This is my brain on XMediaLab

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Last Friday, I attended XMediaLab (X stands for “Cross”) in Auckland, a combination think-tank and creative workshop with a focus on the design, development and business of digital media ideas across multiple platforms. The talks were exciting, inspiring and filled my head with ideas. So much so that I’ve exported my brain of links and notes for later reference. Perhaps you’ll find them useful as well.

Here’s a summary of what stood out for me along with some possible points of entry:

Parmesh Shahani filled the room with the dynamic energy and pop cosmopolitanism of Mumbai along with tons of examples of emerging creative ecosystems and entry points to the Indian startup economy. I think about his framing questions a lot: “What does it means to be local in a global world? What does it meant to be global in a local world?” He and Vishal Gondal of India Games both extolled India’s virtue of jugaad – the can-do spirit of adaptive improvisational ingenuity which maps well to New Zealand’s “Number 8 Wire.”

“Games will save us all” emerged as a major recurring theme and wish. Zhan Ye illuminated the history and emerging trends and opportunities of the online game market in China and offered lessons for abroad. Susan Bonds of 42 Entertainment shared lessons from the ARGs (Alternative Reality Games) she’s produced, including ilovebees for Halo 2 and Year Zero for Nine Inch Nails. I loved her vision of the world as a platform for storytelling and method of writing a linear story then throwing it away and providing evidence that it actually happened. Rajat Paharia taught how to use game mechanics to create zombie armies.

Other themes included how we interact with “whatever wherever screens” (public/tv/personal) using distance and touch gestures. Dale Herigstad designed the interfaces for “Minority Report”, and now he’s designed some interesting new ways to visualize and organize time as well as space. He encourages the rapid sketching of ideas, blowing me away with what he created using Apple’s Keynote.

Getting down to business, it’s all about the hybrid media and business model with multiple revenue streams; no one’s thriving on ad revenue alone. Adrian Sexton addresses hybrid media from a media+entertainment perspective. Richard Cardran explores hybrid business models in depth, and there are lots of good examples in Parmesh Shahani and Zhan Ye’s talks. “Jadedly optimistic” (in his own words) Tim Chang of Norwest Partners gave a nutritionally dense talk on what he sees unfolding in the next few years and spilled some VC secrets.

Vincent Heeringa, the thoughtful director of HB Media which publishes the excellent Idealog, Good, and Inspire, shared how he launches stuff and also his concerns about the future of business, attention and longform writing with great photography in printed form distributed by post. He bravely open sourced his challenges and raised some great questions.

Juliette Powell addressed bravery directly in a moving talk that cut to the heart – investing in people. She highlighted ways to build and develop social and cultural capital and take responsibility for our dreams, even when funding’s hard to find.

Mike McGraw’s building bridges from people stories to product stories with lots of examples of what’s working now.

Even though the title was “commercialising ideas,” I was surprised that so few presentations addressed social and environmental concerns in any context. Parmesh Shahani and Juliette Powell stood out as exceptions, looking at companies that do well and good and creating value through authenticity.

The convergence of tools, media and knowledge available to all of us now is so awesome, harnessing it to create zombie armies hungry for more snack chips chaps my soul. I’d like to see and be commercializing ideas that improve lives and empower citizens rather than just entice consumers. Many of the lab project teams are doing just that, like BrightMind Labs, focused on improving lives of children with mental health issues, and Minimonos, a virtual world of fun for kids with core values of generosity and sustainability.

For what it’s worth (in any currency), this was the first conference where I’ve heard people qualify using US dollars as reference in measuring and comparing business: “it’s still worth something,” “…since we don’t have another standard.”

Overall, a fantastic day of learning from and connecting with some great creative people. If this touches your areas of interest and you have the opportunity to participate in a future XMediaLab, do it.

Full list of speakers linked to notes on their talks:
Susan Bonds, Richard Cardran, Tim Chang, Vishal Gondal, Andrew Hamilton, Vincent Heeringa, Dale Herigstad, Hugh Mason, Mike McGraw, Rajat Paharia, Juliette Powell, Greg Seuss, Adrian Sexton, Parmesh Shahani, Doug Whatley, Zhan Ye

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