Radiohead held an online contest to remix their song "Nude". James Houston, a student at Glasgow School of Arts, missed the deadline but aced the contest with this lovely video reinterpretation that's become so popular that Radiohead heard about it and linked to it on their site.
I like Radiohead, old computers and cleverness, so of course I love it. But it also makes me feel like weeping, which is odd. I think that Houston may have explained my reaction when he says:
I grouped together a collection of old redundant hardware, and placed
them in a situation where they’re trying their best to do something
that they’re not exactly designed to do, and not quite getting there.
I find that incredibly touching. As a person with autistic tendencies, I feel an enormous sympathy for babies, animals and machines. This is a song I wrote a few years ago, a lullaby for newborn robots: Download baby_robot.mp3
I've been meaning to mention the New York Times' songwriting blog for a few weeks. As someone interested in both the meaning of pop songs and how they mean, I find the writing here satisfying and enlightening in a way that very little published musical criticism is.
It's nice (but not necessary) that the authors (Andrew Bird, Darell Brown, Rosanne Cash and Suzanne Vega) are also well-known musicians. In fact, musicians' views of their own songs are often a distraction that keeps you from paying attention to what the song means to you.
But these musicians are very focused on the often stumbly process of song making and how even for the creator, the meaning of the song emerges from the process and the song itself. They address the sweet spot of music appreciation that sits between the technical and the emotional and try to show how a note hit a little flat or the acoustics of a room can illuminate a whole song.
Another example of this deeply in-between way of thinking about pop music is Tim Riley's book about every one of the Beatles' songs. I wonder if you could write a similar book about ads.
Not many companies are as interesting as Google. From their basic technology to how they make money, they repeatedly make you think "Okay, so that means..." and a bunch of new implications come spilling out.
Today's NYT outlines the workings of Google's "ad quality" team. Because the creative and placement variables of Google ads are relatively few and are controlled by Google, they can experiment with them and directly measure the results. This helps them determine how to price ads which makes them more money.
Even more interesting, one of the variables they incorporate into their pricing and placement model is the quality of the consumer's experience after they click on the ad:
Over time, the company also looked beyond click-through rates to
rank ads. Google now takes into account the “landing page” that the ad
links to, and, for example, gives low grades to pages whose sole
purpose is to show more ads. Soon, the loading speed of a landing page
will also be considered.
These factors contribute
to an ad’s “quality score.” The higher that score, the less the
advertiser has to bid to secure top billing. For example, an advertiser
who offers to pay $1 per click to attract those searching for “vacation
rentals in Colorado” may receive more prominent placement than another
who bids $1.50 for the same query but has a lower quality score. An
advertiser with a very low quality score may have to bid so much for
placement as to make it uneconomical.
Quality scores work as an
incentive to advertisers to improve their ads, which benefits users
and, in turn, benefits Google.
Yikes! Better service (and can better products be far behind?) leading to lower ad rates? Some advertisers are confused and angry ("many advertisers complain that the company was, in
essence, deciding who can and cannot advertise on its system") but Google seems to believe that the overall health/value of their ad system is increased when consumers believe that Google ads represent relevant and high-quality suggestions.
Most media discriminate among advertisers in some way. You're not going to see a Hooters ad in Vanity Fair anytime soon. But I've never heard of a media company digging so deeply into the post-ad consumer experience and using it to directly affect rates. I can feel the possible implications radiating outwards...