Monday, April 16, 2007

Search - Retrieve - Machinima

Back and jetlagged to bonkersville.

There's apparently been a lot of fun stuff going on in the machinimasphere (coined a new term - bing!). I don't know about you, but I have a draft post with something like 15 million links in it to stuff I have not had time to post about (the genesis of the machinima info barf posts I keep whipping together). This post will be a synthesis of some of those.

I read this article from NYT magazine. It's a fascinating look at an experiment designed to determine how popularity drives consumerism. The article basically asks why no one can predict what the next big thing will be. The most interesting thing in the article is an experiment run by a sociology group at Columbia (published in Science - subscription required). This group set up a music website and asked 14 000 participants to listen, rate, and download music from the site. The key was splitting the set of users into two groups. The first group had no access to the popularity of any song and simply had to decide for themselves what they liked. The second set could see how many downloads each song had. The fundamental part of the study was that the second group was then parallelized so that 8 separate experiments were run. The aggregate result is an analysis of what determines popularity.

It turns out that popularity is not driven by what is 'best'. By comparing what became popular when social information is absent with the experiments where the number of downloads were known, they showed that 'quality' could increase popularity in general, but that there were cases were popularity numbers were extremely disparate in independent experiments, regardless of the quality.

The mob rules, and the mob can be swayed easily. This is key in the disinformation age as the public opinions are manipulated, in elections, in social networking sites, in spam emails.


There were some discussions about using the label of 'machinima' when promoting your work. Some felt that the word has no meaning, while others thought that it was necessary. Nomad at had a short post about finding machinima. All of his methods require the use of a site dedicated to machinima, or the use of the term in a search. I personally have several automated searches running through things like Yahoo Pipes with the term machinima in them (the end result is a hell of a lot to review). Guess what though? If the term machinima is not used in tagging, labeling, discussing, or mentioning the item, video, blog post, or news article, then I'm not going to find it. Neither is anyone else who is solely keyed to that term. That means, for example, that your video will just end up in the large sea of Ask a Ninja, Mentos Coke geysers, and Lonely Girl videos that are competing for eyeballs out there. Some people feel that's fair but...


Two articles on information. One on productivity501 on how much information is being produced each year (lots). The other on Britannica blog (not Britannica Dreams) about some of the earliest books ever made. The question is, how to find what your looking for in the morass of information, and how to persist through the noise to be found. Technorati describes how the use of tagging has increased substantially in the latest state of the blogosphere post. Tags are a form of metadata (see this post on NewTeeVee describing some uses) and metadata is becoming ever more important in searchspace. It will also become absolutely vital in trend analysis, not only in single items over time but in aggregate analyses.

Nanoflix has a post on name confusion. Having a name like Robert Smith in today's misinformation age is almost the same as an information death sentence. You cannot be found. Uniqueness is an essential quality and a tag like machinima is absolutely key if you want that uniqueness to be captured, discussed, and brought to the attention of others. Popularity driven by uniqueness? Novelty is not something to be ignored.


I just finished Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash for the second time. I haven't read it in ages. What struck me this time around was not the metaverse at all (old news). What I would absolutely kill for is "The Librarian", a construct that is used to sort and analyze data that goes far beyond anything that exists right now. It reminds me of the computer on Star Trek, where any character can ask for and receive within a few seconds a completely sorted, filtered, and analyzed set of data that is completely essential in the last few seconds of any episode and that completely saves the heroes. Wish I had that every day. Relevance. That's what people want when they search. That's why people use viewing and downloading counts when measuring what their attention is worth. It's a measure of relevance. Without relevance then information is nothing more than a flat stack. A table with no table of contents. An index.

Google rose to prominence because it does not return indexed results. It returns page ranked results which requires the input of intelligent agents (us) to relevantly rank information. In the context of the web, the sites, blog posts, and videos that are linked to more frequently rise to the top (the cream, so to speak).


Marino has a post on information and context discussing the recent Washington Post article on the violinist Joshua Bell playing in the DC metro and basically being ignored. He brings up the point of the editor, or I assume cultural gatekeeper, reviewer, or whatever, in order to screen the vast content flow in order to produce a trusted list. A perfect example is discussed on The Workbook project where Tim Westergren discusses The Pandora Project and The Music Genome Project, a site with extensive human filters that analyze music in order to help people discover new music. Relevance and context. The violinist was ignored for two reasons: people were in a hurry (on the metro going somewhere) and they had no idea who this person was. In other words, the relevance was not on display, simply the content was. "The Librarian" was not there to tell people to pay attention.

There are two sides to this coin. If you are simply interested in finding content to view, then sifting through the amount of information requires better search tools and more importantly, time. Because of the lack of both, most people prefer (almost require) somebody else to make the decision for them. But we've just shown that popularity is not an absolute measure of what's best, and the cultural gatekeepers and reviewers are not omniscient.

Now the other side of the coin is if you are a content producer and you want your work to get noticed (WebTVWire has 15 ways to get noticed). If the system has some randomness to it, then getting your work noticed is going to take both hard work and luck (or as Bucky Kat says...). Even if it is noticed by a reviewer does not necessarily mean it will become popular (I wrote previously on best photos). Every year there are movies, books, and television shows that are raved about by reviewers and critics but which fall utterly flat when they hit the great wall of public opinion. Contrarily, many shows that get canceled are swept up by huge public outcries and suddenly find new homes in DVD sales, or even have new series made. The worst cases are those artists who die penniless and unknown only to find themselves 'discovered' by later generations and become popular after their death, their greatness discussed by all (but not when said artist is alive).

But consider how your content is going to be found in the first place. Are you going to produce something and then not talk about it? Not tag it? Not use the label 'machinima' because it's not popular? The 'animation' label has no negative connotations that I am aware of, at least not these days, and the machinima label should not either although perhaps I am wrong. It only suffers a lack of recognition. The context is lost on many people, but key to a few, those who know the community, and perhaps most importantly, those who discuss it, mention it, and review it.

Machinima is a declaration. It's a form of control, and in the random experiments in popularity, control is going to become key (unfortunately). Perhaps in time the name will cease to have all meaning but right now it seems to me that it is fairly essential in order to establish the uniqueness of machinima which is an element that I feel is not something to be shunned at all but something to be driven repeatedly into people's skulls until the name sticks.

Agree? Disagree vehemently?


Overman said...

A big welcome back! You were missed. How was the week away?

Very convincing, what you close with here after the discussion of tag power. There's a lot to digest here, and a lot of linked articles I want to absorb as well, but my first impression is "Yes, that makes sense." I'll be back if I have further thoughts to add.

bllius said...

Thx. Very busy (it was for work) and even more hectic now that I'm back.

I just hope this post provokes some discussion.

Anonymous said...

what an amazing post. Glad you are back! Too much material to digest in one sitting. I suspect I'll be going over your comments and the links for the next couple days. Thank you!


bllius said...

Sure, NP.