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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Case study: WhySoSerious.com - offline and online viral microsite

WhySoSerious.com police report
WhySoSerious.com was a promotional tie-in to the upcoming movie, "The Dark Knight". It was also launched in conjunction with the ongoing Comic-Con International at San Diego. What proceeded was, to me, a unique off-and-online viral campaign that raised awareness for the Batman movie, which opens next year. And I was part of it for two hours last night.

The Set-Up
Warner Brothers had apparently opted not to make an appearance at Comic-Con, in spite of the huge publicity it would generate for "The Dark Knight". However, what happened was that some attendees were given defaced one-dollar notes (real or fake, I don't know), with the website stated clearly.

Visitors to the site found a defaced Uncle Sam recruitment poster with a countdown timer. They were told that the Joker was looking for new recruits, and those interested should show up when the timer hit zero at a particular spot... which was at the Comic-Con venue!

Offline event
Obviously, I wasn't there. But at the appointed time, WhySoSerious.com was refreshed with a link to something called "Surveillance". This was a photo gallery that was constantly updated to show what was going on (and was apparently operated by Gotham City's Surveillance Specialists).

Whoever turned up had their faces painted white, with black paint around the eyes and a large red smile over the lips. Yup, they were painted to resemble the Joker!

But that wasn't all. They had to go to certain checkpoints and fulfill certain tasks, maybe to prove themselves worthy to be the Joker's henchmen. At one point, they were also apparently treated to cookies from Gotham Girl Guides. That must've been a lot of cookies!

At the last checkpoint, attendees were presented to the apparent capture of the Joker, then left with goodies. I forgot what the latter were, but they were all Joker-related. And some of them also had their photos taken and posted on a page called "Wannabes" (as in wannabe henchmen).

The big question was: how did these people know where the checkpoints were?

Online event
That's where the website came in and the reason for my staying up into the wee hours of the night. It turned out to be an online question-and-answer game, with online visitors and offline attendees providing the answers. About half of these questions depended on the assistance of the offline attendees.

After answering each question correctly, online visitors could be presented with a map identifying the next checkpoint. They were then expected to notify the offline attendees.

There were (I think) 15 questions, and the first one already depended on help from the offline attendees. Later, in the Surveillance page, I would see that a plane had written a phone number in the sky. The message from that phone call was the answer. The other offline-dependent questions were interspersed throughout the game, perhaps to sustain momentum.

Finally, the last two questions depended again on what was going on offline. Remember the girl guide cookies? Yup, there was a clue in each cookie tin for the second-last question. And the answer to the last question was a licence plate number.

At the end, online visitors were treated to a high-definition teaser trailer for "The Dark Knight". Along the way, they were also given a first look at a picture showing the Joker (played by Heath Ledger) threatening Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). And also two creepy but cool audio clips: laughter and "Why so serious?" The laughter itself was a clue for an answer (it's in Morse code and the answer is "Mountebank", apparently a bank that the Joker robs in the movie).

Results
Firstly, the organisers were smart enough to reward both offline and online groups of people. Offline attendees walked away with their Joker paraphernalia and a chance to "witness" a movie-like scene. Online visitors had an exclusive first look at a promotional still and the teaser trailer (in HD no less!).

But did the event get the numbers? Obviously, I don't have access to site traffic figures. And I don't know exactly how many people went to the "recruitment drive". But I can safely say that there were a lot of people both online and offline.

From the photos, it was clear that this event had attracted hundreds of people. While it may have been a crowd control nightmare, it must also have succeeded in making bystanders more curious about the movie. The Joker's white-face-and-red-smile is almost as well known as Batman's bat logo. And with so many people bearing that look, it would definitely have made people want to know more, both about the event, and also the movie.

Online, the tons of people flooding to the site must have overloaded the servers. I should know. I spent two hours playing what should've been a half-hour game. Most of the time was spent waiting for new pages to load. (It didn't help that each page relied on a half-megabyte Flash file.) I'm sure Warner Bros. could afford a killer hardware and network, so the fact that everyone* was getting such slow response must be evidence of the incredible numbers of visitors.

* I was also at a forum thread where people were posting answers. And many of them were complaining about the slow server response.

Most importantly, the game never belittled online visitors' intelligence. One answer depended on Morse code (from a series of laughters!). Another asked for the name of the lawyer who got his client acquitted of murder in 1871 by shooting himself accidentally in court (answer: Clement Vallandigham).

The one that I enjoyed showed some playing cards in two spread-out piles. At first, I wasn't sure what to do. Then I saw that the cards in the top (and bigger sized) pile matched some cards in the lower pile. And there were 26 cards in the lower pile. *lightbulb goes on!*

Read all of the answers.

