What Can Video Game Design Teach Marketers?

It’s more than the gamification buzz that’s been thrown around.

 I’m a total nerd. It took me a long time to realize how big of nerd I really am though. In high school, I was friends with people that played sports (when I did not). Being friends with “jocks” clouded my self-assessment accuracy, and drowned out all of the Pokemon I watched which would have normally allowed me to easily establish my nerditude. I also spent a lot of time playing video games, both with friends and alone. Video games offered a source of connection and camaraderie with jocks that I couldn’t fake on the court/field/pitch, and an escape into a more heroic self when I was alone.
College was a lot of the same. Other than my roommate, I didn’t socialize much. I spent most of my time studying, learning how to film and edit video, learning to do a little bit of coding, and re-watching movies pursuant to my film criticism courses. All of that learning led me down the marketing/communications route, which I fell in love with. Marketing, coupled with my newly found interest in criticism of movies (and in turn everything else I encountered) let me down the road of looking at all of those video games I’d played differently.

Fast forward a dozen years, and here I am. Sucked down a flooded rabbit hole of marketing, drowning in buzzwords and phrases preaching “starting with why”, “building the customer life-cycle experience journey round”, and “content and context and con-queso are kings”. As I’ve struggled to parse together the thought-leadership from a million different and disconnected applications of modern marketing theology, I think I’ve found a group of disciplined professionals building a framework for what modern marketers are trying to say.

That group of unwitting pioneers are video game designers. Game design is a complicated thing, grounded tightly in behavioral psychology. That obviously closely aligns it with marketing as a discipline, but game designers have been testing and perfecting their craft differently than marketers for the last 30 years. To that end, I think we have a lot to learn. And while I’m obviously not a video game designer, I feel confident enough that my understanding of the concepts will allow me to make the connections over to a marketing application far better than the standard analogy post we’d usually get from the idea.

I’ve spent some time researching and dissecting this already with the intention of putting together a blog post. Unfortunately, I’m already well over 5k words and feel like I could finish with 3x that. So, I’ve decided to turn it into a (small) book. I know nothing about writing a book, or getting it edited. I only know how to put words down on “paper”. So that’s where I’m starting. I’m excited about how it’s making me think differently, and I can’t wait to keep working on it.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

PC Upgrade

Last month I decided it was time to do a new custom PC build. It wasn’t much on the “budget” side, but I did already have a Nvidia GTX 1070 that I’d picked up last year, so I didn’t have to worry about a GPU.

Here’s a capture from CAM of the system upon completion:

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Down the left-hand details pane you’ll see the basic stats.

It’s not an uncommon setup, so I’m not going to run any benchmarks. I’m not overclocked (obv. with the 7700), so no cool water cooler.

Eventually I’ll add in some LED strips to take advance of the jled port on the mobo, and some LED Corsair Vengeance RAM to brighten up the guts a bit. Oh, and the case is last year NZXT s340 (last year’s model, of which the new came out 10 days after I completed this build.)  Even for being last years model, I do love this case. The cabling options are choice, I’ve never had a box that looked this clean.

[picture incoming]

The primary reason for the build was handling HD video for editing in Premiere. As I seem to be doing more and more video worklately , both professionally and personally, my old rig just wasn’t keeping up. I picked up the GPU last year to help out my six year old i7-870, and it did its job for gaming, but the system still struggled to keep up on big video file renders.

Alas, new beefy desktop that should last another 6 years. Also, building a PC is so much more fun and rewarding that buying one. But if you’ve read this far, you already knew that.

Why I Believe Global Warming / Climate Change Science

It looks like the Iowa Legislature is heading towards a nice little discussion around science in the classroom, particularly around our two favorite areas; climate change and evolution. Since it’s a discussion we’re going to have, I thought I would take this month to explain not just what I believe, but why I believe it.

