An Evening of Awesome redux

First, I want to say that I wasn't all that scared.  I was surprised, because it seemed like a situation that ought to have been really scary.  But getting there went very smoothly, and there wasn't really anything to be particularly terrified of. The show, by the way, was awesome.

This isn't going to be a bery directly informative post, because I don't really know how to report on something like this.  It's kind of a blur.  A big, extraordinary blur.

I really hope the opening bit was unplanned.  Or, rather, because it couldn't possibly have been totally unplanned, I hope Hank really hadn't told John he was doing it.  (John came out to give an opening speech, and Hank started singing a jingle-like routine about Carnegie Hall.  Then he kept cutting in over John's narration, and John seemed genuinely surprised, and a little annoyed, by it.  It was very funny.)

John's speech after that, which was obviously planned and fairly serious, was also incredibly moving.  More than Hank's goofy singing, I think John's speech set the tone for the night.  (Hank's singing seriously contributed to the tone, though, which is a very good thing.)

Here's a link directly to the right part of the video.  Unfortunately, apparently YouTube no longer makes it easy to link directly to partway through a youTube video, so if you're watching this at the embed below, it's at 46:00.

A recurring theme throughout the night is the idea that art isn't about convincing people who disagree with it that they're wrong, it's about letting people who are already in the kind of place that the book is about, that they're not alone.  John talks about it in that segment, listening to the Mountain Goats reminded me of that idea over and over again, and Neil Gaiman (who, holy crap, was there) talked about it when he talked about the sense of security he gets around the writing that makes him feel most exposed, because the response he gets, from thousands of people, is "I thought I was the only one."

By the way, the musical guests were all awesome.  (I nearly wrote "Apart from Hank," but that's not fair.  Hank is awesome.  I just didn't think of him as a musical guest.)  I had heard the Mountain Goats a bit before, not a whole bunch, but seeing them live is really amazing, and makes me want to look into more of their work.  One of their songs, "Love, Love, Love," has kept me thinking for a while now about that idea of art meeting you where you're at -- all their songs, but this one in particular, seem like the kinds of songs that would be perfect for someone who's at a place where it's what they need to hear.  They pull this off, it seems, by being near-completely inscrutible to people who don't necessarily need them.  Personally, I keep feeling like I'm on the edge of knowing what that particular song is talking about, which is weirdly annoying.

I had never heard the other musical guest, Kimya Dawson, before.  Well, that's not entirely true.  Looking into it today I discovered that she's the singer from the Mouldy Peaches, who I have heard before.  But I'd never heard any of her solo stuff, and it's really incredibly amazing.  She performed "I Like Giants" and "Same Shit/Complicated," and in doing so convinced me that I need to listen to way more of her music.

Did I mention, by the way, that Neil Gaiman was there?  It was crazy.  He actually tweeted that he wished he could have been there during the show, while he was backstage in order to secure the secrecy of his appearance.  He was on stage with Hannah Hart and John and Hank Green for Question Tuesday, where Hannah asked Hank questions and Neil asked John questions, and mysterious voices from back stage gave warnings about time running out.

Below this paragraph is an embed of the show -- the show part doesn't start for like a half an hour, but it's okay, you can skip the static screen that's part of the first huge chunk of the livestream video.  Nothing important happens then.

Don't forget to be awesome.

Evening of Awesome

If all has gone according to plan, as of this post's publication I am in New York.  Probably, I'm in the process of walking from the bus station to Carnegie Hall, for John and Hank Green's Evening of Awesome.  And if all has gone according, not to plan, but to expectation, I am terrified. Not of New York in particular, but of being in a situation where I am very far from home with very limited options if things don't go quite according to plan.  It's particularly stressful because I'm hoping to have a very good night, and if that doesn't happen, it's going to be more disappointing than usual.  Bad nights are one thing, bad nights during which I've spent several hours in Carnegie Hall watching two people I admire talk is quite another thing.

To be honest I don't even begin to know what to expect, so I can hardly blog about it in advance.  In consequence, the blogging about the Evening of Awesome will have to wait until tomorrow, Wednesday, some time in the evening.  And probably written kind of loopily, because I don't get home unitl noon of the following day.

Lizzie Bennet Diaries episode 77 is up!

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was gone for a week, and they left off on a huge cliffhanger -- so I'm super excited that they're back. And ohmygod it's SO GOOD.


