Monday, February 23, 2009

Re-experiencing content, followup

I've had several interesting conversations about re-experiencing content since the last post.

One friend asked about the phenomenon of people getting stuck on a particular content and watching / reading it over and over again. While this is usually associated with younger children who can watch the same episode of Thomas the Tank Engine multiple times a day, it sometimes occurs with adults as well. I think these are cases of the person looking for comfort through familiarity. When life seems unpredictable it can be comforting to revisit a content that won't surprise us. For small children most of life is unpredictable. Try to imagine how weird the world must seem before you figure out object permanence! I know that when I'm sick I'll tend to dig out an old movie to watch. This might also be why we watch certain movies (It’s a Wonderful Life) every year at a special time.

I’d distinguish this from watching a movie a few times to hear or memorize more lines, or to experience it again with the ending already known. I’ll confess to having watched some Monty Python movies too many times so as to memorize the lines from a scene or two. Inexplicably this is sometimes viewed as an accomplishment. :-)

Another reader wrote me to say: "These are very interesting matters. I haven't thought about them in an organized way before. I can watch a movie a few times (not multiple times, unless there's a lot of time in between). I've always supposed that the reason I want to listen to music over and over again is that I cannot really retain music--I mean I can remember short songs etc, but I can't unroll a whole symphony in my head, just parts of it, although musicians can replay the whole thing in their heads. I think I don't have the capacity. On the other hand, words stick in my head like glue. I have hundreds, maybe thousands, of word things, in my head but not a whole symphony or sonata. I remember songs, but probably because of the words. Do you think the content thing may have something to do with one's capacity for enjoying a particular medium? Some people are visual, verbal, or whatever? Interesting things to ponder"

Another person said that for them music could be re-experienced many times because they were different each time they heard the song. When it was pointed out that they were also different when they re-read a book they said that experiencing a book or movie was more immersive than listening to a song...there was less room for them. Perhaps listening to music is more of a participative thing while books / movies are more like being an observer? I don't necessarily share this belief but I can understand it. After all, I can listen to my ipod while coding at the office but they tend to frown on people watching movies there!

I wonder how this relates the concepts of Popular vs. Long Tail content? One school of thought says that most people will be watching the same small set of popular contents (the new “House” or “Heros” or “Battlestar”). The other school of thought says that most people will be off in their own corner watching their favorite old episode of “I Love Lucy”, “Hogan Heros”, or “F Troop”. For those of us designing Video Servers the difference matters. I’ve never heard the issue of whether individuals re-watch a given content brought up in the Popular vs. Long Tail discussions. Perhaps it should be.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Kindle and the cost/payoff of experiencing content again

In thinking about the Kindle (Amazon's electronic book reader) I got thinking about a larger question about how people experience content. I'm one of those people who can watch the same movie multiple times, and I tend to accumulate tapes and DVDs of my favorite movies. My wife has never understood this, once she's seen a movie she's done with it and has no interest in seeing it again. We've both tended to think the other one was rather peculiar. We were at a brunch today and I tried to enlist support for my way of thinking but found surprising diversity.

Some people viewed movies as one-shot experiences but would read a book multiple times, others viewed both movies and books as one-shots, but most people viewed music as something to experience over and over again.

So I asked people: what's different about experiencing a song from experiencing a movie?

Several people said that while movies are based on a narrative, they did not see music that way. Several said that they did not feel that songs told a story (some of the others of us found that idea shocking...of course a song tells a story...for us). So for these people a movie is boring the second time around because the know the story but a song is just an experience ... so repeating it is still rewarding...perhaps like eating ice cream? The fact that you've eaten ice cream before doesn't diminish your enjoyment of more ice cream.

I wonder if there is a different kind of answer underlying this: limited time. I can listen to a song in 2-3 minutes, watching a movie takes about two hours, and reading book might take 5-10 hours. Who has that kind of time for a repeat?

On the other hand, there is a payoff for getting involved in a long get to know the characters. I tend to dislike short stories because why should I get invest time in a story that won't return my investment? Think of the angst many people feel when a beloved TV series ends (The Sopranos, Friends, Mash, etc). There has been an investment and the end of the story brings an end to the return on that investment. For some of us, re-watching a movie gives us some extra return on the time we spent on the content in the first place.

The link back to the Kindle for me is that for many people the fact that Kindle does not contain your existing library of books is simply not an issue. Many people view their existing library of books as more or less dead storage; perhaps to be rarely accessed at some time but certainly not in need of ready access. From this point of view loading the Kindle with only new material is just fine. I suspect that this sort of person would also be happy with a Kindle-like device with very limited storage, perhaps only enough to hold the books you were currently reading.