The Warshaw Curve, or why Kate Winslet is nude in 3-D


What does it mean that anyone can now easily create 3-D photos and video, or even print objects in three dimensions?

The birth of cheap production technology — film, music, websites, ad crowdsourcing — will probably lead to a “Warshaw Curve,” in my opinion: the idea by video producer Douglas Warshaw that a rise in the supply of any production technology typically creates an inverted, U-shaped bell curve of quality output. Draw a wide “U,” and on the left side write “bad stuff” and on the right write “good stuff,” and you’ll see the logic. In video, we have moved this way with grainy YouTube videos on one extreme and super-HD movie files on the other. In newsprint, we are seeing this with the surviving publishers being lousy local community papers or the high-quality New York Times. Knowledge is flowing this way with new communication networks enabling rapid scientific advance on one end and endless bloggers regurgitating “how to get social media ROI” on the other. Everyone in the middle gets killed when barriers to production or access fall. You have to either focus on more utility with low quality at mass scale (YouTube, IZEA advertising) or quality with artificial scarcity (“Titanic” now in 3-D, million-dollar spots on the Super Bowl).

3-D printing will create this same curve. My kids would love to build cheap Lego sets at home and I might toy with modeling. But, for many years, the output will be prolific and bad. If I want a good pair of running shoes, a mountain bike that won’t break down, a classical guitar, or a watch that flashes status, I won’t print it in the basement but will end up at specialty stores or the mall.

The inverted “U” of quality seems a normal distribution pattern in any network of production. As Len Kendall noted in the past (fall 2009 I recall, that’s right, buddy, I’m learning from you), most social media sentiment is neutral, with only a small percent of people loving or hating a brand. Even in our production of feelings, the majority is blah, with highest response in the extremes of poor or great. Material manufacture will follow the same curve of emotion, video, print, and knowledge, and it is a mistake to assume the peak on the high-quality end will disappear if low-quality output surges.

The real question, of course, is how Kate Winslet will feel having her now-younger self in love scenes projected on the big screen in 3-D.

Revised from my recent comment at Len Kendall and Gunther Sonnenfeld’s brilliant blog. Also posted at G+.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.


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