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Notions: Nothing Is The Same


Notions is a weekly column that delves into what did, what should, what could, or what needs to happen in the world of technology and pop culture.

There are only a handful of hip-hop artists who can dominate the social landscape when their album leaks. There are less that can make Twitter weep. There are only two that have the talent, vision, and respect of their peers to expand an art form that is highly adverse to change. The first dropped an excellent album earlier this year entitled Yeezus; the second only raps part-time.

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The Significance of Yeezus


For the last few days, I’ve had the privilege of digesting Yeezus, the newest project from Kanye West. After running through the album numerous times, there are three things that are very clear about what Yeezus is and will mean to music.

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Xbox Music: Microsoft Restarts Their Entertainment Efforts

Xbox is not only a gaming console for your living room with video streaming apps and PC integration but, it is now Microsoft’s gateway to delivering media. Just as Apple uses iTunes for distribution, so Microsoft is deploying their best known device for their new music service. On Oct. 26, they are replacing the Zune Marketplace with the new Xbox Music service. A lot of good ad-supported streaming services exist, but Microsoft says that they are inconsistent across devices. Users familiar with streaming services such as Spotify and Rdio with notice similar features adopted by Xbox Music.

So far, it looks as if Xbox music is trying to combine all of a user’s music services into one large area consisting of Xbox 360 (and future editions), Windows Phone, Windows Tablet, and PC. Xbox Music will have arguably the largest music catalog of all music services, with 30 million songs, and that the experience offers music discovery they are calling Smart DJ. Thirty million is a large number to tout compared to that of iTunes and Apple’s iTunes Match service which does veritably the same thing. Also, the service will let adopters listen free to any song on computers and tablets with the latest software (Windows 8 released Oct. 2012) and also on the Xbox gaming console. No ceiling is set for the number of tracks you can listen to, and users can also skip as many tracks as they want (unlike Spotify but could be changed over time). Cross-platform adoption, such as for iOS and Android users, will also gain access within the net year.

Microsoft’s Xbox Music service will begin appearing on the Xbox game console this week. For now though, Microsoft’s promises seem weak compared to those services such as Pandora which already work. Though, looking ahead at their platform and users who will adopt the new Windows 8, it could be the only music service they need.

Source: Microsoft, Xbox Music, IGN, NYT, AllThingsD


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The Return of Myspace: Entertainment Meets Social… Again.

Alright, folks! Dust off your web browsers and let’s all journey back a few years, when the wide open spaces of the Internet were dominated by a well known name—Myspace. Generation Y’s old friend is coming back, sporting a fresh new look brought to you by the new king of pop, Justin Timberlake.

The long lost social network, which Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. offloaded earlier this year for $35 million, recently introduced a completely rethought and redesigned website. So far all we’ve seen is a brief video tour, while a landing page has been launched where interested users can sign up for a beta invite.

From what we’ve seen so far, the new Myspace will still be centered around music; a sort of social Spotify. The new HTML5 design looks fantastic, and is responsive to all modern browsers, tablets, and smartphones. The new design has been compared to Microsoft’s Windows 8 UI, formerly known as Metro, with a fullscreen background image reminiscent of a desktop background. Some have compared it to the Pinterest homepage, styled in a grid-like pattern devoid of clutter.

As with the current Myspace, users will be able to log in with their existing Facebook account, and connect with other services like YouTube and Twitter. By leveraging the existing user base of their largest rival, Myspace will hopefully be able to attract users to their redesigned service, if only to check it out.

In the current mobile-first landscape of social networking, Myspace must update their apps to reflect the new desktop experience. They certainly can’t afford to fall behind in today’s realm of rapid mobile adoption. It looks like Justin Timberlake and the Myspace team are taking a big gamble on this one, which very well might pay off. Instead of trying to overthrow social giants Facebook and Twitter, Myspace is trying to get back to their roots of creating a direct and intimate relationship between musicians and their listeners. Check out ABC’s interview with MySpace CEO Tim Vanderhook, entitled “There is No Point To Compete with Facebook and Twitter“, and if you’re interested, you can pre-register for the new Myspace right now. Public invites will start going out before the end of the year.

The new Myspace from Myspace on Vimeo.

Source: Myspace, Mashable, ABC, The Verge, Yahoo, TechCrunch

Web-original series PBS Off Book
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Weekend Laugh At Tech: The Worlds Of Viral Video

Web-original series PBS Off Book

PBS Off Book takes a look into the artform that keeps us entertained on the web, the wonderful world of viral videos. The new advertainment is creating an opportunity for 2-5 minute videos to make an impact in the online community then spread worldwide very quickly. What counts as viral may not just be popularity but the willingness to share it with other people.

