Avatar is acting as a “global Rorschach test”.  What’s  so cross-culturally appealing about this movie that’s  attracting huge audiences in countries as different as US, China, UK, Germany, France, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Japan?

Partly it’s the eye-popping visuals and technological wizardry: it’s earning most of its international revenues from 3d theaters (which charge higher admission). Saturday Jan 9th was the biggest day in IMAX box office history, with China bringing in “staggering and record-breaking” revenues.

But the varied reviewers are finding their own points of resonance with the movie:

Andrew Leonard wrote in Salon that Avatar is “all things to all people,”  with everyone from neo-cons applauding its “deeply conservative, pro American message” to left-wing professors commenting that “the jungle pantheism that now pervades the psychoactive counterculture has gone thoroughly mainstream.”

William Kern in his article in The Moderate Voice pointed to a couple of non-US reviews (links below are English translations):

– from Belgium:  Oscar van den Boogaard in De Standaard describes “feeling like a Neanderthal who’s seen his first airplane,”  the diverse audience, the story line of “the brutality of man…[who] destroys what’s foreign to him…parallels between Iran and Pandora….”

– in the China Daily, Raymond Zhou speculates that “…at the moment a giant bulldozer appeared on the screen,  I had an ‘aha’ moment…that there is a specific Chinese interpretation one could make”  related the ongoing conflicts in China between modernizing property developers and local Chinese who fight to protect their homes.   Here’s another article on how “the Chinese see a message in Avatar” about local homeowners fighting brutal developers.

Meanwhile,The Korean Times has this cartoon of a blue Na’vi befriended by a patched-robe Arab, African and other developing world peoples, while in the background three imperialist figures  (a cowboy, a foreign legion soldier, and a pith-helmeted policeman) watch with consternation.

Dmitri Gorshokov writes in RT (Russian media channel) that Avatar’s message is that “if we don’t start solving our ecology problems we’ll be in big trouble….and those who watch the news…will find the scenario, in which a stronger race invades a weaker one for its resources, annoying familiar.”

William Langly in the UK Telegraph comments on  director James Camerons’ “working class background” and quotes Cameron as saying he tries to  “live with honor” in the Hollywood world where “a handshake means nothing” to most people.

So perhaps the discussions about how the movie could have been so much better with a more nuanced, complex storyline — are missing the point. Perhaps it’s the very straightforward nature of the storyline and characters that allows for such a range of interpretations to be projected upon it.


This year’s Online Community Unconference (West) was held June 10 in Mountain View, CA with 200+ attendees.

Six things I learned:

#1) We are still  in early days with online communities – especially communities related to corporate entities — communities sponsored by, or of interest to,  corporations.   Companies are gingerly figuring out how to build online communities, or how to interact with the communities that already exist.

#2) Many people are figuring out the basics. The fundamentals of how to launch and manage a community is the main focus of today’s Community Managers (CMs).  Learnings are out there, but the knowledge base is new and unevenly distributed. Much of the knowledge is in people’s heads (not codified into articles or books yet).  Thus, CMs have to proactively learn on-the-job . Many CMs are first-timers in their role, and often there’s nobody in their company who can advise them on CM.  So they have to look outside and self-educate.

#3) There will always be tension between the social dynamics of online communities and the objectives of the corporations that interact with them.   Community managers have to navigate this tension and advise others in their company about how to manage it.

#4) Many companies and CMs struggle with ROI for communities.  Many CMs have not had to think in terms of an ROI analysis before, and many of them have had limited interaction with Finance and executives who think in terms of ROI.  See here for notes on how to do a good ROI (including things like cost avoidance and increased average value of customer).

#5) CMs have an invaluable front-line perspective on customers — but companies are just beginning to figure out how to effectively leverage the CMs’ experiences.  Most CMs are producing scheduled report-outs, but it’s unclear how effective they are at getting “heard” by the rest of their organization.  This is an area for skill development for many CMs.

#6) Business communities differ from consumer communities. (Business online communities = developer communities;  product support/customer help communities; business partner communities; etc.)  Participation patterns and other behaviors vary greatly across the range of business communities, and from consumer communities.   Yet much of the popular wisdom  is still based only on the better-known consumer communities.

See here for notes on B2B communities.  Impact Interactions is a consulting firm that’s developed some expertise in online business communities.

Related links:

The list of sessions is here.  Most sessions have summaries / notes posted.

Forum One (the conference sponsor) has a number of articles about online communities on their website.

