Socializing in the Age of Corona[virus]

Digital dance raves. Streaming soundbaths. Book readings by phone. Now we’ve gotta get creative.

Where once technology was thought to be the death knell of human social interaction, it is now bringing us together under quarantine. The housebound are nimbly pivoting to virtual social gatherings.

They’re holding birthday parties and bar mitzvahs over video chat, broadcasting D.J. sets and streaming concerts (some from the luxurious confines of celebrity homes), and establishing quarantine movie nights on Twitter for “virtual companionship.”

A lot of communal events are taking place on Zoom, a videoconferencing app now being used by many classrooms and businesses (thus transforming it into one of the few companies doing well on the stock market). But it’s not just Zoom.

There are, for example, a small but highly vocal number of people gathering in the digital plazas, pet stores and pizza shops of Club Penguin Online. There are happy hours being held on Google Hangout, and poker games taking place over FaceTime. There are flute meditation sessions on Instagram and thousands of people participating in dance raves that are broadcast on Twitch.

It’s a lot for the internet. On Monday, Discord, the chat app popular with gamers, announced that it would increase its capacity by 20 percent to keep up with demand; it crashed shortly thereafter.

Jeff Baena, a film director, loves organizing social activities; it was at one of his game nights, in fact, that he met his girlfriend, the actress Aubrey Plaza. The couple have been in self-quarantine since March 11, and were feeling extremely antsy.

“Our house is one of those hubs where people are always over and hanging out,” Mr. Baena, 42, said by phone this week. “It’s strange to not be able to do that. I was kind of jonesing.”

So he got people together virtually. At 9 p.m. on March 14, a dozen friends — including the actress Alia Shawkat, who said she left the set of a television series she was working on early, before it had been officially shut down because of the new coronavirus — joined a group chat for a few hours of Quiplash and other games by Jackbox, an internet game company.

In order for remote players to see the game screen, Mr. Baena joined FaceTime from two devices, with one camera aimed at his TV.

Of course, the pandemic loomed large over the course of the night. At one point, someone coughed and a chorus of concerned voices wondered who it was.

“It was me!” said Almitra Corey, 40, who is currently working as the production designer for the final season of the Netflix show “GLOW.” (Filming was paused, as for all other Netflix shows, last Friday.)

“I just smoked weed,” she said. “Relax.”

A Remote Rave for 5,000 Guests

In New York this past Sunday, the city’s hottest nightclub was a virtual day rave. Nine hours of electronic music were streamed from an empty warehouse in Brooklyn to nearly 5,000 guests from around the world, including some in Berlin and Seattle, all of whom were watching on Twitch.

The event, which showcased nine electronic musicians, was put together by Christine McCharen-Tran, a founder of Discwoman, a talent agency in Brooklyn and collective of femme and nonbinary D.J.’s and music producers.

“I texted all the D.J.’s that I know that need support right now,” Ms. McCharen-Tran, 31, said. After gatherings of more than 500 were banned in New York on March 13, she said, “I was seeing so many artists being affected directly.”

So last Friday, she reached out to a lighting designer friend named Michael Potvin, who provided a physical space and a domain name (harrisonplace.nyc). Ms. McCharen-Tran got to work building out the site and booking artists.

By the afternoon, harrisonplace.nyc was live and vibing.

“For all of the talk about tech distancing us, it felt very intimate and joyful,” said Jess Ramsey, 35, in a phone interview. Ms. Ramsey, who works on hardware and gaming partnerships at Spotify, projected the rave onto her living room ceiling.

“We’re the most stressed we’ve probably ever been, and there’s no place to go, but you can dance in your living room,” she said. “It was the first time we had danced in a week, and it felt really special.”

Strict safety and hygiene protocols were in place even in the empty warehouse. All D.J.’s wore latex gloves and had access to disinfectant wipes and soap. The suggested size of gatherings has shrunk daily and rapidly, from 500 people to 50, and most recently to 10. At the time, Ms. McCharen-Tran’s 10-person maximum was out of an abundance of caution; now it would be pushing the limit.

