57 posts categorized "Channel4"

August 06, 2009

Why it's important to (want to) know Where Good Ideas Come From

Hidden Good Ideas

This is the first of eight posts on the theme of Where Good Ideas Come From. Pic from Evil Erin, who was looking for some good ideas in her roommate's bed.

The creative industries in the UK alone are worth some £70bn each year, about 8% of GDP and growing at about double the rate of the rest of the economy, made up by everything as diverse as television production to game-making, book-writing to advertising, public relations to jewellery. For the past year I've been contributing to this industry, learning the art and science of commissioning new media ideas, turning internet, mobile and gaming ideas from paper dreams to running code realities.

In the workplace, we have a variety of processes, individual talents and skills to ensure that most of these dreams turn into good ideas in the real world, from designing efficient challenging structures through which people pitch their ideas, to the knack of producing a contract that not only makes sense but is fair to all parties. A fair dose of gut instinct and knowing the shifting sands of the vast new media landscape contribute to building, hopefully, more excellent ideas than fairly good ones. The processes hopefully eliminate the really dodgy ones altogether.

But given the aims of the initiative with which I'm working - Channel 4's Innovation for the Public - to change people's lives for the better, to have a lasting impact, to achieve technological and social firsts, and to do so with a trademark slug of trouble, finding and generating good ideas in the first place is something that, if we could define it, would make life a lot easier.

Knowing Where Good Ideas Come From in any walk of life leads not just to a more pleasant experience in life, but a better experience for others and a more profitable life for everyone.

Knowing what makes an idea good is one thing. 95% of ideas get rejected, a large number fairly swiftly and, say, 5-10% after having looked in more detail at the issues involved. Few, if any, seem to appear elsewhere suggesting that either the ideas are too costly to get off the ground, leaving a Government or private investor struggling to see their investment have the desired tangible result, or they are cheap to produce but aren't seen as Good Ideas by the intended users or participants.

Knowing what we could do to improve those conditions of creativity is another goal, perhaps more tangible. These conditions, these physiological, physical and mental places are Where Good Ideas Come From.

What's important to consider, though, is that "being creative" is not, as is often the assumed case, a result of some form of change management. All too often, change management and the overpriced consultancies that help you get from there to here are in the business of selling the change of a more creative company or self. If tapping into creativity is reduced to change management, then we are indeed in for a rocky journey. Only 30% of change management programmes achieve any change at all, let alone the intended one and not necessarily a change towards a more creative one. Creativity is something most of us can unearth in the right circumstances with enough time, effort and stamina to see us through the darker moments of our "crappy ideas" being mocked or left out to dry.

And, of course, some of us (most of us?) tend to come up with fairly crappy ideas most of the time, and that's alright, seeing if they work before moving onto the next one when we realise we were heading down the wrong path. Not just in the world of new media and technology, though, is the potential for heading down too many different paths and tangents at once so ripe. Never have the options opening up been so great, the tools at our creative disposal so varied. Creativity is attempting to go exponential when often our more analogue brains and bodies aren't really in a mood for catching up.

With this, change management, that sudden jolt of inspirational energy (or brush of quasi-guru-like consultant fluff), is even less appropriate a model on which to base an rebirth of creativity in our organisations. As George Church put it:

"In a changing world, inaction can be the radical 'action'" (cited by Tim O'Reilly)

Or, as Euan Semple cribbed it:

"Don't just do something: stand there."

It is no happenstance that our first main areas of investigation of Where Good Ideas Come From are nearly all about time (and the lack of it) and the need for us to stand still, do nothing and drink it in. Someone, I can't remember or Google who it was, once said that they were in the habit of taking a day return flight, at least but no more than four hours long (the time of the laptop battery) in order to get things done without interruptions. Sometimes it's just the practice of regularly, say, every Tuesday morning, of taking a flight at 35,000ft to see the world move by a little slower and take it all in, before joining the land at a seemingly faster speed later. Of course, that's not really how it works. We all fly faster when we're taking in the overall view of things at 35,000ft and that seems slower than when we're on the ground, 'only' going at 10mph at sealevel but things seeming too fast to take in, let alone control.