Part I – Climate Change, True or False

It is my opinion that climate change is real. My opinion however, is based upon the facts presented by scientists over the last 30 years. Everyone gets to look at the facts and decide if they believe it or not. My position is that the temperature of our planet has increased temperature faster in the last 117 years than it ever had in the last 150,000 years.

The factors I based my decision on vary, but there are simple facts to consider, like:

  • 2016 (and 2015 before that) were the hottest years on record across the majority of our planet. More importantly, 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001.
  • Total global sea ice has shrunk an average of 13,500 sq miles (basically Maryland) every year since 1979. Hotter planet, less ice. Less ice, hotter planet.
  • Global sea levels have been measured rising faster in the last century than ever before.

And there are more complicated factors, that I don’t fully understand, but I put my trust in the conclusion of scientists. You know, the kind of experts we’ve trusted to create lasers that heal human vision, that have all but eradicated the majority of major diseases from first world countries, that have put a man on the moon, and put a camera the size of  car on a planet four hundred million miles away. Science and our methods are nearly flawless, because they’re rigorous, and built to be tested until we know with near-most certainty that our assumptions are proven.

So, anyway, some of the more complicated factors are:

  • Extreme weather events has increased. Living in Iowa, over the last few years at least it seems like we haven’t experienced much of this since the floods of ’93. But like I said, I trust the scientists that measure this stuff around the world.
  • Another measurable impact is ocean acidity. As CO2 is emitting into the atmosphere, it is absorbed into the ocean. When absorbed, it changes the pH balance of the water. If I remember right, a neutral pH is something like 6. It’s not a big scale. So even small changes impact living organisms ability to survive.

Increased weather events can also refer to an increase in the lack of weather events. A lack of rain. A lack of snow. And it’s not just me that’s concerned. Farmers across our state, and throughout the world have seen the impact and are trying to understand what’s next, and how we cope. You can read about that here, here, and here.

Now, there are some pretty common attempts made to try to debunk climate change, and instead of trying to make you read through them, my friend hank made a video you can watch that you’ll enjoy more than reading.

The most important thing I’ll call out from the video is an agreement that scientists are not stupid. Again, the methods they follow don’t allow them to be. They don’t have hidden agendas. If I were a scientist, I would guess that I would much rather spend my time inventing something that might make me rich, rather than spend my time trying to find some shred of evidence that might help more people understand. 97% of actual experts agree, which by all measures and means in a consensus.

But, even if I could convince you global warming was real, the next step is understanding how humans are contributing to it.

Part II – Man Made, True of False? Hint: Yes, it’s us.

I could point you to even more data and analysis, but those aren’t the things that actually really convinced me that it HAD to be us. What really sold me was an understanding of how inconsequential humans were on this planet until recently, both in volume and impact. A really great example is this video from the American History Museum:

You see, humans have gone off the rails in the last hundred years. The last HUNDRED years. Compared to other mammals, and arthropods, and whatever else had existed for the hundreds of millions of years before us. We have bent this planet to our will, but the volume of us and demand of our needs is now tipping the balance of the carbon cycle.

But that won’t make any sense unless you understand the carbon cycle. So here’s Hank again, but doing his thing on Crash Course:

So the Earth has carbon. And lots of it. And it can handle lots of it. But the carbon that all of us humans are pumping into the atmosphere are too much.

One final  thing to supplement the history of humans on the planet video above is this. It’s a fun graphic depicting the movement from -4 degrees Celsius in 20,000 BC to a center line (the 1961-1990 average temperature) in 8,500 BC and up through modern day. The temperature does increase and decrease, but only a couple of degrees Celsius over thousands of years. So you really only have to look at the bottom of the graphic to see that the increase in temperature has done in 116 years something that usually takes tens of thousands of years.

Humans. And a butt-load of us at that. Burning more fossil (carbon based) fuels into the atmosphere than ever before. That the planet isn’t able to “absorb” back into stored carbon quickly enough, so it hangs in the atmosphere.

