Seeing 1930s Los Angeles streetcars in color

The fabled Los Angeles streetcar system is visible in a colorized video with added sound of the city in the 1930s:

The streetcar system is no more with numerous works discussing how it was dismantled amid a push for cars and highways. But, the video is a reminder that cars and streetcars operated together for at least a while as the city and region grew quickly. Both provided opportunities to travel throughout the area and utilized the same roadways.

It is also interesting how such altered videos – here with color and sound added – have the opportunity to change perceptions of the past. When even relatively recent history is displayed in black and white, it seems less vibrant and real. Throw in approximate sound and such video could help viewers feel as if they are back in Los Angeles nearly a century ago.

The difficulties in creating viral audio clips

Why listen to audio on the Internet when you can read an article or watch a video? This is the problem in creating a viral audio clip:

In a provocative piece for Digg on viral sound, reporter  Stan Alcorn asked Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian: “Why does the Internet so rarely mobilize around audio? What would it take to put audio on the Reddit front page?”

Since audio is, of course, our business, we asked Stan Alcorn to make us an audio version (listen above). We want our work to be sharable – and so we’ve decided to be proactive…

As Stan reports, there are certainly exceptions to the rule. For instance, the audio I share usually falls into a few different categories: Isolated David Bowie vocals, super-awkward studio outtakes with Art Garfunkel, and angry phone messages to reporters about drones. (As a journalist, I think the last one is my favorite. “DON’T YOU SUPERVISE THE SUB EDITORS WHO WRITE THESE HEADLINES!?”)

There’s also plenty of stuff that Marketplace has done that I would hope could go viral.

The key here is that audio just seems to take more time to get to the point. With an article or video, you can leave it quickly and plenty of watchers do: they check out the first few seconds, see if it catches their attention, and then either engage further or move on. Audio is more of a mystery. What might happen next? This is something that people who love radio talk about all the time, all of the “theater of the mind” stuff. I’m trying to imagine what might have happened if the Internet had been invented during the golden age of radio, roughly the 1930s and 1940s, and if the Internet could have been an audio medium rather than a primarily visual medium.

It will be interesting to see if any of the Marketplace audio clips submitted at the end of this story could go viral…

Cell phones are not an impediment to public social interaction

Recent research from a sociologist analyzing video footage of public spaces shows cell phones don’t limit public interaction:

Between 2008 and 2010, his team accrued enough footage to begin a comparison with the P.P.S. films — together the two collections totaled more than 38 hours. “Films were sampled at 15-second intervals for a total of 9,173 observation periods,” he writes in his article, which reads like a study in scholarly masochism. Hampton and a team of 11 graduate and undergraduate students from Penn spent a total of 2,000 hours looking at the films, coding the individuals they observed for four characteristics: sex, group size, “loitering” and phone use…

First off, mobile-phone use, which Hampton defined to include texting and using apps, was much lower than he expected. On the steps of the Met, only 3 percent of adults captured in all the samples were on their phones. It was highest at the northwest corner of Bryant Park, where the figure was 10 percent. More important, according to Hampton, was the fact that mobile-phone users tended to be alone, not in groups. People on the phone were not ignoring lunch partners or interrupting strolls with their lovers; rather, phone use seemed to be a way to pass the time while waiting to meet up with someone, or unwinding during a solo lunch break. Of course, there’s still the psychic toll, which we all know, of feeling tethered to your phone — even while relaxing at the park. But that’s a personal cost. From what Hampton could tell, the phones weren’t nearly as hard on our relationships as many suspect…

According to Hampton, our tendency to interact with others in public has, if anything, improved since the ‘70s. The P.P.S. films showed that in 1979 about 32 percent of those visited the steps of the Met were alone; in 2010, only 24 percent were alone in the same spot. When I mentioned these results to Sherry Turkle, she said that Hampton could be right about these specific public spaces, but that technology may still have corrosive effects in the home: what it does to families at the dinner table, or in the den. Rich Ling, a mobile-phone researcher in Denmark, also noted the limitations of Hampton’s sample. “He was capturing the middle of the business day,” said Ling, who generally admires Hampton’s work. For businesspeople, “there might be a quick check, do I have an email or a text message, then get on with life.” Fourteen-year-olds might be an entirely different story…