Nor is creativity some elusive black art available only to the few, while the rest of us trudge on with our lemming-like routine. As Colin Anderson, MD of Denki Games in Dundee, puts it:

Today we run the risk of thinking of creativity in the same way as we once thought of electro-magnetism – magical, unknowable, a black art. Poppycock, I say again! It’s a series of deliberate choices – some serial, some parallel, some conscious, some sub-conscious – made by assessing the values of many variables simultaneously through the filters of knowledge, experience and aesthetic appreciation. More variables than we can currently define and measure perhaps, but that doesn’t make it magic. I subscribe to the school of thought that says “art is a science with more than seven variables”, and from where I’m looking creativity is precisely that. (emphasis added)

There are indeed more than seven variables to creativity and therefore knowing Where Good Ideas Come From. I'm going to make an attempt to understand what some of those variables are and would ask for your help in the comments to fill in the inevitable chasm-like gaps.

August 03, 2009

Where Do Good Ideas Come From?

Creativity

If we all knew the idea we'd not be writing blog posts like this, reading them or doing workshops on the matter. We'd be busy pulling that limitless supply of creativity out of its hole to see the light of day and bring us riches, joy, learning and new friends.

However, given that we're not, over the next month or so (or however long it takes me to splurge out those thoughts) I'll be summarising on this here blog some of the best online and offline reading and viewing that has attempted to answer that question, throwing in my own unresearched but tried and tested notions (and a few that haven't even got that far). This post will change to reflect the updating posts that will take a peek at:

  1. Why it's important to (want to) know Where Good Ideas Come From.
  2. Stand There And Do Nothing: Designing beautiful solutions rather than solving ugly problems
  3. Creative Genius. Man At Work: Arguments for not working as a team
  4. Getting Creativity Done (GCD): How to get productive and clean down the mental decks
  5. Nurturing creativity: Worrying about "Tanya's Bow" or the Dinosaurs: Some arguments for caring about the team, not pissing them off and really understanding what failure is
  6. Finding your tribe
  7. Creating visions, not missions

As they're posted, please leave comments, disagree, add your own links, videos and pictures. I hope that by the end of it we'll have a resource to which we might come back with the stories of how the works, thoughts and attitudes of others have changed the way we operate.

Bookmark this post and come back to it for updates, and subscribe to the blog to get a daily email or RSS feed in your reader every time there's a new post. Take a look at my instructions on how to subscribe.

Brill pic from Chris Metcalf

June 23, 2009

AllWrite: creative writing with award winning authors

AllWrite In about two months I'll be unveiling my latest commission with Channel 4's Innovation for the Public Fund.

Broadcast reports that we are commissioning Dan and Adrian Hon’s Six to Start to develop a creative writing game for the iPhone and iPod Touch, backed by national education agency Learning and Teaching Scotland. The game, currently under development, aims to help users tap deep into their imaginations and develop their creative writing skills by responding to writer challenges through their iPhone. They say we all have a novel in us, and ‘All Write’ will help users find it.

Six to Start is a highly successful developer specialising in digital storytelling with recent notable successes such as the We Tell Stories series for Penguin Books. Learning and Teaching Scotland have over the past three years developed a world-leading reputation for developing gaming for learning. The partnership will lead to both a mainstream game available in the iPhone App Store, and a teens' version for use in schools.

This is how Adrian puts it:

“All Write is the perfect tool for budding short story writers – it encourages people to get their ideas down wherever they are, and share them with the world. We’ve made storytelling into a fun and enthralling experience by posing imaginative writing challenges, and providing some great new pieces of original fiction from Naomi Alderman, a winner of the Orange Prize for New Writers.”


Alderman was also a lead writer on the Hons' previous success, alternate reality game Perplex City.

All Write is the latest in a series of projects developed in Scotland by Channel 4’s Innovation for the Public fund (4iP). Announced as part of the Channel’s Next on 4 strategic blueprint and endorsed by the Government’s Digital Britain Report, 4iP is a major new initiative to encourage innovation on digital platforms.