It’s like putting an extra blanket over the Earth while it’s trying to break a fever.

My Homelessness Video Script

Dialogue(conscious thought dialogue)

0:00
Good Morning Iowa, welcome to November!

We’re digging in to fall, the holiday season is nearly upon us, and so as we take a break from plowing through the bucket of leftover Halloween candy, it’s a good time for chit-chat

I love Iowa. Were an amazing state, but even great states can always do better at a few things. 

So let’s channel that sugar energy … because its time to talk about something we’d rather not think about, especially this time of year.. homelessness. I know, I know. It’s not fun and it’s complicated, but it’s really important. 

Every individual person has some preconceived opinion about what homelessness is and what creates it, and how to fix… no, how to manage it. But, just, bear with me. Let mash the reset button on those preconceptions, and try to reconstruct how it is we think about homelessness. 

But before I can get into this, we’ve got to look at some definitions because it’s… complicated.

1:00

Homelessness is primarily documented by counting persons suffering at a point in time. To capture this, collective data is reported by various sources like shelter/nutrition/etc, on how many folks are trying being served by providers. Homeless individuals are defined in the social services space as being sheltered and unsheltered. But the point in time numbers only include people who are able to be counted. Unfortunately there are always individuals that aren’t able to be counted. 

Another measure, usually of service capacity is the number of “beds” available. Beds are important for understanding overnight occupancy, but in terms of need and movement throughout the shelter system. It lets you compare demand to supply. (You’ve maybe heard “beds” used in the hospitality or healthcare industries, which is pretty appropriate, but I’ll get into that in a minute. Like the fact that we only have 2 psychiatric beds for every 100,000 residents, which places us last in the country, compared to the national average of 12 beds per 100k residents. http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/editorials/2016/06/11/editorial-mentally-ill-locked-out-psychiatric-care/85550738/)

The final term to understand, and this one is important, mostly because of money, is the definition of Chronic Homelessness. You see, the federal government has a definition for chronic homelessness so that it can allocate funding to social service organizations. Anyway, to be chronically homeless, and I’m paraphrasing, you must: have a disabling condition AND either have been homeless for the last year or have had four episodes of homelessness in the prior three years.

2:00

Types of housing

 • Day Shelters 

 • Emergency Homeless Shelters 

 • Halfway Housing 

 • Permanent Affordable Housing 

 • Drug And Alcohol Rehab

 • Supportive Housing 

 • Shared Housing

 • Rooming House or Boarding House 

————————–

Cut scene to location 2

Open letter to homelessness – Why you gotta be so complicated? As humans, we have a hard time fixing complicated things. No no no, not even that, we even have a hard time just grasping the tenets of complicated problems, let alone fixing them. And here you go mixing economics and health and religion and interpersonal relationship into a drudge of confusion. 

————————–

3:00

OK, we’re done with definitions. Now for some Iowa stats. Here are basic numbers on Iowa that you probably already know:

 – 99 Counties [state map], 

 – 3.2 Million People 

 – and 1.1 Million Families – links to the last census data in the doobly-do (that’s the comments area). 

And then, here are some homeless statistics. According to the 2015 Point In Time assessment (which is done every year the last wed of January), in the state of Iowa we have: 

  • 12,918 individuals who were considered homeless and sough support from some type of organization

  • And 8,174 individuals who were at risk for homelessness and sough support from an organization

   § 21,092 Total

 – Included in those numbers are the 2,424 families made up of 5,800 people; including 3,392 children under the age of 18 years (who were served by shelters, transitional housing or permanent supportive housing.)

So 1.1 million families in Iowa, and 2,400 sought help for being homeless or at risk of it. That’s 0.22% of our population, which is incredibly manageable for a group of people who pride themselves on their “niceness”. But helping them happens one person, and one family at a time. No silver bullets here.

