Thursday, May 5, 2011

Virtual reality + real life = money spinner

I’ve never understood the Farmville craze. I’ll admit that I played Petville for oh, I don’t know, maybe a week, but the novelty wore off very quickly. The only lesson provided by the time and effort it took to keep a non-existent pet alive, decorate its living quarters and pick up its smelly socks and banana peels was to give me a taste of what it must be like living with a teenager. The fact that I got no love in return from my purple, vampire-toothed ‘dog’, other than a silly dance and a weird cooing sound when I fed it cake, cemented my hesitance to even think about having children.
Similarly, if I had to spend hours on end tending a farm I could never touch, planting carrots I could never eat and buying cows I could never milk, I would have to seriously question my mental state. I want to see the efforts of my, er, labour and get tangible results.
So when I first heard that 10 000 virtual farmers will be making decisions about a real farm in the UK, with real animals and real plants, I might have scoffed at the ridiculousness of it all. Are we really getting that lazy that we find it appealing to farm from behind a computer screen? For £30 a month, subscribers can make decisions ranging from which crops to grow to which livestock to rear on Wimpole Home Farm. I’m not kidding.
Partly inspired by Farmville, “subscribers will be expected to make key decisions on which crops to plant, which animals to buy and whether to put in measures such as new hedgerows to help wildlife. They will be asked to make 12 major monthly decisions during the course of the year as well as other choices”. Dame Fiona Reynolds , director-general of National Trust, which is managing the farm, said the scheme was “all about reconnecting people with farming, giving them the chance to get involved with and feel part of the farming community and farming life and give them a greater understanding on how the food they eat gets to their shopping basket”.
While you could probably convince me to play this version of Farmville before I venture into Petville land again (I’m sure my dog must be dead by now, I can’t even remember his name), it still smacks a bit of a money-making scheme. If the initiative were to attract the desired 10 000 subscribers, that would bring in £300 000 (R3 290 618.45 at current exchange rates) a year. That’s quite a pretty penny for a farm that is reported as being “currently commercially self-sustaining”. Why didn’t I think of this?!
We were warned about this – that virtual reality would one day merge with real life. It seems Second Life was onto something all along. I wonder if the virtual farmers get a slice of the produce pie? Seems a bit unfair to expect them to pay an annual fee and not get at least a pint of milk in return.
What are your thoughts on the translation of virtual reality into real life? Do you think initiatives such as this will be successful?

It’s a Royal Wedding tsunami! (And we’re all in the way)