Many other bands are performing in empty concert halls for the digital masses. The metal band Code Orange performed a record-release concert with an elaborate multimedia production to an empty room, for example, streaming to more than 12,000 fans.

In order to help fans support the artists in real time, Ms. McCharen-Tran and other producers of these events display the Venmo user names of artists at the bottom of the screen during their sets.

A Google Hangout Happy Hour

Lauren Ashley Smith, a TV writer from St. Louis who lives in Los Angeles, turned to Google Hangout this past Saturday to host a digital happy hour with a few close friends. That turned into 57 close friends, and then, over 60 once her sisters invited friends of their own.

“I know it seems like I invited a lot of people,” Ms. Smith, 34, said, “but I did carefully curate the people that were invited.”

To fit the criteria, a guest had to be someone Ms. Smith felt “wouldn’t take it too seriously” and who was “more extroverted — or would be willing to talk to a bunch of strangers they didn’t know.”

She knew everybody was just home alone, bored or scared. So, she said, “I made a run of show.”

The activities include a game Ms. Smith invented (“in 30 seconds,” she said) called “Who’s That Girl?” She would hold up photos of celebrities (saved on her phone) to the laptop’s camera, and players earned points by being the first person to correctly type the subject’s first and last name in the chat section of the Hangout window.

The celebrities were “obscure, to some,” Ms. Smith said. (They included Lala Kent from “Vanderpump Rules,” the singer Keke Wyatt, Christine Brown from “Sister Wives” and Esther the Wonder Pig, whom Ms. Smith described as “a pig influencer on Instagram.”)

The winner received a prize of $50 on the cash-sharing app Venmo. It was ultimately donated to the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles, which provides services to currently and formerly homeless women.

After the hangout, Ms. Smith said she received “a lot of heartfelt messages” from participants thanking her for including them. She “absolutely” intends to do it again.

“It’s really easy,” she said. “Social distancing is for the greater good of everyone. And you can still make it really fun.”

Before the event, it struck her that she and her wife had yet to host a party at their new home. “But now I feel like we have.”
Conspiracy Theories on Club Penguin

There once was an online Disney media platform called Club Penguin, which was a kid-friendly social media hub where users could interact as animated penguins in a virtual world. It was formally discontinued in 2017.

But the internet being the internet, there are still multiple simulacra of Club Penguin around: unlicensed duplications hosted on independent servers, filled with the same population of late-born millennials and first wave Gen Z-ers that flocked to the Disney version by the hundreds of millions.

Last Friday, masses of users assembled in a popular fake iteration of the original pretend world — this one called Club Penguin Online — to share their anxieties, wishes and predictions for the uncertain future, and to ask everyone where they were from. Also, to keep frantically serving one another digital pizza.

There existed eerie similarities between the cartoon penguin world and humanity’s own, under quarantine. The sports stadium was devoid of chatting penguins. The skate park was nearly empty; ditto the dance club.

In other corners of the penguin universe, users delighted in that activity increasingly outlawed by public health officials: congregating in large groups.

Although conversations can be hard to follow on Club Penguin Online — a user’s typed message appears briefly above his or her representative penguin’s head wherever on the screen that penguin happens to be standing (or dancing), before disappearing forever — the pizza shop became, around midday, a kind of political salon.

One penguin asked another penguin that purported to be from Italy if, in real life, the grocery stores were out of pasta. Other flightless birds lamented the quality of their officials’ responses to the crisis.

A penguin in a chef’s hat approached and said, “They aren’t telling anyone anything,” before walking away to take another penguin’s pizza order.

Outside, in the plaza, a navy blue penguin was spreading disinformation and conspiracy theories. This penguin had presented itself as an expert on the novel coronavirus, imploring fellow penguins to pose to it any medical questions.

One penguin wondered how likely it was to become infected; the blue penguin replied confidently: “if ur under 60years old odds are 0,2.”

“Do you think someone created coronavirus?” a coral pink penguin said.

This was the opening the blue penguin had been waiting for. “YES,” it said. “Have u heard of 5g”? It went on to describe (in halting increments, because messages typed in Club Penguin Online have a limit of 64 characters) an online conspiracy theory that attributes virus symptoms to radiation caused by wireless internet.