Summary
Who says that offline and online are mutually exclusive elements of a promotion? Not me, and this event is proof of it. In this case, both sides supported and depended on the other. Without one group, the other would be unable to proceed. (Well, that was the ideal scenario. People like me followed forum threads to find out the offline answers.)

Of course, the situation itself has to be exciting. Batman and the Joker are part of American folklore already, so there was no need to explain the scenario further. The game was intelligent and well written, with enough bells and whistles to captivate online visitors.

Finally, throw in the idea of a community: offline attendees felt like they were part of a movement (and who hasn't had a secret yearning to be on the other side of the law?), while online visitors banded together through forums and instant messengers to figure out the answer.

So yes, I'd put this under the "success" column.

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Ping.sg gathering

Ping.sg gathering
After my first offline experience with Ping.sg at its first anniversary party, I figured that it couldn't hurt to attend a gathering. Right down to the last minute, I still wasn't sure if I would be going.

In the end, I showed up at about 3pm at Miss Clarity Cafe at Purvis Street. I sauntered in to the far end of the joined up tables. (A few of us would later joke that you could tell who came earlier by their seating positions.) I think there were about 15 people there.

Miss Clarity Cafe menu
Some of the others had ordered food, but I'd already eaten, so didn't feel like eating again. Anyway, that could've been a blessing in disguise, since the few comments about the dishes that I heard weren't very positive. So I ordered a hot chocolate, since it was a cool day. It tasted more like melted Cadbury chocolate. Maybe they used the Cadbury-branded hot chocolate powder? Either way, I didn't find it milky enough for my liking.

I listened in on most of the conversations around the table, while talking occasionally with Ridzuan. It was only after Eujzin came over that I started to talk more. (Yeah, I could've walked around the tables, like some of the others did, but chose to warm my seat.) And then the conversation flowed even more when Daphne came over to join us. We talked about blogging and finding a job and a certain geographic neighbour. Yeah, it was fun stuff.

As expected, digital cameras were whipped out and photographs were taken, especially after everyone was done eating. And finally, the gathering came to a close at about 5:30pm and we went our separate ways.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

7 movies to watch in 2008!

2007 isn't even over yet, and I'm already looking forward to 2008's batch of mid-year movies. So far, I've counted seven -- yeah, seven! -- that I think are worth seeing.
  1. "The Dark Knight"
    "Batman Begins" was awesome, and there's no reason that it's sequel should disappoint. The only thing that I really didn't like about "Batman Begins" was that Batman allowed his enemy to die. Batman would never do that.
  2. "Iron Man"
    Another Marvel hero comes to the silver screen. In real life, I doubt anyone would want to walk around in an iron suit, let alone fight crime in it. But I'm actually looking forward more to seeing Robert Downey Jr in the title role.
  3. "Get Smart"
    I used to watch reruns of the TV show back in the day. They were absolutely silly, especially the gadgets. Based on the trailer, it looks like the movie won't disappoint too.
  4. Fourth "Indiana Jones" movie
    This is a show that isn't a "must see on the big screen" movie for me. But since I grew up watching the first three installments, I figure it can't hurt to watch the fourth one too.
  5. "The Incredible Hulk"
    The first "Hulk" movie was a letdown with too many gimmicks, so I think the sequel can't be any worse... or can it?
  6. "Wall-E"
    Firstly, it's a Pixar movie, so I can expect the story and graphics to be worth watching (especially in digital format). Secondly, it's about a robot, and I have a soft spot for robots ever since I read Isaac Asimov's robot stories.
  7. "Hellboy 2"
    Finally, if I have time and money and a good enough excuse, I'll watch this.
So that's seven movies in about three months. Cool.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

2 celebrities in 2 days

On Saturday, I met my marketing course group for our project meeting at The Coffee Bean at International Plaza. Given my seating angle, I could see whoever was sitting at the next two tables. And past 3pm, in came Diana Ser (local newscaster) with baby and maid in tow.

I was momentarily distracted by how the other (female) patrons started making baby sounds at the baby. But what impressed me was that Diana Ser let her maid eat first while she tended to her baby. When the maid was done with her food, then Diana handed her baby over so that she could eat her meal.

From what I've noticed, usually it's the other way around, i.e. the employer eats first. I hope this wasn't a one-time event for Diana Ser's maid.

Then, this evening, while having a family dinner at Quentin's, I happened to see this familiar woman with her friend looking over the menu outside. I couldn't be sure who she was, because her baseball cap cast a shadow over her face. But once she entered, I knew that she was Fiona Xie (local TV celebrity).

