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Isaac Marcet by Folch
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“When I speak of the future of communication, I don’t see one future but an infinitude of futures.”

Isaac Marcet is founder of PlayGround, an online news platform counting more than 16 million followers on social media and over 1000 million video views.

Interview by Vincenzo Angileri. Artwork by Marina Esmeraldo.

With a community of almost 16 million people, online news platform PlayGround is a powerful collective voice in New Media territory. Their mission: using contemporary narratives and emotional stories to increase consciousness and empower people. In an inspiring and thoughtful conversation, founder Isaac Marcet interprets the ever-changing world of media, millennials and politics, while envisioning a collective, greater challenge: fashioning a better Internet.

Journalism in the digital age
Vincenzo Angileri

What is an editorial project nowadays?

Isaac Marcet

An editorial project today is people. It’s humanity, which has become communicative to an exponential level. Everyone is an editor now. There are those who reach more people and those who reach less. The challenges for the future will be about how we value quality and the authenticity of news, how we monetise information truthfully without compromising it, and, ultimately, how we activate that information. We need to find a way to create actionable stories that give the community tools to sign, donate and unite communities, as well as develop projects. Information shouldn’t only be about ideas but also action.

VA

It is pretty ironic how in an era of total access to information we are generating a decadent journalistic environment made out of clickbait, vapid content, and fake news. Is it possible to go back to telling stories and creating narratives that are attractive and reflect the complexity of our reality?

IM

There are four types of information nowadays. The first one is purely sensationalist; the misleading headlines aiming to gain more visits to a website. The second one is manipulative. It tries to influence the psyche of communities through fake news in order to make people vote for one thing or another. The third one is classic journalism which refuses to adapt itself to the digital world. Then there’s the fourth and, to me, most interesting one. It is the kind of information that communicates value through stories, through each medium and format, in order to reach as many people as possible. In PlayGround we tell stories and, as storytellers, if you really believe what you do has value in society, you want to reach everyone. You have to speak to both the traditional and the digital world at the same time, with the best of intentions and quality. When I speak of the future of communication, I don’t see one future but an infinitude of futures. Communication nowadays is no longer about one single strategy, but about many strategies at any time. It’s about playing with a flexible format and delivering a quality message within the communicative dance.

VA

Within this paradigm a lot of media created a new system of references. We learned how every new technological change can generate new players and new types of information. Where before we had The Times, we now have Huffington Post; where we had The Daily Times, we’ll now find BuzzFeed. Is this a definite shift in the scenario of information or do you think traditional sources can still recover? Should traditional media learn from modern platforms?

IM

Every action has its reaction. We’ve never seen more informational sources producing extensive content based on thorough research. People do realise stories and written language are becoming more important than ever; long, profound stories that make you think and which give shape to our society’s collective thought. I believe you can play both teams. Big media players like The New York Times or The Guardian have been here for over 150 years, and they’ve been very capable of adapting themselves to the digital environment. BuzzFeed, on the other hand, was born from a world of virality and also provides high quality journalism, developing, for example, a series of technologically wonderful newsletters. It would be a huge step in the wrong direction to think we can’t have both things at the same time. The digital environment allows us to be less clear, it allows us to constantly iterate and experiment. More on New Media

Emotional journalism and storytelling
VA

Today, in journalism, it seems essential to create emotional ties with your readers. How do you think the role of the storyteller has changed?

IM

There’s an old African proverb which says he who tells stories has the power. Nowadays, there’s no longer just one person telling stories; we all have this power, and, because of that, media like PlayGround should be a reference to other storytellers in order to ensure that the capacity to tell stories remains as conscious, close, sustainable, and human as possible. More on Emotional Storytelling

Of mobile phones and other revolutions
VA

Reports tell us the vast majority of people, especially the younger generations, consumes their news through social media and on their phones. How does this influence the formats and narratives of a digital editorial project?

