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Transmedia Storytelling and Entertainment: A Syllabus
Since the announcement that Futures of Entertainment 4 will focus on transmedia, since I'm actually on it (twice – check out August 24th and October 5th) and – most importantly – since Henry asked me to, I'm republishing Henry's syllabus for the transmedia storytelling class he's offering at USC this fall. The following post originally appeared at on August 11th; if you're not already following Henry's blog "Confessions of an Aca-Fan", then I humbly suggest you have some bookmarking to do! What follows is Henry's post, republished in its entirety.


Transmedia Storytelling and Entertainment: A Syllabus
Since the announcement that Futures of Entertainment 4 will focus on transmedia, since I'm actually on it (twice – check out August 24th and October 5th) and – most importantly – since Henry asked me to, I'm republishing Henry's syllabus for the transmedia storytelling class he's offering at USC this fall. The following post originally appeared at on August 11th; if you're not already following Henry's blog "Confessions of an Aca-Fan", then I humbly suggest you have some bookmarking to do!

Here's Henry's post, republished in its entirety.

Transmedia Storytelling and Entertainment: A Syllabus
by Henry Jenkins

Given the interest out there in transmedia or cross-media entertainment, I thought I would share the syllabus for the course I am teaching this fall at the University of Southern California. I am still shifting some details, as I deal with the scheduling of guest speakers, but all of the speakers listed have agreed to come. The readings are a good starter set for people wanting to do more thinking on this emerging area of research. I will be sharing reflections about the course material here throughout the fall, since I'm sure working through these readings in a class context is going to spark me to do some fresh thinking on the topic. I'd love to hear from others out there teaching transmedia or cross-media topics.

If you know someone at USC who you think might want to take this class, let them know. I still have room for more students.

Course Description and Outcomes:

We now live at a moment where every story, image, brand, relationship plays itself out across the maximum number of media platforms, shaped top down by decisions made in corporate boardrooms and bottom up by decisions made in teenager's bedrooms. The concentrated ownership of media conglomerates increases the desirability of properties that can exploit "synergies" between different parts of the medium system and "maximize touch-points" with different niches of consumers. The result has been the push towards franchise-building in general and transmedia entertainment in particular.

A transmedia story represents the integration of entertainment experiences across a range of different media platforms. A story like Heroes or Lost might spread from television into comics, the web, computer or alternate reality games, toys and other commodities, and so forth, picking up new consumers as it goes and allowing the most dedicated fans to drill deeper. The fans, in turn, may translate their interests in the franchise into concordances and wikipedia entries, fan fiction, vids, fan films, cosplay, game mods, and a range of other participatory practices that further extend the story world in new directions. Both the commercial and grassroots expansion of narrative universes contribute to a new mode of storytelling, one which is based on an encyclopedic expanse of information which gets put together differently by each individual consumer as well as processed collectively by social networks and online knowledge communities.

The course is broken down into five basic units: "Foundations" offers an overview of the current movement towards transmedia or cross-platform entertainment; "Narrative Structures" introduces the basic toolkit available to contemporary storytellers, digging deeply into issues around seriality, and examining what it might mean to think of a story as a structure of information; "World Building" deals with what it means to think of contemporary media franchises in terms of "worlds" or "universes" which unfold across many different media systems; "Audience Matters" links transmedia storytelling to issues of audience engagement and in the process, considers how fans might contribute unofficial extensions to favorite media texts; and "Tracing the History of Transmedia" pulls back to consider key moments in the evolution of transmedia entertainment, moving from the late 19th century to the present.

In this course, we will be exploring the phenomenon of transmedia storytelling through:

  • Critically examining commercial and grassroots texts which contribute to larger media franchises (mobisodes and webisodes, comics, games).
  • Developing a theoretical framework for understanding how storytelling works in this new environment with a particular emphasis upon issues of world building, cultural attractors, and cultural activators.
  • Tracing the historical context from which modern transmedia practices emerged, including consideration of the contributions of such key figures as P.T. Barnum, L. Frank Baum, Feuillade, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Cordwainer Smith, Walt Disney, George Lucas, DC and Marvel Comics, and Joss Whedon.
  • Exploring what transmedia approaches contribute to such key genres as science fiction, fantasy, horror, superhero, suspense, soap opera, teen and reality television.
  • Listening to cutting-edge thinkers from the media industry talk about the challenges and opportunities which transmedia entertainment offers, walking through cases of contemporary projects that have deployed cross-platform strategies.
  • Putting these ideas into action through working with a team of fellow students to develop and pitch transmedia strategies around an existing media property.

