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Metanomics Transcript April 7 2010

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Metanomics April 7 2010 With Marc Weiss and Barry Joseph

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Metanomics Transcript April 7 2010

  1. 1. METANOMICS: MEETING ONLINE WITH MARC WEISS AND BARRY JOSEPH APRIL 7, 2010 ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is owned and operated by Remedy and Dusan Writer's Metaverse. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hi. I'm Robert Bloomfield, professor at Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management. Today we continue exploring Virtual Worlds in the larger sphere of social media, culture, enterprise and policy. Naturally, our discussion about Virtual Worlds takes place in a Virtual World. So join us. This is Metanomics. ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is filmed today in front of a live audience at our studios in Second Life. We are pleased to broadcast weekly to our event partners and to welcome discussion. We use ChatBridge technology to allow viewers to comment during the show. Metanomics is sponsored by the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. Welcome. This is Metanomics. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Welcome, everyone, to Metanomics. Today we've got a fascinating show. We have two guests who have worked together before and are still working now on an HBO documentary. We have Barry Joseph, who is director of Global Kids Online Leadership Program, and people who have watched Metanomics before know that he was on--last time it was also doing a co-appearance with someone else he was working with, also through Global Kids. That time it was to focus on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. This time Barry's friend and co-guest is Marc Weiss. Marc Weiss has been an extremely influential filmmaker and journalist. He is the creator of the Public Television series POV, Point of View, which, as I understand it, has won just about every award that a documentary series can possibly win. And he's also the founder of Web Lab, which is an organization that actually has been breaking new ground using the internet as a medium to integrate with documentaries, and we'll be hearing a lot about that today, naturally, because integrating forms of broadcasting with online interaction is of great interest to the Metanomics community. So, Barry, Marc, welcome to Metanomics. MARC WEISS: Great to be here. BARRY JOSEPH: Beyers, it's great to be back. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We're so glad you're here. You guys are working together for a new documentary for HBO, called Meeting Online. Let's just start with that. Marc, what can viewers expect to see when Meeting Online airs on HBO next year? MARC WEISS: Well, I'm not sure. I think part of the idea is to put together something that will 1
  2. 2. surprise people, so I'm not sure what I can tell you in terms of expectation or not. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Fair enough. MARC WEISS: Let me give you a quick background on how we're putting it together and what its roots are. It'll be a one-hour show and will consist entirely of stories that we will film and edit. My partner on the production is Robert Kenner, who is a veteran documentary filmmaker. Most recently, last year he made a film called Food, Inc., which was not made for an Oscar, which played theatrically for many months in a lot of cities, not only in this country, but in Europe as well. The stories that are told in the broadcast on HBO are all going to be built out of stories that we're collecting online through a website, which I will plug now and forever throughout the show. It's meeting-stories.org, with a hyphen between meeting and stories. And there are sample stories up there. We're publishing stories, some of those that are coming in, and there's also a place obviously on the site where people can submit new stories, can be submit it as text, as a YouTube video. There's a place you can click a button, and you'll get a phone call from Google Voice, and you'll be able to speak your story in. It'll be recorded, and we'll use the audio or transcribe it or both. So the idea is, we're putting out as broad an invitation as possible, and Barry will talk about this in a minute, for people to tell a personal story about one or more people that they met in an online environment and how that extended into the real-life environment. And we're particularly interested in the ways in which the internet is changing relationships, changing not only the way people meet, but also how they interact afterward. So there are little samplers, and one of the stories on our YouTube channel, and that story is about a woman who lives in New Jersey who met a man living in Prague, Czechoslovakia, online. I don't want to give away the entire story, but it began online, and it developed very quickly online, and then it led to some really surprising things in the Real World. But it's also not just about internet dating; it's about people who meet professionally, and we've gotten stories from people who worked for a particular company and felt they were being exploited and found each other online, to give each other support, and then that ends up turning into personal support and friendship for years and years. There are all sorts of permutations. So our expectation is that the stories that actually make it into the hour show on HBO, each one of them will have some surprises. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I saw, looking online today at the page at the website called Stories, you have tags, and the size of the tag indicates how many stories there are at this point. Second Life is the largest tag or one of the largest. So I guess I'd encourage our viewers to go check that out and see what stories have already made it on, and certainly they should add. Barry, you are-- BARRY JOSEPH: And we can certainly share some highlights from that, Beyers, if you like. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, yeah. I'd love to hear some-- BARRY JOSEPH: I'm saying we can certainly share some of the highlights from those. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, let's hear them. BARRY JOSEPH: Some of the stories we're getting, of course, are positive and people talking 2
