I find it difficult to be creative in a artistic way; whether that be with music or images. The environment has to be just perfect for me to let my mind wonder. However when speaking technically, I can let my mind take over at any given moment.
I used to be the editor of student radio station City OnAir. Asides from the usual responsibility of managing content and contributors, I was involved deeply with the technical production of each and every show. The challenge was always about how to get the absolute most out of the equipment and resources we had.
One example from this was our students union elections. As ever, our station was expected to produce a few programmes interviewing the candidates, hosting some debates before announcing the results. In the years prior to my editorial, these were all pre-recorded podcasts.
I wanted to broadcast these live.
A record number of students standing in the elections meant that we didn’t have enough physical room in our studio to host everybody, and our presenters. We’d end up leaving somebody out, which really wouldn’t be fair. I met with the students’ union to discuss our options and they said that if I couldn’t get everybody in the studio, there would be no live broadcast.
There were a lot of disappointed faces in a group meeting I held with my deputy editors. Our technical resources were limited, but it gave an opportunity to be creative.
“Why don’t we just take our equipment into one of their events?” I asked, referring to the hustling events the union had organised.
“But they’re in the student bar”, one of the responses was.
I had a few strange looks back. It was intimidating to begin with, but the group knew I had a trail of thought.
“I’ll speak with the SU, and see if they’d let me run some cables and set up in the corner of the bar.”
My mind let lose on the prospect of taking equipment outside the studio, and doing our first live broadcast outside.
On a Friday night.
I took an A3 sheet of paper, some pens and a rough sketch of the bar to a quiet space in the university. I made a note of where everything was and what we needed to bring into the bar.
Slowly but surely, the problems became apparent.
- We didn’t have long enough cables.
- We didn’t have enough inputs on the sound mixer.
- There wasn’t a suitable link to the internet.
- It was a Friday night with hundreds of students drinking.
That was just the beginning.
Everybody on the team were thinking about the practical solutions. Longer cables were discussed, different sound mixers, routers, anything. These were solutions, but they came with more issues. Longer cables weren’t allowed as it was a trip hazard, there was no alternate sound mixer, and we couldn’t change the settings of a wireless access point to allow one single computer access.
“The ones who do things differently. While some may see them as crazy, we see genius.”
Steve Jobs was right.
When I turned to the union and gave them my plans, they thought I was crazy. There was no pre-existing foundation for such set-up. I threw untested ideas at them, but with enough confidence to convince them to let me try it out.
I literally threw stupid technical ideas out – sometimes deliberately suggesting things we couldn’t physically or technically do. But somebody would bounce of that idea, and think of an alternative.
We had drawn on our A3 paper a plan of the room, but all our ideas were on the outside.
It was all imaginative, without sense of direction.
Until we tested it.
It worked. It was genius. And most of all, it was a success.
When I thought about the Distribution app creatively, I didn’t imagine how it would look. I couldn’t see the fonts, the colours or the design. Instead I visioned how it would function.
I had already asked the question: “How do you post to Facebook and Twitter together” and the answer I had was Tweetdeck. “And what about posting to Tumblr?” You could use tools available in WordPress to post an article to all three. “But what if you don’t want a long link on Twitter, and a different photo for Tumblr?”
I got stuck.
“What if I want to share my content to Instagram, and Snapchat, and audioBoom, and LinkedIn?”
These websites are different, there’s no way I’d post the same content to audioBoom as I would to Instagram.
That’s when I realised what the current model of publishing is: taking the same content and editing it to suit other platforms.
This timely process, of copying the title, link, featured image and tags, but laying them out different between sites, was flawed.
What if we can separate them before they’re published?
Thats a crazy idea, right? Content can’t be broken if they’re shared from a source, right?
Well, not wrong if you’re okay re-writing everything. But what if this content didn’t need separating to begin with?
How do you make it so what we publish isn’t already fixed together?
By keeping them separate at the point of publish.
I drew this out, again and again on another sheet of paper. A box in the middle with just the word “content” in the centre, and around the outside all the possible ways of producing this result.
The best idea I found from this was to just type your header separately to your body text, and likewise for every other element of a social media and blog post in modules (hashtags, tags, categories, featured images, video, audio, body text, summary text etc). A publish button in the application organises these elements according to each social media site.
The how it works, technically, comes next, but the crazy solution is there. And it took an absurd way of looking at publishing and sharing social media content to find it.