Saturday, 31 January 2009

Call to Action

You have the power to make a difference. Yes You.

All around the world, individuals and organizations are making it easier for you to get engaged and get active in making the world a better place.

A great big call to action has gone out to the world - In fashion, music, education, gardening, public space, art, politics etc. The concept of user generated experience (or just getting out and doing stuff), of volunteering time, energy and innovation has re-infiltrated our everyday lives and people are getting together online and on the ground to make incremental changes to their communities in fun and adventurous ways.

Now is the time to take matters into your own hands. Are you ready to get involved?

The Call To Action: Crime Fighting - Mexico City

Mexico called, and Super Barrio answered. Maybe a little to much action for most, Super Barrio is the real life masked crime fighting hero of Mexico City’s working class.

He can be seen in the 2007 feature documentary film Super Amigos where he is joined by companions Super Gay, Super Ecologista, Super Animal and Fray Tormenta as they fight against evil slumlords, corrupt politicians, homophobia, pollution, animal rights abusers, and poverty.

Wearing the traditional Lucha mask of Mexican wrestlers, the heroes patrol the streets of Mexico city fighting injustice. The masks are magical devices that represent the community. With them, the superheroes can be everyone and no one at the same time. The masks are symbols of collective hope.

How You Get Involved: Go see the film, Buy a Tshirt - $8 from every sale goes to help their causes, get inspired into action by their theme songs, or don a lucha mask of your own and go bust some injustice! Kapowee!

The Call To Action: Art - Montreal

Actions: What You Can Do With the City presents 99 actions that instigate positive change in contemporary cities around the world. Held at the Canadian Centre for Architecture between November 2008 to April 2009.

The CCA is challenging citizens to be part of the movement and take actions big or small to change the everyday life of their cities. Whether old or new, submit your photos or videos and share the story. All entries will be displayed on the website and reviewed by the Actions team. Only a handful might make it to the CCA’s Shaughnessy House.

An example of a submission is Michael Rakowitz's paraSITE project using ventilation shafts to create inflatable temporary shelters for the homeless.

How You Get Involved: Submit an entry. Submit a Challenge.

The Call to Action: Fashion – New Orleans

Prom Dresses For New Orleans has a simple goal – help the young ladies who lost everything in Katrina get to the prom.
Many of the residents of New Orleans lost everything... Help make prom possible for the young ladies in Louisiana who no longer have a dress to wear to prom. Share your past prom and party dresses, so that others can experience the joy these dresses brought to you. They still need our help! Your generosity is greatly appreciated!

How You Get Involved: Give another girl the chance to regret wearing puffed sleeves and pink satin. Send your worn prom and party dresses to a new home and another night of self conscious dancing.

Call to Action: Politics – Australia
Get Up! is an independent Australian political action group aiming to build a progressive Australia.

GetUp! brings together like-minded people who want to bring participation back into our democracy. is providing Australians with the tools to fight back, and take innovative and effective action on important issues facing our country. GetUp members are building a ground-up movement of real people who are putting the participation back into our democracy. members take action. By signing up for updates, members receive emails alerting them to new campaigns and providing ways of affecting positive change. Whether it is sending an email to a member of parliament, engaging with the media, attending an event or helping to get a television ad on the air, GetUp members are always only ever asked to take targeted, coordinated and strategic action.

How you get involved:
sign up, participate in campaigns.

Call To Action: Education - USA

Once Upon A School is the result of Dave Eggers’ 2008 TED Prive Wish. It is a collaborative online initiative developed to inspire and collect the stories of private citizens engaged in their local public schools.

How you get involved:
Tell stories, Get involved in your local school.

Call to Action: Music – USA & UK... more to come

I should just come out and say that I love Rock Corps. It’s a terrific balance of social action, good solid community work, high profile engagement and damn good fun.

RockCorps harnesses the power of music to inspire volunteering. We produce concerts for which the only way in is to volunteer 4 hours at a project we organize with non-profit partners. You can't win a ticket; you can't buy a ticket; you have to earn a ticket to a concert that becomes a celebration of giving back.

In 2005, we launched a national movement and since that time, more than 30,000 young people have been directly involved in one of our projects. Millions more have heard the message that "Volunteering is Cool".