By helping young people and new audiences to discover the joy of reading and creative writing, All Write illustrates how digital media can serve a meaningful public purpose.

My former colleague Derek Robertson, now National Adviser for Emerging Technologies and Learning at Learning and Teaching Scotland, was quoted:

“New and emerging technologies and their informed application in the teaching and learning setting is an area of particular focus for Learning and Teaching Scotland. We are very keen to explore the potential that handheld mobile learning tools can bring to schools and in that regard we are delighted to be partnering 4IP and Six to Start in the design and creation of a bespoke iPhone/iPod Touch learning app that will encourage and facilitate a community of ‘imaginative writers.’”


All Write will be launched worldwide this August on the iPhone App Store. Pic credit: New iPhone

June 22, 2009

Addictive beautiful touchpad animated art

Labuat
I'm in the process of contracting, planning and soft-launching a beautiful web arts platform in my work with Channel 4's Innovation for the Public along with the talented guys at ISO, which will provide a really meaningful and inspiring space, we hope, to learn about and publish one's own art, digital media and films. More on that soon, although you can catch a sneaky peak at our session, The Digital Express, in the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

It means that my eye is increasingly heightened on all things design and artistic, and this has just distracted me, Morgane and Catriona for most of the latter's tea-time. It's one reason to let your two-year-old onto that MacBook Air touchpad. Go on. You know you want to.

June 07, 2009

Should we all be saying 'no' more often?

No way out Educators have a reputation for generally saying 'yes' to doing things they are asked to carry out. The expectation is that if a peer or more senior member of staff asks or tells, the teacher does. It's not a healthy place to be. We need to say no more often.

To be honest, I hate saying no, most of the time. Yet, in my current job: of the 400 or so ideas I've seen in the last six months, only about 4% have resulted in a development of that idea.

Everyone else got a 'no'.

Most have had the heave-ho within minutes or days, some have had an instant yes, but there's a troublesome group in the middle, about 30% of ideas at a guess, that need looked at in more detail before being sure if they're worth taking forward. This group of ideas need at least a day's worth of thinking done by the company proposing the idea and a day or more of my time. It's only when we do the figures, work out the business case, see the approach action-by-action, explore the legal and compliance risks, that we realise the idea is a dodo. All that "for nothing".

What I wonder, sometimes, is whether it's worth just pushing back on anything that is not a clear 'yes' at the first sighting. Those "might work" ideas nearly always fail to get through the hurdle of being 'spec-ed' out, yet involve a disproportionate amount of thinking to get them to a point where we can ever know if they're likely to work.

However, there's always that grumble that maybe, just maybe, one might be saying 'no' to the best idea since sliced bread.

Seth Godin suggests we're indeed better off saying no more often to pick out the obvious gems the moment they appear:

You can say no with respect, you can say no promptly and you can say no with a lead to someone who might say yes. But just saying yes because you can't bear the short-term pain of saying no is not going to help you do the work.

Saying no to loud people gives you the resources to say yes to important opportunities.

What do you think - are we right to say 'yes' to the "might work" ideas to see if we can discover a hidden gem, or are we better to concentrate only on those 4% we feel instantly happy with?

Pic: No Way Out

June 06, 2009

Twitter for learning in extremis: Surgery Live and, erm, Big Brother

Surgery Live Adam Gee, Channel 4's Cross-Platform Commissioner for Factual, last week helped bring together one of the most bizarre, insightful and exhilarating learning experiences I think I've ever taken part in on television: watch a surgeon perform his art/science live on television and ask him questions direct through Twitter.

