the opposite of camouflage // 05 Aug 2011

Go read Matt Webb's post on the Berg blog that recounts a recent talk he gave on the Robot-Readable World. As Matt points out, QR codes feel crude and obvious, and over time we'll find ways to embed information that is not only designed for devices, but is built to entice them to use it...

Timo and Jack call this “Antiflage” – a made-up word for something we’re just starting to play with.

It is the opposite of camouflage – the markings and shapes that attract and beguile robot eyes that see differently to us – just as Dawkins describes the strategies that flowers and plants have built up over evolutionary time to attract and beguile bees, hummingbirds – and exist in a layer of reality complimentary to that which we humans sense and are beguiled by.

And I guess that’s the recurring theme here – that these layers might not be hidden from us just by dint of their encoding, but by the fact that we don’t have the senses to detect them without technological-enhancement.

See also The New Robot Domesticity at BLDGBLOG. The bit I keyed off of: "Homeowners will even help their robots learn through computational games—like Fröbel blocks for machines."

pitchfork's favorite music books // 05 Aug 2011

I missed this when it was published last month, but I love Pitchfork's list of their 60 favorite music books. Blogging this as a reminder for when I somehow find myself without a new book in the queue.

Particularly loved this bit about the retitled Greil Marcus book, which went from Invisible Republic to The Old, Weird America.

With a single evocative phrase, Marcus inadvertently articulated a collective nostalgia (part real, part imagined) for the strange, creaky old folk songs that animated the first half of the 20th century in America.

It wouldn't be a Pitchfork list without some bitching about what they missed, so...how the hell did they not include Marcus' Lipstick Traces, too? He deserved to be on there twice.

danah boyd on real names, identity, facebook and google // 04 Aug 2011

There is no universal context, no matter how many times geeks want to tell you that you can be one person to everyone at every point. But just because people are doing what it takes to be appropriate in different contexts, to protect their safety, and to make certain that they are not judged out of context, doesn’t mean that everyone is a huckster. Rather, people are responsibly and reasonably responding to the structural conditions of these new media.

via www.zephoria.org

Emphasis mine. danah's entire post is worth reading (as always), but I'm always amazed at how this key point is lost in design decisions about social media: context matters. And that's not just about the identity you use when you're in a particular context, but how the things you do in that context get shared across the network. Facebook's working to flatten identity, which is troublesome not only for vulnerable people (as danah points out), but for varied personal expression across the web.

Chris Burden's Metropolis II // 04 Aug 2011

One of my favorite exhibitions was MOCA's 1992 show Helter Skelter: LA Art in the 1990s. I was young(er) and impressionable, and it opened up my eyes to what contemporary art can be. The centerpiece of that show was Chris Burden's Medusa Head (referenced recently), a hanging sculpture, 14 feet in diameter, made of plywood, steel, cement, rock...and model railroad trains and tracks.

Burden's topped Medusa's Head with Metropolis II, a new kinetic sculpture that's on its way to LACMA. It features 1,200 custom-designed toy cars traveling through 18 lanes around a fabricated city. You have to see it to believe it...so here's the preview.

Metropolis II is a follow up to Metropolis I, which only had two single-lane highways and 80 Hot Wheels cars. It was purchased by a Japanese contemporary art museum.

Who's up for a trip to L.A.?

creating things from the stuff around you // 03 Aug 2011

via makedo.com.au

Via Things comes makedo: "a set of connectors for creating things from the stuff around you." The projects in their galleries look amazing, of course, and make me want to order some of these for the munchkins.

There has to be a name for this product category: the "you really don't need this product, but it provides enough structure and inspiration to kickstart what you otherwise wouldn't have done on your own at home left to your own devices on a rainy day" category.

flattery will get you everywhere // 22 Jul 2011

Chris Piascik, inspired by this post, drew this as one of his daily drawings.

Even-fake-real

Love it.

clients from hell from hell // 21 Jul 2011

From the latest clientsfromhell:

Recently a potential client came to us to develop a brand and Web site layout for a new project dedicated to serving pornography that contained “wholesome eroticism” and displayed proper Christian values relative to sexuality.

This one actually sounds reasonably interesting. But on the whole I really dislike Clients from Hell, because as much fun as it must be to bash on people that you feel are below you, it puts the blame in the wrong place. It’s not their fault that they’re not as smart as you about things related to the Interwebs; it’s your fault for not treating them with the respect they deserve. Either by not hiring them in the first place, or by realizing that part of your job is to help make them better. They’re your clients. If they’re not treating you well or they’re not smart enough for you, that’s your fault...not theirs.