Required Books:

Pat Harrington and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009), 636 pages.

Kim Deitch, Alias the Cat (New York: Pantheon, 2007), 136 pages.

Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, Marvels (Marvel Comics, 2003), 216 pages.

Kevin J. Anderson (ed.), Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina (New York: Spectra, 1995), 416 pages.

Joss Whedon, The Long Way Home (New York: Dark Horse, 2007), 136 pages.

All additional readings will be provided through the Blackboard site for the class.

Grading and Assignments:

Commercial Extension Paper: 20 percent
Grassroots Extension Paper: 20 percent
Final Project - Franchise Development Project: 40 percent
Class Forums: 20 percent

In order to fully understand how transmedia entertainment works, students will be expected to immerse themselves into at least one major media franchise for the duration of the term. You should consume as many different instantiations (official and unofficial) of this franchise as you can and try to get an understanding of what each part contributes to the series as a whole.

COMMERCIAL EXTENSION PAPER: For the first paper, you will be asked to write a 5-7 page essay examining one commercially produced media extension (comic, website, game, mobisode, amusement park attraction, etc.). You should try to address such issues as its relationship to the story world, its strategies for expanding the narrative, its deployment of the distinctive properties of its platform, its targeted audience, and its cultural attractors/activators. (Due Sept. 23)(20 Percent)

GRASSROOTS EXTENSION PAPER: For the second paper, you will be asked to write a 5-7 page essay examining a fan-made extension (fan fiction, discussion list, video, etc.) and try to understand where the audience has sought to attach themselves to the franchise, what they add to the story world, how they respond to or route around the invitational strategies of the series, and how they reshape our understanding of the characters, plot or world of the original franchise. (Due Nov. 18) (20 Percent)

FINAL PROJECT - FRANCHISE DEVELOPMENT PROJECT: Students will be organized into teams, which for the purpose of this exercise will function as transmedia companies. You should select a media property (a film, television series, comic book, novel, etc.) that you feel has the potential to become a successful transmedia franchise. In most cases, you will be looking for a property that has not yet added media extensions, though you could also look at a property that you feel has been mishandled in the past. By the end of the term, your team will be "pitching" this property. The pitch should include a briefing book that describes:

  1. the core defining properties of the property
  2. a description of the intended audience(s)
  3. a discussion of the specific plans for each media platform you are going to deploy
  4. an overall description for how you will seek to integrate the different media platforms to create a coherent world
  5. a business plan which includes likely costs and revenue and the time table for rolling out the various media elements
  6. parallel examples of other properties which have deployed the strategies being described

The pitch itself will be a 20 minute group presentation, followed by 10 minutes of questioning. The presentation should give us a "taste" of what the property is like as well as to lay out some of the key elements that are identified in the briefing book. For an example of what these pitches might look like, watch the materials assembled at, which shows how a similar activity was conducted at MIT. Each member of the team will be expected to develop expertise around a specific media platform as well as to contribute to the over-all strategies for spreading the property across media systems. The group will select its own team leader who will be responsible for contacts with the instructor and will coordinate the presentation. The team leader will be asked to provide feedback on what each team member contributed to the effort, while team members will be asked to provide an evaluation of how the team leader performed. Team Members will check in with the instructor on Week Ten and Week Fourteen to review their progress on the assignment. Presentation (Dec.7, 9) Briefing Book (Dec. 14) (40 Percent)

CLASS FORUM: For each class session, students will be asked to contribute a substantive question or comments via the class forum on BlackBoard. Comments should reflect an understanding of the readings for that day as well as an attempt to formulate an issue that we can explore through class discussions or with the visiting speakers. (20 Percent)

Class Schedule:

*Guest Speakers are tentative, subject to availability. Shifts in speakers and thus topics and readings may occur after the semester starts.

Part One: Foundations

Week 1
August 24: Transmedia Storytelling 101

Henry Jenkins, "Transmedia Storytelling 101" Confessions of an Aca-Fan,

Henry Jenkins, "Searching for the Origami Unicorn: The Matrix and Transmeda Storytelling," Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: New York University Press, 2006), pp. 93-130.

Geoff Long, "What Is Transmedia Storytelling", Transmedia Storytelling: Business, Aesthetics and Production at the Jim Henson Company,, pp. 13-69.

August 26 Intertextual Commodities?

P. David Marshall, "The New Intertextual Commodity" in Dan Harries (ed.) The New Media Book (London: BFI, 2002), pp. 69-81.