Open heart surgery, awake brain surgery (i.e. patient awake as well as surgeon and us the trusty viewers), keyhole surgery, tumour removal – alive&direct thanks to Windfall Films in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust. Wild enough in itself I hear you say but that is not all, oh no, that is not all…

We will not hold up the cup and the milk and the cake and the fish on a rake, but as the Cat in the Hat said, we know some new tricks and your mother will not mind (unless she’s etherised upon a table, as that other cat-lover said). The plan is to tip our hat (red and white striped topper or whatever) to that increasingly common behaviour of Twittering whilst watching TV and encourage people to tweet away during the live operations, sharing their thoughts and asking questions. The big difference here is that this is live TV and you can make an impact with your tweet on the TV editorial. The best questions tweeted will be fed through to the presenter, arch-Twitterer Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Channel 4 News, who will swiftly pose them to the surgeon at work. So a matter of seconds between tweet and the question being uttered on live TV.

There were, of course, thousands of questions put through to the programme, helping the Surgery Live hashtag #slive hit the 3rd, then 2nd then 1st position on Twitter's trending, but there was also a great deal of conversation about the live operation between complete strangers who had found each other through the commonality of the hashtag, and their shared experience of learning what goes on inside our hearts/brains/stomachs.

In more formal education circles there have been attempts this year to engage audiences across education districts in, for example, live dissections of animals, where students are encouraged to put forward their questions. I think the Channel 4 Twitter experiment reveals some different behaviours that can only be encouraged in these more formal learning situations:

1. Twitter offers a certain degree of anonymity, which can be incredibly helpful in illiciting honest, high value questions from an audience (think other Channel 4 examples like Sexperience and Embarrassing Teenage Bodies, and my forthcoming You Booze You Lose). Where people know who you are, it can be inhibiting ("is my question stupid?", "should I know the answer to this?", "oh, I'll just wikipedia it afterwards"...)

2. The restrictions in place around a 140 character question or message mean that people cut to the chase and avoid the redundant language that clutters thinking in classrooms (and blog posts, VLEs, bulletin boards...). This is something found by the UT Dallas experiment highlighted in Derek Wenmoth this week.

3. Twitter helps you bump into people outside your learning/social circle, which in turn helps you emphathise, and see an issue from someone else's (very different) perspective. The one challenge with any Virtual Learning Environment in a school or country is that you are, more or less, sharing like thought with like thought, shaped by the culture and curriculum around it. When you take the questioning and answering global, you have an almost infinite number of conflicting perspectives to challenge your thinking.

At 4iP my colleague Lucy Würstlin took Twitter to a more entertainment-based medium (Big Brother) with her new product, Hashdash. The Hashdash Big Brother 10 launch night might have seemed pure entertainment, but it indeed helped a number of new Twitterers find their voice by educating the masses in Twitter etiquette, how to use hashdashes to have your message seen by more people with the same passion (in this case, #BB10).

Of course, at 4iP we have bigger plans afoot for this baby to help more people learn how the anonymity of Twitter can improve their learning (and their entertainment) with each other.

May 27, 2009

New Channel 4 research into young people's web/tv habits

Platform 4 Me'colleague Andy Pipes at Channel 4 has published some of the results of in-depth research carried out for the Channel into how young people relate to the web, gaming, the telly and each other. It's got some insights that would dispel some of the myth mongering that will take place in this summer's education conference circuit. Prepare your bullshit bingo cards now...

  • "They personally own 8 devices (including MP3 player, PC, TV, DVD player, mobile phone, stereo, games console, and digital camera)
  • They frequently conduct over 5 activities whilst watching TV
  • 25% of them agree that “I’d rather stay at home than go on a holiday with no internet or phone access”
  • A quarter of young people interviewed text or IM (instant message) friends they are physically with at the time
  • They have on average 123 friends on their social network spaces
  • And the first thing the majority of them do when they get home is turn on their PC

"Yet despite living such a ‘connected’ life, kids these days still find technology a means to an end - primarily meeting up with their friends, watching television and listening to music. Above all, youth’s obsession with technology is around communication. The average person surveyed was doing 5 simultaneous actions whilst they watched television these days; and the majority of those actions involved communicating at some level. One young teenage girl admitted “I talk to my friend and MSN (instant message) her at the same time.” In fact, a full 34% of those asked said that they texted friends they were with at the time..."

