(AFP) – Aug 26, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) — As music lovers mobbed an outdoor stage, vying for views of Radiohead, Beck and other rockers, Keith McPhail enjoyed a prime view of the show from a couch in an Internet "living room."
McPhail, 34, was ensconced in a red-and-white striped, circus-style tent where the worlds of online social networking and real-world rock-and-roll merged in what some predict is a computer-age concert trend.
Microsoft and Federated Media teamed with concert organizer SuperFly Productions to debut a "CrowdFire" experience at the three-day Outside Lands music festival that ended Sunday in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
"Sitting in that Microsoft living room was better than being at the show," McPhail told AFP.
"It was perfect; no one was blocking my view. The last 25 minutes of the (Tom) Petty set I sat on that couch, as comfortable as I could be."
The high-tech big top pitched within easy earshot of the Outlands stage was marked only with a wooden sign bearing the word "CrowdFire" and a picture of a flaming mobile telephone.
Inside, dozens of concert-goers queued to check emails and Facebook accounts at a bank of laptop computers while others competed for wannabe guitar star glory on "Rock Band" music videogames.
Beer-drinking visitors in an "experience room" peered at a colossal flat-panel monitor watching their photos while listening to live music streamed in from outside.
Some people waited patiently for personalized posters featuring photographs digitally manipulated to make it seem they are standing with their favorite bands.
An estimated 100,000 Outlands attendees were given a place to upload digital photos, videos, audio and text from mobile telephones for sharing at a www.crowdfire.net website.
Uploaded content was streamed in a continuous montage online, in the CrowdFire tent, and on screens dotting the festival grounds.
Microsoft digital innovation manager Laura User headed the project, the inspiration for which sprang from the US software giant's "emerging media trials" program earlier this year.
"We wanted to do it around an event that people are excited about which is music," User told AFP during the event.
"It is smaller-scale pilot programs like this that provide a great learning environment where the company can try out new ideas and implement them right away."
Federated chief executive John Battelle takes the majority of the "blame" for the idea of smashing together online social networking and live concert going.
"It's basically just harvesting what everyone is already doing and creating a platform to allow them to do more with it," Battelle said.
The CrowdFire name came from the idea of creating a "digital campfire" in the middle of the event that was built by the crowd.
"This tent idea is new to me, but I like it and I think it would take off in Spain and other countries in Europe," said Teresa Gispert of Spain, who attended Outlands while vacationing.
She contended that using computers during live shows is very social because it lets her and friends share experiences while apart.
Before dashing off to upload video of musician Steve Winwood, Battelle predicted the CrowdFire concept will spread like wildfire worldwide.
Federate Media and partners plan to create "virtual living rooms" at music festivals in Europe and Asia.
Not far from Battelle, Mercedes Gendron looked about frantically for help in a reminder that the worlds of live performance and technology have something else in common; there can be unexpected glitches.
"Can you please help me? I was trying to upload, but it's not taking pictures from my phone," the 26-year-old Canadian woman pleaded.
"I think computers are bizarre as it is."
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