Memetic culture, real estate, and you

How Vine and the 'new narrative image' can further your business objectives

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Over the past couple years a wide variety of hardware and software for capturing and creating images has been created.

These include things like the Lytro camera, which lets you focus AFTER you capture an image; Cinemagram, which helps you blend video into a portion of a still image, and the Kogeto Dot iPhone accessory which helps you make 360-degree videos.

These are examples of what I consider "new narrative image" technologies. The media they create is something between a photograph and a video. They demand more of content creators than simply taking a photograph. They often demand more the audience than simply looking at an image.

New narrative image technologies have, for the most part, focused on the deliverable: How do we amp up the audience experience?

As the resolution of our image capturing and display devices improves and they become more portable, the difference between a high resolution image and the real world starts to disappear. Everything starts to look "just like real life."

Phones and cameras capable of shooting high-definition video (HD) now fit in our pockets. Apple’s "Retina display" is supposedly capable of displaying images at such high resolution that the human eye is unable to detect pixelation.

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But something is, invariably, missing from these ultra-realistic images. That something is the "real life" that exists in real life. New narrative images, with their extra dimensions — time by way of video accretions, or space by way of mirrors and lenses in hardware — can inject some of that "life" into images.

The end result is often something that is simultaneously more real, and more surreal.

As a result, new narrative imagery frequently abandons the documentary aspects of image making in favor of "life" or "story" or a more cinematic "mood."

Memetic culture

People enjoy witty sayings, recurring themes that can be amplified or used as shorthand (think narrative tropes or proverbs) and juxtaposition of conflicting ideas (think humor or irony).

People like making one another laugh. People like to increase their standing among their peers and a mastery of wit and humor are one way to do this. This is all simply a way of adding to or connecting whatever it is that makes human life interesting to us.

This is part of "real life:" the photograph that looks a bit plain or boring because "you had to be there" in order to share the life that the photograph signifies.

At various points in absolute time these ideas and expressions spread in different ways: around a fire, through song and verse, through letters, through cartoons, and through radio, movies and television.

At various points in relative time these ideas and expressions spread in different ways: the repetitious jokes that are learned in a grade school, the notes passed in class, the gossip at a party, the letter to an editor and so on.

Typically the ideas contained in the vessel of a proverb or dirty limerick or other format travel from one person to the next directly. "Life" is communicated and exchanged directly between two people.

The addition of mass culture technology like television or radio or the newspaper allows for these kinds of ideas to travel from one mind to many minds — broadcasting. "Life" is communicated from one person (a TV writer) to many people (a TV audience).

Layering digital technology on this basic human behavior pattern doesn’t necessarily create a progression on an imaginary vector from the personal to the mass. If anything, it reverts the organization a bit back towards the personal.

People who email jokes to their entire address book (a broadcast-like use of digital technology) are often shunned.

On the other hand, there is cache in posting a funny picture to Facebook. Such posts are rewarded with the digital equivalent of applause.

The important thing to remember, however, is that memetic culture — the simple ideas we create and share, and the mechanism by which we share them — isn’t exactly new. This sort of thing has been going on since well before the first knock-knock joke.

What does change with digital technology is how we create, how we distribute and to some extent who we distribute to.

We learn to use new tools and formats that are native to the digital environment. We distribute in neither a one-to-one nor a one-to-many way, but some sort of half-world between the two. We distribute to people who are not immediately nearby and we distribute to people we may not even know. We distribute to people we haven’t shared a meal with for a long time.

What’s emerging now is the fusion of format and distribution. It’s something like the creation of marketplaces for the kinds of "life" that is valued by mimetic culture.

While video as a format exists in many places, there is a certain kind of video that exists at YouTube, and another kind that exists at Vimeo. They are definitely not the same nor do they celebrate the same "life" styles.

Which brings us to the animated GIF.

The GIF: an old format of the new narrative image

One of oldest formats of new narrative image is the animated GIF. GIF — Graphics Interchange Format — is a bitmap image format that employs a limited color palette and lossless compression that’s well suited for the Web. An animated GIF is essentially a sequence of images that loop over and over again. Think of it as the digital equivalent to a phenakistoscope.

Though the animated GIF has long been a staple of the Web, it has seen a resurgence in recent years thanks mostly to a combination of memetic culture tied to a social distribution platform and improved GIF creation tools.

The social distribution platform in this instance is unquestioningly Tumblr. Users of this network took the boring old GIF, slapped a little text in or near it, and breathed new life into an old format.

On its own, the animated GIF had already become a losing proposition. Without the people who use Tumblr, the animated GIF would likely still be the hallmark of ineffective banner advertising sprinkled in the margins of sad little websites. But the Tumblr users and the new distribution platform turned that around.

And it’s a good thing they did save it. Because the animated GIF has proven to have more potential than marketing departments were able to discover. It has — in the hands of witty, funny and moody Tumblr users — proven itself capable of transferring a little bit of "life."

Which brings us to the latest offering from Twitter: Vine

Vine, a new interface for animating images

The content Vine creates is functionally indistinguishable from the animated GIF (though it uses a video format for better image quality). It hopes to succeed by swapping out the emerging Tumblr distribution platform with the more established Twitter distribution platform.

It is, simply, an animated GIF creator that lacks text overlay capabilities. That’s the reductionist view I suppose.

But it does offer an interesting take on interface. Simply point your camera at something and tap the screen for a little bit, then point somewhere else and tap for a little longer, and so on, until the time available runs out.

It’s a simple and charming way to make an animated GIF. Vine offers no editing capability to slow a person down. This will, of course, irritate some who enjoy fussing about video editing, or are obsessed with perfection. Others will embrace the ability to quickly create something with "life."

What does this have to do with real estate?

How might you use Vine to further your business objectives for real estate? Well, the truth is you might not.

Here are some things you might want to have first: a following on Twitter or other social platforms that cares about your business objectives; the discipline to remember to use the app throughout the day; a strong conception of the short narrative message you wish to convey; control over any obsessive editorial compulsions you may have; a familiarity with the animated GIF format’s strengths and weaknesses; some time to play with Vine so you can put all of these things together.

Here are some things you might be able to do with Vine: give a quick video impression of a property, neighborhood, or venue; give a quick video impression of what was important in your day (this will mean you do nothing else with Vine all day); celebrate the wit, style or mood of your company.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt.

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