Polystyrene Orb // 15 Jul 2011

Via Beautiful/Decay, John Powers' Polystyrene Orb.

Polystyrene-org

I'll swipe Beautiful/Decay swiping from the NODE10 catalog:

Meticulously constructed by hand, Power’s forms are constructed out of a limited formal vocabulary: Polystyrene blocks cut to a selection of preset sizes, attached to each other at 90 degree angles.

Feels to me like the antiseptic response to Chris Burden's Medusa Head. Love it.

What Google+ hasn't done is just as important // 07 Jul 2011

Originally posted on my Google+ account, for reasons which will become obvious once you read the below. There's a discussion happening there (of course); posting it here for posterity I guess. (#shoebox?)

I must follow boring people (Hi, Friends!) because so far it seems that the primary purpose of Google+ is talking about Google+. Instead of bucking the trend I'll dive right in point out two interesting things that I think are happening based on what's not happening so far. (aka silence matters)

  • API. I'm sure there will be one. But there's not one now, AFAIK. Which means they're waiting, and watching, and hopefully learning from past API efforts. It's easier to change the user experience on the web side as the service grows and evolves. Watch the pathways evolve, shape those pathways. And then create API methods that work for developers, users and Google.

  • Automatic integration with other services. You'll note there's currently no way to automatically cross-post Tweets, Flickr photos, Foursquare updates, etc. I think this is a good thing. Friendfeed had some nice UX touches, but became entirely too noisy when people had hooked up their dozen social services. Flickr's become the shoebox of photo sharing; Google needs to make sure that Plus doesn't become the shoebox of social media -- your searchable profile of everything you're doing online. (Not that there's not value in that, they're just optimizing for actually taking time spent away from other services and delivering explicitly shared actions).

More as I think about it.

In Chicago // 07 Jul 2011

It's the summer of travel. Enjoying the week in Chicago with my family and seeing some friends. I love this city...especially when the lake isn't frozen.

Chicago

Everyone here can't stop talking about Groupon. Maybe it's just because I've spent so much time in the Bay Area, but I'm kind of blasé now about companies with astronomical valuations that everyone thinks will crash and burn. What I've been arguing is that while Groupon's (creative) financials may not be able to support its current valuation, it's all about execution over the long term. There's still a ton of opportunity to use the Internet to create value for retail businesses, and if Groupon can hook them with efficient (and profitable) marketing / demand generation, then follow on products and services could end up being massive. The bankers may be playing the short game, but the company's playing long ball. (Hey look, mixed sports metaphor in a sports town!)  But they'll need to develop a technology / product advantage so that they don't have to compete on the size of their email list, the size of their sales force...or the cleverness of their copy.

American McCarver // 28 Jun 2011

Very happy to announce the launch of American McCarver, the group sports blog I'm contributing to along with Catalano, Gruber, Knauss, Michaels, Monteiro, Snell and more to come.

American-mccarver

It's good company to be in. As my friend Mat Honan tweeted, "Wow, so this is an all-star lineup. I mean, except for @sippey." Couldn't have said it better myself. Humor me, though, and go read the post I wrote when we were in double secret beta, about David Foster Wallace and Roger Federer.

Also, kudos to Monteiro for the brilliant touch of cycling through classic McCarverisms in the header, like my favorite "It's better to have a fast runner on base than a slow one." Couldn't agree more.

In London // 27 Jun 2011

I'm spending the week in London. Arrived here yesterday afternoon and after dumping bags at the hotel wandered down to the Tate Modern. I'm generally a fan of timelines, but found the Tate's artist timeline a bit depressing...an artist's entire life's work, reduced to their name on a wall, clumped with others to make it easy to understand. Ah, reductionism.

Tate timeline

Loved the Barclay's bike hire system, though. Nabbed a bike for the afternoon and managed to survive riding on the left-hand side of the road, out through Hyde Park, down to Kensington, back up to Camden. Ten or twenty years ago a system like this would never have worked in San Francisco, but enough of the life of The City has moved to the flat lands (Embarcadero, downtown, SOMA, South Beach) that maybe?

even if it's fake it's real, vancouver edition // 16 Jun 2011

Vancouver-kiss</a>

Getty Images photographer Rich Lam, at Esquire, on the kissing couple in the middle of the Vancouver riots last night:

It was complete chaos. Rioters set two cars on fire and then I saw looters break the window at a neighboring department store. At that point, the riot police charged right towards us. After I stopped running, I noticed in the space behind the line of police that two people were laying in the street with the riot police and a raging fire just beyond them. I knew I had captured a "moment" when I snapped the still forms against the backdrop of such chaos but it wasn't until later when I returned to the rink to file my photos that my editor pointed out that the two people were not hurt, but kissing.

