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The Durango Roller Girls and Articulation

This story is about two small-town women with big ideas. Aired on KDUR and podcasted at PRX.org.

Wrestle Mania

A beautiful San Diego Drag Queen dreams of making it big

By Kinsee Morlan, originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 10/30/2007

The canned laughter from Will & Grace spills from the back bedroom of a small apartment in Normal Heights. Cashmere Cavalier ties a bandana over her braided hair, pulls on a pair of loose khaki cargo shorts and slips on a black undershirt, followed by a baggy T-shirt and bright-white K-Swiss tennis shoes.

She—as in the female impersonator who dances, struts and wiggles her ass off at Lips every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night—is more of a he today. The wig, as drag queens say, is off.

Beams of light stream through the narrow slits in the cheetah-print Venetian blinds covering Cashmere’s bedroom window—the tiny strips of light fall in jagged lines over her unmade bed. Piles of laundry tower in the corner near a crooked closet door that’s been punctured, leaving a gaping hole. Opposite the closet hang three poster boards collaged with magazine clippings of Hummers, wads of cash, Rolex watches, a dream house with a pool and the tiny faces of professional wrestlers.

What Cashmere calls her “Vision Boards” are a result of The Secret, the self-help book that she, Oprah, bored mothers across the Midwest and seemingly everyone else in the industrialized world has been reading this year.

“Make life happen your way,” reads one of her board’s clippings. And below, “Young, Fly & Flashy” and “I did this for me.”

Cashmere points to the wrestlers. “These are my colleagues,” she says, then turning her attention to the cutout head of wrestling mogul Vince McMahon. “And this is the guy I’ll be getting my paycheck from.

“And Cryme Tyme,” she continues, pointing to a pair of tag-team wrestlers dressed like gangsta rappers, “they don’t know who I am yet, but I know I’m going to be their manager, and I’m going to take them to the top.”

Cashmere figured out her goal in life long ago, but only recently has she taken steps to make it happen. In her mind, she will be a famous World Wrestling Entertainment manager, and not an actual wrestler—she’s too cute for that. She will be the first to merge the world of drag with the world of wrestling, and it will happen before year’s end.

“I’ve already had so many visions of me being backstage and people wanting my picture and autograph,” Cashmere says. “I can see myself backstage, ready to go, and then being like, ‘Aaaahhhhh.'” She snaps her fingers. “‘Camera time.'”

Growing up in New Orleans, most of Cashmere’s time, or little Jimmy Johnson’s time back then, was spent running around the Superdome, hanging backstage with WWE’s biggest entertainers. Her dad was the Superdome head janitor on nights and weekends, so she had an informal all-access pass. She was a cute little boy with a big personality and a knack for entertaining, and the wrestlers took a liking to her. Guys like Macho Man, Rick Flair, Booker T and Junkyard Dog weren’t just television characters anymore—in Cashmere’s world, they were badass dudes she could pretend wrestle in person. With all those big, strong men around, Cashmere had her pick when it came to finding an idol, but she looked up to one wrestler in particular: Sherri Martel, aka Scary Sherri. Cashmere promised herself that, one day, she’d be just like Sherri—sexy, sassy and, more specifically, a manager who got just as much attention and airtime as the wrestlers in the ring. Sherri would insert herself into the show by slipping in a trip of an opponent here, a hand-off of a metal folding chair to her wrestler there. The cameras were always watching.

“Martel, oh girl, she was mean and nasty, she was totally like a hell cat. I wanted to be just like her,” Cashmere says. And the dream was born.

But then life happened. Cashmere got so swept up in the drag-queen life that professional wrestling got lost somewhere in the perfume and feather boas. Entertaining the masses of straight girls at Lips’ famous bachelorette parties made the years melt away as fast as the frozen cosmos she serves.

A knock at the front door startles Cashmere. Matthew Page, a Lips coworker and confidant, walks in. “You ready?” he asks.

The two pile into Page’s truck and head to a College Area pawn shop. Cashmere mostly calls Page by the name “Mary,” and she switches seamlessly to calling him “Francis,” “Shady” or just “Matthew.”