Not really commentary, but spoiler containing blogging below the fold.

I spend the whole video really loudly hoping that the weird/quirky/cool tour guide girl was going to turn out to be Gigi.  And she TOTALLY DID!  OMGSOEXCITED

(Sorry.  I'll calm down.  This blog isn't tumblr.)

So I went and checked out Gigi's twitter, where I discovered this adorable conversation between her and Fitz:

(NOTE: I'm having problems with the tweet-embedding, so just in case I haven't been able to get it to work, here is a link to the conversation on Twitter.)

(NOTE 2: I never got it to work.  So I guess you have to click the link if you want to see that conversation.  Sorry...)

I'm so happy that Gigi likes Lizzie!  This is such a good series I can't even begin to express how into this I am.  (I really need to read the book soon.  I think I will search through my personal library today to see if I have a copy kicking around.)

Signal boost: Lydia Bennet: Problematic to Practically Perfect...

One of my favorite shows on the internet right now is the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, "An online modernized adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice."  My favorite character is totally Lizzie, but pretty much everyone in the series is brilliantly fleshed out -- and, thbrogan writes on the tumblr, the youngest Bennet, Lydia, is an extraordinarily well-constructed character.

Lydia Bennet is the youngest of three sisters. She is the “problematic” to Jane’s “practically perfect in every way.” The world sees Lydia as it wants to see her - as a slutty wild child with no brain and no future - when at her core, she is just lost and confused. Where do people’s opinions of her end, and where does she begin?

I love this post, and it really highlights for me why I love the LBD.  No one in the story universe is a side-character to someone else's narrative.  Everyone's story is about themselves, Lizzie and Lydia just happen to be the ones who do the most taping and putting on the internet.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: OMG.

Pretty much this whole post is going to be below the fold, because it features spoilers of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries.  As a consolation, here's a link to a playlist of the first 10 episodes.

 And here's the new episode, in which SPOILER BELOW

Are you ready?  Okay.  In which we finally see Darcy.

Who, by the way, looked ridiculously familiar, and I couldn't figure out why.  At first, I thought he was the guy from the Put This On videos, being similarly round-faced and well-dressed.

Not quite, though.  I briefly entertained the possibility that it was Michael Swaim, but (though I couldn't totally remember what he looked like) I knew the voice was way off.

So, I checked the video credits on the Lizzie Bennet Diaries page. (I should probably have thought of that sooner.)  It turns out it's Daniel Vincent Gordh, and I was on the right track with Michael Swaim, because I know him from his Cracked videos, in which he looks substantially more ridiculous.

Changing topics now,

I don't know how I feel about Lizzie's and Darcy's on-screen chemistry.  They both seem incredibly stodgy and awkward, but I kind of feel like they're supposed to?  I don't know.  On the one hand, I feel strongly like there's something wrong with the way they're acting on screen.  On the other, I feel like it might just be that I've been spoiled by decades of smooth likable leading men, or a very particular kind of awkward, that makes it difficult to accept other kinds of performances.

Also: Darcy is in the thumbnail for the next video!  I can't wait.  I can't wait so much.

Hank Green's Good Samaritan App

[notice]This is only a hypothetical app, but should totally exist.[/notice] Hank Green, Vlogbrother rockstar, posted this picture on Twitter last night, and it received "significant interest."

I didn't see it at first, but across the top, there's a feature I wish I had.  "If found, slide to contact owner."

Hank says about the idea:

I have, several times in my life, found people’s phones and then called or texted people in their contacts to get in touch with the person who owns the phone. There’s nothing more horrible than losing a phone. It’s expensive, inconvenient, and potentially dangerous (if you don’t have a lock on it, passwords are easy to find.)

But if you do have a lock on it, the occasional good Samaritan will be stumped for ways to get the phone back to you.

I’d much rather there just be a feature that you can turn on to allow someone who found your phone to get in touch with you immediately. Strictly optional, of course, but you can set it up to allow the nice person to send you an email, text your mom, call your house…whatever.

I want this to be a thing.  Go grab the nearest app designer you know and drag them to a computer screen, so they can make this.

