Category Archives: conferences and labs

Lego, Imagination and Work

Last week I was lucky enough to go on a session about using Lego as a means of facilitating creativity and/or strategy.  It wasn’t the full ‘Lego Serious Play‘ experience – but it piqued my curiosity in this and was interesting so I thought I’d share – and share some fun photos I took of the serious play we were enganged in. Serious Play is a technique that Lego have developed for using their bricks, etc in the office for, erm, work.

The session I went to was run by the Digital Research Unit based in Huddersfield.

The idea is that using the bricks can help people use their imaginations and using the bricks to express complex ideas and relationships in 3D, describe complicated relationships and also give you a chance to use your hands (which, in theory, helps some people engage their brains more).  They can also be used in brainstorming – and many of you saw an example of how this can be done in an exercise one of my colleagues ran a  few months ago.

We worked through a process where we used the Lego to model our own role; then how we operate within that role; the wider organisation etc, until we built up a large model of how our roles fit together and fit into the BBC.  We also built aspects of ourself that we don’t bring to work and used these to do some introspection into how we might (or might not) change the way we operated, etc.

The main idea was to get people to work through their individual identity, then team identity and then the wider environment/landscape their role and organisation exists in.

My role - in Lego!

My role - in Lego!

How I operate in my role - In Lego!

How I operate in my role - In Lego!

A 'model' BBC

A 'model' BBC

I was really captivated by how much the Lego opened up the conversations we were having.  ‘Playing’ allowed us to put alot of our normal conversational conventions to the side and forced us to explain things in a simple way that wasn’t offensive or overly formal because we were using simple tools for explaining our ideas.  I also thought about people I work with who aren’t necessarily comfortable expressing themselves verybally who could use this as a means of showing instead of speaking.  And, best of all, building something before you explain it makes you think before you speak; and let’s face it, we could all do more of this.

Effectively we were building stories.  Stories about who we are, where we work and how we do it.  But this storytelling could be expanded to help build stories for use in programme making or other content.  I recently read an article in Wallpaper* (which unfortunately isn’t online) about how architects are building stories and fantasy into some of the new work that’s being done in that field because they’re trying to embrace our contemporary need for more narrative experiences that blur the difference between real and fantastic.

I think this is especially important when you work with digital media – sure everything needs to be functional and simple – but it should also delight and building this delight is the hardest part.  Sure Google search is a wonderful piece of technology, but it latched into not being ‘just another search box’ by having fun and playing with its logo.  I’d hope that in the type of work that I do, that if we start by expressing our ideas with Lego (or other manual tools for that matter) that we might capture some of the fun and fantasy that can get lost along the way.

We’ll see how it goes.  I’ve just installed a few containers full of Lego in meeting spaces for my team to ‘play’ with…

Some more info on Lego in the office/work environment:


MIPTV Keynotes: It’s all about mobile and TV will not die

I’m at MIPTV in Cannes and am incredibly impressed – almost shocked – at just how important many of the keynote speakers are saying mobile is.  It’s amazing and great to hear some of the real big shots in the media carrying on about the space I’m working in – and it feels a little like 10 years ago when the industry really started taking the web seriously.  So brace yourselves folks, I think this is yet another sign of alot of excitement to come.

The other good news was that while all the speeches I saw predicted a tough time ahead for TV, they predicted a bright future.  Now, they would say that at a TV industry conference, wouldn’t they?  But, there was some serious data and thought behind the predictions and again, mobile played a big role in their thinking.

Here’s what I took away from some of the keynotes:

Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP Group

TV will not die – network tv will still be effective for reaching large numbers quickly and cheaply.  But, he predicted, it won’t have the same dominance.  Sir Martin predicts the balance of advertising spend will redistribute itself like this:  20-25%, Newsapper 20-25%, Other 20-25% and New media around 25%.  He predicted that an increase in mobile would make up a good part of the increasing spend in new media areas.

PC video and mobile content – especially mobile in B R I C s (his term for the Brazil, Russia, India and China markets) – would be especially important since this is where mobile can give cheap access to those who are not yet connected.  He pointed out the significance of China Mobile having 450m subscribers out of a total 650m mobile subscriptions in China to emphasize this.

The ability for mobiles to become a distribution and consumption platform for TV/video content is what makes them important in combination and why it’s likely they’ll survive the tough times and come out stronger than before.

This sentiment was echod in the next keynote I attended.  (Official/full MIP blog post on the session here.)

Jeffrey Cole, PhD – Director USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future

Jeffrey’s speech backed up Sir Martin’s predictions with some serious academic data that the Center for the Digital Future has been collecting for years.