Remember kids, even if it's fake, it's real. See also this, this, this and this. I should start a Tumblr or something.

mobile: the bored in line network // 03 Jun 2011

Jonah Peretti once told Gothamist that “the Internet is powered by bored office workers who sit at their desks forwarding emails, surfing the web, reading and writing blogs, and IMing funny links to their friends.” He called this the Bored at Work Network, or BWN.

The mobile corollary to the Bored at Work Network is the Bored in Line Network, or BLN. Mobile is powered by bored smartphone owners standing in line, updating their Facebook statuses, reading Twitter, thumbing through Instagram, playing a turn on Words with Friends, checking in on Foursquare or flinging an Angry Bird.

Web experiences have optimized for the BWN: related story links, skyscraper ad units and share buttons designed to divert attention and spread virally to other bored people. Mobile experiences are quickly optimizing for the BLN: bite-sized moments of media consumption, content sharing or game play designed to last as long as it takes for the person ahead of you to pay for their groceries.

So?

  • Being on the home screen matters. When you’re bored in line, do you reach for an app or for your phone’s web browser?
  • If you’re translating your web experience to mobile, think about if and how it works for the BLN. Would you read your site while bored in line? (Relatedly, responsive web design is necessary but not sufficient tool for the mobile web.)
  • Remember that with the BLN, you’re not competing against your competition. You’re competing against Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and the dopamine rush of flinging an angry bird at those obnoxious green pigs.

Hat tip to Todd Lappin of Telstar Logistics for the lunch conversation (God, I love lunch) that motivated this post.

stealing designs for profit // 27 May 2011

In the future, Urban Outfitters will learn from its mistakes. Instead of stealing designs, they’ll “steal designs,” and leverage its sullied reputation to increase sales. Here’s a simple three step guide to how they’ll do it.

  1. Identify an indie designer whose products they’d like to “steal.” Strike a secret deal with said designer, whereby they license the designs and agree to share revenue back with the designer.

  2. List new products for sale on UrbanOutfitters.com. Designer “complains” on the Internet, fueling outrage on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., driving traffic both to the designer’s indie store as well as UrbanOutfitters.com. Milk the self-righteous anger over Corporate America Stealing Designs for incremental sales and awareness.

  3. Profit.

This would make for a great test, comparing sales driven directly through UrbanOutfitters.com (using all their standard marketing tactics - SEO, SEM, merchandising on the site, etc.) to sales on the indie designer’s store front, with awareness driven primarily through viral / social means. Of course, it’s a tactic best used sparingly, lest those pesky Internet people catch on to what you’re up to.

kill / cook / eat // 27 May 2011

Mark Zuckerberg, foodie:

This year, my personal challenge is around being thankful for the food I have to eat. I think many people forget that a living being has to die for you to eat meat, so my goal revolves around not letting myself forget that and being thankful for what I have. This year I’ve basically become a vegetarian since the only meat I’m eating is from animals I’ve killed myself. So far, this has been a good experience. I’m eating a lot healthier foods and I’ve learned a lot about sustainable farming and raising of animals.

The clock is ticking on how long it will take an ambitious food entrepreneur to open the first “kill it, cook it, eat it” retail space in a major metropolitan area. It would be the natural evolution of urban food retail (i.e. wine bars, boutique grocers, cooking schools) and the local food movement: a clean, well-lit place where sophisticated urbanites can experience the guilt-wracked thrill of slaughtering their own chicken...and then poaching it in white wine.

To maximize site utilization, they’d offer a series of classes on sustainable urban farming, slaughtering techniques and best practices in home butchering. The space (with staff and animals) would be available after hours for private kill/cook/eat events, perfect for team building or birthday parties. And with the right set of equipment, kill/cook/eat could come to you, extending the “home-delivered meals” concept a bit further.

There’d be the obvious logistical challenges, of course – animal transportation, waste management, zoning, etc. But with the right branding, kill/cook/eat can command a significant price premium over other other urban food experiences. After all, it’s not about the meal, it’s about being more thankful for the food you have to eat.

your friends are entertainment // 25 May 2011

This new research from Edelman is fascinating.

The 2011 [Value, Engagement and Trust in the Era of Social Entertainment] study shows that the value consumers are getting from the Entertainment Industry has fallen by 68% in all areas, and only 17% of all respondents feel that entertainment sources today provide "very good" or "excellent value."

