2/23/09

San Francisco Kid’s Creativity Museum, Zeum, Turns 10!


In front of a large green screen, a young girl wearing a shiny blue Cinderella costume accented with a bright red boa dances while singing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” into a microphone almost as big as her head. A teenager dances beside her wearing a multihorned alien mask that looks like something from Star Wars.

A teenaged boy, wearing a matching boa, plays wild air guitar on a red electric model. In front of them a single TV monitor reveals the words to the song karaoke style. A grid of eight TV sets projects their music video as it’s happening with a red velvet curtain and bright spotlights replacing the green screen. The group gets a copy of their music video on a DVD to take home.

This is Zeum (pronounced Zee Uhm, like the last 2 syllables of the word museum), an exciting multimedia museum that marries technology and creativity in the midst of San Francisco’s futuristic Yerba Buena development. Conveniently located next door to the Moscone Convention Center on Fourth and Howard, Zeum is refreshing alternative to traditional museums where you’re not allowed to touch.

On Halloween, 2008, Zeum celebrated it’s 10th birthday.

“This is an important milestone for Zeum, signifying our maturity from a start-up organization to one that is established and rooted in the Bay Area community,” said Audrey Yamamoto, CEO for Zeum, in a press release. “We are now well positioned to make the transition from being one of San Francisco’s best kept secrets to a top destination for youth and families of all communities.”

Kids from near and far love having the opportunity to bang on computers and actually play with video and audio equipment.

Zeum is a cross between a toy store and a production studio. It’s designed for kids to experiment with fancy electronics to discover new ways of creating art. In the Zeum world, a music video is considered art just as much as a traditional painting. A spiral hallway (stroller-and-wheelchair-friendly) winds its way around the museum, taking patrons from one from one floor to the next. On one side of the path are wall-to-ceiling windows and on the other side is an ad hoc gallery, showcasing special creations collected over the past 10 years.

One of the pieces in the spiral art gallery is a big frame with a picture of a tiny TV in the center of it and the words “How do you want to change TV?”.

Zeum is a playground for the directors, performers and sound engineers of the future. It offers them a wide open space to develop their own ideas about what entertainment should look like and shatters the mystery and inaccessibility of what they see when they watch and listen to current pop culture.

Kids of all ages and their parents both have fun. Ten year olds stare into a Macintosh computer for hours playing with its internal camera where they can manipulate the image with all sorts of weird effects like a fun house mirror circa 2008. They can stretch out their cheeks and turn their whole face purple. The fact that they don’t have to worry about accidentally breaking something is liberating for kids and parents.

A young girl cries at the entrance because her father is making her leave.

“We can come back,” he promises.

“Now, I want to stay and play,” she answers.

“I love Zeum,” Dallas Haynes IV says. The 18-year-old recent graduate of San Francisco’s McAteer High School of the Arts is a broadcast and film major at San Francisco City College. His face lights up when he says proudly, “That’s where I made my first claymation! It was great when I was a little kid.”

Technology has made amazing strides in the past 10 years. In 1998 iPods didn’t exist and flat screen TV’s were thousands of dollars. Everything now is smaller, sleeker, and generally more user friendly. The developments are made obvious while watching a tiny preschooler playing with some phones and televisions from the 1990s. They’re huge and bulky and make perfect toys.

As an homage to the merger of technology and art of yesteryear, Zeum owns a 100-year-old restored merry go round, that used to live at Playland At The Beach which was torn down in the 1970’s, is parked immediately outside. The round architecture of the concrete and glass building mirrors the shape of the lovingly restored carousel. The architecture matches the futuristic mood of Yerba Buena, only it’s brightly painted gold and orange.

Also outside is a creative take on a xylophone. A sculpture with a painted board on top adorned with bent pieces of metal has a stick tied to a rope to form a rustic xylophone. A father tries to get his kids to stop running the stick back and forth over the metal so that they can go inside and see the “real” exhibits.

