Everyone will have seen the curious incident of the TechCrunch UK blog falling out with TechCrunch in the US over what - with the benefit of only a couple of weeks hindsight - looks increasingly like nothing very much at all. Now Sam Sethi and Mike Butcher are back and blogging at Vecosys - good to see you back guys.
They also have some excellent advice: "happy christmas...and time to walk away from the keyboard". Wise words. I'm off to spend Xmas with my family in Yorkshire and Northumberland, where I'm happy to say I'll have little or no access to t'interweb. So have a good one; I'll hopefully see you all again in the new year; and I leave you with a what, depending on your point of view, is either a joke or a meme from my friend Gareth:
There's no such thing as memes. Tell your friends.
Threshers had the good sense to honour their inadvertent promise. Hamleys, alas, did not (Times).
UK consumers spent £3 billion online (Netimperative) for the first time this November, with online retail spend up 40% year-on-year. On the High Street, conversely, footfall is down 9% on 2005; HMV has issued a profits warning (Scotsman); and only the prospect of a last-minute rush (Telegraph) to stores by shoppers who have missed online delivery deadlines consoles brick-and-mortar retailers. (M&S and John Lewis have bucked this trend with strong Xmas sales but the demographic profile of their customers compared to the online population presumably explains much of this.)
Retail is moving online. Of this there can be no doubt. And so the strategy for brick and mortars retailers who do not merely wish to disappear when the last digital-refusenik customers eventually die must be the establishment of an online brand.
This Christmas both Hamleys and Threshers were handed the chance to turn their marketing blunders to their advantage and build an online brand - to build trust with online shoppers and acquire a reputation for honouring online transactions. Threshers seized that chance. Hamleys, less wisely, did not. So next year Hamleys will be left with a choice - pursue its share of dwindling High Street footfall, or fish where the fish are and follow toy-buyers online. By pursuing a short-term cost-saving strategy that makes the latter a more remote possibility, I suspect Hamleys has closed down its longer-term options. It now has less, not more, credibility with its potential growth market and faces a significantly more onerous uphill struggle to build an online brand that stands a chance against Amazon et al.
You'll probably know by now that one of the issues that interests me most is the internal workings of gameworlds - the economics of WoW, the environment of SL. And one of my most speculative predictions for 2007 remains a closer integration of gamesworlds and the real world, probably involving mobile hardware and one of the Microsoft/Google virtual worlds.
Today the Guardian's gamesblog repeats the rumour that the Wii weather channel actually affects the weather in some Wii games, the particular example being that it snows in Madden when it's snowing outside, a claim ardently confirmed in comments. (My friend Darien reminds me that this is hardly a first - the clock in Monkey Island also used to keep real-world time and chime the hour, just to remind you how long you'd been stuck on each puzzle...)
Now, let's bring in two other concepts. One is Newsgaming. These are the guys who produce news as social commentary I've spoken about before - web games like this and this that are more about making political points than gameplay. (HT Thoughtplay for pointing them out to me.) The second is Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth", a documentary about global warming. How much more effective would it be to get the message home (especially to younger audiences) that global warming was a real and present danger than a game, probably a Civ/Populous god game, that modelled real weather and got harder to play as the earth warmed up?
Just a thought. It can hardly be the only application for real weather modelling within games. But climate change is one of the big political issues of the day. A games system that can accurately map that change, and make a game behave in ways that are relevant to climate change, might help make the message real for gamers in the same way "An Inconvenient Truth" did for filmgoers. With the down side, of course, that critics of global warming could just as readily create a game in which global warming was no big deal and warp another generation into imagining the problem will just go away.
Richard McManus and colleagues present a set of predictions for our industry in 2007. Great list. Here are ten of mine, in no particular order.
(1) Google will not be displaced by, or lose significant market share to, other search engines. People who try to understand Google in business terms are missing the point of Google's success, which is rooted in psychology and culture. Google has taken a probabilistic system, at which the human mind should naturally recoil, and painted it as a definitive source of authority. As I've said before, for me Chris Anderson's greatest contribution to the debate is not his Long Tail theory but his articulation of the nature of Google's success - Google's is perhaps the most important, successful and ultimately misleading piece of branding ever achieved.
(2) Widgetisation will indeed continue apace, and we will abandon the page view (Micropersuasion) towards the end of the year as meaningless. (I must confess that when I first saw Ivan Pope talk about Snipperoo I had no idea what he was on about, and as time goes on his idea looks more and more brilliant.)