  3. 3. about how they met people who had become very significant in their lives, whether people they're partnered with now romantically or people who have impacted how they think of themselves. Some of them are negative, and they're not the happy stories, so we think it's very important that we make it clear that we're not trying to do one view or the other. We're not trying to do a piece--I say "we," of course, supporting Marc and Robbie in the process. What they're creating is not just about talking about the things that people should be afraid of online and, at the same time, is not about just giving a Pollyanna's view of this wonderful, magical potential, but reality--kind of cutting between the two and trying to get into the reality, get into the good stories. And sometimes the stories are happy, and sometimes they're sad. There's three stories currently featured right now, and, just to be clear, anyone who submits a story is putting a story in to be considered for the documentary. And the stories that Marc thinks are the best get featured and go live, and people can see publicly. One of the stories right now I'll talk about and then, Marc, I'll pass it back to you, and you can mention another. We often use the phrase, "We're in Kansas anymore." One of my favorite ones that's been featured starts in World of Warcraft, moves over to Second Life and then, in the Real World, ends up in Kansas, and it’s a woman talking about her experiences, in many ways, the life around her just crumbling: her business's, her family's, her relationships. And yet, World of Warcraft, through one of her children, becomes a place for her, a place of solace and a place to make connections. And through that she makes an unexpected connection with somebody that transfers from the online to the offline world. And through that relationship comes a certain level of stability so that World of Warcraft no longer becomes a form of kind of self-medication one could say. When she looks for other places online to connect, Second Life becomes that place, and that becomes a place where she gets more of healthy relationships that help sustain her. And then that Real World relationship she now has with a person she met from World of Warcraft becomes her partner, and then together they move to Kansas, where he's from. So it's a very nice story. Marc, do you want to talk about any of the other two? MARC WEISS: I think probably we should use the time here to talk about other things. People can certainly go and look at the site, so I'll pass on that opportunity but certainly would encourage people to take a look at the stories that are on the site. You can do searches three or four different ways. You can certainly just search with the term "Second Life," and you'll get the three stories that have been published. We've probably had about a dozen submitted that touch on Second Life in one way or another. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now, Barry, you're wearing a big button that I understand what people can just drag a note card over and submit their story that way. Hopefully, Treet can get a nice capture of what-- BARRY JOSEPH: Thank you for noticing. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: --while you tell us. Yeah. Will you tell us what exactly is Global Kids' role in this documentary? Because there are no stories about kids. Is that right? BARRY JOSEPH: Thanks for asking. That's right. And, as your viewers know who have heard us here in the past, both myself and Rik Panganiban, the majority of our work is working with young people, using a variety of digital media, including Virtual Worlds like Second Life. But what we also do is support educators and civic and culture institutions, to bring digital media into their education, and, as such, a lot of our work is working with adults. We have created and are 3
  4. 4. part of many networks of educators and other adults who care about what's happening in the online sphere. So when Marc and I were having lunch last fall and he told me about this project, that they had some stories already but they needed a few more, we said, "Well, what about us? We can bring a lot to the table and using our resources and our knowledge of Web 2.0 spaces and our networks, to try and bring in some stories." And, again, not just stories about relationships that are romantic, but all types of relationships and really kind of highlight the ways that the internet has the potential to deeply impact people's lives through relationships online that can then have an impact offline. So we're doing all the kind of things that many viewers can imagine. We're doing stuff in Facebook, on Twitter. We're doing stuff on YouTube, and, of course, we're doing stuff in Second Life as well. We've gone to many of the Second Life groups within Facebook. We've gone to many of the groups, a variety of sorts, within Second Life, in a number of communities, from people organized around disability issues to people who are going to certain types of clubs. Because we know that to reach to people in Second Life, you go where people are. We were really excited when the folks from Linden Lab had contacted us when they heard about it and said, "What can we do to help? How can we help get out the word so we can get some of the good stories about what's happening in Second Life?" And we were delighted to get that response, but, at the same time, I know from my time of almost six years-plus, I think, in Second Life, the way to get to folks is to go directly to the communities, to go into things like the SLED List, posting on RezEd.org. Thanks, Fleep, you got it: RezEd.org, the online community for educators using Virtual Worlds. And it's been so exciting seeing stories come in. And while we've been delighted by having certain online dating sites, who also want to help us out and are trying to send folks their way. The stories we get from folks in Second Life don't feel like they're coming from any company. Right? They feel like they're coming from individual users who have their stories to tell for better and for worse, and they're honest, and they're grounded, and they're emotional. And they include stories, and they include videos, and they really tell very compelling stories about how Second Life has made a difference in someone's life. Sometimes as individuals. And most of the stories we tend to get are between two people, but many of the stories we've gotten that are about groups of people have been Second Life stories. They've been people who've used them for education, for example, or support groups, and that says a lot, I think, about how people use Second Life to connect, that isn't just one on one, but it's also many to many. But small groups. And it says a lot about the power that a small group can have and the abilities for Second Life to support small groups to find each other and make a difference in their lives. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: As long as we're talking about people meeting, how did you two meet? BARRY JOSEPH: Marc, do you want to start or should I? MARC WEISS: I'll kick it off. I had been working at POV for about ten years and had been doing a lot of different kinds of experiments with internet tools in the early '90s, had several experiments that were just wonderful beyond our dreams, had really incredible impact on the people who participated in the online environment. This was '95 and '96 so, by '96, I was really 4