IM

According to Cisco, by 2018, the consumption of video formats will be bigger than that of social media or video games. Video is the DNA of the internet and it is clear that every company focusing on video and mobile consumption right now will be the mainstream company of tomorrow. Simultaneously, however, text is also becoming more useful and necessary than ever. As always, nothing ever disappears entirely. Everything keeps on coexisting. Some sources will inevitably die —daily written press will surely disappear— but the way in which we consume content won’t. It will continue as it always has continued, without any change. We will adapt to mobile consumption. And as for the predomination of virtual reality and gamification in the future…well…who knows? I personally believe it would be a big mistake to deify everything mobile. It’s what we have nowadays, but it is also transitory. Tomorrow will bring even more new ways of consuming information.

VA

There is a lot of discussion about the society of images. What will be the role of written text?

IM

People have been criticising the superficiality of image culture and the possibility of it replacing written text for quite some time now, even though journalistic media are receiving more subscriptions every day. It’s a counter reaction. Reality is very capricious and it is a lot more profound and complex than it seems. Written text enhanced by machine learning and artificial intelligence will be able to give us the information we’re looking for, at all times. I believe machine learning and artificial intelligence are going to be fundamental in the future, as long as we know how to combine it with superior human ideas. The big question isn’t if we should use technology, but how we should use it. We already passed this stage in communication. To me, the future is the hybridisation of better technologies and more sophisticated human minds. Because in the end, Man is still the best of technologies.

A human technology
VA

The digital revolution once began with technologies that seemed foreign to our bodies, and calculators that replicated our logic only from afar. Today however, technological formats, interfaces and interactions are becoming much more relatable to nature and humans. It’s like we are creating other beings, in some way, that are better than us.

IM

These other beings are still a union of both. They are a hybridization. Technology will also only become more human because it is being adapted to human resemblance. It is no longer the black IBM screen we have to turn on; it’s people who design technology, not an entirely separate entity. It’s because of that technology is becoming more human, more sensual in a way: it will always be a kind of symbiosis, a relation, a dance.

The Filter Bubble
VA

Eli Pariser, founder of Unworthy and author of The Filter Bubble, talked of the enormous risk created by user-designed content. The Filter Bubble theory suggests that adaptive technologies and algorithms sometimes prevent us from being confronted with distressing content that is contrary to our beliefs. User-designed content gives us the information we find interesting, yet it can be dangerous when it comes to being well informed. Does technology give us what we need then? What do you think?

IM

I believe technology is cyclical, which means there are positive and negative cycles. Facebook and other social networks have generated such a change, I think we are currently going through a dark moment in communication. What should have been a world of transparency has become a world of enclosure and bubbles. Like Pariser explains, these bubbles are generating more ferocious and rigid attitudes ad infinitum. And what is dangerous is that these attitudes can be sustained by lies. There will be people, if they aren’t already here, anchored to these lies, without being capable to contrast them. This is what’s terrifying. Before, only few dictated what information had to be like. Now, the premise is total openness, yet we brought about a culture of niches. There’s no longer one point of reference, there are many at the same time. There could exist large portions of society receiving only negative references and living in a delirious world. In the US, for example, they discovered a community of people who still believed the world is square. They got the information of their social networks. More on The Filter Bubble

VA

It reminds me of Plato’s cave. Maybe the cavemen would have wanted to get to know reality at some point, but the algorithm kept on projecting the shadows because it was what they wanted to see. Algorithms shouldn’t just give us what we want, they should also show us what don’t want and what challenges us. Something that puts us in a crisis.

IM

It’s key to bring ethics into machinery, and we should develop new applications that allow us to derive such great power towards a world that is consistently more measured, transparent and truthful. There are interesting ideas, like Facebook’s of leaving last-minute-news fact-checking to third parties to make sure everything is truthful.

Tailored experiences and using data
VA

Digital media today is increasingly getting more responsibility on their hands.

IM

Information generates communities of thought, feelings, dialogue. It reaches people’s full consciousness and has an impact on profound zones of the human condition. this can lead to transformations that have the potential to be revolutionary. The responsibility is huge. PlayGround is fully conscious of this power and responsibility. This commitment is present in the very essence of PlayGround, so we are developing initiatives in that direction. Our concept called “Play and do” —which we will launch soon— tries to construct a bridge between information and action: we want to collaborate with social entrepreneurs as well as the most important agents of change in the world when it comes to connective news. We want to bring them together through signature campaigns, create debate forums, and bring about other types of action that will benefit communities of every sort. It is important that news has a return value for its users. It doesn’t have to be money, it can be anything, but it’s important to have it.