Rock Corps is partnered with BoostMobile in the USA and with OrangeMobile in the UK. Stay tuned – I’ve heard rumors of new collaborations coming in China and Australia in the next year.

How you get involved: Sign up with friends, work for 4 hours, party.

Call to Action: Leisure – San Francisco/Global

One of the earliest action games, SFZero is a Collaborative Production Game. Players build characters by completing tasks for their groups and increasing their Score. The goals of play include meeting new people, exploring the city, and participating in non-consumer leisure activities.

How you get involved:
Sign up, join a team and get started.

Call to Action: Gardening – London and beyond...

Guerilla gardening is an emerging form of public space reclamation using plants in illicit cultivations on publicly owned land. Lead by Richard Reynolds, author of Guerilla Gardening – A Handbook for Gardening Without Boundaries, this growing global movement encourages you to get out a trowel and plant a few seeds in any space that needs a little herbaceous helping hand.

How you get involved:
Check out Guirilla Gardening tips at any one of the growing number of specialist blogs, make a seedbomb for some planting pandemonium, grab a trowel and some seedlings and set out on a landscaping mission.

Call to Action: Volunteer – Global

A few years ago I was talking to a friend about how she wanted to volunteer to help out some sort of nonprofit organization. She didn’t know what she wanted to get involved in, but knew that as a financial analyst she had some critical skills to offer. However, as a busy professional she had no way to she could find no way to find out who needed her services. We decided that there needed to be some kind of dating agency for volunteers and organizations that could match skills, locations, availability etc. Unsurprisingly, someone else had the same ideas and created the extremely excellent Volunteer Match.
It does what it says on the tin. It matches volunteers to organizations.

How you get involved: Check out and find an opportunity that’s right for you.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Up Up and Away!

Years ago a friend gave me a hot tip – When traveling, always carry some party balloons.

This seemed like rather odd advice at the time, but has since proved invaluable. On my travels I have used balloons as emergency water bottles, rubber bands and pillows, but have found that they are most valuable as a way of engaging with people.

As a joyful gift to a begging child, as a welcome diversion for a whole carriage of people playing “keepy uppy” on a crowded train, as a distraction for a crying baby silenced by a magic ball of color floating through the air, as a make-do for a spontaneous game of beach vollyball.

Balloons embody a sense of wonder and magic that doesn’t diminish with age, wealth or geography, and enable people to come together in a somehow neutral way to share in a fun and magical experience.

The magic of balloons was harnessed for a large collaborative performance piece in Singapore and later for London by Haque Design and Research.

The Burble is held down to the ground by the combined weight of the crowds holding on to the handle bar. They may position it as they like. They may curve in on themselves, or pull it in a straight line - the form is a combination of the crowd's desires and the impact of wind currents varying throughout the height of the Burble.

As people on the ground shake and pump the handle bars of the Burble, they see their movements echoed as colours through the entire system. Part installation, part performance, the Burble enables people to contribute at an urban scale to a structure that occupies their city, albeit for only one night.

Burble London from haque d+r on Vimeo.

The Atom Performance from Electric Moons, Christopher Bauder and Robert Henke builds on the concept of Baloon Ballet and creates a moody performance using gas balloons, lights and sound.

“A room is filled with deep, evolving noises from a four-channel sound system. An eight-by-eight array of white, self-illuminated spheres floats in space like the atoms of a complex molecule.”

Like this somewhat sinister performance, clearly balloons aren’t always benign - as demonstrated by the recent Superbowl Coke commercial - these guys clearly have their own agendas.

They’re not really balloons, but the menagerie of inflatable sculptures from Joshua Allen Harris, seen recently in the streets and subways of New York, share similar characteristics. Created mostly from garbage bags, his works are tethered to vents and fans, and lie dormant until the shifting air currents of the city breath life into them - then they come alive with movement and action as they draw attention to the hidden systems of the city.

A similarly elegant and organic sculpture debuted recently at the R/C airship regatta in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Air Art from flip on Vimeo.

FinFish seems like it might be an early version of a new version air ship as envisioned in Manned Cloud by Jean-Marie Massaud (as seen in Dezeen) - Perhaps showing greater opportunity to not just travel the world with balloons in the future, but in them.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Inauguration Special

The 5 things I'll remember most from the 2008 election.

