It’s kind of ironic that the only Microsoft tool that has an ‘art’ mode is Word. Who could miss its amazing ‘Word Art’ feature – if you’ve never played with it, go into the ‘insert’ menu and choose ‘picture’, then in the picture menu choose ‘word art’.
You’ll then be presented with the palette of artistic dreams…
It really is just like art. Almost.
Excel on the other hand doesn’t have an ‘art’ mode. But Danielle Aubert has been making art with it. And I like it.
What’s my point? Well I guess something about the fact that people find their own interesting ways of using tools. And just because you call something something doesn’t mean that it is. Or something like that.
There’s a bunch of things that people who are just getting into digital always seem to propose at some point or another. I guess they’re things that are part of the learning process. Things that a lot of us have done, and hopefully learned from. I’m not suggesting that anyone is stupid for doing any of these things (I’ve done the majority of them at least once). But I’m hopefully going to explain why they’re not good ideas in most cases.
Of course they’re not deadly. And like all ‘rules’ there’s good reasons to break them. But in most instances these things are not good. I’ve left out the new ‘trendy’ things like Google Earth, SecondLife, UGC, etc. I’m saving those for 7 deadly sins of digital 2.0.
In no particular order…
They say: “A game where you have to feed this little character to keep them alive, and you give them stuff, and they do stuff”
You say: “You want to create something based on an obsolete early 90s toy that wasn’t actually any fun? And you’re expecting people who don’t give a toss about your brand of fake-cheese-based snacks to go though a bunch of meaningless interactions for no real reward why?”
Why it seems like a good idea: prolonged engagement, a ‘relationship’, the original tamagotchis had a certain amount of Jap-cool
Why it’s not a good idea: they weren’t actually fun then, they’re still not now, if you’ve created one in the past you’ll find that the involvement rate drops off faster than a D’angostini subscription after issue one’s free binder. And it’s been done lots of times before.
They say: “Let’s make a screensaver”
You say: “When was the last time you installed a screensaver? When was the last time you saw a screensaver on someone’s screen?”
Why it seems like a good idea: screensavers were kind of fascinating when we were younger, at the time they were much richer and more visual than most of the web stuff that was around. They were animated, they had flying windows, zooming starfields, even scrolling text! They’re full screen (so they look a bit like a TV). And the idea of something that’s sitting there in the background, hiding, ready to jump up and surprise you when you’re being lazy has some kind of appeal I reckon.
Why it’s not a good idea: screensavers are a product of a byegone era, people don’t like installing stuff, the only time they actually come to life is when you’re not there. And they’re kind of a beacon that says my computer should be off or at least asleep to save power, but I’d rather show off some fancy graphical nonsense.
Interfaces that look like the tops of desks or tables
They say: “We could make it look like the character’s desk, you can click on a file to read it, if you click on the answering machine you can hear a message… And so on…”
You say: “Oh FFS we can bend space and time and create things that redefine the way that the world works, but you want to use a clumsy metaphor that people are going to have to decompile in order to figure out how to get to a bit of information that in some rare case they might actually want. And it’s not extensible. And besides how many people watch youtube videos of their own adverts in the residue at the bottom of a coffee cup? And it’s not accessible… And so on…”
Why it seems like a good idea: its safe and familiar. Everyone understands atoms and physical things. Lots of people don’t understand navigation, menu structures and information architecture. So it’s easier to ignore them and cling to something comfortable and comforting, like a messy desk.
Why it’s a bad idea: Aside from the stuff above it just is, trust me. Perhaps this imagined conversation between me and Ridley Scott makes it clearer:
Me: Hi Ridley, please will you direct a commercial for me, it’s basically a 60 second spot and it goes like this. We open on the first page of a book. There are words on the page, we need to wait for people to read the words. Then a hand turns the page and we move to scene two. It’s the second page of the book.
Me: It looks like an aged book, there are coffee ring stains on page two.
Me: You still there?
Desktop assistants / characters
They say: “You know the Microsoft paperclip, can we…”
You say: “Stop right there sonny, don’t say another word! Nobody likes the paperclip. The only good thing that ever happened to the paperclip was death. Even Bill Gates hates the paperclip.”
Why it seems like a good idea: being helpful is good. Stepping outside of a web-page and having some form of permanence and ongoing relationship makes sense.
Why it’s a bad idea: people don’t like installing things, they want things on their terms, it’s been done a lot and failed a lot no matter what the sales guys for DeskBuddy(tm) tell you.
They say: “Could we create an actual virus that spreads our message”
You say: “Why not do it in the real world instead – why not just make a branded version of HIV, there’s more people in the offline world that you can infect”
Why it seems like a good idea: massive unstoppable spread of your message.
