Have you ever seen a musical performance by North Koreans? I Highly recommend taking a minute and half to check out this one.
I thought I would do a little history of Know Your Meme because there isn’t a good one out there. I had written one up before on the Know Your Meme website, but it got deleted.
In the Fall of 2007, Know Your Meme started one day in a moment.
At the time, Joanne Colan was the anchor of Rocketboom, I was selecting the content, writing the scripts and producing the show (and running the business) Joe Bonacci was editing, Kenyatta Cheese was organizing company operations (the editing department in particular), Jamie Wilkinson was the lead dev and Elspeth Rountree was my administrative assistant. It was an awesome time because we all loved what we were doing and everyone was sincere.
Not that it matters probably to anyone except me, for a bit of context, I was the only “Founder” of Rocketboom and the only “Founder” of Know Your Meme and in complete control of all creative and business decisions as I had hired everyone, Rocketboom was 100% my investment and business (everyone else was paid an excellent salary with benefits), and there were never any board members. There was also never a single person involved in Rocketboom or Know Your Meme who accepted any risk, or would care enough to work on it without getting paid a large amount (except for Joanne who really stands out as the person who was always there because she believed in our mission), or who would stick with it and help keep it afloat through times of trial. This would never change until I sold 100% of my share to Cheezburger outright last year. Having created and founded the site, and then after working so hard to a enable it and make it popular, I had already moved on mentally to working on other things I felt were also important to establish.
Anyway! One day in early August 2007, Kenyatta and I were deeply involved in discussing Rocketboom’s video content. It was a formal meeting with just the two of us and we were discussing creative ideas for topics and writing. With the exception of Joanne at times, no one else at the company discussed production concepts. I wrote all the scripts at home myself without consulting with anyone at the office so whenever I could tap people for ideas, I would do it. After Joanne, Kenyatta was a regular go-to when looking for extra script ideas.
Having noticed that some of the “segments” I had been doing were working, I wanted to find some more segments to do inside of the Rocketboom show. A segment happens in the middle of a news episode where it suddenly breaks into a reoccurring theme that is predictable and formulaic, but then breaks out and back into the normal episode. From a writing standpoint, it’s a crutch to lean on when time is running out and you need to deliver a script. From the audience perspective, it’s a welcome return to something familiar. From a business standpoint, it’s a great way to spin off a new show.
Since pretty much every other word out of our mouths those days was “meme”, Kenyatta turned to me and blurted out “Know Your Meme!”, and then proceeded to provide context for the history of “Know Your _[fill in the blank]____”, especially with regards to World War II propaganda. When I heard it, my mind raced in a million directions and I knew within moments that this was the trigger I was looking for – it was a perfect “brand” mechanism to explicate memes. As we were developing the idea further, Kenyatta also brought up the idea of the white lab coat and by this point, boom, I added it to my list of script segment ideas I would develop.
On September 4th, I sat down to write the very first Know Your Meme segment into a Rocketboom episode. Joanne was wearing a white lab coat, I directed and shot, and Joe edited. At the time, Kenyatta was focused on shaping up the editing department as our operating officer and took over the edit from Joe at the end of the night to help polish it up, and then I directed Kenyatta’s edits to completion.
Below is a section of the script I wrote from that day along with direction for a graphic intro, the first ever mention of “Know Your Meme”:
Hello and good Tuesday September 4th, 2007. Im Joanne and this is Rocketboom. Its great to be back. Lets get right to the news.
[v/o http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj3iNxZ8Dww in context of YouTube site, zooming in slowly on number of views, then http://www.youtube.com/browse?s=mp&t=a&c=0&l=&e=en_US&p=2 then for predecessors, show http://www.youtube.com/browse?s=mp&t=a&c=0&l=&e=en_US&p=1 ]
Miss Teen USA video on YouTube reaches 12million hits in one week, quickly working its way into the most viewed you tube videos of all time. As far as we know, this may be the quickest any video has shot up this high. Predecessors took many months to accomplish what Miss Teen USA has in just a few days.
Why has this video become so popular?
[Play “Know Your Meme” intro, just like “Word Play” intro to april 12th, 2007 [see 15sec in] use images of Numnuma, lolcats, ipod, tay zon day, xmas tree lights, dance 1:12sec in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSoVKUVOnfQ , ok go http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pv5zWaTEVkI , guitar http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjA5faZF1A8 ]
[v/o Play video of miss teen in the middle of the video [show in context on the youtube site] then start up v/o after about 8 seconds]
This type of meme falls under the category of what we call “Natural Parody”. Not only does this video represent a strong, melodramatic portrayal of the poor state of the US educational system,
this video is for real!
[resume video of Teen USA but this time on Dotsub to show subtitles]
and we all share the feeling that the reality of the melodrama portrayed here is quote, REALLY BIG. Through granted, stage freight was the true likely cause)
[play know your meme intro to end segment]
Taking things one step further,
behind, George Bush was in Iraq yesterday on a surprise visit to convince troops that they not only needed to be there, but that we need to keep them there and find some more people to join them.
As I mentioned, for me, Know Your Meme was all about explicating memes and establishing a vocabulary. You can see that even in the first segment, there was an air of presumption that this was not actually the first segment, in the way it assumes the audience already knows the vocabulary and the scene.
Something else had occurred to me as well. Rocketboom needed a place to aggregate these explicated memes and our audience might contribute. While there were a number of other comprehensive sites that would collect the source videos for memes, there wasn’t a good site out there for documenting the whys and wherefores. And a lot of memes were not video based. To me, this was always the most exciting aspect of Know Your Meme. Once you understand how content goes viral, by studying IRL case examples, that knowledge becomes powerful and valuable. So that night while the episode was being edited, I decided to install a Know Your Meme wiki onto rocketboom.com envisioning a ‘wikipedia for memes’, so to speak, but one that our audience at Rocketboom would understand enough to kick into gear. One that cited sources that Wikipedia would not consider authoritative. One that was completely and utterly free and open. I used to write on my blog and speak at conferences a lot about the power of collaborating with wikis. I then put up a few meme terms on the wiki and wrote up a few pages for starters and linked to the wiki from that day’s episode on Rocketboom.