Page, a skinny, feminine white boy from Arizona, and Cashmere, the beautiful black diva from the South, share a love of two important things: hip-hop and Days of Our Lives. They refer to the soap opera as “The Story,” and both watch it religiously. Today, sadly, they’re missing it, but Page records it daily just in case.

“Remember the Nelly concert?” Page asks, turning to Cashmere. “You had a homemade sign and balloons for him, but we were up in the nose-bleed section.”

“Oh yeah, and I was wearing that booty-licious outfit, that jacket and zebra hat,” Cashmere laughs.

“You looked at me and said, ‘We’re gonna get in the front row,'” Page says. “And I hesitated, but you grabbed me and said, ‘Look, bitch, you’re not gonna punk out.'”

“Then we jumped the fence and ran to the stage, and a whole group of people followed us!” adds Cashmere.

The two ended up getting so close that they could see Nelly backstage drinking his Snapple peach iced tea.

“Cash gets what she wants,” Page says. “She is attracted to glitter, and glitter is attracted to her.”

It’s not that things just come to Cashmere.

She works hard to get what she wants. On Halloween night four years ago, the 303-pound version of Cashmere decided to go after her wrestling dream. Bags and bags of Halloween candy surrounded her, haunting and taunting her until she couldn’t take it anymore. The next few kids who came to the door got entire bags of candy instead of one bite-size bit. Cashmere got rid of all the junk food in her house and made the decision to lose weight and turn her life around. In her visions of being a wrestling manager, Cashmere always saw the skinny version of herself. She knew losing weight was the first step.

Three years of eating right and exercising eventually got her down to 160 pounds. The next step was to keep the weight off and raise enough money to enroll in wrestling school. By July of this year, Cashmere had the $2,000 she needed. Now, every Tuesday and Thursday, she takes the train north to San Clemente to attend night classes at O.C. Dojo, where several graduates of the training program have made it to the WWE.

Nov. 3, the WWE is coming to San Diego’s Sports Arena. Cashmere already has her front-row tickets and a good feeling that this will be her big break.

“Everyone’s gonna see me and say, ‘Who’s that?'” she says, rubbing a bit of stubble that’s sprouted on her chin. “After I make my appearance on TV, it will be all good.”

A surreal life


The unusual history and art of Ginger Wallace

By Kinsee Morlan originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 11/19/2007

Ginger and Bob Wallace’s house looks cookie-cutter average from the outside. A freshly trimmed lawn populated by birds of paradise and other exotic plants and trees rampant in their Point Loma neighborhood leads the way to coral-red double doors. The driveway is clean, the Volvo is spotless and the weeds are whacked.

But inside the typical Southern California house-on-a-hill are bits and pieces of eccentricity and silliness–a stuffed alligator and dragon tucked under the piano, something Ginger calls her “nature center,” decorative bugs crawling into candy dishes on end tables and various plastic molds of spilt things, like a fake glass of orange juice pouring onto the loveseat in the foyer and a fake bottle of bright red Revlon nail polish spilling across the top of the piano. Added up, these quirky little tidbits equal the unique taste and extraordinary humor of Ginger Wallace, a distinguished woman known locally more for her art philanthropy than her own body of sometimes surreal, often hilarious, always skillful art.

Ginger Wallace loves root beer and her oversized Chihuahua, Sam, but hates heights and horses. She’s a gentle, polite woman who stands a commanding 5-foot-10, with sharp blue eyes, soft grayed hair, an easy giggle and an uncanny ability to attract attention. Ginger is somewhat of a pioneer for women in art, yet she doesn’t see it that way–instead, she shrugs off any mention of blazed trails or significant female firsts and simply tells her life story through entertaining anecdotes that leave listeners wanting more.