The penguins in the plaza did not seem convinced.
Relaxing Gatherings

Online social gatherings are also taking meditative forms. Justine Stephens, 27, guided a live flute meditation on her Instagram account last weekend to help about 40 friends and viewers deal with stress and anxiety during the pandemic.

“Needed this and didn’t know it. Super anxious about the start of the week,” read one comment during the livestream. “Thank you for curing my Sunday scaries,” someone else added.

This past Sunday, Mikael Acatl, an energy worker and shaman who uses the pronoun “they,” held a healing session from their Brooklyn apartment, surrounded by plants, burning copal and bathed in golden-hour light.

And Josh Peck, 39, and Eliza Philpott, 31, who operate a retreat space in the Hudson Valley in New York, livestreamed a sound bath for about a hundred digital participants. They used two high-end microphones to funnel dual sources of audio to listeners simultaneously, which created the sensation of being in a three-dimensional space.

Other soothing practices included a reading by the writer Ashley C. Ford, of poems by Pablo Neruda. More than 100 people tuned in to the half-hour broadcast on YouTube.

There was also free “mom” advice dispensed by Mary Laura Philpott, an author in Nashville, who tweeted that she had “Big Mom Energy to spare. (Seriously, my teenagers are over it.)”

“I was like, Who needs the mom to tell you to drink your water, to wash your hands, that it’s going to be OK, to get off the internet?” Ms. Philpott said by phone. (She was surprised that the answer was: lots and lots of people.)

Gamers are getting into it, too. On Twitch, Nick Polom, a streamer with some 400,000 subscribers, took a break from streaming rounds of Apex Legends starting on March 11, to share more timely “Just Chatting” broadcasts.

Each is hours long, with names like “Doomsday cooking stream” (in which he livestreamed his stir fry, grocery rundown, and jokes about frozen chicken tenders) and “Girlfriend and Boyfriend stuck in quarantine!” (in which he livestreamed himself playing virtual reality games with his partner, for a remote audience of thousands).

As the novelist Sarah Schulman put it after a reading of hers was canceled in New York (and she offered her own individual readings by phone): “If all the institutional theaters are closed and all the competitive curated spaces are closed, we’re back to just entertaining each other.”

Online Twelve Step Meetings

Alcoholics and drug addicts in recovery frequently warn each other that isolation is a route to relapse; going to in-person Twelve Step meetings, sharing personal stories and talking with other addicts and alcoholics is a means of connection for many in recovery.

While long-distance Twelve Step recovery has existed since at least World War II, and moved to email and online chat and video with the rise of the internet, much of Twelve Step recovery still relies on in-person meeting.

With the health guidance for people to not congregate in large groups, those who rely on Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery groups have organized quickly. Many meeting chairs across the country are creating regular meetings on Zoom.

“Many of us have been saying in these online meetings that if we were still drinking and using drugs this would be the perfect environment to self-destruct — fear of the unknown, lack of support, isolation, financial insecurity,” said Nanea, who asked to be identified by only her first name in accordance with recovery guidelines.

She created her own version called the Online Recovery Group. In addition, the central offices of regional Twelve Step groups have jumped in to show what meetings are canceled and which are replaced by chat, video or email.

“We need to have a way to share our experience, strength and hope to new people struggling with addiction and alcoholism,” Nanea said. “I know a lot of people, not just people in recovery, are afraid and feeling isolated right now. I feel very fortunate to have an active community that knows how to support each other.”

On Sunday morning, the Redemption Church in Costa Mesa, Calif., set up its first livestream, in part to broadcast two infants’ dedication ceremonies.

Kristin Castillo, 30, a brand and marketing consultant, and her husband, Nate, 30, had originally planned to gather their family, friends and loving congregation (about 200 members strong) to witness and participate in the religious service, which would officially welcome their newborn son into the church. Afterward, there was to be a celebratory lunch.

“Obviously,” Ms. Castillo said, “that didn’t happen.”

Instead, Kristin and Nate’s in-person guest list was trimmed to one of each of their parents. When the ceremony reached the point where their infant’s “spiritual aunts and uncles” were meant to affirm their support, the family and friends that were asked to accept this duty participated remotely.