The segment felt right, the wiki got a bit of action and so I decided to write another one. On September 16th, I wrote a Leave Britney Spears Alone reaction video segment and Joe edited. Bonus cameo by Steve Garfield that day.
[joanne throws iphone]
Steve? Steve are you there? Damit! [throws iphone again] And now ladies and gentlemen, Spiders, bots and lolcats, its time again for anther installment of…
[play know your meme intro]
Making its way onto the pop charts by Piggybacking [flash text below “PiggyBack Meme”] critique against Britney Spears MTV return performance,
[v/o leave britney alone video]
this gentleman has made his way into the #8 spot on YouTube for Most Discussed video of all time with over 1300 video responses and over 9 thousand comments. The video uses techniques of absurdity and sympathy in way that seem real enough to actually be absurd and sympathetic.
Having now established a name, a style, costumes and props, a theme, intro graphics, a wiki site, produced segments, a plan for ten episodes and a purchased domain name, you could say Kenyatta and myself were the co-creators of the Know Your Meme show and that I was the creator of the meme database.
And then Christmas was coming on. Kenyatta and I had several meetings to discuss content for the upcoming Christmas holiday. I was *completely* exhausted because I had not had a single vacation for literally 3 full years so the plan was to pre-program two weeks of content and have everyone take a break at once. Since I knew in order to accomplish this I would need to write 10 scripts, I went right to my crutch when the idea dawned on me that the Know Your Meme segments are ready for the next step, to become full-blown episodes and that it would be relatively easy (and a lot of fun) to do and so that’s what I decided I would do.
So Kenyatta spoke to Joanne to get her up to speed about it and on November 21st, Kenyatta informed the rest of the crew of what we were doing in order to seek input on which memes to cover because we knew everyone at the office would have big opinions on this. Ellie’s first contribution to Know Your Meme suggested we look at other videos of people talking about the year in memes to get some ideas. Jamie sent us all a link to a playlist of videos he had been collecting on YouTube.
I took everyone’s suggestions for which memes to cover, decided on the list and started cracking on the writing.
At the end of November, when it started to look like Joanne might be out sick during the critical shoot period, Kenyatta suggested Ellie and Jamie be on camera. I thought that was a good idea and suggested Kenyatta be on camera too. I was nagged to be on as well and even got my own embroidered lab coat but I’ve never wanted to be on camera [protip: There is one KYM episode I am in but no one outside of our group has discovered it yet]
As I mentioned, though Jamie and Ellie had not been involved in any way in the production process at Rocketboom before, it was an obviously good idea to try having them as on-camera “meme experts” or “scientists” to fill in for Joanne and everyone agreed to lend a hand, despite the crunch we were all under to get our other work done.
After I realized it would be impossible to get all of the scripts done alone, especially while continuing to write scripts for the daily show and acting as CEO, etc. etc., Kenyatta got Ellie and Jamie to pitch in with some script writing. This is the initial list of memes I decided on.
RickRoll (include Tay Zonday and Family Guy versions)
Tay Zonday/Chocolate Rain
09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0 (The Digg Revolt)
LOLCats (interview with Anil?)
I like turtles!
Walk It Out
Homemade Music Videos/Commercials (Daft Punk, Flagpole Sitta, iPod Touch)
Don’t Tase Me Bro
Commercial Memes (Gorilla Drummer, etc)
Gross out/Shock Vids
I wrote the first full length script to help act as a guide for the others. The first ever episode of Know Your Meme then was about Tay Zonday (as a musician myself I was a big fan), starring Joanne:
[Joanne standing with clipboard?]
[short graphic intro continue]
Otherwise known as Adam Nyere Bahner, Tay Zonday came into fame overnight on You-Tube with his own video hit single, Chocolate Rain.
[play some video of Chocolate Rain]
The question for us follows, why did this video hit count go insane?
[v/o tay on connan obrian]
After watching the audience reactions on National TV only to be followed by an abrupt finale – notice how they just turned off his piano as he was looking away and came out to stop him as if it were already over – one may still wonder,
Why? Why even experts at Encloypedia Dramatica have not considered this question and in our research around the internet, we were unable to find any theories as to WHY this video became popular. Lets have a look,
——transition edit with a wavy dream-like edit—–
[v/o scientists standing over Joanne while she is looking at the video, point to it and they all exchange ideas and opinions about the video. At first everyone stares at video for 10 seconds just watching (to p/u enough roll) / interchange this with asset from chocolate rain.]
Think back to the first time you experienced the Tay Zonday video. He had such a young, childish face and his voice was just so… low. Many of us stopped to ask, “Is that really that guy’s voice? How could he go so low? Is it even physically possible?
And so we got sucked in.
[v/o all scientists hard at work, maybe all lined up in a row working at computers or maybe with clipboards, etc, lots of action and commotion or completely still at work on the computer]
We analyzed the video for authenticity, fidelity, uniformity, viscosity – we tested the lip to audio sync propensity at variable bit rates as well as searched for inconstancies in interpolation and interlacing.
The video is real. [passionately->] Yet it was the question – the investigation itself – which led so many to look more closely. And thats when, Bingo! – level two sinks in.
[v/o original vid]
As Tay Zonday looks away to take a breath, he suddenly takes himself out of the video at hand and puts himself into our shoes. It happens, in a way, teasing us even further into searching for the authenticity of the video because we know now that even HE is questioning his own authority symbolically.
[v/o scientists agreeing that its all good]
Supporting the environmental predisposition for natural memage, by the time we concluded that the video was authentic… and that the low voice in the recording was true… we were already hooked. Its a one chord, repetitious stuck-in-your-head sensation.
