How a Landscape Impacts a Story

Earlier this month, I published my photography portfolio, and opened it with a gallery of my very best landscapes (five of which are featured in this story). I opened with landscapes just like I would most stories these days. Landscapes are one of the most popular photograph subjects you can see online. They also play a critical role in telling a remarkable written story for brands or individuals alike.

Creating hybrid stories that blend the literal word and the visual photo is not the easiest thing to do. When you consider articles and stories, they are often crafted by writers. Or they are published by photographers with few words serving as captions. The two together are rarely deployed well as a seamless rich media story.

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Together, in a hybrid pictorial, photos compliment the written story by illustrating and expanding on it. The written words expand on the pictures by providing details. For example, the caption for the above photo might read, “Another dawn on the Potomac, how I start at least two of my days every week.” We move from a pretty picture to personal story, one that may or may not be about business.

Landscapes are central to both groups of media assets. They set the scene for the story. They provide a sense of context for where events are happening, either from a business perspective or on a personal level. A landscape can allude to historical context, and words can expanded on that story.

Opening Stories with Scenes and Landscapes

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A lot of people introduce stories with pictures of people. If it’s a business story, we see people at work or an individual person, a protagonist. If it’s a personal vacation, we see people at the airport. Perhaps they start their album with a picture of them at the destination. I personally like to introduce stories with landscapes sans people because it provides a sense of place.

Consider movies that take place in far away lands or in future periods. The first Star Wars movie opened with spacescape. This year’s critically acclaimed Fury Road started with the below epic desolated wasteland. National Geographic stories start with an epic landscape photo. Plays open with the a set scene, and then the actors walk onto the stage.

Fury Road Opening Scene

Instead of another dry story about a woman or man in their office changing the world for their customers, open up the story with an epic sunrise or sunset pic at the office building. Or take a great architecture shot inside the building. If the building is lame, wait until late afternoon and the sun comes in the windows almost horizontally, take an office pic then with no people in it. Set the scene.

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If it is a vacation, set the scene with an opening shot of the place you are landing. Then put yourself in it. The above shot of Half Moon Bay was how I opened my Facebook sharing of our family vacation to Hawaii this year. We stopped first in California.

When I told the story of the Trans-Jordan Landfill for Audi, I opened it with a sunrise picture over the landfill. When I filed stories with the Huffington Post and with Triple Pundit on Africa (see header image) I suggested opening them with landscapes. In both cases the stories feature landscapes very early on to provide a sense of place.

The Pacific Ocean at Night

The same tool also provides a great way to close the story. By closing with the scene you are providing a cue, the visual fade to black. The above photo is from our last night in Hawaii this year. It’s the beach in Kona. I often think of it as the closing scene to our vacation.

It’s just my personal preferred method of storytelling. Every story works better with context. And a landscape or cityscape is one of the best ways to provide that context.

What do you think of the use of scenes in the narrative context?

From the Internet of Things to Video Moxy

I have the great privilege of hosting the xPotomac Conference every year with Patrick Ashamalla and Shonali Burke. We just published video recordings of our 2014 sessions, including our keynotes, on YouTube. You can see the whole channel here.

Here are each of the sessions:

KEYNOTE: Robert Scoble on The Age of Context



Find out more about Robert Scoble at facebook.com/RobertScoble.

Lauren Vargas, Digital Media in a Regulated Environment


Find out more about Lauren at rootreport.com/about/.

Toby Bloomberg, Broadcast and Print Media Adoption of Digital

Learn more about Toby here: about.me/TobyBloomberg.

Peter Corbett, The Internet of Things

Find out more about Peter at istrategylabs.com.

Danielle Brigida and Allyson Kapin, Disrupting Social Change

Find out more about Danielle at https://twitter.com/starfocus and Allyson at womenwhotech.com.

KEYNOTE: Jim Long, The Wild World of Video


Learn more about Jim at vergenewmedia.com.

#xPotomac14: Israel and Corbett Take on the Internet of Things

iStrategyLabs and DC Tech Titan Peter Corbett is presenting at xPotomac this February 28th with a discussion on The Internet of Things.  Shel Israel‘s co author Robert Scoble is keynoting about their book Age of Context (Shel was coming but had a family emergency). Peter and Shel took some time to answer some of my questions about how Internet enabled devices are changing marketing and media

Don’t miss the opportunity to interact with Peter and Robert, and some of the technology industry’s best minds live, including Age of Context Authors Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. Register today, and use the code Geoff for 20% off!

