Darwinian Evolution: Forwards and Backwards

Having been hunched over a laptop for about 18 of the past 24 hours (and since a Sony Google TV is on route as a gift), I thought this image would be appropriate for my blog banner. What do you think?

Feel free to use it in your next presentation. It’s adapted from the Darwin evolutionary image (source unknown), and I created the “sitting laptop man” based on some posture clip art. Then added a cell phone to primitive man, and a laptop to our ape ancestors.

Admit it… we’re just a few evolutionary moves away from being giant pieces of fat and flesh with tiny opposable thumbs for texting and remote controls.

The evolution and devolution lifecycle, illustrated

Copacabana Silicon Valley Parody

From the folks that brought you “Here Comes Another Bubble,” enjoy The Richter Scales‘ Silicon Valley Copacabana parody, “In the Valley.” The camera work was apparently done by my deceased grandmother, but you’ll enjoy the live performance at the Crunchies (source: Mark Casey sending me SFWeekly article).

These guys aren’t lounge singers. They’re accomplished attorneys, engineers and technology executives from little schools like Princeton, Stanford and Yale (meet them). Their a cappella voices just happen to be the cherry on their intellectual banana split.

Parenthetically, my old boss knows these guys, and first brought them to my attention the bubble parody in December 2007 (I called it a seminal viral moment). The “Here Comes Another Bubble” spoof viralinated, but lost much of its traction when the creators had to pull the original video. Seems photographer Lane Hartwell bitched about her photo showing up in the bubble song for about .04 seconds. That sent me on a wild mission… challenging fellow video creators to exploit her work in video (see my Dec. 2007 video rant). There are nine videos pooping on Hartwell that still exist.

Some favorite lyrics of this new doozy:

  • “His name was Michael (Arington). He was the blog king. But deep inside he really felt he should be hardware king as well. He took a napkin, and drew a tablet. He called a group in Singapore to ship his Crunchpad out the door. But Singapore said “psyche.” They tore the napkin, Mike. Your old Crunchpad is now our JooJoo, so go take a hike.”
  • “His name was Eric (Schmidt). He wanted downloads. But Apple’s ruthless App Store Cops wouldn’t give his products props. They blocked his map app. And Google Voice too. At first we blamed AT&T but even fanboys came to see that their beloved Steve had something up his sleeve. They were locked in an iPhone prison and they could not leave…. open or closed either way you are hosed at the Valley.”
  • “His name was Rupert (Murdock). He was a mogul. But then the Internet arrived and Rupert saw/watched his profits dive. He claimed that Google was stealing content. The Googlers said that you’re so dexted just go and change your robot.txt… No we will never pay to search the WSJ. Cause the journal gets all its news from bloggers anyway (roar from crowd).

These are all clever spoofs of important moments in the technology evolution/war… little moments that point to major issues about the implications of open/closed technology, intellectual property theft, rights protection. Set to the tune of Copacabana by Barry Manilow, the parody takes on a number of super-geeky technology themes, including (1) Mike Arrington’s CrunchPad debacle, (2) the Apple vs. Google Voice conflict, and (3) the threat by News Corp to de-index itself from Google.

Sometimes I feel dangerously detached from the latest technology news, but I found myself getting most of these references, and watching my laptop dance on my chuckling-induced bouncing belly.

How to Stop Kids from Using Electronics (Phone, PDAs) to Cheat in School

My 8-year-old son asked for help putting on his calculator watch this morning. He joked that he might use it during tests, and I quietly told him it might be a big mistake. His eyes perked up. “Why, dad?”

“The alarm goes off… it’s really embarrassing  when the ‘cheating alarm’ goes off.” He smiled, realizing I was quite likely joking. It didn’t help my credibility when I described the alarm’s sound as “beeep weeepp… CHEATER IN THE CLASSROOM!!!… beeeep weeeep.”

Then I realized the fish was nibbling at the bait, and decided to grab for anything that might substantiate my fib. “It happened to a friend of mine named Mason once,” I explained with a sincere and sad face. “Really?” he said, forgetting that when I was 10 we were lucky to have a watch with lenticular lense that made Tony the Tiger smile, or smile even more creepily.

