more realistic.”

The woman nodded in response. We were sitting across from each other in a large yurt that overlooked the Pacific Ocean, the door flap of the enormous tent making a gentle slapping sound in the wind as six of us sat cross-legged in a circle well past midnight.

The topic: virtual reality and consciousness.

“But you have to consider another scenario,” she said, leaning in further.

“What if experiencing death enabled us to face our greatest fear, and what if that wasn’t a bad thing? What if experiencing death gave us a greater appreciation for life, maybe even enabling us to live with more appreciation, empathy, and gratitude?”

Last fall, we gathered at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur for Digital Raign, a week-long summit created for bringing together industry folk (and curious minds – me) in the virtual, augmented and mixed reality worlds to discuss the state of the industry.

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According to a report by Canalys, over 2 Million VR headsets were shipped in 2016. While this is a notable number, it remains small in comparison to the hundreds of millions of smartphones sold each quarter.

Still, we are on the brink of an industry that is set to change the world as we know it.

With last year’s launch of Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR at under $80each, wider accessibility to VR is finally possible. And for $15, you can buy Google Cardboard or even build a headset on your own for free. (Hint: it involves cardboard, bi-convex lenses, magnets, velcro, and a rubber band.)

The biggest setback that prevents VR from truly taking off is content. VR content is expensive to produce and funding usually comes from supporters who see enough traffic to turn around and monetize big on advertising.

Users show up for content. And more users = more traffic = sponsors, who in-turn fund content. It’s a chicken-egg scenario.

Music video director Chris Milk (Kanye West, Arcade Fire) is out to change that. Milk has dabbled in virtual reality concepts early on and in 2014 co-founded a production studio with artist and entrepreneur Aaron Koblin.

His first TED talk on the topic was in 2015, entitled “How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine.”

“VR is the last medium for storytelling, because it closes the gap between audience and storyteller. -Chris Milk

Linden Labs, the founders of Second Life, are also betting big on VR with the upcoming launch of a new platform.

Variable Labs is one of many other companies dedicated to creating immersive VR experiences in order to help individuals foster empathy, develop soft skills, and help change behavior through therapeutic techniques. Last year, it was also announced that Reel FX was teaming up with Facebook’s Oculus for a $1 million ‘VR for Good’ initiative dedicated to inspire social change.

From spirituality and healing to education, work, tourism, and of course entertainment, the possibilities in virtual reality are endless.

VR is too new for us to fully understand the full scope of its implications, but it’s good to know that as it emerges as a platform for mass-consumption the social good element is breaking through sooner than it did in its predecessors, despite the outliers.

And, as early consumers and content creators, we have the unique opportunity to help decide which direction it goes in.

Whether it be transformative and uplifting, or dark and potentially traumatic.

The time to call it is now. And the great news is, good things are on the horizon.

More:

Chris Milk, Virtual Reality as an Art Form (TED talk)

VR for Good at Sundance

Why Digital Marketing Is The Future (And The Future Is Now)

Is building a product actually easier than marketing the thing? Some would answer yes. Perhaps it depends on what you’ve set out to build. (Yo, anyone?) On one hand, while marketing has become easier due to more methods at our disposal and advanced tools for measuring impact, the holistic idea of “marketing” as a whole does have its challenges.

For one, marketing departments don’t have a template to follow. There are no feature sets, no assigned tasks in Jira, no testing build to see if the features actually work.

That’s not to say that building a quality product isn’t challenging — it’s been reported that  less than 0.01 percent of consumer mobile apps actually find financial success. The argument is then reversed. Is marketing to blame for this unfortunate rate of success?  Perhaps.

Marketing has it’s own set of uniquely complex problems. In some ways the old adage still rings true – “marketing is throwing things against the wall to see what sticks.” But things have gotten drastically better.

In recent years marketing strategy has evolved considerably and the old paradigm is much less relevant. Consider advertising. This year the BBC reported that for the first time ever teens are spending more time online than they are watching television. This leaves the advertising world scrambling to reach them in other places like YouTube, in-games, or within narrowcast messaging apps like Snapchat. (by the way, they no longer use Facebook.)

The good news is that these new marketing opportunities are long tail and highly quantifiable through qualitative data. In other words, we can now measure our marketing dollars much more clearly.

Take the following example. Rather than buying a Superbowl spot on television an advertiser runs a video campaign tied to a timely topic using celebrity influencers as bait. The distribution channels? Social media. Along the same lines, relevant ad units can purchased within games, and badges or funny filters are great offerings we’re starting to see presented within narrowcast environments.

With the exception of the television spot, all of the above is measureable. What’s more, it can be broken down by demographic and  user persona. It becomes easier than ever to understand who engages with your product.

By the way, this is exactly what the new’ish methodology of “growth hacking” employs.

[To be clear, growth hacking isn’t actually hacking. It is the process of deliberately employing small, measurable action items in order to see what actually works. After you get an idea of what consumers respond the best to, you can then double down in the areas with noticeable (measurable) success.]

Examples of these small and measurable action items include:  running an incremental batch of ad buys on AdWords or Facebook, A/B testing content on your website, low level influencer marketing, strategically posting to social media. Marketing dollars don’t need to be spent in chunks, rather in small increments — think subscriptions and incremental ad buys.

This approach is vastly different from the old days when simply doing things like issuing a press release, having a presence at trade shows, or buying billboard space were the norm.

The key in the digital economy is to focus on things that are measurable.  

Not only can you market your product in a highly strategic way,  you’ll gain valuable user feedback as you go.

The new marketing paradigm involves more channels than ever. These channels include but are not limited to: content optimization, community building, e-mail marketing, and business development. With so many options it’s important to be strategic and find the channels that work best for you.