“Viral Video” is the signature phenomenon of internet media. Something akin to pop songs, these videos with irresistible hooks have saturated video culture online and have now evolved into a multitude of sophisticated forms. Whether rooted in comedy, spectacle, schadenfreude, cuteness, politics, performance, or deep meaning, the idea of viral videos, and the huge audiences they generate, have forever changed the values and potential impact of video online.

About PBS Off Book: Off Book is a web-original series from PBS that explores cutting edge art, the artists that make it and the people that share it online. New episodes every other Thursday.

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The Brilliance of Apple’s New Commercials and How The User Base Just Doesn’t Get It

Twitter lit up with a flurry of negative comments regarding Apple’s new TV commercials which aired during the Olympic Opening Ceremony on NBC. Apple’s television commercials are legendary. In recent years, most of their commercials have been focused entirely on the products themselves. Apple users generally have found these commercials to be favorable, as they highlight the sophistication, design, and innovation that we all love. These new commercials feature a twenty-something Apple Genius coming to the rescue of a middle-aged novice Mac user. They represent a radical departure from anything that Apple has ever done, and the Apple loyalists were overwhelmingly unimpressed.

I found them to be brilliant.

If you are a Mac user, they don’t need to tell you what a fantastic product it is. You have at least one, and you love it. You know all about the Mac, its features, benefits, and software. There is absolutely no reason that Apple needs to spend money to make commercials for the purpose of making you feel good about a purchase that you have already made. In its simplest essence, these commercials are made to target the people who don’t already own a Mac. Apple is looking to gain new users, not just to get existing users to spring for an upgrade because they rolled out some new features.

Examination of a Premise

The new commercials are brilliant on many levels. They manage to quickly and simply convey some fairly heavy concepts in a light and interesting manner. It doesn’t take a Genius to figure out the demographics of the target audience: Middle to upper income middle-aged adults. Just look at the commercials. Who are the people who are receiving help from the Genius? That’s right, middle to upper income, middle-aged adults. But why would they target that group? The answer is simple. They can easily afford to buy a Mac, and the vast majority of them are not currently Mac users. Apple is smart to want to convert them.

Good salesmanship, in many ways, hinges on a few key factors such as the ability to gain trust, be likable, communicate benefits, and overcome objections. These commercials do all of these things in the context of the target demographic. They seek to gain the trust of targeted consumers by putting the Genius on a pedestal. In the commercials he’s smart, experienced, helpful, likable, and always willing to help the technologically illiterate without talking down to them or making them feel foolish. When the middle-aged technologically illiterate person who has seen these commercials eventually walks into an Apple store and meets a twenty-something year old Genius in the now familiar blue shirt and name badge, they will be more likely to be interested in talking, and asking for help. Also, when that Genius recommends a certain product (read product as Apple Care;) the customer may be more likely to take the advice, because after all, this guy IS a Genius. Let’s also not forget that in one of the commercials, the Genius sows seeds of distrust against typical computer sales people. It implies that non-Genius sales people don’t really know what they are talking about, and will say anything to get you to buy that imitation Mac (Ultrabook, anyone?).

These commercials succeed at communicating benefits to users. Steve Jobs said a long time ago that what regular people really want to with their computers are things like making a video of their kids, or (at the time) burning a CD. In one commercial, a man on an airplane is trying to quickly make a video. In another, a man is trying to make a card to share a photo of his newborn child. The message to the target audience is that a Mac will help you quickly and easily do the things that you want to do, and if you can’t figure it out, we’re here to help you out, and we’ll never act like you are stupid for needing help. This is an attempt to court people who either don’t know how to use a computer or are afraid to abandon the familiarity of the PC that they reluctantly got accustomed to using at work in favor of a Mac.

A number of people on Twitter have voiced the concern that, “These commercials make Mac users look like idiots who can’t use a computer!”. No no no. You’ve got it all wrong. It’s a metaphor. YOU are the Genius on the airplane. YOU are the Genius on the street who steers somebody away from an imitation Mac. YOU, Mr. Smart Mac User, are the Genius that gets woken up in the middle of the night by a friend on his way to the hospital for the birth of his child. Apple is saying that in addition to the help that you will find in an Apple store, there are scads of Mac users that really know what they are doing, and are willing to help.

Lighten up guys, and think it through. The commercials are extremely well thought out, and the Mac loyalists seem to be missing the point. Apple is not slipping, and Phil Schiller is still a marketing legend at the top of his game.

Be the Genius.