playing in a parallel universe

This past Saturday I had the privilege of attending >play: Berkeley Digital Media Conference created by the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. The major sponsors of the event were Yahoo!, Google, Amazon.com and others. The purpose was to create a conference that would become a leading event for business and creative professionals working at the intersection of consumer technology, media, and entertainment. Thanks for inviting us Jack!

Listening to the presentations of representatives from Adobe, Yahoo!, Electronic Arts, and especially a discussion panel on the Long Tail, I could not help feeling like we (libraries, archives, and museums) are in a parallel universe. We share a vocabulary and a desire for many of the same outcomes though not with the same things.

Let me give you some examples. Keynote speaker Shantanu Narayen, president and chief operating officer of Adobe systems spoke about the trend toward personal publishing, the development of new media types and new devices, problems of managing digital photographs, the trend toward open standards, the importance of metadata and automating metadata generation. I’m thinking – he’s talking about our issues and yet he isn’t. He’s talking about the future of his business and where his tools and services will fit in the dynamically changing world of industry. How responsible does he need to be to maintain proprietary software and yet be responsive to customer trends?

In a session called “Mobile Multimedia for the Masses”, the panelists from Jamster, Nokia, Macromeda, and MSNTV had an excellent discussion about content development and working with users to determine trends in their discoverability needs. They also talked a lot about finding business models other than subscription fees and pay-per-view and opening their content to new audiences. I thought – wow, these are the same things we are talking and worrying about. Then they moved on to talk about specific issues they are concerned about. The content they are talking about includes ringtones, graphics, games, television and music. The challenges are how to move that content to the places where users want them – to mobile devices, so you could, for example watch your favorite baseball game while golfing. OK, so these are not the same things we are talking and worrying about.

“Discovering the Long Tail” panelists included representatives from Yahoo!, Google, Amazon.com, and Weblogs, Inc. participating in a discussion led by Wired’s Chris Anderson. This is a concept that has so many parallels to what we do in our world of research vs. their world of search. I won’t go into the concept as you can read all about it in Chris’ long tail blog. But it is exactly what we are doing in providing access to mainstream research materials held in libraries and the continuum of research materials especially rare, unique resources held in archives and museums. Topics of concern in this panel were all about discoverability, authenticity, reputation, personalization of information, and responsibilities of aggregators of information. Yes! These are our issues too!

So, how do we start to have a conversation with these industry leaders who have the resources to solve many of the same issues and challenges we share and how do we let them know that we have the sublime content that might be even more compelling than ringtones and television programs. How do we become part of what Hamish McRae referred to as the infotainment industry? Maybe the same audiences that these digital media folks are interested in would also be interested in the fascinating collections of information we hold in our world. I hope our participation in the Open Content Alliance is a step in bridging our interests and that future conferences like this most excellent one might bring us closer together.

Stay tuned: more later on Next Generation video games (or maybe Jim wants to take that on.)