Derek Johnson, "Intelligent Design or Godless Universe? The Creative Challenges of World Building and Franchise Development," Franchising Media Worlds: Content Networks and The Collaborative Production of Culture, PhD Dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2009. pp.170-279.

Watch: Battlestar Galactica: The Face of the Enemy

Week 2
August 31: Media Mix in Japan

Anne Allison, "Pokemon: Getting Monsters and Communicating Capitalism," Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), pp. 192-233.

David Buckingham and Julian Sefton-Green, "Structure, Agency and Pedagogy in Children's Media Culture" In Joseph Tobin (ed.) Pikachu's Global Adventure: The Rise and Fall of Pokemon (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), pp. 12-33.

Mizuko Ito, "Gender Dynamics of the Japanese Media Mix," Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming (Cambridge, MIT, 2008), pp. 97-110.

September 2: Toys and Tales

Jeff Gomez, "Creating Blockbuster Worlds" (unpublished)

Henry Jenkins, "Talking Transmedia: An Interview with Starlight Runner's Jeff Gomez," Confessions of an Aca-Fan,

Mark Federman, "What is the Meaning of the Medium is the Message,"

Guest Speakers:
Jeff Gomez, Starlight Runner
Jordan Greenhill, DivX

Week 3
September 7 is the Labor Day holiday
September 9: Transmedia Branding

Faris Yacob, "I Believe Children are the Future,"

Henry Jenkins, "How Transmedia Storytelling Begat Transmedia Planning...", Confessions of an Aca-Fan,

Guest Speaker: Faris Yacob, McCann Erickson New York

Week 4
September 14 Heroes and Alchemists: The New Storytelling

The 9th Wonders, Chapters 1-9

Henry Jenkins, "We Had So Many Stories to Tell': The Heroes Comics as Transmedia Storytelling," Confessions of an Aca-Fan,

Carolyn Handler Miller, Digital Storytelling: A Creator's Guide to Interactive Entertainment (Amsterdam: Focal Press, 2006), "Using a Transmedia Approach", pp. 149-164 (Rec.)

Guest Speakers: Mauricio Mota, Mark Warshaw, Here Come the Alchemists

Part Two: Narrative Structures

September 16: Seriality

Angela Ndalianis, Neo-Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004), "Polycentrism and Seriality: (Neo-)Baroque Narrative Formation," pp. 31-70.

Jason Mittell, "All in the Game: The Wire, Serial Storytelling and Procedural Logic" (Harrington and Wardrip-Fruin, pp. 429-438.

Watch: The Wire

"Young Prop Joe"
"Bunk and McNulty"
"Young Omar"

Jennifer Haywood, Consuming Pleasures: Active Audiences and Serial Fictions from Dickens to Soap Opera (University of Kentucky Press, 1997), "Mutual Friends: The Development of the Mass Serial," pp. 21-51. (rec)

Week 5 September 21: Soaps Go Transmedia

Sharon Marie Ross, "Managing Millennials: Teen Expectations of Tele-Participation," Beyond the Box: Television and the Internet (London: Blackwell, 2008), pp. 124-172.

Sam Ford, "From Oakdale Confidential to L.A. Diaries: Transmedia Storytelling for ATWT," As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture (Master's Thesis), pp. 141-162.

Louisa Stein, "Playing Dress Up: Digital Fashion and Game Extensions of Televisual Experience in Gossip Girl's Second Life," Cinema Journal, pp. 116-122.

Watch: Gossip Girl: Tales From the Upper East Side

LA Diaries

September 23: Creating Alternate Realities

Christy Dena, "Emerging Participatory Culture Practices: Player-Created Tiers in Alternate Reality Games," Convergence, February 2008, pp. 41-58.

Jane McGonigal, Why I Love Bees: A Case Study in Collective Intelligence Gaming." Ecologies of Play. Ed. Katie Salen. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008), pp. 199-228.

Dave Szulborski, "Puppetmastering: Creating a Game" and "Puppetmastering: Running a Game,"This Is Not A Game: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming (New York: New Fiction, 2005), pp. 207-284.

Guest Speaker: Evan Jones, Stitch Media


Week 6
September 28: Speaking of Serials

Kim Deitch, Alias the Cat (New York: Pantheon, 2007) (Required Book)

David Kalat, "The Long Arm of Fantomas" (Harrington and Wardrip-Fruin), pp. 211-225.

September 30: The Unfolding Text

Neil Perryman, "Doctor Who and the Convergence of Media: A Case Study in Transmedia Storytelling," Convergence, February 2008, pp. 21-40.

