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TV: “Community” Needs to Do Better in Class August 17, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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Original at Splice Today, also see my thoughts on what Community‘s premiere on Facebook means for YouTube.

Facebook | Community

A good test of whether a show is great is if, at the end of the episode, you cannot help but replay every scene in your mind. I get this feeling after Mad Men, True Blood and a few other commercial and critical darlings.

If a show is good but not great, you might not think about after it’s over, but you’re excited to see the next episode; it’s how I feel about Royal Pains.

If a show borders on mind-numbing mediocrity, however, you forget about it almost immediately after it’s over. You can’t remember the jokes or the dramatic moments. The past is fuzzy. The future is empty.

I got that feeling when I watched Community, NBC’s anticipated comedy for this fall starring Chevy Chase and The Soup‘s Joel McHale, of whom I’m huge fan. In a creative but inevitable marketing move by a broadcast network, NBC premiered the pilot show for a limited time on Facebook, hoping to harness the force of social networking to build a cult base around the show. Facebook’s features allow viewers to easily recommend shows to friends, and personal recommendations are the best drivers of TV viewership. People want to watch what their friends are watching. It’s why I consistently feel compelled to watch The Office (no judgment!; it’s a good show).

I had high hopes for Community. It follows several characters as they embark on their journey to graduate from Glendale Community College.  The show is really about Joel McHale’s Jeff, a lawyer disbarred for falsifying his academic background by lying about his undergraduate degree. McHale is a fast talker and non-worker. He says the problem is if you’re smart you can get away without doing much work. He fits in at Glendale, but doesn’t want to be there. By the end of the pilot he has a love interest, an average-looking blonde with a quick tongue, and a throng of quirky, ethnic friends.

The reason I was optimistic about Community is that it concerns a relatively unexplored aspect of American life, even though millions attend community college every year. Think of all the shows and movies about life at universities and try to think of more than two about a community college. The experiences are different, the most obvious of which is that community college graduates are not really a community at all: many students have jobs, families or live at home and have their own friends. Community seems at least somewhat aware of the irony in its name, and when Jeff christens his fake Spanish study group a “community,” it sounds as ridiculous and sad as it should.

The problem with Community? Like many new television shows, it lacks the hardest things to manufacture: relatable characters and compelling storylines. I certainly don’t care about Jeff, or his paramour-to-be, Britta. His backstory hardly endears us to him, and we don’t really know hers. Even if Jeff is supposed to be an anti-hero, Joel McHale certainly doesn’t look like one. We love him on The Soup, so we’re left in a bit of a void. Some of the side characters have compelling stories: a working mother and a football player who missed out on a scholarship due to an injury are fine on paper but on screen only serve as punchlines for Jeff’s quips. Chevy Chase’s Pierce appears to be someone who once had money and has either lost it or has kept it and is bored. That’s kind of interesting.

Nor does Community, written by a veteran of The Sarah Silverman Show, incorporate the best of what makes hit comedies develop impassioned fan bases today. It wants to be wacky and quick like 30 Rock, but doesn’t make it, and awkward like The Office but comes up short. But the writing does sound conscientious and thoughtful, and that alone might fuel Community to a second season. Mostly, though, the show gives us a glimpse of potential, if not greatness. Maybe this is the next 30 Rock, or maybe it’ll be canceled. Judging from the pilot, I can’t tell either way.

YOUTUBE: The End of YouTube? August 10, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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CLICK for article.

No website stays on top forever. So in the tradition of reckless speculation, in an article over at Ronebreak, I lay the case for YouTube’s demise, just for sport.

DIGITAL CULTURE: If a Social Network Dies… June 17, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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…does anybody care?

Quarterlife didn't get very big and didn't last very long.

Quarterlife didn't get very big and didn't last very long.

I fell hard for the social networking craze. I joined so many sites I lost track of most of them. Two or three years ago, each site promised to serve a new community, or niche market, and was trumpeted by the media as a novel, near miraculous invention. Every site was based on “you,” and so it felt like it could never die. If a site died, a little part of you would too. That was never going to happen!

Cut to last week when I received an email from Quarterlife, a social networking site for creative young people. HYW wanted to be my friend! I was somewhat excited, because I rarely receive emails from Quarterlife, and everyone wants a new friend! Then I thought, Wait, I never go on Quarterlife anymore; I wonder if anyone else does.

No, nobody visits Quarterlife anymore. I quickly checked the site’s Quantcast numbers and was proven right (a lot of people have problems with Quantcast’s methodology, but people have problems with every agency’s methodology, so I’m going to use Quantcast and Compete because they’re free). Quarterlife’s numbers are way down. Go to their homepage and you see this message: “Starting today we are asking for a SMALL VOLUNTARY SUBSCRIPTION FEE or a DONATION of any amount you choose. This is the only way to keep quarterlife from going dark, and losing all the thousands of photos, artwork, music, and writing you’ve uploaded.”

Begging for money is a site’s last resort. SimpleWeather.com did the same thing, falling from its meteoric high when Time magazine trumpeted it in 2007. Since Quarterlife’s user base is young, artistic people, I doubt they have the money to support it (I don’t). The site will die as fast as its television show did.