  5. 5. excited about the potential of the internet, but could also see that we needed to carve out some space for nonprofit, public-interest work because it was already beginning to be apparent that commercial interests were going to come in and potentially, with the resources they have, dominate. So I decided to leave POV and start this organization, Web Lab, in late '96, early '97. Barry, why don't you pick it up from there? What did you see about Web Lab? BARRY JOSEPH: Well, I think the first piece of press you got was in the New York Times, although I don't remember if it was the only online version to cover the internet at the time. I forget when that moved over. I remember Lisa Napoli wrote the piece. And, at that time, I was working in the commercial web-development world. I had been on track to become a social worker when, in the summer of '95, internet stuff started in New York City, the whole new media scene, and I thought it would be something fun to do for a few months before the internet went away. Well, still here. But during that time, I left to do the commercial work and kind of cut my teeth in that space, but though I learned a lot and enjoyed a lot about it, the things that made me interested in social work was also making me feel like the commercial work I was doing, doing things like producing Car and Driver Magazine online, was kind of soulless. I was going to go back. I was going to leave New Media. I was going to go back to social work, and I thought, well, let me take one last stab. If I can find a way to do what interests me around social work, which was about helping people address issues, social issues, public issues that impact their lives, that address issues around things like racism and sexism, but use internet as a way to either talk about those issues or let people personally explore them, that would be worth sticking around. I didn't know if it was possible. I didn't know if it was even something that could happen on the internet. And then I read this article about what Marc was doing. Suzanne Seggerman had just started as well, and the two of them had this idea to, as Marc's talking about, fund people to do innovative stuff on the internet, around personal and social issues. Except it was clear to me that they didn't have anyone who knew websites. I didn't know Marc personally at the time, but I certainly knew POV. I knew things like Tongues Untied that had created lots of national attention around what it meant to be Black and to be gay. I knew about Michael Moore, who came up through POV., and the idea of what this man could with the internet, taking that same kind of passion and commitment, was tremendously exciting. This is a project we're working on now about people meeting online. I read about what he was doing online, and I emailed him. He wasn't looking to hire someone. There was no job opening, but I figured I had nothing to lose. I was going to leave New Media, and I might as well describe what, for me, would be the perfect job, working with him and just give it a shot. So I wrote this maybe page, page and a half, "You should hire me and here's why," and I sent it off to him. Marc, what did you think when you got it? MARC WEISS: I thought, "Wow! This is amazing." As you said, I wasn't looking to hire another person at that point, but I thought, "Well, I better check this guy out," and I think I emailed you back, and I said, "Let's meet for breakfast or something, and-- BARRY JOSEPH: Which became before breakfast. MARC WEISS: Yes, well, they always do. And I just wanted to find out who you were and how your mind worked and what your passions were. And the more we talked, the more I realized I ought to create a position for you. I ought to figure out--it would be an incredible opportunity lost if I didn't figure out a way to carve out some space for you at Web Lab. And once I said, "What can this be," you had more ideas than I had about what you could be doing. So this is our little love story. 5
  6. 6. BARRY JOSEPH: [CROSSTALK] photo in Metanomics you guys put together the two of us. It looks like we're one of the stories that was submitted. MARC WEISS: We don't have to beat this story to death. Basically we began to work together, and Barry brought brilliance. I do take exception to one thing you said, Barry. Actually, I had been doing websites for two years before that so I knew my way around the web, but-- BARRY JOSEPH: Absolutely. MARC WEISS: --you brought a lot of other perspectives into it and incredible energy and imagination. I think Web Lab was really shaped as much by your ideas and your vision as it was by anybody's. And one of the projects that I know Rob was interested in was the small group-dialogue technique that we developed together, but that was originally your brainchild. Do you want to talk about that for a second? BARRY JOSEPH: Sure. I appreciate your sending it back to me, and I'll give you as much credit as me. One of the things that we were able to do early on at Web Lab was think about how can the internet support existing old-media projects, like documentaries on television. And given Marc's relationship with POV, we had a great opportunity to work with really powerful documentaries and incredible content and figure out how to support people online to connect with it. But Marc and I both had similar experience, but in different ways with dialogues online, and Marc can talk about more the details of his, but we both had experiences where we saw it was very possible for people to have really substantive, hard-hitting conversations with strangers on the internet, using text. And, at the same time, we saw many, many of these things just evolve into absolute nonsense, flame wars and what not. So we were