Technology and Live Events: Using Twitter to Reimagine a Woodstock for 2013
What might one of the iconic music and cultural events of the past century – Woodstock – look like today with the integration of digital and social technologies, especially with Twitter as the network? And how might this compare almost 20 years later to the first experimental integration of digital consumer technology into the 25th anniversary of that live event? (If your reading time is limited, go to the sections in this post labeled "Using Twitter to Reimagine a Woodstock for 2013" and "Woodstock-Twitter Schematic Elements.")
In 1969, Joni Mitchell said, "Woodstock was a spark of beauty" where half-a-million kids "saw that they were part of a greater organism." Without any real outside media coverage during the event, that experience was initially limited to those camped out for 4 days at the 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. The true size of that “greater organism” and the full impact of the cultural experience that transformed and energized a group into the “Woodstock generation” - came later, delayed by limitations in distributing and sharing the experience.
Cut away to the present time, and we see widely adopted consumer media creation technologies and platforms like Twitter that when creatively deployed (with smart production values and rock solid engineering) in areas such as politics, entertainment, and sports - create real-time living breathing “organisms” (we might now say audience or community) that are “Woodstock worthy” in terms of the potential for impact - and that powerfully bridge the physical and digital worlds for both those at the event and others geographically separated from the event and each other by even thousands of miles.
So it’s not surprising that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo recently told the Wall Street Journal that the company is evolving to "more closely tie the shared experience on Twitter to the actual event that is happening." And the proof of that is certainly found in the company’s track record of just the past 6 months as Twitter has made some bold and successful partnership and production moves into the live event integration arena with examples such as:
- NASCAR – Launching a relationship with the first sports organization to create an enhanced live event experience on the platform. (May 2012)
- The London Olympics – Partnering with a major main stream media company, NBCUniversal, along with major brands such as GE, to create an infrastructure and experience that aggregated and parsed millions of tweets from athletes, fans, and commentators. (July-August 2012)
- The US Presidential Debates and Election Night Coverage – Redefining the relationship between first and second screen in terms of information, conversation, and delivery of candidate announcements. (October – November 2012)
So what if we now take Woodstock - one of the most surprising and culturally redefining live music events of the past 50 years - and use the lens of technology powered media and engagement – to see how the spirit and experience of the 1969 original was translated with early digital technology in its first “reissue” at the 25th Anniversary in 1994, and what a “reimagined Woodstock” might be in 2013/2014 with the kinds of technologies and experiences we have today, with twitter as the empowering network.
A quick comparison table here with frameworks, specifics, and flowcharts following. Download Woodstock Comp Grid
The 25th Anniversary of Woodstock
In August 1994, the 25th Anniversary of Woodstock was held over a three-day period at the 800-acre upstate New York farm that had been initially intended for the first event. This was the first time that the iconic brand had ever been revisited as an event, and the producers who had also set the stage for the original phenomena, wanted to remain true to that initial vision while also adding relevance for what they described as “a generation who was reading William Gibson and getting up on the Internet.”
(NOTE: This was quite a statement to be made at that time. In 1994, there were only 1500 Web servers online, the Mosaic browser had just come out one year earlier, Earthlink was launching, and Yahoo was about a browser and content index. No Google, no Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube. There were no smart phones, and consumer digital still and video cameras were expensive and limited in resolution. Platforms to distribute media were limited to videotape and CDROM, with containers and authoring systems being jerry-rigged around software such as Macromedia Director.)
But what was the same then versus now? The drive to create and share information and experiences.
An 8-acre area of the festival field was carved out and named “The Surreal Field” with interactive experiences from artists like Todd Rundgren and Peter Gabriel. This was also where a 4000 square foot tented production facility (plus an adjoining semi truck with mobile video editing bays) was built in which Woodstock concert goers could observe the behind-the-scenes creation of the twice-daily Woodstock News “video magazine” by a team of two dozen videographers, editors, animators, blue screen operators, composers, programmers, onscreen talent, field reporters, producers and directors working nearly round the clock. Story types included Woodstock history and event pre-production, behind the scenes interviews, artist interviews, concert audience “ambush style” interviews, “question of the day” blue screen interviews, creative and gaming tech stories, and the concert schedule for the day.
Additionally, limited amounts of text-based reporting were sent out each day via an Apple Web Server. Yes, limited Internet access was pulled into this portion of the 800 acre cow pasture for this purpose.
A simple flow chart (click image below for larger size image) of the creation of the Woodstock News in terms of people, equipment, and infrastructure. Almost two dozen people, more than 12 Macintosh computers and 24 monitors just to handle acquisition, digitizing, and output to a distribution format from “professional” sources. No opportunity for “audience” contribution or feedback other than the limited offering in field interviews and blue screen “question of the day” segments.
My observation at the time on the people and the technology, and live events as platforms for testing creative and technical boundaries. I think it’s very relevant no matter the year – then or now.