"The TV is still young people’s most popular way to consume media, though in terms of time spent, TV time is pipped to the post by spending time on the internet."


April 29, 2009

Guy Kawasaki: The Art Of The Start in Scotland

Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki came to Edinburgh to help 100s of students, startups and investors understand better how to make the world a better place through startups.

1. Make meaning
The great tech companies did much more than make money. They made the world a better place, they brought meaning to people. If you want to make a great startup make sure that you are and that you surround yourself with people who want to make changes to the world - this is why an MBA is the worst possible member of your startup management team.

Efficacy, power and liberation is the message we get from cotton, leather and rubber, via Nike. What's the message we get from you about your startup or big idea?

Ice 1.0
Ice harvesters of the 1900s ran an explosive business gathering ice. Later, ice factories produced mass quantities of ice for people. Then refrigerator companies destroyed both businesses. The ice factories were not started by the ice gatherers; the refrigerator companies were not started by the ice factory people. Most people, most startups, fail to jump the curve - they think they'll just carry on without change. They think of the product they make, rather than what they provide (and then coming up with different, ever-changing products to achieve that provision better).

2. Make mantra
Find meaning for your mission, but don't make a mission statement. Delete anything that would qualify for a bullshit bingo competition: partnership, collaboration, cooperation. These are givens. A mantra should be repeatable by everyone in the company, and everyone in the company should be able to make decisions based on that: Do It First, Inspire Change, Make Trouble.

3. Get going
Think different - don't be another ice harvester
Polarise people - have the courage to create the product or service that you would want to use. Some people will hate it and some people will love it. If you try to make something that makes everyone happy then you'll make something mediocre.
Find a few soul mates - genius does not happen alone. You need someone to bounce ideas around with.

4. Define a business

Keep it simple
- paradigm-shifting, patent-pending technologies are not going to tempt most people. Most folk want something that can be made, sold and collect money. Keep your business model simple.
Ask women what they think of your business model - Guy believes that men, deep in their DNA, have a deep disposition to kill things: people, animals, plants... the competition. Killing the competition is a bad business model in and of itself. Don't count on that to convince people.

5. Milestones, Assumptions, Tasks - Weave a MAT
Milestones are things you would brag about to your friends: "we finished the design", "we produced our product"; "we shipped today". It's not "we made a logo".
Assumptions are based on, say, getting a tiny percentage out of a huge market: there are 1.2bn on the net, and we only need 0.1% on our service to become zilloinnaires.
Define the tasks required to open up your potential: hire a sales person.

6. Work out your ability to provide a unique product or service
Unique product or service

What is unique and valuable about your idea?

7. Follow the 10/20/30 rule
Every pitch a VC (or Commissioner) hears is unique, paradigm-shifting, patent-pending, with a proven management team who are experts in what they do, who only need a small part of a huge market to make loads of money (conservatively speaking). Less is more. Tell us:

  • The title
  • The Problem
  • The Solution
  • The Business Model
  • The Underlying Magic
  • The Marketing and Sales
  • The Competition
  • The Team
  • The Projections and Milestones
  • The Status and Timeline
  • The Call To Action

More on what goes in these over on Guy's blog.

8. Hire infected people
If you get a great horse then any idiot can ride it to the finish line. But were they responsible for getting it there?
Ignore the irrelevant, the lack of their 'perfect' background for the job and, instead, concentrate on those who "get it".
Hire people, surround yourself with people who are passionate about changing the world with your stuff. Hire people who are better than you - the hardest part of the startup is not the engineering. Marketing and sales, CEO-ing, community-building are just as hard and you need to work out what you're not good at, and get in people are are good at it.

9. Lower the barriers to adoption
The learning curve for startups' products is often too complex. People need to be able to fire up and go for it. If they need a manual or training for your stuff, then it's too complex. Lower the barriers to adoption. In Edinburgh, the one o'clock gun goes off at precisely one o'clock so that you can set your watch. It doesn't go off at noon because they'd have to fire twelve times and the users wouldn't know whether to set at the beginning or the end of the 12 chimes.
Don't ask people to do something that you wouldn't.
Embrace your evangelists. Those customers or users who love what you do need to be thanked, embraced, give them information, give them the ability to help new people into the fold.

