2013 in review

Happy New Year everyone! WordPress were kind enough to provide a brief summary of this blog’s 2013.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,900 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Not too bad!
Click here to see the complete report.

Happy New Year!

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The iPad is getting closer to the Macbook

iPad AirFollowing up on the announcement the new iPad Air, I would like to go back to one of my old posts. I think it’s relevant to say the iPad is getting closer and closer to the Macbook line. As I said in my previous post: this is about marketing, communication and branding; the iPad has become today’s personal computer. And as such, it now boasts a suffix all of us know from the Macbook line of products.

It will be interesting to see how customers react to this shared name, especially since Apple has had a number of name mixups over the years, starting with iTouch. Also, since the Macbook Air is the lightest version of the Macbook, I think it’s a bit awkward that Apple would choose to name Air a device that is far behind the iPad Mini’s portability features.

As for the Mini, I was looking forward to the Retina version, but I wonder if in the end it’s not best to go with the previous one for a reduced price!

 

 

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Angry Birds: May the Force be with you!

It has been officially announced: Rovio and LucasFilm have partnered in order to release a new episode of Angry Birds. The Rebel Alliance will obviously be composed of Birds, and the Empire will be represented by the Piggies (“The Porkside”).

I’m really curious as to how they reached this partnership, but I guess Angry Birds Space has much to do with it. Plus this opens a whole new perspective of partnerships with Rovio and their flagship videogame.

Fans of one, the other, or both, go get it on November 8th! Available on iOS and Android. In the meantime, check the trailer on Rovio’s YouTube channel.

Thank you for reading! Please feel free to comment below or contact me on Twitter. If you want to be kept informed of further articles and other interesting content, go check The Y on Facebook and Twitter, curated by myself.

The release on Rovio’s blog.
Angry Birds Star Wars on Tumblr.

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The Hunger Games: rip-off, or pure inspiration?

No need to introduce The Hunger Games. Many have read the books and/or watched the movie. And it’s addictive; you just can’t keep yourself from turning the pages. I haven’t had the opportunity to watch the movie yet, but I bet it’s as absorbing. And it’s totally normal. Whether it is a rip-off or pure inspiration, The Hunger Games includes elements that made other stories the successes we know today: Twilight, Battle Royale, The Fifth Element, and 1984.

1. Twilight fans, you’re welcome

There is a clear parallelism with Twilight, which you have obviously noted if you are acquainted with Stephenie Meyer’s novels.

The most obvious is the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale. And these three remind us a lot of Bella, Edward and Jacob, don’t they? The female heroine, also the narrator, is in love with two completely opposed guys. She is also dumb, very insecure about herself, even self-hating. She’s determined as well, for good or bad. And finally, both heroines rise up in society, in a way. This is common to many children tales and princess stories, which could be the origin of female heroines, who nowadays tend to fill in more masculine-attributed roles.

Then comes the heroine’s first love Peeta and Edward. High social background, Caucasian, and self-sacrificing for the girl he is in love with, up to the point of stepping aside, leaving or putting his own life in jeopardy. He’s also the last to come into the heroine’s life, although still being the first of the two guys to enter the love triangle.

And last but not least, comes along the rebel best friend, who’s closer to the girl in a friendly way until he comes clean about his feeling towards her. Somehow low social background, closer to nature and wildlife; the exact opposite of his rival.

Of course, Katniss and Bella being the narrators, we feel close to them, and this obviously helps us to actually live the story, right beside (or inside) them.

2. Battle Royale, a fiery debate

Battle Royale connoisseurs, you know the resemblances. The Games seem very much inspired from the “game” played in Battle Royale. A bunch of kids are tossed into a battleground, and only one may come out alive. So the concept is pretty much the same.

However, some important differences arise. First, Battle Royale students know each other very well, they go to the same school, in the same class. So these kids are actually killing their closest friends, as opposed to Tributes, who will at most know one other fellow participant in the Games. This is clearly stated in the movie’s French poster caption: “Have you already killed your best friend?”

Another key factor in the battle is the way you get your weapons. Battle Royale provides each teenager with a bag full of mystery supplies, which can be of great use or of none whatsoever. In The Hunger Games, you have either the Cornucopia or improvisation.

Then, there’s organizers’ intervention. This may not look like a key difference, but it makes a huge one. Gamemakers keep meddling with the tributes in order to bring them closer and fighting, and they do this in ways unexpected by the tributes. On the contrary, their Japanese counterparts clearly set the rules as regards their intervention: explosive collars, a 3-day game, and danger zones in which such devices can explode as well. These mainly affect death by Gamemakers, game length and entertainment.