If it was an accident, we may never know, but after many follow up successes,
[v/o yt videos and dp commercial]
including more on YT as well as TV appearances and now for a new DP,
[checking off clip board]
This is no one hit wonder, this is a true talent that made its way naturally through the system, a true value of internet meme quality. Forever a part of the year 2007.
And on December 15th, I took everyone’s submissions and began to revamp the complete lot of scripts. I sent them to Kenyatta and Joe that day to get started on the edits (Michael Clays was also editing). From my email:
Here are the scripts for the meme episodes. Currently, the info is all there and I wanted to send it over to you now before it got any later, but this is a terrible representation of the overall vision for each episode as well as the whole thing. So today/tonight I will draft up a complete, beginning-to-end, detailed script of everything, including directions for assets, etc for each script, order for episodes, etc. Im available to discuss anything anytime today so feel free to call, I can clarify anything you need to know in the meantime.
The next day I sent the updated notes and the episodes turned out to be a great success and everyone got a nice break.
By the end of the holiday, however, the wiki at http://knowyourmeme.com had turned into a real battlefield. I dreamed of a wiki that could remain open and had left the registration settings such that anyone could come in anonymously to create new meme entries and update old ones. I thought somehow removing the barrier to entry would work, like the Open Constitution Wiki, but it didn’t. Every time I turned around, someone would deface the wiki just to have fun and mess it up. I constantly had to go in and revert content and then soon, I added a login feature. As you can imagine, that was a weak fence.
Though Jamie began to appear in some more episodes, his best contribution IMO was eventually building out a new Know Your Meme wiki styled database from scratch. We continued to use my wiki for about a year until we finally released the new Know Your Meme site. Greg Leuch was also critical to the buildout. As the lead designer of the site, Greg should get a lot more credit than he has ever gotten in the press for his input and his ability to design in code.
As the site began to take shape on the backend, Chris Menning who also never gets enough credit was in charge of populating articles. I had hired Chris as my first assistant writer for Rocketboom and assigned him to help write entries for the database. Aside from Chris and myself, no one else at Rocketboom paid any attention to the wiki until after it was a pretty big hit. In order to get it there, Chris and I endured a tumultuous relationship because I was so controlling and demanding over the writing but we grew and grew together and Chris continues to do a great service to internet culture.
Establishing the right academic voice for the meme entries was crucial. Not too long ago there was some confusion over who wrote the "first database entries”. Though Jamie’s name is stamped on them, it’s because he was the one who set up the database and thus was the first user that everything went under when he imported entries from the year-old wiki. Chris was actually the one that wrote the bulk of the first articles based on what we could salvage from the best entries we had written on the wiki, and anew. The voice of the articles was critical because this is what would guide others when creating their own articles. I insisted it be extra academic along the lines of the episodes while Chris injected many crucial style elements as well.
Over the next year, Kenyatta would slowly take over the production of the Know Your Meme show and the others would slowly begin to collaborate more on scripts. I still maintained control over the topics and would write many scripts, taking them all in to finalize, along with signing-off on each edit, but saw Kenyatta as my way out and on to running Magma. I’ll never forget the day (over a year later) I announced to the team that I was handing over creative control of the Know Your Meme video production to Kenyatta. That meant Kenyatta would no longer need my sign-off on anything from ideas to publishing. This had never happened at Rocketboom before with any department.
Eventually, I decided I would name Kenyatta CEO of Know Your Meme but he abandoned it short of that time. Since I had mostly handed off Know Your Meme by the end of 2010, it left me with quite a load on my shoulders suddenly, along with Rocketboom. After fixing the operations and training a new team, so that it remained tuned for just a fraction of the cost, I was solicited by Cheezburger and sold last year.
Though I no longer participate much there, I still love Know Your Meme and I’m glad it’s able to keep doing its thing. The current staff of KYM which I hired, organized and negotiated employment for at Cheezburger has my heart for pulling together and stepping up to the plate to help keep Know Your Meme alive and looking good. That includes especially Brad and Don.
When I was in the process of selling and trying to assess it’s long term value, I wondered if it would one day fade. Of course Cheezburger or future owners could affect it in any way they want, but IMO, all things being equal, it will continue to remain an important resource for years to come, perhaps following a steady and enduring upward path, much like the incline seen over the past decade for the wonderful Urban Dictionary.
From everything I’ve learned, the best advice I can give to anyone at this point is simply to study how memes happen. Once you do, your voice will become empowered.
* Image Credits: Top: Know Your Meme; A picture of an IRL cut-out diorama made by Brad Kim. Bottom: Urlesque; Myself with the Know Your Meme team from the first ever Hollowmeme party put on by Rocketboom & AOL, October 2009.
You know, one of the most energizing and motivating parts of publishing video on YouTube is the instant feedback. It’s a special kind of feedback that goes beyond what you typically experience on other platforms.
On those occasions when you know you did your best work, and then notice the positive energy and feedback around your work increases, it drives you to keep doing what you do best.
And when the world gets in your way and in your own mind your work is not the very best, and the feedback comes with criticism, it drives you to do your best.
Consequently, between the positive affirmation for the things you think you did well and the criticism for the things you were unaware of, growth and fulfillment happens.
Rocketboom just entered it’s 9th year. Wow. Rocketboom is indisputably the longest running online video show in the world. I’ll wait another year or two to do the big review. The quick update for today:
For most of Rocketboom’s life there was no market to support it. And to this day, I’ve still never taken investment. So I had to go out and invent my own deals and always worried about food and shelter for the company (and myself). You can track this on my blog here and in the archives at http://dembot.net I made the best of it. Today, there is an incredible online video industry that is established and successfully on it’s way upwards. It took me awhile to adjust once it arrived, and to figure out how to transition from doing my own thing to participating in the new YouTube economy, e.g., but I’m figuring that out now while focusing on the product with my time.