Wow, she really is as gorgeous in person as she is on TV!

In the relative quietness of the restaurant, I could make out her voice, and was quite taken aback by her command of good spoken English. I've heard her on English TV before, but always thought that she was coached. Perhaps I was wrong.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Convergence at Botak Jones Toa Payoh

A few of us met for dinner this evening at Botak Jones Toa Payoh. It was my first time there, let alone at any Botak Jones outlet, and it was surprisingly only about a five-minute walk from the Braddell MRT station.

I ordered a Double Botak Burger, which turned out to be a bad choice. There was nothing wrong with the meal per se, in fact, it was quite yummylicious. The problem was that looks were deceiving. In spite of the apparent small size of each of the two patties, it was practically impossible to finish them plus the bus plus the coleslaw plus the fries.

On the other hand, it was a good kind of full feeling in the stomach. The kind that made me just wanna sleep off the digestion period. (I did doze off on the way home.)

The main purpose of the gathering was a celebration-cum-sending off of one of the gang. He landed a job at a company that was hailed as the best place to work in the U.S. Good for him!

Why did I use the word "convergence"? Because that's what was used in the email to organise this gathering, ha.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Meeting with The Digital Movement

After a screw-up in scheduling the last time, I finally got around to meeting a few people from The Digital Movement (TDM). In all honesty, I thought that this would be a meet-and-greet session. So I cheerfully headed down to TCC at Boat Quay with little expectation and preparation.

It turns out that it was a full-blown planning session! That caught me off-guard, which left me in the wrong frame of mind. Part of the time, I kept wondering what I was doing there. Given my workload, I really need to scale back on stuff, so the last thing I was looking for was getting deeply involved with another organisation.

On the other hand, this was a forward-thinking, (Web) technology-driven organisation comprising of young, enthusiastic, passionate people. Thus, I opted to stick around to hear them out. Anyway, I wasn't the only "new bird" there, so I didn't feel out of place.

After introducing ourselves, we got down to the task at hand. Apparently, after the successes of Nexus 2007, BlogOut and iX Conference, the next logical thing to do was... start all over again. Which, I guess, makes sense, because now that it had some credibility, it should refocus its priorities.

Unfortunately, to me, it seemed that things were going everywhere and nowhere. Ideas were coming in about what to do next, who to get the message out to (sort of), and things that I thought were too detailed and specific at that point in time.

What left me most confounded was that there seemed to be very little direction, in spite of having three professional business-types there:
  • a chief technology officer at a local video technology solutions provider,
  • an analyst who assesses technology business start-ups, and
  • a business veteran who's launched or advised a couple of businesses.
I kept waiting for one of them to say, "Whoa, stop everything. Let's backtrack for a moment and re-establish the fundamentals of TDM."

Nope, nothing like that. Nada. Zip. I wasn't sure if this was how entrepreneurs work in Singapore, you know, jump in, sink or swim. It sure didn't make much sense to me.

So when it came to my mind to voice my $0.02, I asked three questions which I thought should have been asked from the beginning:
  1. How many members does TDM have? (Answer: about 20.)
  2. What's the objective of the group? (Answer: "Err, that's why we're here!" Also, to build a community, promote Web 2.0 and social media in Singapore.)
  3. What kind of resources does it have, whether financial or networks? (Answer: there are a couple of connections from which funds can be accessed.)
Aside: I am starting to become more irritated by the word "community" than "Web 2.0".

My rationale for asking these came from two areas: I'm heavily influenced by my work, and I knew what it was like to waste half a day going around in circles. The latter became especially evident when re-establishing ECO Singapore. After we had crystallised its vision (and subsequently mission and goals), everything else fell into place. It was that simple!

My other big question, which I didn't voice out initially, was about its target audience. Yes, again, that's marketing-speak, but I think it make sense. For an organisation that's not rolling in money, it has very limited resources to carry out its mission. So I thought it needed to focus on a core group of people, then think about expanding that group as TDM grew and had more resources. But it couldn't know who this core audience was without a clearly defined objective.

I gave this analogy: the discussion so far seemed like TDM was throwing darts randomly as a bunch, and these were sticking all over the board. But what was really desired was to make all of the darts hit the bull's eye.

Yet, after two-and-a-half hours there, I still couldn't see that bull's eye! Maybe as a "new bird", I didn't know anything about TDM, which would be a fair assumption. And maybe I had missed something in the discussion itself.

