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Friday, October 14, 2005

Transparency & Crullers

Every five years, I get my passport photo taken. The rule is, you're not allowed to smile. I come off looking like a rather grumpy psycho each time (in this case, a grumpy psycho who was 48 hours to the good side of potentially screwing up a trip to Sweden). So as I sit there preparing for the inevitable digital full-color hatchet job, I want to scream: get that camera away from me! No photos allowed! This, however, would be counterproductive.

It seems that impulse to scream "no photos" at the paparazzi has spread to many misguided souls beyond your major celebs. There is this fascination with image management, and avoiding embarrassing situations, in the corporate world. However, if you look like you're managing your image and chasing away the paparazzi, you come off looking doubly suspicious, so part of image management has to be looking relaxed when the cameras are rolling or hovering nearby. (In the case of my passport photo, this ain't gonna happen. There is nothing like a nearly-expired passport to put you on edge.)

Here's the main thought I want to convey in this post: the "search" metaphor is seeping into all walks of life. And it goes beyond text, of course, to the visual and physical worlds. Tapping into the average person's want or need to know (more precisely, their expectation that they can know) is a growing imperative for any business that wants to maintain credibility. As one far-out example of this general trend, I mentioned (in Winning Results with Google AdWords) the botched coverage of the final round of the Masters golf tournament. Due to a rain delay, the penultimate round concluded for some players in the morning before the final round got going. Tiger Woods reeled off an unprecedented string of birdies to overtake Chris DiMarco that morning, but no one but the patrons at Augusta saw it live. The talking heads at CBS and the Golf Channel tried to spin it by saying it's "impossible to show every hole of every tournament." In so doing (Tiger birdieing seven straight holes down the stretch is pretty much prime time viewing, not "just any hole" in "any tournament"), they came off looking like dinosaurs - and in golf, that's tough to do.

In an age when I can see a closeup of my street (or any street) in seconds using Google Maps, absolutely free, it's going to seem pretty silly if you're on the wrong side of some debate about what consumers can see, know, show, find, etc. It might be awhile before we'll have bootleg full coverage of the tournaments (even minor players' fairway irons) by virtue of "patron-cams," but even that last bastion -- Augusta National -- is eventually going to open up to (or is it fall victim to?) greater visibility.

By next year, using Google Earth, you'll be able to walk alongside John Daly for all 18 holes (including smoke breaks) at the John Deere Chrysler Classic, or watch Woody Austin grimace close-up, as he snaps a putter over his knee. (OK, maybe not next year, but you get the idea.)

Another funny illustration of this theme: some Flickr photo-sharing aficionados are discussing a weird policy that barred visitors to Tim Hortons coffee shop from having cameras! A minor hue and cry ensued that seems to have culminated in a response from management confirming that there is no chainwide policy against taking pictures. I mean what did Tim's have to hide anyway? Can the camera see that one of the eclairs is stale? Was someone having a bad hair day?

"Please, no photos" is going to ring pretty hollow when everyone's outfitted with concealed cameras that not long ago were the stuff of Bond movies. As with any kind of technology and any kind of light being shone in places it wasn't allowed to go before, it's mostly good, but sure, there is also a dark side to privacy invasion and excessive surveillance. But if you're in business, demands for transparency can be persistent, and resisting them can have serious consequences.

A similar experience beset an enthusiast who snapped the photo of the Pop Shoppe display (above left). He countered that he wasn't in the store, he was on the sidewalk. I wonder what the problem could possibly be. Seeing that pic makes me want a bottle of that purple carbonated goop.

These don't-show-my-logo people would have seriously cramped Andy Warhol's style.

There. I made it through that one without using the words "naked" or "buff".

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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