Stumbling Into the Wearable Media Era

The near future of media is wearable, at least if you watched any of the news coming out of CES. But in the short term, the market will continue experiencing an awkward phase befitting a medium that is not ready for prime time.

Consider the intrusionary nature of Google “Glassholes“, or the many awkward apps developed for bulky and somewhat unfashionable smart watches. The world is stumbling into the wearable media era.

Does that mean content creators should ignore the medium for now? Maybe, but they will also risk losing marketshare to early adopters. What to do about wearables was a primary conversation point for a DC Ad Club presentation (see below) I gave at the Newseum this morning.

There are some clear indicators about what will work with wearable media. But first, let’s talk about the square peg in a round hole syndrome.

Just because you can create an app or put a sensor into something wearable or portable doesn’t make it a hit. Further, what works on another medium, specifically smartphones and tablets doesn’t make for a wearable hit.

Glass showed us that [obvious] wearable cameras are an intrusion. People know they are always under the watch of a surveillance camera. Yet, having a wearable camera thrust upon them created animosity. The video/photography experiment failed here.

Recently, I have been testing a Samsung Gear S watch. I don’t want to watch video on my smartwatch, nor do I want to look at photos, email or social networks. I do like having an independent phone for texting and voice calls on the go. The simple functionality allows me to escape the always on nature of my smartphones.

Then there is the “stick-a-sensor” into anything you wear or use. Many of these sensor-driven apps and their incessant social rankings seem like a waste of time. Consider this: I may not want a sensor in my nail clipper. Nor do I want my nail clipping habits ranked against my peers (yuck – more for you than me!).

Early Indicators


The first obvious area of success for wearable media is the use of audio media. Consider audio interfacing with programs like Siri or Google Talk, listening to podcasts in varying forms, or simply enjoying music. Audio is the linchpin of wearable media.

Why? Typing and reading on these devices is almost unbearable. And as we have seen with cars and even walking, over engaging portable media can be dangerous.

Podcasts may be the silver bullet of all. Podcasting is enjoying a bit of renaissance thanks to smartphones, tech enabled autos, and other mobile devices. Twenty percent of Americans already listen to at least one podcast a month.

It’s likely that podcasts will reinvent themselves a la YouTube. The standard “I am/we are talking about something important” format is just one way that audio files can be created. A food company could offer simple audible recipes, or someone could post directions on how to tie a windsor knot.

The other key feature for wearable media is usefulness. This is where the contextual media aspect of sensors comes into play.

Check out the top apps for Samsung Gears right now. They include a babysitter app which lets you helicopter back into your house and see your child. One app lets you tally expenses as you shop. And of course there are pedometer uses for training.

Almost all of these apps are low attention types of utilities that help someone on the go maintain their lives. You cannot underestimate how important is for an app to be nonintrusive and yet useful for wearable media devices.

What do you think about wearable tech hype?

A Bigger Problem than Content Shock

There may be a bigger problem than content shock coming down the pike. First, it’s great that industry leaders are addressing the increasing proliferation of bad content populating the interwebs. More spammy content spoils the waters for the rest of us.

At the same time, I can’t help but think that a bigger problem faces the sector.

In the next twenty years our conceptions of literacy will become challenged and evolve. A media world is coming where visual and audio forms will dominate, and text will become a secondary form of communication.

Some conversations touch the tip of this massive iceberg with the current by focusing on visual media’s growing social network strength. But smaller mobile media devices and content glut continue to force a permanent focus on rich visual and audio.

I imagine many writers will writhe as they read this. Let us agree that long form blogs, eBooks and content will continue to engage stakeholders.

But in 20 years will these textual forms will become increasingly marginalized as mass consumption moves to video and imagery? I think so.

In essence, blogs, white papers and eBooks will become niche tools for specific purposes and persons who prefer reading. Further, Generation X and millennials will be the last generations that read content online first. Instead, children and adults will watch, listen, see, and then read.

I know that last paragraph will inspire debate. People are afraid of what the visual era means. When people are fearful they have negative reactions.

We cannot ignore the trends. To run from change is to be passed over by it.

Consider this: People are as likely to seek an answer today on YouTube as they would via Google. They will learn more about a research report from an infographic than a four page executive summary. Some people prefer listening to a podcast during their commute or at the gym rather than reading late at night or during their lunch break. They prefer to have business intelligence delivered via slideshare than a long blog post. The list of trends signalling the movement away from text grows with each passing season.