(3) At least one country or territory (I won't guess which one) will see a mass adoption of the Fon (or equivalent) distributed wifi model, and all of the incumbent mobile telecoms providers in that territory will effectively fold. (Yes, they might reinvent themselves or be bought out or something, but their current business model and raison d'etre will be gone.) Much as social networking has transpired to be surprisingly unglobal - CyWorld wins South Korea, MySpace the US, Orkut Brazil, Bebo Ireland, Skyblogs France etc - the technology will tip somewhere and mobile connectivity will move from the centre to the edge, utterly displacing the business models of the current providers of mobile connectivity.
(4) Someone will crack the problem of inter-operable avatars, and produce an avatar or avatar protocol that is transferable between multiple virtual worlds.
(5) Someone else will launch a stock exchange for companies operating within virtual environments (which, alas, they won't be able to call VirtEx because there's already an exchange called that).
(6) Perhaps - and I'm not sure this will happen before 2008, but let's speculate - 2007 will see the launch of a persistent, virtual, locative gameworld that overlays the corporeal world and scales beyond anything we've seen so far from e.g. Second Life or World of Warcraft. Probably by Microsoft, but there's a slight chance of Google getting there first.
(7) A national newspaper, probably in the UK but possibly in Europe or Japan, will stop charging a cover price. The Sun is already heading towards a tactical free model in some areas; free commuter papers are growing everywhere; someone will decide that scaling up to capture share of ad revenue is more important than charging a cover price.
(8) MySpace will become a major source of media content, launching multiple vertical subsites and magazines (fashion, sports, current affairs, politics, autos) powered by the tagged posts of MySpace users, and some of those vertical sites will almost immediately move to dominate their category.
(9) Someone will concoct a nuisance lawsuit in an effort to shut down Craigslist because, frankly, their not-in-it-for-the-money model scares the living hell out of people who are just in it for the money. Look at the New York Times investors trying to fight the Sulzbergers; look at the Wall Street reaction to Jim Buckmaster's honest statement (Forbes) that maximising revenues is not part of the Craigslist plan. The guys who are in it for the money, and hate and fear anyone who's not, are going to come gunning in 2007.
(10) Microsoft will bite the bullet and buy Yahoo!, and probably AOL as well.
Deirdre Molloy, who until recently ran the excellent Beers and Innovations events for NMK, is now running something similar for Chinwag. You can see what I thought of B&I four here and five here - interesting speakers, generally good questions, pleasant venues and free wine. What's not to like? So I'm going to the first of the Chinwag events on February 6th, rejoicing under the name Wobble2.0. If you're based in/passing through/anywhere near London that night and interested in digital media, you probably should too. (There's a discount for sign-ups before Jan 22nd, after which tickets climb from a reasonable £15 to a rather steep £35 so best to move quickly.)
In Steve Erikson's wonderful novel Amnesiascope the narrator reviews a film - the Death of Marat - that does not exist. Beginning as a joke, and assuming that his newspaper's sub-editors and fact-checkers will at least notice that the film was never made, he pens the whimsical review for a film he has made up only to find, to his horror, it published in full the next day.
Today the webhums with the peculiar tale of a book reviewer fired for reviewing a book that was never written. Odd, then, that life should have imitated art so far that his sub-editors, fact-checkers or any of the other people who exist to protect a newspaper from the more gratuitous whims of its writers should have failed to notice the tiny detail that the book in the review didn't exist. Perhaps the incident will inspire Britt Marie Mattson - the book's supposed author - to write the thing. Though personally I would much prefer it if it were Kristian Lundberg, the dismissed reviewer, who turned out to be fictitious and the whole affair a joke on the part of the Helsingsborgs Dagblat...
Darren Rowse calls the Time article declaring the person of the year as "You" "Linkbaiter of the Year". Personally, I think the true irrelevance of Time selecting "us" as Person of the
Year is that, had it not been for the hundreds of "our" blogs linking to
the story, "we" would never have known that we'd won.
The digital revolution is not a media revolution, and the only truly remarkable thing here is that media still wants us to think it is, or that it looks like one. The importance of the digital revolution is not the photos of half a dozen anonymous Time readers that are briefly at the top of an single over-hyped Time cover article, but the 230 millionflickr photos that and 1.3 million daily blog posts that are seen by the people who actually care about them. Scott Karp calls it "a 'link bait' ploy that deconstructs itself because 'we' did not choose to put 'us' on the cover of Time." But we did choose to put the cover of Time on our blogs. Jeff Jarvis simply points out that "it has always been us" - indeed, and Time baiting us into publicising their cover of the year rather nicely illustrates the direction in which the relationship now operates.
So...Friday night saw a flash mobpillow fight in London (for the sake of the historical record, at 18:12 at the junction of Leadenhall and St Mary Axe in the City). I've always been curious to see a flash mob assemble, so I took myself along, armed with a small pillow, to see. Sadly it was dark and pillow-fighters move very quickly so my photos of the event were all awful: here, astonishingly enough, is one of the lest awful ones.