First Contact with Galactaron

Girl meets synth-rock band from Outer Space; animated weirdness ensues. Well, that’s the elevator pitch, anyway. See for yourself:

Galactaron were dreamt up as an art/music project by Owen Dennis, a recent graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Animation, and are comprised of Singer (centre right), Bass (bottom left), Guitar (centre left), Synth (right), Drums (top left) and their human friend Emily Wong:

Galactaron Album Cover
Album Cover as featured on iTunes

The virtual band have a presence across Twitter, Facebook, Last.fm, SoundCloud and iTunes, with each platform offering new information and imagery to enrich Galactaron’s back story:

Drawn by radio waves, Galactaron focused in on Earth and they traveled a great distance to learn about us. When they finally reached our planet, they landed their massive, red, egg-shaped ship on a frozen lake in the upper Midwest of the America. There they met Emily Wong, a young Chinese-American woman who lives with her father. Emily quickly befriended Galactaron and decided to give them a personalized tour of planet Earth. That’s when they started to discover what earth is, what humans are, and what we have to offer.

A ‘sighting’ of their ship forms one of several on their website.

It’s an admirable project: the band have a truly unique sound, a strong visual identity, a cool backstory, and they’ve even sold a few albums.

Their creator shows real ingenuity, having formed a small yet growing community around snippets of content such as cosmic ring-tones; science-themed status updates; user-contributed artwork; merchandise and not forgetting the music itself.

But despite being an excellent case study in transmedia storytelling, their single ‘First Contact’ has reached a surprisingly low 20,000 plays on YouTube, and far fewer elsewhere. Mission aborted? Or as I suspect, are their thrusters still warming up?

The Skinner Box

In B. F. Skinner’s famous experiment in operant conditioning, a lab rat is placed inside a container and rewarded with a food pellet on completion of a task, triggered by an external stimulus such as a light, a sound or a shock. The pattern of reward becomes increasingly inconsistent, following a ‘schedule of reinforcement’ controlled by the experimenter.

Skinner Box (Operant Conditioning Chamber)

From Wikipedia:

Skinner’s operant chamber allowed him to explore the rate of response as a dependent variable, as well as develop his theory of schedules of reinforcement. If the event increased the number of responses it is said to strengthen its responding and if it decreased the number of responses it weakens the responding.

In short: a Skinner Box allows one to observe habits being formed, through control of the conditions surrounding a subject and their reward.

The lessons learned span far beyond Psychology: Education; Behavioural Economics; Interpersonal Communication and even Video Gaming have each benefit from an understanding of operant conditioning, so it is no surprise to see advertisers capitalising on our easily pliable behaviours.

One such experimenter, a brand of flavoured rice cake, posed the research question “how far will you go for Fantastic Delites” – their conditions, a large scale Skinner Box and the baying masses of an Australian shopping mall.

The results are equal parts twisted, fascinating and funny:

The evidence suggests human subjects will endure an embarrassingly strict schedule of reinforcement, especially in a public scenario.

At last year’s TEDxObserver Cory Doctorow gave a talk comparing the machinations of Facebook to operant conditioning of a more dangerous kind… and I can’t help but feel he has a point.

We will go pretty far for free rice cakes – but would we go further knowing we were in a Skinner Box?

Missing: Bella the Dog

This isn’t the sort of thing I’d usually write about here, so for the hardcore who’ve come to expect a blend of media and tech thoughtfulness, an alternative reading is that this is a a live case-study in how digital can play troubleshooter to certain real-world issues…

Those who follow me on Twitter will know the news already:

There’s been a search out for her ever since, with all five Saunters and some amazing neighbours clomping about in our wellies, flashlights in hand.

I’m pretty sure we’ve thought of everything: we’ve scouring the entire surrounding area (see map); spoken to people all over town; put up flyers and posters in areas of high traffic; we’re leaving a scent-trail back to the house from where she went missing; notified all the necessary authorities and secured some media coverage (Star Radio, GumtreeDogLost).

As you’ll see, what we need now are some more eyes and ears…


View Larger Map

Four hours ago, something incredible happened. A lady I’ve never met created the Facebook group ‘Help find BELLA‘ and invited some friends.

Since then it’s grown, and now a whopping 128 people have joined. Tomorrow, there’s a search planned for 10.30am in the Littleport area. Truly awesome. Thank you all. We can’t do this without you!

[box]Update: We found her! I’ll update this blog post when we find her. In the meantime, please tweet, Facebook and G+ this blog post to anybody in your network that lives in the Cambridgeshire/Norfolk area.[/box]

Many thanks indeed, Tom.

Strategy Bot: An Experiment in Social A.I.

In this post I’ll introduce you to my new pet project: an experiment in Twitter automation. The Strategy Bot (pictured) is ‘programmed’ to select & retweet key digital media resources, case studies or news items that provoke a higher understanding of the formation of good digital strategy.

Strategy Bot
He thinks, therefore he tweets.

Some context… I will typically have the odd side project on the go at any one time. Recent examples have included:

  • Recategorising all my RSS feeds for mobile, web & iPad
  • Linking up Instapaper / ReaditLater / Pinboard & Twitter
  • Testing Facebook ads to see if I can drive Twitter followers
  • Playing with XFBML, the new Follow button and Google +1
  • Sketching people’s Twitter avatars with my new stylus

All of the above would be worthy of a blog post, and that might happen for a couple of them, but there’s been one project I’ve been thinking about for a while that I reckon just needs to be shared, because, dear reader, I need your help!