VA

What does PlayGround do in order to provide its audience with what they’re is interested in?

IM

PlayGround uses the most exquisite technology this world has: passion. It is true that, evidently, we like to analyse people’s opinions. We want to understand their feelings and social movements, yet our starting point is always the stories we feel deserve to be told.

VA

How can we use data in a transparent and ethical way? How do we relate experiences that are constructive for readers?

IM

I think the most ethical way to use data is to be transparent with the use you’re giving it, and guarantee the user conditions aren’t labyrinthic, but accessible to the audience.  A lot of practices used nowadays are fraudulent and not concerned with real communication. They only care for profits. I believe only the honest companies will survive, those that show sincerity. 

Viral content and diffusion
VA

What makes content go viral? Which elements make news so attractive people feel the need to share it?

IM

The idea that we are in the information age is a lie; we are in the emotion age. The basic premise is to move people. We live in an economy of emotions, not of words or concepts or information. Everything that goes viral today is content that produces emotion. The more intense the emotion, the more viral the content goes. More on Virality

VA

There is a model of virality that looks like it’s based on influencers who address communities with specific interests. PlayGround, on the other hand, passes its content through a narrative filter and addresses a much wider community, as if virality was waterfall where the critical mass is born out of an influence that seems to be on one-to-one, generalist model.

IM

PlayGround was born out of a millennial and cultural vocation. Just like there’s been produced a big economic division that destroyed the middle class, there also came to exist a huge cultural division on many levels. PlayGround tries to mend this gap back together again. Brexit and the US elections are emblematic. The age difference compared to people’s votes is abysmal. There were close to no millennials who voted for Trump and if they voted the UK would probably still be a port of the European Union. It makes you realise there isn’t just a great economic, cultural, or educational divide, there are also immense generational differences. PlayGround wants to radically open itself to new generations. To us, the ideal would be to create content that can be understood by a 70-year-old New Yorker, as well as a nine-year-old from Tijuana. Our community tells us we’re getting there. There are hundreds of people of all ages and cultural strata writing us on social networks on a daily basis. As a goal we try to rethink the current world and its future in every possible field. We also try to reach that goal in a human, sustainable way, and with the healthiest of intentions: to reach everyone.

VA

It is not possible to identify PlayGround with certain signatures or journalists: you’re a collective voice.

IM

I think it’s the most beautiful project we developed at PlayGround. When I was younger, I had this idea of a storyteller as some sort of genius and talented figure, almost haunted, who lived isolated in his or her marble tower. We have moved the attention from the genius to the stage, which is what we are trying to establish with PlayGround; a lot of intelligence, no protagonists. PlayGround is a company where everyone can evolve creatively. We are conscious, at all times, that we are a joint laboratory. The collectivity in PlayGround is at the service of a much greater one.

The story of PlayGround
VA

Why did PlayGround become a reference? What is your mission?

IM

We are a team of storytellers who consider journalism as a service. We want to offer services to the community and strengthen it through storytelling. We are trying to take that mission to the next level as well: PlayGround doesn’t only want to be an informative medium, it also wants to provide the community with tools that enable change, both in daily live as in nearby settings. We are in a transition from storytelling to storydoing. Up until now, the internet was simply about liking and sharing. PlayGround’s motto right now is like-share-do. We are obsessed with how we could transform information into something tangible and beyond the speculative. The informative ecosystem in which we find ourselves nowadays is infinite, overwhelming, contradictory. PlayGround tries to humbly pierce through the bubble by generating information that is easier and more likely to provoke action.  

VA

PlayGround began as a music medium and gradually incorporated more themes, until it got to news. BuzzFeed started out the same, but followed a different path using memes and quizzes until they became a real news organization with an editorial staff of 140 professionals. The CEO of BuzzFeed said: “News might not be as big as business or entertainment, but it is the best way to have a big impact on the world.” Is this also why PlayGround started developing news?