Like the one about the firework. Ginger was living in Chicago, operating her 750 Studio gallery by day, going to the University of Chicago by night and working on a silent film at an old abandoned German expressionist house on the south side of Chicago in her spare time. She and her film crew decided to shoot a firework off, but it was sometime in the 1950s, when big fireworks were new and strange, and the crew feared they’d burn the house down, so they shot it off from the shore of Lake Michigan instead. The spectacle that followed–the flashes, sparks and faces of shocked onlookers–was all caught on Ginger’s Kodak Eastman Model-A 16-mm camera.

Ginger showed the finished film just once at the University of Iowa, but after a man in the audience asked if the purposely surreal and abstract work–perhaps a bit ahead of its time in the Midwest–was the product of a “madman, or an insane mind,” Ginger decided to hide the film and never show it to anyone ever again.

“It’s very primitive,” she says with a shy smile, moving on, without missing a beat, to her next mysterious life tale.

It’s this side of her, the obscure, modest side, that has kept her art and achievements somewhat under wraps. What Ginger sometimes misses in her storytelling are the impressive parts, like how she owned and operated a gallery at a time when most women did little more than get married and have children. She’ll also forget to mention, or rush right by, the fact that 750 Studio was the site for one of the first solo shows of Harry Callahan, the famed modern American photographer, at a time when most galleries frowned upon photography and certainly didn’t consider it fine art. She might even brush off her educational accomplishments–she spread her undergraduate education out at the University of Salt Lake City, the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago and got her master’s of fine art from the Art Institute of Chicago, again, at a time when many women stopped their schooling after the 12th grade.

And unless you’re one of the lucky recipients of Ginger’s creative handmade Christmas cards, you’d probably never realize the gobs of artistic talents pouring from her slender fingers. A long-awaited retrospective exhibition of her work is currently showing at the San Diego Art Institute’s Museum of the Living Artist in Balboa Park.

Ginger Wallace: Her Art, Her Wit and Her Relationships captures, among other things, Ginger’s affinity for feet. Two of the three self-portraits in the show are photographs of her feet-one is a shot of toes peaking out of a can of mushroom soup; the other pictures are of toes, too, this time with the nails painted carefully in the recognizable style of Piet Mondrian.

The show also captures the schizophrenic-like way Ginger moved through almost every artistic medium–from traditional oil and acrylic paintings to ceramics, photography and photo collage, Indian ink drawings, lithographs, etchings, assemblage and fine pieces of metal jewelry, a craft she picked up one summer while studying with the Los Castillos in Taxco, Mexico. Even the wood, resin and leaf Japanese screen standing in the middle of the exhibition is a product of Ginger’s artistic prowess.

But the anchor of the show is the dozens of panels of watercolor illustrations from Ginger’s book, published earlier this year, Extraordinary People: Plus Unique, Above Average Children, a 164-page volume of curious illustrations paired with witty one-liners, like the depiction of her husband Bob, a retired San Diego State University professor of art history, standing on a stool made of human legs, reaching to put the finishing touches on a huge ceramic vase.

“He wanted to make the biggest punch bowl in the world,” laughs Ginger, recalling the ceramics class they took together.

Family and friends are a recurring theme in the book, as are children, who are portrayed in untraditional ways, like the woman pictured in a faux muskrat jacket with a child carefully hidden in its bushy collar.

“I fell in love with children after I had them,” Ginger says, explaining away the book’s tongue-in-cheek depiction of kids as mostly bothersome.

One of the more fascinating qualities of Ginger Wallace–both the show and the woman–is her friendship with like-minded, creative folks and how they’ve fed off one another and, after decades of making art, have helped create movements and push artistic periods. For perspective, the show includes works from Ginger’s personal collection and works by her friends Everett Jackson, Beth Van Hoesen, Whitney Halsted and others.

Ginger points to a beautifully framed Middle Eastern painting hanging in her family room, atop which sits a big-busted doll dressed in a hot-pink sequined dress. “Everett Jackson once called our collection a mix of museum-quality work and junk,” she says, launching into yet another true yet absurd tale from her full life.

“I digress all the time” she says later, apologizing for her fantastical mind.

Ginger Wallace: Her Art, Her Wit and Relationships will be on view at the San Diego Art Institute-Museum of the Living Artist in Balboa Park through Sunday, Nov. 25. www.gingerwallace.org.