GL: You are doing some great work with the Internet of Things, or sensors. Why is it so important for marketers to consider the use of this kind of data in their work with customers?

PC: A funny thing is happening. People are more interested in connecting with the real world than they are with the digital one – and the physical world is no being infused with technology in ways we’ve never seen. With that in mind, marketers – who’s job it is to connect meaningfully with customers – are being drawn into Internet of Things related campaigns because is simply what people want to interact with.

If you’re a marketer and you’re not at least familiar with the space, you’re at a dramatic disadvantage. If you’re an agency who can build internet connected devices you’re probably so business your just can’t keep up.

SI: Sensors are becoming ubiquitous, and with the release of Beacon Low Energy Blue-tooth, they will soon be installed every few yards of many stores. They will talk to shopper’s iPhones as they walk by. This will allow retailers to know who is in the store, that person’s buying history, the route they are taking through the store and for loyal, repeat customers, probably sensors will allow the store to under stand the shopper’s intent.

This changes a great deal for marketers. Marketers will be able to make offers that are highly personalized to each shopper, and not bother other people in the location who have different intents. The data will also allow retailers to position items on display with much great effectiveness. What, I am thrilled to say, will disappear is the need for marketers to try to push crap to every person that comes within range.

Robert Scoble and I have a name for this new, extremely precise approach. We call it Pinpoint Marketing.

GL: How far do you think we can take the Internet of Things?

SI: How far it is taken Geoff is beyond the control of you and me at this point. Sensors are growing exponentially, they are getting smaller and less expensive. Retail applications that I just mention are just one world-changing applications.

Sensors on Pills, will allow doctors to see what’s going inside our bodies with out intrusive procedures that we now must abide. I for one will not miss the joy of a colonoscopy. Sensors will be attached to traffic lights and talk to sports stadiums, so that the lights will be recalibrated when a big event gets out.

In Orlando, there are sensors in smart parking lots. They can tell motorists where spaces are open, so that they won’t be driving around and polluting. You ay for the space on a mobile app where your credit card is on file. If you don’t pay, you’ll get an automatic fine. I could write a book about the different ways sensors will change work and life. In fact, just did.

PC: I don’t really see a limit. Our world will be very different 10 years from now. In 50 it may be unrecognizable. It’s not clear if this is a good thing or a bad thing yet – humans will have relationships with objects unlike we ever have before. Would you rather have a girlfriend or your iPhone? Some people would already choose the iPhone.

GL: What’s the utimate application you have seen so far?

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SI: Every time there is an ultimate application, there is one that is even more ultimate that pops up before I get a chance to write about it. We are in a period of rapid innovation and disruption. There is abundant competition that is fomenting fast and faster change. Today some people may be made uncomfortable by digital eyewear such as Google Glass.

In a few years, that digital eyewear may be a piece of nanotechnology inserted into the optical nerve where it will communicate directly with the brain. Robert Scoble and I have seen augmented reality binoculars, that allow you to see precisely what’s around you–except that a sign, a map, pr a person is inserted into the scenario that is not really there.

In the play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe,” Martha tells her husband, “Truth and Illusion, George, you don’t know the difference.”

Soon that may be the case for the rest of us as well. Holographic technologies, eye control technologies and nanotechnologies are going to eliminate screens for viewing entertainment, the web or anything else. Simulaneously windshields,and closet mirrors are become screens for data and entertainment.

PC: You mean besides our GE Social Fridge? I have to say Points is a big deal. Or August. Both of those products should be big successes from what I can tell. Homegrown hero SmartThings in DC is way out ahead with regard to platform development for home automation. I think they’re going to kill.

GL: Is social media an established and at the same time tired practice now?

PC: Absolutely. Social media is a boring commodity. It’s easy. Hardware engineering isn’t. Physical + digital interaction that excites and delights people is much more difficult to design for than a simple click on a social app. The bar has be raise really high with this one, and the social shops are going to get eaten alive people people that can span digital and physical.

