A short aerial hop returned me home last night from Las Vegas and the human anthill that is CES. It’s been 15 years since my last visit to the show (for Inscape and Time Warner, promoting alternative graphic adventure CD-ROMs—DEVO Presents Adventures of the Smart Patrol anyone?), and while the technology on view has obviously changed, the experience of attending the show itself seems largely the same.
Trade shows are always 10,000 decibels of noisy bluster, but while E3 and Comic-Con at least have a general theme (video games, geek culture), CES is so expansive as to be nearly incomprehensible. Obviously I’m missing something, but I have never understood the utility of having such a broad swath of vendors under one roof. How does anyone find anything?
Some of my favorite booths, however, were those for international concerns whose messaging wasn’t as finely attuned to American eyes and ears as that of the typical booth barketeers. The pleasure of ingesting content not engineered precisely for you is one I’m learning to appreciate more as I get older, I think.
Browsing time was limited, however, as my main reason for attending the show was not to buy, but to sell. For the last two years I’ve been working with a startup called TunesMap, brainchild of longtime music supervisor G. Marq Roswell and a small team of music and media professionals, developing UX for a music discovery engine with two main differentiators: 1) delivery of cultural context with music search, in the form of audio-visual search results that integrate the requisite artists, albums and songs with the films, fashion, news, literature, art and comedy that were contemporary with the music’s creation and 2) a deep editorial bench of music experts who can help weave this cultural tapestry out of their own expertise and personal experience (the stories one hears from these guys is one of the most fascinating perks of the job).
Gracenote, creators of CDDB (which is the reason why iTunes magically knows all about the tracks on that CD you’re ripping), is expanding their already impressive reach providing metadata for the worlds of music and entertainment. Seeing TunesMap as complementary to those goals, they kindly invited us to share their booth. As of this writing CES is still ongoing for two more days, but already the response has been very strongly positive.
For me personally the show has also been a great experience—the TunesMap team has been working in largely virtual fashion and it’s always great to see everyone in person. In addition, we’ve been showing the extensive mockups I’ve helped put together for TunesMap and received many positive comments on the UI, which is encouraging. During my last really sustained run at the tech trade shows I was also at a much more junior phase in my career, so it has been fascinating to see the phenomenon this time from a “back room” perspective. The ritualistic nature of deal-making never ceases to fascinate.
I think ritual also holds the key to some of the strangeness CES holds for someone working in the world of UX, which has been so profoundly shaped by Apple over the last decade. As Apple’s dominance in digital culture has increased, so too has it’s particular sheen of design, marketing and presentation. On the dog-eat-dog world of the CES show floor, both the foreign feel of alternate marketing styles and the incessant copycatting of Apple’s recent successes points up exactly how much we’ve been entrained to step in time with the rhythms of the makers of “those fruit computers.”
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