When I first heard that Wills and Kate were taking the ultimate plunge, I can’t say I reacted any differently to how I would react if I were told that ‘Brangelina’ were splitting and reclaiming their own identities. Who cares? Well, apparently, quite a lot of people.
What I didn’t expect was that the grand event would take place so soon after the engagement, but when you have an entire staff complement attending to your most basic of needs, and you don’t need to fret about the flowers, the dress, the bridesmaids’ dresses, the DJ, the venue, the menu, the minister, the rings, the invitations, the seating arrangements, the wedding favours, (can you tell I’ve got the ‘been there, done that’ wedding T-shirt?) then why not just get it over and done with … and when you’re the hottest Royal couple of the moment, the pressure to deliver is enormous.
And so we stare down the steamroller that is the 29 April Royal Wedding and we ask, again, why all the fuss? If we were guaranteed that the ceremony would play out like the one mobile operator, T-Mobile, put together, then I’d shamelessly admit that I’d be the one with the biggest box of popcorn, sitting a metre away from the television screen, because seeing Prince Charles shimmy down the aisle is a priceless moment in itself, never mind the duo of the hour!
The internet has gone Royal Wedding mad. Even though there is an official Royal Wedding website and a dedicated YouTube Royal Channel, there are still those out there hoping to make a quick buck off the event. BrewDog, a UK brewer, has even concocted a very special ale to commemorate the occasion – drinking just three bottles of Royal Virility Performance, with the tagline ‘Arise Prince Willy’, is equivalent to taking one Viagra pill (I foresee a lot of babies named Kate and William in nine months’ time).
The official YouTube Channel features a wedding book where anyone can upload a personal message or video, and while I suspect that the prince and his new princess will never have enough time in the world to watch hours of rehashed good wishes from strangers, I do like the fact that they’ve opened up their Charitable Gift Fund to the public – at least one sensible thing will come of the obsessive insanity.
In the past month, Yahoo! noted a 1 523% increase in internet searches related to the Royal Wedding, prompting it to set up its own website dedicated to the wedding, featuring everything from news to videos to photo galleries to a guestbook (because we’re all invited, apparently), oh, and an advert by Spur – clever! Because when predictions are that more than two-billion people will be watching the event, compared to just 750-million who watched Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981 (how the digital world  has changed the real world!), strategic ad placement will get you everywhere.
Us South Africans can’t scoff at the absurdness of it all – we’re just us guilty of rubbernecking. Howzit MSN launched its Royal Wedding special content on 9 April and recorded 500 000 page views in its first week! Compare this to only 200 000 hits for the month for the cricket page that was put up for the World Cup. Tut tut.
If you are one of the few that haven’t been swept up in the Royal Wedding wave, first of all, well done! Second of all, prepare to be force-fed come 29 April, because that’s all that will be on TV, social media, radio and the internet. NewsTime reports, “The BBC will deploy at least 550 staff on the day, using about 100 cameras in Westminster Abbey and along the procession route to provide a live feed to dozens of countries and footage to many more. About 140 broadcast trucks are expected to set up in Green Park near Buckingham Palace and 48 television studios have been purpose-built nearby in what is thought to be [the] largest outside broadcast ever seen.”
Oh dear.
I’m pretty sure there was something else happening on 29 April. Something with a lot more significance than the wedding of the decade…?
Oh yes, that’s right, 29 April is the shuttle Endeavour’s final mission to the International Space Station. I wonder if there are any news crews available to cover it?

The rise and rise of Zulu

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande kicked up a stink this week when he proposed that all university degrees include an African language as part of their programmes of study. As a condition for graduating, all students would need to learn an African language.
Personally, I think it’s an excellent idea as it champions the cause of minority language rights. The problem, however, is that while it’s great in theory, actually implementing this might prove tricky. Perhaps a better option would be to start with the teaching of additional languages at the primary school level, rather than expect students who have been speaking one or two languages for the past 20-odd years to suddenly pick up an additional language – and be able to speak it coherently by the time their three-year degrees come to an end.
That being said, if given a choice, which language would you choose? I’m going with Zulu.
By no means a minority language, Zulu has been quite prolific in the media space in the past six months, especially the online space. It all started in November last year when Sunday Times launched a Zulu edition – a language spoken by 50% of the South African population and is the mother tongue of 24% of the population, according to the Pan SA Language Board.
In March this year, it was reported that News24 had followed suit, launching a Zulu version of its popular news service, offering the latest in headlines, sport, finance and weather. Just days later, it was reported that Mozilla’s Firefox Web browser (which is already available in North Sotho) had been customised by translators to support Zulu. I’m beginning to see a pattern here…
A recent article by AFP reported that while most South African print media are battling declining circulations and an advertising drought, Zulu-language papers are flourishing, with more titles appearing and sales rising. TakeIsolezwe, for example, which was launched in 2002 and is now South Africa’s third most popular newspaper, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation. Sales of its daily edition topped 104 000 last year; and at R2.80 a copy, it’s hardly surprising – quality news at an affordable price.
I’m hoping to see some of our minority languages afforded the same recognition at some stage. And if, in so doing, it means including African languages in university modules, then I’m 100% for it.

Vodacom advertising goes ‘viral’

