Answering my own questions since 2001

Idea du jour: This came from that

This Budweiser ad, where the beer company seriously amps up a rec hockey league game, has made a splash over the last week or so.

When I first saw it, I was reminded of this Improv Everywhere project, in which a local band has the night of its life. As it happens, Improv Everywhere pulled off another stunt, known as Best Game Ever, which does for a little league baseball game what the Budweiser ad does for rec hockey. Lots of people have noticed this connection.

Scott from Unmarketing checked in with the Improv Everywhere folks, and they confirmed that they’d never spoken to anybody from Budweiser. As far as I can tell, neither Budweiser nor the agency that created the ad has acknowledged Improv Everywhere as a source of inspiration.

Copying and giving credit where it’s due

I’ve been thinking about antecedents, copying and credit because we recently launched Drawn to the Wild over at The Big Wild. It invites Canadians to re-imagine a frame from a Sarah Harmer video, and to contribute to wilderness protection while they do so. Some web users will recognize that this campaign is highly derivative of the great, moody The Johnny Cash Project.

On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with borrowing ideas. After all, while talent imitates, genius steals. We all stand on the shoulders of preceding giants.

However, when you create a derivative project, it’s important to acknowledge its source. The idea of attribution is baked into the culture of the web, in back links, in Creative Commons and in retweets. It’s also consistently abused and ignored on the web, where authorship is difficult to trace and creators and copiers have few incentives to give credit where its due.

There are lots of ways that Budweiser could have acknowledged Improv Everywhere. They could do so in the YouTube video description, in earned media or on a blog post on their own site. A cynic might suggest that Budweiser’s ad agency wanted to claim complete and original authorship of the idea, as it increases their value in the eyes of their client.

For Drawn to the Wild, we prominently cite The Johnny Cash Project as inspiration on the project’s About page, as well as in our email communications with the media and our communities. When pitching the idea, were totally upfront with stakeholders about its origins. The Johnny Cash Project actually acts as a kind of proof of concept. If somebody else has been successful with something similar, then it increases our odds.

A website for the origin stories of ideas

There are lots of ways online for the creator of a derivative work to acknowledge their inspiration. However, there are no systematic ways for anybody else to highlight possible connections. Maybe the original creator has a bone to pick, or other web users want to understand and contribute to the “origin story” of an idea.

I’m imagining a website where users can post links, and drawn connections between them. This wouldn’t just be for web projects, but any sort of creative work.They might post a link to the Wikipedia article or IMDB page for Star Wars, and connect it to pages about The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Hidden Fortress. Or they’d drawn the connection between the Bud ad and its Improv Everywhere antecedent. People could vote up the connections they agreed with, and vote down the ones they didn’t (“Two and a Half Men owes nothing to Aeschylus!”).

My friend suggested a great name for the project: This Came From That.

Do other sites already do this? Wikipedia does, in a way, though one has to establish notability and then find corroborating evidence from mainstream sources before getting such a connection included in an article. Google sort of does this, too, in that you can search for “Star Wars influences” and find some useful information, but neither site is focused on solving this particular problem.

What do you think? Should we care about tracing the origins of ideas?

UPDATE: I’m reminded that I wrote about this topic back in 2010 as well.

9 Responses to “Idea du jour: This came from that”

  1. Michael Kwan

    Sounds like a good idea, particularly the voting up and down. This will help to push the “incorrect” connections to the bottom and more “correct” connections to the top, not unlike Urban Dictionary, etc.

  2. Karen Quinn Fung

    TVtropes.com does this with entertainment media; it’s essentially Wikipedia that lists the devices, lines, nods, etc. throughout creative works. I’m actually quite convinced it could make a pretty fun semantic data project. It doesn’t quite go into commercials, but it does do web comics and new media; and as far as TV is concerned it is fairly comprehensive.

    Also: where I learned the term “fanservice.”

Comments are closed.