Yes, entertainment, and public awareness. Another thing that is absent in Battle Royale, in which the whole “game” is kept secret from the players until the very last moment. This is completely opposed to the Hunger Games, which apart from reminding the District population of a specific message the Capitol wants to convey, aim at entertaining the Capitolites. So Battle Royale is more of a punishment, and The Hunger Games are both a punishment and a show.

3. The Fifth Element, or the origins of the Capitol

Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element seems a clear reference here. Remember those gaudy costumes and styles designed by Jean Paul Gaultier? Remember Ruby Rhod? Well, all these elements may have influenced the setting of the Capitol, from the people up to the buildings. Oddly enough, this movie starts with a hero (Bruce Willis as Corben Dallas) and ends up with a heroin instead (Milla Jovovich as Leeloo).

         

And of course, the clear division between the upper city and the bottom, which is close to the Capitol / District division of the population. This kind of segregation can be seen in many other novels and movies that feature authoritarian regimes.

4. 1984, the political science fiction reference

And speaking of authoritarian regimes, what better reference that George Orwell’s 1984 dystopia, ruled by The Party, “IngSoc”, or its equivalent, the Capitol. Population disinformation and distorted truth are the better example: the District’s Peacekeepers have nothing to do with peace, and the TV broadcasts unreliable content. This also works for the Games themselves, which are actual warfare, instead of a replacement for it. This dichotomy could be directly inspired from 1984, in which official names represent the exact opposite of their real purpose; for instance, the Ministries of Peace, Love, Truth, and Plenty, work on war, hate, disinformation and rationing, respectively.

Another reference lies in world geopolitics. Orwell pictures the earth as divided between three intercontinental super-states, and the main one is ruled by the Ministries cited above. In The Hunger Games, the clear equivalents are Panem, and each District’s Justice Building, Peacekeepers’ Headquarters and Communication Center.

          

Finally, an important influence of 1984 is the way our environment plays an important role in shaping who we are. Here, Orwell takes a step further, pushing this environment to an entity that actually aims at changing your self, by destroying your beliefs, your mind and your body, even. I can’t help but notice a parallel in The Hunger Games, where Katniss and Gale must hide their true selves and activities to the District. In addition, Katniss and Peeta must play the role of lovers, regardless of whether they really (and consciously) feel that way about each other. This develops further when Katniss concludes “ desperate love” is the only way the Capitol will accept her poisoned-berry tactic, right before the Games end.

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The Hunger Games shows quite a lot of references and influences from other fictions, regardless of whether Suzanne Collins included them consciously. I guess everything has nowadays. And I think it’s rather a good thing. I find it very frustrating to finish a book or a movie, and being brought back to the real world, and out from that universe I was immersed in for a while. And remakes, inspirations, even rip-offs, in a way, help you get an extra dose of that universe. If you have finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy (or any absorbing saga, for that matter), then you know what I mean.

SPOILER ALERT: Some extra notes on Catching Fire

Another factor common to Catching Fire and Battle Royale is that victors can go back to the arena, because of the Quarter Quell new rules.

In Catching Fire, we see further examples of the Capitol’s disinformation campaign that resembles the work done in 1984’s Ministry of Truth: television broadcasts show the same footage of District 13 over and over, stating it is live footage…

Thank you for reading! Please feel free to comment below or contact me on Twitter. If you want to be kept informed of further articles and other interesting content, go check The Y on Facebook and Twitter, curated by myself.

Further reading:
- George Orwell’s 1984 on Wikipedia;
- Battle Royale (movie) on Wikipedia;
- “The Hunger Games” Takes Cue From Hitchcock And Spielberg, As Kids Fight To The Death, on The Fast Company;
- Attempting to make a map of Panem, on AimMyArrowsHigh Livejournal.

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Social networks: are they really international?

We all know and use at least one social network: Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Viadeo… you name it. Hey, even YouTube or Flickr could be considered a kind of social network.

Social nets broaden our horizons in terms of communication and “networks”, especially in a globalized society. Thus, we can interact with people all over the world, with only cultural and linguistic barriers. Of course, this is easier if you speak foreign languages, and English is always of great help to reach other users.

But once you have started all these multicultural, intercultural, and multilingual interactions, what happens with your own participation within the social network?

I personally use three different languages to interact with friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and total strangers. The question now is: what do all these people make of the content I post, especially when I posted it in a language they do not speak?

