Geek Speak: Kris Krug, technologist and photographer
Kris Krug believes that, on the Web, you are whatever other people say you are. The 32-year-old technologist and photographer runs Static Photography and is working to set up the True North Media House, a media resource centre for bloggers and citizen journalists covering the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
Born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Krug wrote 2005’s BitTorrent for Dummies with Susannah Gardner. In Vancouver, he founded Bryght, a Drupal-based hosting company, in 2004 with Boris Mann and Roland Tanglao. Raincity Studios acquired Bryght in 2007, and Krug became Raincity’s president, a position he left in January 2009.
These days, Krug sits on the board of directors of W2 Community Media Arts Society, and the advisory boards of nextMEDIA and the Vancouver Biennale. He teaches entertainment business management at Vancouver Film School. From August 10 to 15, he will take on the role of senior artist-in-residence at the Banff New Media Institute at the Banff Centre.
The Georgia Straight reached Krug by phone at his studio in Gastown.
How is the move from a “web of pages to a web of streams”, which you recently blogged about, changing how we interact on-line?
Well, I think that increasingly we see that your Web site is less important. It’s becoming less important vis-í -vis the traffic you leave everywhere else on the Internet. When it comes to on-line identity, you’re a mix of both things you say about yourself and the things that other people say about you.
Most people’s main way of interacting with a person or institute that they don’t know about is to Google that person. So, I really believe that, in the eyes of everybody who you’ve never met before, you are what Google says you are. You are those top 10 results in Google or whatever. Those top 10 results tend to be your Twitter profile, your blog, your YouTube account, your Flickr account, the images. Those are all the things that make up how people perceive you—not just what you say about yourself on your own Web site.
So, it’s pretty easy to look around and see this, but more and more importance is being placed on all the other things that you do around the Internet and how that forms your on-line identity more so than just your Web site. Your Web site’s just one facet of that—your dot-com site.
So, yeah, I think more and more people like me are moving towards Web sites that actually are an aggregation of all the other things they do on-line. They take your photos from Flickr and your videos from YouTube and your tweets, and they push them all back together into one space, kind of like what Tumblr does automatically, where it’s taking everything you do on-line and sticking it all into one spot.
What will the True North Media House look like?
The True North Media House is going to be a service centre serving the independent alternative media around the 2010 Games. It’s just a place where citizen journalists and bloggers and people who are here to cover the Games in their own way can kind of get together and share resources and be briefed by people who have events and things going on and stuff. So, it’s going to be a space probably in the new W2 Woodward’s building. We hope to accommodate up to 1,000 journalists.
What do you hope the True North Media House will achieve during the Olympics?
We’re trying to create a facility for unaccredited media creators to collaborate with each other and process and publish their stuff in an inexpensive environment. We’re looking to offer a platform for community voices and lesser known events and things outside of the big mainstream sports stories that will be covered by the CTVs of the world and the big people. We’re hoping to provide a venue where the folks who are here to cover the arts and culture and travel and tourism stories can kind of get together. We’re trying to demonstrate Vancouver as a new-media hub, and showcase and explore the possibilities of social-media creation at a global event with community, like collective, involvement.
We want to show how. You know, the idea is that like all the major stories that have come out of a lot of major global events over the last five years have been social-media/citizen-journalism stories, so we’re just trying to aggregate that voice together and provide a rallying point where everybody can get together.
How’d you get into photography?
I used to be the director of marketing for a NASDAQ company in the States, and that company got acquired while I was the director of marketing there. When those things go down, you know, there tends to be a lot of turnover at the executive level, like VPs are being hired and fired and stuff. So, there became so much churn that I couldn’t afford to hire the professional photographer to come out every day to shoot the new vice president. So, I just bought a new camera instead and started shooting them myself.
I guess the story’s really like I’ve always been a Web designer and graphic designer and I’ve sourced other people’s images and used other photographers’ work. I kind of came to a realization like five years ago that I could better serve my own design needs if I took the photo myself. Then I’ve always experimented with art. You know, I’ve always painted and drawn and done different types of art.
But photography was the first thing that ever—from the get-go, people responded really positively to it. It was kind of the first thing that came really naturally—that I was just kind of naturally good at—as opposed to the other forms of art, where it was always a struggle. I would do things and it would feel good, but it never got the same kind of response as my photography got. So, as I started to tinker around with photography, it really stuck—and I’ve had a blast doing it.
Also after spending like three or four years heads down kind of doing marketing for software companies, photography gave me a bit of a lifeline to get back out of the office and off-line, and get out into the real world and start interacting, taking pictures, get outdoors, get around people and stuff. So, it kind of pulled me out of a really focused kind of work, Internet, digital space that I was in for a while—connected me with outside.
What’s interesting to you about the intersection of art and technology?
A lot of what I spend my time talking about is how independent artists and creatives can build an audience and build a following and expose the world to their work on-line. So, the interesting part about art and technology is how traditional artists can kind of use on-line mediums to connect with fans and get their work out there. You know, even with things like Creative Commons and with the free culture movement, how guys like me can and other people can get their work out there, get it on-line, get it licensed in such a way that they retain certain rights to their work but give away other rights, like the right for their work to be remixed into other things.
Like, a lot of my photos get used in big-picture journalism and editorial stuff, from Wired to the Financial Times to USA Today. I get my stuff out there on-line, put it under a Creative Commons licence, and the world comes and uses it and attributes me and sometimes pays me.
So, yeah, I think it’s a great way for artists to connect with each other, with their fans, grow a movement around their work, as well as all the interesting new mediums that arise from technology. So, there’s a lot of experimentation to be done in mediums that’s kind of never been invented or explored before. It’s both for the art itself, and then as a way to kind of get the art out in the world, and make it relevant and useful, and grow an audience and stuff.
Do you think technology can save us all?
I do believe in empowerment through technology. So, I believe that we’re sitting on a unique time in history, where we’re seeing a complete upheaval of traditional power hierarchies, from the media gatekeepers to like record-industry, artistic gatekeepers and curators and stuff. We’re essentially seeing a reshuffling of the whole deck of kind of power structures within society.
So, right now, unlike anytime previously, you have the power to kind of work right around the middlemen and gatekeepers and the rest, and connect directly with interested parties, people who will buy your work. In terms of messages and activism and stuff, you know, you really have an ability to work around what were traditionally the power structures that kept people down and kept them in their place.
I think it’s up to us what we do with it, to see whether or not technology will save us. But I do believe it’s very, very empowering, and that there’s more opportunities now than there every have been.
Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.