1. Yes We Can Engage

A report by the PEW Internet & American Life Project on the Internet and the 2008 Election states that: a record-breaking 46% of Americans have used the internet, email or cell phone text messaging to get news about the campaign, share their views and mobilize others.

It goes on to say: 35% of Americans say they have watched online political videos, 10% say they have used social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace to gather information or become involved, 6% of Americans have made political contributions online, 39% of online Americans have used the internet to access "unfiltered" campaign materials, which includes video of candidate debates, speeches and announcements, as well as position papers and speech transcripts.

A deep and pervasive message of the Obama campaign lay in rebuilding peoples trust in a fair and evenhanded government. To do this they reached out through a variety of channels to engage people in the campaign, the issues, and the race to the white house.

Small donation funding through Changedotgov, online video messaging, mobile text messaging all played a role in campaign engagement strategies. Youtube dominated every aspect of the presidential campaign. It was used heavily by both campaigns, then by the transition government, and looks set to continue to be the preferred means of communication in the new administration.

Outside of the political arena, the election still dominated many online campaigns, with individuals and corporations soliciting for user generated content and comment around increasingly tenuous links to their products and the political landscape. Debates, formal consultation, music, and virals engaged millions, made multiple 15minute stars, and launched a new president with intimate knowledge about his fellow Americans.

Obama Girl kicked things off by telling B and us, just how much she is crushing on Obama.

And the Ron Clarke Kids just about wrapped things up by explaining how we can vote however we like.

Meghan McCain reached out to millions of younger voters with sharing her musings on pop culture and the political trail.

Even Pepsi got in on the act with its Refresh Everything campaign – Dear Mr president...

As the PEW study confirms, despite the growth in the number of people who are politically engaged online, internet users express some ambivalence about the role of the internet in the campaign. On one hand, 28% of wired Americans say that the internet makes them feel more personally connected to the campaign, and 22% say that they would not be as involved in the campaign if not for the internet. At the same time, however, even larger numbers feel that the internet magnifies the most extreme viewpoints and is a source of misinformation for many voters.

It also provides a limitless record of all the gaffs and blunders made by the candidates during endless months of 24 hour news cycles. The following - McCain forgets - is possibly the most painfully awkward moment of the election.

2. Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama brings a little Abbey Bartlett sizzle, a little Onassis style and whole lot serious education and career credentials to the White House. She is a hugely inspiring woman, as a successful lawyer, public servant and nonprofit exec, a caring mother and supportive wife. On the campaign trail she has been a moving orator and stimulating advocate. Democratic Convention Speech:

3. I’ll See You in the Debates Bitches!

When the McCain team started trash talking with the Obama Celebrity Ad they probably didn’t count on the unlikely and bizarrely coherent response from the Hilton camp(aign?).

(NB. Luckily, lest we be confused by her coherence on energy policy and apparent dry wit, Hilton decided that one short inspired moment if irony could be spun into a hugely annoying and inane musical parody/grab for attention and balance was restored to the world.)

In other unexpected celebrity partnerships, Mike Huckabee teamed up with Chuck Norris to tell America how its gonna be.

and Will.I.Am teamed up with a whole lot of musicians to tell us that Yes We Can.

4. Palin

She came out of nowhere, she polarized opinion, she shocked, she horrified. She provided some of the most engaging and terrible sound bites of the election. She shattered the remainder of John McCains already tarnished reputation. She was “one step from stealing” from the campaign. She can kill and skin a moose. She inspired Tina Fey to new heights of comedic genius. She could have been president. There is little doubt that she’ll be back.

Katie Connolly, the McCain campaign Newsweek embedded reporter on Palins spending spree:

Matt “like a bad Disney movie” Damon says it best:

5. Daily News

Together, The New Yorker, The Daily Show, and Newsweek shaped my experience and understanding of the long and often confusing 2008 presidential election.

The NewYorker
The NewYorker covers acted as a rough guide to election events, injected controversy, added humor. Reporting during and after the election covered events and op eds with bipartisan intellect and alternative shifts in focus from mainstream media.