Me? Well, I used to never say the word “product”, even though that’s prob my strong suit here. I had to become a businessman for Rocketboom and came to see the world this way sometimes. I was the last person on Earth to run a business the day Rocketboom started. But I figured a few things out, mostly right here in public. I’ve had some great moments and some really terrible ones too.
At heart, I’m driven by the process of innovation. Rocketboom was part of an innovative movement early on that actively demonstrated freedom from broadcast restrictions – freedom for the moving image. This one key factor is what drove me. Know Your Meme iterated on that process. Magma is another step in this movement. My latest effort with Humanwire, which has taken literally years to build upon, will, I hope, be seen as yet another iteration on what can be done with the medium, when the imagination becomes free. It’s a powerful medium to take hold of, way beyond just news and entertainment.
For those who have been around, you know that contrary to hoarding the spotlight when I’ve had it, I have made it my primary mission all of these years to inspire others to jump in and join the online video revolution. Rocketboom played a big part in inspiring many shows and people along the way, especially for those who have worked at Rocketboom and gone on to do similar work elsewhere.
At it’s peak size about two years ago, Rocketboom had 15 full-time employees, 10+ contractors, and I was spending between $60k and $80k a month, but the revenue being generated was still almost entirely special one-off sponsorship deals and it was difficult and very stressful to sustain. We were doing it, but it was a ruff lifestyle. The main Rocketboom show had sprouted into a network of shows including Rocketboom Daily, Humanwire, Rocketboom Tech, Rocketboom NYC and Know Your Meme. We were also running essentially three web community platforms to support these shows, Rocketboom, Know Your Meme and Magma. Know Your Meme had become one of the top 2000 sites with an enormous active community.
I’ll never forget the day I was talking with a venture capitalist in December of 2010. I was standing there going through everything we were doing and he stopped me right in mid-sentence with a statement that wasn’t even a question. “How are you running three businesses?”, he said. And like I mentioned, it wasn’t a question. But the reason why I remember this so well is because I was so prepared for that exact reaction and had my answer: “That’s why I need investment.” That was my solution to the situation I was in and I think investment at that time would of been just about the right time. My company had ballooned in size and spending but the market was finally coming to life so there was no longer a need to “wait for the market” or invent one, it had finally come down to simple, real world projections for plugging in. Had I taken investment earlier, Rocketboom would have been dead several times over for having come too soon on that front, but this seemed like the right moment.
Yet somehow, my company had become internally sick. Other online video companies were suddenly growing faster with less stress while becoming more nimble and efficient it seemed. My business had become slow and bureaucratic. We had become the enemy. Internal politics, office drama and in general, too much stress. Salaries and spending were too high to sustain. I was becoming less engaged with Rocketboom and KYM as they had become established as platforms and was trying to transition to focusing on Magma, all of which was simply too much to do under the circumstances, and too soon. I got all of these works up and running but when it came time to operating them, and keeping them running, the market was not there for it, and I made the mistake of not being engaged enough in the day-to-day operations to see what Rocketboom had become.
I made a pretty big decision around that time because just as he did say he would like to invest in one of the companies, Know Your Meme, I got another offer to sell Know Your Meme. Do I take the investment? Or do I sell? It was a tuff decision but the answer was pretty clear for me. I was not actually ready for the investment. My company was not a healthy company. The market was ready for me, but I was not ready for the market. Dramatic changes needed to be made. I needed to take what I had learned over the last decade online and start over.
Within the first 6 months of 2011, I sold Know Your Meme, put the Rocketboom Tech show on hiatus (the sponsorship with Intel had just completed at the end of 2010), phased out the NYC show, worked on the backend partnerships only for the Humaniwre show and all together slashed and burned the place all the way back to where I started in 2004.
From an organizational/resources perspective, the most recent iteration of Rocketboom content involves only two people. Myself and one contractor, Keghan. I’ve had no other contractors, no employees, no office and no overhead since re-releasing the show with Keghan as the anchor exactly six months ago. I have written, directed, produced, edited and published every episode myself. I needed to put everything else aside and get back to the art of the show, at it’s core. I’m not so great at doing *everything*, of course. My production skills are lacking. My writing is what it is. I’m still learning Final Cut Pro. I simply can’t compete alone with a team of many. But now that I am refreshed on what it takes compared to what it took me alone years ago when I first established Rocketboom, and by contrast to what Rocketboom had become when it was overly bloated at its peak size, I feel I’m in a good position to re-scale the now tiny audience (esp. relative to the audience we had with 6 shows and a large staff) and to rescale the business and production methods more efficiently in the process.
For starters, I just brought the two best writers Rocketboom ever had back on board along two new editors, under a new workflow that will start to come to life in the upcoming weeks. Slowly, slowly. With Humanwire on the way, I will soon have a new story director/producer. And I plan to spend some serious midnight oil myself in the upcoming months integrating Magma into Rocketboom as the basis for building on the Rocketboom community. I’ll be keeping my eyes set on developing revenue via YouTube for now (which means I can focus on developing the shows). Our old youtube subscribers have been flushed out and the audience, rebooted. It’s a pretty calm and quiet birthday this year, less of a time for celebrating and more of a time for pondering the mere fact that Rocketboom still exists.
There are always haters, but a lot of people really love the show still. We have thousands of episodes that continue to be seen and comented on everyday. It’s turning into a pretty exciting time in terms of the business proposition of Rocketboom. Without having to race to be first (something that was so important to me in 2004), a slow and steady, sustainable build is in order.
Again Im reminded of the “format” for Rocketboom which seems to still work. Rocketboom happened at just the right time way back when, and in a strange turn of events, appears to be happening anew at just the right time again. If nothing else, let this be one example of a wake-up call to independent publishers who have a dream. We’ve been doing it with just two people for the last several months. Some do it with just one. In terms of building an audience, we are just at the beginning again. Clearly if I can do it so easily, you can. The window of opportunity is still very much wide open.
You may have been wondering where Rocketboom has been for the last several months. The wilderness? Sitting around selling stamps? Nope. Looking for Keghan.