My 10-year-old daughter challenged my story by asking, “how would it know if you’re cheating?”

Here, my dear WVFF reader, is why modern advances like Wii controllers and facial-recognition software can make a parent’s ‘white lie’ pass the mustard.

“It’s not always accurate, guys,” I conceeded. “It first computes how many other kids are around you and if they’re clustered or in even rows,” I explained. They were biting. “Then it searches for level planes- like the top of desks.” As far-fetched as this sounds, they’ve seen smarter technology in their lifetime.

My four-year old grabbed a rock and tossed it at a tree. He wasn’t listening.

“There are ways to beat the watch’s logic, but it’s not easy,” I confided. “For instance, if you’re taking a make-up test alone it may think you’re just playing around since there aren’t other kids near by in rows.”

By the time the bus arrived, I’d coined “cheating detection algorythms” and encouraged my still-skeptical son to try cheating today so he could hear the alarm himself… but warned him that Mason was so frightened of the watch’s alert warning that he peed at his desk. “Have fun at school guys,” I said before kissing them each.

Take180 Clarification and Update

Yesterday I paid homage to Take180’s Kelly (Shoes) sponsorship, but also critiqued some technical problems on the site. I have to give Take180 the “Blip Customer Service” award (and award so rare it’s named after the only company that 2 years ago had a founder interrupt his dinner to help a random guy).

Within hours of the post, David Williams,the product manager for Take180, wrote, “I’m particularly distressed by your experience with the site. I recognize you’re patience has probably been exhausted, but I’d really like to get to the bottom of some of the basic problems you encountered.” I provided more detail on my problems with the site, and a screen I took helped the technical team realize a bug. The upload functionality couldn’t handle all-cap extensions (which is one of the many reasons I’m puzzled that more sites don’t leverage an existing technology rather than customize). The bug was fixed hours later.

I also received a note from Oren Kaplan, a YouTuber who was discovered by Take180 and now directs a show called “My Alibi.” A modern-day Breakfast Club, but self-aware of its character simplifications and at a more quirky and rapid-fire pace.

“As an employee there, I know that technically we have a very long way to go, hence the current “beta” status, but your feedback… really helps,” he wrote. Oren (Orenfilm.com) also explained that Liam is the third YouTuber used by the site.. LisaNova and Matthew Lush also did promotions, and more potentially downstream.

There are still bugs to work out, but I was reminded the site’s in Beta. Ideally they’ll take show visitors, for example, to a page that lists the episodes in order (I too easily fell into the second episode of My Alibi, not realizing there was a first). I also prefer to see the timeline beneath the video, and the 180 player hides it until mouseover (making me initially think the show’s duration was a mystery).
Bottom line: Many companies ignore blogger feedback, or decide to turn it over to a powerless PR person who sends generic notes and never seems to solve it. Instead, I get a note from a product manager who solves it. And a fellow video creator who makes me more excited about the site (many companies get worried when multiple people contact the same blogger or journalist, but it worked well here). There’s a PR lesson for larger companies. Fixing problems can elevate your company higher than it was before they emerged. More than 14 years ago UPS screwed up a shipment of batteries before a wedding I was to videotape. The customer service representative asked how they could make it up, and I told them I’d love a UPS mug. It was at my doorstep the next morning. My impression is higher of Take180 than if I had never found the bugs in the first place.

Battered User Syndrome: YouTube and Online Monopolies

Want your Gmail to replace your YouTube messaging? Sorry- but
here are some pretty thumb icons you can use to rate comments!

Who would have thought the market would be so beholden to YouTube’s inside-out design… half way through 2008? By now, I would have predicted that Web 2.0 would offer us endless options for customizing a video experience using someone else’s player. They can pay for the bandwidth and make ad revenue, but please allow us to customize, widgitize, and private-labelize.  You know- the open source, altruistic dream that borne Revver, and its open source API (whatever the hell that is).

Nope. Maybe that’s in the Web 3.0 upgrade. Not now. No soup for you.