Vodacom is getting a lot of things right lately. I blogged a few weeks ago about how much I enjoyed Vodacom’s re-branding adverts, with my colleague, Kerryn le Cordeur, reporting on how Vodacom set the wheels of the ‘red bandwagon’ in motion, with the likes of Virgin Active and Dulux scrambling for a sliver of the limelight and basking in the glow of the awesomeness that is Vodacom.
I thought the Vodacom hype was simmering down, and then it comes out with this. Vodacom’s new TV advert embraces everything that is good about social media and viral advertising and makes it that much cooler. In the latest offering, Marcus (who looks to be around 11 or 12) takes delivery of his brand new Vodacom phone. He turns the phone’s camera on himself, marches into his bedroom, props the phone up and proceeds to make a video. But this isn’t just any old video. It features more South African celebrities than a bumper issue of Heat magazine. And if his huge brown eyes don’t get you, Marcus with the raucous’ rapping skills certainly will – as will his uncanny ability to make celebrities such as HHP, Loyiso, Freshlyground, CornĂ© and Twakkie, Prime Circle, Tamara Dey, Elvis Blue and Gang of Instrumentals literally crawl out of the cracks of his room and morph from his linen.
The clever word play (“And I get what I want, even got digits for Tanya van Graan; but I stay freshly-grounded and the girls just really, really like it”) and good-sport celebrities dancing around in sleeping bags, singing into desk lamps and zooting around the room on office chairs make this the exact kind of video I like to share with my friends – it’s catchy, has familiar faces and is just so damn clever!
And you know what they say about videos shared by friends – people tend to watch them for three times longer than if they had stumbled across it themselves (read Leigh Andrews’ article on what makes a video go viral).
The ad opens as if it’s a regular YouTube video, zooming in when it has received just fewer than 100 views. At the end of the ad, after Ross from Prime Circle spins Marcus’ chair around and all the featured celebs cram into the screenshot, the camera zooms out again, putting the viewing tally at nearly 28-million.
I suspect Vodacom won’t need to spend too much money airing this ad on TV. I’ve already forced everyone in the office to watch it and a friend of mine on Facebook has declared his intention to adopt Marcus. That is, not if I get to him first.

Re-branding: Vodacom gets it right

For the most part, Vodacom did a damn fine job keeping its new branding under wraps until the official launch on 1 April. Granted, we all pretty much knew that it was going to adopt the colours of its parent company, Vodafone; that it was going to be red; and that it might, too, adopt Vodafone’s logo.
What we weren’t expecting, however, was the sheer brilliance in the execution of the rebranding and the enormous creativity behind it. I was feeling rather unmotivated at the offering on Sunday prime time television last night, there was nothing interesting to watch and I was considering bundling myself off to bed for an early night … until I saw the first Vodacom rebrand ad, and the next, and the next. I was convinced to sit through hours of boring programming in the hopes that, during the ad breaks, I would catch another one that I hadn’t seen yet.
The genius ad campaign saw Vodacom bring together characters of adverts past, including Bankole Omotoso (Yebo Gogo!), Michael de Pina, Trevor Gumbi (“Are you free, or are you dom?”), Daddy Cool and that crazy dancing meerkat, among others. In pairs of two (or alone, if you’re a meerkat), they sit in a blue room with a bucket of red paint and proceed to splash said paint all over the blue wall via rather, erm, creative methods, from catapulting themselves into the wall, to shooting paintballs at it, to falling off scaffolding and accidently splashing the wall, to kicking paint bombs at a mock rugby post. The thirteen-second ads are perfect in length, each featuring different, amusing content, and each with a familiar face that forces you to draw on past Vodacom ads.
Besides the brilliant TV and print ads, Vodacom effectively executed its rebranding strategy on the ground, too. At the press briefing on Friday night, CEO Pieter Uys was looking rather spiffy in his red golf shirt and the new red branding was already visible on the sporting field when the Vodacom Blue Bulls took on the Wellington Hurricanes in a Super 15 match in New Zealand. New Zealand! They even got the branding right in another country! The Bulls won, in case you were wondering…
Compared to Cell C’s re-branding, Vodacom is streets ahead, including the entire Vodacom family in the event, as opposed to employing a random comedian (don’t get me wrong, I love your work, Trevor) as its “brand ambassador”. It somehow made it more real to me.
My husband pointed out that he’d noticed I was partial to short, funny ads that have different content (And no, Outsurance’s Invisible Man does not count), so maybe I’m biased, but hey, if it works, it works.
Nicely played, Vodacom. More Power to You.

The Oxford English Dictionary has gone loco!