You would think a grand search through the depths of YouTube would lead you to the talent you are looking for pretty easily, wouldn’t you? You might even think that having access to Hollywood agents, or subscription platforms like Backstage might help, right? Well YOU WOULD BE WRONG!!
If you have ever enjoyed Rocketboom in the past, you know that we put it all into talent and I can tell you with all certainty, talent is very rare. So rare. We find ourselves going to all ends of the Earth to find it. For example, we’ve gone as far as obtaining America’s first international O-1 work visa for an Internet TV show and then went on to secure one a second time. We’ve also been known to pay the highest salaries in our field – whatever it takes. If you have ever met anyone who has worked at Rocketboom, on-camera or off, I’m sure you will agree, without a doubt, they are talented.
Over the last several months we have been winding down all of our client work (something that started to pick up a couple of years ago but ultimately became too distracting for sucking out all of our time and creative energy). We also ran a show for the amazing PBS Parents channel online (it won an award a few months ago) and alot of past Rocketboomers have gone on to work with PBS on some really cool projects.
Another program we have been working on is Humanwire. Humanwire has been on Rocketboom for years and years but over the last 6 months we have grown our correspondent base to 130 vetted video journalists around the world, all on standby and producing assignments. It’s just a sign-up page now, but Humanwire has officially spun out of Rocketboom (in a similar way in which Know Your Meme spun out of Rocketboom) launching with three episodes per week with the expecatation of growing to as many as 10 per week by the end of the year. It’s not exactly a secret who we have partnered up with for this project, though I’ll leave it up to our formal press releases soon as the new show will launch on May 14th.
Late last October, just as Rocketboom was about to carry on with the next iteration of the daily news show – literally days from release – I decided it just wasn’t good enough, scrapped everything and started over. From scratch.
Which leads us to Keghan. After a harsh, depressing and very long and drawn-out search, about a month ago, there she appeared – the needle in the haystack we were looking for – and the rest, as they say, is history. Keghan moved from Los Angeles to NYC just last week and today, I can surely say, Keghan is going to take Rocketboom to the next level with her larger-than-life, smart-as-a-whip personality.
I think it is amazing that people still enjoy Rocketboom, almost now in it’s 9th year. My only explanation is that we have hit upon a format that continues to work, much like the night show format which continues on pretty much unchanged after decades (Guy stands at front of stage with hand in pocket for intro monologue with jokes of the day, then sits at desk with coffee mug and index cards being silly. Camera expands to guest-star in chair stage right of desk. Throw to band. Interview another star. Repeat.) The format is there, though it takes an extraordinarily rare kind of talent to turn it on, and make it brilliant. Please welcome aboard Keghan!
I have a bit of interesting financial detail about Rocketboom to share. It’s a method of fund raising that I don’t hear others talking about, and it feels wrong somehow, but also it’s working great, for now, so I wanted to throw it out there and see if anyone had any major criticism. One of the (many) ways I have kept Rocketboom afloat over the years is through a relationship I have built with Apple. You could say I am a lurker of sorts. Or perhaps you would call me a bona fide fan boy (since my first BBS which I ran on an Apple //e many years ago). Now I’m trading $AAPL stock, and making a very significant amount of revenue to help keep my business growing.
IMO, this is perhaps one of the most controversial ways in which I spend my time. Last year, after selling my Know Your Meme business, I made the difficult decision to take a hefty portion out of the proceeds and secure my own life with it. That obviously left Rocketboom in need of more support. While I’m no less dedicated, after all of these years, I had to draw a line and secure my own well being. I found my personality is completely unafraid of risk when I believe in something and have spent my every last dollar more than than once on Rocketboom. So now that I’m in a secure position with my own personal finances w/o ever having to worry that I will spend it all on Rocketboom, I’m actually in a better position to operate and grow Rocketboom. And the time to do that now, market-wise, as it turns out, is now.
At first, trading Apple was exciting. Each day I came home from the office and looked at all the money I made that day, just from letting it sit there. Once I got a margin account, I understood, more than ever, how the rich just keep getting richer. It’s certainly jaded me from my otherwise typically idealistic mindset but that’s another story.
As I began to study more about the market forces that effect Apple’s stock price, I noticed immediately that the biggest problem, OBVIOUSLY, was that trading consumed and distracted me from running my company. I like to create things and spend my days engaging in activity I hope is beneficial to the world. Trading Apple makes me feel selfish and guilty. But like the many professional traders who do wonderfully beneficial things with the money they make, it’s helping to enable me too.
By some analyses, Rocketboom, as a business, started “too early” (almost 8 years ago), during a time when there was literally no marketplace to support it. Over the years, I’ve generated millions of dollars in revenue, but the vast majority required inventing a new market proposal out of thin air every time, a new market justification to support it and then a new workflow to execute. Nary a sustainable standard insight. By other analyses (such as those of my own), Rocketboom owes everything it has to coming at exactly the right time. Most of my colleagues who started out around the same time, and gained a spark, have almost all given up or pivoted, having spent millions upon millions driving their business into the ground.
That’s because most of us thought the market place for Internet TV would happen sooner. But this is media after all. Think about how long it’s taking for the newspapers to die. It tends to take much longer than your typical Silicon Valley startup investment cycle to break down and disrupt an entire media industry for good. Sure, in the platform wars, there is already at least one major online winner on the hosting front: YouTube. But in the content wars, there isn’t actually any war at all. There is comparing and contrasting. There is awesome and crappy based on individual tastes. But the tools of the trade, and the value of the reach are now officially democratized.
The marketplace for content, on the other hand, which is here and in many ways growing, is STILL not supportive enough with any market standards. To say the least, for any online production company, it’s a RISKY business right now. You’ve got to lay awake at night thinking about how you are going to sustain and take it to the next level if you want to keep growing your product.
As a relatively inexperienced entrepreneur who is wired to think more like an artist, I’m inspired by Apple and look up to them with wonder. I try to learn and apply what I can. I know this sounds cliche, but Steve Jobs is one of the only people who has inspired me. It’s a twilight of the idols in almost every other case.