When those individuals receive services, they self report the cause of their situation. Those causes are aggregated into four buckets: 

 • 52% say economics caused their homelessness. 

 • 16% say disability, including mental health or an addiction 

 • 21% report a breakdown in their support network. and

 • 11% respond Jail or other causes

And while they may report one of those causes, a problem with one almost always snowballs into problems with the others. 

3:45
So we’re left with a complicated situation, where different forms for homelessness impacting individuals of different cultures, backgrounds, and family composition require different resources and funding. And the way we’ve traditionally handled this, at least in Iowa, is through an amalgamation of funding and service providers (all with noble intentions) that have to operate across a multi-year spectrum moving individuals through a train of housing providers, all the while trying to stabilize each individuals health, employability, income, and most importantly relationships. 

Wait, what? Relationships Seth? Yes. 

The relationship piece of this is really where most homeless starts and end. Most people have a certain aptitude in life and relationship skills, so that when economic or other troubles arise, they’re able to find social support through friends and family. When extraneous factors limit someone’s ability to turn to those individuals (maybe drugs or crime or plain old struggle with human courtesy), they’re left to find a way through the system we’ve established. And then, if they struggle with that, the slide from short term, to long term, to chronic homelessness happens. And the further someone wanders into the maze, the more difficult and most costly it is to help them back out. And all of that doesn’t even touch on the psychological consequences of being homeless, being both internally against yourself and stereotyped by others.

4:30
That’s a lot to take in. But the reason I wanted to do this video was to illustrate that even though the situation seems limited (20k people out of more than 3 million), it’s incredibly complicated for each individual facing homelessness, both in the personal obstacles they have to overcome, but also in the system that we’ve designed. But just because it’s challenging, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. If you’re interested in making a contribution, volunteering time or clothing or food items, I’m putting a list of links below for you check out.

———–

A lot of this got edited out, but here’s the video if you want to watch: https://youtu.be/2WrBXNcvNgQ

2017 Personal Balanced Scorecard

# Mind / Professional

  • Read 1 book p/month (track at Goodreads.com)
  • Dedicate 30 minutes p/night to reading
  • January: What Is Not Yours is Not Yours
  • Write 1 long-form blog post per month (sethmsparks.com)
  • Dedicate 60 min p/week to research, draft, and/or proof.
  • Vlog 1x per month (YouTube.com/vlogwithseth)
  • Dedicate 60 min p/week to research, draft, and/or proof.
  • *Continue*:
  1. Reading Scott Monty and Chris Penn weekly newsletter
  2. Reading “gold marketing” RSS feed daily
  3. Reading DSM Register/Wash Post/Fox News/etc daily

# Body / Health (Track at twitter.com/healthyseth)

  • Lose 5 pounds per month (tracked at loseit.com)
  • Q1: Follow daily-do’s –Q2/3/4: Changes TBD based on success
  • Do not eat out for lunch
  • Maintain strict portion control at dinner when hungriest
  • Walk a 10 minute mile
  • Walk 30 minutes 3x p/week, address speed and difficulty and progress
  • Establish benchmark end of Q1
  • Sleep 8.5 hours p/night
  • *Continue* spine health regiment, focusing on pain management and flexibility
  1. 15 min routine each morning; simple back stretches, side-walks, hamstring stretches
  2. 30 min routine each night; advanced back stretches, squats, clamshells, & 10 min of icing

# Spirit / Religion

  • Prayer each morning and night
  • Meditate 10 minutes p/day
  • Reflect on weekly church message for 10 min 3x p/week
  • Read a spectate book concurrently on the topic of religion and spirituality for 30 min p/week
  • Contribute time for volunteer work monthly
  • Begin screenplay big board and draft
  • *Continue paying attention and being grateful for the little things

# Financial

  • *Credit*:
  1. Reduce credit to revolving monthly $0 balance
  2. Snowball excess payments in order until paid off
  • *Belongings*:
  1. Reduce volume of owned goods via sell/trade, replace with digital versions when applicable
  2. Collect unused items and donate monthly
  3. Observe 1 day p/$10 rule to assess transactions before buying

Leveling Up – Backyard Additions

This post was written on July 29, but went unpublished as I’d hoped that it could be edited in favor of our situation. It has not, so the original post is being published, along with a more recent update.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Hampton. Our new dog, as of May 2016.