SI:Social media is now a mature platform. No surviving company has a go-forward strategy that does not include social media. In less than a decade, it has moved from a disruptive intrusion to a core component of life and work. There is nothing tired about the technology. What got tiring is talking about social media. Now we just use it.

Businesses have come to understand that it is not just about push, but is an amazing place for gathering real time sentiment and data. The traditional media that has survive the tumolt of the last year, now see the people of the world as sources of credible news and the platforms as faster, better, cheaper ways to distribute it. I only wish the slow-moving institutions, particularly government and education would embrace the social media more strategically.

GL: If you could coach today’s students on one area to focus on, what would it be?

PC: I’d encourage them to focus on product design – digital and physical product design. There’s so much work to be done, and not enough talent. I was a programmer/designer who went to business school and studied marketing and management. I wish I had studied mechanical engineering or industrial design. Those are such important worlds to grok.

SI: I would counsel them not to focus on any one area unless they have to. I’d also advise them to learn to program, and that they will most likely learn far more on devices than they will in classrooms–despite what their teachers may tell them.

GL: What’s next for iStrategyLabs?

PC: We’re building a new product – it’s a real-time analytics platform for employees. We want to see if we can help teams be happier and more productive. That’s a very much digital product (and iOS app). At that same time we’re working on more physical internet connected device prototypes for internal purposes and for our clients. We hope the we discover a blockbuster internet connected device we can build 1000s of over the next couple years.

GL: What’s next for Shel Israel?

SI: I’m researching a book with Shel Holtz on how technology is giving more people and business in more places a better shot at economic viability. You’ve heard about lots of slivers of this new, open economy: shared, sharing collaborative, consumptive, mesh, ad nauseum.

Shel and I want to show how it is all part of a new global economy, one that is enabled by the technologies that are forming the Age of Context, an economy where the government plays a reduced role even on recognizing and defining currency, and designers with new ideas can print products on home devices.

Don’t forget.  Register today for this Friday’s xPotomac conference, and use the code Geoff for 20% off!

Robert Scoble on Data, Algorithms and the Future of Marketing

Robert Scoble on Data, Algorithms and the Future of Marketing

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel have written a defining book for the big data marketing automation era, the Age of Context (read my review). The two teamed on similar book in the early social media days called Naked Conversations that accurately predicted the forthcoming impact on business.

Given their many successes over the years and the powerful ideas in Age of Context, Geoff decided to interview successful blogger Robert Scoble for Vocus. You’ll find an insightful interview on marketing, media and society as a whole.

GL: What prompted you to write the book?

RS: Rackspace pays me to interview innovators, usually startup founders,
but also people who are doing leading edge work inside big companies. Back in early 2012 I saw a bunch of new patterns, due to that work. Sensors were increasing exponentially. So were social data, big data, and wearables. That led to discussions with Shel and eventually to the book, “Age of Context.”

GL: Will the age of context last longer than the age of conversation?

RS:Yes, I think so. Why? Because I’m seeing sensors inside R&D labs that won’t be able to be productized or perfected for consumer market for eight years or more.

GL: Context seems to be about taking the data from sensors, phones, location, etc. and creating useful offerings and information from that data. You discuss this as precision marketing. How important are data skills for marketers +today and +tomorrow?

RS: Well, the big trend is that we’ll need to know 100x more about our customers than we do today. So, yes, data skills are huge. But so are skills in building systems that use that data in a non-freaky way. If I walk into your business and you know everything about me you could easily freak me out, or miscast me and serve me poorly. So we’ll need humans to make sure that the databases don’t enable poor customer service too.

GL:What’s the best way to learn how to analyze data?

RS: The companies at the leading edge have people skilled at machine
learning. That’s what I learned when I visited Prismatic, which is a news service. Learning how to do what those very advanced people are doing? Very hard. Probably requires going to Stanford and getting a computer science degree. But you can start to think about data analysis — watch what journalists do with data and start learning how
to push around data in databases.

Gary Vaynerchuk says he built a database of everyone who tweeted about him. That seems to be a good place to start. Do you know who is tweeting about you or your competitors? If you don’t, then you need to get there and get there
fast (in my industry we already have teams of people and specially-written software to do that, so I have to be far more
advanced than that to keep ahead).