10. Seed the clouds
Sales fixes everything. Your investors are probably facing 90% of their portfolio not making money, so if you're in that successful (even vaguely successful) 10% they'll not bother you.
Let a hundred flowers blossom. When "the wrong people" are using your service don't freak out, don't tell them how it's not their service to use - take their money and embrace them. Apple made spreadsheets, but Aldus Pagemaker was the "wrong product" but turned Apple into a media-making-enabler company.
Enable people to test drive your product. People need to be able to be playing before paying. Find the key influencers in your community and give them the product for free.

11. Don't let the Bozos grind you down
Get yourself immunised against Bozosity:

  • This "telephone" has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.
    Western Union internal memo, 1876

  • Everything that can be invented has been invented.
    Charles H Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899

  • I think there is a world market for about five computers.
    Remark attributed to Thomas Watson, chairman of the board of IBM, 1943

  • There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.
    Ken Olsen, President of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977

On the flip side, it's not the case that we should be writing off anyone who says no. People who say no can sometimes be right - take on their advice and work out if you can ignore it.

Pic: From Alex. Thanks ;-)

April 16, 2009

Magnetism explained beautifully


Magnetic Movie from Semiconductor on Vimeo.

If you're a science teacher trying to explain magnetism, you could do a lot worse than showing this beautiful animated film produced for Channel 4 with Arts Council England. As the blurb says:

"Are we observing a series of scientific experiments, the universe in flux, or a documentary of a fictional world?"

Plenty of other vids for scientists, geographers, writers over on the Vimeo site.

Update: Worth reading the comments underneath, reiiterating why finding knowledge on, say, magnetism is increasingly easy but gaining a foot in the door of learning about this might still require a talented teacher with an inspiring vid to kick things off.

March 19, 2009

How to help people better use the net - go to them, let them copy, open up

Smoking and texting Tanya Byron reckons we're guilty of Ephebiphobia, the fear of young people, as we incarcerate our young people in their bedroom prisons and replace the dangers of the street corner with risk-taking on unbridled access to the net. Worse still, the challenges raised by the continued lack of interest we take in our children's use of the net are coming back fast to create broader challenges for society.

The reaction to this might be 'teach the kids and teach the parents'. But we're now in an era where it's not so much about signposting where to go on the web, but teaching society how to navigate the net without even a map.

For years now, parents (and by default most educators and decision-makers) underestimate what young people do online. While most adults think youngsters spend somewhere in the region of 18.8 hours per month online, the reality is that UK kids are averaging 43.5 hours a month. Only four of those hours are spent using the net in schools, the rest is mostly unaccounted for on mobile phones and at home in those bedroom prisons. What's going on in those remaining 24.7 hours each month is unknown. The people with the media literacy challenge are not just young people - it's adults, too, who lack the basic alphabet of understanding that's needed to bottom out responsible, creative, enjoyable and engaging use of the web by us all.

Gen-Y doesn't exist
We know from research, anecdote and a cursory glance across Bebo or Facebook profiles (I've probably viewed close to 15,000 in my previous work with Learning and Teaching Scotland) that we are wrong to annoint youngsters with some sort of technological superiority through lables such as the "Google Generation", "Gen Y" or, my pet armageddon, "Digital Natives".

Firstly, we know that while young people are taught how to swim in the safe goldfish bowl of school and private intranets, often by educators who themselves have a filmsy idea of how to operate in that arena, they are completely incapable of operating safely and responsibly in the oceans of the web. If young people are to learn how to upload and download information responsibly then they must be allowed to play with their technologies with the lifeguard of the educator to drag them back to safety when they start to falter. Filtering these technologies serves only to compound the ability of the educator to work with the youngster on media literacy, and harms us all in a wider sense.

