WHAT: People broadcasting themselves from home will interact with each other as they attempt to earn their way onto a "Star Trek"-style set where everything is wired and recorded. Those on set will spend much of their time monitoring streams and communicating with those at home, led by a captain who has earned his or her way into that role. Thousands (and eventually) millions of hours of footage will be distilled into a one-hour prime-time broadcast each day.
“Citizens” of the The Wired City -- limited to the U.S. to start with -- will be able to purchase backdrops and uniforms they can use in their home studio.
In other words: massive multiplayer online game meets reality TV. Raising money now on Kickstarter.
LAUNCHER: Josh Harris, who founded research firm Jupiter Communications in the mid-1980s and the internet broadcaster Pseudo.com in the late 1990s. He famously created a wired bunker in Soho that the authorities shut down and wired/recorded his and his girlfriend’s home life before he cracked (both experiences are captured in the documentary “We Live in Public,” the Grand Jury prize winner at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival).
In 2007 Josh founded the short-lived Operator11, which let people create their own live web shows (though the original premise was The Wired City).
WHY: People want their 15 minutes of fame. It’s technologically feasible, and enough people have webcams and broadband internet connections to participate. Plus, it hasn’t been done yet.
WHEN/WHERE: Fall 2011 / New York.
BACKSTORY: Josh says has been building toward this his entire career. He learned how to run a network at Pseudo and says he better figured out “the magic in this medium” with Operator11. He’s now taking it “to the major league.” He’s not interested in changing the entertainment industry, however: “I want Madison Avenue, screw Hollywood.”
BUSINESS MODEL: Advertising/sponsorship. Josh can see having sponsors for everything people do on set and in their homes, moments he calls micro-days. “Everyone sits around the mess hall [on set] and you have 100 people eating the same Swanson meal, drinking it down with Coke. Amplify that out to 10,000 people eating The Wired City dinner...How great is that? Now you have 10,000 people having to buy food,” he says.
Advertising agencies are interested, Josh notes, but they are waiting for the show to launch.
COMPETITION: Hangouts in Google+ provide an element of what The Wired City promises. Tinychat (video chat rooms) more closely resembles Operator11 than this project. Josh says the real competition will happen once The Wired City is live: “It’s a software platform -- you can reverse-engineer it.”
PHILOSOPHY: “I’m simply in the business of programming people’s lives,” says Josh. [Note: he said the same thing in the Pseudo days.]
WHO BACKED IT: So far 49 people on Kickstarter for just over $4K (project goal is $25K by August 5).
LOOKING TO RAISE: $500K to get the show off the ground. He says he needs six weeks to get to alpha once he has raised the money.
ON RAISING MONEY: “[This project] is a long reach for both venture people and show-biz people. It’s half of one and half of the other,” says Josh.
ON SILICON VALLEY: Josh has met with a number of investors in Silicon Valley, who think he wants VC money to produce a TV show. He points out that they are focused on utility, which is not what he’s building. “If Ronnie Conway doesn’t understand me -- and he’s a smart guy -- then that doesn’t bode well for Silicon Valley,” he says.
ON USING KICKSTARTER: Josh calls the amount he’s raising “cigarette money.” But it does help in other ways: “It proves people get it. It packaged me and it’s good for promotion. Also, I can show it to investors.”
ON THE WIRED CITY LAUNCHING AND SUCCEEDING: “I know I can make it, I already made it. Once people see the magic, [getting] the audience is not a big deal. Then all hells starts breaking loose and keeping it together becomes the hard part. I just need to focus on what’s in front of me. I need resources to commence operations.”
But he also says, “Eight years from now, what I’m talking about will be old hat. You can bet your bippy that if it isn’t me, it will be someone else.”
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: Josh has 25 people, from developers in Uruguay to set builders in New York, ready to go once the money is in place.
WHAT TWO FUTURISTS THINK OF THE WIRED CITY:
Rob Tercek has extensive experience in interactive media, most recently as head of digital media for the Oprah Winfrey Network.
"Josh Harris has devoted huge effort to exploring the boundaries of personal space, private life, online video and the public sphere. Perhaps more than anyone else. His projects are hard to understand when viewed through the conventional lenses of commercial relevance. Investors and mainstream media producers are not likely to get it. Because Josh looks at video the way most artists look at performance art: it's more about the experience than the product.
“That can be a good thing conceptually but it can also backfire commercially. Josh is pushing hard to expand the edge of what most people would consider realistic, feasible, rational, or worthwhile."
Mark Pesce co-invented VRML and is now a writer, broadcaster and educator in Australia.
“My research tells me things happen much more organically, more from the bottom-up than the top-down. And The Wired City, despite its pretensions, is very top-down. The future is not concentrated. The future isn't even particularly curated. The Wired City is both of these. It feels like a bit of the past and a bit of the future are having a bit of a fight.”
The Wired City’s real-life set -- as imagined here in the Operator11 days -- will have people in uniform stationed at computers and watching people stream their lives.
1. VIDEO: Josh Harris' Wired City (Fast Company, September 24, 2009)
2. “The Dot Com Kids” (“60 Minutes II,” February 2000)
CONTACTS & LINKS