So I figured, if I could just attach my business to Apple, theoretically, I could do proportionately just as well in terms of going up when Apple goes up, and going down when Apple goes down. Since I believe in the company and believe it will move up for now, more so than I feel the market can support Rocketboom’s growth right now, I feel I’m significantly decreasing my risks and setting aside a lot of worries regarding profits. All the while, using the extra money to improve upon my own products while the market matures.
So I take any revenue I do generate from Rocketboom, aside from what is needed to operate, and put it into Apple.
After awhile, I found from paying more attention that I could make even more money than Apple each day, proportionally speaking, by studying a common phenomenon that causes the otherwise healthy company’s stock to slip. The stock will drop for any number of reasons on any given day, so I’ll try to get out when it’s falling, and then wait for it to hit the bottom and start moving back up before safely buying back in with confidence that the company is going to keep selling more iphones and ipads tomorrow. If things get really messy and volatile, I just stay out and wait for a trend to happen. I’ve done some shorting too which takes this concept even further. The biggest predictable dip of my life just happened this week and I played it perfectly, thanks to the signals I picked up from experienced online traders who tweet play-by-play all day, one of the sources I use to decide what to do each day (*note: hard to find the signal in the noise there, yet another story)
You don’t need me to convince you that Apple is a valuable company that will likely keep growing, but here are the main points I think about in feeling bullish that Apple (and thus Rocketboom) will keep going up…for now:
1. My grad degree is actually in interface design, so I can appreciate the importance of what Apple has created and see why it’s ahead of the competition.
2. As of last month, Apple had only 9-10% share of the global mobile phone market. I.e., lots of room for growth. And though they only had 9% share, Apple generated over 75% of the profits of the entire market.
3. Unlike rivals such as Google and Facebook who give away free software such as Android and online CMS, Apple’s iOS comes with a hardware sale that causes people to turn into zombies and stand in lines around the world to be the first to pay hundreds of dollars for each new product.
4. Apple’s hardware cycle refresh rate is so rapid, people continue to buy more and more hardware. Some people buy new iPhones once or twice a year. I pay so much money to Apple it’s kinda crazy. But I only pay about $10/year to Google for gmail space and thats it. And sadly for Google’s advertisers, I don’t notice. Big difference in revenue streams. Just walk into any Apple store and you know what I mean.
5. All around the world, the Apple stores make more money per square foot than any other brick and mortar business on Earth. Though Apple also makes a significant amount of sales via their website and other stores.
6. Unlike other Silicon Valley companies, Apple is making the most progress in entering China. Out of the 1.4 Billion people in China, Apple has just established their first stores and now have 5. I.e., lots of room for growth.
7. During the 2008 recession, when Apple got dragged down with the market crash, guess who bounced straight up first and has been going up ever since? Even with the most expensive products on the market, Apple can sell out at the bottom of a depression.
8. The executives running the company post-Jobs have been there for ages and have (so far) taken almost no risks to jeopardize expanding on what they have. They will need to innovate to sustain, sure, but they are way ahead of the curve for now.
9. They have a lot of cash. LOTS AND LOTS of it. More than they need, according to them. They have formed a special committee to try and figure out what to do with it all! And don’t tell me how many countries they could buy, we know!
At least I can say this distraction has led me to study Apple more closely and I have been learning more about other businesses which at times has been applicable. Like a good liberal arts education, I guess I’m adding to a more well rounded understanding of how the rest of the world of business works while learning to develop my own. Am I doing it wrong?
If you look at the last five Presidential races, in each case, the candidate who spent the most money, won.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about politics because my Dad was a major influence to the Democratic party and I payed attention to a lot of the things he was doing. He was a great man in my book and became one of the happiest people I have ever met, a workaholic entrepreneur driven by the pure passion of Democracy and opportunity for everyone. Some of his closest friends even accused him of being a Socialist.
When he first got his jet, he would fly Ann Richards around when she was campaigning for Governor of Texas and got some time to talk with her about various issues he was interested in. There he became dramatically inspired, and became interested in politics like I had never seen before. Ann Richards actually won, the first woman Governor in Texas.
Because Texas was next door to Arkansas, my dad became friends with Bill Clinton who was running for Governor at the same time. My dad LOVED Bill Clinton. If you ask me, I would say Bill Clinton was one of the smartest, most effective Presidents America has ever had. If you asked my dad, he would agree and add that Bill Clinton was the best man alive.
When Clinton was running for President my dad got much more involved. He rallied all of the trial lawyers in America, a massive group of people who are predominately Democratic, and have the wherewithal to donate to the cause (i.e. top 1%). The limit at that time that any one person could give, by law, was $2000. Today, you can give up to $2500 max to any Presidential candidate. My dad would host parties at the house in Dallas and invite the la-di-da of any field to meet and inspire everyone they could to donate and go back out with the inspiration to get their colleagues to donate too.
For my Dad, it was ALL about the money. That’s because he knew that money wins elections. Whoever has the most money, has the most money to spend and whoever spends the most money, wins.
This goes for the primaries and especially for the major Presidential elections. The more money you have, the more you can spend on resources to keep up, pull ahead, run TV Commercials, get endorsements, mobilize volunteers door-to-door and on the phones, billboards, front yard signs, robocalls (I wish they would ban robocalls but sadly, it’s one of the most effective tools to use in negative attack campaigns by both candidates in the last days of a Presidential election), ignite inspiration (the best!), PR, PR, PR, and of course, RAISE TO SPEND MORE!
When Bill Clinton was elected, this was pre-Internet boom, mind you. 1992. He went on to became the first ever President to send an email.
