Morse code: small is smart

As is often the case with creative enterprises, you can find the essence of Wellington-based Morse Media in the work the company does for itself.

As is often the case with creative enterprises, you can find the essence of Wellington-based Morse Media in the work the company does for itself.

Morse's Newzealandmusic.com is a labour of love that would shame many big-budget music and media sites from anywhere in the world. Features include music news (which the artists themselves can post and update), interviews, chat, a streaming online radio station, scores of MP3 tracks - and lots of video. It is the prime local destination for fast internet connections.

"We've been on [Wellington high-speed network] Citylink for two years and it's like we've been riding the broadband wave for ages," says Morse producer Bert Aldridge. "What we're doing comes out of sitting on that and playing with it and experimenting. NZM came out of a desire to see better stuff on the Web - and our own stuff, our own culture - and not necessarily mediated by the [record] labels and what they want to say."

Aldridge is one of a staff of six at the company. It has deliberately stayed small since it was launched five years ago by Wellington Polytech design graduates Aaron Dustin and Mark Zeman.

Despite its size and relatively low profile, Morse is a company that other web designers acknowledge as a place of technical and creative excellence. Aldridge says being small helps keep the creative element to the fore.

"We had a number of opportunities to grow with the market, most notably about two-and-a-half years ago," says Aldridge. "But we kept an eye on what was happening overseas and saw the rise and rise of the boutique design agencies.

"Sure, it's great to solve other people's problems and create websites for them and all that, but there's a compulsion here to make stuff that we like, and then to see if we can make money out of it as well.

"The whole Morse philosophy is that we want to generate revenue for the business out of our own ideas as much as out of doing work for people. So yes, we will continue to build sites for people, and make Flash animations and cut digital video, but we want to generate our own ideas and license or sell them."

Foremost among those ideas is Searchbots (www.searchbots.net), a system of personal search agents with animated Flash personalities that already has a cult following in the US, where Morse gets most of its commercial work. It's not the kind of thing you'd get from a factory-style development house, which is perhaps precisely why it's valuable. Aldridge is hoping for some support, maybe from TradeNZ, in marketing Searchbots in the US.

"The money's there and we've got to prove that the idea's good enough," he says, noting that the company's skilled staff have made a commitment in choosing to work here.

"Aaron and Mark are good examples of people who could have gone off to earn bucket loads of money in New York or somewhere. But they're both quite passionate about staying here and doing it well from here. This is the culture they're into and they want to express that digitally."

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