Mar 24, 2009

Experimenting in Public


One of the things I love most about the brave new digital world is the capacity to embrace experiment and failure. It stands in stark contrast to the world of traditional advertising, where any sort of experimentation is anathema and the slightest hint of failure brings out the long knives. (Witness the AIG-esque scorn and anger heaped upon any agency that fails to toe the party line.)

So I was pleased to see Fallon, the Minneapolis ad agency best known for it’s clever early 1990s advertising for small local clients try something new and different. Even if it was more or less a complete failure.

Fallon built something called Skimmer, a “lifestreaming” Adobe Air app that pulls in feeds from various social media sources (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Blogger) and displays them in a single standalone interface.

The idea, as Chris Wiggins, the ex-Zeus Jones CD behind the effort explained to me on Adfreak was “an experiment to see if people would appreciate the type of experience that a creative agency, not a development agency would come up with. I think people tolerate the web 2.0 designed-by-developers experience because there aren't (yet) many alternatives.”

Fair enough, but I felt the lack of developer influence on Skimmer far more than I felt the lack of designer influence on Twhirl or Tweetdeck. Pretty is not the first thing I look for in an app. (Though a combination of the two would be nice.)

And to Wiggins’ and Fallon’s credit, they took on an exceptionally difficult project: FriendFeed (which Skimmer essentially apes) is a tough sell, no matter how much Robert Scoble and Steve Isaacs flog it. Most people are overwhelmed by having that much information. And, as I’ve noted here to much approbation, people tend to have vastly different groups of friends on Facebook and Twitter and many have given up on trying to have them overlap. (e.g. they’ve stopped having Twitter automatically update their Facebook status.) That’s lead to a behavior I’ll refer to as “double-dipping” where significant articles, photos, blog posts and the like are posted in both places, with a different spin for each audience. Skimmer's attempt to recombine everything in one app is swimming against the tide.

But the point I wanted to make here isn’t “nyah, nyah, you failed.” (Even if Skimmer was down most of today.) It’s to salute them for trying. For being open to learning from their mistakes and looking to do better next time out of the gate.

This stuff is all new. And there’s only so much you can learn from reading and listening.

Comes a point, you’ve got to start doing. And Fallon did.

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