Smartly, they're including social networking in their survey of entertainment types.

Social networking sites, which the majority of respondents believe are a form of entertainment, have remained stable with 31% of consumers in the U.K. and 37% in the U.S. saying they provided "very good" or "excellent" value.

Emphasis mine. Per their footnotes, 57% of people in the US and 45% of people in the UK view social networking as entertainment. All of this stands to reason: as the amount of content available to consumers increases, and the choice in delivery mechanisms increase, the perceived value of any one individual type of entertainment content is bound to decline. But it turns out that nothing beats your friends as a source of entertainment.

The whole release is worth reading. I have a different point of view than Edelman in re. What It Means -- it's not just about entertainment brands needing to figure out how to deliver content across multiple platforms; it's about needing to figure out how to create emotional connections with characters and stories that approach "friend" status. If you can make your content become part of their lives and identity, they'll seek it out in the channel(s) that's best for them.

all the news that's fit to tweet // 24 May 2011

It was odd following @nytimes today, as they traded their headline bot for two editors staffing the account, hand-crafting the day's tweets. While I appreciate the hypothesis (actual humans will drive more engagement) and the methodology of the experiment (they're staffing the account with Liz Heron and Lexi Mainland), as a follower I'm not so sure...

Now, I'm usually the first one to argue for more curation. But The New York Times brand is built around being the newspaper of record. Almost by definition their news product is not an unfiltered stream of latest headlines -- it's a human edited collection of what they feel you should know. If a story makes the New York Times, it's for a reason, and the @nytimes stream is an authoritative source of what the paper's editors see as worthy of being a New York Times headline. Adding another layer of editorial to that already strong signal feels like an unnecessary filter.

This isn't an argument for all bots all the time. For every publication this decision is going to be about brand identity, reader expectations, audience size, cost, and, of course, performance. I could be 100% wrong on this, and Ms. Heron and Ms. Mainland could blow the numbers out of the water and 10x the traffic from Twitter back to nytimes.com. But for this follower, @nytimes dropped a notch today.

PS -- Get off my lawn. And while you're at it, go follow @nytbot5000, for this tweet alone: "It's okay @lexinyt and @lheron. Go eat dinner or go to art gallery openings or whatever you do. I've got you covered tonight. I always do."

filtered // 13 May 2011

I star/heart things compulsively. In a moderately particular order...

Ben Fry, co-creator of Processing's remarks on data visualization tools getting into the hands of amateurs:  "The more that people are doing the work — it all kind of goes to improve the conversation of what’s good, bad useful and what’s not." Amen. / Speaking of visualization, these plush statistical distribution pillows look fantastic; much better than the pillow pets that have invaded my house... / More visualization: via Kottke, silly charts.

Tim Bray's wrapup post on Google IO is a good read, especially for what he did during his welcoming address, asking everyone to take three minutes and introduce themselves to the people around them. "The experience was striking as the noise in the room ramped from audience hush to barroom roar in about a half-second." Be sure to click through to see his photo of what happened. I need to remember to do this next time I'm in front of a big crowd; it's the conference version of passing the peace in church. 

Adam Mathes is doing textagon-styled lessons on product management: "product management is the precise application of the word NO." I wish I had learned that earlier on in my career; saying no is hard, and when done well should be rewarded more than saying yes. / Speaking of the ability to say "no," the sky/net mashup joke that made its way around the web just wasn't as funnyscary as it would have been back when Microsoft mattered more.

Micro-micro-media: there's an email newsletter called Lounges Monthly, for people who enjoy airport lounges. / On the consumption end of the spectrum, Ken Norton on things that would have blown his 16-year old mind. (File under everything's amazing nobody's happy.) / Khoi Vinh reimagines digital music packaging. "So much happens around the music that we enjoy, but why go elsewhere to conduct the kind of social interchange — tweets, blog posts, updates, amateur covers, video riffing — that an album inspires when you could just use the album itself as a gateway?" (I'm not so sure...I'm rather a fan of those tweets, blogs, updates, covers, video riffing...)

Finally, two of my favorite Internet micro-stars, talking: Kevin Fanning interviews Joshua Allen. "I feel like the time I’ve put in writing stuff for the internet has been one long throat-clearing, but I have no idea what I’m going to finally say."

Ahem.

leviathan // 11 May 2011

Leviathan / Kapoor / Grand Palais 2011

Leviathan is a massive Anish Kapoor sculpture in the Grand Palais that he's dedicated to missing artist Ai Weiwei.

Photo on Flickr from Co & Isa.