May 27, 2011

stealing designs for profit

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 Designer “complains” on the Internet, fueling outrage on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., driving traffic both to the designer’s indie store as well as 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 (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.

May 27, 2011

kill / cook / eat

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.

May 25, 2011

your friends are entertainment

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.

May 24, 2011

all the news that's fit to tweet

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 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."

May 13, 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."


May 11, 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.

May 10, 2011

even if it's fake it's real


May 10, 2011

art makes you feel good

Across the wire comes news that scientists have found that art makes you feel good.

We put people in a scanner and showed them a series of paintings every ten seconds. We then measured the change in blood flow in one part of the brain. The reaction was immediate. What we found was the increase in blood flow was in proportion to how much the painting was liked. The blood flow increased for a beautiful painting just as it increases when you look at somebody you love. It tells us art induces a feel good sensation direct to the brain.

Awww. So sweet. I think we should have some Clown Torture to celebrate.

Feel better? You're welcome!

May 06, 2011

you'd think @jkottke and @torrez would agree on this

Stellar's pagination nav:


Mlkshk's pagination nav:


Can't we all just get along?

May 06, 2011

let's make a sandwich

Last year sometime I switched up the tagline on this blog to "Let's make a sandwich." If you were following along with pop culture at the time, you knew the reference. A year later, people keep asking me "What's with the tagline? What kind of sandwich?" How quickly they forget.


The tagline has stuck because I think about blogging -- the way I do it -- like I think about sandwiches. There's a basic form, and a nearly inifinite number of expressions of that form. This particular blog is a mishmash of things that are interesting to me -- and because it's my sandwich, I avoid ingredients that I'm not fond of.  Like pickles. There are no pickles on this blog.

I just read two posts that are the roast beef and cheddar of today's sandwich. One from Tim Carmody (yep him again) while guesting at, and one from Paul Kedrosky. Both are about blogging; Tim's about structure and Paul's about content.

Carmody identifies the core ingredients in a blog post (title / link / pull / response, with comments optional), and then goes on to talk about the core value of blogs being watching what happens with those ingredients...

We've got officially-approved categorial mantras like curation and community engagement -- as if what mattered in great blogs was their arty taste, skill at embedding viral videos, or pushing out tweets to their followers. Rather than watching an agile mind at work, one attached to a living, breathing person, and feeling like you were tapped into a discussion that was bringing together the most vital parts of the web.

Kedroksy's post, titled, appropriately, "Bitchy Readers" is about what happens when an audience brings their hyper-vertical media expectations to a blog attached to a living, breathing person with an active mind. He has readers that want him to stick to finance. Fat chance.

To all of you feeling that way I have one thing to say: Piss off. I honestly don’t care what you’d like to see. If you want someone who surveys his/her readership and provides that content for them, go to USA Today. Or maybe some other blog. Here I put what I want, when I want, about the things I’m interested in. If that cuts across geology, finance, backcountry skiing, extreme sports and whatever else, that’s the way it goes. And it’s not changing.

There, I just made a sandwich for you...about sandwiches. Whoa.

May 06, 2011

a thank you note to @ttthhhxxx


May 05, 2011

so now @mike_ftw has an editorial calendar

This morning friend of the show Mike Monteiro tweeted:

Whatever. I’ve got an editorial calendar and it says right here that on Thursday I’m supposed to take on Europe.

Now, I've followed Mike on Twitter for quite some time, and I don't doubt his willingness or ability to take on all of Europe on a Thursday. However, I was pretty sure he was kidding about having an editorial calendar. So I asked Twitter...

HEY TWITTER: Let's build an editorial calendar for @Mike_FTW:

And oh did people respond. I love the Internet.

TypeWithMe -- the service I linked to -- is an EtherPad descendent and lets (up to 16) people collaborate on a document at one time, color coding contributions along the way.  I had it open in a tab for a lot of the day, and watched the multi-colored insanity just pour in. If you visit that URL above, it's probably still going. (I wonder what the half life of the contents of that document will be over the "long" run?)

For, um, posterity the current state of the document is archived here. There are lots of Gruber jokes. And Phillies jokes. I ran it through OS X's text summary service to get it down to something excerptable, and here's what came out:

  • May 16, Mon: Pitch @zeldman AEA talk topic, "Fuck all y'all, pay me, by which I mean, make your checks out to Mule Design right now." Afternoon tangent: Post Instagram from Twin Peaks opining how much better it is to walk up a hill with a beard
  • June 7, Tues: Make a new t-shirt making fun of Gruber & sell it at WWDC in the exhibit hall.
  • June 8, Wed: Trick Dan Benjamin into letting me onto The Talk Show in order to gang up on John with Dan making fun of the Yankees.
  • August 5, Fri: Spend an episode of Let's make mistakes on how a random tweet three months ago landed you a ridiculously packed calendar.
  • August 6, Sat: Wish a happy 30th birthday to the first thing to wreck @Maria_Pete's vagina, then chuck the calendar and choose to do your own thing.

