June 30, 2004

Blogville: New Advancements for the Doc Digerati

Those of you who read this column regularly know that I believe the future for documentary makers includes a significant change in the way technology connects filmmakers with audiences.

Having just returned from my annual sojourn to the world of ultra-geeks and techno-nerds, I thought I'd report on some far-out tools that I suspect will shape our world in the months and years to come.

The PC Forum, held each year in Scottsdale, Arizona, is a 20-year-old gathering of information technology folks that tries to look around corners and explore the future of technology and society. It's run by Ester Dyson,­ a legendary seeing-and-connection guru who seems to be able to bring together ideas and tools in a way that both predicts the future and in some ways helps to shape it. 

Two things worth noting came out of this year's PC Forum. The first is a new advance in the world of blogs––computer-published, first-person mini-magazines, or Web logs (from whence the term came). Filmmakers are becoming bloggers every day. Just check out ­ www.filmmakermagazine.com/blog/, http://travelindave.blogspot.com/, http://docfilm.weblogsinc.com/ and www.blogumentary.org/.

Blogging is filmmaker outreach, and it's working. With photo blogs like www.lightningfield.com and even a few experimental video blogs like http://hypertext.rmit.edu.au/vog/, blogs have the potential to create a world of episodic documentaries (think serialized storytelling), and audiences and filmmakers will get hip to this cool new storytelling tool.

The latest addition to blogging is something called Really Simply Syndication, or RSS, which, as a distribution engine, enables you to subscribe to blogs, or sign up for them to be updated to your computer or handheld device. RSS has the potential to link your filmmaking passion with a growing community of hungry audience members scouring the Web for new kinds of voices and points of view. Far-fetched, maybe. But don't forget we're in the middle of a revolution. And that means that storytelling tools really are changing, and audiences are evolving.

If you check out RSS, you'll be on the leading edge of content syndication. But it's not a flash-in-the-pan technology; it's a building block, an essential element in creating addressable audiences for your ideas, films and documentary explorations.

The concept of addressable audiences brings me to the second advancement to come out of PC Forum, another related concept that is in some ways even more embryonic ­and super-cool: Social Networks, which are just starting to appear on the radar of dot.com digerati.

You may have been invited to join one already. ­If so, you've poked around at websites like Orkut.com or LinkedIN.comOrkut.com is an experimental site from the folks who created Google (Orkut is actually the first name of Turkish developer Orkut Buyukkokten, who works for Google). LinkedIN.com is run by Reid Hoffman, the former executive vice president at PayPal.

Both of these websites are built on the concept that your community of friends, business associates and fellow artists is by some degree of separation related to others who share similar interests, ideas and needs. If you poke around on either site you're sure to find some folks you know, but more interesting are the people they know.

If this seems like you're exposing yourself to a lot of uninvited pitches from people you don't know,­ fear not. The designers of these Social Networks have worked to create a safety shield between you and these unknown, potential "friends." You get to set the level of engagement you want to have (are you looking for business connections, social connections or proposals from business partners?), and each "approach" is shielded with an email that asks if you want to respond to a person or include them in your network.

But what is the application for you,­ as a documentary filmmaker? First,­ filmmakers are often more than willing to help out other filmmakers, provide advice and give opinions on vendors. If we begin to join a Social Network,­ there's a new way to streamline our often geographically challenged community. Second,­ if Web-based social networks catch on, there's a potential for this kind of addressable audience to target film marketing (even direct sale of DVDs) to a group of willing, interested, engaged, potential "opt in" audience members.

Both the evolution of blogging with RSS feeds and the growth of the now-nascent Social Networks will be part of a new consumer-driven audience for documentary film.  How soon will all this take place? Stay tuned, or log on and help make it happen.


Steve Rosenbaum can be reached at steve.rosenbaum@CameraPlanet.com.