Most people in America could not afford to give thousands of dollars to the candidates of their choice, so for the most part, the candidates would ignore almost everyone when it came to spending their time efficiently on the campaign trail. In other words, if you don’t have any money, you might be able to see a Presidential candidate speak if you are ambitious, maybe even ask a question from the audience, but you probably couldn’t get close enough to one unless you could pay $2000 plus at a fundraising event. To that end, many take the opportunity to manage a couple of minutes to mingle, and offer their support, with the hope their relationship will endure. What would you say for $1000 a minute?
With the strong support of my dad, after Bill Clinton out-raised and then defeated incumbent George Bush Sr., Clinton offered to nominate my dad to become a Supreme Court Judge. My dad actually considered it and even spent a couple of days shadowing one to see what the day-to-day activity was like. He just wasn’t interested. Plus, he would be required to sell his law firm. He told me that it was actually a pretty boring job.
For Al Gore’s run, my dad raised amongst the most, if not THE most money of anyone on Gore’s campaign finance team. Again, it was the trial lawyers, one of the wealthiest, largest groups in America, getting so much money to the Democrats. Sometimes people would put their money behind an opposing Republican candidate, and my dad would convince them to give to his Democratic candidate too. A lot of business people give full amounts to both the Republican and Democratic parties. My dad pointed out some of these people at various events and I would study their behavior to obtain a reference point for people who actually have a zero percent level of integrity.
THE DIGITAL GENERATION
It was during the race with Al Gore vs. George Bush that I got involved myself, so I decided to use the tools that I knew best, my computer. I’ll save the details of my own participation for one of the next posts but it was others who had the same idea that pitched in with their keyboards – it wasn’t going to be just about the money for long.
As a matter of classic campaign finance history, the Howard Dean scream marks the end of a new begging in raising campaign funds in the digital age. Howard Dean took my dad and the rest of the world by surprise like a ball right out of left field. The Dot Com Boom had come and gone, but now, still standing in the ruins of Silicon Valley, was the online shopping cart. Major sites like Ebay and Yahoo! effectively brought the shopping cart to the internet in a way that got people in America comfortable with the idea.
Suddenly, people were giving to Howard Dean in record micro-donation numbers. $10 here, $5 there. It was so significant, Dean shot up, out of nowhere, and spent, and got more, and people noticed. From a complete unknown and outsider to cant-deny status it was money, from anyone! The other candidates were still mostly ignoring the web at this time with small amounts of their own spending, just going after the top 1% as usual. It was the new Bored At Work who sat at computers all day with above par salaries while scrutinizing a variety of information online and participating with blogs and forms, that were becoming influential.
However awesome, it was still a pretty small percent compared to the classic, top-dollar machine. Howard Dean eventually lost out in the primaries to John Kerry and his Kerry’s running mate John Edwards. Kerry/Edwards lost to incumbent George Bush Jr. and Dick Cheney. Gives ya shivers to remember all of this doesn’t it? The money is one thing, but finding the right person for the job is an uphill battle.
My dad eventually got the internet and election after election, through Clinton, Gore, John Kerry, John Edwards and Obama, my dad became one of the most important people to have on your team. The same was true for the Democratic primaries and when Hillary Clinton was running for President, she wanted him, and so did many others. It KILLED my dad that he choose between John Edwards and Hillary Clinton when they ran against each other but he knew he would support whoever won in the primaries and raise as much as he could to win the election for the Democratic cause. He would of been excited if Hillary would of won and he would of become Attorney General had Edwards not fucked it up so bad for himself and everyone around him.
Just as Obama raised the most funds, and just before he won, my father, Fred Baron, fell weak from cancer and passed away in October, 2008.
HOW WILL SOCIAL MEDIA EFFECT THE RACE?
Already in time for the 2012 Election, the Republicans have raised over $186M but most of that has probably been spent now, fighting against each other. At the top of the heap, Romney has brought in over $30M for himself, twice that of any of his contenders. This suggests he may win the ticket. Obama has not been sitting around waiting for this to play out, though. To date, for his 2012 re-run, Obama has already amassed $100M and doesn’t have to spend any of it to fight other Democrats. Interestingly, Obamas micro-donations account for an estimated 40% of his money so far.
Considering the exponential growth of people with access to online payments, along with the power of the established social media landscape to take control of the message, this election will see many surprises. Don’t you assume Anonymous, Reddit, and #OWS for example might actually be influential?
For some reason I have become especially interested in a couple of topics: 1. The effect of the international online community – If you don’t live in America, what can you do to contribute to effecting it legally, for after all, you may have a strong opinion and might be effected in your own country based on who wins in the US and 2. What about Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, blogs and YouTube in terms of their contribution to campaign finance? After all, the reason for raising the most money is to spend the most money on press, yet these platforms are becoming the biggest, most influential press there can be, for even people are now themselves the press and as you know, everyone has their opinions. More on these topics soon.
All the world is a meme. So what are the most outstanding for 2011? The lists are already rolling in. There is a list of Best Memes (as in “best pizza”), Top News Memes (informed directly by the “Best Memes” list), Top Twitter Hashtags, Most Shared Stories on Facebook, Top Google Insights, you name it.
To add to the lot, I decided to broaden the perspective beyond a US-centric outlook while narrowing my focus, for which I here present, THE GREATEST BIGGEST MOST IMPORTANT FURTHEST REACHING MEMES OF 2011.
THE MOST IMPORTANT MEME OF 2011
Undoubtably, the single most important meme of the year got it’s start one morning almost exactly a year ago, on December 17th, 2010. A young man, stuck in a faltering social and political system, managing to just get by as a fruit vendor, simply could not take it anymore. Mohamed Bouazizi was a well-liked 26 years old who supported a family of eight and was known to regularly give away free fruit and vegetables from his street wheelbarrow, though he did not make enough for authorities who regularly harassed him for bribes.
Just after 10:30 a.m., the police began harassing him again claiming he did not have a vendor’s permit, even though a permit is not required to sell from a cart. After arguing with a policewoman, she slapped Bouazizi in the face, kicked over his cart, made a slur about his deceased father and then confiscated his scales.