Secondly, we romanticise the technological creativity of our youngsters online. While large numbers now upload material online (close to 78% of teens according to most recent research) most of this material is photographic - i.e. mobile snaps from nights out. Creating and publishing original narrative, original code or Facebook apps or even mashed up video or code is not currently a regular pass-time of you average British kid, though we are beginning to see valiant efforts to make this process of creation-publication the norm in our schooling.

2929411771_690e0352b8_m However, most don't come close to the kind of creativity illustrated by a young Mark Zuckerberg, pictured, who avoided his near flunk at Harvard art class with some online creativity, a story recounted by Jeff in WWGD. With a few days to go until his final exam, for which he hadn't done any work (well, he was creating his $15b company), he created a site with copies of the artwork that was likely to appear in the final exam, put in some comment boxes under each one, and let his fellow students know that he had created a collaborative study guide. All they had to do was fill in the blanks. Not only did a cheeky Zuckerberg pass with flying colours, but his classmates also did better than normal thanks to their formative assessment that Zuckerberg offered them.

But here's the tough question Jarvis doesn't ask: how many youngsters actually do that, or even think of it as a possibility? Today's literacy benchmark is copy and paste. A media literacy strategy, instead of talking about how we block copying and pasting, and enforce filtering, rating, copyright and IPR restrictions, could begin the hard work of illustrating how copy, paste, open sourcing and creative commons-ing can lead to much better content and information for all.

The challenges of attracting attention to these challenges with a public that's hard to get

The biggest challenge for a 'strategy' like this is that it's incredibly hard to a) attract young audiences b) keep them and c) turn that into some form of value. Channel 4's arguably one of the best broadcasters in the world at doing this, and with 4iP and Channel 4 Education's work online, we're attempting to work out how we replicate television's success at 'reach' to this group online, on mobile and in socially connected games.

Matt Locke and I have been playing around with Dave McClure's Metrics for Pirates in our work with independent companies to push them to think about those questions: how are you going to attract people, how are you going to keep them, and how are you going to turn that into some sort of value? Matt came up with a strong reduction of this, and I made it look less pretty but more utilitarian by insisting on a timescale for each metric. Take those three questions and apply them to what we know about online community uptake (that 90% lurk, 9% will follow regularly and 1% might contribute something) and we end up with a roll-your-own site metrics table:

One Page Metrics.018

To help see it in action I made one up for YouTube, had they approached 4iP a few years back for funding. It shows how a site that "gets people to upload videos" has added a lot of small ingredients to the recipe to take people on that more-complex-than-it-looks journey to uploading a vid. It still takes great ideas and a strong awareness of the potential of different technologies and techniques (RSS, Ajax, email, marketing, business development, cloud computing) to be able to fill it in and act on it, and this is where we might just see some problems in our institutions and schools. The knowledge and understanding just isn't there in enough quantities to high enough a level.

Our well-meaning institutions are another obstacle in the process
One could even go as far as saying that it would be counter-intuitive, professionally suicidal even, for institutions to seize this opportunity to engage with young people - any people - in this kind of open, copiable, distributable, redistributable, changeable, alterable way. Jeff Jarvis is right:


"Industries and institutions, in their most messianic moments, tend to view the internet in their own image: Retailers thin of the internet as a store... Marketers see it as their means to deliver a brand message. Media companies see it as a medium, assuming that online is about content and distribution...
"The internet explodes [this notion that industries and institutions have some point of control over people]. It abhors centralization. It loves sea level and tears down barriers to entry. It despises secrecy and rewards openness. It favors collaboration over ownership. The once-powerful approach the internet with dread when they realize they cannot control it."


As a starting point, therefore, media literacy begins with much more communication between young people and adults when we're taking decisions on how we proceed. There are three main areas that need tackled first:

1. Filtering needs to be a joint-decision activity
Who defines 'safe' in the large grey area where user's own discrepency is accepted as the main tool of judgement? Who decides what 'Bad Content' might be (a phrase used in the context of a presentation at the EU Media Literacy conference)? Who decides if content is culturally acceptable or not within a geographical area, and why should I as a Brit have to have an internet that is culturally adapted to the country in which I find myself, while I and my judgements remain coloured by being British? Filtering is the poor cousin of film classification, something invented as a solution for atoms crossing borders, not digits.

