Commanding Chaos for Coworking, Open Source and Creative Communities

Community Media works when you get involved

Mon, 01/04/2010 - 07:09 -- rprice

We had our first official Producers meeting about the new Orlando Scene TV (background) this week. Michael showed us all a trailer based on footage he and I had put together, and something funny happened inside me:

I was overjoyed that this crappy video I shot was getting used in something so professional and awesome.

Then I realised that we can bring that feeling to dozens and dozens of people every time we release a half-hour show, and a whole bunch of pieces clicked together in my head.

In order to really have the community feel like they own this thing, we have to make a pointed effort to include their contributions in every single episode, and make a call for entries loud and clear.

This isn't about UGC. This is about something more real than that. Each community member has an equal chance of creating something that makes the final product better.

Then, they will want to call their mom and their friends and tell them "turn on channel 1, watch my video on this show!"

If I can call my mom, then we have succeeded.

When there are moms calling other moms, we have reached the tipping point.

If all those moms and their kids give us a few bucks, we can quit our jobs and make this full-time. We can rent a coworking space, train new filmmakers, buy them equipment, build a network and live the dream.

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On the end of Terrestrial TV Broadcasting

Sun, 01/03/2010 - 08:17 -- rprice

There was a big discussion last week on my local geeky mailing list that started because of a mention that local TV stations may stop broadcasting over-the-air for free.

From Yahoo News:

The recession has squeezed advertising further, forcing broadcasters to accelerate their push for new revenue to pay for programming.

That will play out in living rooms across the country. The changes could mean higher cable or satellite TV bills, as the networks and local stations squeeze more fees from pay-TV providers such as Comcast and DirecTV for the right to show broadcast TV channels in their lineups. The networks might even ditch free broadcast signals in the next few years.

I say this can be a good thing for Local Producers looking to grab ad dollars from retailers in their area, and find ways to connect with their local community and economy. The hyper-local video shows we are producing in the dark now will have a hungry audience looking for content.

However, I don't think that we can be successful unless internet gets a lot more ubiquitous - we either need more competition, or more over-the-air access to the network, or both. Where is all the WiMax we were promised?

Once we get the WiMax, then why doesn't it come bundled with content, similar to Verizon FiOS? They would do well to throw in a set-top box like a Roku or the upcoming Boxee device with a 2-year contract, and maybe some bonus subscriptions thrown in there.

A small chunk of the ad revenue is being recouped online, where the networks sell episodes for a few dollars each or run ads alongside shows on sites such as Hulu. Media economist Jack Myers projects online video advertising will grow into a $2 billion business by 2012, from just $350 million to $400 million in 2009.

But that is not significant enough to make up for the lost ad revenue on the airwaves. Advertisers spent $34 billion on broadcast commercials in 2008, down by $2.4 billion from two years earlier, according to the Television Bureau of Advertising.

Crybabies! Figure out how to operate lean and mean, trim the fat, and stop paying people who think they know what's best for their audience - why not try asking us for a change?

If all they're going to do is keep making reality TV, I'll be happy that it's not getting sent over the airwaves - I don't want to see any more of that crap. I don't care if they do have Ben Folds now, it's stupid, mindless and childish.

But tell us how you really feel...

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Magazine Reader Concept by Bonnier

Sat, 01/02/2010 - 09:33 -- rprice

The parent company of my old employers have hired a design firm to create a concept of an ideal electronic magazine reader.

Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

One of my favorite parts is when he talks about feeling as though you have "completed" reading the magazine. He says it from the editorial point of view, but for me it has to do with my habits (or you could call it OCD). When I'm reading email or feeds, I get driven by the number, as in the number of remaining articles to be read, or the number of comments to approve, the number of plugins to update, the number of emails to delete. It gives me a sense of how far I've gotten, and it's a powerful motivator for someone like me.

It's also cool that the spine is e-paper. That and the "heating up" rubbing gesture are two of my favorite parts about this video.