interested in trying to figure out for POV how to create a space that could guarantee good conversations for every single one of these documentaries, pretty high bar. What we started looking at, at the time, was how it wasn't the secret to having a good conversation, it was in finding the right people. And the secret wasn't having the right topic. The secret was looking at how the current structure of how conversations were held at the time online played into certain notions which I think deserves to be criticized, that were inherent in part of what made the internet so exciting at first. It was that space where you can do whatever you want. So many of the libertarian values that shaped online communities created spaces for online dialogue that meant that anyone could say whatever they wanted. There shouldn't be any restrictions to getting in. And pretty much the bad voices would just shout out the good. If you went to a New York Times article at the time and you read the comments, and probably if you do it now as well, you'd see lots of people posting things, and, at best, you have people posting one good comment and leaving. And so what we decided to do was see what happens if you change the structure. Right? Let's say for the sake of argument you have a thousand people who want to talk about a topic. Rather than having a thousand people in one space to communicate, why don't we break it down to groups of 50, 20 groups, a number that roughly gives you enough people where even people who are silent make an impact because you notice them not speaking. And everyone can learn everybody's name. Rather than having everyone commit to do it for an indefinite period of time that runs into the future, let's say it's going to be for three weeks. You can really say we're going to start and end 6
  7. 7. together, rather than being a revolving door for each person. What if you took a line between anyone can say whatever they wanted and someone coming in as a really heavy-handed moderator. We called this indirect moderation where we would suggest topics, and we would kind of move people in certain directions, but, in the end, it was up to the people in the group to decide if it worked well or if it didn't work at all. Finally, we just put out values, civil values, civic values about what should happen in that space, just as everyone does, and most people we figured just would zoom to the bottom and click "I agree." But what happened because we were empowering people in the conversations is that, when people did act out--and people would occasionally act out--other people in the group felt empowered to police it. And so as a result, we ended up with this really powerful technique that we didn't just use at POV, but put together for my three years when I was at Web Lab and separately since I went on to Global Kids and what Marc's continued at Web Lab we've done some really powerful things working with different governmental agencies, nonprofits, work we've done with MacArthur Foundation, to get people across all sorts of boundaries to really connect on really hot-button issues and always do it in a very civil way, creating really powerful conversations for both the people who are in it and for people who want to watch it online or read the archives. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You're describing asynchronous text conversations. Right? So basically comment threads, like you would see on the New York Times. Is that right? BARRY JOSEPH: That sounds so Web 2.0. MARC WEISS: Yes and no. BARRY JOSEPH: Yes. [CROSSTALK] going, Marc. MARC WEISS: It is text, and there are topics within each group. The way you'd see it structured, if you went to a typical dialogue is, first you'd go and you'd see a list of the groups, and there'd be as many groups as there were needed to accommodate the number of people who wanted to participate. So, as Barry said, if there were a thousand people and we'd put them in groups of 50, there would be 20 groups. Within each of those 20 groups, there would be an essentially bulletin-board style discussion. And, within each topic, the people who were most interested in that topic would be posting. We would create some topics along the way for things that we were suggesting people could talk about, but people were also free to open their own topics at will. We learned, over time, that there were certain topics that emerged in several or many different groups because that's what people in a lot of different groups were interested in talking about. We would start sending out a little newsletter once a day or once every two or three days and say, "Well, people in groups 3, 7 and 14 are talking about these three topics, if any of you want to pick up on that and run with it." And also people would cross-fertilize, groups who would see things that were happening in other groups. And we would do something which we called featured posts or featured discussions, where we would highlight some things that we thought were particularly interesting in one group for people across all groups to be able to access. So we try to create this kind of choreography where, as Barry said, or if he didn't say it, a phrase that we kind of coin: Instead of the bad driving out the good, instead of the people who were misbehaving kind of making everybody else throw up their hands in disgust and run out of the run, we created a situation in which the good drove out the bad. 7
  8. 8. BARRY JOSEPH: That's right. MARC WEISS: And most often it wasn't driving out the bad in the sense that people actually left the dialogue; it was that people who were starting to misbehave, there was a kind of social pressure on them to align with the values of the group and to be more respectful of each other. And, in one dialogue we did during the course of the Clinton impeachment process in the fall of 1998. We had something like, what was it, 14,000 posts over the course of several months. BARRY JOSEPH: That sounds right. MARC WEISS: I think it was about 800 or 900 participants. We never had to kick anybody out of that dialogue. That was one of the most polarized topics probably of the decade. People were shouting at each other about it in all sorts of environments, people who wanted to string Clinton up and tar and feather him. There were others who felt that he was being victimized by rightwing conspiracies. But, within the dialogue that we did, which was called Reality Check, there actually were people who disagreed, but disagreed respectfully. And we coined the term "dialogues across differences," and it was really transformative for the people who participated. They had the option, if they wanted to, to extend their discussion, and we started off with a three-week or four-week, and, if they wanted to keep going, they were able to. And, in many cases, those discussions went on for months. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I want to ask whether you see a role for synchronous voice conversations. Would you see that being beneficial to add in so that people could, for example, come into a Virtual World, a Second Life, with a headset and carry on a conversation perhaps during that three-week period? BARRY JOSEPH: It's interesting to think about ten, thirteen years later now, what does it mean to think about trying to make the internet more personal and bring it down to size so that people in groups can connect with each other and make a difference, now that we have all these Web 2.0 tools, these very powerful ways. And, of course, just more powerful technology, like a Second Life, like audio. In many ways, back in that Web 1.0 world, what you were dealing with was getting strangers to talk to each other. And now in our Web 2.0 space, it's more like it's the people you know, who are also online that you're connecting with. So part of the value of what made those conversations so powerful is that you didn't know who the other people were, and you would never know who they were. They weren't about connecting with them in your life. At the same time, part of what we were pushing up against was the thing that makes people want to say things that are really extreme, to get heard, the things that make you respond from your gut, and partially slowing down the process that allowed that to work, forcing someone who wanted to be in their own group to have to actually wait a few hours, maybe even a few days before their group was ready to launch, forcing it to be an environment where you were typing asynchronously. It wasn't a live chat. And when live chat came around, we avoided including it because it forced people to have to slow down. So I think there's something very, very useful about voice. It's great for classroom environments to connect with each other. It’s great for this environment right here where you can simulate a talk show within Second Life. But, to get that same kind of deep impact where people are thinking seriously about what they're doing, thinking about the impact on the people who they're talking to, if you're going to try and build a relationship over time, there's just something more 8
  9. 9. deliberative about text that makes me think that you don't start with voice. That's something you'd want to bring in once those relationships are in place. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Marc, after this single HBO shows airs, what will you be doing as follow-up? Do you see a series of small-group dialogues following that episode? And do you see more episodes following that episode? MARC WEISS: Well, I guess I should step back a second and describe a little bit about where this project--what it came out of. The idea that Robby and I have been pursuing for a while was actually to create a series, a broadcast television series, each episode of which would be compiled based on first-person stories submitted to us online. Last year we did a little sampler where we actually collected stories on this topic as an example of one of the topics that we might cover in a series, kind of the way in which contemporary life is being transformed, not just by new technologies, but also by public issues of various kinds and just the rhythm of life. The working title for the series is Think Again, and the idea was to collect stories from across the political spectrum, first-person stories about how somebody's attitudes or beliefs about a particular issue, whether personal or political, whether it be about parenthood or about unwanted pregnancies and abortion, but that we would look for first-person personal stories about how somebody's attitudes were shaped by that experience. We would collect these stories. We would do a selection of stories that reflected a variety of perspectives on that issue, and then a given episode would treat that one topic. So Robby and I, as I said, we started gathering stories last year for this topic and one other topic, and we decided to produce a sampler on meeting-online stories because it was a little bit more accessible. We took the sampler, which was about a 25-minute piece with three segments, out to broadcast networks and cable networks to pitch the series idea. And what happened was, when we brought the sampler to HBO, they said HBO doesn't actually commission nonfiction series from outside producers. They commission fiction series, but not nonfiction series. But they said, "We love this, and, if you wanted to expand this one thing to an hour, we'd love to put it on." And we said, "That's great." And our experience is, once we put it on, people who see it are going to want to tell their own stories. And there'll be some people who are going to want to talk about it for sure. So we will try and create opportunities, after the broadcast, for people to--obviously the site will continue to remain open for people to submit new stories. It's easy to imagine that we'll get a whole new rush of stories and that we could even do a follow-up show six months or a year down the road. But, yes, if we have the resources, we also would love to do small-group dialogues for people to be able to explore some of the issues. The stories that we choose are going to have an emotional impact. They're going to be about both funny, exhilarating, as well as sometimes dramatic and wrenching stories. And, yes, there will be an opportunity for some kind of dialogue afterward. It might be a very short-term thing. It might be just a week. It may not be topics that sustain a long-term discussion. But, if we were able to do a follow-up show for HBO on a different topic, on unwanted pregnancies, gays in the military or anything that's more of a polarized issue, you could imagine a follow-up discussion that could go on for quite a long time. And, again, a dialogue across differences, a dialogue with people who start off from very different places, but who are willing to listen to the perspective of somebody who they wouldn't encounter in everyday life. Not just willing to, but actually who welcome the opportunity. 9