By the way, I would have made a deck about this trend, but when wrestling with complicated topics, I still think textually and have to write my ideas out. That is a problem for me. It’s a problem that every communicator faces right now. How do I learn how to communicate visually?

The Visual Imperative


Last week, my company Tenacity5 had the great honor of serving as the social media counsel for Give Local America, an incredible day of giving from Kimbia that raised more than $53 million from more than 300,000 donors for well over 7000 nonprofits. To wrap things up, we created a pinboard of the best stories from the many nonprofits across the country.

The pinboard highlights many passionate stories from nonprofits, stories of beneficiaries who need the programs created by passionate causes.

I am sure there were many, many other stories that are not included in the board.

Because they were not visual and didn’t use the Give Local America social media hashtags and keywords, we did not find them. By my estimate, there were hundreds of thousands of social updates, including pieces of visual content created for the day. The visual tagged pieces of content stood out, and will be memorialized.

This is the problem. We must communicate visually within the Internet context now if we hope to be found.

It’s why AirBnb is going beyond creating unique story paths for SEO. They also contract 3000 freelance photographers to help them communicate these stories visually.

The visual imperative is one of the primary reasons I decided to focus on improving my photography skills this year. Since that time in March, my photography blog on Flickr has increased its traffic by another 50% and is now outpacing this blog 8 to 1 on traffic this month.

Learning to speak through pictures is becoming easier.

Whatever or however communicators decide to evolve their visual skills, evolve they must. Communicators can learn to storyboard, or write video scripts and screenplays, or podcast, or use InDesign, or critique visual arts, or build outlines through visual wireframes, or… There are many options to learn visual thinking well beyond photography.

Stop Making Excuses


Many people tell me I have a natural eye for photography, that it is a gift or an art. They say that communicators can’t do the same thing.

This is an excuse.

It rankles me when people say they can’t learn or won’t be able to do so. Let me be clear: Six years ago I took crappy photos like everyone else. I learned to think visually through a camera.

Deciding you can’t take photos is an excuse for not wanting or being afraid to learn photography. This is true for any visual discipline. No one wants to find out they really cannot see the world visually. Lack of desire and fear can thwart an effort right out of the gate. Let’s be honest about these very real internal barriers.

It’s also important to be consider the market dynamics. Communicators will see this trend evolve, and they must decide whether or not to embrace visual media. If not, are they prepared for competition from other companies and members of the workforce?

I’ve heard some other interesting excuses since last March, too. Some people think that iPhones make authentic images, and that real cameras don’t.

A camera is a tool. If you want to use dull knife to cut your meat, go for it. Me, I like a sharpened knife. I’ll opt for real cameras every chance I can. They do a better job, and people want good pics. I only need to look at the performance my Nikon captured social photos versus the iPhone shots. This is why every communicator needs a camera, in my opinion.

I hear the same thing about filters and Photoshop, that these editing tools make inauthentic photos.

Look, I don’t like crazy enhanced images that are so over the top they look like something from a science fiction novel. But I do think people should use Lightroom and Photoshop to take the dust specs off your pictures, make them less grainy, and fix the lighting.

We are talking about creating and telling stories through visual means. If you think that’s not a photo, then call it a graphically enhanced image. Who the hell cares?

In my opinion, the filter touch up argument is another excuse for not learning visual media. By the way I learned how to use Lightroom in a two hour Kelby One training session. That’s it.

Sharing How-To Experiences


It’s one thing to tell people that dynamic change is coming. Most don’t want to deal with it.

But I really believe this trend is happening, and I am doing everything I can to meet the market. If you are of the same mind, expect more blog content about the lessons I am learning, including how-tos.

I cannot compete with the many expert photography blogs out there. But I can share my experiences evolving from a single dimension communicator to a multifaceted one that weaves the visual into larger strategies.

Perhaps this will be helpful. I hope so.

What do you think?

Big Data, Influencers, Privacy and Other Digital Termites

next10, Day2, 12.05.2010
Image by NEXT Berlin

Andrew Keen remains the most constant and prolific critic of digital media advances and their impact on society. His books Digital Vertigo and Cult of the Amateur have made him a bit of a pariah in some circles, and an intellectual hero in others.

