The Goldfish Conundrum

The fact that Google has introduced ‘skippable pre-roll’ ads on YouTube is nothing new.  In fact nearly an year ago, it has also started to enable the same for mobile users.


Three obvious things that stand out for me from these ‘skippable, pre-roll ads’ are:

(1) Permission Marketing: By placing these ads right at the beginning of the actual video and enabling the viewer full freedom to skip if necessary, YouTube has acknowledged the importance of gaining viewer permission (a.k.a a commitment of her attention span) before bombarding her with any message. This disincentives attention abuse by advertisers.  [Seth Godin must have said – I Told You So” 😉 ]

(2) Soft Wired: Understandably these ‘pre-roll ads’ are not ‘hard wired’ to the video ; meaning, YouTube can dynamically mix and match an ad to a video based on algorithms / user preferences / browsing history / relevance and advertiser criteria, with an objective to maximise advertiser revenues.  This disincentives lack of relevance of the spots to the viewer/ viewer context.

(3) The 5s litmus test: This is the most interesting implication for me. Irrespective of the length of the pre-roll ads (which typically are 15s or 30s), any ad is given a golden period of 5s within which it can either capture the attention of the viewer or fail at it (for various reasons) resulting in the ad getting skipped. This disincentives lack of the grip factor in the ad – by way of production values/ story / narrative etc. 

Not surprisingly, as a result, we now see many of these ads desperately trying to shock / awe / seduce  or lure us into seeing the full spot during the first few seconds of the roll. The fascinating thing for me however is this 5s mark that YouTube has set for itself and advertisers.  But why 5s?

Well,  as it turns out, we human beings are currently rated as a species with one of the lowest levels of attention spans. For eg., see the following table that compares the worsening of our attention spans and contrasts it with that of the Goldfish’s! (source of data)

The average attention span in 2012 8 seconds
The average attention span in 2000 12 seconds
The average attention span of a gold fish 9 seconds

Call it ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or Information Overload or Infobesity, it’s almost an intuitive thinking now that our attention spans are plummeting. As a result, today:

  • Movie trailers are getting insanely faster.
  • We now have movie tweasers: (A tweaser is a six-second teaser for a 20-second teaser for a two-minute teaser for a 2:32-length theatrical trailer for a feature-length movie. source)
  • Vine from twitter is capped at 6s (tweasers are hosted on vine)
  • And then we have delightful ‘marketoons’ like the one below:


(source and inspiration for this blog: Tom Fishburne)

Obviously, this only reinforces the fact that we are living in an Attention Economy – where attention has become a scarce commodity.

On a related note, you should read this amazing post titled – The Scarcest Resource You Don’t Even Know You Are Spendinghere. And do check out this though provoking video.

From the above two observations viz.,

  • We tend to be ruthless in our attention spans when it comes to consumption of entertainment /information.
  • We are given only a limited number of ‘attention bits’ to spend in our life time. …

…the insight for me here is that.,,

whilst proving ourselves to be (penny) wise in terms of how we exercise our ‘attention spans’ for certain tasks like say – media consumption, we sometimes tend to be (pound) foolish when it comes to expending this very resource for things that have far reaching implications in our lives like learning, decision making, productivity, interpersonal interaction etc.

Something for us to ponder and reflect upon?


(Image Source)  

On Looking Back To The Future

Have you ever thought about looking back to the future?

This is not about the acclaimed 1985 Academy Award winning American Science Fiction Comedy directed by Robert Zemeckis and produced by Steven Spielberg – which by the way is a must see.  The question is whether you have ever thought about the notion of ‘looking into the future’ as akin to that of looking back.

Let’s talk about the Aymaras

Apparently this tribe of indigenous people in South America called the Aymara have an unusual way of referring to the future – when they talk about the past, they point to the space in front of them and when they talk about the future, they point behind them. Wonder why?

As Austin Kleon succinctly puts it …

The reason they point ahead of them when talking about the past is because the past is known to them — the past has happened, therefore it’s in front of them, where they can see it.The future, on the other hand, is unknown, it hasn’t happened yet, so it’s behind them, where they can’t see it.

A very thought provoking concept if one begins to think about it.

After embarking upon a mini thought + search experiment, I have come to appreciate that looking back to the future can be more than just a conceptual metaphor of the Aymara’s. My three riffs on this concept:

1. First a relatively straight forward one –  in a very practical sense, the notion of looking back into the future can be said to be closely related to the concept of Retro Innovation. Think about it. Isn’t it? More about it here.

2. We have heard about Chris Anderson‘s concept of The Long Tail. Of comparable significance is Bill Buxton‘s concept of The Long Nose of Innovation – a must read for anyone fascinated by the world of Innovation and Design. Flip through the following slide deck to get a gist of what he meant by this in just under 50 – 60s.

He makes a strong case that – any technology that is going to have significant impact over the next 10 years is already at least 10 years old. And thereby says The Future Is History and goes to conclude with the advice –  “Use history to evaluate new concepts and ideas instead of only gut feel”.
So may be next time we ideate within a category/segment for innovation ideas, it might be worthwhile to look for trends that go back to nearly 10 years from now for a change.