“They were texting us in real time: ‘Yes! Yes!’” Ms. Castillo said.

While she found the experience of being on camera “nerve-racking,” she described their baby, nearly 8 months old, as “surprisingly cooperative.”

“Watching a crazy little guy having a good time, hopefully that lifted someone’s spirits,” she said. “And, ironically, by stripping all of the social trappings away, it helped us focus more on the intent of the actual ceremony.

Why it’s hot: The internet has meant a lot of things to many people, it first brought many together far and wide, and then got a bum rap for making us feel like we’re closer to others when we’re actually just voyeurs into other people’s lives. But now, in the time of COVID-19, the internet and social media are enabling a more positive mandatory social distancing experience. From conference calls for work to concerts and raves, games nights and virtual happy hours, to religious celebrations, people are leveraging creative ways to use the internet in a time that could lead to excessive isolation and depression – way to go internet age!

Source: NYTimes

Oregon’s Bid To Attract Its ‘Next Class of Innovators’

There’s a lot of competition among colleges and universities to get on the consideration set of prospective students. They’ve got to break through the clutter, pique attention and connect with students in relevant and meaningful ways. Prospective students are looking for the full college experience and want to join an engaged community that provides a breadth of opportunities.

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The University of Oregon has developed creative, engaging and (in some cases) sharable content to make the exploration, application and acceptance process more exciting for prospective students, with the end goals of earning their application and stimulating additional interest among circles of friends through word of mouth.

The content includes a mailed “answers” deck of cards which includes answers about the university in order to entice students to apply. Then, applicants were sent an Oregon poster and flag, with encouragement to engage in an online community just for prospective students, as well as “A Duck Like These” kits, which featured success stories of alumni who graduated as recently as last year to as long as 50 years ago.

Why it’s hot: The ideas aren’t groundbreaking, in general, but as students receive a flood of university brochures and emails during their junior and senior years of high school, these efforts will help the University of Oregon to stand apart. Not only is it clear to prospective students that the university is going the extra mile to earn their consideration, but the collateral really showcases the university’s personality and culture, which helps them to attract the type of students who will strengthen that culture. Last, by distributing loudly branded items and encouraging social interaction, they’re capitalizing on students’ excitement about the next chapter in their lives to get the word out to next year’s applicants. A little inspiration for those of us who work in education!

Tumblr’s New “Creatrs” Connects Artistic Users with Brands to Design Ads

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Tumblr announced it’s new program today called Creatrs. Tumblr describes it as a art-meets-content collective essentially powering users by allowing them to utilize the Tumblr platform users to create advertising content for brands [to advertise on Tumblr].

[A wolf in sheep’s clothing] The Creatrs Network is a Tumblr advertising platform conversion driver for Tumblr by Tumblr.

Brands using the Creatrs Network are required to buy Tumblr advertisement. Traditionally, a brand will come in with content prepared by its own digital agency and simply buy the placement for its own copy. Tumblr is effectively offering the content itself to buy, and to use in expansive campaigns, as long as you buy a Tumblr ad spot first. In other words, brands can’t buy content from Tumblr’s Creatrs Network without also purchasing Tumblr native advertising spots.

Tumblr says that it already has 300 artists on the Tumblr Creatrs Network, and handles all the communication and exchange between brands and artists, from legal to payment to credit.

David Hayes, Head of Creative Strategy at Tumblr, says a quarter of a million dollars have been paid to Tumblr’s select artists over the past year while it has tested Creatrs and Creatr Networks.He did not mention the amount of native platform ad revenue generated through Creatrs and Creatrs Network.

The Creatrs Networks’ goal [according to Tumblr] is to ensure advertisers have the best native advertising experience possible on the network by tapping its power users to design messages instead of an agency’s traditional creative department. Now that is deep and may fall in the category, “Things I later regretted saying during a media interview.”