A large winning attraction immediately is a circular room in the middle of the building with ceilings that reach the complete height of the museum. A huge maze is projected from the ceiling onto the floor in kid friendly colors of pink and purple. A virtual ball must be manipulated soccer style to a yellow star at the other side of the purple and pink lines on the floor.

The challenge is to avoid getting stuck on a dead end or letting the ball get sucked into a black pothole. The floor of the maze is slightly padded and tilts up and down to add difficulty to the task. A bunch of tweens must use teamwork to solve the puzzle even if they’ve never met before. The exhibit was built at the technology center of MIT.

In different rooms visitors can make their very own claymations, play with sound production equipment to compose a song, or sit and contort their faces with the Macintosh program photo booth for hours on end. Little kids can push buttons and pretend to talk on old fashioned pushbutton phones from the ‘80s.

The museum celebrates the joy and creativity that technology can add to children’s lives. It unravels the mysteries of animation and television production and lets the kids be the stars of their own productions. Kids spend so much time consuming multimedia diversions that it’s empowering for them to learn the creative process so that they a have more balanced relationship with media.

In ten years maybe they’ll be featuring flying machines and using iPhones as Frisbees.

Presidency 2.0

A month after the election, Barack Obama’s Myspace page is quiet. A large graphic says “Thank You For Your Support.” The last blog entry posted on the site is dated November 5, a day after the historic presidential election. It’s a copy of the text message he sent to his supporters before giving his acceptance speech in Chicago.
I'm about to head to Grant Park to talk to everyone gathered there, but I wanted to write to you first. We just made history. And I don't want you to forget how we did it. You made history every single day during this campaign -- every day you knocked on doors, made a donation, or talked to your family, friends, and neighbors about why you believe it's time for change.

I want to thank all of you who gave your time, talent, and passion to this campaign. We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I'll be in touch soon about what comes next. But I want to be very clear about one thing...

All of this happened because of you.

Thank you,

Barack
Cause you know we're on a first name basis. Now that’s some effective social marketing. The note is addressed to the millions of people who connected to the candidate through some form of virtual networking platform. Social marketing is like direct marketing without the sleaze factor. Direct marketing treats people like consumers, social marketing treats them like human beings having a direct conversation. His Myspace page is only quiet because his strategy worked and he’s busy with transitioning to the Presidency.

Obama successfully leveraged large social networks like YouTube, Twitter, MySpace, and FaceBook to help him win the presidency. Additionally he created his own social network called my.Obama.com. With the same tools that movies and bands use to spread awareness and garner popularity, Obama went to where people are now, online, and strategically used these new media behemoths which weren’t even in existence four years ago.

Whether it was signing up to receive the text message announcing his nominee for vice president, or going to the “MyBo” (My Barack Obama) Web site and getting a list of people to call to get out the vote, donating money, or putting a campaign icon on their personal page -- the campaign provided a way for people to get involved and express their support from the convenience of their very own lap top or cell phone. Obama transferred his roots as a community organizer to dispatch his own viral army throughout the web.

“Over the past 21 months, millions of individuals have used My.BarackObama to organize their local communities on behalf of Barack Obama. People in all 50 states have created more than 35,000 local organizing groups, hosted over 200,000 events, and made millions upon millions of calls to neighbors about this campaign,” wrote 25 old Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, primary coordinator for the Obama campaign’s online organizing, on his MyBo Web site.

In the text message Obama sent when he knew that he had won the election but before he gave his speech, he typed, “we just made history,” and “I wanted to write to you first.” The note is intimate, short and inclusive. It makes people feel as though they have a special connection with the candidate himself. Obama has a way of making masses of people feel individually important – like they matter. Obama is a special politician with a strong message and sense of purposeful direction, but many say he never would have been elected without the user-generated content (UGC) based social networking platforms that have found a way to unify the increasingly fragmented population.

