The new version of the Groove Clock is now out for iPad, with six brand new clock faces. Go get it!
The new version of the Groove Clock is now out for iPad, with six brand new clock faces. Go get it!
Our office had its annual holiday party last week, and I was asked to come up with a Twitter feed to display on large screens across the office floor. Using Twitter’s own customizable widgets (we should be able to make the wider!), I created a quick, wintry scene to act as a backdrop. I don’t have a lot of time to work on things like this, so this was quick to make and worked out well. This jQuery snowfall plugin seemed to perform the best. Note that if you’re running snowfall on a Mac, it renders much better in Safari than Chrome.
Second screen apps, as they are so called in the big media industry, fall under a new class of mobile application that aims to further engage the user with the show he/she is watching on TV. Usually these apps contain bonus content, light gaming or points-gathering features, and social commentary coming from Twitter. Second screen apps increasingly use audio content recognition (what Shazaam does) to sync the app to the show with the goal of offering additional content, ads, or product offers, and opportunities to earn ambiguous points, that a TV alone cannot do.
The problem is that second screen apps just aren’t very compelling. They don’t connect the user to the show. Indeed they do more to distract users than to draw them deeper into the story with streams of tweets, pictures, ads. They seem like cheap accessories intended to fool users into thinking that media heaven awaits, when really second screen apps are just another platform to serve ads. Big media companies still have an enormous microphone, so people will download their apps by the thousands, but will they ever come back?
Big media companies are working very quickly to solve this problem. But they won’t. Not with the kind of content they are offering now. By nature, broadcast networks have a one-to-many relationship with their audience, a relationship in which the audience can’t talk back. Networks are talking to as many ears as they can reach, but they aren’t listening. The television platform isn’t equipped for it.
This presents challenges for second screen apps that try to add an element of interactivity to the show – the reason why the user is watching. Users interact with whatever additional content winds up in the app, but for the most part that’s it. There’s no connection to the primary content, the show.
While big media corporations try to improve their second screen experiences, they should consider the disconnect between their model and the model of the internet. They couldn’t be more different. One promotes tuning out the rest of the world, and the other promotes connecting it.
This brings me to the heart of this post. Let’s pretend for a minute that our favorite TV show is actually our favorite blog. While we’re reading, our TV is constantly peppering us with distractions, taking us away from what we’re trying to do. See what I mean? And we actually don’t even need to leave the internet to find these distractions, which come in the form of click bait, banner ads, etc.
Let’s call the TV show an art form, regardless of genre. Modern television has given us some of the best examples that the form has ever offered – Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Wire, and so on. Let this type of show, the 30-60 minute comedy/drama, just be art (even the ones that aren’t very good). Create a new genre of TV show that is actually interactive – with users determining the outcomes of things, influencing what a show will be, and otherwise just being a part of the actual show. This new type of TV show embraces real user interaction. Call it post-reality TV. I think we were actually closer to this type of show a few years ago when American Idol voting was all the rage. Just make everything a little bit more immediate.
By the way, I don’t necessarily intend to include news and sports in this pool of TV shows. They have more than enough content to work with right now to make an engaging app for those types of users that demand additional context, stats, etc.
Right now second screen apps are the pop-up video of the time, maybe a few degrees of intensity higher. But we never had the option to turn off the bubbles in those videos. In hindsight, that’s probably why that show lasted for so long. Now all we have to do is not turn on the app.
Written by John Hartford, played by me.
Innovators need a dependable process that gives them the freedom to be creative but can also be replicated. If I do something cool once, I definitely want to know how to do it again. By applying some carefully crafted constraints on the creative process we can free ourselves from the pressure of having to create something from nothing and give ourselves the head space to focus on the details of the concept. The goal of this process is to create a new form that the innovator can trust and reuse. Trust in the form frees the innovator to focus on the details of the concept. Reuse of the form allows her to master it.
Before discussing how to create a new form with constraints, let’s look at a couple musical forms and what some artists were able to achieve with them. For a man who only lived to age 35, Mozart wrote quite a few symphonies. 41 to be exact. That’s more than 4 times the amount of symphonies that Beethoven wrote, and Beethoven lived 20 years longer than Mozart. We won’t get into how Beethoven’s deafness may have affected his output, but suffice it to say that Mozart was very prolific compared to many other composers.