  10. 10. BARRY JOSEPH: And even though Marc's been doing this for over 15 years now, the same questions that he was asking when he started and I think what I was asking and got to join him in thinking about it, about do you connect people online for civic discussion around hard-hitting issues, we still don't have a lot of examples to look at online. We see more people who are online, and we see ways that people are finding to connect with each other, but we still see a lack of places for people to go to when something really hard-hitting hits the news and you want to be able to join a space so you can connect with folks who don't just sound like you and aren't just saying the same thing as you're saying and be able to engage in a conversation. In fact, it might even be worse today than it was back when Marc and I started working together. So in some ways, I'm excited we have this opportunity to share what we were doing before, excited to talk about the project that Marc is leading right now, to show how people are connecting online, but, at the same time, it's a little bit disheartening to think about how we haven't moved that piece forward. We've moved people online. We've moved the potential and the affordances of digital media and the impact it can have on civic society. We have lots of examples of social change and people organizing. But that piece, the piece about the dialogue, it still feels like we haven't moved that ball as forward as much as we should have. Marc, I know how much those people were asking questions, but I'm wondering if you agree or disagree with that. MARC WEISS: I agree totally. And I think it would be great actually--Rob, you may have more questions--but if there is anybody who's in the audience, who might have questions, this might be a good time, but I'm not going to take over the host's role. I'll leave you to that, Rob. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Actually, I have one that just came in, that I think is a great one. It's from Fleep Tuque, and she asks, "Sometimes those with the most powerful stories to tell are hesitant to do so. How do you encourage people to tell difficult stories? Are there good techniques to bring out stories from the shy?" MARC WEISS: That is a terrific question. That's a great question. In the context of the website, one of the things that we do is, we try and model a range of the kinds of stories we're looking for so, if we can get the first or a second story from somebody who, from the way they talk about it, you can see that they are hesitant to tell their story, but kind of tentatively stepping forward. And if we publish that, that's one way that other people can be encouraged. On the site, you're able to create a screen name. You don't have to be identified by your real name. You don't have to submit pictures of yourself. So we have that anonymity that protects people. It becomes more complicated if we want to go ahead and do something on HBO. If we want to film you, it's conceivable we could protect your identity and film you in a way that people couldn't see your face, and change your voice. Obviously, you can't do that too much on television because it becomes a little bit visually monotonous. Mostly people want to see people's expressions when they're talking. But anyway, in the dialogue space, it's much, much more interesting. Barry mentioned before when people are silent, they're visible, in the small-group dialogues at least. And often people will lurk for three, four, five days, a week and then post just one tentative comment. When the dialogue is really cooking and when people are really engaged by it, the other participants will welcome that person into the group. That's one of the beauties of creating a structure that people take ownership of themselves. They become the hosts. People step into that role, and they encourage people to speak more, and they ask questions. It's a great process to see some of the lookers come out of the shadows. Does that answer the question? 10
  11. 11. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Sorry, I had my mute button on. BARRY JOSEPH: You got to hate that, right? ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yes, yes, I thought that was excellent. I'm not used to doing this from a hotel room. I have a very different setup here. I'm on the 27th floor of a hotel in Chicago and totally surrounded by fog, by the way. I can see about 30 feet out my window. But I wanted to ask kind of a flip side of the question that Fleep asked, which is: It seems like, in the wrong hands, this episode or a series based on this idea could turn into the worst of reality television or one of those daytime talk shows where people end up throwing things at one another. So I'm wondering, Marc, how do you create the right sensibility to do what you have done and get a reputation as treating the issues with respect and not just being a sensationalist while still engaging people? MARC WEISS: Well, maybe I could give you an example from way back deep in history, actually the one experience I had that really propelled me and compelled me to start Web Lab. This is a little bit of a story, but I'll try and tell it quickly. BARRY JOSEPH: It's a good one. MARC WEISS: Thanks, Barry. In the summer of '96, POV was going to be broadcasting a film about Maya Lin, who's the woman who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. And anybody who's visited that knows that it's a very powerful experience to stand in front of that wall. But the experience is different for each person, and it's different based on what their relationship to the people whose names are on the wall and their relationship to the Vietnam War. So we decided to create a website in conjunction with that broadcast that--and this is really one of the antecedents to what we're doing right now--would be an opportunity for people--there were two parts to the site. One was, we invited people to tell a first-person story about how experiences during the Vietnam era shaped who they became, shaped their values, their relationships, their career choices, whether they fought in the war and came back and felt they had to be silent about their experiences, whether they protested the war, whether they lost a loved one. In some cases, they were the children of people who had fought in the [AUDIO GLITCH]. Long before the site went public, we had a couple of people who we asked to go out and collect starter stories for the site, which we actually solicited stories from 20, 30 different people, from a Gold Star mother, woman who had lost a son during the war, from