Lance Perkin,"Truths Universally Acknowledged: How the 'Rules' of Doctor Who Affect the Writing," (Harrington and Wardrip-Fruin), pp. 13-24.

Matt Hills, "Absent Epic, Implied Story Arcs, and Variations on a Narrative Theme: Doctor Who (2005) as Cult/Mainstream TV," (Harrington and Wardrip-Fruin), pp. 333-343.

Part Three: World-Building

Week 7 October 5: Migratory Characters

William Uricchio and Roberta E. Pearson, "I'm Not Fooled By That Cheap Disguise," in Roberta E. Pearson, The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to A Superhero and His Media (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 182-213.

Will Brooker, "Establishing the Brand: Year One," Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon (London: Continuium, 2001), pp. 36-67.

Bob Kane, "The Legend of the Batman" (1938) and Bob Kane, "The Origins of the Batman," (1948) in Dennis O'Neil (ed.) The Secret Origins of the DC Superheroes (New York: DC, 1976), pp. 36-50.

Bob Kane, "The First Batman" (1956) and Dennis O'Neil, "There Is No Hope in Crime Alley," (1978) The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told (New York: DC, 1988).

Guest Speaker: Geoffrey Long, GAMBIT

October 7: World Building in Comics

Matthew J. Pustz, Comic Book Culture: Fanboys and True Believers (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1999), pp. 129-133.

Jason Bainbridge, "Worlds Within Worlds: The Role of Superheroes in the Marvel and DC Universe," Angela Ndalianis (ed.), The Contemporary Comic Book Superhero (New York: Routledge, 2008) pp. 64-85.

Sam Ford and Henry Jenkins, "Managing Multiplicity in Superhero Comics," (Harrington and Wardrip-Fruin), pp. 303-313.

Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, Marvels (New York: Marvel Comics, 1993) (Required Book)

Alec Austin, "Hybrid Expectations, Expectations Across Media, CMS Thesis, pp. 97-127.

Week 8
October 12: Who Watches the Watchman?

Stuart Moulthrop, "See the Strings: Watchmen and the Under-Language of Media" (Harrington and Wardrip-Fruin), pp. 287-303.

Watch: NBS Nightly News With Ted Philips

The Keene Act and YOU

Saturday Morning Watchmen

Guest Speaker: Alex McDowell, Production Designer, Watchmen

October 14: World Building in Science Fiction

Walter Jon Williams, "In What Universe?" (Harrington and Wardrip-Fruin), pp. 25-32.

George R.R. Martin, "On the Wild Cards Novels," in Pat Harrington and Wardrip-Fruin (eds.) Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007).

Cordwainer Smith, "The Dead Lady of Clown Town," and "The Ballad of Lost C'mell," J. J. Pierce (ed.) The Best of Cordwainer Smith (New York: Del Rey, 1975), pp. 124-209, pp. 315-337.

Week 9
October 19: Launching a New World

David Lavery, "Lost and Long-Form Television Narrative" (Harrington and Wardrip-Fruin), pp. 313-323.

Guest Speaker: Jesse Alexander, Executive Producer, Year One

October 21: Transmedia and Social Change


Guest Speaker: Bram Pitoyo, Wild Alchemy

Part Four: Audiences

Week 10
October 26: The Logic of Engagement

Ivan Askwith, "The Expanded Television Text, "Five Logics of Engagement,"; "Lost at Televisions' Crossroads," Television 2.0: Reconceptualizing TV as an Engagement Medium, CMS thesis, pp. 51-150.

Guest Speaker: Ivan Askwith, Big Spaceship

October 28:
Expanding the Audience

Kim Moses and Ian Sander, selections from Ghost Whisperer: The Spirit Guide (New York: Titan Books, 2008).

Guest Speaker: Kim Moses, Executive Producer, The Ghost Whisperer

Week 11
November 2: Fan Productivity

Jesse Walker, "Remixing Television: Francesca Coppa on the Vidding Underground," Reason, August/September 2008,

Francesca Coppa, "Women, Star Trek, and the Early Development of Fannish Vidding," Transformative Works and Cultures (2008), Bud Caddell, "Becoming a Mad-Man,"

November 4: The Encyclopedic Impulse

Janet Murray, "Digital Environments are Encyclopedic," Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997), pp. 83-90.

Bob Rehak, "That Which Survives: Star Trek's Design Network in Fandom and Franchise" (Unpublished), pp. 2-79.

Robert V. Kozinets, "Inno-Tribes: Star Trek as Wikimedia" Consumer Tribes (London: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2007), pp. 194-209.