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Yes, he’s adorable, and fluffy, and a living creature that needs access to the outdoors, for.. well, his business. Naturally, that meant that we needed a fence to contain the little guy. We’d always talked down putting in a fence, but since 2 of 3 sides of our yard was already enclosed by neighbors fences, we decided it would be for the best to finish off the enclosure.

What we had forgotten to consider, was that if we were putting a fence in, we needed to move quickly on installing a concrete patio. It was something that we’d both wanted to put in eventually, but getting a fence for a dog would now speed that up. The space outside our walkout basement is ideal for hosting and lounging in the evenings. But as far as new construction goes, we didn’t have a lot to work with in it’s original state.

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So, we reached out a few local contractors around Ankeny and Central Iowa to get bids for 396 sq ft of concrete patio, laid out in the design below:

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The  bids varied, with the minimum being $3,500 (Fox Concrete) and the highest being $7,500 (Tom’s Concrete). We’re incredibly frugal, and after having read many positive reviews on our communities Facebook group about Fox Concrete being really reliable, we pulled the trigger.

The project started out as you’d expect, with Fox very roughly marking the layout of the patio.

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We also did some quick landscaping prior to the work as well, since Fox said they would move the rock wherever we wanted. Bonus points for them.

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On June 9 we left town on vacation and they began the work. By the end of the day 2, they had everything poured, and it looked really good based on the pictures. There was a lot of debris left at that point, but they had to come back to clean up so we weren’t worried.

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On June 21 we returned home from vacation, and were excited to check out our new outdoor living space. We were so excited, and at first it looked great. But as we inspected more closely, we were alarmed at the volume and composition of the remaining debris (concrete bits, wood, nails, rebar chunks, dirt, and rock). It was heaped around the patio and left for us to clean up. Not cool. (And you might notice the cracks in the cement there too, which I’ll get to in a second.)

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The mess of course prompted a call to Fox Concrete, and after a bit of complaining and the sending of photos, they were nice enough to come check it out. They hauled away THREE garbage bags of junk that was left from the original work and, honestly, could have taken another couple. But hey, they came back and cleaned up, so I was happy.

But that left us with the biggest problem of our brand new patio: hairline cracks across much of the concrete’s surface. At this point, we were both upset and worried that something was wrong. Was it still structurally sound? Would the cracks get worse over time, after rain or over winter with ice expansion? Even if we went with the cheapest option, even if the problem was purely cosmetic, it was incredibly frustrating to know that our $3,500 project had landed us a patio that we were embarrassed to show off.

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This of course led to another call to Fox Concrete, who assured me at that point that they would come back out and remedy the “cosmetic flaws” with a concrete overlay. Our first assurance of a fix was during our conversation on on June 23, and on July 1 Fox provided a picture of this overlay as a recommendation (which is probably the cheapest and easiest option, which I said I was fine with).

FullSizeRender

I’m hopeful that they return to finish up the job, so that I can call this project complete, but as of now, July 29, I’ve not heard any confirmed day, week, or month that they plan to come back. I’m sitting tight, and hoping for the best out of the little contractor that could, but I’ll be honest, it seems like we’re getting strung along by Fox, which is sad since I live two blocks away from the owners house.

——————-

** Update – August 1, 2016 – We’ve been told that the work is scheduled to be completed at the end of the month. 

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** Update – August 31, 2016: End of the month, with no word. Follow-up eluded to calling us on Friday September 2 to schedule completion.

