Tag Archives: activism

Chalkbot vs StreetWriter. A Nike Fail?

Nike in ‘cool new robot not cool or new’ shock.

The marketing and communications industry often find its inspiration through outreach to ‘edgy’, street or political artists. Think Barbara Kruger‘s work with Selfridges, or street artist Speto’s posters for Brahma beer. At the occasional cost of some credibility points, everybody wins: artists get funding and exposure, brands get cooler creative executions than agency ‘creative’ teams could dream up unaided.

But sometimes, ideas are appropriated for campaigns without the consent of their creators. Consent can, at first glance, seem a particularly grey area for street art, say, or activist content. After all, if you’ve gifted an idea to the commons without a clearly-stated and enforceable license in place, what right have you to complain if that idea gets spotted by an agency and used to sell, say, soft drinks. Or indeed, sports shoes?

Consider, for example, Chalkbot — a robot which writes messages in chalk on the road as it bumps along behind another vehicle. You can send Chalkbot tweets, you can text it, you can probably email it. And whatever you send, ends up on the road, writ large in chalk. Chalkbot is cool. Geek cool. As we understand it, Chalkbot was developed by DeepLocal, and, via ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, is being used by Nike as part of its brand tie-up with the LIVESTRONG campaign of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, at the Tour de France (yes this can get confusing).

We first heard about Chalkbot on Twitter today. But actually, no — we didn’t first hear of it today. We first saw the technology demonstrated a few years back, at a Dorkbot event in London. The project was called StreetWriter, and its creators were a group of highly technical activists called the Institute for Applied Autonomy (IAA). Not just cool, StreetWriter was also political. Watch the video.

Chalkbot isn’t StreetWriter. Although based on IAA’s work, Chalkbot is far from political. It’s commercial. It’s also built, in part, by former IAA members. Nothing wrong with that in itself. DeepLocal present their version of its history on their website [thanks to Nathan at DeepLocal for providing us with that link in response to my earlier shoutout on Twitter].

Crucially, however, Nike and W+K’s press releases apparently make no mention of their robot’s activist ancestry.

Our problem with that? One word: Attribution — a key concern of us commons-loving content-creators. Play, mix, mash-up, create using what we’ve made, but give credit where credit’s due: show respect to those who came before, on whose ideas you build. This is simple: even leaving aside the politics, Nike should be putting some more love out. It seems the IAA shares our views on this. In the past hour or so, they’ve issued a press release which details their dissatisfaction with Nike’s appropriation of their work. Read it. Respond as you see fit.

This story is developing. We’ll keep you posted as and when Nike or its agencies make any public response.

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Amazon’s ‘vanishment’ of LGBT literature from sales ranks spurs a realtime revolt via social media.

Amazon is in deep trouble with the online LGBT commmunity this Easter. The retailer has re-classified as ‘adult’, and removed sales rankings from, a range of books which includes Henry Miller, Anais Nïn, contemporary same-sex romances and young readers’ books which feature same-sex parenting. Cue uproar on social media, with hashtag #amazonfail top trending last night across the whole of Twitter.

Google ‘amazonfail’ for the developing story, or check this nice summary post from the National Post for background. Fittingly, we first heard of Amazon’s actions via author Hari Kunzru, on FaceBook (thanks for the tip!)

Amazon’s first statement claimed that the de-ranking was the result of a ‘policy decision’. However, as we go ‘to press’ (as making a fresh pot of coffee and curling back up in bed with the laptop is referred to, in blogging circles), the bookseller appears to have changed that position. Its updated statement is so tepid and vague (“There was a glitch with our sales rank feature that is in the process of being fixed…”), that we’re guessing the PR agency has taken Easter off, leaving Amazon to crisis-manage for itself. Ouch. Would love to eavesdrop on that conference call tomorrow morning….

Although this story has been picked up by the US-based culture blogs and mainstream press, we’ve seen no mention of it ‘above ground’ in the UK. Maybe UK media journalists are also having a long lie in today, rather than doing their jobs?

Regardless of Amazon’s final response (which needs to be significantly more credible than its efforts so far), plenty damage has been done to the brand, amongst communities which know how to organise, and that understand the strength of collective action. A glimpse of that strength came last night, when, within a few short hours, a word-of-mouth googlebombing campaign successfully dislodged Amazon’s own definition of its precious sales ranking system on Google. An Amazon-critical alternative definition of Amazon Rank now tops search rankings in the US and UK.

