"I know, really, who goes tomb-raiding dressed like that?"
"It would be better if there were some muscle on those legs, but they aren't even toned."
I am finding it hard to believe that my daughter and fiancée are getting catty about the latest iteration of Lara Croft in "Tomb Raider: Underworld." My daughter, who has been playing this series since I first brought it into the house when she was four, seems to get as much satisfaction out of insulting the spelunker's breasts as she does navigating the game.
"I can't believe you two are snarking on a virtual model."
My point, as is customary, goes unnoticed. "Steve, she is running barefoot in a cave -- in a rubber thong!" my fiancée insists.
"Dad, go back to studying your phones. We know what we're doing here."
Of course, the point I don't get is that ripping apart Lara Croft even as they project themselves into the virtual character is one of the guilty pleasures they get out of the Tomb Raider series.
I should get back to my phones. Oddly enough, this is where Dad finds some of his own guilty pleasures. Since mobile media has evolved enough now to render interesting fluff -- from real-time celebrity news and images to meat-market dating sites -- it seems to me there are lessons to be learned about this platform from its lightest fare.
LimeLife: This company started off making deck-based apps for branded media companies like Time Warner, and it has been trying to launch its own mobile Web women's lifestyle brand at m.limelife.com. It has all the tabs into the usual women's content (beauty, fashion, etc.), but the main page is a set of quick and snippy blurbs and images on celeb sightings. What distinguishes LimeLife is the voice. It is snarky and brief, mimicking perhaps unintentionally the tone of an SMS message from a friend. There is a real conversational voice to this front page and it is formatted nicely for mobile drive-bys throughout the day. "Meryl NOT on 30 Rock After All: Don't disturb Alec, he is having a moment." This is mobile attitude.
TMZ iPhone App: The superb Rhythm New Media vSNAX video engine finds a better model by servicing existing brands. TMZ uses the engine to good effect here by feeding the latest paparazzi clips, photos and TMZ TV clips into a very user-friendly interface. Rather than try to build its own video brand exclusively, Rhythm wisely lets transcendent brands like TMZ do the heavy lifting of attracting eyeballs. The app is in the top 20 among entertainment titles in the iTunes Store. Lesson learned. People buy into content brands, not content types. Mobile video doesn't sell the platform -- TMZ video does.
GoComics.com: The uClick portal into new and legacy comic strips is irresistible. Where else will you get Doonesbury and Calvin & Hobbes every day, plus an incredible searchable database?
Two lessons here. First, comics and graphics novels have a natural affinity for this platform. The phone makes a superb framing device that focuses attention on the artwork and even can add the element of surprise from frame to frame that a standard strip does not offer. You can't complain about the size of the phone screen, because the medium is no smaller than in a typical newspaper. Second, uClick does a superb job of surfacing its wares both in on-site advertising and the basic merchandising structure of the site. You get a sense from the front page of just how deep the offerings are, including fee-based applications on select devices.
Hot Or Not for Android and iPhone: The basic art of gal/guy-watching is primal, but being able to rifle through scores at a clip on a cell phone is joyfully twisted. Call it mobilized virtual promiscuity, but being able to rate people's looks in meat-market fashion never gets old, even if I do. How such lascivious engagement monetizes with advertising is beyond me, however. You don't really click away from this sort of thing so much as just wear yourself out from it.
The Android version is a pale reflection of the superb iPhone implementation. The beauty of this app is that the basic function, rating people, is the central activity but interactivity (meet, save, upload your own image) are all clustered around it in a way that is both inviting but unobtrusive. The app has a clear sense of why people come to it, and it delivers. But at the same time, Hot or Not offers interactive depth (if we really can use that term here) beneath the shallow skin.
Of course, this is also not the application you necessarily want your family catching you with.
"DAAAAD! What the hell are you doing?" And of course, she can't resist the opportunity to make some trouble. "Do you see what your fiancé is looking at on his phone? Oh, my God!"
To which my partner looks at me slyly and says, "There is no point in hammering you about this, is there? You're just going to turn around and use it all in your column, aren't you?"
Brains and beauty. She's my "10."