YouTube evolution

Artists and others are using the online resource for more than just home videos

By Kinsee Morlan, originally published in  San Diego CityBeat 8/19/2008

The biggest video-sharing website isn’t just for lame home videos or amateur soft-core porn anymore: Local artists are using it as a new medium for what they’re calling “X-stream Dadaism.” Local businesses and nonprofits are using it as a mass marketing tool, and other local YouTubers are documenting some pretty interesting things. Our time online looking through video after video has us convinced that  there’s a bit of a YouTube evolution going on in Internet land.

User profile:
The Artist

Mick Jagger’s unmistakable voice spills out of the open windows of a quaint little craftsman in Normal Heights. His mournful “You can’t always get what you want”s are so loud that doorbell rings are left unanswered. Minutes slide by before Dr. Niku pops out from around the corner of the house and leads the way to the backyard.

“Welcome to The Infinity House,” she smiles, her red cheetah-print dress, red leather tassels on her cowboy boots and silver antennas fashioned out of duct tape blowing around in the afternoon wind.

Chilling in lawn chairs around back, Niku’s partners in the renegade YouTube art project, dubiously dubbed The Infinity Lab (and, no, they won’t be using their real names), drink beer and tequila while waiting for the sun to hit the 4:34 mark on their homemade sundial—they’ve learned through numerous backyard moviemaking experiences that, in the summer months, the hours between 4:34 and 5 p.m. are best for lighting.

Dr. Cuddles with Cats and Dr. Hueso, also dressed in red with duct tape and tinfoil headdresses, giggle, sometimes uncontrollably, when they talk about their most recent YouTube venture, “Another Formulaic Kruger.” The two-minute-and-21-second video shows Niku and Cuddles dancing mockingly around an art installation by artist and onetime UCSD professor Barbara Kruger at the newly expanded UCSD Price Center while an intense soundtrack is interrupted by The Infinity Lab’s voices repeating things like, “What are you doing to Barbara Kruger’s stuff?” and “Oh my God, dude, did she just piss on the floor?”

After The Infinity Lab posted the video on their YouTube channel, just for good measure, they wrote a mock press release titled “Pissed Off Artists Allegedly Urinate on Kruger Art Installation” and sent it into the blogosphere. Sure enough, a few bloggers ran with it and, before too long, The Infinity Lab was being criticized as juvenile, disrespectful, sexist and even passé.

“They were saying, ‘It’s inexcusable to pee on someone’s work, but it’s also soooo ’80s,” Niku says, fiddling with her Sony camera in preparation for the day’s shoot, which involves a huge handmade cardboard cutout of CityBeat’s cover that they plan on filming themselves busting through.

“The funny thing is,” Hueso adds, “this guy put our video up on his blog, and people had already been debating the morality of people peeing on another artist’s piece, but they have no idea if we actually did it—they just assumed.”

This isn’t the first time the threesome—all of them daylight in art education to support their moonlighting YouTube addictions—have used the online video medium to pull one over on the art world. This spring, The Getty launched a Video Revolutionaries website in conjunction with California Video, an exhibition that showed from March through June. The Getty invited anyone and everyone in Internet land to submit videos. The video that was viewed the most would be screened at the museum’s “Fridays off the 405,” an evening event geared toward the young hipster crowd.

The Infinity Lab submitted a few videos and pretty quickly found holes in the site’s security. They figured out that they could increase their view counts by using a program that changed their IP address and then simply refreshing the page. A few hundred refreshed pages later, and The Infinity Lab managed to get every one of their videos rated as the most viewed. Just for fun, they scrolled the words “This is a digital hijack” across the screen at the beginning of each video. And for even more fun, the pranksters put together a parody video of one of the other entries that seemed to be getting higher ratings through cheating, too.

“We saw these two lame birds flying around on another submitted video and, instantly, we knew we had to do a parody of it,” Cuddles says. “So, suddenly it was a parody party and we were out in the backyard having fun making fun of the other entries.”