His basic premise was that ‘all media survives.’  Media never get completely wiped out – they just change and often thier market dominance becomes smaller.  He cited that radio was not wiped out by TV and (in America at least) is still a vibrant business, though not as huge as it once was.  He predicted similar fates for music, film and newspapers (scarily he predicted there will only be 3 or 4 newspapers in America after the next few years).

TV is the exception, he said – “Rather than shrinking, television (video) will grow dramatically in importance.”  People will watch TV on a small screen – including long form and series.  TV is our constant companion and follows behaviour of people turning to their mobiles when they’re bored.  This lines up with the way we’ve seen people using Mobile BBC iPlayer in my work.  The myth that people will only watch tiny clips of short-form videos on phones disappears once you give them a means of easily accessing and consuming full length content.  (Official/full post here.)

Niklas Savander from Nokia also echoed similar sentiments in his keynote; but this was mainly with the aim of promoting the long-talked-about Ovi store.  Which sounded like a completely different Ovi to the one that Nokia were talking about here last year which was all about sharing media created on phones.  Strange.

Video of Niklas:

I’ll be writing about some more highlights from the conference soon.

BeebCamp gave me a new idea for how the BBC could work

I went to BeebCamp today – an ‘unconference’ for people involved in all things digital at the BBC and (this time) some influential and interesting outsiders.

Can you spot me? (Thanks to RainRabbit on Flickr for this)

Can you spot me? (Thanks to RainRabbit on Flickr for this)

Sadly, I had to leave early for personal reasons but I got to go to sessions on “The Games Challenge – Making Things Fun” and “Building the Datadesk at the LA Time” and “What Happens When (and if!) Mobiles and Desktop PCs Swap Roles” and one on “Piracy”.  They were all interesting but, in the one on Piracy, I had what feels like a big thought that I want to write about before I go into detail about what happened at the sessions.  So here goes… please let me know what you think…

Pre-pay BBC

Imagine this very simple concept: Each year you pay your license fee to the BBC in exchange for programming that you own and control the destiny of.  YOU decide what gets made because YOU decide which ideas, programmes, themes, seasons, etc you want to invest in.  This could be done via an online marketplace that let’s you manage the money in your account and that links you to what other people are doing with the money in their accounts.
The thinking came out of a discussion on piracy where I pointed out that Bandstocks (which I’ve blogged about before) has partially found a way around piracy of music by effectively creating a ‘pre-pay’ model where listeners who really want new music pay for it to be made and then share in the profits (if any) should the music become successful.  Sure, people can pirate the music later, but the artist gets paid up front if the users really want to hear their album.  There’s no guess work by A&R men – you know the album will sell because listeners have already registered their demand with votes and with their own cold hard cash.
People pay the license fee with their cold hard cash, too.  Hopefully because they care about commercial-free content public service content (and possibly because they can be prosecuted if they don’t) – but let’s focus on the first part.

Every year households all over the UK ‘invest’ a fairly large sum of money into the BBC in exchange for a portfolio of content and services across TV, Radio, Web, Mobile, etc that should “inform, educate and entertain” them (probably more than they invest on average in cash in any other company – but I’d have to check this).  But, once they’ve paid it, they have no control over that portfolio.  In fact, they have less direct control than they do if they invested in shares in a corporation because they can’t sell their stocks later. 

Once the funds come in, people like myself, spend loads of effort researching, planning and strategising about what that portfolio should be – we do nothing short of our best to try to “build public value” with the funds we get.  And yes, I honestly believe, most of us do try our best to do this – so this isn’t an attack on anyone inside – I work for the BBC, believe in the BBC and think it does a great job given the giant task it has on its hands.

That said, not allowing our audiences to have at least a level of direct control over what programming gets made seems outdated in the digital age.

I’m imagining a digital marketplace where editors, producers, directors, etc “float” ideas to the public and where anyone who’s paid their license fee can choose to allocate a portion of the funding they’ve pre-paid to us.  This could be at the level of specific programmes (after reading a brief posted by a commissioning exec), for an entire service (if say, they really love 6Music – like I do) or even an entire genre (if you just can’t get enough cookery programming).  Those who don’t have access to PCs or mobiles could acccess the system using paper postal surveys.

Programming would have to reach a certain threshold to go into production and larger areas would need a certain amount of funding to continue.  Those areas that received enough funding to go into production and to operate, would do just that.  New areas could be considered by the public and invested in if they were deemed worthy enough.

Would this water down the quality of our content?  It could.  And that would be a disaster; but I suggest that we would only allow ideas that clearly deliver public value and were true to the BBC purposes and values into the system in the first place to avoid this.  Yes, we still need commissioners and editors to perform this function – I’m just proposing a more direct and accountable connection with audience members.