Star Trek: Phase II "In Harms Way"

Week 12
November 9: The Power of Details

Kristin Thompson, "Not Your Father's Tolkien" and "Interactive Middle Earth," The Frodo Franchise: The Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), pp.53-74, p. 224-256

C.S. Lewis, "On Stories," Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories (New York: Harvest, 2002), pp. 3-21.

November 11: Ephemeral Fascinations

Michael Bonesteel, "Henry Darger's Search for the Grail in the Guise of a Celesttial Child" (Harrington and Wardrip-Fruin), pp. 253-267.

Amelie Hastie, "The Collector: Material Histories, Colleen Moore's Dollhouse, and Ephemeral Recollection," Cupboards of Curiosity: Women, Recollection, and Film History (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), pp. 19-72.

Week 13
November 16 Independent Horrors
James Castonguay, "The Political Economy of the Indie Blockbuster: Fandom, Intermediality, and The Blair Witch Project," in Sarah L. Higley and Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock (eds.) Nothing That Is: Milllennial Cinema and the Blair Witch Controversies (Detroit: Wayne State University, 2004), pp. 65-86.

The Blair Witch Project Website

Head Trauma Website

Guest Speaker: Lance Weiller, Head Trauma

Part Five: Tracing the History of Transmedia

November 18: Before the Rainbow

Neil Harris, "The Operational Aesthetic," Humbug: The Art of P.T. Barnum (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973), pp. 59-90.

Mark Evan Swartz, "A Novel Enchantment," Before the Rainbow: L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on Stage and Screen to 1939 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), pp. 161-172.

Week 14
November 23: What Uncle Walt Taught Us

J.P. Telotte, Disney TV (Detroit: Wayne State, 2004), pp. 1-91.

Karal Ann Marling, "Imagineering the Disney Theme Parks," in Karal Ann Marling (ed.) Designing Disney's Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance (Montreal: Centre Canadian d'Architecture, 1997), pp. 29-178. (Rec.)

November 25: Franchises and Attractions

Henry Jenkins, "The Pleasure of Pirates And What It Tells Us About World Building in Branded Entertainment", Confessions of an Aca-Fan,

Don Carson, "Environmental Storytelling: Creating Immersive 3D Worlds Using Lessons Learned from the Theme Park industry," Gamasutra,

Week 15
November 30: Lessons From Lucas

Jonathon Gray, "Learning to Use the Force: Star Wars Toys and Their Films," Show Sold Separately (Forthcoming), pp. 232-247.

Will Brooker, Using the Force: Creativity, Community and Star Wars Fans (New York: Continuum, 2002), "The Fan Betrayed," pp. 79-99, "Canon," pp. 101-114.

Kevin J. Anderson (ed.), Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina (New York: Spectra, 1995) (Required Book)

December 2: Across the Whedonverse

Tanya Krzywinska, "Arachne Challenges Minerva: The Spinning Out of Long Narrative in World of Warcraft and Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (Harrington and Wardrip-Fruin), pp. 385-399.

Joss Whedon, The Long Way Home (New York: Dark Horse, 2007) (Required Book)

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

December 7 Student Presentations

December 9 Student Presentations


The Future of Entertainment is... Paper?
Man, I hate hearing about an awesome conference just after the thing's wrapped up. So it is this week with PaperCamp, which went down in London on January 17th. Here's the description of the event from its own webpage:
What is PaperCamp?
A get-together for a day to talk about, fiddle with, make and explore what's possible with paper based on a blog post ( where a lot of people seemed enthusiastic about the idea. PaperCamp is a 'fringe' event to BookCamp, in London's Kings Cross on the 17th January.

What will happen at PaperCamp?
Well, as it's a '___Camp'-type thing, that's largely up to you... we'll have a room, and a grid of timeslots for you to fill with talks, activities, discussions of your making. However, to frame that a little, the original thought behind PaperCamp was 'hacking paper and it's new possibiities'. We do have one thing organised - a 'keynote' if you like from Aaron Straup Cope from a little site called Flickr and more importantly,

Whether that's looking at material possibilities of paper itself, connecting paper to the internet and vice-versa with things like 2d-barcodes, RFIDs or exotic things like printing with conductive inks... it's about the fact that paper hasn't gone away in the digital age - it's become more useful, more abundant and in some cases gone and got itself bionic superpowers...