Since 1984 Newsweek has embedded reporters into the campaign trail to follow the candidates throughout the process of the election. Reporters follow the candidates for over a year with unparalleled behind the scenes access, on the condition they stay silent and their findings remain unpublished until after the election.

McCain embedded reporter Katie Connolly talks about her time with McCain.

The special edition, 8 chapter report, can be read here and in clear language describes the process of electing an American president, details the infighting between the Clinton and Obama campaigns, the unraveling of the McCain “strait talk express“, the FBI investigation of the hack of both campaign databases and much much more.

The Daily Show
Indecision 2008 - John Stewart and the Daily Show provided unparalleled coverage of the election – the issues, the candidates, the ridiculousness. If you don't watch anything else, watch this:

Monday, 19 January 2009

The Transition

The USA is about to have a leader with a real understanding of grass roots activism, with face to face experience of community engagement and organization, and with an ongoing commitment to supporting communities, urbanism and innovation. Obama understands that key to rebuilding the American dream lies in repairing its urban infrastructure and rebuilding its cities.
I am terrifically excited by an American president whose rise to power is based in local communities and who appears to be making a resolute commitment from the get go to respond and repay that support by attacking a range of critical issues at their source.

With a solid commitment to urban policy and innovation the new government is promising great transformation. By continuing to engage citizens in discussions about critical issues - with timely and personal response and feedback, this new government is already delivering much needed change.

Urban Policy & Innovation
The following is taken from (this link may change post inauguration) – I wouldn’t normally copy/paste such a large block of text, but I think its hugely important to note the critical connections made here between urban policy and community engagement, innovation clusters and sustainable economies, livable cities and healthy communities.

The Obama-Biden Plan
As a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, Barack Obama learned firsthand that urban poverty is more than just a function of not having enough in your pocketbook. It's also a matter of where you live -- in some of our inner-city neighborhoods, poverty is difficult to escape because it's isolating and it's everywhere. Our job across America is to create communities of choice, not of destiny, and create conditions for neighborhoods where the odds are not stacked against the people who live there. Barack Obama will lead a new federal approach to America's high-poverty areas, an approach that facilitates the economic integration of families and communities with efforts to support the current low-income residents of those areas.

Strengthen Federal Commitment to our Cities
  • Create a White House Office on Urban Policy: Obama and Biden will create a White House Office of Urban Policy to develop a strategy for metropolitan America and to ensure that all federal dollars targeted to urban areas are effectively spent on the highest-impact programs. The Director of Urban Policy will report directly to the president and coordinate all federal urban programs.
Stimulate Economic Prosperity in our Metropolitan Regions
  • Support Regional Innovation Clusters: Thriving innovation clusters across the country like the North Carolina Research Triangle Park and Nashville's thriving entertainment cluster prove that local stakeholders can successfully come together and help reshape their local economies. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will create a federal program to support "innovation clusters" -- regional centers of innovation and next-generation industries. This innovation clusters program will provide $200 million in planning and matching grants for regional business, government, and university leaders to collaborate on leveraging a region's existing assets -- from transportation infrastructure to universities -- to enhance long-term regional growth.
  • Create a National Network of Public-Private Business Incubators: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will support entrepreneurship and spur job growth by creating a national network of public-private business incubators, which facilitate the critical work of entrepreneurs in creating start-up companies. They will invest $250 million per year to increase the number and size of incubators in urban communities throughout the country.
Livability of Cities
  • Build More Livable and Sustainable Communities: Our communities will better serve all of their residents if we are able to leave our cars to walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives. As president, Barack Obama will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account.
  • Foster Healthy Communities: How a community is designed -- including the layout of its roads, buildings and parks -- has a huge impact on the health of its residents. For instance, nearly one-third of Americans live in neighborhoods without sidewalks and less than half of our country's children have a playground within walking distance of their homes. Barack Obama introduced the Healthy Places Act to help local governments assess the health impact of new policies and projects, like highways or shopping centers.
Engagement Online
Meeting during their work on the 2003 Gov. Howard Dean Presidential Campaign, Internet and online communications firm EchoDitto wrote the blueprint for Internet political strategy. It is fair to say that their subsequent work for clients such President Bill Clinton and Barack Obama for Senate must have contributed much inspiration for the online engagement strategy for the 2008 presidential campaign.

