kottke.org posts about Ze Frank
For a few weeks in 2006, people would ask me, “have you seen ‘The Show’? It’s the best thing ever,” and I would answer “Of course! I love it!” But I was talking about this:
It wasn’t until Ze Frank got a lengthy writeup in the New York Times (10,000 daily visitors!) that I realized they were talking about something else. And when I asked Kottke readers to nominate something to put in a time capsule for the World Wide Web, more people suggested Ze Frank’s The Show or episodes from it than they did anything else.
The Show helped establish some enduring conventions for videoblogging: direct address, quick cuts, slightly varied closeup angles, and a curious mix of oversharing, motivational speaking, political commentary, and nerdly zaniness, You never knew quite what you were going to get, but for that one year it ran, you knew you could get it every day.
If the earth was a sandwich
We’d get along so well
And we could feed everybody
With a piece of ourselves
Ze brought The Show back for a short spell in 2012: “An Invocation for Beginnings” was a favorite video of a number of people who wrote in suggestions.
And for years now he’s helped run video at BuzzFeed — where a lot of The Show’s aesthetic can still be found, especially that relentless drive to figure out “what can I do to get people’s attention today?”
Future generations might take a minute to sort out the time-dependent references and figure out why these videos were so compelling. (They will also drop their jaws in wonder at just how old the computers from 2006 now look.) But that drive-for-attention/drive-for-connection part? I bet they’ll understand that part just fine.
I did not know how much I had missed A Show with Ze Frank until I just watched the first episode of the new series:
I just caught myself waving my hands in the air. Sing it, Brother Ze.
The Show is the only episodic video thingie I’ve ever watched and I was sad to see it end in 2007. But Ze Frank is bringing it back and he’s funding it via Kickstarter.
Some things will be familiar. My face, my voice, politics, news, science, whatever else is happening in the world, the celebration of the spontaneous… and surprises.
But the core of the original show was never really about what I did. It was about what you did. And I have no idea what is going to happen there. It’s risky, unknown and awesome. I will be asking you to make things, to do things, and to surprise me. We will use the world as our playground and I have the technology to back it up. If I don’t, I will make it.
Ze Frank is jotting down some notes for past episodes of The Show, the year-long daily video podcast he did five years ago.
this is the first time that I will be watching most of these episodes since they were posted. that’s weird. i have that relationship with things i make. do you? this one feels like i was searching for format. the “supreme court calendar” was set up to be a recurring joke on how boring that segment would be… but ultimately i became fascinated with the things I was going to make fun of. Incidentally the .xxx top level domain debate is still raging although the arguments for and against have swapped sides.
This is all before I had made a commitment to what is now the ubiquitous video blog jump cut, but in this episode I’m trying to play around with moving into the camera physically at transition points with a sharp cut. there’s something nice about having a physical action to hit at the beginning of a take - takes the pressure off of the words and brings energy into the frame right away. over time the cut became more important to me, and the style became less natural, more surgical (not a bad thing - but worth noting).
Fun little game from Ze Frank that I hadn’t seen before: Every Second Counts. You’re challenged to hold the mouse button down for 0.2 seconds, 0.4 seconds, then 0.6, 0.8, and so on. You need to be within 0.1 seconds of the target time to advance to the next time. Because the increments get increasingly smaller in comparison to the overall times, it quickly becomes difficult to gauge how long to hold the button, i.e. 0.4 is twice as long as 0.2 but 3.2 and 3.4 are almost indistinguishable. (It’s also difficult because the button is kinda hinky.) I made it to 1.8 seconds…is it even possible to get to 4 or 5 seconds?
I found this via Frank’s recent post about differences in scale.
Update: Several readers made it to 4, 5, and even 8 seconds. Most were musicians who have strong sense of timing. I’m also reminded of a story about how Richard Feynman developed his sense of timing to the point where he could keep time in his head even while reading. (thx, everyone)
Ze Frank has started a blog of notes and advice about fostering online participation. Lots of good stuff so far.
Usually there will be a few contributions that are outliers in technical merit and scale. There is a temptation to reward these contributions by drawing specific attention to them while the project is running. This can sometimes have the effect of damping the project as a whole, since potential contributors will measure their work against an artificially high standard. Alternatively, only displaying the most recent contribution allows the tonality of the project to be at the whim of the last contributor.
Instead of only focusing on technical ability, draw attention to qualities that can be expressed by anyone: simplicity, individuality, and humanity. Allow there to be a feeling of “Hey, I could do that too”.