But before The Infinity Lab had time to post their parody video—which can now be viewed on their YouTube channel—the Getty’s Video Revolutionaries site was shut down. Within minutes of that happening, The Infinity Lab got an e-mail from a Getty representative congratulating them for winning the contest.

When the screening rolled around, though, The Infinity Lab didn’t quite get what they’d been promised. One of their videos, and not even their highest rated video, and a few other entries apparently chosen at random were screened at The Getty, but not in the courtyard with all the action.

“I got VIP parking,” Cuddles says, raising an eyebrow, “and I went up [to The Getty courtyard], where there was this big party with beer and DJs and stuff, but then they had this little sign that said ‘Video Revolutionaries,’ with a little arrow pointing down. So you go down the stairs and around the basement, and there’s this little room where they’re playing the videos and there’s, like, four people in there.”

“It was sad,” Hueso adds, cracking up, “but the whole experience changed the trajectory of our work.”

Now, largely due to the snooty treatment by The Getty and the fun The Infinity Lab found in parodying other serious artistic works, the artists’ mission has become to use YouTube to poke fun at the blue-chip art world. Their hope is that people question the preciousness of artwork and get a good laugh while doing it. Artists like Damian Hirst and Jeff Koons are at the top of the list, and they’ve already targeted Kruger and Fritz Haeg, the latter with a video parodying the “Animal Estates” project that a group of self-proclaimed “environmental artists” did for the Whitney Biennial. The parody stars Cuddles talking about her super-important “Cat Condos” project; when you search Haeg’s name on YouTube, Cuddles’ clip comes up just a few lines under a legitimate video of Haeg talking about his project.

“It’s extreme Dada,” Hueso explains, switching out The Stones for The Doors and cranking up “Break on Through.”

“The thing about YouTube is that it’s kind of like the wild, wild West; it’s ever changing [and] evolving. We’re not even scratching the surface of what we could do. We’re still completely underground, so to speak.”

User profile:
The business

Artists aren’t the only ones finding creative new ways to use YouTube. A YouTube spokesperson says people are watching hundreds of millions of videos a day and uploading an average of 13 hours of video every minute. The spokesperson said that, as of early spring 2008, YouTube had the sixth largest audience on the Internet in the U.S., with 200 million unique users visiting the site every month. And those numbers aren’t lost on businesses and corporations looking to target a younger, more Internet-savvy crowd.

In recent months, Ray-Ban and Levi Strauss have been adding their own content in hopes that the clips will spread organically across the web through e-mail and reposts on blogs. The companies use YouTube profile names like Unbuttonedfilms and Neverhidefilms, and the videos are more covert than traditional commercials, relying on silly stunts like someone backflipping into a pair of jeans and a guy catching a pair of Ray-Bans on his face. They rip off the DIY aesthetic of user-generated YouTube videos to avoid appearing too commercial. The brands’ names are never mentioned or pictured in any of the clips—the objective is simply to associate the products with people we’re supposed to think are cool or quirky.

Oreo has also joined the ranks of YouTube users, holding an “Oreo Moments” contest that asked other YouTubers to make and vote on videos involving milk and Oreos. The winner, which will be announced Aug. 26, wins a spot as the featured video on YouTube’s homepage. With product-sponsored contests like this one, not only is Oreo geting a free commercial, but, in sifting through the entries to find their favorite, viewers are being exposed to hours of positive Oreo content.

Locally, Kenn Morris of Crossborder Business Associates, a company that provides market research, analysis and consulting for businesses and organizations interested in the U.S.-Mexico border region, recently used the YouTube-contest model to help Tijuana’s Tourism Bureau spread a positive message about the troubled city. Last month, for Tijuana’s 100th anniversary, Morris relied on local bloggers to get the message out about his company’s YouTube contest, which asked users to make a video postcard wishing the city a happy birthday.

“There were ultimately seven entries,” Morris says, “which, given that we had only come up with the campaign 15 days in advance, I think that wasn’t bad. And there’s a lasting effect, too. Last week, we had about 1,300 to 1,400 views of that channel. One of the videos had been watched over 700 times. This was an experiment, but we’re going to keep using [YouTube] to keep getting messages out, and our big message now is what people love about Tijuana.”