Youtube became the medium of choice as live debates, question answer sessions and political messages flooded the site. As Beccy Allen - researcher from the Hansard Society notes - "online campaigning has longer term consequences for government - once you have engaged people you can’t just turn it off. To make online engagement legitimate and effective in terms of continued engagement and policy development, a clear strategy for using citizens’ input and an explanation of where their input will go is important."

During the Transition, Obama’s “One president at a time” mandate hasn’t prevented his transition team for Innovation and Civil Society from continuing to engage American citizens in an ongoing conversation about the new government agenda. Continuing to use YouTube as their medium, the team poses questions for the public to respond to. Focusing on issues of service, economy, energy etc. the call to action continues.

In an personally engaging (and hugely time consuming) means of feeding back, Paul Schmitz from the Transition's Innovation and Civil Society Team responds personally to the comments and suggestions received online.

Also at ChangeDotGov – The Obama-Biden Transition Project - you can Ride on the Whistle Stop Train Tour, Join the Discussion, or watch any number of clips documenting life inside the Transition administration. This element of transparency and immediacy is something new in modern politics.

The mood in the USA right now is electric. There is such a sense of anticipation as the country readies itself for tomorrows fairytale inauguration. See what we’re all waiting for as Obama “Thanks” the nation in his last Youtube address before the big day:

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Collaborative Innovation Economy

In the fairly grim Archinect industry survey released today, President of the Boston Society of Architects, Diane Georgopulis, is quoted saying: "architects at some level are kind of the canaries in the mine. When development dries up, architects are probably the first people to know."

As economic canaries, architects are now at the coalface of the changing economy. The survey goes on to detail the doom and gloom of thousands of design professionals, the fear and concern about job losses, and paints a fairly scary picture for both professionals and students in an industry suffering huge losses and a bleak outlook. However, like most news dealing with the economy these days, it attempts to finish on a high note – suggesting opportunities for re-skilling, building networks, focusing on what’s important, diversifying – and in an industry with a tradition for collaborative and competition based work this should put them in an ideal position to take advantage of the new style of crowd sourced, collaborative work towards innovation.

Competitions have become a common and democratic way to generate innovative ideas for modern building and city design. In Australia, the most recognizable architectural landmarks are the result of international competition and collaboration. In 1912, Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony were awarded the winning entry to design the new Australian capital. In 1957 (out of 233 entries from 32 countries) Danish architect Jørn Utzon was announced as the winner of the competition to design the Sydney Opera House. More recently, in 1997, London based LAB Architecture Studio (partnering with Bates Smart) beat 177 local and international entries to win the competition to design Federation Square.

As the recent Bompas & Parr Jelly Banquet Auction demonstrates – architects will compete for just about anything!

In the last few years, with the evolution of more intuitive web based mass collaboration, innovation competitions have become a cheap and wildly successful means of generating massive numbers of innovative ideas from a global pool of cross industry talent.

Thanks to the success of mass collaboration projects - see Wikipedia, Human Genome Project, Pandora - and innovation competitions - see Goldcorp Challenge, Netflix, Nokia, Android, IPhone - and demonstrated by the mass media uptake of texts like Here Comes Everybody, Wikinomics, and the crowd written book We are Stronger than Me, innovation collaborations and competitions are seen as a new driving force for creative action.

A great use of these competitions has been for catalysts for social enterprise and innovation. For example:

Picnic green challenge: One bright idea can make a big difference. The entrant with the best idea for a greenhouse-gas-reducing product or service wins €500,000, expert coaching and a starting list of customers!

The X Prize is a forum hosting innovation prizes:

The Google Lunar X PRIZE – a $30 million competition for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon, travel 500 meters and transmit video, images and data back to the Earth.

Insurance Automotive X PRIZE - invites teams from around the world to focus on a single goal: design viable, clean and super-efficient cars that people want to buy... This will be a race for the ages, with major publicity and $10 million waiting for the champions… and perhaps our future hanging in the balance.

Changemakers: is building the world's first global online "open source" community that competes to surface the best social solutions, and then collaborates to refine, enrich, and implement those solutions. Changemakers begins by providing an overarching intellectual framework for collaborative competitions that bring together individual social change initiatives into a more powerful whole.

