Tuesday, February 12, 2008

ATTN: Moved to genYchina.com

Greetings fellow blog readers! I wanted to let everyone know that I have moved my blog to http://genYchina.com

The reason for the move is that now fellow bloggers and blog readers in fire-walled China can also access and read my blog.

The new name reflects the nature of my blog: a Generation Yer's perspective while living in today's China.

Please follow my new blog, and enjoy!

Many thanks,



Sunday, January 27, 2008

Kev’s Music Review: Christian Scott ‘Anthem’

Greetings everyone,
I can’t remember the last time I did a music review, but it certainly has been a long time. Since going back to Canada for the holidays, I was able to pick up a number of new albums, so I’ll be reviewing them over the next week or so.

I was very excited to see that Christian Scott had come out with his second album, entitled Anthem, which followed up his Grammy-nominated debut album ‘Rewind That’ last year. I was not disappointed. Christian refines the trajectory he set in Rewind That, firmly establishing his identity, his ‘sound’, and his reputation as one of the profound leaders in the next generation of jazz.

Scott categorizes his music on MySpace as Nu-Jazz/Soul/Rock. It certainly has those components. Christian Scott himself plays very blues-infused contemporary jazz tones, while Matt Stevens keeps it rock-heavy on the guitar. Marcus Gilmore plays with a laid-back post-modern jazz tempo but with rock accents, and Aaron Parks is a chameleon on the keys but keeps a Soulful tone to lighten up the edginess of the other players.

Together this quartet (plus many other guests on certain tracks) play some really amazing music. I feel Christian Scott extends Miles Davis’ tradition with a very strong Modal feel, but meticulously fragmented, decomposed and reconstructed for the twenty-first century construct. The layering of identities and messages speaks to the modern-day experience. Taking direction from Davis’ ‘Cool’, Christian Scott’s compositions dig deep and dark, in an introspective sound that is sophisticatedly beautiful.

Christian Scott’s album title ‘Anthem’ and the album artwork that accompanies it leads hints to the listener that this second body of work is as much an ‘anthem’ for Christian Scott’s musical direction as it is a commentary and call to attention of what the artist sees as the state of America, and perhaps the world. The music is fitting for the album artwork that speaks of unmitigated urban crime and the struggle of innocence growing up in such an environment. As a son of New Orleans and a witness to hurricane Katrina, it is not difficult to see where Christian Scott’s perspective is coming from.

Anthem is an album I suspect I will continue to regularly enjoy for many years to come. The maturity Scott has already shown, and the amount of growth from the first to the second album are truly impressive. Its just downright an awesome piece of work, and as it was meant to be, speaks to you on a very personal level.
For more info on Christian Scott: www.christianscott.net OR www.myspace.com/christianscottmusic

Keeping an ear to the ground,


Saturday, December 8, 2007

Kev's Thoughts On... Business Model Evolutions for the Ever-Changing Web Landscape

As I dwell more on Web 2.0 and the numerous ways companies like Facebook, Google and News Corp try to monetize users’ actions on the internet, a recurring analogy keeps coming to my mind, one that gives me a real-world perspective and helps me better understand what is going on in the online landscape.
The Internet, in essence, is another dimension of real estate and the international property market.
There are many others who have described the same similarity, so it is nothing original, but I find it important in helping me think about the next directions Web 2.0 is going. Please excuse the crude simplicity of the analogy and my layman’s knowledge of the industry as I try to make my points.

A quick recap of the Web 1.0 world finds that the era was littered with Portals, Store-fronts, Exchanges and Personal pages. Portals like ol’ AOL are like universities requiring tuition or special paid-admission malls. A one-stop-shop for information, purchases and even socializing. This is the classic fee-based or subscription-based business model.
Store-fronts like Amazon, and Victoria Secret are similar to the real-world Wal-Mart; massive business vendors that see millions of customers walk through its doors everyday. Exchanges like Ebay can easily be compared to the NYSE. Both of these kinds of properties are transaction-based, whether it is real goods and services or information. This business model subsequently is still successful today.
The personal pages or simple business marketing websites that exist on the Internet are like mom & pop stores, or residential homes. More often than not, they are built out of necessity or social fascination, often not having a business-model in mind and usually do not make enough income to even pay for itself. There is nothing wrong with not having a business model, as many people start pages for social reasons. I just had to include it as an observation of another type of online property.

