Sunday, October 30, 2011

#Shorterfilms and Being Trendy on Twitter

For the past two years, I've been on the board of the London Short Film Showcase. One thing I've been doing is running contests on Facebook and Twitter to promote the event (next Saturday at 7pm! Come!). On Friday, I posted this pair of tweets:

I figured a few local people would enter, which would get people talking about the event and raising awareness, but also having fun with a creative hash tag game. It became much bigger than that.

For an hour or so, I was afraid that I'd get zero entries. A few people directly involved with the Showcase participated, but that was about it. Then some local people entered. A few of them didn't get it at first, because my < 140 description wasn't great; they described an existing movie in one short sentence, instead of saying how a movie could be shorter (which is a good idea too, and a contest we ran last year).

But then more and more people from London got what I was going for, and began to participate. They followed the formula from my dumb examples, by tweeting descriptions of movies with a shortening alteration to the plot.

  • "Boat misses iceberg." (@twitch)
  • "Space police find the droids they were looking for." (@eplatero)
  • "Guy drinks too much. Takes Advil and drinks water. Gets married. No hangover." (@chadder87)
Eventually, people from outside of London began participating. It became harder and harder to keep track of "entries" in our contest. 

I posted an entry of my own, twisting the formula to spice it up a bit: "I think I've heard enough, Sam."

Either following suite, or because it was a natural evolution of the idea, more and more people began expressing the same #shorterfilms idea in this new way.

  • "It *is* a tumor." (@nachofiesta)
  • "Hey, these ARE the droids we're looking for!" (@FatherShaggy)
  • "Dude, there's my car." (@memachine)
#shorterfilms spread, and it evolved. Shorter film titles were another variation ("Schindler's Post-It Note"; @daveeech). Then, a few hours after it started, it was the second-most tweeted about thing in Canada, if trending topics are to be trusted. 

(It went up one after this)

Later in the day, The Globe and Mail even posted an article about the trend, citing it as a reason for "great Twitter moments". 

So that's how a trending topic can start. I always wondered. Did #youcanthaveswag originate in a similar way? 

As with most trending topics, by the end of the day, most of the entries were repeats or really bad, and some of the tweets were "wtf I dont understand teh #shorterfilms".

It was so cool to be involved with a "viral" trend right from the beginning to see how it evolved from a confusing contest to a country-wide sensation, with several mutations, then devolved right back to where it started before abruptly cutting off altogether. I've always been fascinated by how ideas spread, and Twitter gives a visibility into this process that was previously impossible.

Oh, and as an illustration of the difference between Twitter and Facebook: the same contest run on Facebook had five entries. Putting stuff on Facebook is like putting cold butter on toast; it doesn't spread.

So, that's how to be trendy. I now consider myself a social media expert. If you want to hire me for millions of dollars to promote your own crap, you should do that.

P.S. Come to the London Short Film Showcase next Saturday (Nov 5). It's gonna be awesome.

Monday, October 24, 2011

London Ontario Zombie Walk 2011

Yesterday was a beautiful day for London's fifth annual zombie walk. I know I promised last year that I'd dress up this year, but, like, stuff is busy. I did at least get a chance to go snap some pictures, as per usual. Here they for bigger.

It's always a highlight when the zombies hit up Victoria Park. As one dude said to me there, if someone were on hallucinogenics, it would be hard to differentiate from an actual zombie attack. Aside from the occasional texting zombie, the sights and sounds and chaos are like the real thing.

People reacting to zombies can be as entertaining as the zombies:

...wait what?

Even just being covered in fake blood can be enough of a costume.

But some people go all out, and they are some of my favourite people on the planet.



Not all the zombies in attendance were human. There were also dogs and children.

Pregnant zombies rule. Especially because hey, look what pregnancy leads to eventually:

These kids did their best scary faces when they saw Pat Dryburgh's camera.

As I've said before, shit like this is what makes me proud to live in London. Next year I'm gonna do my part by going as a zombie rather than a boring alive person.

See also:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

iOS 5 = Win, iCloud = Fail

Yesterday, Apple released an update to its iPhone/iPad operating system, iOS 5, alongside its new backup/syncing/interweb thing, iCloud.

iOS 5

iOS 5 is beautiful. You can read a complete list of new stuff elsewhere, but some of the new features really improve the devices that iOS powers. Notifications were a useless mess before, but now they're unobtrusive and easily accessible. Syncing without wires is similarly long overdue; now we just need wireless power and rat's nests of cables will be a thing of the past.

The split keyboard on the iPad is a nice option, but will take getting used to. Another iPad feature that nobody is talking about, for some reason, is multitasking gestures. Having to double-click the home button just to switch apps was getting pretty ridiculous. Now clawing at it with four fingers will do the trick. The iPad and iPhone are much better devices with iOS 5.


Unfortunately, I'm less impressed by Apple's attempts to extend these devices to the cloud.

