Monday, March 22, 2010

a new HealthCare Horizon? Using Social Media ... maybe.

With a light finally showing at the end of a very long tunnel, Healthcare reform at least has a chance. Hopefully Americans will not allow the negatively charged dialog to allow Republicans and right leaning state governments to snatch defeat from the mouth of victory. Anyone defending the previous status quo is either unaware of the insanity of healthcare system unfairness, or is profiting via the AMA/Pharma machine.

As a small business owner, I have watched in pain as the current system turned the US into a third world nation where healthcare is involved. I have heard from pharma execs themselves that fair pricing was a "nightmare". In Big Pharma thinking, Canadian companies should be prevented from buying US pharma products at "fair trade" price and selling them at a decent profit ... still well under what the Pharmas charge the US Health system.

Anyone who believes our Healthcare system is "private" has never looked at the surcharges and hidden costs paid by the government via Medicare and Medicaid to greedy insurers and medical companies. As the corrupt machinery is reviewed and unraveled, an unprecedented level of scrutiny will be on the process. The emerging public platform of Social Media has both a capability and the responsibility to shine lights into back room discussions and assure that the same hands that have been picking our wallets for decades don't find new devious means to exploit.

Knowlege IS power in the truest sense of our new political reality ... and the Social Media community as a whole has the opportunity to show America how "political intelligence" can be more than an oxymoron. Lets shine many spotlights where the sun don't ... and let the truth lead us all to creating a new and better US Healthcare system than we've ever seen.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Synthevolution! Synthespians evolve beyond Avatar ... Darwin puzzled.

As Jim Cameron's Avatar becomes the largest grossing in film history ... surpassing even his film Titanics massive box office return, the interest and focus on the art of "Synthespians" is intensifying. The possibilities of recreating movie icons of the past and creating remarkably realistic synthetic performers are compelling ... and not without risk of altering our ideas of "live" performers for better or for worse.

Jeff Kleiser and Diana Walczak coined the term "Synthespians" in a 1988 experiment "Nestor Sextone for President" ... and synthetic thespians have been their passion since working on Tron and other early 3D films. As any 3D artist understands, emulating "realistic" human expressions and movements are difficult to achieve.

Camerons dedication to quality has resulted in a marvelous tapestry of artificial reality that is genuinely "immersive". As "augmented reality" visual tools become commonplace in public, dealing with Synthespians in retail settings or malls will likely become less and less discernably artificial. Faceless ATMs and retail kiosks will take on personality ... that will be personalized and will evolve for you as your preferences change. Your mobile phone habits will let these personas know who and where you are (if you allow it) ... and let them "serve you better". Potentially tricky stuff for automatons to do well without a lot of human intervention regarding "user experience".

I'm not sure I want to see a Humphery Bogart "surrogate" in a contemporary film except for cameos or such and Cameron agrees about leaving long gone movie stars alone. Popwatch discusses Camerons thoughts on keeping living stars like Clint and Cruise rejuvenated. The options are real ... and Jeff Kleiser's work for Disney on Surrogates showed a "youth-enized" Bruce Willis (a good thing considering how beat up his screen persona looked!).  

Since the technology exists, liberties will certainly be taken and mistakes made ... but qualitative standards will surely follow amidst complaints. Testing the limits is how we define new visual crafts ... and the artists role is to challenge conventions. Since "Synthespians" are here to stay, we might as well make them welcome ... and like with own my kids, I'll keep an eye on their behavior!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Google's China dilemma ... Act 2

Google is re-examining it's course in China on after discovering cyber attacks had been made on Gmail accounts of known political dissenters. Google states that it's system was not breached, but that phishing scams or malware were used to attempt to hack email of 2 political activists. Other corporate sites in China were also attacked and it is clear that government operatives were involved. Google is sharing it's tracking data openly and publicly stating it's concerns moving forward.