So in the Web 1.0 world we see littered around a handful of paid-admission malls, universities, Wal-Mart-like vendors, NYSE-like exchanges, mom & pop stores and residential homes.

I should add that Search-Engines also emerged during this time, and with the help of its poster-child, Google, propelled the Ad-Supported business model to preeminence. However, Search-Engines are merely another type of property as well, more like a very important highway that is surrounded by billboards.

Ads have since moved from static banner ads to relevant text-based click ads, and now experimenting with contextualized interactive video ads.

Now that we are in the Web 2.0 world, where user-generated content is all the rage, how have online ‘properties’ transformed? The new web stars such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and LinkedIn are much more like cities. These are properties that are built on the social community, the collective power of the many, and develop their own unique character and charm depending on their constituents. This is a far cry from malls, vendors and exchanges of the last era. Unlike a Wal-Mart or NYSE where visitors are attracted by the architecture and goods offered by the creator of the property, the cities of Web 2.0 attract inhabitants because of the organic ability to develop niches and community ‘flavors’. Think New York City’s SOHO or Tokyo’s Harajuku.

These online cities have begun to build their business model around what has worked best in the past, namely the Search Engine’s success with Ad-Supported revenue. The online ‘NYC’ helps pay for itself by having billboards in Times Square and the online ‘Tokyo’ has expensive advertising properties in Shibuya. So now Web 2.0 cities like Facebook and MySpace can breathe easy because it can monetize itself by placing user-specific, targeted ads in and around its site for the numerous citizens inhabiting their property.

It seems quite fine and dandy. So isn’t it a smart move to invest in building a massive social community since you know with those numbers you’ll be able to profit off the advertising revenues?
It may be, but it will cost you first. Online cities are just every-bit as much of an investment as building a real city. Just replace the construction cranes, zoning rights and subway systems with software developers, servers and bandwidth costs.
Even after all of that expenditure (in the Web 2.0 world most likely spent with VC money), it may all still be worthwhile if you’re sure you will be the next, say, Facebook.

Here lies the problem: Online properties are extremely transient.

In New York, Tokyo or anywhere else in the real world, inhabitants must either buy or rent property, and usually the payment for only one property is all anyone can afford. Not so online. A netizen who has been around long enough likely has a space in several social network properties simply because it is free to sign up and maintain. Those that love the online equivalent of NYC’s Upper East Side and Tokyo’s Akihabara can online, actually have a place in both communities, and another place in Shanghai, Dubai, London and Moscow for that matter. It’s almost like the ‘golden horde’ effect, coined by Thomas Friedman as he described the movement of global investment capital flows. Like so, netizens will quickly migrate to the next new and coolest community, because the financial costs are nil and the social drivers are everything. And while maintaining a space is free on most online properties, value is not derived by how many open accounts a Facebook or a MySpace has. A site’s value is instead derived from the share size it can grab of the only thing that is finite to a user: her time.
Can you imagine if one year Disney World was full during the summer vacation season, but the summer after it was completely deserted because everyone went to the new Universal Studios that opened across the street? Or going back to our analogy of NYC, if in the course of a few years all its millions of inhabitants migrated to San Francisco just because it became more interesting?
Online properties are extremely transient. It wasn’t so long ago that Friendster was the place to be, or Xanga. And for those that can remember just a few years earlier, Asian Avenue or Black Planet?
Suddenly the Facebook or MySpace or YouTube doesn’t seem like such valuable property anymore. The only reason why the real Times Square is one of the most expensive properties in the world is because people can guarantee it will be trafficked by millions day-in and day-out for many years to come. Even Google, arguably the most trafficked and valuable property online does not have the same level of entrenchment and therefore cannot stay still. Google’s value will immediately diminish if it misses the next revolution in search or even lets another start-up be the first in the arena. And that is a real possibility. Just look at Yahoo or MSN not even ten years ago. Whether its Semantic Web or something else, all the online properties in the Web 2.0 world must find ways of keeping user traffic in their sites. Only then will the ad-supported business model stay afloat.

