Saturday, June 18, 2005

A 'Snow Crash Moment' at the iX Conference

Every IT conference I've attended comes with a 'snowcrash moment' - one where a particular meme jumps from a latent to active state. I call it that because it reminds me of a Java Object being passed up for presentation to some remote user, or like data crossing from one avatar to another during a 'hypercard' exchange, or like a virus moving from metaverse to physical reality in Neil Stephensen's landmark cyberpunk novel Snow Crash.

This year's iX 2005 conference - an event I helped organize - was no different. For me it was while watching a presentation by Steve Gillmor that I realized vaguely that he was tense, petulant and somewhat evangelical in his presentation of the business opportunities inherent in podcasting. This is the same voice that Francis Coppola used to dramatic effect when promoting the 'electronic armature' of digital editing during his 'One From the Heart' period (in the early 80s, just after the 'Apocalypse Now' financial fiasco).

Gillmor postively resonated as a younger Francis and immediately re-connected me to the notion that podcasting is without a doubt a techy innovation but something that is quickly being pulled from the techies and placed into the mainstream. According to Technorati and other folks who track this stuff, podcasts are indeed going mainstream.

Reminiscent of talks I'd seen where Francis spoke so ardently about video editing on cheap betamax machines, Gillmor went on about the transformative power of having a Radio Shack studio in his shoulder bag. Sure reminded me of Silverfish.

Interior of Francis Coppola's Silverfish mobile production studio with Betamax editing tools.  Steve Gilllmor, talking podcasting at iX 2005 conference in Singapore.

According to the official website for Francis' studio, the Silverfish van was a first generation tool for transforming film production into something that was efficient, did not comromise quality, and yet was accessible to any creative person.

"The Silverfish shook up the traditional organizational structure of film production by enabling pre-production, production, and post-production to occur simultaneously. Recognizing the potential advantages of using videotape to record movie footage, the Silverfish was designed so that Coppola could review movie clips on video immediately after filming and use them to shape the next day's shooting."
But ultimately it wasn't Francis who drove the digital media revolution. It was George Lucas and his popular B-movie bankroll from Star Wars and Indiana Jones that funded so much R&D in digital media. It was Lucas's cool and calculated vision that gave us animatics, THX sound, Edit Droid (later Avid), RendermMan, motion control, digital compositing, and so much more.

So strongly did this idea resonate within me - that mainstream media is going to hijack podcasting for its own use - I spent the rest of the conference seeing Steve as a later day Francis Coppola. Francis has had a difficult professional life since the 80s but is still widely recognized as the first one to see beyond flatbed editing and into the electronic future where script, storyboard, dailies and final cut are all part of a digital continuum. Steve is certainly in the vanguard of podcasting now, but I wonder what the future holds.