Really, these concept videos are so damn flashy - even though this one is trying to be minimalist. I get frustrated, because I know that actually seeing this device is still several years away, if it ever gets made. I still think of the Optimus Keyboard, which is now finally released 4-5 years later, and with a $2000 price tag. On the other hand, it's pretty awesome.

Even if we never see this device in the wild, hopefully the good design and user experience will make its way into other applications and devices in the next few years.

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Firefox 3.6 Beta

Wed, 11/25/2009 - 06:48 -- rprice

I've been trying to keep up with web browser innovation for a while now, even though it might be painful or inconvenient. At the same time, it's one thing I get some satisfaction out of. I've talked in the past about Flock, Songbird, Miro, and lots of web browser related topics.

This morning I grabbed Firefox 3.6 Beta 3 (download), and it's got some interesting fun features. First of all, HTML 5 Videos can go full-screen. This is a big step towards in-browser video. Another huge improvement is support for CSS3 fonts, particularly the new WOFF format.

There are also some cool new CSS and DOM features, like crisp vs smooth image scaling (the only way to see the result is to have 3.6 installed) - then there is something very cool I would love to see someone play with - accelerometer support! I assume this will be most useful when they start rolling out mobile browsers, but it currently works on Mac OSX.

I've also been helping to test some extensions by just doing basic reporting with the Addon Compatibility Reporter. Really, the best part here is that it will let you use Extensions that are not properly flagged, so I get to work around one of the most frustrating beta-testing features, which is that you lose some of those useful tools! I'm glad they have a way to keep my essential addons around.

Go Try it out!

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How to Upload Podcast Files to Amazon S3 with Firefox

Tue, 11/17/2009 - 19:03 -- rprice

I recently moved several gigabytes of audio podcast files off of my server into the cloud. Amazon S3 is a simple and cost-effective way to reliably and quickly distribute files like podcasts to a large audience.

This video shows how to upload audio files and set public permissions using the Amazon S3 Firefox Organizer and Amazon's Simple Storage Service. Check my channel for more how-to videos and DrupalEasy.com for Drupal tutorials and podcasts.

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Bootstrapping a Videoblogging Army

Mon, 11/16/2009 - 13:19 -- rprice

Every time I happen to catch a few minutes of the nightly news, I kind of want to vomit. The scare tactics, the way they talk down to the audience, the insanely short clips, and the tons of other tricks that mainstream media uses to bolster ratings and viewership really grind my grindable parts.

Then we have the exact polar opposites, like Orlando Event TV - Orlando Event TV this and several other shows produced locally are really trying to show everyone what it really means to be a citizen of this community, and they are all about the transparency. When you watch this video of Mark Baratelli in Winter Park, for example, the voice is completely different than the nightly news. He is much more watchable than a talking head in a TV studio.

I had a similar dream not too long ago, and that manifested itself as Orlando Scene TV and a bunch of other sites, like Orlando Video. The honest truth here is that I was not able to keep the momentum going for long periods of time. Producing video and being an unstoppable advocate for your product take a lot of time, energy, and the cooperation of a passionate community. Then there's a question of money - how can I pay my rent, etc. if all I'm ever doing is recording people's rock shows and theatre performances. It just never added up for me.

Then a little while ago I realized that the only way to really get a local indie TV project off the ground would be to distribute the workload as much as possible.

What does this look like? Well, now that I have the idea from The Art of Community to come up with a list of teams and their responsibilities, I see the teams as follows:
Internet TV and Local Events Community
Let me be clear about a few things:

Audience

The role of the audience here is to let us know that we are giving them something they want, and to give us some ideas to keep moving this machine forward. Kickstarter (or something like it) could be a powerful force here: we can hold certain great ideas for ransom unless there is a certain amount of community support. The audience laid out here is really a fraction of the audience, the most passionate 2%. I also think this group will be web-savvy enough to have their own web sites or popular facebook profiles (hundreds of friends), and they will want to use these channels to help us promote our cause.