The are currently running competitions in re-imagining media, designing for better health, and collaborating with Nike to run a competition to promote and engage women in sport.

Increasingly, as a lack of full time job security forces professionals to rethink how they work, collaborative research and competitions become a more valuable means of both embedding oneself in a learning network, and distinguishing oneself from the crowd.

As the projects above demonstrate, there is some serious capital investment behind these ventures – so as we all pull together to stay afloat in these uncertain times, a new collaborative social innovation economy is emerging. And that’s good news for architects and good news for all of us.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Tribute Rewind

In a cunning reversal of fan tribute, OASIS have put their new songs in the hands of NYC street performers to launch their new album – letting others interpret their material before it becomes ubiquitous is an interesting means of subversion, and putting the new songs directly into the hands of buskers is a lovely way of engaging directly with commuter communities.

Oasis - Dig Out Your Soul In The Streets

There is an interesting tension between fan made tributes and their creators – while the Indiana Jones reenactment The Raider received glowing praise from Spielberg, it is still only available in very limited release. But despite the sometimes lukewarm reception, fans continue to pay tribute – big and small.

Lego Izzard

Gary Larson Farside Reenactments

Computer Games - Mario Reenactments

Star Wars meets Family Guy in Blue Harvarst

And in a poetic yet labyrinthine tribute to the Michel Gondry tribute film Be Kind Rewind - that follows fans inspired to remake (or swede) their own tributes to films - Gondry swedes his own preview. ow my head.

The Gondry film ends with a celebration of the message that our own stories are often the most important. Demonstrating a common community engagement technique, the characters collect the stories and personal histories of the local neighborhood and create a community produced film event.

Community engagement specialists, architects, urban designers etc often use community filmmaking to engage citizens in the regeneration of their local areas as demonstrated in the short film “I’m Moving In” from Len Grant. It’s about the redevelopment of the Cardroom Estate in Manchester – part of a collaboration between innovative British developers Urban Splash, architect Will Alsop and the community of New Islington.

As Urban Splash continue to demonstrate, community engagement and regeneration can be meaningful, commercially exciting, creatively innovative and artistic. I'm as excited by the possibilities demonstrated by their work in Manchester as I am by the role reversal executed by the OASIS buskers.

(Perhaps, in modern meme tradition, the final clip for this post should be the Manchester band performing a song written by one of the New Islington residents?)

Monday, 12 January 2009

What the Helvetica!

Text and typography are ubiquitous in the public realm. Signage, directions, slogans, graffiti… but recently I’ve been noticing an explosion of text and typographical art both online and on the ground – from slogan tee’s to a cursory glance over at fffound – seems like everyone is text obsessed.

The 2007 Helvetica film, “a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture… looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which recently celebrated its 50th birthday)”.

On the streets on London, Eines’ giant lettering provides captions to places and experiences while his rollerdoor series provided the backdrop for the recent Alphabeat launch.

In another recent musical/typographic collaboration, Evan Roth has created a terrific textual video feast for the new Jay Z/Kanye/Santo Gold video Brooklyn We Go Hard for (Red)Wire.

Niels Meulman’s work with Caligrafitti garnered him a solo show in 2007 and his stylish work is popping up more and more frequently.

In a beautiful and poetic intervention, London based artist and illustrator Anna Garforth is experimenting in Moss Graffiti – Growing words on wisdom on the walls of the city. Instructions available here.

Once Upon a Time...

As we become more intimately and ubiquitously engaged in multimedia multiplatform lives – with constant and unlimited access to a variety of media – print, video, audio, web, mobile etc – and more active in massively multiplayer/collaborative forums – Wikipedia, SecondLife, Facebook, WoW, etc – new forms of interactive storytelling are emerging as viable mainstream platforms.

The written word is jumping on and off the page to engage new interactive applications, temporal elements, video, mapping, mobile content and gaming elements. This collaborative cross-pollination continues to create a hybrid storytelling mashup that offers endless possibility in interactive entertainment and fun.

WeTellStories is a fantastic project from 2007 developed in collaboration with UK based sixtostart and Penguin Books. Working with up and coming Penguin authors, sixtostart developed 6 stories into web based interactive adventures. Using existing and familiar platforms like blogs and Google maps, the collaborations have opened up new possibilities in storytelling platforms. My pick of the bunch is the exquisitely executed The 21 Steps by Charles Cumming - A murder mystery translated into a cross London chase over Googlemaps.