GL:What outcome do you see for communicators who can’t/won’t learn data analysis?

RS: When we wrote Naked Conversations eight years ago we predicted a world where marketers would have to be on social media otherwise they would limit their career opportunities. That absolutely has happened today. The best marketers are on social media and/or run teams that do it.

Tomorrow? If you don’t know your customer in very deep detail you will be run out of the marketing world. Why? Because customers will tend to go to where they are being served better. Uber will beat taxis unless taxis respond. Why? Uber knows its customers in far deeper detail than taxi companies do (down to the point of knowing where you are standing
in the street before they arrive).

GL:You touched on the importance of permission in the 12th chapter on privacy. What’s the future of permission?

RS: I look at Uber. I gave it permission to know a LOT about me, even where I’m standing and my phone number. Why? Because I get a LOT of utility out of that. So, the future is “give utility first, then ask
for permission.” In the book Marc Andreessen calls this “free ice cream.” People will hand over their private details in exchange for a metaphorical free ice cream. I agree.

GL:I remember giving the DNC permission to email me, and I still get spammed despite opting out from their lists numerous times. Is giving permission really just the death of “quiet?”

RS: Google and Apple are working on contextual operating systems. These will know what you are doing. Who you are doing it with. Are you in a meeting? Google knows, it’s on your calendar. So it can shut up any of these lame advertisements. In fact, look at the new Gmail. That DNC email already is going to the promotional folder. It knows about the context of that email and that it’s not from a trusted friend. So, no, I think context is the rebirth of quiet. You’ll get these kinds of messages when you want or need them, not earlier.

Marketers will need to learn to be far better about serving these messages out, too. In a perfect world the DNC would add a feature to its emails like Facebook has “show fewer of these messages” or “show these messages only during
the month before an election” or something like that. But marketers don’t think about customer service so Google will force the issue, just as it has with Gmail’s promotional folder that removes this kind of stuff from the inbox.

GL:What about algorithms? What happens if someone is “abnormal” and breaks the routine assumptions of an algorithm. Will they break the machines, so to speak? Will they be forced to conform to an algorithmic path?

RS: The system is crude right now. It won’t work for everyone. My son is autistic. He isn’t able to give these systems enough of a pattern for them really to serve him. Well, I take that back. He already loves YouTube and Netflix and both keep serving him more videos that are associated with the ones he already likes. He loves that feature.

I don’t see these things “breaking.” I do see them as serving back poor choices. For instance, when using Saga last year, it kept telling me about golf services. Why? I live on a golf course but I hate golf. It didn’t have a way to correct it. These early attempts will seem quite quaint in a few years. The better ones are correctable. I’m also finding that I’m changing MY behavior because of these systems.

Why? I put addresses on all my Google Calendar items now, for instance. That’s because the newer apps like Google Now and Tempo work better when I do that.

GL:Is the ultimate luxury of the future going dark?

RS: The ultimate luxury of the future is to have exclusive experiences that demand your full attention. Burning Man is one that a lot of my rich friends say is pretty great. High demand sports like skiing or surfing are others (try skiing while looking at your smartphone or even the wearable computer in your Oakley ski goggles — I’ve tried and it’s impossible, but once the run is down everyone reaches for their digital devices).

Even with Burning Man I noticed that lots of people were using Waze to get up there and using photo sharing services and social networks to keep in touch back home, even though far lighter than usual.

But, yes, a real “vacation” for your mind is to go dark and discover new experiences. Once you get home, though, you’ll retrain your contextual systems pretty quickly. Say you go to Bali for three weeks. Try a lot of new food. Discover you like sushi. Well, when you get home you will start looking for sushi restaurants.

GL:What do you think the impact will be on thinking? Will we be limited because the machine suggests outcomes for us?

RS: Do you remember phone numbers anymore? I don’t. Our thinking has already been changed by modern machines. In the future we will have to remember less of even more things in our lives. Even how to drive. But
that will give us more time to spend our mental energy on other things. Maybe watch another TED video and learn something new? So, I’m not worried that we’ll get to be dumb. We’ll use these technologies to make our lives better and we’ll spend our mental energies in areas the machines aren’t good at.

This interview originally ran on the Vocus blog.