When I left, they asked me for any parting words. And I said:
"Figure out your objectives and target audience."
I'd be interested to know what was achieved following my departure.

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EarthFest was a letdown

In conjunction with the 24-hour Live Earth concert, a couple of environmental groups organised an exhibition at One Fullerton. Among the attractions were a free screening of the concert and a chance to sign an environmental pledge.

I came to know about it through ECO Singapore, so I went down there today. Wow, I was utterly disappointed! There was hardly a soul! There were more volunteers than members of the public. I felt quite ashamed, because I had asked a friend along.

It turns out that the event was poorly publicised, probably because most of the meagre budget was spent on frivolous stuff, like disco lights for band performances. It might also have suffered from poor location. Instead of being in the open area near the Merlion, it was tucked at the back by the bay. As a result, there was also poor visibility.

At least there were some visitors last night, because of people who were there to watch the National Day Parade rehearsal. So I guess it wasn't a total failure.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Ping.sg's first anniversary party

Chua U-Zyn talking about Ping.sg
Ping.sg celebrated its first anniversary today, and I was there at Geek Terminal to catch the party. While I didn't walk away with an award (I was nominated for "Most Controversial Post"), I did gain a few insights... that are unrelated to Ping.

But first, the party itself. It was supposed to start at 4pm, and I had already planned to leave late, based on past experience with "Singapore time". But even with registration starting at 3:30pm, things didn't kick off till 4:30pm, so I "pity the fools" who arrived at 4pm thinking that they were already late.

Perhaps I wasn't in the right frame of mind, but I was totally bored throughout the pre-dinner events. Brennan and Rinaz were the masters of ceremony, but even they admitted that they were lame. No offence to them, but Brennan seemed fixated on the word "yes" (and its variants) while Rinaz blanked out from the start. Here's a keyword: "rehearsal".

At one point, they decided to talk about some trivia about Ping.sg. Unfortunately, it was clear that none of them had thought to note down any trivia before undertaking this presentation. I saw Rinaz holding a piece of paper, which I thought contained bits of information. Alas, she blanked out again.

Nine awards were presented that evening, announced by core members (for lack of better term) of Ping.sg. But by the second or third award, I was sensing a pattern: only those who were in the Ping.sg clique were winning. It didn't take a psychic to predict who would win Most Insightful, Most Controversial and Most Entertaining Posts awards.

I guess others were noticing this too, because the MCs made it a point to note that all of the nominations and voting were kept as democratic as possible. U-Zyn would later expound on the nomination process, as if to further highlight that everything was kept fair. Well, yes, I don't doubt the democratic process. But, from what I've learned in my job, the numbers don't lie. I'm sure the voting pattern will never be revealed, but I think it would be interesting to know who voted and their level of involvement in Ping.sg.

Disclaimer: I didn't vote for any nominee, not even my own. I figured it was bad enough that I had self-nominated my entry. Oh, and I had self-nominated a few entries in several categories, but evidently, I can only be controversial.

Towards the end of the awards presentation, I simply closed my eyes to take a break. I only paid attention when the winner for Best Citizen Journalism Entry award talked about how bloggers are already citizen journalists and it's up to us to present news that would never make it to the mainstream media.

After U-Zyn's talk about Ping.sg, including his continued stress that it's a community, it was time for dinner. I happened to make the acquaintance of Chris, the man standing next to me. He remarked that he had never seen me there before.
Me: Oh, are you a regular here?
Him: (sheepishly) Actually, I'm the owner.
Me: (gasp!)
We exchanged namecards and chatted a bit about bloggers and geeks. I was very intrigued by the power strips in the floor and asked him about it. He demonstrated how it worked: he took a special plug adapter and pushed it into the strip, which was actually called a power track. The track was actually a continuous line of electricity conductor, so the adapter didn't need to be connected in any particular point.

I later learned that this technology is from Eubiq, a local company (yay, made in Singapore!). If it ever takes off, I'm sure it will revolutionise the way power outlets are laid out in an office or home. Bye bye, extension cords!

My personalised cup of coffee mocha
Then Chris introduced us to his coffee barista, Danny. Apparently, Danny would be able to identify the "right" coffee after asking a few questions. I admitted that I didn't like coffee, and after a few more questions, he proceeded to prepare a mocha coffee. In spite of halving the amount of coffee, there was still too much for my real liking. Nonetheless, it tasted pretty good.

After dinner, I happened to talk to Brennan, who recognised me from Web.sg, though I didn't remember meeting him before! We chatted for a while about genetics and being an information junkie.

I stayed till about 8:15pm, then left for other parts.

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