Watch Adrian and Dan Hon of Six to Start talk about the We Tell Stories project here:

A new novel by JC Hutchins – Personal Effects: Dark Arts – combines the traditions of a paperback with the gameplay of an ARG - allowing the reader to enter the world of the story through interactive elements.

The traditional paperback murder mystery jumps off the page into a myriad online alternatives. Characters have active lives online that the reader can access by using additional cards and props that accompany the book, , searching for events online, even calling phone numbers called by characters in the story. A collaboration between J.C. Hutchins and Smith & Tinker, Darks Art goes live in June 2009 and promises to shake up publishing with a new mainstream form of interactive storytelling.

Jordan Weisman, CEO & Founder of Smith & Tinker, is also behind another interactive storytelling smash hit Cathy’s Book. Published in September 2006, Cathy’s Book reads in the form of a young girls diary and provides a set of clues for her disappearance. This novel uses weblinks, phone numbers, and community forums to engage readers in an interactive world that lives outside the pages of the book. In an interesting move, a product placement deal was struck with Covergirl cosmetics, and particular products name checked in the text (these were removed in final print) in return for promotion on friendly websites.

Author, Sean Stewart speaks in detail about creating the novel here. A sequel, Cathy’s Key, was published in May 2008.

Stepping into a more geospatial/documentary arena, and there are a number of exciting projects exploring mobile ways of bringing local stories to life.

Murmur is a Toronto based storytelling project that first began in 2003. In their own words: “[murmur] is a documentary oral history project that records stories and memories told about specific geographic locations.”

One of the first storytelling projects to go mobile, the project is still going strong with little change to their initial modus operandi. The project team record the stories of local residents and make them available through mobile. Murmur signs are installed in project locations with a phone number that participants can call to listen to the stories on the spot.

Yellow Arrow
gives this personal storytelling element a 2.0 perspective. In their words: “ Yellow Arrow is a global public art project of local experiences. Combining stickers, mobile phones and an international community, Yellow Arrow transforms the urban landscape into a "deep map" that expresses the personal histories and hidden secrets that live within our everyday spaces”. Begun in New York in 2004 Yellow Arrow has grown to over 35 countries and 380 cities around the world.

Fiction or factual, these projects often get off the ground with funding from arts grants, advertising sponsorship, or brand collaboration - a common issue faced by producers of this new media is how to sustainably monetize their art. Cathy’s Book and Dark Arts are forging new commercial expectations for production and carving out a new publishing niche for this cross over genre.

Now, with Disney currently recruiting in its Interactive Think Tank, this can only mean new and interesting developments are on the way.

Musical Therapy

Robert Burton wrote in the 17th century in his classic work, The Anatomy of Melancholy, that music and dance were critical in treating mental illness, especially melancholia. Perhaps that’s why, in these uncertain times, more and more people are turning to song and dance on the web to connect and combat the anxiety of the economic downturn. For your own dose of web enabled musical medicine check out:

Beyonce’s Single Ladies has sparked a dance craze not seen since Soulja Boy (here in a meeting of dance memes with the inmates of CPDRC), with almost 30.000 Youtube uploads at last count. Like Daft Hands before it, as more and more people reinterpret the routine, the challenge to distinguish is becoming harder/faster/weirder!

Find more videos like this on Top Secret Dance Off

Top Secret Dance Off turns this throwdown challenge into a team game where you and your team members compete in filmed challenges to show off your mad interpretive dance skills. You can play with your friends anywhere in the world with group events and parties to come.

In the UK, Lucky Voice, the new Karaoke venture from Martha Lane Fox (the brains behind is revolutionizing a good night in with a web enabled microphone device that allows you to set up your own karaoke bar in the comfort of your own lounge.

Auditorium is one of the most delightful ways I have found to get a little musical magic in my life. It’s an incredibly beautiful, classical themed, interactive puzzle that uses directional paddles to fill audio bars with light and music. Spend hours hypnotically manipulating light and music and just try to keep the smile off your face.

Take that (economic) depression!