The experiment with self-censorship in China has been tricky water for "open information" internet search giant Google. It will prove crucial for Google to take a clear & firm stance on such systematic invasions of privacy or it risks more censorship quicksand worldwide as political winds blow. It will bear watching how Beijing reacts to being rebuked by a corporate entity. With China's need to be at peace with global economic forces (perhaps more than political ones), we will see how the oil and water relationship between politics and personal rights in China resolves itself. More drama to come, I'm very sure ...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Google's "Near me now" brings search Home ... to your local business

With "Near Me Now", Google has completed a powerful loop that should prove a major consumer tool ... and a major opportunity for small businesses in America. Currently for iPhone and Android, the system uses the users phone GPS tracking to match up local businesses that have what you want. Beyond coffeeshops and restaurants,  retailers, theatres and event promoters can create a new dynamic with search that is right in the sweet spot of interested passersby.

Keep in mind this can effectively leveraged by regional business associations, retail malls, business parks or sponsored by distributors to point to local outlets. I've been working with GPS enabled wireless visual intelligence for a number of years and have seen how enabling field force users with the right information on a real-time basis makes a decisive difference. We can only use the information we have ... and "Near Me Now" opens up some very interesting horizons to businesses that sense how to connect with their customers. This is one to watch ...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Reinventing the wheel ... and making it sexier!

It's a challenge for any brand to take on a new icon ... it can be even harder to reinvent an old beloved one. Sun-Maid Raisins has looked to modernize it's nearly 100 year old image with a new 3D version of the Sun-Maid Raisin Girl developed by Synthespian Studios. It's a move welcomed by the growers and corporate marketing team ... but not unexpectedly seen it's share of criticism. Recently a short and fairly positive blog article in conservative DC journal Weekly Standard called her "hot" and compared her to Julia Roberts. (My personal viewpoint leans towards Anne Hathaway). Before you could say "busty", Jezebel, PopCrunch, and even Yahoo Finance jumped in with considerably more than 2 cents worth. Fresno's KSEE TV added some regional viewpoint ... and the viral machine just keeps spinning. The YouTube video has received over 60,000 views in a week and hundreds of comments and emails coming in.

I believe the age old Ad Age adage (;-)) ... goes "any Press is good Press", but is it? Oh yes, definitely ... at least in this case. A peruse of blags and comments shows the tone as overall positive, with some bemusement as to why this is even an issue at all.  Discounting some typical venom around sex in advertising, America body image fixation, her body being too ample (or not ample enough), her moral outlook, orientation, etc ... the reality is that the Sun-Maid girl is a hot online news topic nearly 3 years after she was "developed". Not bad for a 90 year old babe ... and it offers Sun-Maid a way to rejuvenate and connect with the younger health minded consumers who will be their future. Look out Megan Fox ... without losing sight of their brand tradition, having "Lorraine" getting into shape and eating earth-friendly foods works well as a message. Better than those old school singing raisins that sold more toys than dried fruit.

Personally, I think most of the negative comments are just a secret disruptive plot by the military/industrial potato chip conglomerate. Looking forward to further adventures ... rumors of yoga, soccer, dancing and other healthy pursuits are bubbling. Hey, how did you think she kept that fine shape ... picking grapes? 

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"I'm not a real user but I sell one online ..."

Unlike it's role in the Wall Street meltdown it helped orchestrate, once in a while the FTC does something intelligent ... and perhaps benefits us all! With the online world Tweeting like there's no tomorrow (a scenario many films like "2012" want you to believe), the FTC wants to rein in the blatant endorsement "free-for-some" that is clogging the Internet pipes.

Advertising is fee based promotion ... and subsidized or paid endorsements clearly fall into that category. The blurring of personal and professional lines around online social media has been based on novelty and curiousity. As the Internet emerges as a measurable communications channel with actualized new revenue forms it must take on more mature responsibilities.

The FTC has now set regulations that the online community better pay attention to. One of the greatest threats to the warm public embrace of "social networking" is fee based messages and endorsements. Just like in "real life" (and this is ours, don't forget) when someone I know and respect tells me about a product or service ... I listen and respond. When I sense an opinion is shaped by profit in any form ... all bets are off.

Experience teaches the difference between friends and "associates". My extended social network consists of many who are "friendly" but are not friends. I certainly would not regard advise from paid associates in the same manner as unpaid. iMediaConnection's paid Facebook "friends" and SponsoredTweets (which at least is exactly what it says) will quickly pull the plug on a belief that a lot of people are worth listening to. Filtering will follow.

For now I'll just be glad to see a more honest tone by many "influencers" and a transparancy to the sponsors of their messages.