Online, the ‘hacklash’ continues: there’s an open call out for an amazonfail logo, to replace Amazon widgets and links removed by site-owners in solidarity with the ongoing protests. Expect more creative activism in the same vein, over the coming hours and weeks. Until, in fact, Amazon actually comes clean, credibly and openly, about what, exactly, just happened. The longer that communication is delayed, the more damage will be done to the brand. Through social media, communities organise and engage in real-time. Brand-owners must respond likewise.

Whoever it was, a few years back, who said we should stop belittling people’s power by calling them ‘consumers’ and start respecting them as ‘amplifiers’, got it so right. We’re going to hunt his book down. But not on Amazon.

[UPDATE 13 April, 15:15. As of this writing, this post is top-ranked on Google UK search for 'amazonfail'. If Amazon and its PR agency do care about social media engagement, we're easy for them to find, and would love to hear from them.]

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InfoGraffiti: Guerrilla Agitprop for the 21st Century

New collective aims to get activist media out on the streets

Activists haven’t been shy in exploiting digital and social media: witness the successes of IndyMedia‘s user-generated street news, and the burgeoning peer-to-peer video distribution community around Miro (formerly the Democracy Player). The message is clear: don’t just have a voice on the street — create content and share it for global benefit. And this message isn’t just for the hardcore: what else is Al Gore’s current.tv, if not a centre-left, normalising riff on Miro’s theme?

Politically aware citizens, armed with video cameras, open source video editing software and BitTorrenting skills, are accessing difficult places and telling important stories, independent of mainstream media agendas. But how to get that activist content out in front of a broader, less engaged audience?

Say hello to InfoGraffiti (positioning: Tell the World What They Need to Know). Coming on like current.tv after a week at the Anarchist Bookshop, InfoGraffiti aims to take activist media to the people, urban guerrilla stylee. The short version of their manifesto reads as follows:

  • InfoGraffiti is a new information distribution service intending on eventually rivaling the mainstream press; we need your help.
  • We want to distribute internet documentaries and information via a CD format that will play on good DVD players or PC’s.
  • Access to a printing press and the large costs involved is what has stopped forward thinking progressive messages from getting out before.
  • Social network and Social news site users are forward thinkers (in general) and most of them have CD burners.
  • Between us then we have the biggest printing press the world has ever seen and InfoGraffiti wants to organise it.
  • You download our ISO torrent (ISO=CD Image, Torrent=FAST method of download) burn it to CD, label it with a logo and then distribute it around our wonderful cities.
  • The CD contains all the best documenataries, virals, and information from the web, chosen by InfoGraffiti users. It works on DVD players and PC’s.
  • Place it on park benches, in lifts, in coffee shops, on bus seats and in libraries for our wonderful fellow citizens to discover.

We think they might be a bit optimistic with their planned weekly release schedule, but wish them luck. Now is probably a good time for InfoGraffiti’s distribution model: urban punters have been softened up by countless lame ‘experiential marketing’ campaigns on the streets, flogging cable TV and shampoo — when they pick up those CDs they’re going to expect trailers for Shrek IV, not Noam Chomsky’s media critique. Hopefully they’ll keep watching.

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Strike Bike

Industrial Action 2.0

News from Old Europe, which goes something like this:

  1. Organised labour has serious problem with management at bike factory
  2. Workers occupy the factory, but rather than sitting on their arses waiting to be kicked out, they hit on the idea of using the resources around them to build their own branded bikes
  3. …and sell them on the internet to fund their struggle.

Fucking brilliant, and an inspiration to those of us in the knowledge precariate as well. Use your internet time at work wisely, fellow workers. You know what I mean.

[OK, this story is pieced together from dodgy Google translations. Not all of it might be 'really' true. However this is such a nice myth/meme that we couldn't resist.]

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Freedom Through Shopping

Dalston says No.

Many Dalston residents are less than happy about plans for regeneration (or gentrification, depending on your politics and focus) of the Dalston Junction area. Regardless of local opposition, development seems to be powering ahead.

For the past couple of months, the banners and signs of the protesters have been fighting a propaganda war with official posters portraying the brave new world planned by London Transport, Mayors Pipe and Livingston, and a consortium of developers.