Enter Widgets & Apps. Online social communities are continually allowing open APIs for third party developers to create interesting sociable programs for netizens to use within the online properties. These Web 2.0 cities encourage people to build interactive attractions within their property to make it all the more interesting for online inhabitants to stay. In my eyes, Widgets & Apps are like the Starbucks of the real world. People just can’t get enough of it, and there is one on every corner of every block. I believe we are entering an age where the Widget/App will gain more and more importance and influence in the online world. As more and more developers shift from trying to create their own social community to creating the next great App, more interesting, and powerful products will appear.
While this might be good news for online cities, since all of these Apps will exist within their domains and work to keep inhabitants from migrating, there is one fallacy. We have seen and heard of Google’s OpenSocial, an initiative attempting to standardize development protocols so Widget/App developers can easily make their software compatible with any number of participating online communities. The problem for the online cities like MySpace, LinkedIn and Ning is that pretty soon the Apps that are supposed to make their property unique and ‘sticky’ for the inhabitant will be available in every other online city, completely neutralizing any ‘social advantage’ one online property would have over the other. Just like how you can find a Starbucks or McDonalds on almost every corner in New York or Tokyo, so too will emergent App makers like Slide, iLike and Google Maps be found on every single social network in the world.
So while OpenSocial may have an adverse affect for Social Networks, it will at the same time be a catalyst for the App’s continued rise to stardom. These Widgets & Apps are still property mind you, even though they are at present still trying to figure out the right business model. As of now Apps are still compulsively obsessed with the ad-supported business model that both the Social Network and the Search Engine love so much. As a property you can think of ad-support Apps like a Starbucks on every corner giving away free coffee but hoping you’ll buy their recommended CD of the month. Or like McDonalds giving away Happy Meals hoping you’ll buy a toy.

We are now on our third generation of online properties who have survived and succeeded based on an Ad-supported business model. Will it change? Perhaps. But its hard to move an entire industry that are true believers that traffic = ad dollars. Widgets & Apps have a unique opportunity to play with their business models that social networks and search do not: These new programs are transient and user-perpetuated, almost viral in nature. They can go in and out of Social Networks, Blogs, and many other online properties of the both the Web 1.0 and 2.0 eras. And while social networks continue to shift and collide like tectonic plates, jockeying for a bigger piece of the user’s online presence, Apps will be in every one of the properties, becoming increasingly more interactive, and capturing more and more of what’s really important: the user’s attention.

As an entrepreneur what kind of property would you rather create? A New York City, or a Starbucks Corp?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Kev's Thoughts On... Blogosphere Immersion

I've been relatively quiet in recent weeks and I apologize for those that periodically follow my writings and look forward to my next post. The truth is I've been extremely caught up with a new business idea, in which I am currently exploring. I won't say too much more about it as of yet because its still in the developmental phase, but with any luck I'll be able to build a really exciting Start-up.

I have found myself caught up the past several weeks digging deep into the blogosphere (for those who don't know, that is the online world of blogs); mostly as a result of the research I've been doing for my new business idea. But I have found blogs -- other than purely amusing and useful on a social level -- to be extremely informative, often more so than news articles or a Google search.

Blogs are personal windows into a person's composition, similar to my own aspirations here. Exploring blogs can be good or bad, since a lot of people post a lot of rubbish. However what is so fantastic about the Blogosphere is that once you find someone of value, someone that truly publishes insightful and thought-provoking material, it is a fascinating world to explore, and likely adds to your own life one way or another. This value compounds to the n-th degree, as great bloggers are usually linked and embedded into entire circles and communities of other fantastic bloggers. Then your world really explodes as you begin exploring the discussions between these bloggers and begin to see the world, industries, and life through their eyes.