I’ve been interested in getting the most out of Twitter for a while, and I’ve been certain there is some utility among the network’s parasites: the lowly twitterbot. I’d love to perform an autopsy on one to see how they really work, as there are some excellent cases of these automata being actually quite useful or cool. For example:

  • Spotibot – @replies suggested music based on your requests
  • Wikipediabot – random links to Wikipedia pages every hour
  • Easy Joke – RT’s with “that’s what she said” on certain phrases

There are loads more listed on the Twitter Fan Wiki, and of course there are millions of spambots that behave in similar ways. But I wanted to make something that would be primarily useful to me, and that others might enjoy too.

The idea arose from the need to detect, share and archive truly excellent links, without cluttering my personal Twitter feed. Did you know you can automatically add Twitter links to Pinboard for archiving? It’s a bloody useful way to passively log the stuff that’s held your attention. And did you know you can create a self-hosted archive of all your tweets? I use Tweetnest to this end, where I’ve been logging my personal tweets here. Try searching for something!

Mr. Strategy Bot is just another way to add useful stuff to my own personal content library. But throughout the course of his life, I’d like him to be useful to everyone. Or at least, everyone that works in digital media (you gotta have a niche). So how should I automate him to this end?

In my attempts to pin down what makes these robots work, I found a number of approaches, typically making use of Twitterfeed (a pretty blunt RSS syndication tool) or the Twitter API (way over my head). I needed something that would let me ‘scrape’ the top links from a list of Twitter users, and automatically RT the top five links.

I have totally failed in my attempts, even after a whole evening spent in the depths of Yahoo! Pipes. For now, I’ve had to settle on the manual way. Yep, I’m manually RT’ing the links until I find a better solution, five a day, with a bit of prose each time to help round out his character.

I will continue to research means of automating his behaviour, as I think the idea of one’s own personal virtual pet social robot is a really powerful idea. Wouldn’t you agree?

[box]Please leave a comment if you can help create virtual life! Let’s give this guy his own A.I. existence out in the digital ether.[/box]

In the meantime, you should follow him on Twitter here.
He’s programmed to follow back!

Make Something Cool Every Day

Members of the Flickr group Make Something Cool Every Day are making cool things every day, in a social experiment that looks like a lot of fun.

The group’s rules are simple:

ONE upload per day.
Each piece must not have taken longer than a day to make.

So with these in mind, here is a slideshow of their submissions, best viewed fullscreen (but it can take a while to load):

So far the group has attracted 2,972 members, who’ve contributed 33,950 unique creations. That’s 11.4 submissions in total, so it’s evident people aren’t being religious about uploading every day, but what the hell.

What I find really interesting about the group is that there is very little conversation – a lowly 97 comments in total – in the main group discussion forum. All of the chatter is around individual works of art (especially the best stuff) . This tells me that viewers and contributors are far more interested in the content than in the delivery framework. Rightly so, I think.

The lesson to learn here is that despite Flickr enjoying a highly creative user base, it is very hard to engage those users with a campaign idea (and I’m not just talking advertising). Flickr just wasn’t designed for community engagement, as I’ve learned on past advertising campaigns that have used it as a platform.

But that’s OK, because people upload great art to the site every day, and the quality of comments that they do attract far outweigh Facebook’s throwaway commentary and (largely) poor photography, any day of the week.

30 Day Song Challenge – Week One

A few of my mates are doing this viral challenge thing on Facebook right now, and because it’s a pretty cool idea, I’d like to join in. However, not wishing to clog up any newsfeeds, I’ve decided to post my music selections up on the blog. Posts like this will pop up once a week until 30 days are up.

Expand the box below to see the full list of musical challenges covered.

[toggle title_open=”Hide all 30 Day Song Challenges” title_closed=”Show all 30 Day Song Challenges” hide=”yes” border=”yes” style=”default”]

Day 1: your favorite song
Day 2: your least favorite song
Day 3: a song that makes you happy
Day 4: a song that makes you sad
Day 5: a song that reminds you of someone
Day 6: a song that reminds you of somewhere
Day 7: a song that reminds you of a certain event
Day 8: a song that you know all the words to
Day 9: a song that you can dance to
Day 10: a song that makes you fall asleep
Day 11: a song from your favorite band
Day 12: a song from a band you hate
Day 13: a song that is a guilty pleasure
Day 14: a song that no one would expect you to love
Day 15: a song that describes you
Day 16: a song that you used to love but now hate
Day 17: a song that you hear often on the radio
Day 18: a song that you wish you heard on the radio
Day 19: a song from your favorite album
Day 20: a song that you listen to when you’re angry
Day 21: a song that you listen to when you’re happy
Day 22: a song that you listen to when you’re sad
Day 23: a song that you want to play at your wedding
Day 24: a song that you want to play at your funeral
Day 25: a song that makes you laugh
Day 26: a song that you can play on an instrument
Day 27: a song that you wish you could play
Day 28: a song that makes you feel guilty
Day 29: a song from your childhood
Day 30: your favorite song at this time last year
[/toggle]

Day 1: your favorite song

Nightmares On Wax – Les Nuits

This was my wake-up alarm music for years, now it’s firmly lodged in my brain.

[hr]

Day 2: your least favorite song

The Black Eyed Peas – Just Can’t Get Enough

I respect BEP for their innovative use of digital in crafting an image, but their music is becoming too ‘lowest common denominator’.

[hr]

Day 3: a song that makes you happy

Only Child – Space Disco

Excuse the shit video, but check the groove. It’ll put a smile on your face.

[hr]

Day 4: a song that makes you sad

Tosca – My First

It doesn’t actually make me feel sad, but all of Tosca’s music is quite sombre (and excellent).

[hr]

Day 5: a song that reminds you of someone

Chase & Status – Blind Faith

This song reminds me of the very lovely Sarah. On an unrelated note, very awesome video.

There you have it. Tune in next week for more of the good stuff, and perhaps join me by posting a link to your own responses in the comments below. Would also love to hear your thoughts on these tunes!