After refusal to be heard or seen by the courts, unable to regain his scales, Bouazizi obtained a can of gasoline from a nearby station, stood in the middle of traffic before the Governor’s office, shouted “How do you expect me to make a living!?” and then doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire.
The city was Sidi Bouzid in Tunsinia and the people were enraged. Protests began taking place within hours and continued to grow every day. After Boiazizi passed away on January 4th, the protests swelled to an all-out revolution leading President Ben Ali to finally flee Tunisia for his own life on January 14th, overthrown.
Inspired by the success of the revolution in Tunisia, a protest against poor living conditions began in Bayda, Libya on the same day, January 14th, triggering a violent reaction from the police, subsequent anti-Gaddafi protests throughout the country and by October, an overthrown government.
In Egypt, anti-government protests began on January 25th and Mubarak was overthrown by February.
The list of revolutions in countries throughout the region carries on, inciting dramatic, rapid change. Some solute Facebook. Some solute the internet in general. To many the idea is as old as Democracy. Whatever we have witnessed this year with the Arab Spring, it’s tied into the idea of Freedom, which is an idea as old as any, perhaps the most powerful meme in all of humanity.
THE FURTHEST REACHING MEME OF 2011
The Death of Bin Laden was probably the furthest reaching news story on the planet. "Pssst, did you hear!? Bin Laden is dead!“ "OMG, REALLY? Hey, did you hear?” “Yeah, Bin Laden, amazing.” This event is named for being the most likely news story to reach the furthest expanses of the entire Earth. Think beyond Google and Twitter. Beyond Michael Jackson. Imagine the person in a small village in the Amazon (the rainforest, not the website), the practically uncontacted tribe member. If they get any news about the world at all, they might at least know about a “massive tribe” (that which we call America) and it’s “enemy”. People throughout the most remote regions on Earth this year, so many still without adequate food and water, let alone without an ipod, were probably more likely to hear about the death of Bin Laden above and beyond any other international story. If you can remember the moment you heard the news, you probably couldnt help but turn to anyone around you to share.
This meme had the most epic, historical topic of war, which humans in all cultures can relate to. And it was a headline ten years in the making. A single man against the most powerful factions of the world. We were so ready for this news, we didn’t even need to see the evidence, we left it up these folks who saw the pictures for us:
This reaction-image of the US’s top brass in the “Situation Room” viewing the evidence of Bin Laden’s Death became a notable lol-meme in-and-of-itself though the image’s reach, even with all the fun that was had (see that video game controller shooped over Obama?), is no where near the reach of the simple idea itself that Bin Laden is dead and gone.
Considering how quickly news does spread in this day and age (i.e. a lot faster than any time before us), I would not be surprised if the news of Bin Ladens’ death reached more people, more quickly, than any news event EVER in the history of Humanity.
THE GREATEST HUMAN MEME OF 2011
Though far reaching with his life and death, Bin Laden was a terrible man and does not get to be the Greatest Human Meme of 2011, IMHO; uninspiring, off-base, horrible, disturbing and doing it wrong. This is nothing of an idea for a human, compared to the ideas of inspiration and greatness fathomed in the collective reflection of the life and work of Steve Jobs. He’s that guy. The man who pushed the world ahead so far, so quickly. He pushed us through the beginning of the information age with personal computers, he spearheaded the digital music and film industries, his products helped the most in enabling and inspiring personal publishing, he reinvented the telephone, tablet computing, and you know, what not.
On Jobs’ battle with cancer, MG Siegler points out the importance of his age and contributions in considering this profound, memetic aspect of his death:
But it didn’t just rob Jobs. It robbed us too. That’s why people who haven’t met the man care so deeply. Not only is his early death a sad story, it takes away a man who will go down as one of the greatest innovators of not only our time, but of any time. And while you could certainly argue that someone like Michael Jackson contributed great art to the world — he did — he hadn’t done anything significant in nearly 20 years at the time of this death. Steve Jobs was in his prime when it came to his trade, when he passed away.“
The news of Steve Jobs’ death was a story that spread incredibly far and deep, transcending everything we have seen in the past with technological fame. What other person from the computer industry has been thought of as much, with so much appreciation, all at once? Referring to the intense outpouring of emotion surrounding Jobs’ death, Siegler went on to note:
This type of global unity tends to happen when a major celebrity passes away — think: Michael Jackson — because nearly everyone on the planet knows who they are. People always look for common bonds, and those are easy ones to establish. That’s because pop culture shoves them in our faces for years if not decades. And the type of fame they achieve goes hand-in-hand with celebrity.
But Steve Jobs was not a celebrity — at least not in the traditional sense. Sure, he was famous, but he did not seek fame. Nor did he need it. The main goal of his career was not to sell his image. He was the head of a company…Jobs is the first truly transformative figure to die in an age of transformative technology. He’s someone who will be talked about a thousand years from now. And the fact that he was transformative in technology just compounds the reactions to his death right now.
President Obama on the Passing of Steve Jobs: "He changed the way each of is sees the world” [link]
Larry Page: “Im very sad to hear the news about Steve.” [link]
Mark Zuckerberg: “Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world. I will miss you.” [link]
Bill Gates: Remembering Steve Jobs [link]
THE MOST ABSURD MEME OF 2011
The tune is so good, and the idea is so bright, Nyan Nyan Cat. Much like a smile, or a war, people on the internet everywhere – people who have seen things – can understand the absurdity of our lives, all together, all at once with Nyan Nyan Cat. My favorite version is the 10 hour long video which boasts over 8 million views alone. See also: Nyan Nyan Cat Man. HONORABLE MENTION for Most Absurd Meme of 2011 (US Version) goes to Charlie Sheen for bringing down boundaries between the fanatic celebrity-ism pop culture world and the real-world as we know it, on Twitter.
Beyond Twitter, Nyan Nyan Cat has been seen by many more people this year, and it’s amazing how many people across the world have participated in the joy and extreme absurdity of this comic meme.