Why it’s a bad idea: viruses are not a toy, they are really not good, you don’t want your brand to be associated with not good things, unless you work for evilcorp.
They say: “We’ve made this film, can you make it a viral”
You say: “I’m just going outside to suck on an exhaust pipe for 30 minutes – if I make it back I’ll stick it on YouTube for you”
Why it seems like a good idea: we’ve all seen ‘viral’ hits, they’re things that everyone has watched, that have been passed around, loved and genuinely become part of the culture of the web. We’ve not all seen the ‘viral’ wasteland, the thousands of clips that sit gathering dust at the bottom of the ‘exploding heads’ category on YouTube. And because most of us only see the good stuff that works we assume it’s easy.
Why it’s a bad idea: because it’s not easy. Now that ‘viral’ has become a dirty nasty industry full of paid for placements and seeding bungs you need to plan for it from the word go. It’s mostly not really about things being viral at all, it’s just about dark media buying.
Starting a list of seven things and not counting how many you’ve got.
I’m going to open this one up for submissions, anyone got any ideas for the 7th deadly sin? Best suggestion wins a book from my library. Seriously I’ll send a good book to you if you come up with the best suggestion – plus happy to replace any of my ones that are rubbish…
Maybe this won’t last forever. And of course lots of people got their fingers (and worse) burnt in the last .com fiasco. But because the cost of entry for digital stuff is low, and the technology is cheap (or rentable) it means that people are constantly looking for new ways to do new things, or better ways to do old things. And the scale of ideas can be smaller, it’s easy to start or evolve businesses using tools and services that are readily available online.
From what I’ve witnessed the structure of digital agencies tends to be more tolerant of these entrepreneurial tendencies. It’s not uncommon to find people running garage businesses, record labels, t-shirt companies, etc. I guess that’s partially a factor of scale. Small companies oddly seem to be able to cope with outside interests better. And partially it might be a factor of newness. Most digital agencies are <10 years old, so their founders can remember what it’s like to be young and motivated too.
Also many digital agencies were founded during a moment in time where stock options were everything. Microsoft receptionists were reportedly getting massive stock option payouts and everyone knew of someone who had just become a paper millionaire. Very few of them are actually millionaires anymore (paper or otherwise), but the spirit lives on.
A spirit of entrepreneurialism makes for an exciting environment to work in. One where transformative ideas, however stupid, are the thing that keeps everyone motivated.
I saw the same presentation (or a version of it) at a Microsoft day late last year. And I have to say I thought he put forward a really compelling case. I don’t want to rip-off Faris’ slides that he ripped-off from Simon ;-) So you’ll have to go here to see them.
I do share Faris’ reservation that it works for people like the Guardian, or MTV, and bits of the BBC. But I’m not sure if it holds true for De Agostini where their whole business model relies on transportation of physical stuff (binders, lord of the rings tiles, pony statuettes, etc.).
Interestingly, or not, De Agostini is one of the few things I’ve not manged to find in Wikipedia recently).
I was attempting to write something about Friday’s Microsoft Day that I went to. But I visited Live Local search to look something up, then realised I could see my own house from the air, from multiple different angles. And it’s, dare I say it, way slicker than Google maps in terms of visual quality. Not sure if it’s the same everywhere, but in central London it’s very very cool!
From Fast Company: Steve Jobs on the iPod .Vs Zune . Steve Jobs blasts the ability to ‘send’ music to other people via Microsoft’s new Zune player (apparantly it takes a long time and they can only play the DRM enabled track 3 times):
You’re much better off to take one of your earbuds out and put it in
her ear. Then you’re connected with about two feet of headphone cable
I can see the Microsoft ads now: Zune – sharing music without the earwax!
As the Diablogue guys say there’s some sweet moments in there. But I can’t help but feel that this is just a load of nice little ads glued together into a website.
For the money that was spent on this piece of interactive advertising, I’d have thought they might have taken the opportunity to do something, well… ‘interactive’? Instead it’s just a load of nicely produced FakeReal scenarios, which support the offline advertising brilliantly. It’s a really nice piece of ‘online advertising’ in that sense. But it left me wanting more.
The thing that really puzzled me though was the copyright notice at the bottom of the page:
How come an advertising website is copyright Microsoft?
I did a bit of digging around and found that there’s a version of the site that you can get to via http://lifetakesvisa.msn.com/visa.asp which has an MSN frame at the top. Not sure how ‘exclusive’ the deal is, and how it came about.
From where I’m sitting I see a lot of the big online media owners trying to get closer to ‘creative agencies’ so that they can deliver richer, more extensive, online advertising that’s exclusive to their network. It’s almost like good online advertising could be considered content. Imagine that ;-)