"Sometimes it’s almost more about how well your team will coalesce and how they will deal with the elements and difficult situations - mud, crowds, thunderstorms, close-quarter housing - than if the technology will work. Rock and roll festivals are great places to test the boundaries of multimedia, both from a technical as well as a creative sense. From a creative perspective, you have to create something that will really grab and maintain people’s attention - from the front row to the guy standing half a mile from the stage watching the Jumbotrons. And technically, you never know what you might face in terms of the elements causing problems with your equipment - dust in the video deck heads, thunderstorms during which you have to power down, rain coming in through AC vents - and there is no local Apple dealer around when you are out in the middle of what is essentially an 840-acre cow pasture."
Using Twitter to Reimagine a Woodstock for 2013There are innumerable ways that one could reimagine and engineer a Woodstock with the wealth of broadly distributed digital and social technologies available to both professionals and the “consumer” audience today, the user experience, design and technical skills that have developed from experiments on many platforms, and the mobile element – which did not exist for anyone at any price before.
This is a simple flow chart (click for full size image) showing the sourcing of various forms (created by both pro and user) of media content and conversation directly and indirectly into Twitter, and then the moderation, curation, and filtration of that along with the tweet wrapper content itself - based on both human editorial and rule sets – to create output, visualizations, and control streams back out to various distribution types, displays, and devices.
The description and schematic above in this post represent just one possible “reimagining” (with Twitter as the primary network). It is meant more as a sketchpad for thinking more deeply from creative, technical and business perspectives of what we can do now in bridging the physical and digital worlds (in both real-time and asynchronously) in ways that were never before possible. And those new kinds of experiences may well create the “sparks of beauty” and connection to a “greater organism” that Joni Mitchell talked about in the opening of this post.
- It - and that which it surfaces and displays by separating the signal from the noise - can become part of the event/show itself;
- It can take a deeper show experience to other people outside of the event space (geographic independence synchronously) and time (asynchronous);
- It can change the “planned” nature of the event itself, by content and conversation created by the audience locally and in other areas;
- It can spark unexpected cultural shifts.
Woodstock-Twitter Schematic Elements
(1) Content Input Sources into Twitter
How might media of all forms come into Twitter at a major live event such as a reimagined Woodstock? Significantly different from the 25th Anniversary of Woodstock, media comes from both the pros and the audience. And depending on the synchronous nature of the event, that audience may not be geographically determined or bounded.
From the event producers, pros, and the artists themselves, we might see:
- Video elements such as live streaming, edited packages included historical and behind the scenes stories, video bits from location-based monitoring cameras (like DropCams), and timelapse;
- Audio delivery via live streaming, asynchronous stream or download, edited and packaged interviews and commentary;
- Individual iconic photos and high quality photo packages;
- Engagement activities constructed around live tweet chats, polling, alerts, and announcements;
- Information and data generating devices automatically generating data to a “Tweet card” output based on some behavior by attendees.
For the “audience” both geographically near and far, the ability to create media and commentary is unprecedented.
- Visual media creation from smart phones, DSLRs, and GoPro cameras, loaded directly to Twitter or attached via intermediary site (e.g. video to YouTube or photo to Instagram). Short video bursts via perhaps Vine or Viddy. Longer form via YouTube, Vimeo, and other newly emerging video distribution platforms.
- Comments and text posts
(2) Separating the Relevant Signal from the NoiseAs software advances (including Mass Relevance and other custom software) and real-time human curation skills develop, the effective (from both production and engineering perspectives) moderation, curation and filtration of the vast sea of tweets and associated media from such an event can be parsed and routed to the right people and devices (both private and public) that not only enhance, but change the very nature of a live experience such as a Woodstock
(3) Experience Outputs and DestinationsTwitter content may then be filtered and edited into dynamic media packages, or the underlying data translated into infographics, guides, and maps. For example:
- Event page curation as was seen at the 2012 Olympics, with in the not too distant future, the option to add another layer of personal filtering based on geography, demographics, or interests;
- Tweet streams, editorially selected tweets, and tweet visualizations sent to venue-based displays, as well as out to various broadcast and Web partners;
- Tweet activity informing real time maps and “programming guides” to optimize the experience of both on-site attendees as well as those at a distance; (See Twitter's Director of TV Fred Graver’s talk including comments about Twitter creating real-time programming guides – a live event is not that different;
- Tweet activity and conversation turning into data that controls onsite or remote devices, offering up new forms of activities and entertainments that the “Twitter audience” creates intentionally or unintentionally through it’s actions.
More than a moment in time. It’s a way of being in the world.
This is true not only for a major live event with deep cultural influence, but also for Twitter itself.
Beyond the ideas sketched in this post, fully conceiving a reimagined Woodstock size live event would also require looking deeply into engineering issues, brand engagement opportunities, and revenue models including and beyond creative advertising and sponsorship. This party is just getting started, so to speak.