As I say - it's up to you what you want to make of it, please bring to the event half-formed thoughts, ideas, projects you've done or anything you would like get others exposed to, or even hacking on. These can take the form of straight-forward talks, or, things you want other people's brains and hands to help with... please bring them... along with Paper, pens, RFIDs, soldering irons, Heidelberg Lithos or any other equipment or materials you will need. We will just provide chairs, tables and a projector...
Even just reading that description, my mind is officially blown – and that's nothing compared to reading Jeremy Keith's liveblogging of the event.


Live-tweeting Futures of Entertainment 3.
A quick note: people interested in following C3's Futures of Entertainment 3 conference in real time should hop on Twitter and follow There's a whole mess of current students, alums, consulting researchers, partners and interesting folks twittering away over there. Those of you who are physically camped out here in the Bartos Theater at MIT with us, be sure to check out our setup for realtime feedback and questions at


Metafun for Metaplayers
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending Bruce Sterling's keynote lecture at the 2008 Austin Game Developers' Conference. (I was there co-presenting a video game adaptation workshop with Matthew Weise, a comrade-in-arms of mine at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab.) Sterling was, as ever, utterly brilliant; given my previous exposures to Sterling at SXSW conferences in the past, I was expecting to be entertained. What I hadn't expected was for Sterling to give his entire lecture as a piece of performance art.
Bruce Sterling at AGDC
Thanks to the inestimable Raph Koster, we have a mostly complete transcript of Sterling's presentation, which opened thus:
Hello, thanks for having me into your event today, and thanks for that intro. Though there is a problem with that: I am not Bruce Sterling. He couldn't make it. He sent me instead. The reason he couldn't make it is that in 2043, Bruce is 89. Dr. Sterling is too frail to get into a time machine to talk to game devs, so he called on me to do it. I am one of his grad students. I volunteered, sort of, to journey back in time using some of our new technical methods. It wasn't exactly easy, but I am here and fully briefed.
Priceless. You should definitely swing by Koster's site and read the whole thing, even though it can't compete with the sheer ludicrousness of Sterling Dr. Sterling's unnamed grad student whipping a cheap kitchen towel out of a bag and introducing it as his computer.
Bruce Sterling at AGDC
"So my PC is like a towel," not-Sterling said. "Cheap and old and the dullest thing in the world, I have always had one. '2008, computer pioneers, they still think computers are exciting! They don't get that computers in 2043 are like bricks, forks, toothbrushes, towels.' I researched that subject, and yeah, for an old fashioned audience, a mid-21st century computer is cool. So here it is: General Electric personal mediators, very stable, five years old. No full functionality in 2008 because we don't have the cloud here yet. It tapped into something called Windows Vista when it got here and gave up, gone all limp, nothing left on here but this frozen screensaver pattern." Which, of course, was the pattern on the towel. Like I said, priceless. What really left me howling, however, was when not-Sterling all but name-dropped C3.


Moving Into the Cloud.
There has been much made lately of the tech sector's newest favorite buzzword: cloud computing. Like many such newly-minted terms, there is some dispute about its actual definition; I wrote about one such permutation in a previous entry for the C3 Weekly Newsletter when the MacBook Air was about to be unveiled at the Macworld conference in January. In it, I conflated the terms 'cloud computing' with 'ubiquitous computing', but in retrospect I should pull the two terms apart somewhat. They're still linked at a very basic level -- both cloud computing and ubiquitous computing hinge on the idea of decentralization, which I'll get back to in a bit -- but by attempting to distinguish these two terms, we begin to gain a clearer idea of where our digital culture is heading next.