If we knew every programme had an eager audience before it was made, would we ever have another ‘flop’?  I’m not sure the idea is that good but think about this… if audiences loved (and I mean really loved some programming), I’d suggest we give them the opportunity to invest over and above their license fee if they want to.  I can imagine plenty of fans of particular programmes who would love to be able to pay a bit extra to get an extra episode of their favourite programmes – and just imagine the affinity this would build between the fans and the content.  Just imagine the hype fans would create around progamming/content they’d had a direct influence on financing.

Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not suggesting this would allow audiences to decide whether to pay a license fee but rather that they have more control as to how the fee is used.  I also recognise that a large corporation has many overhead costs and operating costs that audiences would not have visibility of or ever choose to invest in so realise a ‘penny for penny’ approach wouldn’t work – but this could be overcome by a point system or something similar.  The ability to allow audiences to see how their money had been used and the direct impact they’ve had on the content would also strengthen the accountability and transparency of the BBC to them; effectively opening the company up to a much greater degree.

Crazy talk?  Maybe.  But I’d love to know what you think.

As for the other talks at BeebCamp…  Here were my highlights:

The Games Challenge: Making Anything Fun

This was hosted by staff from Six to Start and helped us work through the challenges and opportunities of making ‘anything’ fun.  We took on Funerals, the Middle East, Health and Safety regulations, commuting and taxes.  And, sure enough, were able to find a way of making each of them fun so, yes, you can make almost anything into a game.

Building the Datadesk at the L.A. Times

In this session Eric Ulken said: “Journalists gather loads of data, use what they need to write the story, then throw the rest away.  I tried to figure out what we could do with all of that extra data.”  The results were the datadesk at the L.A. Times and he showed us some cool examples of what he’s doing.

What happens when (if?!) ‘mobiles’ and desktop PCs swap roles?

This is a session I ran – based in a question that I honestly don’t know the answer to but am very curious about after having read it in Fjord’s predictions for mobile in 2009 (see my previous post on that).   We didn’t, of course, come to a conclusion – but the conversation raised some interesting points which I’ve tried to gather here.

The conversation kicked off with people talking about he pros and cons of storage of assets in ‘the cloud’ and the desire for ownership of assets.  A great point was made that this was an “over 25 model” for looking at this in that anyone under the age of 25 wouldn’t even think about physically owning media (cheers to Alex Murray for that thought).

 Thinking along the lines of download vs. broadcast models for media then lead us into seeing a third dimension to this paradigm which is the ability to upload.  Uploading, the group seemed to agree, allows for a different level of creativity and participation which meant that information in ‘the cloud’ could only really meet its full potential to be socialised.  Someone summed this up really nicely (I thought) by saying, “It’s about what I can do on the device that I can also share.”

Conversation then turned to the idea of portable devices being the centre of users digital lives because they’d contain a portable, central profile that would identify you to other non-portable devices.  A key point here, was that to reach the full potential of this promise interoperability will be needed and the group seemed to still feel like that was a way off.

NESTA: ARGs: Entertainment 2.0

Last night I attended a sesion at NESTA about Alternate Reality Games (ARGs).  The session was primarily a talk by Six To Start an agency that produces these types of games.

The speakers took us through a number of case studies where they’d done interactive storytelling in different ways – all of which were interesting – but some of which have been done before.  I particularly liked The 21 Steps on We Tell Stories, a story which was written to be told using Google Maps.

Dan Hon, CEO of Six to Start, made some really insightful comments into what ARGs are and why they’re valuable/interesting.  He explained simply that the platform for ARGs is ‘the whole world.’  Great.  But unfortunately the examples they showed (and many of the other things I’ve seen touted as ARGs) dont’ really do this.  The examples all showed work that was primarily PC based or based around activity that occured mainly in the home.

I was hoping to see examples of work that really too the user into ‘the whole world’ and moved them away from their PC to do things in physical environments, potentially interacting with each other.  I think there’s great potential for mobiles to be a part of helping audiences/players do this and am hoping to get to work on some projects that do this in the coming year.

Another really good point that was made during the night was that too many companies were trying to do ‘live’ ARGs where you had to join at the start and play all the way through, making it impossible (or nearly impossible) for players to fall into the game and play if they aren’t aware of it from the start which makes it impossible to maximise audiences.  I think this might be a trap that the BBC’s game around Torchwood fell into (as I talked about in my post on Beeb Camp’s ‘How Not To run an ARG’ session).

Interesting stuff from Korea

At the conferences I attended in Seoul, I came across a number of things that were worth a mention on here that I wanted to do a roundup of.  Sadly, there’s little information available for alot of them in English but they’re still good ideas and hopefully you can get a taste of them from this.

– Minfo:

Not alot to see here if your device can’t render Chinese and you’re not searching for Chinese content but these guys are big time leaders in the mobile search field, a space where I think we can’t assume any one incumbant company is going to win.  Minfo have a service that can be accessed via browser, text, donwloadable client, and IM and are innovating around the way search-based ads are being delivered in this space.  This is their English-language informational site.


