Shownar: or, so, we made a thing

03 July 2009

It’s been around the internet a bit already, but I can now show you what I’ve been working on for much of the time since I joined Schulze & Webb.

Enter Shownar:

What’s Shownar? Matt explained it over at Pulse Laser, the Schulze & Webb blog:

Shownar tracks millions of blogs and Twitter plus other microblogging services, and finds people talking about BBC telly and radio. Then it datamines to see where the conversations are and what shows are surprisingly popular.

And over at the BBC Internet Blog, Dan Taylor quotes the about page:

First, it will help you find shows that others have not only watched, but are talking about. Hopefully it’ll throw up a few hidden gems. People’s interest, attention and engagement with shows are more important to Shownar than viewing figures; the audience size of a documentary on BBC FOUR, for instance, will never approach that of EastEnders, but if that documentary sparks a lot of interest and comment – even discussion – we want to highlight it. And second, when you’ve found a show of interest, we want to assist your onward journey by generating links to related discussions elsewhere on the web. In the same way news stories are improved by linking out to the same story on other news sites, we believe shows are improved by connecting them to the wider discussion and their audience.

Of course, I didn’t work on this alone; as Matt points out, there was a good-sized team from both the BBC and Schulze & Webb, and it was great to work with so many talented and sharp people, all of whom have left their mark on the project.

People have been pretty enthusiastic so far, which is always nice to see. It’s also great been watching stories emerge – stories of what we found to watch or listen to in the office, ways our viewing and listening habits have changed, and there’s not much better praise than constantly wanting to use a thing you’ve made.

So there we go, Shownar. Another thing in the world.

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  • "[Our heroine's] name is Marta Louise Velasquez, and she’s quite possibly the most unpleasant female lead character in the history of gaming. She’s also what makes TD2192 worth remembering." Indeed, I have many. She did not lead a happy life, I'll give Richard that.
  • "Critical thinking is the key to success!" Professor Layton is on Twitter. Officially. This is good.
  • why do it? To borrow from the site's About pages: "First, it will help you find shows that others have not only watched, but are talking about. Hopefully it'll throw up a few hidden gems. People's interest, attention and engagement with shows are more important to Shownar than viewing figures; the audience size of a documentary on BBC FOUR, for instance, will never approach that of EastEnders, but if that documentary sparks a lot of interest and comment – even discussion – we want to highlight it. And second, when you've found a show of interest, we want to assist your onward journey by generating links to related discussions elsewhere on the web. In the same way news stories are improved by linking out to the same story on other news sites, we believe shows are improved by connecting them to the wider discussion and their audience." Dan Taylor explains Shownar from the BBC's perspective
  • "Shownar tracks millions of blogs and Twitter plus other microblogging services, and finds people talking about BBC telly and radio. Then it datamines to see where the conversations are and what shows are surprisingly popular. You can explore the shows at Shownar itself. It’s an experimental prototype we’ve designed and built for the BBC over the last few months. We’ll learn a lot having it in the public eye, and I hope to see it as a key part of discovery and conversation scattered across BBC Online one day." Matt talks about Shownar on Pulse Laser.
  • "Shownar tracks the online buzz around BBC shows. It's an experimental prototype and we want your feedback." What I've been working on in the first three months at Schulze & Webb, and is now live. Exciting!

Fanufacture

08 October 2008

There’s some interesting discussion around Matt Jones’ post over at Schulze & Webb‘s Pulse Laser, where he considers what happens when you apply Kevin Kelly’s ideas around “new economics of scale” for craftsmen and artists to products.

Matt writes:

I joked with Matt and Jack that they should put the price tag of producing a prototype out there, and see who wanted one – or perhaps the price of a short-run of limited edition Olinda, which would reduce it perhaps from four figures a piece to three… Or perhaps the next generation of Olinda, with their input?

There’s some interesting discussion in the comments on the post around whether fans would be interested in constructing or assembling products they’re fans of: Chris Hand comments that

…it’s the soldering and assembly that’s the stumbling block for most who want to [look into limited runs]…

I really like the idea of products having fans. It’s often the early adopters of new products who convince their friends (who often represent a more traditional market) to make the leap. Those thousand “true fans” have the potential to be the people who take the product to a wider audience.

“Fans” act as an intermediate layer between the product and a mass market: they evangelise and amplify it. If you want to make a pun out of it, you could call them middle fan-agement. They take a product and enthuse about it to a wider audience; crowdsourced marketing, if you like.

But what if you went a step further – what if you called upon your fans to actually build the product, in the kind of short runs Jones hints at?

Imagine, for my purposes, a product along the lines of Schulze and Webb’s Olinda, but perhaps in a slightly cheaper price bracket – low three figures at most. The device is still reasonably expensive; however, it has enough fans to easily justify a short run. Rather than consuming S&W’s valuable time with soldering, the early adopters – the fans – buy low volumes of kits. More than one kit per fan – ideally, we’d want people to purchase around five. There are 1000 units of the product, but we only need 200 people to assemble them. Maybe even fewer than that, if somebody’s particularly talented or enthusiastic. There’s no burn-out, and the expense is much more reasonable: everybody’s only making five devices, rather than a thousand.

To continue with the puns, we could call this fanufacture.

Your fans manufacture five kits, and resell four, keeping one for themselves. Of course, they’ve already paid for the kits (much like a Big Issue vendor buys all his magazines up front before he resells them), so S&W are in pocket, and sales is being performed by someone already enthusiastic about the product.

And you don’t have to sell – you could give them away, to parents, or to friends, to seed the network of a social product with keen, happy users, and at the top of the network, a layer of fans.

There are obvious catches – quality control is a screamingly obvious one. But it’s always amazing how far fans will go for a product they like. Look at the community around Moo‘s printed products, for instance: full of enthusiastic fans, ready to not only spend more money, but evangelise about the product to friends and family.

Fans don’t just exist as the core audience you need to make a product successful on any terms; they could also act as a gateway to widespread, mass-market success, and embracing their skills and enthusiasm to outsource tasks you might not otherwise have the time or budget to perform seems like a logical evolution of the fandom Matt describes around products.