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PUSH: “A social revolution, not a technological one”

Cameron Sinclair, MIT student Franz Gastler, Ze Frank I know of Ze (that’s “zay,” short for Hosea) Frank through the ze frank show, his weird and wonderful daily videoblog performance musings (check out his recent Minneapolis-themed posts: 1, 2), and through his-claim-to-fame accidental viral How to Dance Properly (accidental, because he created it for his […]

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Cameron Sinclair, MIT student Franz Gastler, Ze Frank

I know of Ze (that’s “zay,” short for Hosea) Frank through the ze frank show, his weird and wonderful daily videoblog performance musings (check out his recent Minneapolis-themed posts: 1, 2), and through his-claim-to-fame accidental viral How to Dance Properly (accidental, because he created it for his 29th birthday announcement and it swept the net). So I was prepared to be entertained, but not to get a pretty remarkable presentation on social networking technologies as well. As PUSH is sort of a leadership/futurism/marketing conference, Frank put these technologies in that vernacular. Ze’s axioms:

“The audience is learning your language.” People now know more about, say, video editing than ever before; 20 years ago, we never thought of the “opaque craft” of editing, but now people revel in it: “You’re being manipulated… and it’s fun!” He adds, “People have favorite fonts. That’s totally freakin’ weird! That people know Verdana should scare the shit out of you.”

“If you don’t talk with your audience, they will talk behind your back.” Case in point: when that guy awhile back discovered a Kryptonite bike lock could be picked with a Bic pen and he posted his findings on the internet, Kryptonite never responded–and didn’t even seem to have a channel to respond.

“Conversations resist top-down control.” When Chevy created a site for users to create their own TV spots about their Tahoe, users made mash-ups alright–critical of the monster SUV. As Frank points out, the site was configured to tell mash-up creators which adjectives to use to frame their commercials.

“Conversations are flexible.” When Friendster started up, users wanted to do more than just hook up, they wanted to create personae and have fun. They’d create fake identities, says Frank, “so that The Hulk would be leaving messages for Ralph Macchio–and it was fun!” But Friendster clamped down on such faux IDs. MySpace, on the other hand, allows such shenanigans and even expects users to design their own pages–often poorly. “This is an audience that’s ready to do stuff…. Even if it means making their world look like crap.”

“They will show you what is interesting.” When Frank created a collaborative fiction-writing application on his site, it was a dud with users. But after awhile, he realized people were modding it–using the application to make haikus, stories written cooperatively two words at a time, etc.–to serve their own interests.

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“Listen at all levels of the conversation (not just the noisy ones).” In Wired, Chris Anderson wrote about “The Long Tail,” which takes its title from the long shallow part of an X/Y graph that plots consumer sales. The big bump at the first part of the graph–the hardcore few who buy or use multiple times–eventually gives way to a long, shallow “tail” that represents those users/buyers who only interact with your product or service once or twice. Confusing to explain (that’s why Anderson has a blog), but one of Ze’s examples crystallizes it: Amazon.com makes more money from the book titles not on its top 130,000 list than it does from the top-titles list, and the music downloading site Rhapsody, he says, streams more songs each month beyond it’s top 10,000 than it does in its top 10,000. So listen not just to the hardcore audiences but to those dabblers and samplers as well.

The Meaning of Life in Game Form: Check out Ze Frank‘s games Atheist, Buddhist and Christian.