In fact, this was Hampton’s most surprising finding: Today there are just a lot more women in public, proportional to men. It’s not just on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. On the steps of the Met, the proportion of women increased by 33 percent, and in Bryant Park by 18 percent. The only place women decreased proportionally was in Boston’s Downtown Crossing — a major shopping area. “The decline of women within this setting could be interpreted as a shift in gender roles,” Hampton writes. Men seem to be “taking on an activity that was traditionally regarded as feminine.”

Perhaps there is such a reaction to people using phones in public because (1) they are a new technology and people still aren’t used to them – smartphones are only less than a decade old and/or (2) phones are less noticeable or personally intrusive in wide open settings like the steps of the Met but very noticeable in more confined settings where conversations can be heard.

I think there is also a lot sociologists could build on here with Hampton’s methodology. Video may seem archaic when you can utilize big data but it can still provide unique insights into social behavior. While the coding of the video was rather simple (they looked at four categories: “sex, group size, “loitering” and phone use”), it took a lot of time to go through the video and compare it to Whyte’s earlier film. This comparative element is also quite useful: we can then compare patterns over time. All together, think how much video footage is collected in public these days and how it might lend itself to research…

Selling homes with better videos about the lifestyles they allow

To sell more homes, some have taken to producing better videos that highlight the home and the lifestyle associated with them:

This video, and five more so far, are not your typical real estate fare. Which is just what agent Stephanie Somers, who has a background in art, had in mind.

“We are presenting a vibe, a lifestyle,” as well as a place to live, said Somers, who wanted to show the “young and vibrant people” who are buying homes in Fishtown, Northern Liberties, Old City, and Passyunk Square…

Of her videos, Somers said, “I didn’t want them to be just real estate.” She considers most property videos online these days to be pretty bland.

Among the exceptions, as the New York Times recently noted, may be the $1 million four-minute movie being produced by filmmaker Harry B. Macklowe for 432 Park Avenue, a luxury condo high-rise in Manhattan. A Wall Street Journal article reported that the budgets for such cinematic marketing efforts are often a percentage of a home’s listing price, ranging from a few thousand dollars to $1 million-plus for epic residential ventures.

Stephanie Somers said she had spent thousands of dollars of her own money on her videos, calling the results “mind-blowing” presentations that depict what people do in Philadelphia’s new hot neighborhoods – go to birthday parties, have romantic evenings, compose music.

I’ve wondered why real estate listings these days don’t include more information – it is usually some standard info and some pictures. And even with pictures online of hundreds of homes, it is hard to get a sense of what it is like being in the house and many realtors/sellers struggle to take good photos.

One interesting aspect of these videos is that they could serve to deemphasize the home and highlight the surrounding area. This gets to a classic question: which homeowners care more about the house and which care more about the neighborhood and amenities? Videos could show that both aspects are great – but this might not always be the case. Imagine a video for a fixer-upper in an unexciting neighborhood – this is one that likely wouldn’t be made in the first place.

Is YouTube a future “hub for national discourse”?

Online video has the potential to be social video:

Hurley’s launch comes as his prior startup YouTube itself becomes more collaborative under owner Google. YouTube this past fall opened a 41,000-square foot studio in a former Los Angeles aircraft hangar, where amateur video producers can work with one another and use professional-grade equipment. YouTube is also working to make its comment section more socially sophisticated, with more real names and higher-quality feedback.

Design software company Autodesk, meanwhile, placed a $60 million bet on social video last summer when it acquired mobile video startup Socialcam. And Amazon has roughly 45 projects in the pipeline at Amazon Studios, its 2-year-old effort at crowdsourced interactive filmmaking.

That’s not to say that every rising online video brand has bet on social. Netflix and Hulu, for example, have both invested heavily in polished, Hollywood-style content and offer only a minimal set of social features. Viddy, a Los Angeles-area startup, has struggled in its efforts to fuse content from mass media stars like Justin Bieber with social platforms like Facebook.

