Failure and death: Our Day of the Dead homage
This month we’d like to address a topic we’ve never discussed before: death. You’ve probably heard of the “Day of the Dead” tradition. If you’re not from Latin America, your only reference may be the movie Coco (we’ve got our eye on you, Disney), so let us briefly explain.
As a result of an explosive mix of European colonialism, religious imposition, and pre-Hispanic customs, every November 2, we celebrate in Mexico the “Day of the Dead” or “All Saints Day” as a way to remember/honor the dead and the departed.
Among many other traditions, we set up an altar or “offering” to remember our dead relatives. We place candles, religious images, flowers, photographs, and favorite dishes on a table. That night is expected them to visit the altar and feed on what they once enjoyed in life.
Now, what does that have to do with failure? What do Fuckup Nights and the Day of the Dead have in common?
You’ll probably be surprised, but they’re both Mexican – Juan Villoro, writer, made an interesting reflection (Es) on the origin of Fuckup Nights in Mexico. And while we celebrate sharing stories of failure and the Day of the Dead celebrates death, both topics could be considered taboo, uncomfortable, and even controversial.
For Caitlin Doughty, writer and funeral home director, there is a relevance to the rituals surrounding the death; they are a way of “exposing our grief to the disinfecting sunlight.”
According to Caitlin, the only opportunity to experience mourning in many western cultures is in a cemetery, funeral home, church, or hospital. An experience only available once after a near-death episode, not allowed to be deeply felt and full of uncomfortable obstacles. Rituals like the Day of the Dead are a way of living and acknowledging grief without being shamed or judged, a healthy collective mourning ritual.
In both death and failure, there is grief and, to a greater or lesser extent, loss. An altar of the dead or a cathartic talk about your worst mistakes can be confronting but liberating experiences.
This year we wanted to set up a Day of the Dead altar to follow this tradition. As a way to pay homage to our origins and pay tribute to those projects that died, either because they arrived too early or weren’t ready for this world. Misunderstood good ideas and attempts that gave rise to great things in the future:
Vine & Tik Tok
In 2012 a new social network emerged and changed the way we share content. Vine was an innovative platform that challenged its users to share videos of only 6 seconds.
In a short time, Vine attracted creative people that soon gathered followers and created four billion-views videos. An opportunity that brands didn’t want to miss, paying up to 200 thousand dollars to influencers for a single video.
But despite being acquired by Twitter, other platforms like Snapchat and Instagram imitated the formula of short videos, allowed flexibility of up to 60 seconds, generated partnerships with brands and celebrities, and – most importantly – monetized content creators. Points that Vine, from the beginning, resisted.
By 2014, brands and creators began to leave for other platforms with innovative possibilities to capitalize on content and growing audiences. Vine began to decline and eventually, perish.
This space at the altar goes to Vine. While it may not have been able to capitalize on the creativity of its format, it would be very proud of Tik Tok and its ability to reinvent itself and monetize its growing popularity.
Grooveshark & Spotify
“If you’re looking for photos, you go to Google. If you’re looking to watch videos, you go to YouTube, but if you’re looking for music, there’s nowhere to go”. That was the thinking of the creators of Grooveshark, one of the first music streaming platforms, launched in 2008.
So far so good, but there was one small detail: users were in charge of uploading their music files and sharing them with the world. That was a big fuck you to copyright laws.
Despite its 20 million users and attractive features like playback analytics, playlist creation, and music collections, Grooveshark soon started to get into trouble. While they signed a contract with EMI, the label ended up suing them for some irregularities, opening the door for new lawsuits to pop up.
By 2015, Grooveshark was facing a total lawsuit of $736 million and shut down its website to avoid paying it.
“We failed to secure licenses from rights holders for the vast amount of music on the service. That was wrong. We apologize. Without reservation.”
-The Grooveshark Team
This space on the altar goes to Grooveshark, which although the way of offering music to its users was not the right one, was certainly a good taste of what Spotify would achieve later in more legal and profitable ways.
ESPN phone & smartphones.
Death in the business not only means bankruptcy, but it can also mean unviable projects.
It happened in 2005 when ESPN decided to take a step forward in the way they communicated and brought sports to the masses. From TV, they would jump to mobile phones.
Contextualizing, back in 2005, Sony Ericsson launched its first cell phone specialized in music, a collaboration with Walkman that drove everyone crazy. The concept of a smartphone as we know it was far from appearing. Those were just the first steps of the industry. Internet browsing on a cell phone was a pain in the ass.
ESPN came up with a mobile app when the concept of mobile apps was still somewhat non-existent. The challenge was complex. If nowadays we have smartphones capable of installing applications, ESPN was selling an application with a cell phone included. And that, my friends, was the problem.
While there were already phones on the market with sleeker, more innovative designs, ESPN sacrificed hardware for software and came out with a 300 dollar unattractive-looking phone, and a monthly subscription fee of 65 to 225 dollars.
The application had colored videos and photos adapted to the screens of the time (something complex to achieve back then) and instant information on the latest news in sports. Unfortunately, the design and the maintenance cost ended up burying the product before it had even been on the market for a year.
“Your phone is the dumbest fucking idea I have ever heard.”
Steve Jobs said to the (back then) ESPN president, after the spectacular failure. Just a few months before introducing his flagship product, the iPhone.
This space on the altar goes to the ESPN phone, which although it left this world early due to its lack of practicality and design, was an idea that anticipated the future of smartphones and mobile applications. Although the ESPN phone was an embarrassing chapter at the time, today, some members of the company recognize it as a crucial stepping stone to what is today its mobile application for smartphones, with more than 72.5 million users.
In this small Day of the Dead offering are just a few of the hundreds of similar cases that exist. Proof that there is life beyond failure. While in some cases failure represented bankruptcy, the duality between failure and innovation gives us a clue to the conversations worth having.
To look at failure in the face, recognize it as part of life, make peace with our imperfections, and open the doors to attempts. Something like accepting the duality between life and death and enjoying every day of our existence.
Which other examples would you put on our altar of the dead this year?
Comms & social media