Thursday morning we wrote about Joshua Harris' latest tech venture, which he's calling "Wired City." He's looking to finance it via a Kickstarter project. (Just $21,267 of $25,000 to go!) Harris is most famous for Quiet, an underground bunker where people lived for free while being filmed passing into the new millenium. It was ultimately shut down by New York police and didn't do wonders for his bank account. After that he started We Live In Public, an early web video project in which his apartment was wired with cameras while Harris and his girlfriend lived out their relationship online. Harris is a pioneer of online television. He and that girlfriend broke up.
Wired City aims to be the interactive online television network of our lives. Each user will be communicating in different video chat rooms at all times. Everyone will film themselves as much as they can, and the more a user does to gain viewers then the more distribution and awareness they will be given. The higher a user's ratings are, the more promotion received on the Wired City front page, for instance. Users can work their way up an established hierarchy until they get invited to live on a Wired City sound stage. Once a user reaches the sound stage they will lead viewers on "missions" to solve problems on the internet, all the while trying not to get kicked off for another online celebrity nipping at their heals. Then, at the end of every day, content culled from some of the best feeds will be compiled into a one hour episode of regular television. The project has elements of Facebook, Twitter and the video blogging aspect of Youtube. It's new and dangerous and a little bit scary. The project has risen $3,733 as of Sunday night. The Atlantic Wire asked Harris a few questions about the new project over the weekend.
The Atlantic Wire: A lot of your projects are open book, total access projects. What is it about the mundane day-to-day that you are so fond of?
Harris: This is a statistics game. In any given lifetime a series of events take place: love, violence, success/failure, etc. For most people there are vast spaces between significant events in their life. However, when a million people are in The Wired City world, several lifetimes can be compressed into one 24 hour period. So every day (just like on your local broadcast news channel) there is violence, murder, rape and pillage, as well as marriage, professional success and love.
The Atlantic Wire: What do you think will make others want to tune in too?
Harris: The agents in the Matrix had a bug in their earphones. When fully realized, Wired City citizens will remain persistently connected to a live signal that tells them what to do and where to go. These instructions are based on a combination of the human element and predictive algorithms.
The Atlantic Wire: How will you deal with underage participants who might qualify to join a sound stage?
Harris: In 2007, I did Operator11 in Hollywood, an internet television network that worked great but ran out of money (mine).
One night, a 12 year old, "Dinasor," out of Maryland was in the middle of doing a show, maybe ten people live, and asked a 45 year old shirtless "Texas Ranger" guy, "will you be my father?" A week later, I popped into another show and the Texas Ranger is asking Dinasor if he cleaned his room (he did), finished his homework (he did), etc.
At first blush you might think this is creepy, but it was, in fact, not. Since by that time we knew:
- Where the guy, Texas Ranger, worked and lived (including his street address), as well as the name of his wife and kids.
- That Dinasor’s brother was in college, his parents (never home) worked for the governement in Virginia, how he was doing in school (poorly) and his cat’s name.
- We also had recordings of all the shows where Texas chatted with Dinasor.
The key is that the kid bought it. The man was now his virtual father. A week later, a freaked out Texas Ranger was doing a show without Dinasor wondering how to "unfather" himself.
The Atlantic Wire: When you say that "everything is wired" on the soundstage, how do you mean? Are there cameras documenting everything, separately from the bandstands?
Harris: 20 years ago the concept of a home theatre was a novelty, and now it is an ingrained commodity, even available on your phone. Now, a home studio, a television studio in your home, is fast becoming commonplace with the advent of Skype, iChat, etc. Soon enough the marketplace will Sony-ize the home studio.
In fact, within ten years every room in your house will be a “Hollywood set” within the home sound stage. Ergo, the desktop, bath top, toilet top, bedroom top and the home theatre will be a main stage. Shakespeare was right, the world is a (sound) stage.
The Atlantic Wire: How will the currency work? What kind of "services" could we buy from other members of The Wired City?
Harris: The key use of the currency is to exchange it for an all expenses paid (in real world currency) trip to The Wired City (where you get the honor of spending all of your waking and sleeping hours physically hanging out with all the people you met virtually). Of course, from a business point of view, this is a form of cheap slave labor since the people who paid to make their way on set are actually generating billable traffic.
Currency can pay for one of the uniforms, set back drops or even audio visual gear to help people attain higher production values for their personal identity.
The most important use of currency is to pay for “missions.” An example might be asking 10,000 fellow citizens to hit the “Like” button on Facebook in order to promote a cause, product or service.
The Atlantic Wire: How are meetings with investors going?
Harris: Anyone reading this who has dough to invest should feel free to contact me.
The Atlantic Wire: Have you had any success with sponsorships?
Harris: Over the last year I have visited ad agencies big and small in New York City. I have yet to find Don Draper.
The Atlantic Wire: Have you spoken with any television channels about the one hour distilled broadcast, or would you opt for a more web-oriented distribution through Netflix or Youtube?
Harris: Have you noticed that when you go to most major broadcast television networks’ websites that they suck? You're lucky if you can actually watch a show, and most are bad versions of TV Guide. The reason for this is that they all seem to separate their internet operations from their show productions. So the people who control the networks’ internet don’t really produce shows and the people who produce shows don’t really think netcasting.
I emailed Reed Hastings, CEO at Netflix, and got no response. My agent is talking to Youtube. I have hit the major Hollywood production companies, particularly reality producers, about ten broadcast channels and even Brian Roberts who runs Comcast. He sent me to the their internet guy, which basically was the end of that.