IM

PlayGround started out as a music blog, but we had the secret intention to be become a generational reference for music in Spain. Then the Arab Spring, 15M, and Occupy Wall Street happened. The world started to burn, and talking about festivals and albums only felt narrow-minded. We decided to open our windows to the fire and, in that moment, PlayGround grew. Like Vice, Vox Media, Gawker and others, BuzzFeed has a leading position within New Media. We admire their model profoundly, even though we don’t share their philosophy. Although BuzzFeed’s work in news has been exceptional, it’s still rooted in the concept of entertainment. At PlayGround, on the other hand, news is the focal point. It’s where we really created a huge, vibrant community, coming from all around the whole world. In current times of chaos, division and crisis at every level, PlayGround’s mission is to generate a new consciousness alongside its community.

Business model
VA

How does PlayGround’s business model work? What services do you offer brands?

IM

We have a hybrid business model. On the one hand, we have traditional digital advertising, on the other we have an internal agency that works with brands. We co-produce content alongside brands and help them generate new ways of storytelling that bring them closer to younger generations and their values in a non-intrusive way. We translate the language of brands to our community and vice versa. We connect them.

Native Advertising and Brand Activism
VA

One of the greatest revolutions of the digital world is the new range of possibilities which enabled native publicity and sponsored content. During a talk at the NYU faculty of journalism, Gerard Baker, managing editor at The Wall Street Journal, spoke about the faustian pact between news and advertising, concluding that we should refrain from it. How blurry has the boundary between the two become?

IM

I think 95% of native advertising is bad for the community. If you do something, you should do it right, respect both audience and brand, and create content that contributes value. Native advertising was born from pure entertainment. In a second phase, companies such as The Guardian, The New York Times, or Vice took it to a more informative, more serious level. Its third phase has just begun: in a world that is completely polarised, consumers and company employees alike are asking brands to take a stand. More and more so every day, companies will feel forced to position themselves and set an example for the world. Out of this a very interesting and strong current of brand activism is being born. More on Brand Activism

How to become the leader of the free world through social media
VA

Greenwashing, empty marketing. Will the same happen to brand activism as we saw happening to environmental activism? Do you think we’ll be able to find a new way for applying activism to brands that is real?

IM

Brands should tell a story. The previous model went through a kind of marketing that was purely speculative, with brands communicating through print and television to try impact the psyche of consumers. Nowadays, we ask them something much more tangible. The world is burning, and brands, like governments, have economic and social power. I think brand activism, in general, will evolve into something similar to greenwashing. There will be deplorable and mediocre practices next to great ones, success stories and social examples at NGO level.

VA

With the arrival of new anti-establishment movements, politics discovered a new possibility and direct way of accessing huge audiences. The example of Trump’s campaign in the US is emblematic; it’s the first campaign in political history won by means of social media and sophisticated use of data to generate headlines and viral news, resulting the election of Trump as the leader of the free world. It’s revolutionary.

IM

It’s a confluence of many factors that ended in drama, an American tragedy. The first factor center left politics, who, for decades, forgot about the working class. They believed it was cooler to stand up for one minority rather than a poor majority, when one must stand up for everyone equally. These communities felt abandoned and in their abandonment a very potent movement grew. They were founded in forums like 4chan. Economic inequality in the US is enormous, the middle class went up in smoke, and this has generated an army of disappointed people; a non-reactionary movement of people, which, despite all progressive acceleration, said, “no, we have to close our border”.

VA

What is the solution?

IM

The solution is more complex than closing borders, and the global political class is not able to give an intelligent response to the current situation.

VA

Which factors have generated this movement? The elections in the US were the last and most potent manifestation, but it looks like a movement on a global scale.