But with each passing year YouTube looks like a more crucial hub for national discourse — seedbed for potent political appeals, the hinge of effective Kickstarter fundraising campaigns, and fodder for much of the sharing that goes on within networks like Facebook and BuzzFeed. And there’s both poetry and logic in the notion that Hurley, having helped democratize television with YouTube, is now trying to turn the medium into a truly two-way affair.

This is a big claim: YouTube as a “crucial hub for national discourse”? Videos do indeed become part of conversations today and there is potential here to make money but I question how often these videos lead to social or political action. What happened to Kony 2012? How about that recent video about wealth inequality in the United States? How many good conversations are had in comment sections of YouTube videos? In other words, I think there is a long way to go here.

Thursday Night Football logo takes over Philadelphia skyline

While watching a bit of the match-up last night featuring the Cincinnati Bengals at the Philadelphia Eagles, I saw this image where the Thursday Night Football takes over the Philadelphia skyline:

Sports broadcasts have been using this technique for at least a few years now. I first noticed it on Fox NFL broadcasts. They will often put fake video boards at different points around the stadium and then show the Fox logo or advertisements on this fake board before panning back to the field and game action. The NBA on TNT also uses this quite a bit though I’ve noticed they tend to use the same settings when in certain cities. For example, when they do Bulls home games, the same location is used: the camera, probably mounted on a tall building, looks southeast from Wolf Point with the fake video board mounted on the first bridge, Lake Street, on the South Branch of the Chicago River. Imagine if the board in Chicago moved around a bit: there it is popping out of the trees in Grant Park. There it is on the top of the John Hancock building. There it is on Navy Pier blocking the view of the Ferris Wheel.

However, these examples feature fake video screens built on existing structures while this Thursday Night Football segue involved a giant logo attached to two buildings on the Philadelphia skyline. In my opinion, this stretches the idea a little too far. It doesn’t look very realistic and even among big buildings it looks disproportionately large. At the same time, perhaps it is meant to be commentary about the power of the NFL: it is so big that it dominates the skyline of a major American city!

CBS infringes…itself

From the left-hand-doesn’t-know-what-the-right-hand-is-doing department, CBS appears to have infringed its own copyrighted works:

A CBS reporter embedded a video of one of their own pieces of content onto a CBS-owned web property. Only to have it soon yanked down by lawyers (or lawyer-bots – AKA auto-DMCA patrol).

Click on over to the original piece on The Future Buzz to see the screenshot, which is pretty hysterical.

Companies come, companies go: Blockbuster edition

Blockbuster has been on the economic edge for a while now and is apparently close to filing for bankruptcy.

Perhaps Blockbuster is a microcosm of the economic situation in America over the last 25 years: it quickly grew in size to fill a market niche, expanded to what too turned out to be too many locations, and then eventually has reached a point where it needs to seriously regroup due to technological change and some other reasons. I remember seeing them sprout in the Chicago area. Within a few years, we went from no nearby stores to numerous locations within 5 miles (and even more of its type if we were to count businesses like Hollywood Video). They were everywhere, including suburban downtown locations and strip malls.

I would be interested in reading a sociological study about how this company expanded but then had trouble adapting to the changing market for movies and video games. How did they successfully find customers early on and then lose those customers later on? How did Blockbuster’s growth accompany general suburban growth, housing patterns, and growth of other important retailers?

Small home – 89 square feet

I’ve seen this guy, Jay Shafer, in the news before with his 89-square foot home. Here is a video of his small space from Yahoo.

I have always liked small spaces like this, particularly for their coziness. Every time I go to Ikea, I’m attracted to the 280-square foot home they usually have set up.

Stories like these occasionally pop up, often with some sermonizing regarding American consumption. With the average American home around 2,400 square feet, very small houses are rare. Smaller spaces may be common in places like Manhattan (where we occasionally hear about studio apartments created out of closets) but probably don’t appeal to many.