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——————-

** Update – Monday, September 19, 2016: Another follow-up, and blown off again. Now stretching the delivery window to sometime within 1 year “for warranty work”. It was, albeit, the nicest let down I’ve had from a contractor.

——————-

** Update – Wednesday, September 21, 2016: Two days later and nothing…

——————-

** Update – October 8: Still nothing from Fox, and I haven’t sent any more reminders.

When Will We Stop Writing?

I keep seeing people debate whether or not kids should learn to write in cursive. I hear it from my wife who’s a teacher. I see it in my social media streams. I see advocates on both sides from both boomer generations and teenagers. My social barometer tells me that the “we don’t need to teach it” camp is a slight majority, which makes sense since the argument is basically over. They don’t teach cursive to kids in most schools anymore.

The most common arguments on each side are pretty simple:

Yes We Need to Teach Cursive Writing

  • It’s important for future generations to be able to read historical documents like the Declaration of Independence, the original Constitution, etc.
  • Writing in cursive is an art form that allows people to share their personality and communicate in a more personal manner
  • I had to learn it, why shouldn’t my kids
  • You have to be able to write in cursive to sign a document

No We Don’t Need to Teach Cursive Writing

  • No one writes that way anymore, its an unnecessary secondary “font”
  • Historical documents have been copied and are available digitally in non-script, I can appreciate the original without having to be able to read it
  • One way of writing a language is enough
  • It wastes unnecessary time to teach cursive, when teachers should be focused on more important things

But were not going to debate whether or not kids should learn cursive. That’s basically been settled, since few school districts require it anymore. I will mention that my wife at least teaches her students how to sign their name, but that’s it.

The reasons on both sides are compelling, but led me to think that some of these exact same points could be used in a future conversation about writing in general. I’m not saying that we will ever get completely away from communicating via written text, but I do wonder about our proclivity towards physical penmanship in the coming years. I mean, I’m writing this in a text editor. And maybe the problem then is how our concept of the word “write” still conjures an image a person, pen in hand, scribbling on a sheet of paper. We still presumably will always need to know how to “write”, but thinking about the traditional definition we realize people just don’t physically write anymore.

Let’s revisit the rationale from cursive only in the context of written words:

We Need to Teach Cursive Writing

  • It’s important for future generations to be able to read documents like the Declaration of Independence, original Constitution, etc.
  • Writing is an art form that allows people to share their personality and communicate in a more personal manner.
  • I had to learn it, why shouldn’t kids?
  • You have to be able to write to sign a document.

We Don’t Need to Teach Cursive Writing

  • No one writes anymore, it’s unnecessary.
  • Documents have been copied and are available digitally in audio/video clips, I can appreciate the content without having to be able to read it
  • Being able to communicate is enough, I don’t need to write to communicate with friends, family, coworkers
  • It wastes unnecessary time to teach hand-writing, when teachers should be focused on more important things

I know that seems pretty absurd. It does to even me, and I wrote them. But, it would seem that writing by hand, by text, keying letters… may not be necessary at all in the future for a lot of people. Even today people are communicating less and less using written characters, because they don’t need to.

In fact, the only writing most people do is in the form of emails and text messages. And even those are being disrupted by features in messaging software like audio messages. It’s now just as simple to send a snapchat video message to someone as it is to type something out. When it inevitably becomes as frictionless to send an audio/video message as it does to send a text, is that when we stop writing?

Think about writing historically; it’s primarily a form of communication that 1) preserves information, and 2) allows for communication across geographies, where speaking in person isn’t possible. And in both of those cases, we can preserve video and audio just as effectively as written text, and messaging is just as efficient than anything written these days.

So I see two big questions coming from this trajectory.