Alas, market dominance means you innovate on your own terms. YouTube and Google were designed to solve a problem its founders felt, but the market didn’t quite know it needed. That works well when you’re in start-up mode or innovating, but can inadvertently spawn arrogance that hardcore users begin to resent. I’ve been an informal adviser to several smaller video-sharing sites, and found it very rewarding when those sites responded to our needs (or at least convinced us they were). Note: I disclose these relationships and they’re not paid — otherwise I’d lose my objectivity on them. And risk hating one less than another.

Now lately I’ve been confronted with some needs that are on the edge of YouTube’s functionality. So I did what any YouTube Partner would do: I went to both my dedicated YouTube technical liaison, Eric, and community representative, Brenda, to solve these issues. 
No I’m just kidding. They don’t take my calls either.

No, friends, we’ve got battered user syndrome.We don’t expect YouTube to fix itself. It’s tired after a long day of work, and we did spill its beer on the counter. So we’ll search for our own tools we can use on top of YouTube… despite it. The bad news is that we’re limited to offering this to people via channels we can control. The good news is that they solve problems that YouTube doesn’t see, doesn’t care about, or views as off strategy. The more bad news is that we don’t know what tools are safe or effective.

Suppose you had a cheese playlist and wanted to randomize it (like the Oreo contest entries) so each video gets a fair shot at being first. Or maybe you’re using the playlists as a free, copyright-violating jute box. Well you can’t do that. You’d want the Randomize YouTube Playlist script (mind you I’m not vouching for these things- I wouldn’t know what to do with them even if I could get past the porn ads and download them).

Then there’s the YouTube Search Script. I suppose that one allows you to customize search and embed videos based on parameters? Then there’s the “YouTube Script” which represents itself as a poor man’s custom YouTube (with that impossible promise, I’m guessing it’s a virus that turns your monitor into a camera and broadcasts your life 24/7 in Stickam). I am having fun playing with Overlay.tv (which is kinda like YouTube’s overlay tools on steroids). But I may do a promotion video for Overlay.tv… so more on that later. And don’t give me crap about promoting them because it’s like a skateboarder endorsing a skateboard brand. It’s cool. It’s why I pimp TubeMogul for free.

Anyway- share your own YouTube hacks below (not the zillion YouTube rippers, thank you). And don’t expect Eric or Brenda to call you back. Nope. Leave it to Web 2.0 to foster a monopoly where we love a website even when it beats us. We deserve the beating, though. We didn’t behave, and the website is under a lot of stress lately.

P.S. I dare someone to turn this post into a video blog and make it look like they’re not scripted. I’ll add a link here if you do. You gotta do it like Pat Condell… with articulation and enough emotion that you don’t look like you’re reading.

P.P.S. Domestic violence is not funny. Go get help, please, if you experience it. I am just using the analogy to exaggerate the learned helplessness we face with some technologies.

Where Are the YouTube Ads? (Insert Cricket Sound)

The biggest mystery of YouTube partners (those who share in advertising revenue generated by their videos) is yet unsolved. My post about Sxephil’s reaction generated a lot of discussion, but there’s still a big unanswered question….

Are the YouTube ads missing because advertisers aren’t buying? Or is there a technical glitch prohibiting them?

BrokeEither option is sad news. If YouTube can let its only revenue-producing functionality die, then that doesn’t speak well for the company’s priorities. If advertising inventory is low on the world’s biggest online-video site, that’s a sad statement about the economy or marketer’s recognition of online video.

No e-mails from YouTube. Nothing on the blog. Lots of YouTube partners seeing no Invideo ads, and wondering if they should hold their videos until something improves.

Often our burning questions about a YouTube matters go unanswered because the answer would perhaps create greater scrutiny to the question. However I like the proactive and transparent approach… “Hey guys, we have a problem, and here’s what we’re doing to solve it and prevent it in the future.”

In the meantime you viewers can enjoy your videos without interruption and know that we creators will start holding onto our day jobs a big tighter.

And I’m totally bumming because I finally got Spencer (the Farting in Public kid) back in action yesterday night with “Will You Be My Prom Date?” and it’s currently the #4 highest-rated video of the day. And the recent “Cool Fish!” was seen more than 30,000 times in the past couple days but doesn’t appear to be making money for me or YouTube.

And now I just found out that my stupid “How to Make a Viral Video While Driving” is on the homepage of YouTube. Unmonetized. 🙁