Think about what a symphony is. A symphony is a form consisting of four parts, known as movements, with each part having a form of its own with certain predefined properties. These parts are some of the constraints of the form. Because Mozart decided to work in symphony form, he didn’t need to worry much about whether the first movement would be faster than the second, or what key he’d use after the third movement’s exposition – that was all defined by the symphony’s form. This gave him the cognitive bandwidth to do the special things that only Mozart could do. Mozart mastered the symphony to a point where he was eventually able to smash parts of it and rebuild them to suit his genius, and he wouldn’t have been able to do this had a replicable form not existed in the first place.
Symphonies are big and complex, so let’s look at a more basic form like the blues. So simple in its structure – 12 bars and 3 chords played over and over until the end of the song – it’s so basic that it forces the artist to be creative in order to distinguish himself. Its simplicity also lets the artist focus on what blues really is. Blues is pain and angst, and it’s a great genre for players to showcase their virtuosity. Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan are two obvious examples. Blues artists don’t need to work out details like which chord to play on the 5th bar, because those things are defined by the form. This allows them to focus on the message and how the song will be played. Again, it’s a cognitive bandwidth thing. The constraints of the form – and the trust that artists have in it – made way for unsurpassed creativity.
Before starting your next project, make it fit into a form. Design some contraints around it, and keep it simple, like the blues. The nature of the constraints can vary depending on how much room you want to give yourself to play within the form. Constraints are like hunches. When you start a new project, you should have several hunches about what you want it to be. Don’t fight them, as they are based on instinct. Capture them and make a form out of them. Once you’ve set the constraints, thereby creating your new form, every decision you make about the project going forward should fit support them.
Here’s an example of how I use constraints. I recently created a clock for the iPad. When I started the project, I didn’t know that I’d be making a clock at all. I set three broad constraints: 1) a screen-based project that must scale to any size, 2) something that would allow people to interact with it without necessarily knowing they are doing so, 3) something that rewarded users who approached the piece to actively interact with it. This gave me a form, plenty of food for thought, and an important sense of direction.
The form was broad enough that the end product could have manifested itself in many ways, but after chipping away at it, I ended up with a clock with hands that groove in reaction to the sound around it. It can be installed on a screen of any size, which meets the first constraint. It responds to any sound, so people making noise in its vicinity (at an airport, for instance) are using it even if they don’t realize it (constraint #2), and a user who approaches it is rewarded by the clock’s response to his own voice (constraint #3).
Great constraints can be open to interpretation or debate. The second constraint from my clock project – something that would allow people to interact with it without necessarily knowing they are doing so – gave me a lot to think about. It was a major reason why sound became so central to the project. The best thing about this constraint is that it can be met in ways I haven’t even thought about yet, so I can go back to this form later and end up with a completely different product.
Collaboration is more productive by designing the constraints of a project. Constraints will focus the group by establishing some fundamentals. When you ask your group, “What are we going to make?” the answer can be anything under the sun. It’s not very productive. It also gives the group too much responsibility to prepare for collaboration, because the group doesn’t know where or how to start. Forms focus the discussion. Good constraints can be discussed without much preparation.
Designing constraints and creating a form is a creative process in and of itself. Once are comfortable with the process, you will be very surprised how quickly you can do it. I have used this approach on countless projects as well as at the R&D lab at NBC. It serves as a great starting point for projects that intend to break new ground. It works for independent and group projects. You’ll have unique, reusable forms that you can master, and it will make your creative process much more productive. When you master your form, you’ll find great freedom to work within it, and you will find yourself working better.
Bjork at the New York Hall of Science, February 6, 2012
I post different types of things on my blog. Some posts have nice pictures while some don’t have pictures at all. I’m sort of new to Pinterest, but it already seems like you can’t post anything to Pinterest at all if there is no photo. I wanted a way to curate the images that are shared to Pinterest, and this method is the way to do that.
After completing this guide, you’ll be able to set a photo in a custom field that will be used as the photo that gets shared to Pinterest. I won’t lie, the workflow you create for yourself by doing this is a little awkward, but it gets the job done and it’s good for your users.