  • Do we stop teaching hand writing? How long will we need to learn how to physically pen letters and words into paper? Will kids skip writing on paper and begin going straight to typing on computers and tablets? If I can recognize the symbol for the letter a on a screen when I’m learning letters, and again on a keyboard when I want to use it in a word, is there really any need for me to learn how to use my hand to craft the symbol on paper?
  • Do we end up minimizing teaching writing entirely? How long will we need to learn to use letters and words in general to communicate, as spoken audio and video communications become more adopted and accessible? In a world where learning comes from books and audiobooks instead of readable pages.

OK, so where does writing fit then?

So if we go down the path of basically all communications and learning being driven from audio and video, where does writing actually fit into our culture? Our ability to write allows us to put thought into what we are communicating. But how often are people communicating something complex or detailed enough that they actually need to plan and edit?

Thus, the biggest case I see for writing is when you’re compiling something thoughtful. Something long form. Something you need to think about, edit, add, rearrange. Just like this article (which I’ve edited quite and rearranged quite a bit). If I just sat down and talked into a camera and microphone it would be a mess, and editing audio and video is exceptionally time intensive.

It’s a crazy thought. And I like words, typed words and hand written words alike. It’s just a crazy thought that feels like it could be closer to reality than maybe we realize. What do you think?

Learning From John Green at Brandcast 2015

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m what some people would call a Nerdfighter. And one of the guys (John Green) that “founded” the vlog that created the community now known as Nerdfighteria recently spoke to an audience of advertisers at Brandcast 2015 (an event held by Google to celebrate YouTube’s 10th birthaversary).

Being a fan of John and a student of marketing, I found this presentation fantastic.

There are some really good insights in his words:

– John and Hank (the Vlogbrothers) make less than 20% of revenue from ads, and it lessens significantly every year

– Creators are finding ways to support their channels outside of advertising, like going on tours, selling merchandise, and crowd funding through sites like Patreon

– He is in the community business building a legion of raving fans, not the eyeballs business (impressions and views), and I know this has been a hot topic for a while now so much that “raving fans” has become buzzword worthy, but the Vlogbrothers actually built the legion of raving fans before talking about it as the model, rather than selling an unexecuted idea

– He doesn’t care how many people see his work, he cares how many people LOVE his work — people who love his work engaged with it, mimic it, use it to create new and inspired things, not just use it as a distraction

I will also add that his last paragraph seems like an appeasement to Google, telling advertisers they can help keep creators funded and viewers will support those business that do. However, I think John knows that that isn’t necessarily true. At least, not as long as they try to approach creators with tradition advertising messages.

What do you think? Do advertisers need YouTubers more? Or vice versa?

Here’s the audio of John’s presentation: https://soundcloud.com/sethmsparks/brandcast-2015-john-green-audio-only

And the transcript: https://medium.com/@johngreen/john-green-s-brandcast-speech-d5b7564773c

Snapchat and MeerKat have (sort of) changed my opinion of vertical video.

This is not a post about MeerKat per se. And it’s not a post about Snapchat per se. But IT IS a post about how both of these apps are influencing a change in perspective on something that has been culturally defined for almost a century.

I have a tiny bit of experience in video production. Like, enough to understand a little bit about how frame composition, tracking, angles, and color impact mood and convey unspoken messages to an audience. Now, albeit I’m not an expert, but I have an immense appreciation not only for what a scene says explicitly, but also for how a shot can compliment or contradict what is being said implicitly.

But something I’ve been adamant about (along with many others) is complaining how stupid people are for shooting vertical video. Our phones don’t capture square video, so orientation matters. There are websites, countless videos, and memes all dedicated to pointing out how flawed vertical video is.

But that hasn’t stopped it’s pervasiveness.

See Snapchat and now MeerKat. Both are functionally built to be used vertically. You can of course turn your phone horizontally, but on the receiving end of one of those snaps, it’s just a bit awkward because you often end up rotating your phone back and forth, vertical>horizontal>vertical and so on.

And as much as I hate vertical video as an abomination to everything holy and professional about film and video in general… I’m trying to find a way to convince myself that it may be ok.

So I started with examining our current environment.

