Close your eyes and think about a sci-fi movie playing seamlessly across TV, the internet and the theatre. Now imagine participating in the movie through comments and tweets, suggesting changes, inventing sub-plots, having the freedom to create your own characters based on your friends and personal proclivity, creating scenes you had always wanted to see or engaging in a dialogue with the directors.

Now imagine the most talented creatives of our time threading all your inputs together into a dramatic audio visual production.

Well, this is what Ridley Scott Associates and Ag8 is bringing to us through their "open media franchise" called Purefold, the prequel to Blade Runner. The Purefold package consists of five-to-ten-minute webisodes set shortly before 2019, when Blade Runner took place. Purefold will likely be loaded with product placement and branded messaging, since advertising giants are consulting on the project.

It's still early days for Purefold. And there is much ignorance, wonder and WIIFM-ism (what's in it for me) all around.

According to Ag8 “Purefold is an open media franchise designed for brands, platforms, filmmakers, product developers and communities to collaboratively imagine our near future... (It) enables participating brands to take an alternative route to brand integration than traditional product placement and embrace invention within a narrative framework.”

In non-geek speak, Purefold works in the following way. First the web aggregator Friendfeed would scan blogs, Facebook and other social networks for innovative stuff embedded in web chatter. The popular themes would be used by brands, which will have to shell out a fixed fee for the Purefold service, as the basis for storylines for online films.

The hand-picked ideas are then fleshed out by professional writers. The scripts are then made into five-minute films directed by professional directors. Once made, the films would be seeded online, where consumers can develop the storyline through talking or blogging about it. The most talked about films are kept and developed into further films.

Relevance to consumers?

All the buzz around Purefold assumes a certain level of consumer participation to make it a success. However, social media participation shows that just about 1% of people are creators and active participants, the rest are passive observers! Purefold just may end up being a very expensive fad! So if the tsunami of social media hasn't been able to nudge the lazy 99%, will Purefold succeed?

On the contrary, I feel Purefold will follow the Participation Inequality curve, i.e. the tendency for most online users to participate very little (if at all) and a few members of the community to account for a disproportionately large amount of the content and activity. Purefold or any such platform in the near future is not going to alter the behaviour of 90% of "lurkers", the 9% of commentators and linkers and the tiny sliver of 1% of active users!

The Purefold platform is not a pure UGC experiment because it is merely informed, inspired and sparked by user commentary and feedback. And can be legally re-used by the community under the Creative Commons License.

The entire prequel-to-Blade-Runner will be arrived at through a distillation-of-inputs process, continuous refinement and then the co-created storyline being shot by the best directors.

Purefold does not have an intelligent bot that parses through internet chatter and cherry picks the best ideas. There's just a group of smart guys at the helm who are good at spotting interesting little insights and ideas.

The offer for clients

So do clients now have an alternative to the billion dollar ad industry? Can they brief a smart and engaged crowd of consumers, then wait for an insightful and brilliant piece of creative to be co-created by them?

If the idea works then the potential benefits for clients could be huge — a successful ad campaign could be created at a tiny cost and could potentially run indefinitely with hundreds of mashed-up, rehashed variants flooding the internet with extremely high levels of consumer engagement.

A word of caution, though. Purefold wouldn't be like your plain vanilla, simple traditional ads. But brands that dare to experiment with Purefold will be able to build their profiles and online reputation using it.

For clients that are weighed down by spiralling media costs and media fragmentation, this could be a daring first-of-its-kind alternate distribution model that gives consumers, brands and media platforms unprecedented equal use rights so they can re-use, re-work and replay with the branded content as often as they like.

For brands that have a unique story to tell and know how to engage their customers, Purefold could be the right media experimentation lab at an opportune time.

However, Purefold faces a big challenge. Are there enough clients who would dare to open their brands and their communication to consumers at large without researching and testing the ideas themselves or taking control of editing and filtering?

Again Purefold won't facilitate conventional research but inevitably act as a mass sampling/consultation of the wisdom of crowds.

Clients and research agencies will be able to gather not just information but inspiration from the crowd. Inspiring new stories to recount, inspiring nuggets about changing needs and wants, inspiring new product ideas and more. Purefold could be a goldmine for the unsaid, never-asked-therefore-never-shared truths from consumers about brands and products.

In conclusion, let me quote David Bausola (the founder of Ag8): “While Purefold is certainly complex, the open licensing principle, the incredible directors and the immensely creative potential of crowds should ensure the success of this very daring project.” I hope so, too!