OMG! Did you hear about the tanorexic gazillionaire who was wearing a mankini over budgie smugglers while having a looky-loo at the bajillion retweets on Twitter? Fnarr fnarr! At the same time, he was eating a sammie, muttering “nom nom”. TMI for you?
It’s a sad day for grammarians when the Oxford English Dictionary adds words that usually only form part of a teenager’s vocabulary to its official lexicon. It’s an even worse day when it accepts SMS acronyms as proper words. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is now acceptable to use LOL and OMG in every-day writing.
While we at COUP are thrilled at the addition of words such as ‘bloggable’ and ‘retweet’, we cry quietly at the thought of SMS-speak tainting our copy.
Funnily enough, I recently wrote a university assignment on whether language practitioners felt that the enforcement of correct language usage was good or bad. One of the focus areas was the use of SMS-speak in areas other than the cellphone. Not surprisingly, just about all the respondents vehemently opposed its use – some believe it doesn’t even belong in SMSes. COUP Content Editor, Marie Straub, said, “SMS speak is a pet hate of mine. I even avoid it when SMSing. I don’t think it is acceptable outside of SMSing. Also, with a vast number of young people using SMS- and internet-speak in their online communications (which are increasing all the time), their grammar is suffering, with spelling following fast behind.” Kerryn le Cordeur, Deputy Editor of Media Update, believes SMS-speak “dumbs down” communication; while Bronwyn Raitt, a teacher, believes that SMS-speak is making people lazy and that it is a disgrace to the English language. Another concern raised by language practitioner Kate Wright is that the addition of ‘OMG’ to the Dictionary somehow made blasphemy acceptable, too.
I tend to agree with all of the above.
On the other hand, should we not be happy that our wonderful language is changing with the times and is accommodating new terms and phrases? Being a language practitioner myself, I might come across as biased when I say that the addition of new words thrills me – provided they are useful! Andragogy, avoision, calligram, recessionista (look them up) – all new words added to the Dictionary and all excellent! However, when it comes to boo-yah and woot, I feel the need to assume the foetal position and rock slowly from side-to-side.
What are your thoughts? A boon for the English language or the beginning of the end of a literate society?

A movie-type trailer for a book? I’d rather judge it by its cover…

I’m the first to admit that I never read the entire blurb of any book or DVD. My judgement starts with the cover (shallow, I know), after which I’ll flip the book/DVD in question over and skim over the blurb, looking for words that jump out, like ‘psychopath’, ‘controversy’, and ‘scandal’.
So when I heard that there was a movie-like trailer punting Mike Nicol’s new book, Black Heart, I got a little giddy – my laziness had reached a new level; or rather, technology had leveraged my laziness to a new level, as seems to be occurring more and more these days.
I have to admit, though, I was slightly disappointed. The trailer wasn’t very forthcoming with clues as to what the story is about, other than revenge. Something somebody did in the past was coming back to haunt said person as another person wants revenge. Not vague at all. The trailer also tells us that Black Heart is the third book in Nicol’s Revenge Trilogy. Thanks for that, but for someone who has never read a Nicol novel; this is not much use to me. Right now there are a million possibilities running through my mind as to what the revenge centres on. A love triangle? A business deal gone awry? A beauty queen bitter that an opponent sabotaged the dress she was meant to wear in the Evening Gown walk?
I tracked down the actual blurb and it goes something like this: Sheemina has a vendetta against security operative, Mace, who is in a spot of trouble himself, as his partner has been shot and a foreigner under their protection has been kidnapped. “In the final part of Mike Nicol’s Revenge Trilogy the hidden hand of Sheemina February is everywhere.  Her finger tightening on the trigger.”
I was nowhere close, apparently.
My modus operandi is as follows – pick up eye-catching book (and yes, I would’ve picked up Black Heart, based on its cover), take note of words that ‘pop’, open book on random page and read a few sentences to get a feel for the writer’s style, then either put the book back on the shelf or tuck it under my arm and mosey on to the tills. This experience was obviously missing in trailer format and that, for me, is a big deciding factor with regards to whether I want to read a book or not.
That being said, I wouldn’t discount the idea of trailers-for-books completely. With better execution, it could definitely work. Perhaps the characters in the trailer could actually say something as this could convey a sense of the writer’s style to a degree. Also, the trailer needs context. As mentioned above, I had no idea what the book was about based solely on watching the trailer and had to hunt down the blurb for more information.
Or maybe I just put way too much thought into the whole process. What do you think of trailers for books?