Buzzfeed unveiled a little something new this week: contributions. The site has always had a feedback mechanism where people could suggest links to add to trends, but now anyone can sign up for an account and contribute links, text, videos, and images to Buzzfeed posts. The vast majority of comments on blogs are text-only but Buzzfeed makes it easy to post video, link, and images responses as well. Call it the Tumblrization of blog comments. Innovation in blog comments has been hard to come by for the past few years…this is a nice step. (Disclosure: I’m an advisor to Buzzfeed.)
Fire Eagle, Yahoo’s personal location service, has been in beta for awhile but is now live for anyone to use. The service allows you to update your location through the site, your phone, or through 3rd party apps and services. You can broadcast that location to your friends or keep it to yourself for use with other Fire Eagle-enabled apps (e.g. show me coffee shops near where I am right now). Think of the site as an online wallet where you keep your location for use all around the web. The .net TLD is a nice touch, emphasizing the hub-like character of the site/service.
[And why paste these two sites together? Ze Frank. He’s been helping Buzzfeed with their contributions launch and Fire Eagle took its name from Frank’s The Show (Fire Eagle Danger Day).]
Design, Wit, and the Creative Act, a half-day event put on by Core77.
How do designers employ wit, irony — even subversion — in the service of making a connection with their audience, and how can they replicate these connections across a body of work? Are there limits to commercializing this kind of design, or are we seeing new opportunities for the provocateur in an ever-commoditized world? What is the role of the brand in this context, and to what degree does a sly exchange between designer and user create a new kind of brand experience?
Featuring Ze Frank, Steven Heller, and others…Nov 9 in NYC.
Fresh Dialogue 23 is an upcoming AIGA NY event (May 29) that will focus on the increasingly common phenomenon of the former audience lending a hand in designing their own experiences. Speakers include Stamen’s Eric Rodenbeck and Ze Frank. (thx, khoi)
Final episode of The Show with Ze Frank. No, thank you, Ze….the pleasure was all ours.
Here’s one for your SXSW calendar: Buzzfeed and Ze Frank are hosting a party on Saturday, March 10 at 10pm with music by Juiceboxxx. Disclosure: I’m an advisor to Buzzfeed and as such, I advise you to check out this party.
Update: If you’re planning on attending, make your mark at Upcoming.
Almost a year after starting The Show, Ze Frank is still firing on all cylinders. Yesterday’s show was particularly good. Only a handful of episodes to go…Ze is stopping The Show on March 17.
Before YouTube and Google Video came along, video on the web often suffered from taking too many cues from the production values of traditional media. Even in the early days of YouTube, a typical video made by someone for an audience was like a mini-movie: 15 seconds of titles, followed by 10 seconds of the actual content of the video, and then 10 seconds of closing credits. Eventually, many people came to realize that all that crap at the beginning and end was unecessary…it’s OK not to have a 40 second video if you only have 10 seconds of something to say. Ze Frank took this notion to the extreme; he often launches right into something at the beginning, eschews transitions, and he just stops at the end. If an episode of The Show is 2 minutes long, it’s because he has 2 minutes of something to say.
Podcasters have been slower to break out of the mold provided by talk radio. The playing of music before segments and as transitions between segments makes some sense on the radio, where it’s used in some cases to fill airtime. But for podcasts, there’s no need to fill airtime with anything but content. 30 seconds of music before the actual podcast begins is the audio equivalent of Flash splash pages on web sites. For instance, the Diggnation podcast has 10 seconds of ads and 30 seconds of theme music before the hosts start talking and even then it’s more than a minute before there’s any new information. It’s important to set expectations and the mood (also know as branding), but it’s possible to do that in a much more economical way — something more akin to the Windows startup sound + “hi this is [name] from [name of show] and let’s get started” — or at other times during the podcast.
Interestingly, when I was looking around for examples of this wasted airtime, the folks making the most economical use of the listener’s time in producing podcasts were from the mainstream media. That is, the people innovating on the form are not the same as those who are innovating on production. Perhaps in an attempt to seem more credible, native podcasters have embraced more traditional forms while those with experience producing audio content for other media are more free to tailor their content to the new medium.
Why does Ze Frank’s face fill the entire screen on The Show? According to experiments described in The Media Equation, when participants were shown a series of photographs of people shot from different distances from the camera, “the faces that had the most impact on the viewers were the ones with screen-filling faces and that seemed ‘closer’ to the viewer, those with the least interpersonal distance”.
Putting out a daily 3-minute video show on the web is getting Ze Frank [wait for it….] a whole lot of ass. If enough people upload photos of themselves with “sports racer” written on their asses, Ze will repost the so-called “missing episode” of The Show (a copy of which I have and am trying hard not to upload to YouTube). Questions: How are these people writing so legibly on their own butts? Are they getting someone else to do it…and if so, man, that must be an awkward conversation. “You want me to write ‘sports racer’ where?” (Probably NSFW.)