He was the ideal choice to close xPotomac on February 25, as the conference discussed future technologies. This podcast offers a sneak preview, which is also transcribed below… We got into all sorts of fun things, including big data, influencers, privacy and other digital termites.

GL: Well, we’re really excited to have you here in D.C. and I can’t wait to see you. First of all, for people that don’t know you, why don’t you quickly explain your background to them and what you did with Digital Vertigo.

AK: So I’m a writer, I’m a broadcaster, entrepreneur, accountant of a company, Audio Café, I have a weekly show on TechCrunch, columns for other people including CNN, written two books Quasi Amateur, which was critical of web 2.0 and the democratization of the Internet. I just came out with a new book this year Digital Vertigo, which is critical of technology’s obsession with transparency and openness.

Some people see me as a technology reactionary. I’m not really. I’m as wired as anyone.

But, I am more skeptical of some of the social and cultural consequences and see the way in which the web continues to disintermediate both the experts and the creative class: the writers, musicians, filmmakers. I don’t think generally it’s benefitted creative people. It’s been great for entrepreneurs, great for programmers, technologists, investors and VCs, but not so great for the creative industry.

GL: In your mind, how does big data fit into that picture and what are the challenges that we’re facing with it?

AK: Well, big data is the current buzzword when it comes to describing the world we’re living in. I fear this: On the web we’ve all essentially become data. There’s an excellent writer, he wrote a cook called The Information, James Gleick, and he writes we’ve become data, we’ve become data in the Digital Age.

I think he’s right. We are distributing ourselves on the network, and I’m fearful of the impact it has both on our privacy, in terms of our identity and of our relationship with each other. I fear that the more we reveal about ourselves, the lonelier we become, the more we actually destroy the social.

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Listen to the Fifth Estate for Free

Geoff Livingston & The Fifth Estate

In the past three days, Chapters 6 and 7 of Welcome to the Fifth Estate have been podcasted, completing the reading of the book. Welcome to the Fifth Estate is now available for listeners in its entirety for free. Below please find a list of podcast episodes.

In addition to making the book available for free, the next few weeks include three live virtual appearances:

If you’d like to discuss the book and any of its topics, please join one of these conversations. The first two promise to be wonky and fun (see video on Danny’s blog), and the latter webinar should help folks get down to brass tacks. Hopefully, these podcasts and the information contained in the book are useful to you.

Thank you for being such a great community of readers!

Listen to Welcome to the Fifth Estate for Free

Speaker Drivers
Image by DeclanTM

As promised, Welcome to the Fifth Estate is being made avalailable to you for free via podcast. Each podcast is roughly 1/2 to 1/3 of a chapter, and approximately 15 minutes in length. The Fifth Estate Podcast will be posted every week by Friday until the book is completed. As the author and narrator, please excuse little hiccups. This is not a professional audiobook reading!

The first Welcome to the Fifth Estate podcast was posted today. It opens by discussing several media trends:

  • The overall market trends for digital media including the Like economy as presented in the introduction by Mashable Editor in Chief Adam Ostrow
  • An epiphany of realizing that social media is unavoidable
  • Understanding citizen media, and its role as the Fifth Estate

Listen to the podcast on BlogTalkRadio or subscribe to it on iTunes. Again, an episode will be published every week.

In addition, the first reviews and articles are coming in for Welcome to the Fifth Estate, and they are stellar:

Margie Clayman wrote, “I highly recommend you check out this book when it becomes available. It’s an extremely interesting snapshot of communication and society as they both exist today, right now.”

Fellow Zoetican Beth Kanter said, “If you’re looking for solid principles to think about social media strategy formulation, pre-order your copy of “Welcome to the Fifth Estate” now!”

John Haydon added that the book offers “four strategies that you can steal!”

Learn more about the book here, or order your copy today! If you would like an electronic review copy, please email your request to geoffliving [at]

The El Show Episode 23: Spring Is Coming!!!


Episode 23 of the El Show began with a discussion of Spring and then the calamity in Chile. We then went into a variety of topics from Canada and SxSW and Sea World and funding.

Here’s a breakdown of Episode 23:

Download or listen to the El Show Episode 23 today! Also available on iTunes!