IM

A different middle class with huge economic inequality, a lot of uncertainty in the face of the technological revolution, climate change, refugees, the annihilation of traditional cultural values… Just like in Europe, the US has an emerging class of very intelligent politicians backed up by very wealth lobbies and the world of technology. It’s almost a global strategy. Trump is probably the best salesman and marketer in the history of humankind. He’s capable of seducing the masses with messages that are very well designed by strategists, experts in engineering digital information and understanding communities. His discourses aren’t chaotic, they’re filled with keywords that activate and deactivate ideas in the media and their audience: there are people behind Trump carefully measuring everything he says.

Building a New Internet
VA

The internet today has lost a lot of liberty, as well as the characteristics of its origins. What is the biggest challenge we are facing?

IM

The utopia that was supposed to be the internet has become a nightmare, a dystopia. Yet we can go back and redesign the internet. We should all redesign an environment that doesn’t cease to be a parallel dimension to the reality of atoms, like a reality of bits. Bits are like LEGO: you can build whatever you want. We should not take what is promised for granted. We shouldn’t see the internet as something static. I think we should make the internet aware of itself. We need to start being creative and build a new internet.

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Credits
Interview by: Vincenzo Angileri 
Artwork: Marina Esmeraldo
Translated by. Gabriela Suau
Editor in Chief: Rafa Martínez

 

Isaac Marcet is a poet, philosopher, psychologist and entrepreneur. He’s the man behind PlayGround, one of the first digital magazines, founded in 2008, with the aim of being an open window for the future of music. In its growth, PlayGround achieved positioning itself as an absolute reference going beyond the field of music, counting more than 2 million visitors monthly and more than 13 million followers on social media. Marcet is also a phenomenon; an advocate for change and innovation, indefatigable, someone who seems to never sleep. 

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Brand Activism

Brand activism has become the most fundamental extension of a brand’s marketing. Positioning is no longer enough in our highly competitive markets, since the aim is not only to find a voice, but also to use it for a good cause. Just consider marketing to millennials, one of today’s largest demographic groups; more than any other generation they expect brands to show concern not only for profits but also for the communities they serve. It has become a crucial point in a brand's communication and mission.

Related project
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Emotional storytelling

Emotional storytelling (or emotional journalism) is based on the statement “We feel faster than we think” – as said by the internet thinker Clay Shirky. The new emotionally charged networked environment was created through the change in journalism and society, in which emotion is becoming a more important influence in the way news is being produced and consumed. Emotion drives people’s increasingly intimate relationships with technology and connection. 

Related project
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Filter Bubble

A filter bubble separates information that challenges users' frame of reference, isolating them in their own cultural or ideological bubble. This the result of a personalised search in which a website algorithm selectively generates which information a user would like to see based on information about the user collected through previous searches and behaviours, as well as location, gender, ethnicity and devices. Source: Eli Pariser "The Filter Bubble” 2011

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New Media

In social sciences, communication and humanities, new media are cultural objects developed through new technologies in the field of information and communication. New Media doesn't just use technological advancement, it also includes its processes in networks. In short, they are a reconstruction of traditional media giving answer to the digital revolution.

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Virality

Virality refers to any piece of media that suddenly becomes an online sensation, reaching a high number of visits in a short period of time. The most basic element to virality is inception; the goal of all viral efforts is to create an idea of how a message can be perceived by the audience, as well as to find a way to measure how mental and emotional processes influence the user in its attitude towards the content and the willingness to share that content on social media. Source: greylock.com

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Folch Insights is a place for discovering visions of the world that cast a light on contemporary ideas on communication and new disruptive business models, mapping those strategic territories which we daily explore with our work. In an era of unlimited free access to knowledge, we don’t take enough advantage of this unprecedented opportunity. What would change if certain content was not available forever? Likewise traditional printed publications, Insights will be available just for curious people, only for a limited amount of 5000 views.

Media partners

Folch Insights is a place for discovering visions of the world that cast a light on contemporary ideas on communication and new disruptive business models, mapping those strategic territories which we daily explore with our work. In an era of unlimited free access to knowledge, we don’t take enough advantage of this unprecedented opportunity. What would change if certain content was not available forever? Likewise traditional printed publications, Insights will be available just for curious people, only for a limited amount of 5000 views.

Media partners