3. Lastly, in many ways the concept of looking back to the future could also be related to the idea of photography as time travel.

Irina Werning was a virtually unknown photographer till she embarked on a project called Back To The Future in 2010 (and subsequently in 2011) and the rest as they say is history, with her photographs going hugely viral – even becoming Internet Memes and her project becoming a big sensation. Read more about Irina’s obsession as a photographer to take her subjects back and forth in time through her unique project here. Enjoy the behind the scenes video of the project here.

I find the idea of looking back to the future hugely fascinating and as Austin Kleon says, the Aymara’s way of referring to the future continues to blow my mind no matter how long I think about it.

And you thought History and Innovation make strange bedfellows?

Blood In The Gutter – On Smart Narratives

Cleverly disguised as an easy to read comic book, Understanding Comics is a masterpiece from Scott McCloud on what makes comics as a medium – tik. Called as “…one of the most insightful books about designing graphic user interfaces ever written..” by Andy Hertzfeld, the co-creator of the Mac, Understanding Comics bares fascinating insights on time, space, art and the cosmos. A must read for anyone with a curious mind and a willingness to have some fun along the way. Go get yourself a copy if you haven’t yet and it might as well turn out to the best gift you’d have given yourself in a long time.

Blood In The Gutter is the name of my favorite chapter from the book where Scott explains what constitutes the magic and the mystery of comics through a concept called ‘Closure’. Following are some panels from the chapter that explain this concept in lucid detail:

Blog UC 1

Blog UC 2

Blog UC 3

(Scott McCloud (1993), “Understanding Comics”, p. 66, 68, 63)

It is closure that makes Comics an immersive medium that they are. For e.g., unlike in say radio and film, the audience for comics are compelled to participate more because they are required to perceive the gaps between panels and fill in the missing content themselves. No wonder then, artists from different media (Literature, Photography, Film etc) have experimented and adopted the techniques of ‘closure’ as a compelling narrative style in their own works. Three examples where this technique of closure has been adopted in 3 different media: literature, photography and film below:

Closure in Literature: One Day

One Day is a novel by David Nicholls published in 2009. While it is essentially a ‘When Harry Met Sally‘ kind of genre, the unique feature of the book is its narrative. Each chapter covers the lives of the protagonists on exactly the same day (15 July) every year for twenty years.

One Day Movie_book

This literary technique of ‘closure’ as adopted by David Nicholls in One Day had its expected results with the book being praised as a ‘persuasive’, ‘ fast’, ‘absorbing’ and ‘smart’ and went on to be named 2010 Galaxy Book of the Year. Nicholls adapted his book into a screenplay; the feature film, also titled One Day, was released in August 2011. 

As with comics, closure –  when executed well in any media – facilitates smooth and seamless transitions in time and space and establishes a tightly symbiotic relationship between the reader’s imagination and the narrative.

Closure in Photography: The Whale Hunt

The Whale Hunt is a story telling experiment by Jonathan Harris who spent nine days living with a family of Inupiat Eskimos in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost settlement in the United States. He documented their traditional whale hunt with a plodding sequence of 3,214 photographs, taken at five-minute intervals for seven days, and at even higher frequencies in moments of high adrenaline.  He then developed a framework for experiencing this story, allowing the viewer to rearrange the photographic elements of the story to extract multiple sub-stories focused around different people, places, topics, and other variables. (Source)

Go to the WhaleHunt page and experience the story unfold along different dimensions and see the cadence of closure engage your curiosity, senses and imagination.

The Whale Hunt

Closure in Film: I Love Your Work

Using a similar narrative style as used in The Whale Hunt, Harris now steps into a bold new territory by holding the spotlight on the world of lesbian porn.

Called as I Love Your Work, the project in Harris’ words “is an interactive documentary about the realities of those who make fantasies.It is a raw and intimate portrait of the everyday lives of nine young women who make lesbian porn.It consists of 2,202 10-second video clips, taken at five-minute intervals over 10 consecutive days.There is an interactive environment for exploring this material (around six hours of footage).”

What’s revealed through this tapestry of video clips separated by 5 min time intervals is an intimate portrait of a community opening up about topics like sex, gender politics, and their daily grind in a way that’s downright real and some times hard hitting.

I Love Your Work

Read this Fast Company article for a more detailed account of the project.

This powerful concept of closure (as it pans out in comics or in experiments like the ones shown above) seems to suggest one thing for certain. In order to engage, captivate and involve our minds and senses, the narrative of a story need not be continuous or seamless.

In fact what could work better in capturing and sustaining our attention spans can just be fragments of the story that are disjointed enough to let our imagination do the ‘connecting-the-dots’ drill and joint enough to let us feel that we are smart indeed!

Speak about the power of ‘smart narratives’.

Our perception of ‘reality’ is an act of faith, based on mere fragments.

Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (1993)