Why It’s More Saucy Than Hot: Social platforms are proving they want to up the ante in terms of value proposition in turn further solidifying their already critical role in the digital marketing mix; however, it is rather bold to claim your platform can “empower” users to create advertising AND an experience that can be equated to that of an agency.Essentially this is a conversion tactic to secure an increase in native platform advertisements.I do not foresee a long term successful run for this initiative. Although, I believe this is only the beginning of a trend that consists of social platforms going full speed ahead to engage in efforts to compete outside of their comfort zone It’s going to be exciting to see where these platforms go in 2015.

 

IKEA About-face to Fervent Hacker Community

After receiving considerable backlash from IKEAHackers.net, IKEA is reconsidering its recent against taken against Jules Yap and the fervent grassroots “furniture hacking” community.

Ikea hacking is the practice of buying things from Ikea and re-engineering—or “hacking”—them to become customized, more functional, and often just better-designed stuff.

Site founder Jules Yap got his start in hacking back in 2006. On IKEA Hackers, would-be hackers can gather tips from others, and once they’re ready, post pictures and how-to guides of their own hacks.  The site quickly took off, and because Ikea products are available in so many countries and use metric measurements, a worldwide “hackerati” has been able to thrive.

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But in March, Yap got a cease-and-desist letter from Ikea. Ikea claimed that using their trademarked name was a violation—even just using the blue-and-yellow color scheme was not allowed. Since Yap makes money off the site through advertising, Ikea argued that she was profiting from the Ikea name.

The cease-and-desist sent ripples through the Internet community, with some prominent influencers calling the move bulls**t among much worse.  It was not pretty for IKEA. Supporters of Yap felt like IKEA Hacking was actually good for the Ikea brand and that IKEA was foolish to make an enemy out of her.

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It appears the backlash has finally set in.  The site’s founder was invited to meet with IKEA’s team in Sweden to for the two parties to work through an alternative arrangement that preserves the site’s community and interest, while respecting IKEA’s understandable desire to manage its brand online. Details of the meeting have not been disclosed.

Why It’s Hot

When IKEA targeted IKEA Hackers back in March, the company clearly underestimated the influence this community had in the digital sphere.  What may have started as a standard “cease-and-desist” became a major brand problem.  IKEA Hackers has demonstrated that brands need to work closely with their fans and better understand where influence lies before taking action online.  Partnership is the new digital model.

Source: Slate

Tagboard: Helping Brands Create Communities around Hashtags

While the hashtag has become ubiquitous across the social landscape, its utility to aggregate is stunted by the hashtag’s inability to work across social platforms.  By default, hashtags on Twitter stay confined to Twitter, and those on Instagram remain siloed in Instagram.  This condition ultimately means the communication streams are fragmented, disjointed and isolated.

How can marketers harness the power of the hashtag to create communities that transcend the barriers the separate social platforms?  Enter Tagboard.

Tagboard is a social search and display tool — powered by the hashtag. Search, interact with, customize, moderate, and grow hashtag communities, all from a centralized and simple interface.  Tagboard is a single place that automatically pulls in content from across different social platforms to create visual, mosaic experience that is updated in near real time.  More than just eye-candy, however, Tagboard retains the social nature of the content it aggregates, allowing users to like, comment, and share individual content pieces from the stream.

#NATLPancakeDay Tagboard

#NATLPancakeDay Tagboard.
https://tagboard.com/NATLPancakeDay

Think of Tagboards as curated pieces that evolve with your community.  They become as diverse as your audience, as more content is fed through the unifying hashtag.  And while they’re social made simple, they offer controls to easily moderate or block obscene content.  Tagboards also help brands track the strength of their hashtags across social platforms, to better understand their audiences and optimize content.

The beauty of Tagboard is that it can live virtually anywhere.  With simple coding Tagboards can be customized with brand elements and embedded to create more dynamic websites, project at events/conferences, or create unique engagements in retail settings.  Best of all, Tagboards are made for flexibility, allowing for seamless experiences no matter the device.

See one in action: #Seahawks

Why It’s Hot

Tagboard is a low-cost, turnkey solution to create engaging social content driven by the community.  It turns public expressions into visual brand assets.  More importantly, it helps extend the life of a brand’s hashtag by creating communities that transcend the walls of individual social platforms.  Tagboard allows brands to take stronger ownership of hashtags, while putting their users at the forefront–rather than themselves.