a decorated Vietnam vet; from a prominent anti-war activist; from an anti-war activist whose name would not be recognizable by anybody, just a kind of rank and file. So the idea, as you can see, is to really get the diversity of voices and have those represented on the site. So the moment the broadcast went on the air and the moment there was a notice at the end, "Come and visit this website. Read the stories. Tell your story," when people went to the site, there already were, I don't know how many, ten, fifteen, twenty stories that represented this range and where people could see that we were genuinely interested in representing all points of view and doing it in a way that was respectful of those points of view. And then we began the dialogue. There was also a dialogue area on the site that began in the context of two things. One was the broadcast of the film, which was a very powerful, really moving film, not just about the building of the wall, but about the impact that it's had on people who visit it. And then the other part of 11
  12. 12. the website, which was the stories. So the dialogue that began there, which we hoped would be a discussion. This was I should say before the small-group dialogue technique and this was really an open-posting bulletin board. And we had very little to say about how it unfolded. But the dialogue on that website was so deep and so powerful, in particular for the Vietnam vets who said that they were forced by conversations with people who they disagreed with on the website, they were forced to rethink their own attitudes about themselves and about who had been opposed to the war. They learned things about themselves that they had never imagined they would ever go there. They then fed back into the dialogues, created a very rich environment, and the online dialogue on that site, which is, by the way, still public--you can still go back and see that website and all the dialogues are archived--14 years later. If you want to go, the shortcut there is stories.org. The formal name of the site is Regarding Vietnam Stories Since the War. That experience was one, a very positive one, that really kind of gave me a glimpse into the power and the potential of the web as a place to convene people to talk about difficult issues in a new way, in some cases, in ways that you couldn't even do in an offline environment. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Very interesting. Thank you. Definitely a great story to have on Metanomics. Let's see. I see we don't have a huge amount of time left. I'd also like to get your thoughts, Marc, on where you see I'd say "the" industry going, but you told me a little while back you said, if you had three legs, you would have each one in a different industry. So can I ask you first: How do you see the business that you're in? What businesses are you in? MARC WEISS: Well, I'm involved in not so much as a business, Web Lab is a not-for-profit that is focused on internet tools and digital life, but also how those interact with traditional media, in particular with television and with film. Now those other two things, I've got the TV background with POV and the new series that Robby and I are trying to launch. In the film world, I've been an independent documentary producer for some years and producing actually two shows for HBO now, the Meeting Online and another show that I can't talk about here right now. And then I also executive-produced a film that was just recently finished, that's a feature film that will be opening at a film festival in Washington, D.C. in May. That's a behind-the-scenes look at the confirmation process for Bush's three Supreme Court nominees: Roberts, Meyers and Alito. So I'm involved in those three areas. And I guess what I would say about broadcasting is that it's in disarray. A lot of the major decision-makers in broadcasting can feel that their grasp of what's going on in their medium is slipping away. They're losing audience. Audiences are fragmenting, and they have very little imagination about how to take advantage of new media tools to re-engage their audience in new ways. So as Robby and I took this series idea around, which is very much a hybrid in which we're using both new media and old media and kind of handing off between the two, we got a lot of very puzzled looks from people who really, at this day and age, should know that this is potentially an idea that could save their butts, pull their bacon out of the fire. This is not to say that the conversations haven't continued. We're still talking with a couple of those folks, and they haven't said no yet, but they haven't quite figured out how they could make these ideas work in their broadcast environment because the news departments are cutting back. If you watch any over-the-air broadcasts, a lot of news things are crime stories. They're not even about public issues anymore. So that industry is in real flight, and, in particular, I think a failure of imagination about how they could take advantage of the tools that are out there. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So if I could follow up on that, Marc, as I say, one of what appears to 12
  13. 13. me to be one of your big innovations is the idea of creating small groups, actually almost like fragmenting your own audience so it's almost like what you've been doing seems the opposite of what broadcasters have traditionally tried to do, which is bring more and more people together in a single big event, the Super Bowl or something like that. How is it that you see that the direction you're going would be scalable and would somehow provide, ultimately, revenue for the broadcasters or filmmakers? MARC WEISS: Very good question. Actually, I didn't describe the model very well. Let me tell you what the model for the series is. It's really using each of the media in ways that are most appropriate for them. It's not trying to smoosh them together and create one thing. It's to use broadcasting as a storytelling medium as a "one to many" medium, where you have really crafted work that goes out, that's made by a producing team and aggregates potentially a very large mass audience because the stories you're telling are amazing stories that you couldn't get any other way. And everybody has a chance to tell their story, and everybody has the possibility, in theory at least, of having their story make it onto the series. The internet component of it and the new media component of it is the way in which you can give each person the