Social networks may offer a service available worldwide (or almost), but do they offer an actual international experience? For instance, having to deal with many languages in one’s own profile remains a hard task, and a heavy drawback to balance with all the tiny advantages of multilingualism.

Twitter: careful, you might get unfollowed

Yes, careful on Twitter. In my own experience, tweeting too often about content to which your followers do not relate can get pretty messy. Do you tweet in different languages? Have you gotten unfollowed often? Well, there you go. It is all about either choosing your audience right, or establishing the right balance between one language and another (and another).

Indeed, as pointed out by a Twitter user, this social network is more selective that others like Facebook. And here, you cannot stay connected with people whose posts you don’t want to see on your Timeline.

Aquafadas, a French digital publishing start-up, has chosen to post in French and English. I don’t know if this works for the company, but business looks like doing well. However, as most posts are in French, we can wonder whether its Twitter account really reaches foreign users or potential customers. So, again, how do you share with all your contacts without alienating some?

The answer seems pretty simple, right? Share in English. Most people understand Basic English, so that should be the way to go. But what do you do with the small percentage that doesn’t understand English at all, or doesn’t want to? I can’t help but think of members of my own family, like my mother, who refuses to use English. So some of my tweets, Facebook posts, hey, even this entire blog, are things that I won’t be able to share with her. Anyhow, one language will always exclude some people. And resorting to Basic English not only does that, but also reduces the way we share and how we express it.

Another solution would be to have several accounts, one for each language. Seems like a neat choice. But keeping up with two different Twitter accounts is hellish (you can follow me here and there). Nevertheless, this is the perfect solution for large international companies or even celebrities (whose accounts would be managed by their staff, of course).

But all these ways around do not really solve the problem: how to get a real international sharing experience from social networks?

Facebook: some hints of international relationships

Lately, Facebook has shown that it has noticed, understood and tackled this issue. The best example is the integration of Bing Translation into Fan Pages posts, then to all interactions between Facebook users.

This is of course still being implemented, and sometimes you can come across a conversation in which you won’t be able to check the translations. But once this feature is solidly established, it will completely redefine the way we interact with our Facebook friend. Hey, you will even be able to share with people who speak completely different languages from the ones you understand. And if this feature is developed further, we even might be able to include Sign Languages translation.

An example of Fan Page translation. Source: Inside Facebook

Of course, this represents a huge business opportunity for companies with Fan Pages, especially the ones that target a specific market, or simply can’t afford to pay translations or language skills.

After actual spoken/written language, we could also wonder if social networks take into account other cultural factors. Take Arab users, for instance. How do they perceive the fact that social network websites are designed for Westerners? Reading from left to right, we are first drawn to the profile picture, then the name and main data, and finally the profile itself. Is this issue a real one? Do social networks need to adapt, or is it like being a lefty, adapting to everything that doesn’t fit your user needs?

Instagram: a picture says more than 1000 words

With their social network, co-founders Mike Krieger and CEO Kevin Systrom really saw the big picture. What would be best to share beyond nationality and language boundaries? Pictures, of course.

Instagram, sometimes known as “the Twitter of pics”, just does that, taking the best from Twitter (simplicity) and Facebook (likes). It allows you to share effortlessly to any number of persons around the world. Of course, a picture can always be interpreted differently according to culture, gender, and other biases, but every single message suffers the same consequences, no matter its form.

In an interview, Systrom reminds us of the universality of pictures as a language. But is Instagram that far reaching and international? OK, it is international, at least in purpose. And although it has until now focused (and restricted) the app towards iPhone users, it soon will open up to Android compatible devices, broadening the network’s reach even more. Let’s not forget that the iPhone is not available in every country, or at least officially, so this was a huge restriction as far as internationality is concerned.

Ok, so Instagram offers a more universal experience. But what about comments? Those are not translated like Facebook’s. Nor hashtags. In my own experience, if I want my pics to be found by any fellow speaker, I’ll need to tag them with the same hashtag in three different languages. So the 30-hashtag limit per image comes often short.

The core value of this network is sharing our own arty pics. And yet exchanging with other users leads us back to square one: language.

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In the end, the extent to which each social network pretty much reflects its accessibility. Twitter, despite becoming very popular, remains a tech-savvy network. Facebook scores with increased access to foreign users, and remains the common-of-mortals favourite. As for Instagram, a comparison would be unfair, as it is not as popular as the other two media giants. But it has found a way for most users to communicate. At least, in a way that might be less reductive than Basic English.

Thank you for reading! Please share your thoughts on the comments below or find me on Twitter. You can also check my pics on Instagram and I’ll make sure to check yours.

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