This type of information power has really benefited me in my research, as the facts and trends I look for are rarely found in a simple Google search, and are too emergent or industry-specific to be round in widely-circulated publications. Reading the personal blogs of professionals within the industry gives me unique perspectives into the current issues on these leaders' minds. I get to pick up applicable tips for my own business plans from their reactions and off-remarks. And I get to glean the most current industry information; as close as one can get to 'insider information'.

It's been fun. And I'll continue to do it.

I'm going to start a list on the side margin linking to some of my favourite bloggers. For your benefit, and for my own quick reference.

To give you a peek into what I'm reading, I think I've read every single blog posting of Kaiser Kuo's Ogilvy China: Digital Watch
And I just finished reading Marc Andreesesen's The Pmarca Guide to Startups: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8
And also his The Truth about Venture Capitalists Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Kev's Thoughts On... Video Posting

There are some things that you just know are here to stay, and here to explode in a very big way. P2P (Person to Person) vid posting is one of those. Some people call them Vlogs (Video logs) or whatever, and there are so many numerous platforms for internet video now (like YouTube, TuDou, and so many IPTV sites). But in the end it is the continued extension of the Visual revolution already underway (Taken from a book I read recently called 'MindSet!').

Anyways, I am using this posting as an excuse to put up the first of what I envision will be many more video posts onto this blog, to augment my written musings.

This particular clip I had seen several months before, but I've come across it again and thought it would be interesting to share with all of you if you have not already seen it. On one hand it is all very technical, but on the other, its just purely aesthetically exhilarating, and will speak to you if you are an Artist, Techie, or whoever. It is certainly an interesting glimpse at new directions of new media arts.


Saturday, November 3, 2007

Kev's Thoughts On... China's Cultural Development Part II

I call this posting Part II because I wrote in September about China's changes in media consumption in the past decade, and how it has changed an entire generation (and its sub-generations). This edition is less media and more social, but goes hand-in-hand with the media consumption changes experienced in China the last decade. I do recommend going back and checking out the earlier posting, if only to give more context and substance to what I write here.

Melody was reading a Chinese movie magazine the other day and commented on an article comemorating the 10 year anniversary of the movie Titanic (it came out in 1997 if you can remember). What the article said and what Melody and I went on to discuss was to me very revealing. For the mainland Chinese, Titanic represented a milestone or turning point in China cinematic-viewership history. While Chinese had access to foreign -Hollywood- films before 1997, it was Titanic that really experienced widespread popularity and put American movie-making in the hearts and minds of Chinese citizens.

Titanic as a watershed event is several-fold:
1) It was the first major hollywood movie to be shown nation-wide in Chinese theatres, thereby giving the entire Chinese populace full exposure to the 'splendor' of Hollywood film making, and creating a precedent for future Hollywood films to be shown nation-wide in Chinese cinemas
2) Through the Titanic story, a clear Western "Love will conquer all" theme (rooted in 19th century French Bohemianism) was projected to the minds and pragmatic culture of the Chinese
3) Titanic auspiciously opened right when mass-market China began purchasing Personal Computers for home entertainment consumption (this is where reading my posting in September comes in with context). The rise of PCs in China creates a boom in the derivative VCD and later DVD markets, and ensures that a Titanic VCD can be found on sale within 100 metres of wherever you stand in China for the next few years. The Titanic VCD also gives way to China's burgeoning fascination with Hollywood cinema, and is in part a factor (I won't say how big or small) to the issues we have today with China's counterfeit movie market
4) It made Leonardo DiCaprio, and yes, Celine Dion, a household name.

While all these points can in of themselves evolve into lengthy discussions, I was most intrigued by the idea that it is this newest generation -- the generation that grew up with the PC and the emerging media channels that followed it -- is the same generation that grew up with the rise of American popular movie culture. It is this same generation that has spent a lot more time observing, scrutinizing, and oftentimes absorbing the norms and idealistic dreams that we ourselves have grown up with. And while most of us will nod our heads in agreement and say this is an obvious observation, I find this Titanic issue a very convenient marker for further differentiating what I had earlier labeled the "Transitional Generation". For me, this Transitional Generation (this year aged 21 to 31) is not only the post-TV culture (aka PC culture), but the post-Titanic culture. To emphasize the importance of the Titanic marker, consider that before this movie came out, the only commonly-known American actor was Arnold Schwartzenegger, and the major influence on popular culture from movies came from the Hong Kong studios rather than from Hollywood. Those I call the Transitional Generation were young enough (i.e. still in school) that they had enough time and exposure to post-Titanic Hollywood films to have a chance at incorporating some of the Western ideas and themes into their own personal and sub-group culture.