Nonprofits have caught onto the message-spreading prowess of YouTube, too. Invisible Children, a local nonprofit that started after three young filmmakers made a documentary about the plight of children soldiers in northern Uganda, still relies heavily on video as the main marketing tool. The group makes short films every two or three months and longer films every six months, and then uses YouTube and its own website as the primary distribution tools.

“It’s been very grassroots and viral,” says Invisible Children spokesperson Carolyn Sams. “People will pass on the video or they’ll watch the whole documentary, which is up on Google right now, and that’s been the best way to get our story out there.”

Another way YouTube’s been aiding Invisible Children, Sams explained, is a YouTube dance battle between Miley Cyrus and her cohort Mandy Jiroux and a young break-dancing crew put together by Jon Chu and Adam Sevani (directors of Step Up 2: The Streets). Sevani went to film school with one of the Invisible Children founders and is donating to the nonprofit all proceeds made from the sale of the T-shirts worn in the YouTube videos.

“So that’s another funny random way that YouTube is helping us,” Sams adds.

With all the businesses, corporations and nonprofits using YouTube’s services to push their products and messages, one might assume Google, which bought YouTube in 2006, might cut the companies off and start charging for some kind of corporate account. But it hasn’t. User accounts remain free, and YouTube makes money the old-fashioned way—through advertisements. Partnering with bigger content providers, like The Associated Press, Sony Music Group and The Sundance Channel, as well as smaller content providers, mainly YouTube superstars like Cute with Chris, The Amazing Atheist and The Creative One—users who consistently make original videos that get thousands of views—YouTube shares ad revenue. The pitches appear as both banner ads on partnered YouTube pages and in the partner videos themselves as Flash overlay ads that appears 10 seconds in.

Partnered videos then get preferential treatment by showing up on the YouTube homepage under the subhead “Promoted Videos.” And for nonprofits, YouTube has set aside special nonprofit channels that allow for premium branding, increased uploading capacity and the option of appearing for free on the homepage as a “Promoted Video.”
“We feel like there’s room for everyone,” said Kathleen Fitzgerald, a YouTube spokesperson, when asked if the jump in commercial uses of YouTube bothers the company at all. “It’s part of our goal of democratizing content.”

User profile:
The Average San Diegan

If you search for YouTube videos uploaded from the San Diego region, you’ll get a bunch of crap. The average YouTube user is still stuck on filming family trips to the zoo or—more frequently—filming themselves and their friends getting drunk and high at house parties.

There’s no good way to track what kinds of videos are being uploaded to YouTube, either regionally or internationally, because, as a recent lawsuit that Viacom, MTV and other litigants brought against YouTube made clear, YouTube does not monitor content. If, as the litigants asserted, a majority of uploaded content is copyrighted material, like clips of The Daily Show and The Simpsons, the YouTube powers that be don’t know about it. They’re only alerted if the videos get flagged, at which point they’re taken down.

A quick search through San Diego’s YouTube community leads to just a few evolved users contributing worthwhile original content.

User Stellabelle (real name Leah Stella Stephens) joined YouTube just three months ago but has already uploaded 22 videos that range from strange to interesting and informational. Using her little Nikon Coolpix camera, which is made for still photos but allows for short, low-fi video, Stellabelle has a knack for getting people to open up and perform for her. Her best works so far are the workout videos with Bob OverMyer, an 87-year-old character she found at the Solana Beach Street Fair getting down on the dance floor and putting all the surrounding young’uns to shame.

“I was, like, oh my gosh, who are you? What’s your name?” Stellabelle recalls. “And I told him, ‘We’re going to make workout videos that’ll blow everyone’s minds.’”

Another local group making potentially mind-blowing videos is SceneDiego, an improv group that does performances and pranks in public places. They film all their stunts in order to keep a record of their work and to reach a much larger audience.