– Bicon:

This was a cool content-neutral portal for dragging and dropping widgets onto and off of your mobile.  There were a few of these types of thing on show and looked like they could really make for a smoother user-experience for users if they became widespread.

– Fantalog IB:

Internet broswer for mobile that claims to handle ‘full-fat’ web pages more smoothly than others and with a better user interface.  There are quite a few mobile web browsers around (which I find exciting – like the early days of the desktop web!) and I think it will be interesting to see how long it is before they handle ‘mobile web’ and ‘desktop web’ pages in a way that’s seamless and invisible to the users.

– Phonetoshop:

I couldn’t find an English-language site for this software but it was a client that allowed users to do basic video editing right on their phones.  Its probably not ready for primetime yet, but shows that its only a matter of time before people start not only capturing media on the move but also doing more serious production with it.  Interesting to me both from the point of view for using it to allow journalists and professional producers to produce stuff in the field really easily as much as it from a user-generated-content point of view.  I saw users using DVRs on their mobiles to record mobile TV and then send it to their friends so the ability to take video, mash it up, edit it, etc and share it couldn’t be far off.


– HOVR –

These guys are using social-networking business models to create a better experience for accessing mobile games – namely that they’re free.


– Phone Braver (Keitai Sousakan) 7:

I nearly exploded when I first found out about this – only to find out it wasn’t QUITE as real as I’d initially imagined.  I thought it was a mobile, meets action figure/robot, meets cross-platform content.  From what I could understand this was a mobile that was marketed as a Transformer-like character that had a TV show.  Turns out it was just a toy and not a real mobile, but still a great idea (like so many – if they were real).

The toy:

Clip of the programme:

And another with very surreal adult themes/political quotes and a talking cardboard dog – provided purely because it was so wierd:


– UFOTown –

I wasn’t able to figure out exactly what this was but its designed to be a portal that allows celebrities and fans a means of texting each via a mobile/web portal.  Neat way of using mobile messaging to create hype around talent, if I understand it correctly.

Secret Society Wins at Nordisk Panorama!

The pitching competition for the projects developed at Crossover Nordic was last night and I’m really excited to say that Secret Society has won!  I worked alot with this team and am really proud of them – I hope that prize of SEK 100,000 (10,000 Euro) goes a long way towards making the project a reality.

Our Secret Society is an interactive game and web-series telling the story of 4 girls as they explore their sexuality. With an aim at 13-16 year old girls with some or none experience of sex we let them try out pre-sexual situations in a safe and fun environment. Playing the free web-based game, involving the 4 characters from the web-series, is a way for young teenager girls to approach sex without the risk of being harmed physically or judged for doing right or wrong.” – Andreas Öhman (team member who did the pitch)

One of the things I really liked about this project is that it aims, in part, to use mobile as a way for teens to consume and experience media in a private environment, which I think is one of the most interesting aspects of mobile media that has yet to be fully exploited.  The crossover with TV that makes the overall experience both something teens can socialise about AND have a private experience with seems like a great combination.

Crossover Nordic: Day 5: Preparing for the Final Pitch

Well, day four of Crossover Nordic was the day of hard work.  All of the teams spent an intensive day working on their ideas – and boy – did they come a long way.

To re-hash, the teams formed after the Ideas Market on Day 3 and put their heads down to work on pitches for their ideas.  We’re using creating pitches as a way of developing the ideas and giving feedback because its a useful methodology but also because these ideas will be pitched to real commissioners at Nordisk Panorama.  Each group has had three watering holes (described here) with different mentors where they’ve had intensive feedback on both their ideas and their pitches and have been doing tremendous amounts of revision before the next watering hole.

The amount of work that’s gone into each project between has been amazing.  The ideas and pitches have been iterated at break-neck speed and the teams have been incredibly open to all forms of feedback and critique – which isn’t easy; especially when some of them have been working almost all night.  The teams have gone on huge creative journeys and its been thrilling to help mentor them through the process and see them progress.  Each time they’ve presented, the mentors have seen the ideas and presentations progress a huge amount.

This morning I’m sitting and watching the final technical rehearsals for the pitches and they’ve all improved – again.  Great stuff.  Personally, I think that more than one of them has a really strong chance of getting commissioned and I’m really proud of how well the teams have done.

At this lab I’ve been working as a mentor/facilitator but I know I’d be interested in taking these type of projects forward had they been pitched to me in other labs and festivals where I’ve worked as a commissioner.  I’m wishing all of the teams good luck and can’t wait to see the final pitches and see the teams’ reactions to each others work as it will be the first time they see their colleagues ideas since they were just a bit of writing on paper a few days ago.