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Maximum idea, minimum stuff

About the same time as the second ‘What the F**k is Social Media’ presentation was being bandied about, I remember wondering whether the huge usage stats therein were good or bad, and if we should be pleased that we lived in a world where billions of images, videos and words were being uploaded constantly. Purely from a time point of view, there is only so much a human can absorb in any one day, and so were we being smart by encouraging clients to add to the noise?At around the same time, I started reading about the real-world impact of this information abundance, and the scary realization that the cloud isn’t actually a fluffy, floaty cloud full of binary angels and heavenly code, but is a physical lump of hissing, whirring servers, dotted around the globe (although apparently they’ll soon mostly be in Iceland, where lower temperatures mean less cooling costs – genius idea, although imagine the mild panic when the next volcano erupts and takes the internetz away).

So, what can we do about this environmental problem? Server technology and data storage is obviously becoming more advanced and less-resource heavy, but the ‘build a bigger barn’ approach seems slightly lazy to me; in the same way that every day millions of people now recycle rubbish, we need to recycle content. I’ll quickly caveat this now, this is by no means my idea; somewhere in between ‘What the F**k’ and ‘real-world impact’, I became aware of the legendary Russell Davies, and like any self-respecting admirer, I set about reading every musing the man ever had. It was then that I stumbled across the term ‘unproduct’, the idea of ‘maximum idea, minimum stuff’, and the realization that there may be another way out of the data swamp. Unproduct is a term coined by Matt Jones, where-by newness is not a purely consumption-based thing, and unproducts (could be things, services, etc.) can be enjoyed/used over time due to an extra amount of thought that went into the creation of them – put simply, things that last longer.

What if, as content providers, we really consider what it is that we are making, and whether we need to be creating new? Could we not re-use something else that either we or somebody else has already created, but through creativity give it new value? Media is littered with clever appropriation, whether it’s Cassetteboy’s latest, or topical satire, we have a wealth of tools that with a little ingenuity can turn old into new, mundane into compelling. How about if major brands, content providers and governments showed the same creativity? I’m genuinely excited about the thought of big business concentrating on the ideas rather than the making, but am also realistic about this happening any time soon, if at all.

For now, smaller brands like howies show us how things can be done, but I urge you to repeat the mantra ‘maximum idea, minimum stuff’ in your next client meeting, agency briefing or any other kind of situation where there’s temptation to fall back on the new. If it helps at all, here some slides that I put together that will hopefully inspire, and not confuse.

Further reading:
Greenpeace study on Making IT Green

Russell Davies and the unproduct

This post was filed under Social media, The future, Working culture Comments are currently closed.


  1. Interesting post, Ross, very interesting.

    I will help by writing as tight as I can. And editing HARD.

    Saving space – and the world – one sentence at a time.


    Posted 30th April 2010 at 11:23 am | Permalink
  2. sam

    Mininiminium :)

    Posted 4th May 2010 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

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