opportunity to have a customized experience at the level they're interested. Some may want to just look at one of the segments streaming online. Others may want to get into a dialogue. Others may want to submit their own story. I mean there are all sorts of opportunities for people to do in the online environment much, much more participatory and much, much more particular to their interests, their time and so forth. And then, presumably that rich experience that people can have in the online environment makes them more interested in what the next broadcast is going to be, gives them the opportunity, for example, to suggest topics for a broadcast. So there are ways in which we could bring people in, in a much more participatory way and create something that has an impact on the culture, something when the broadcast goes on, on a weekly basis, we could potentially have a lot of excitement about what stories are going to be told, what are the next topics going to be. When people see the broadcast and we promise that two months later we’re going to do a follow-up broadcast with the stories that come in, it's kind of taking what already happens. Right now you can go on American Idol. You can text, and you can vote for one of the contestants; that's just a little, teensy taste of what it could be in enriched media environment, the one that we're trying to describe and trying to create. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Great. Thank you. That was a very helpful clarification. I think I understand the model a lot better now. I see we're basically at the top of the hour, and I'm sure there are many things that we haven't touched on. What I'd like to do is ask each of you what point you most wish we could have talked about more and that you'd like to make in closing. So, Barry, do you want to? BARRY JOSEPH: I would just say that so much of what we're about is not about us speaking, but giving spaces and opportunities for others to. So clearly that's not what the format of the show is, but I would love to be hearing more from folks about what their stories are. Part of what's been going on during the back channel having people inspired by what Marc's been saying, trying to figure out how we can create some kind of project where people share their stories about what it's meant for them being in Second Life. And it's those kinds of ways that people can be inspired by projects like this that I think is most interesting and hearing those voices and seeing where they could go. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And, Marc? 13
  14. 14. MARC WEISS: I really want to echo what Barry just said. The thing that's most exciting and most interesting about this project, for me, is the voices that we hear, not our own voices, but the voices of many people who come to the site--I'm using the word "voice" broadly here--text or whatever it may be. And the diversity of the stories and the richness of the stories and how deeply felt many of them are. That, to me, is the essence of what makes this project work or not work is the ways in which people bring themselves into this project. What I would love to be able to do is to figure out ways that there could be some collaborative process behind the scenes so that it could be much richer for everybody. We haven't quite gotten there yet because we're focusing on the near term, which is collecting the stories and going out and filming them. We've got some deadlines that we've got to meet. But I think the possibility of collaboration down the road is very exciting. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Do you have an air date set yet for this HBO show? MARC WEISS: The tentative air date is Valentine's Day, 2011. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, okay. MARC WEISS: That could change. BARRY JOSEPH: But I want to remind folks that, even though it's going to be a while before it airs, stories that are featured will still be available, as of now. They already are on the website at meeting-stories.org. You don't have to wait to see some of the amazing stories that are coming in. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And I'd like to chime in along those lines that I know, once you get the story, there's a lot of work involved in actually having it either get into the show itself or simply even influence the perspective that the show takes. Viewers may remember we had Douglas Rushkoff on the show right before Virtual Nation aired, and, of course, it was too late for us to influence that message at all, and I have to admit, even on the air, I didn't particularly care for it, but I already said that a long time ago. Anyway, I would like to thank you both so much for coming on the show, Barry Joseph and Marc Weiss. Good luck to both of you as you work together to pull off this very fascinating project. And, who knows? Maybe HBO viewers would love to hear the story of an accountant who found Second Life and a community and became a talk-show host. I don't know. Ehh! Probably not that riveting. But thanks so much. I want to tell everyone, all our viewers, that this is our 99th show of Metanomics, which means next week is our one hundredth. BARRY JOSEPH: Congratulations! ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you. Thank you. And so we're going to have a party to celebrate and especially to thank the many, many people who have made this happen over the last whatever it is, a little over two and a half years. We've had so many people who have been volunteers, who have been staff members, who have been guests and supporters in other ways and, of course, the audience and chiming in on chat, as you've done today. It couldn't happen without you. So I hope you'll join us for our post-one-hundredth show party. It'll start about half an hour after the show ends. And, as I think I saw someone say in chat, I actually am going to have a jazz band and sing some standards, some songs where I change the words a little to 14
  15. 15. make them more Second Life relevant and also wrote some of my own songs. So I hope you'll join us. See you next week. Our guest is the cofounder of-- BARRY JOSEPH: From accountant to talk-show host to singer. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: --OkCupid, Sam Yagan. Ah, well, you know you got to do something to fill the void in an accountant's life. Thanks, everyone, for coming. And see you next week. Bye bye. Document: cor1083.doc Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com http://www.hiredhandtranscription.org 15