While filtering illegal content is a no-brainer, we need to assume the rest is whitelisted and have conversations about those where we're less sure. Blocking the unpopular but legitimately published free speech of bloggers, for example, is plainly wrong and not an option any more.

Neither is it an option to create 'safe havens' where we expect people to come along and get 'safe' stuff. Glow, a national intranet for schools, thus far comes over as this, although the desire for it to 'leak' out onto the web is becoming clearer. But I feel it needs to take a leaf out of the book of, say,

Battlefront, an education project designed to encourage more young people to campaign on important issues. It consists of broadcast and social media 'authored' elements on the web, rooted in getting people to think about campaigning, but gets huge amounts of traffic from being distributed around the web, in as many parts of it as possible. Traditional education would have you "Come to school", broadcaster's to "their channel" - it's got to be the opposite, modeling good online behaviour by providing different contexts for the same material, different discussions, setting off new trails amongst users.

2. Parents need to understand better what's going on
I'd disagree with some speakers' assertion that "most learning goes on in schools", at least in relation to learning about internet use. On average only 60 minutes per week per pupil is spent on the net in school, compared to 1340 minutes per week at home.

Yet, only a third of parents in UK befriend their offspring (and what about the 'real' profiles where youngsters go and live their 'real' lives away from the old folks?). While 80% of parents feel sure they know what their offspring are doing online, only 30% of the offspring think so. We see a gross lack of communication between students and teachers, even when they are fighting the same cause. British parents in particular are poor at understanding what they're children do online - this means parents and educators need to speak more with the youngsters in their lives.

We also need to make sure that we don't demonise anonymity on the web. For public service media, the type that makes people's lives better and draws them from one-way web to the read-write web, anonymity is often the prerequisite for stimulating and sincere discussions.

Take a look, for example, at Embarrassing Teenage Bodies where anonymity offers the chance to discuss those 'embarrassing' but pervasive issues of growing up. Or Sexperience, where people of all ages, shapes, sizes and cultures are able to anonymously tackle the myriad of issues around seual health, wellbeing and enjoyment.

On the flip-side, anonymity doesn't work for Landshare, where we want people to trade their unused land with people who can cultivate it - we need to know who people are and if they're bona fide for the safety of those involved: anonymity needs handled with due diligence.

3. Talking helps you know, but using helps you understand
We all need to get more involved in not just the theory of how these things work but in the practice too - being in and creating media opportunities in the places where we seek participation from the public or our students.

One of the biggest media literacy and digital divide challenges, now that most of the UK is online or can get online, is making enough interesting stuff for non-net-users to want to get online. That means content that empowers them more than not using it, maybe in the form of some of MySociety's projects (TheyWorkForYou or the travel maps)

To take that point of empowerment further, and to conclude, there has to be a realisation that while artists and creators of content used to have value in owning their IPR in a world of atoms, in a world of digits this ownership if IPR comes only with costs. In a digital world if you own the only version of something then, for a while, your IPR has value but, eventually, will be commodotised as me-toos appear - not direct copies, but similar and maybe even better.

If you let people copy and distribute your stuff then you're able, eventually, to reduce your overhead on marketing and distribution - your fans and copiers are doing this for you. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is twofold:

1. Get over the idea that your creation is the last stop of the creative bus:
People will change your message, distort it, make it worse, make it better, create something you hadn't intended - your original will always be your original, their altered version always their altered version. The important thing here is that it's as easy as clicking a link or running a Google search to find the original source and to let the user/participant make their own mind up as to which message they are more engaged with.

2. Find alternative means of being recompensed for your initial efforts
Have your original stuff carry ads or sponsorship, give away poor versions for free but top quality versions for money as eBook fans and TV companies on YouTube and social networks already do, find the George Lucas approach to making your stuff, and make your money on something else.

Pic 1: Smoking and texting

Pic 2: Zuckerberg

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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