A YouTube video is embedded on the MySpace blog entry. It shows the Golden Gate Bridge, the Manhattan skyline, the arch in St. Louis, mountains of rock, corn farms, and anonymous highways. Varied narrators echo the theme of the campaign saying things like, “This is the first time I’ve felt involved in the voting process,” “This is the first time I’ve ever felt compelled to be part of a movement such as this,” “It is the relationships we have with one another, that is our strength,” and “We’re organizing ourselves.” It’s very upbeat, people-positive, and empowering. Folk of every age and type are included, holding handmade signs with the campaign code words, “Hope” and “Change.”.

He had consistent messaging across the web. These are the largest.

Obama has:
3,254,277 Facebook Supporters
1,057,097 MySpace Friends
490,361 BlackPlanet.com Friends
121,620 Twitter Followers
129,906 YouTube Subscribers
7,142 Flickr Contacts

The quiet sharply contrasts the electric fervor of the weeks leading up to the election when several new blog entries were posted daily on each individual network. Blogs instructed readers how to change their icons and how to volunteer, and warned everyone against being too optimistic. Not just the candidate himself, but millions of supporters, celebrities and regular people were creating their own content and expressing their opinions to their own spheres of influence. Whether a family or P. Diddy’s fan base of millions. Twitter, (the popular social network service where members post 140 character stream of consciousness tweets), aficionados had a special election section where people all over the world were posting news on election night at a rate of 50 messages per second. In the last week of the campaign, Obama’s team uploaded over 70 videos to his YouTube Channel.

“If not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not be president or even the democratic nominee,” claimed Arianna Huffington, of the Huffington Post Web site. during a roundtable on the final day of the O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 Summit held two days after the election in San Francisco.

During his address at the same conference, former Vice President Al Gore said, "The new possibilities on the Web have revolutionized almost every aspect of running for president. And the electrifying redemption of America's revolutionary declaration that all human beings are created equal would not have been possible without the additional empowerment of individuals to use knowledge as a source of power."

“No one knows the impact of quasi-permanency on the Web yet, but it surely has changed the political world,” Allan Louden, a professor who teaches a course on digital politics at Wake Forest University, was quoted in The New York Times. “The role of gatekeepers and archivists have been dispersed to everyone with Internet access.”

Obama is being equally proactive in his new role as President-elect. He launched Change.gov, the official Obama and Biden transition Web site until they take office on January 20, 2009. Included are pages describing how Obama’s team will use technology to increase public participation in government and will more fully disclose important information, working toward the Web 2.0 goal of transparency. Updated daily the site promises to change the way government communicates with its citizens.

On Tuesday, November 25th, the Web site added a public commenting widget to the site, facilitating a two-way dialog between the governing team and the governed. The new feature is called “Join the Discussion,” and it asks users, “What worries you most about the healthcare system in our country?” The copy says, “our policy teams will be sharing new developments with you, the American people, and asking for feedback.”

The software they’re using to support the comments is called IntenseDebate, which was recently purchased by blog platform WordPress. It facilitates discussion by allowing people to comment and also vote on the quality of other people’s comments. After a week there were 3,646 comments which appear to be very well thought out and long. There is a place to give private feedback on the comment system itself. In keeping with the collaborative spirit there is a message, “if you have feedback on this commenting system or want to suggest a better way to do this, let us know.”

Change.gov was criticized when it was first launched because it did not offer the opportunity to talk back through public comments. The transition team heard and responded which bodes positively the nation moves into perhaps our first interactive administration. Obama is posting weekly addresses to YouTube. A self confessed Blackberry addict (in tech circles it’s called crack-berry), Obama is comfortable with today’s technological mandate of constant communication. It forces the administration to be more accountable and transparent since very little will be missed with today’s army of video cell phone users, paparazzi and Web site commenters. In a government founded around the concept of checks and balances, everyone with access to a computer or cell phone can be a more vital part of the process.