“We put a lot of work into planning these things and the people’s reactions,” says Agent Neil, aka Andy, a group  founder. “We get a sense of happiness and laughter during the mission, but by sharing them [on YouTube], it gives them an entire second life, and people who weren’t there get to experience it.”

Andy uploads more content than the average YouTube user, and, as he reticently admits, he probably consumes more than the average amount of YouTube, too.

“This is kind of embarrassing,” he says. “I just bought an Apple TV. Do you know what that is? It’s kind of like an Internet cable box that you use with your TV, so I actually cancelled my cable, and with this thing you can watch any YouTube video and you can download any television show you want to watch through the iTunes store. So, a couple nights I’ve got home from work and just got sucked into YouTube, because you sit on your couch, and you’re watching YouTube with the remote and the big TV, you know, and it’s a much different experience than watching them on your computer screen. I do watch a good amount of YouTube, I guess.”

Back on the content-production side, Reviewer Rob, a local entrepreneur who runs a print quarterly magazine called Reviewer, uses YouTube to complement his writing. From interviews with adult-film stars to interviews with local bands and people like Tim Mays, owner of The Casbah and Starlite Lounge, and club promoter MayStar, he uses the video interviews to capture details for his print work.

“As a writer,” Rob says, “it’s good to do a video instead of a taped interview because so much is communicated with body language and people’s facial expressions, as well as the settings, and you just can’t get that on a taped interview. Plus, you can take the information, a video that you use for the material in your article, and you can actually make a whole separate medium out of it; you can go from print to web and make a video feature.”

One thing all San Diego YouTubers seem to lack is a sense of community. The bigger YouTube stars like Cute with Chris often hear from viewers through response videos, which are like a reply e-mail, but in video form. Thus far, San Diego YouTubers are still making and posting videos without really interacting with one another.

Back at The Infinity House, after the crew filmed themselves in the cardboard CityBeat cover, Cuddles bemoaned the lack of local participation. “What I find to be the best part of YouTube is that response-video idea, because what it does is make this community possible. You see this link, you see that this is a parody of that and you see how everything relates.”

“Yeah,” adds Niku, “no one has parodied our parodies yet, but we hope they will.”

Oh, and by the way, the jury’s still very much out when it comes to whether The Infinity Lab ever peed on anything.

On the webwww.youtube.com/theinfinitylabwww.youtube.com/tijuanabirthday,www.youtube.com/user/invisiblechildrenincwww.youtube.com/stellabellewww.youtube.com/scenediego,www.youtube.com/reviewer

Welcome to the Twitosphere

You’ve heard it mentioned by mainstream media. Maybe you even signed up for an account. What the hell is this Twitter thing all about?

By Kinsee Morlan, originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 11/04/2008

The glowing aqua swimming pool at The Pearl Hotel is about the only thing that’s placid and serene tonight. The crowd surrounding the water is pretty bubbly, partly a result of the free drinks but mostly because it’s a San Diego Tweetup, a real-world meet-up of people who, for the most part, sit at the glow of their computer screens all day slaving away at work and Twittering for fun when their bosses aren’t looking.

“Twitter’s, like, my favorite way of text-bombing people,” says an ex-Marine to a group of fellow 20- and 30-somethings. “I used to say, ‘Hey, I’m going on deployment, and be, like, boom—text-message bomb—and 16 people would get the message on their cell phones. Twitter’s just a more enhanced version of that.”

Brian Lewis, vice president of Engine Ready, one of the web companies that sponsored the Tweetup, leans in to listen and says, “I’m here because I want to figure out how to monetize Twitter for business purposes—or maybe that’s bastardizing it. Maybe it’s a social network and it shouldn’t be used for business purposes.”

“I don’t know,” answers the Marine, “I think you can kind of use it for virtual door-to-door customer service.”
The Marine’s right.