Tech Leads

Aside from pushing buttons, I also put these people in the role of "product designers". If Jony Ive has a lot to do with the success of Apple products, then we should be able to assign a few people in our community a similar amount of responsibility. These people are very highly skilled, and may only contribute once every few years, when we redesign the title graphics and the website, or they may help us create fliers, blog badges an mini-sites on a more frequent basis. These are also the User Experience designers - in charge of the overall way in which people interact with the product.

Producers

Here, a producer is anyone who makes something. That means hosts, script or show notes writers, video editors, etc. A production team could be all of one person, or it could be as large as 5 or 6. It really depends on the skills of everyone involved and the scope of the particular project. A large goal here would be to make sure that anyone who counts as a producer could technically do everything by him- or herself if needed, but it's really a question of time. Like I said before, this is the repetitive and time-hogging part, even if we can streamline the whole process.

The other key is to make sure that everyone owns his or her work, not only from an intellectual property perspective, but in a support fashion as well - if someone has a question about the restaurant you reviewed, you should be the one to get the notification and reply. In this way, people may start to develop a "beat" or even "channels" of information, and it could make sense to give certain producers their own sites. Pulling a line from The Starfish and the Spider, the producers give little more than spiritual guidance to the community. He can suggest large projects or hair-brained schemes, but he will be on his own unless they get a decent number of other community members to support and participate. These ideas can even come from the Audience, but as they don't often produce content, an audience member will have to find a champion for her great idea.

The last piece of this puzzle for me is the equipment. We only need a few REALLY expensive tools - many people already own a computer, and video editing tools are freely available. Coming by decent video cameras is what used to be difficult, until recently. If you really want to spend some green, go ahead and get a Flip or a Kodak - even most consumer still cameras have pretty nice video capabilities. However, this still costs anywhere from $100 - $350, and that is a large financial barrier right now.

What if we could make the cost of entry $30?

That's such a small amount, we could probably raise a few hundred dollars from our community and outfit an entire army with these cheap video tools in no time at all!

I heard about the Coby CAM3000 Mini Digital Camcorder on a podcast I regularly listen to, The Daily Giz Wiz. As far as I know, this is the absolutely least expensive (yet decent) tool for capturing video made by a well-known manufacturer. I plan on picking one up just to field test it - it's so affordable, why not?

The other part of my plan here is to get some training and best practices in the heads of these videobloggers before they get out in the wild. We already have some community spaces and LOTS of events happening, so the material is always out there. We could pair up one new guy with an experienced producer and mentor them in the basics. Make sure they know not to film in too much or too little light, how to get some decent sound, introduce them to some basic video editing, and how to post videos. This might take one long day or a few evenings out, but there will be a certain point when a new producer will just have to get out on her own and start learning by doing.

We won't just "give" out these cameras - they will have to be earned. If we apply some sort of a value to the camera - say, 10 points, and videos another - say 1 point for a video shorter than 3 minutes, 2 points for a video 4 minutes or longer of a reasonable quality - later when we can offer better equipment - the Kodak Zi8, or the Flip Mino HD, or perhaps even other stuff to barter for. I also have this thought right now that if we have any advertising revenue to share, it will be based on your continued contribution of at least X points in a 1-3 month period - we would probably need a way to make sure that we always have fresh content coming in, so we need to assign deadlines to keep people from getting lazy. As soon as this machine loses a certain amount of momentum, it might as well not be running at all.

That's as far as I'm going to wander into this thought experiment for now. I don't have a great picture of how other organizations do it, and this is just something I've been stewing on for a few months when I really get the chance to think about it, which is not very often at all. I'd love to take a look at how NowPublic and a whole bunch of other public media entities handle this. There are lots of questions unanswered here, but I've been struggling to really write down and communicate this idea to a large group for a while now.