The bottom line from all this talk about Titanic, is that we are beginning to see a whole fundamentally different generation emerge into the workplace. One that not only uses media differently, but one that is drawing on a much higher reliance --and perhaps alliance-- on American culture. And now the most interesting questions can be asked: 1) how much of western culture has this Transitional Generation really absorbed 2) what part of western-movie themes enamours this generation (ie. bohemianism, happy-endings, freedom, unity, etc.) 3) what role has the infusion of western-movie themes had in the incorporation with traditional Chinese culture?
These questions I don't think anyone can diffinitively answer, although they are each perhaps billion-dollar questions business-wise, and questions I am certainly trying to answer for myself. As I learn more, I will share it with you here on my blog.

So while most of us can barely believe its been 10 years since Titanic came out, give it another thought and think about all the movies and new culture we have incorporated into our lexicon and contemporary society. Remember that it is only these relatively new films and cinematic themes (like Matrix, Star Wars Episode 1, 2, 3 but NOT 4, 5, 6; Mission Impossible, Men in Black, Lion King, Saving Private Ryan, the American Pie franchise) that are having profound impacts on contemporary Chinese culture.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Kev's Music Review: C.O.U. Chinese Organic Union

For those of you who follow my music reviews, you'll probably notice that I review mostly contemporary jazz. But to be honest, I am a great lover of anything jazz. In fact, much of the greatest advances in jazz are coming from jazz fusion, which I've been spending a lot more time exploring, and which I will hopefully begin reviewing more for you.

It is no surprise then, that when a new group labeled themselves the first 'Chinese Jazz-Rap', I was more than intrigued. Jazz? Good. Rap? Good. Chinese? Gooood. (Thats a parody from Joey on Friends by the way).

Earlier in September I went to their cd release concert and party, just to check them out live, and see what their idea of jazz-rap was all about. To my surprise; it was really good. Well, it had serious potential. A little raw in some areas, like when they tried to infuse their Chinese rap with Chinglish slang to make it more 'authentic'. But two things really caught my ear: 1) the DJs knew their stuff. They've produced some serious thick beats overlaid with some even heavier jazz-influenced tunes. Even without the rapping, I would have purchased the CD cause their Jazz-hip hop beats were really movin'. Most of it is thanks to Kirby Lee, the main DJ, who has just come out with his own debut solo album. 2) The premier featured rapper, J-Fever, is a really really talented lyricist. Not only is he native to Beijing (while some of the other rappers in this collective come from Shanghai, HK, and South China), but his Putonghua, or standard Chinese, is so clear that it is a pleasure to listen to him wrap. The way he uses the cues during the off-beats really goes well with the laid-back, sit-back style of this jazz-rap.

It wasn't too long into the first song that I was bopping, and nodding in appreciation and agreement. "Alright" I said, "they got good skill". And then I took a closer look. These guys were young. Well, at least J-Fever is. He is still in college I believe, which means that he has a bright future ahead of him if he plans to devote it to music.

In anycase, a glimpse into the emerging underground of Chinese hip-hop, and one potential direction it is headed. If indeed C.O.U. and it's community continues to gain popularity as it has been, we could potentially see Chinese hip-hop evolve into a forerunner for the popularization of Jazz-influenced Hip Hop. This could be a very exciting development, and could potentially be the launching platform for different kinds of jazz -- jazz fusion, jazz house, and yes, even traditional contemporary jazz-- to make a real home here in China.

I will keep my tabs on how C.O.U., Kirby Lee, J-Fever and the whole Chinese Jazz-Rap movement grows.

Keeping an ear to the ground,