Twitter is both an online and cell-phone micro blog and social-networking tool that allows its users to receive 140-character messages from those they’ve decided to “follow”—meaning mark as a friend or contact—and send messages to those who’ve decided to follow them. The service was started by Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey, a couple of web developers from San Francisco who first launched it as a fun side project based on the simple idea that people like to know what other people are doing at any given moment. Inspired by the status setting on most chat and instant-message systems—the button that says “Out to Lunch,” “Available,” Busy” and whatnot when you’re logged into the system—and relying on the same technology that drives text messages (known as short message service, or SMS), the pair first tried it out on people they knew, but it didn’t take long before they saw Twitter’s larger potential.

“When we first created it, it was very conceptual,” Stone says. “Coworkers and friends thought it was fun, but then we had an earthquake and the first thing we reached for was Twitter, and we thought, Wow, there’s something more to this—it’s the place you go for real-time access to information.”

Now, less than two years after its official launch, businesses, journalists, government agencies and even the Los Angeles Fire Department have found different ways to use the free service. Thousands of San Diegans, in fact, were first introduced to Twitter during last year’s wildfires. While news websites were failing and emergency-services websites were crashing because of the huge amount of traffic—and even KPBS, the local National Public Radio affiliate, was off the air for some time because of fire damage to its transmitters—people like Nate Ritter (1,347 followers, following 269), a local freelance web developer, were using Twitter to collect information and links to maps of the fire from both traditional news sources and blogs, then disseminate the data to a large audience desperate to know what was going on.

“I had joined Twitter,” Ritter says, “but I didn’t yet know how it could be useful, and when the fire happened, I found out what it was for—emergencies is one of the applications it’s perfect for.”

Ritter says that the immediacy of Twitter, plus the fact that it’s limited to short text messages that can be sent directly to cell phones, makes it the perfect tool to disseminate important information quickly and succinctly. The fact that Twitter, for whatever reason, ranks high on Google searches, helps, too.

When its signal went down, KPBS didn’t take long before it, too, took to Twitter. Nathan Gibbs (225 followers, following 166), a web producer at KPBS, says that about 10 employees took turns updating the Twitter feed during the fires, and they still use Twitter today to promote content on their live shows, engage with their listeners and find contacts for story ideas.

Comcast, one of the country’s largest telecommunications corporations, famously started a Twitter account after a popular blogger used it to complain about terrible customer service. Comcast employees were monitoring the Twitter feeds for mentions of their name, and when the blogger started to bitch, they responded to him directly and had a repair van out to his house within the hour. Comcast still has an account and responds to as many costumers and complaints as it can.

Seeing the public-relations and promotions potential of the site, NASA started a Twitter account this year to promote its Phoenix Mars Lander mission (37,071 followers, following 2). They anthropomorphized the cute little robot vehicle and wrote the updates of the mission in real-time and in first person: “Whoa, so much sadness about the heater turning off,” read a recent update after some technical problems occurred due to bad weather conditions on Mars. “Thx, and I hope to hang on several more weeks so you will be hearing more from me :-).”

And those who are just using Twitter for its fun, social-networking side still seem to be the so-called “early adopters”—people like techies, journalists and PR specialists who are constantly on the lookout for new communications technology. Everyone at the Tweetup at The Pearl that night fell into those categories, but, at least to the techie crowd, it’s a good start.

“If you go to the standard technology meet-ups,” says Gabriel Lawrence, director of IT security at UCSD, the glow of the pool reflecting in his glasses, “it’s all a bunch of geeks standing around lecturing each other. But look at this: There’s all kinds of people here. There’s the technology people, so, if you want to talk tech and be like 1, 0, 1-1, 0, 1-1, you can. But then there’s marketing folks, there’s radio personalities, there’s newspaper media—I mean, everybody’s here. Eric Bidwell, a candidate for mayor, is here. I voted for him because I met him at a Tweetup. This is what it should be like—you get to meet lots of people, there’s lots of ideas and it’s a fun environment.”

Lots of people, ideas and fun—sounds a lot like the real-world equivalent of a day spent on Twitter.
The next San Diego Tweetup will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 14, at KPBS on the SDSU campus. Contact the organizer, Jennifer Van Grove, at www.jennifervangrove.com or www.meetup.com/sdtweetup.


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