If you'd like to talk more, I think we should wake up the PodCamp Orlando mailing list. I'm going to send this same text out there to see if we get any bites. Please blog about this, tweet it, point to the list page, get everyone who might be interested involved in the discussion.

Tonight is a Florida Creatives Happy Hour, and Friday is MOOM. We should be having a Likemind on December 4th, and another Happy Hour on December 21st. If you'd like to talk in person, these days are really good ones to engage me and others who are interested in making Orlando more awesome.

Update: We now have a project planning site - if you want to get an invite, leave a comment below, and make sure you fill in the email field.

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Drupal and Interactive Marketing

Thu, 11/12/2009 - 12:45 -- rprice

Check out this slideshow by Robert Douglass at a recent conference in Europe. Pretty heavy on the Acquia love, but a nice overview of some ways large companies are rolling out dozens of sites and micro-sites to as many different audiences with Drupal.

This was actually a large part of my daily responsibilities while working for Popular Science. We spent a lot of time working on a site for the annual Best of What's New promotion (the email for this year's BoWN just went out), as well as some micro-sites for a sports promotion, and the B2B part of BoWN.

Drupal's multi-site capabilites, combined with things like Themes, Internationalization, Installation Profiles (or Features), and finally management products like Aegir, can really make rolling out a few dozen Drupal sites just as easy as rolling out just one site. We've actually had talks about this at some recent Florida Drupal User Group meetings.

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What's been going on in my life?

Sun, 11/08/2009 - 14:04 -- rprice


Lemur!, originally uploaded by Liberatr.net.

Um... where has the time gone? So many things have been happening lately, I feel like if I were to tell them all here, I'd pass another 2 weeks just re-counting all of them.

After the New Media Think and Drink, (go listen to the audio, and the audio of the 2nd half), I was excited about Community Building and Social Media Consulting even more than I have been in a long time. Also, the Digital Media Banner Center asked me to contribute to their New and Emerging Industries Task Force, which is basically trying to find jobs for journalists who have been laid off recently. I was very excited and honored to be a part of something constructive and forward-thinking. Needless to say, they were able to (once again) gather a group of smart, talented and well-experienced people and get them to talk about changing the world. I love that kind of stuff.

We have been doing lots of awesome DrupalEasy stuff lately - we have great podcasts with book authors and our patented "bookaway" contests, where you get Drupal books just for listening and commenting. I also got the chance to FLY up do to some Drupal Training in North Carolina. It was the first time that someone (specifically, Tomas and Jerry) actually FLEW to come hear me speak. I was proud.

I had a great time and got to try some wonderful craft beers at the Flying Saucer in Raleigh. I also learned that Raleigh has a Drupal User Group, but a bit too late. They actually had their meeting the same night I was headed home. Maybe next time!

The new house is treating me very well, the cats, Mariah and I are all settling in just fine, but Fozzie (my cat) has to stay in his cage, because he's still trying to heal his leg, and he gets in too many fights with Litmus and Loki (Mariah's cats), who are much older and set in their ways. He really likes chasing them around the house and is constantly getting hit in the face while trying to mount the large cat tree in the living room.

It's also really nice working here. I have been "working from home" for most of the past 6 years, but only in this house have I ever had a dedicated room as an office, and an atmosphere that was so conducive to working and collaborating with others. I think getting this house will be one of the things I look back on as being very good for my work and creative lives, in addition to the benefits everyone else gets from owning a house. We already had one big party here, back on Talk Like a Pirate Day, and a few weeks ago, we tested out the Party Patio, the BBQ grill, and the fire pit.

A large part of my last few months was actually dedicated to working with a friend of mine, Kyle, on teaching him Drupal, and updating the website for his podcast, the Student of the Game. That site and Florida Creatives are two of the ideas that have really stuck back from the days when I was doing Liberatr more full-time. Kyle was laid off, and I was trying to introduce him to web site building and freelancing. We got pretty far with the whole idea, but it's not like you can just flip a switch and change someone's life, so he's taken a contract with some place crunching database rows and generating reports. We'll keep working on it, just a bit slower. That's fine, because I need to work too.