The promise of iCloud is amazing. You can update something on one device—add a contact, or work on an iWork document, or take a picture, or start a conversation, or buy a song—and it will automagically appear on all your devices.

For some things, this works beautifully. I cleaned up my contacts on my MacBook today, and without doing anything else, or even plugging anything in, they're cleaned up on my iPad, iPhone, and on

Photo Stream

For other things, there are seemingly small issues that end up being dealbreakers. One new feature is that all photos are automatically published everywhere, viewable on any device with Photo Stream. While mildly creepy, I'm fine with that after I opt in for it. What's not fine is being unable to delete any photos after you take them. Seriously. If you accidentally take a shitty photo, or purposefully take a photo of your shit, it will be on every device forever. You can turn off Photo Stream and delete every photo, but you can't delete just that one photo of your dong that was only meant to be texted then discarded.

This is so ridiculous that it's almost as if they released iCloud without it by accident. I'm guessing it'll be fixed pretty soon, but it's dumb to have left it out initially. Maybe they're just waiting for a scandal to drum up free advertising.

iMessage fails at carrying across devices

iMessage isn't technically part of iCloud, but it's sending messages over the internet, so maybe it should be. iMessage mysteriously detects whether the person you're texting has an iOS device, and if so, sends them a message via data rather than text messaging. It's very cool if you don't have an unlimited texting plan, or drop out of cell phone coverage a lot. Even cooler is that it works on the iPad and iPod touch as well, so you can finally text from them. Since they don't have phone numbers, you set up an email address to iMessage with. There is also the promise of being able to start a conversation on one device, but continue it on whatever other device you switch to.

Where it fails is that, from what I've seen so far, it doesn't deliver on that promise. iMessage doesn't associate your phone number with your email address(es), so if you're texting between phone numbers on an iPhone, then switch to an iPad, now you need to start a new conversation using the email address you set up on the iPad. You could use the email address the whole time, but that defeats the purpose of making it a texting alternative (coordinating this with people will be almost as bad as having to exchange PINs on BlackBerrys). This messy confusion sinks what was supposed to be a simplification of messaging.

Update Oct 15: I've managed to unify all my messages, at least with one person. It took some combination of the following: both of us added all of each other's iMessage phone numbers and email addresses to the same contact. We also made sure our "caller ID" (which has nothing to do with calling) in the message settings was the same on all of our devices (i.e., on an iPhone, it has to be changed to an email address instead of a phone number). Now, all communications show up in the same conversation, which syncs across all devices, just as promised. It's even smart enough to know that if you see the conversation on your unlocked iPad, it doesn't need to bother alerting you on your iPhone too. Cool. So it's possible to achieve the promise of iMessage, but it takes a lot of fiddling and coordination between the two people, and it's still not really clear how to do it.

iWork in the Cloud

I'm wondering why more people aren't complaining about this next problem. I haven't even seen it mentioned in reviews, somehow.

The aspect of iCloud I was most excited about is the ability to work on a document from any device, and have it always be synced up between devices, automatically. Currently, this works wonderfully for syncing a document between iOS devices. So, you can type up something on your iPad, and it will automatically show up on your...uh...iPhone I guess? But why the fuck would you want to do word processing on an iPhone?

Yeah. There is no way to have iCloud sync documents with an actual computer. It syncs photos and contacts just fine with OSX, but nooo, creating documents, the one thing that's still done best with a large screen and a keyboard, you can't do that on a computer.

I'm sure this feature is coming, but I'm baffled as to why this, what I think is the most useful application of iCloud, wasn't a priority to get out right away. As it is, iCloud is nothing more than an automatic backup for iWork documents.

But Still...

I don't wanna get into #firstworldproblem territory by complaining about nitpicky details in the OS of a supercomputer that I can carry around in my pocket. But still, these are some odd omissions among software that is so improved in every other way. I didn't see these problems addressed elsewhere, so I thought I'd get this up on the internet for other complainers to find. It'll probably all be fixed tomorrow, and then I'll be back to visions of happily skipping through a field of rainbow-coloured iPhones while Jesus fellates Steve Jobs' corpse .

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Steve Jobs

There is a famous story about Steve Jobs luring Pepsi president John Sculley to work for Apple. In Sculley's words:
"And then he looked up at me and just stared at me with the stare that only Steve Jobs has and he said do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world and I just gulped because I knew I would wonder for the rest of my life what I would have missed."
Apple did change the world, and couldn't have done it without Jobs. That's the inspiration I'll draw from Steve Jobs, highlighted now that he has died. That one person can change the world, by stubbornly sticking to a his own vision.

I probably won't change the world. Most people don't; not on the same scale. But I can at least avoid selling sugar water for the rest of my life.

If everyone worked to change the world for the better a fraction as much as Jobs did, imagine how much better the world could be.

Screw sugar water, oh and hey, screw cancer. RIP Steve Jobs.

Monday, October 03, 2011