What’s the same?
– TVs are all basically 16×9 aspect ratio based, while some 4:3 sets exist
– Movie theater screens are built to handle 2.33:1 aspect ratio (20.97×9)
– Computer monitors are increasingly 16×9 though some still rock a 4:3 as well

And what’s different?
– Smart phones… gobs of them… on our person at all times of the day. But smartphones typically have the same (or very close to) 16×9 aspect ratio, based again off of legacy HD standards media fitting that.

However… and this is one of those BIG howevers… like, cultural shift however (which others have pointed out well before me)… our human hand is best suited to hold phones vertically. That magical thumb of ours has enough movement to operate the “buttons” of a touchscreen with ease.

“But it’s still not that freaking difficult to turn the phone if you’re taking a photo or shooting video Seth.” I agree, and just because our human physiology says it’s more comfortable, I’m not giving in that easy.

So where next? Well, based on legacy media’s drive to get everything into a 16:9 aspect ratio, I figured that might be a good starting point. Why 16:9?

Turns out there is a long and (if you’re not a weirdo like me) quite boring story of how we got to 16:9. If you want to know all the details, this video is actually a really awesome explanation. But it basically boils down to this. 16:9 was decided on when Kerns H Powers proposed it in the 1980s when HD Standards were being drawn up. You see, 16:9 was a geometic mean between the two most common aspect ratios around at the time: TV (which had an aspect ratio of 4:3) and film (which had an aspect ratio of 2.33). Video of both aspect ratios could fit within a 16×9 frame by either adding letterboxing or zooming fit the screen.

“That’s nice Seth, but regardless, it still seems like video has pretty much always had a horizontal format.” Again, you’re right. But looking back at how the original aspect ratio standard was set in 1909 when William Kennedy Dixon, a staff photographer at Thomas Edison’s lab, was working on a Kinetiscope prototype. Dixon was using Eastman Kodak film with perforations along the sides trying to decide how much of the film would be exposed. He settled on an image that was four perforations high, which led to an image with an aspect ratio of 4×3 (in this case the four perforations are actually the 3 in the ratio, so 5.32 perfs wide and 4 perfs high) or 1.33:1. And we don’t actually know why he chose this aspect ratio, but he did, and it became the standard for all video produced from that point forward.

“But how’d we get from 4:3 to 2.33 or whatever?” Ah, well that one’s simple. It’s for the same reason we keep trying to get 3D and other film gimmicks to work. Theaters and movie studios wanted to create something new and different that would get more butts in seats (I’m sure film makers and cinematographers liked the idea of having more space to play with in the frame and tell a story, but I’m guessing that came second to making more money). So basically, they developed new techniques and eventually new film to shoot movies in the 2.33 format.

“Okay, so some dude’s arbitrary decision to make a video a few perforation high set the standard for us having video that is wider than taller? And we only have extra wide screens because studios wanted to make more money?” I know right? But it sort of seems that way…

And I know that was a long way of getting there, but knowing that a landscape format was a seemingly arbitrary decision, and widescreen was just your average money grab, giving vertical video a second chance seems a little easier. Based on the fact that our hands are better suited for holding smartphones vertically, and the fact that our human heads are more elongated and thus fit a vertical screen more fully than horizontal (even for fat faced folks like me), when video is primarily isolated to hosting and viewing from mobile devices I now think that I might be in favor of it. Or at least, I’m not vehemently against it. So in the cases of Snapchat and MeerKat, go ahead with your vertical video, I promise not to complain.

However, if you’re making something for TV, theater, youtube, or similarly landscape based orientation displays, let’s try to keep it wide, mmkay?

Who knows, at some point in the future TVs may look nothing like they do now, and may be built to handle video of any aspect ratio or orientation. Or holographs. Because science. And because money.

So what do you think? Have your thoughts on vertical video changed if you were a stringent landscape advocate? Still hate it? Let me know below!