Friendster, my first social network, has been fading for years but is still strong internationally.

Friendster, my first social network, has been fading for years in the U.S. but is still strong internationally.

This is what happens when Facebook and YouTube amass large user bases and manage to hold their attention. Facebook allows you to upload photos and video; YouTube allows video and promises a large potential audience. Who needs Quarterlife? As ad agencies shrink their budgets in the recession, these niche sites cannot compete anyway, and subscription-based social networking will not work.

I started checking other sites I once joined. The owner of DList—the gay MySpace—had written off the site months ago, even as I still continued to use it (and even as ads remained on it). Saatchi’s social networking site for artists lost nearly all of its popularity from its much-publicized high, down over 90 percent in just about a year. Some sites have managed to maintain their popularity; LinkedIn stunningly is still holding strong, though I’d be wary of Facebook. Same goes for Vimeo, which has emerged as a propercompanion to YouTube. But others, like Orkut, have fallen flat on their faces.

It’s a curious thing when a social network dies. Users invest a lot of time and, sometimes, emotion into a site, literally creating it. Its demise can be sad and bemusing. A newspaper dying is one thing, but a social networking holds your information, a network of friends and often your work, your labor.

But the bottom line is the web may not be Chris Anderson’s long tail, capable of supporting thousands of small but thriving markets. If there is a long tail, it’s a sharp and vicious one. Facebook and YouTube—MySpace is dying a slow death—monopolize social networking and user generated content, and the niches cannot compete. I’m not complaining; I’m on Facebook several times a day. It’s wonderful, but it’s the Microsoft of social networking. The nice Microsoft, swallowing the competition simply by doing what they do better.

In the end, everyone wants to be where everyone else is hanging out. It’s why all the major artists, filmmakers, and hip people move to the coasts and Middle America is left with the scraps. Sure, people leave the huddle, but only when they’re so famous they don’t need it—like when Chris Crocker decided to leave YouTube.

Of course, soon after Chris Crocker thought he could leave the huddle, YouTube and its big audience, and start his own website, he was back again. No one can afford to leave a thriving social network. Just ask the ones that have recently died. They know this all too well.

TWITTER: Twitter-Perfect Memes: #3wordsaftersex and #3breakupwords May 28, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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1 comment so far
3wordsaftersex tweets were uploaded at amazing rates.

3wordsaftersex tweets were uploaded at amazing rates.

UPDATE 9/24: After this meme, a similar one cropped up — institutional memory on Twitter is short — called #aftersex. You get the idea. 3wordsaftersex, by the way, is still being tweeted, months later.


ORIGINAL POST: If ever there was a meme made for Twitter it was #3wordsaftersex (yes, that’s right, “three words after sex”). For those reading this who do not use Twitter at all — are you out there?? — a “#” is a way of linking keywords among tweets, so people can see what Twitterers are tweeting about a certain topic.

I’d seen the #3wordsaftersex trend for awhile, but I normally don’t click on these things. Once I clicked on it, it instantly became clear why it’s popular. 3wordsaftersex is simple: people simply tweet three words they say (or would say; or would never say but would like to pretend they would say) after sex.

3wordsaftersex takes advantage of what Twitter does best: short, witty, sensational messages easily intelligible and quickly repeatable, or re-tweetable. A short sample of 3wordsaftersex tweets reveals an incredible amount of wit among the Twitterati, a wit no doubt cultivated when you only have 140 characters to say what you want — truly, good tweeting is an art. Of course, the same sample of tweets also revealed misogyny (“swallow the nut”) and stupidity (“ima put it on her” — that’s not even three words, and it’s in poor taste!). Regardless, everyone on the site gets a good 10 seconds to express themselves before disappearing into the Internet dustbin. It’s pretty indicative of the web culture in general. (And yes, ten seconds is all you have, the tweets come so fast within that time you’ve been refreshed off the page).
This is a Twitter story. Something like this is too crass for most Facebook accounts — I for one have several employers and past employers as friends — and too short for MySpace, YouTube and most other social networking sites. Blogs are too slow, disparate and hard to find. Twitter is fast, immediate, constantly updated and self-contained. In the twenty minutes it took to write this post, well over 200 tweets were posted, and I’m writing at 3AM.

A companion to 3wordsaftersex is #3breakupwords (three words for a break-up), which isn’t as fun since it isn’t as narrowly constructed. Since there’s more room for possibility, more options and more possible situations, 3breakupwords doesn’t force the twitters to be as creative as 3wordsaftersex does. In my estimation it seems less popular than 3wordsaftersex.

It should be noted that a completely unscientific scan of the tweets shows that 3wordsaftersex does bring out more men than women, which instinctively makes sense to me, but the imbalance isn’t that stark. 3breakupwords seems more equal. But what do I know?! I’m looking at 3AM, my sample might be skewed. It’s surprising because Twitter is likely more female than male.

The big question is: who started this and why? Like many memes before, we may never know.

Three cheers for meaningless memes that rise and fall within the span of days!

PS – I know I keep diverging from my “televisual” theme/directive. But, you know, the Internet’s visual. Leave me alone.