Jessica Margolin posted her top five takeaways here.

Mike Mace with Rubicon Consulting wrote this post about online communities from the corporate perspective.

Useful presentations on online communities for business: overview presentation on Enterprise 2.0, Top 10 Reasons to Build an Online Community, Building a Robust Online Community, The Business Case for Online Communities, a step-by-step overview for building an online community.


amazonfail graphics from gawker

Online “riots” or protests are not random, despite appearing to be spontaneous.  They have patterns.  One pattern is a set of emergent roles that individuals assume.   People take on one or more roles based on the individual’s interest and skills/ability to perform those role(s) effectively.

Below are some of the roles that I’ve seen in  online customer protests. I’m using examples from AmazonFail, since it was recent, but other protests show similar patterns.

1) Aggrieved –  people  injured or offended by the company.  In most large-scale online protests,  the Aggrieved are a class or group, not a single person. In AmazonFail, there were two groups: the impacted authors, and those who saw the situation as an attack against GLBT topics/people.

2) Spark – someone who gets the initial audience.   A Spark has to describe the issue in a compelling way and have “enough” readers for the word to start to spread. The main Spark for Amazonfail was Mark Probst’s post.   Sparking doesn’t always “take” (as this example shows.)

about 17 roles that emerge in online customer protests like amazonfail


Panelists:  James Gee (professor, Arizona State), Henry Jenkins (professor at MIT, moving to USC), Warren Spector (Creative Director, Disney Interactive, game maker).

Topic of this panel:  how games are bringing learning out of schools and into the rest of the world.  What can games tell us about how people learn and solve problems.

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Ivan Askwith (Big Spaceship), Abigail De Kosnik (Professor UC Berkeley), Henry Jenkins (professor currently with MIT, transitioning to USC).    Each panelist had a short talk/presentation, followed by Q&A.

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My notes from the SxSW panel “Are PR Agencies a Dying Breed?” “In a world riddled with ADD, where TMI blogging and DIY reporting are the norm, are PR agencies still relevant?”   Overall a good panel; 70+ people attending.  My notes, all mistakes mine.

Participants:  Karly Hand, Erin Portman, Peter Shankman, Brian Solis

Rising dominance of social media — challenge to traditional agencies.

Agencies having to face the fact that the tools of social media are available to everybody —  very few “PR exclusive” channels/tools. [click to continue…]


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I’ll be posting my notes on several of the SxSw panels over the next few days.   My notes, all errors mine.

Building Strong Online Communities

Panelists: Ken Fisher (Ars Technica), Alexis Ohanian (reddit.com), Drew Curtis (Fark), Erin Kotecki Vest (BlogHer).

This panel was about how to create or build a new community online.
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daemon book cover

The continued mainstreaming of social media has resulted a fountain of speculation about the future of social networking, always-on connectivity and the increasingly ubiquitous internet.    The usual sides are being taken between technophiles and technophobes, people who see utopia around the (virtual) corner and people who think that we’re going to hell in a (virtual) handbasket.

But there’s a group of people who’ve already spent a great deal of time thinking about where these technologies are taking us:  speculative fiction / science fiction (SF) writers. [click to continue…]


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BusinessWeek has an excellent article on ThisNext, a social network around shopping and style.  This is a good read for anybody looking for a short case study overview and example of a business model around user generated content.

(For more info on UCG and social media: there’s a good white paper here, with lots of examples of companies and business models — it’s from the Interactive Advertising Bureau.)

The BusinessWeek article is balanced and even-handed. It describes the “delicate line” that must be walked: these are for-profit companies that depend on volunteer labor.
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book cover

Temple Grandin, in her new book Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals talks about the “core emotion systems in the brain” and that humans and animals have the same core systems.  Her discussion of the SEEKING core emotion system got me thinking about customer experience design.

The SEEKING system (always written in caps) is “the basic impulse to search, investigate, and make sense of the environment” (Grandin quoting Dr Jaak Panksepp, a famous researcher in this area).

Grandin continues:

  • SEEKING is a combination of emotions that people don’t usually believe go together…wanting something really good, looking forward to getting something really good, and curiosity….”

Grandin points out that SEEKING is a very enjoyable and necessary emotion in animals.  Animals whose brains are wired up will push buttons to stimulate their SEEKING brain area.  Animals who can’t express SEEKING behavior (for example, captive animals in badly designed environments) get depressed and mentally damaged.

So what does SEEKING mean for businesses and customer experience design? [click to continue…]