Five Questions With…7Robot CEO Sarah Szalavitz

Today’s Five Questions With… features a true new media big thinker. 7Robot founder/CEO Sarah Szalavitz previously handled content acquisition for the now-defunct Veoh and produced the environmentally themed video podcast Zaproot, among other web video shows; today, she consults for a variety of entities including Next New Networks, Ask a Ninja and Nokia. Below, she discusses the potential power of 3-D printing, the problem with the term “transmedia” and how online video’s role in the digital marketplace has changed.

1. What’s the one big issue/law/attitude/restriction that you think is holding back the industry?

It’s an amazing time for innovation and change, but it’s also a very challenging time for folks whose roles are changing and thus understandably need to protect their livelihood.

I don’t think the industry is necessarily being held back, except maybe by attempts to define and control the industry using standards no longer relevant. As publishing shifts to participation, media becomes a part of every business, rather than an island to itself. When everyone can participate, it changes the value of the media, particularly for those who used to be able to control their publishing and even charge for access to media!

Though it might not be as good economically for many of the creative folks I hold dear, I think the world is a better place when we can all contribute to its narrative. This democratization makes nothing impossible — and is changing our collective experience of the world.

2. What industry buzzword do you never want to hear again?

Predictably: “transmedia.” I am not a fan of words used to exclude people; and it seems to just mean “media.” But, I am losing the war and have little choice to but to utter this blasphemy all the time…

3. If someone gave you $50 million to invest in a company in this space, which one would it be? (Mentioning your own doesn’t count.)

Besides the companies 7Robot advises — Ask A Ninja, Next New Networks, Orb Media, & Water Canary — I’d invest in 3-D printers, specifically Makerbot. 3-D printing will change not our experience of things, but also of ownership and wealth. What do you need if your printer can print a printer? Check out, which has the best tagline ever — “wealth without money” — and for more information. If I only had $1000 to invest, I’d buy and build the next release of the Makerbot!

4. What were the three last videos (that you weren’t personally involved with) that you liked enough to spread to others?

Following my years at Veoh watching and trying to acquire every video on the internet, I found it kind of hard to watch video for a really long time. Having so much of it shared with me made it impossible to share it all. When so much of it was delivered with demands (instead of the far more effective compliment) that I could or would not meet, I began to only share videos where I did not know anyone involved, or it was my job to do so.

As corporate entities began singing their siren songs to me, the brilliant and insightful Gentry Underwood shared this video from Michael Bierut, which helped me to realize not only how much I adore my clients, but also how I can redefine my social design practice around a shift from systems to stories.

2010/01 Michael Bierut from CreativeMornings on Vimeo.

5. WILD-CARD: You’ve recently moved away from the world of video production to focus more on consulting and other areas of new media. Are there specific problems you see with the current model(s) for creating web content?

Though I haven’t been producing video content,I haven’t left the community — I hope I’ve been seeking to expand it! I think I’ve still got some video in me, though I am not sure what project could be as fabulous or teach me as much as working with the infinitely talented Damien Somerset, Jessica Williamson and the Next New Networks team on Zaproot.

That said, I guess my interests have expanded to fostering interactions and sharing experiences. I learned so much from the experience of building Zaproot and its community that it shifted my perspective on the business, how we make decisions, and how value was shifting from publishing to participation. With so many of us making videos, I could sell social design strategy at a premium, but, as so many people have discovered, not the production of content.

As we shift from storytelling to storysharing, and more and more people can and do participate in production, the systems that deliver these stories, and their default options, begin to have the impact (as well as the value) that the media once did. Instead of focusing on the production and publication of stories, I began to develop a strategic practice at 7Robot around the social design of systems, expanding storytelling into storysharing through choice optimization and behavioral economics. Now, rather than being focused on publishing video, I think video is one part of the puzzle of participation.

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