Speaking of Florida Creatives, we are inching up on the start of the 4th year of Orlando Happy Hours for creative people. Our regular meetup will take place on the 16th at Crooked Bayou, just like it always does. I've also been trying to delegate some of the responsibility, like website design. Erik Baldwin is a fantastic designer and a good friend, and he's been coming up with some designs based on my rudimentary wireframes, and I've also been adding new features to the site, like the Communties and Meetups page. I'm not sure how this feature will ultimately present itself, but it's already better than a flat wiki page with just text and links. There's nothing stopping anyone from adding new ones, but we're not exactly advertising the feature just yet.

Also this week, I have been having some problems with an old server I keep around for hosting personal sites and sites for friends, so I started the very large task of moving several gigabytes of files over to Amazon S3. Namely, all the podcasts I recorded a few years back, and everything Kyle produced for the Student of the game in the past 4 seasons of football. As far as I can tell, everything is happily hosted by "the cloud" now, and the end users don't know the difference.

One more geeky update, and I'll be through. It's about Twitter, so feel free to tune out now.

Twitter finally added a feature... something useful, and something that would be hard for a 3rd party to add. It's called Lists, and I started making some. They're useful for me, as I'm following 1700 people and my attempts to make the list shorter are really just making me find more people I want to follow, but for a multitude of subjects. One is just plain old technology, which is what my RSS reader used to be for. The next is a collection of the other Twitter accounts I own or manage, and hopefully one day twitter will let me say WHY I made each list one day. The last and most complete right now is my list of Drupal people. I think I'm also going to start one for coworking, but I haven't really done much with it yet.

I'm sure I'm leaving stuff out, but I feel pretty well vented right now. I really need to get to this blogging thing more often...

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Let's Make it Suck

Sat, 10/31/2009 - 20:56 -- rprice

This week I ordered my copy of The Art of Community by Jono Bacon. Jono is a community leader for a big open source software project, and hosts one of my favorite podcasts, all about open source, but he tries to write the book from a neutral perspective.

Still, you have to write what you know, so Jono's 4 big examples so far are the Jokosher sound editor, Linux user groups, the LUG Radio Podcast, and the Ubuntu project, of course.

He has a big emphasis on writing things down, which I have to say I haven't always been the best at in the past - I like to get my hands dirty. However, when the mission, goals, and a plan are written down and shared with everyone, more doors can be opened than if you keep everything in your head.

What do you mean by "making it suck"?

One of the coolest examples from the Art of Community is when Jono is discussing methods for brainstorming. One of the ways he suggests to get people talking and break down mental barriers is by asking them to design an end product with the opposite goals in mind.

From The Art of Community, Chapter 2, p. 55:

The idea is simple: reverse the aims of what you want to achieve.

As an example, imagine you wanted to design a cell phone. Traditionally, you would brainstorm the attributes of a great cell phone. Instead, turn everything on its head. What would make the worst possible cell phone? Maybe it ignores all calls? Or maybe it only accepts calls from telemarketing companies? Maybe the buttons are too small? How about really short battery life?

Awesome idea. I'm stealing that one.

So, what's something I love, and how can I make it suck? I think Florida Creatives would be a great thought experiment:

  • Membership is invite-only. Each event has a $50 entry fee, and you are not allowed to bring anyone new - ever.
  • Meetings are now held at a private office with 3 keycards and 2 security checkpoints. meetings are announced one hour ahead of time; If you miss 2 meetings in a row, you are banned for life
  • You can contact other members, but only through the web site, and only if you have paid for the last 3 meetings - your website account is locked out otherwise
  • All events begin and end by passing a stack of business cards around the room - nobody is allowed to introduce him or herself, and no discussion is allowed to deviate from a pre-selected agenda
  • The agenda for each meeting will be determined by a monthly sponsor. Sponsors must take the president of the group out to dinner first and only companies with 1,000 or more employees should apply
  • a member should only ever mention his or her day job. Any "moonlighting" or "fun" projects are taboo, and anyone working for a startup will be banned
  • 30 minutes at the beginning of each meeting will be dedicated to talking about how bloggers are destroying the news industry, and why every blogger should go to jail for being un-American. Also, anyone caught mentioning open source software, let alone using any free software, will be banned for life.
  • the leader of a given group will be considered "dictator for life", and he will be able to kick people out for dressing the wrong way or bringing up the wrong subject, or making a suggestion of any kind that relates to the group. most of all, anyone offering to give his or her time for free will be banned and will be told he or she will "never work in this town again". The dictator will distribute all monies as he sees fit, especially if that means buying a new sports car to drive to meetings

Um, you get the idea... Now how would you make your favorite thing suck? The idea here is not to complain about an existing problem or bring up negative points. This is to be the "minus" side of the battery (+|-) or the "south" side of the magnet (N|S). What is so far opposite from the ideal, that any change whatsoever will be a step in the right direction?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Drupal 7 will Rock so hard!

Sat, 10/24/2009 - 07:49 -- rprice

Where do I even begin?

First of all, I must preface that the Drupal Community is without a doubt one of the best open source communities. (meaning: most open, most likely to share code, experience and best practices, most innovative, most forward-thinking, least likely to "chase the bunny", most likely to be the bunny, and most likely to create tons of venture-backed companies in the next few years)

DSC05039

I mean, the people involved are just amazing. The two DrupalCons I've attended were just amazing, and our local Florida DrupalCamp and Florida Drupal user groups are a big part of why I have not jumped ship to Python, Ruby, or other even other PHP-based platforms, and why I have no plans to any time soon.

We had a demo of the penumbrant Drupal 7 at our recent monthly Drupal user group. I am convinced it is THE CMS with more power under the hood (built-in, for free) than anything else... ever. The whole Job Queue API by itself is a reason to build web apps on top of this, and stop thinking of Drupal as a CMS - if you've got tons of processing that needs to happen, such as processing thousands of RSS feeds, or creating something very processing-intensive like Feedburner or Flickr, you will need to use multiple servers - a simple Cron job isn't enough any more.

Then there is the database layer - not that it was the worst before, but there were certain kinds of configurations which used to require hacking core. Now, because of some pretty OOP (yes, Drupal has objects now!), you can override the database layer, and it uses PDO.

One huge change is the addition of a Fields API (AKA adding CCK to core, but it's more than that). This means that instead of storing simple rows in a database, Drupal 7 exposes data storage to developers and end-users. At the most basic level, fields are used to store the title and body of nodes, categories/tags, images, dates, links, numbers or references to internal objects like nodes and users. This allows you to add extra fields to comments, user accounts and taxonomy terms as well.

Next, we'd have to talk about user interface and workflow improvements. The entire administrative interface now has a default skin - and there is now a compact administrative toolbar at the top of each page, plus a customizable bookmarks area and a configurable dashboard (unlike Wordpress, where you get to read Matt's blog). The interface is a great sensible default, which is a bit of a departure from where Drupal has been in the last few years.

You'll actually notice that there will now be a choice when you install Drupal - to use a "Basic" install, or strip everything down to the bare metal. In fact, you don't even have to turn on node module any more - really. This is part of some hard work by folks who would like to use Drupal's core as a PHP framework for building entirely custom apps (instead of smelly Zend Framework or the other unmentioned PHP tools that exist). If you look around for #smallcore, you'll see what I mean.

There is so much more to say... In fact, this presentation by Steve Karsch says more. If you're a big podcast listener, I'd highly recommend listening to Lullabot's Drupal Voices. I'll leave you with this, Drupal Planet and Google to find more.

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