Internet Media For Niche Audiences (Not The FCC)
When C3 was first booting up in 2005, our circle of students would speak wistfully of how the Internet could have saved Joss Whedon's Firefly or Warren Ellis' Global Frequency. Although both of those properties seem to be dead or at least comatose, their creators have each announced new Internet-launched properties. Last week the trailer and official website for Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog went live, as well as (of course) its official MySpace page and the more-or-less official fan site. The project, a spiritual follow-up to the incredibly popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode "Once More with Feeling", is a serialized superhero musical starring Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser, M.D.) and Whedonverse regular Nathan Fillion (Buffy, Firefly) as a hapless supervillain and the hero that plagues him. Business-centric readers of this blog, pay attention: the first of the show's three episodes will premiere at on Tuesday, July 15, followed by the second on July 17, and the third on July 19, but all three episodes will only be available for free viewing on the site until July 20th. After that, the episodes will be available for "a nominal fee" (according to Whedon), which will then be followed up by a DVD with "the finest and bravest extras in all the land". More information has been promised to us at Comicon, but we Whedon fans are already champing at the bit. Speaking of conventions, at last week's G.I. Joe collector's convention (JoeCon 2008) it was announced that Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Global Frequency) is writing a series of animated webisodes for adults. The miniseries, called G.I. Joe: Resolute, will consist of ten five-minute episodes and one ten-minute finale, and is scheduled to debut in the first quarter of 2009. The show will be much grittier in nature than any G.I. Joe cartoon yet, featuring guns that fire bullets instead of lasers and characters falling in combat, but "little to no blood shown". While it isn't clear whether or not these webisodes will tie into the live-action G.I. Joe movie set for release next summer, in the style of The Animatrix or Batman: Gotham Knight, the producers did say that they hoped to air the entire series someplace like the Cartoon Network or distribute it on DVD – and that this is the direction Hasbro hopes to go with all of their brands. While both of these projects seem to be following a fairly solid "web to DVD" model, it's far from the only business strategy being kicked around. Another intriguing alternative was announced this morning by Google, who has struck a deal with Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane concerning his next project, "Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy." According to the New York Times:
Google will syndicate the program using its AdSense advertising system to thousands of Web sites that are predetermined to be gathering spots for Mr. MacFarlane's target audience, typically young men. Instead of placing a static ad on a Web page, Google will place a "Cavalcade" video clip. Advertising will be incorporated into the clips in varying ways. In some cases, there will be "preroll" ads, which ask viewers to sit through a TV-style commercial before getting to the video. Some advertisers may opt for a banner to be placed at the bottom of the video clip or a simple "brought to you by" note at the beginning. Mr. MacFarlane, who will receive a percentage of the ad revenue, has created a stable of new characters to star in the series, which will be served up in 50 two-minute episodes.
What's doubly interesting about the project is the reason MacFarlane cites for moving to the web. According to the article, MacFarlane felt "feeling constrained by the 'taste police,' a k a the Federal Communications Commission." Given how raunchy Family Guy is to start with, I can only imagine that this new project will be something the late George Carlin would have been proud of. As C3 followers well know, all three of these creators have had experience with alternative distribution methods of content before – Whedon's fans turned the fallen Firefly into the feature film Serenity; Ellis' fans built up a huge amount of buzz around the failed pilot of his Global Frequency when it leaked onto the web and he is currently posting weekly installments of the web-only comic Freakangels to; and MacFarlane's Family Guy was brought back from the dead due to fan support. To say that we could have worse canaries in this coal mine would be an understatement.


The Dangerous World of a GPS That Does Not Exist
Every now and then something crosses my inbox that makes my jaw drop. Sometimes it's genius, sometimes it's astonishingly crass, and sometimes it's a combination of the two. This morning's report from on the Mio Knight Rider GPS is definitely a category three jaw-dropper. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense. If you're going to have your car talk to you, and you're one of the generation of geeks that grew up in the 80's, you're most likely going to be secretly pretending that your compact or SUV is the Knight Industries Two Thousand anyway. On the other, this ranks right up there with a lightsaber remote control in burying the needle on the dorkometer. If nothing else, installing this sucker will provide a perfect litmus test for every future blind date that might set foot in your ride. Ever. All easy jokes aside, the Knight Rider GPS actually does provoke some interesting thoughts. First, it's interesting that Mio licensed the original, 1980s voice of KITT, William Daniels, instead of the new KITT from NBC's upcoming Knight Rider remake. This might have something to do with the new voice being out of Mio's price range (I'd expect Val Kilmer doesn't come cheap), but since the device is scheduled to go on sale in "the August timeframe" and the new show is scheduled to launch on September 24th, I'd imagine there will be at least some would-be buyers scratching their heads and wondering why this KITT doesn't sound like the KITT on their TVs every Wednesday night. If the show takes off (as the pilot movie's 13 million viewers would seem to suggest), this could prove to be a real gotcha. Second, is the voice from a 20-year-old cult TV show enough to justify a purchase when so many other interesting competitors are flooding the market? The Knight Rider GPS will supposedly retail for $270, which is $70 more than the 3G Apple iPhone with true GPS under its hood. Alpha geeks that sneer at Apple fanboys might be more interested in ponying up the extra forty bucks for the $299 Dash Express, which bills itself as the "first two-way, Internet-connected GPS navigation system". If the market for the Knight Rider GPS is an inherently geeky one, the iPhone and the Dash Express seem to be two pretty big shakers in that market already. Finally, does this open the door for a whole raft of novelty GPS devices? How long will it be before we see a GPS with a UI lifted right from the Enterprise and the voice of Jonathan Frakes, that only responds if it's addressed as "Number One"? Or one with a brass-and-woodgrain casing that boots up with a whistle and responds to "Starbuck"? A more interesting idea is the GPS as a platform for personalization across different drivers – we already have Mr. T, Dennis Hopper and Burt Reynolds giving us directions, and Nintendo's Wii Fit can have different trainers assigned to personal profiles, so why not GPS devices that recognize who's driving and customize their voices to each driver's preferences – or change their voices based on the time of day or location? During normal driving hours you might want to be guided by the soothing baritone of Patrick Stewart, but perhaps late at night when you might doze off behind the wheel the device could switch to the grating screech of Gilbert Gottfried. (Or, worse, it could direct all of its sound output to the rear speakers and imitate your mother-in-law. Hey, it could happen.) Of course, as any hot-rodder, art car builder or bumper sticker aficionado could tell you, our vehicles have always been platforms for customization. Even giving them distinctive voices isn't anything new – all it takes is a couple of playing cards in the spokes of a bicycle wheel. Our vehicles are, for many of us, extensions of our personalities – and if your personality has been secretly dying to deploy out the back of a semi truck on some lost American highway for the last twenty years, then hey, more power to you. Just please, please don't try the turbo boost.