Ethics and the Advertising Model for Web Financing

The Vlogbrothers have had a lot to say on YouTube in the past few days about the relationship between advertising and content on the internet -- the tricky ethical terrain, the financial needs of creators, and the fact that we all want this whole internet thing to stay free. I haven't known what I wanted to say about this, until I watched Hank's song today, and more specifically, the rant afterwards:

The American eyeball -- more generally, the affluent eyeball, and yes, you are affluent if you have an internet connection fast enough to watch YouTube videos -- is one of the most valuable commodities in existence on Earth right now.So valuable, in fact, that many amazing services can be offered, for free, in exchange for nothing more than those eyeballs.

I don't like advertisement. [...]  But the internet is built on the idea that this stuff should be free, so that's problematic, because advertising is then the only model.  And if you want YouTube to be free, and yet continue employing thousands of people, you're gonna have to look at ads.  But if you don't want YouTube videos to be supported by ads, and you don't want them to be free, then we should talk about that.

If there's a way to make an online company that doesn't rely on users providing their psyche and their behavioral habits to be put into a collective commons that is then auctioned off literally to the highest bidder, then let's have that conversation.

(Emphasis mine)

For the most part, I'm okay with advertising.  I feel conflicted about the fact that advertisers get to practice psychological manipulation on us, but I don't mind getting to watch YouTube for free in exchange for occasionally being annoyed by having to click another button before I watch my video after waiting a whole five seconds.

For a lot of people right now, it seems like the solution is just to feel conflicted.  Some people (like, recently, Tom Milsom) decide to forsake advertising revenue altogether, but a lot of people choose to go with the ads, hope they do relatively minimal cultural damage, and try to create art that's good enough that it's worth passing ads to see it.

I think we can do better than that, and I think we should -- and there are three levels on which I would like to see change.

Individual creators' control

Artists should have the right to decide what kind of ads they want on their content.  I imagine an interface in which creators would be able to select particular ads to put on their content, specify categories to let through, specify particular categories to exclude, or just automatically take the highest-paying ads that they have access to.  Advertisers, too, would have the option to make their ads available to everyone, or blacklist or whitelist particular users.

Institution-level ad curation

At an organization-level, websites that rely on artists to create the content that makes their site valuable should do some amount of broad filtration.  The parameters by which they filter should be explicitly stated in an easy-to-understand format so content creators know what they can expect in terms of advertising.

Case:  Project Wonderful

The poster-child example for these first two levels is Project Wonderful, an ad company designed for artists by Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics.

From their website's about page:

They use a mechanism called 'infinite auction,' where advertisers bid on how much they're willing to pay for ad display time, and the highest bidder is automatically charged the lowest amount of money that will beat all the other bids.  Advertisers are only ever charged for the time their ads spend up on the site, and creators get the most anyone's willing to pay for their ad space at the moment.

I don't think that the Project Wonderful system could be directly transposed onto YouTube, but if they were to renovate their advertising system, this would be a good place to get inspiration.

Government-level advertising standards

This category is pretty self-explanatory:  we need better legislation protecting us from misleading and exploitative ads.  I wrote on Wednesday about the DSHEA, a bill passed in 1994 that makes it easier for companies to lie about the medicinal value of their products, and harder for the FDA to catch them doing it.  Food and medicine aren't the only areas where we're not very well protected against false or misleading claims.

This isn't something that individual artists or companies can do anything about directly, but if we adopt more proactive control over what we advertise, we might be able to start breaking down this cultural assumption that ads are entirely good or entirely bad, opening the way for popular political support of legislation that helps to manage false advertising effectively.

Economic drawbacks

Of course, if all my suggestions are implemented, it will necessarily decrease ad revenue for creators and networks.  The more selection creators have, the more the market gets divided and the more intelligently individual advertisers can direct their money.  When networks and governments impose quality control, the effectiveness of manipulative and dishonest ads are severely crippled, so the ads that make their owners the most money, and therefore are worth spending the most money airing, aren't legal anymore.  As John Green explains in his video on ads, You ARE The Product,

Corporations actually have a really good idea of how advertisements affect your behavior.  In fact, there are many thousands of people who are working full time to make sure that the ads you see are worth more than they cost.  To put it succinctly, almost by definition, advertisers buy you for less than you're worth.

I would argue, though, that the dip in revenue would be worth the gains, because in the long term, the more we, as a nation and as a world community, make our information standards, the more thoughtful and responsible we will become.  People are at least in part a reflection of their media landscape, and a more intelligent media landscape means a more intelligent citizenry, a better-run country, and ultimately, a positive-sum world community that will increase value for everyone.