There are countless combinations of levers to pull in order to find success, which are found through experimentation. Some approaches may work for one company and fail for yours. You must choose your channels wisely, and you’ll be reaching your goals in no time.

I Won’t Wear Android…Yet

Samsung Smartwatch

I don’t want a computer on my wrist. Or anywhere on my body, really. Having an iPhone tracking every movement from my handbag is alarming enough.

Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to a flip phone? Sure, there wouldn’t be any fancy games, or maps, or cleverly branded apps for taking selfies. Sure, I could turn off “Location Services” and refrain from checking-in. But what’s the fun of that?

Maybe I’d enjoy life a little more.  Maybe I’d experience some…freedom.

Google wants it all. The contents of my e-mail, exact location, browser visit, search, preferences, along with anything else they can reach.

And, similar to Facebook, it’s my fault for willingly giving it to them in exchange for free services and the convenience of a single log-in.

But are these services free? These days privacy is seemingly more valuable than an SSN. Why would I give up privacy so voluntarily?

Then again, who cares? It’s not like I’m a criminal unintentionally leaving digital breadcrumbs of evidence strewn across the internet.

But, back to the Watch.

The only functional solve I see to the Android Watch outside of what the iPhone already provides is pure physical convenience. You don’t have to continually pull your phone from your pocket to read a text or answer a call.

For now, I’m unwilling to have a computer strapped to my body for the sake of convenience. A line has to be drawn. Until the phone offers drastically new features, and until I’m in control of the information I choose to disclose (likely, never), I’ll default to my trusty analog watch.

A watch is the kind of device that does one thing and does it well. It retains a timeless style that requires actual physical tending. Conversely, it does not tend to my physical being by recording every output.

Also, it doesn’t die every 4 years.

Perhaps I’ll be seduced by the sleek design and inevitable heart-tugging campaign surrounding the launch of the Apple iWatch. Until then, I’ll cling to the throwback of form and function as my daily business continues to tick on.

The Nominal Network: When Things Go Asocial

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Location-based social networks like Connect and Highlight alert you to people who happen to be near your current location. By “people,” we essentially mean friends or those with similar interests (friends of friends). For a fee, SocialRadar even allows you to hook in LinkedIn contacts for quick access to someone’s  professional details (or – eek! their connections!) on the go.

And then there’s Cloak, the polar opposite – a reverse model because you’d actually prefer to avoid bumping into said people on the street. It works the same way as the others, but Cloak has a very different user interface to differentiate its purpose – dark and mysterious, with a setting that makes the phone vibrate anytime someone is within a distance of your choosing.

Cloak is social rehab – for those who want to avoid an ex, a client, a mutual social malcontent. Connections remain where we can browse them, at a safe distance and at our convenience in the two dimensional space of digital terroir.

In a similar vein, Breather advertises “Peace and quiet, on demand.” It’s essentially a room-rental service where users can find and rent rooms by the hour – ideally to take a nap, meet with clients, work, or to meditate.

Are we around each other so much that we’re actually fighting for the opportunity to be left alone?

Historically, digital tools were developed for connecting us to one another in order to share and spread information. With the overwhelming amount of ways to do that, it’s only natural that we start craving some distance, allowing ourselves to disconnect for actual Headspace (ironically there’s an app for that, too).

Come to think of it, we’re awfully hard on ourselves and these tools are strong evidence of that. I’d like to see an app that encourages me to be lazy on the weekends. Or better yet, the reverse of a to-do list – a blank screen allowing me to willing enter what I  did that day without the hassle of a pseudo digital nanny.

Today, I:

Ate a salad for lunch. Did 30 minutes of cardio. Thought happy thoughts. Didn’t run into anyone too horrible. And, actually remembered – without any alerts – to pick up rice milk on the way home!

 Yay for me!  Little Things!

At the end of the day perhaps I’m not going to avoid anybody or anything, except maybe trust the real world a little more, take a deep breath, and avoid anything beeping or blinking coming from my phone.

Portable Presents: The Curators Conference

I’m back in LA for a day before we’re off to Connecticut for the wedding of dear friends John and Sarah. And of course, to attend another conference, this time in NYC.

This one is particularly close to home. Not geographically, but because it pays homage to a topic — and general methodology — that I’ve always been passionate about and try to embrace every day.

As culture lovers, or for those who are simply curious, we all curate our interests and passions. Whether we feverishly collect recipes, indie artwork or shoes — and use Facebook, Tumblr, or Pinterest to do so — collecting and sharing content from across the web is a phenomenon that shapes our culture in many ways.  It’s a creative force driven by the people, and it influences everything from new typefaces to what we see on the runway.

There are folks who have created a living doing just that. They are storytellers, culture shapers, the new digital conservator. These creatives possess the knowledge and know-how to sharpen their method into a fine-tuned practice while turning their leadership skills into a brand, business, and voice.

Next week, some of these illustrious individuals will come together for one day to further explore the intersection of creative curation with modern culture.  Debuting as part of New York Fashion Week, the influential video and culture site Portable is presenting a day-long conference featuring leading creatives from the worlds of fashion, film, music, tech, and design.

Highlights include talks from fashion filmmaker and photographer Gia Coppola; Susie Bubble, Founder of Style Bubble; Josh Rubin, Co-Founder of Cool Hunting; and Phillipe von Borries, Co-Founder of Refinery29. Each speaker will discuss curation within their respective field, providing insight into their specific platform and how it shapes their practice.


The event is happening next Wednesday, September 5th at the Walter Reade Theatre at Lincoln Center in NYC.

A limited amount of tickets are still available here.

Check out the Portable.tv playlist on Spotify.