Video: the Flickring Image
Something is afoot in the land of online imagery. My Twitter account has come to serve as the CNN crawler to my RSS feeds' feature stories and interviews: little bits and snippets of news with tinyurl pointers to the latest events. As I scrolled through my account this morning, I saw that at 5:31 PM yesterday, Derek Powazek tweeted "Are you resistant to change? Join the EVERYTHING NEW IS BAD army!", which was my first clue that something was up. I thought Derek was just being snarky, so I didn't take the bait -- but at 5:57, Matt Howie followed suit with "Man, just when you think nothing can top Livejournal user drama, Flickr "no video" people go and redefine the term 'user drama'". The topic died down for a while (evidence that my circle, now in our mid-twenties to mid-thirties, are getting more interested in things like cooking and kids than teh Intarwebs in the evenings), but then at 1:01 AM EST my photographer friend Rannie Turingan tweeted "What do you think of Video on Flickr?". Molly Wright Steenson's tweet "all your base are belong to Flickr Video" was the next on the topic at 11:07, followed by my "Holy crap Flickr Video" at 11:15 and Kevin Smokler's "Flickr video kicked my kitten..." at 11:24. Right now the blogosphere is discovering something new and, like a bunch of curious kittens (thanks, Kevin) we're poking it, prodding it and figuring out what we think of it. A lot of the reaction so far has been negative, as Derek's tweet seems to have foreshadowed. (This isn't surprising; Derek's wife Heather Champ Powazek works at Flickr, so both Derek and Heather are sitting at ground zero for this one -- in fact, Heather posted a video on the official Flickr blog called 'Video on Flickr' that served as an official teaser for the feature on April 8.) Ryan Gantz posted an interesting Obama-meets-Anti-Flickr-Video mash-up image titled 'leave flickr alone', which is only one image in the pools We Say NO to Videos on Flickr (25,239 members), NO VIDEO ON FLICKR!!! (10,544 members) and We say NO to Videos on Flickr UNCENSORED! (27 members). It's the last one that's particularly interesting; aside from the fact that yes, you do have to click through Flickr's safety screen to get to it (Flickr's CYA clause for NSFW images), it's the only one of the three to have a number of actual videos appearing on its initial page. In fact, six of the thirty images on the pool's initial page point to videos, all of whom seem to be illustrating the point that – shocker! – adding video to Flickr opens the door to questionable content. Actually clicking on them, though, shows that the content isn't that questionable – the first one, a short video called 'Genesis in Reverse' by a user called Claudia Veja is straight out of art school, featuring what appears to be a naked woman wandering through a city, but the film is shot in such a way that it shows no 'questionable' body parts aside from some ankle and some collarbone. The second, Easter Photowalk 2008' by ♥ shhexycorin ♥, is a hyperaccelerated autobio piece with the most questionable bit being a guy trying to kick a pigeon or two. PETA might be annoyed, but they'd be hard pressed to file charges. The third, Genesis in reverse part 2', also by Claudia Veja, is a continuation of the first that is somewhat sexier (featuring a risque outfit, a cigarette and, later, some cross-gendered makeup) but still isn't what I'd deem NSFW. The others? A dog getting peanut butter off his nose, a cat drinking from a toilet and a dog named Gilligan running at double-speed around a yard. Titillating stuff, that. So what's going on here?