The battle for hearts and minds escalated over the Easter break: the blandly cut-and-paste architectural renderings of the happy happy ‘Dalston to be’ riveted to the hoardings at the 38 bus stop on Dalston Lane have accumulated some creative amends at the hands of anti-development activists.


Note the sinister concentration-camp motto over the razor wire penning in the citizens of the gated community: SHOPPING MACHT FREI.

We’ve uploaded more high resolution images on Flickr. As in Hogarth, there is much detail worthy of attention: ASBO-branded shopping bags, anyone?


If you want to visit, go soon before the Powers That Be erase all sign of it. Map here. The site is just across the road from the Dalston Peace Mural — a 1985 celebration of Hackney’s collective anti-nuclear action during the Cold War.

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Voicemails from the Underground

New phone-based services empower citizen reporters.

The mobile phone has become the most ubiquitous symbol of our connected society, and worldwide, mobile telephony has a much broader presence than more ‘advanced’ digital technologies. But phone technology, traditionally, has been locked down and proprietary, with international calls hugely expensive — obstacles to the use of phones as tools to mobilise the global grassroots.

Two recent projects from the activist/hacker underground suggest that all that might be about to change.

Exhibit A: Blasterisk. Not only does this phone service offer global calls at local rates (from and to normal mobiles or landlines), but includes a (tiny but growing) pool of ‘short-dial’ numbers which connect direct to IndyMedia news desks worldwide. Using Blasterisk, citizen reporters anywhere in the world can instantly – for the price of a local call – phone into IndyMedia with on-the-spot breaking news, updates, calls for action. And unlike email, the service is cheaply accessible to anyone with a phone — Blasterisk reaches places the Internet doesn’t, and does it in real time.

In a similar vein, Exhibit B: the Bureau of Inverse Technology’s Antiterror Line, a sousveillance tool for the collection of “live audio data on civil liberty infringements and other anti-terror events.” Anyone can call in and leave a message — a “spoken report or in-progress recording of an anti-terror attack”. The system uplinks your audio recording direct to the BIT online terror database: an “audio accumulation of micro-incidents which individually may be inactionable but en masse could provide evidence for a definitive response.” [via Textually]

Of the two, Blasterisk is clearly the most sophisticated, offering as it does both a networking tool for activists and a direct channel for media distribution (via IndyMedia). And it’s built on the industrial strength open source Asterisk telephony platform, so has plenty of scope for growth and tweaking…

“The street finds its own use for things”. Blasterisk and BIT demonstrate that it’s also finding a louder voice through creative hacking.

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Amnesty International and The Observer move to protest against censorship and human rights violations online.

The stimulus is the case of Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist recently sentenced to 10 years hard labour for using the internet to inform people that newspapers were being censored in their coverage of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Yahoo! gave information to the authorities that was used in evidence for his conviction. The campaign site features a neat little ‘fragment’ of suppressed information for bloggers and others to spread virally.

Here’s ours.

And for those who want to register their voice, there is the usual online pledge.

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Consumer Created Chaos

Chevy learns the hard way that not all of your ‘consumers’ love you.

As of today this is still up on the Chevy/Apprentice consumer-created ad site. The copy reads:

Like Snow? Beautiful landscapes? Be sure to take it all in now because…

Tomorrow this asshole’s SUV will change the world

Global warming isn’t a pretty SUV ad

It’s a frightening reality


Tahoe — An American Revolution

Via AdPulp who also point out that this is now officially Out There — as soon as Chevy take it down it’ll be up on YouTube. April fools.

UPDATE: this is starting to spread with activist sites encouraging people to go to the site and make a statement — the results are piling up on YouTube as we type… We particularly like this one sent in by a BST reader — page down the YouTube link for handy hints on how to upload your version now that Chevy has blocked entries to the competition.

UPDATE: Chevy are now claiming that they *expected* this to happen.

A spokeswoman for Chevrolet, Melisa Tezanos, said the company did not plan to shut down the anti-S.U.V. ads [note they have blocked any more uploads to the comp]. “We anticipated that there would be critical submissions,” Ms. Tezanos said. “You do turn over your brand to the public, and we knew that we were going to get some bad with the good. But it’s part of playing in this space.”

To paraphrase Mandy Rice Davies: well, they would say that wouldn’t they?

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