Yep. That works. If you haven't contributed your own, you still can.

May 03, 2011

Studio 60 impersonators on Twitter (even if it's fake it's real)

February 2007 on this blog, about the demise of Aaron Sorkin's meta-television series Studio 60:

I'm hoping Sorkin finds another TV vehicle soon, lest our national broadcast airwaves go without their recommended weekly allowance of pediconferencing.

Sorkin didn't need to find another TV vehicle, since he found a social network and turned it into The Social Network. But via Graham Smith's zeitgasm (via comes news of a group of people who have been playing the characters of Studio 60 on Twitter. 

While our world’s Studio 60 was cancelled, the tweets imagine that the show-within-the-show is still going. ... They also made specific references to events from the show: Jordan and Danny getting locked on the roof, Matt’s brief drug addiction and hallucination, Jordan’s pregnancy, Jack’s meeting with Japanese businessmen, Peripheral Vision Man, and an endless procession of animals getting trapped beneath the stage. None of the tweets were particularly funny on their own or even as a whole, and unless you had a serious familiarity with the original, they would hardly make sense.

I have a serious familiarity with the original, so Jordan and Danny getting locked on the roof actually means something to me. Like Smith, I'd love to see Twitter used for more time-bound, character driven story telling. In the meantime here's a Twitter list (no guarantee of permanence) in case you want to pediconference in your mind along with Matt Albie, Danny Tripp and the rest of the unrealistically hyperverbal sanctimoniously fictitious television being impersonated by real people.

Because even if it's fake it's real.

May 02, 2011

on @tcarmody at

It was an odd but good thing to load up this morning and remember that he's turned over the reins to guest blogger Tim Carmody for the week. (Nothing against Jason, it just is wild to have a shift like that...and I love reading Tim.) His post The limits of crowds mixes reactions to the death of Bin Laden, an editor's note from Jason, a Storify thread and notes on last night's scene outside the White House into a meditation on how Bin Laden has stunted our collective ability to process collectively, if you'll forgive the redundant redundancy.

This guy -- this son-of-a-bitch who murdered thousands of people here ten years ago and helped murder many more all around the world -- has us so twisted up that we do not know how to feel about him, or ourselves, at all.

And our inability to come together, and to talk about that, which was already latent in the way our media work, and all the more amplified by what ten years of this twisting and torturing, and being twisted into torture and then lying about torture, only makes it worse.

Tim's set his own bar high for the rest of the week. You owe it to yourself to tune in.

May 01, 2011

All that laughter...

So all the laughter and enthusiastic applause at the Correspondents' Dinner tonight when the President skewered Donald Trump...wasn't that coming from the same people who covered the birthers and made the whole story line possible?


Just checking.

Apr 30, 2011

Amazon's 2010 shareholder letter

Jeff Bezos' 2010 letter to Amazon shareholders goes in-depth on their technology, covering service oriented architectures, state management, topic modeling, object caching, etc.

All the effort we put into technology might not matter that much if we kept technology off to the side in some sort of R&D department, but we don't take that approach. Technology infuses all of our teams, all of our processes, our decision-making, and our approach to innovation in each of our businesses. It is deeply integrated into everything we do.

It's worth reading in full. There's nothing in here that should be a surprise to anyone that's paid attention to Amazon's technology over the years, but the letter signals the depth of commitment that Amazon has to ongoing R&D. It's a reminder from Bezos to Wall Street: "Hey, you know what's been driving our growth over the last five years? This stuff. And we're not letting up."


Did you know that looking at the last five years, AMZN's outperformed AAPL? I threw GOOG in there for good measure.

Apr 29, 2011

GEL Conference notes

I’m on the plane home from New York, having just spent two days at GEL Conference, and I feel the need to capture a few snippets about the conference while it’s still fresh. If conference wrapup blog posts annoy the hell out of you (like they usually do me), then feel free to read it and be annoyed. Or just skip it. Up to you.


We live with instant access to information–from anywhere, at any time. This is useful! And exciting! And powerful! But that access has shortened my attention span and made me incredibly impatient–if I can’t find it & grok it in under 30 seconds, it takes too long. Which makes having uninterrupted time to enjoy new experiences and learn about new people and their projects this week at GEL was a wonderful luxury. It had been a long, long time since I had been at a conference purely as an attendee (and not as a speaker, organizer, etc.), so having the opportunity to relax and go with the flow of the programming was fantastic.

Not that all of the content was relaxing. Day one of GEL seems designed to get people out of their comfort zones and connect with other attendees in ways that don’t involve coffee and muffins. During the morning they offered an improv workshop, where a group of us were invited to improvise “the story of our lives” in 60 seconds. At the end of my 60 seconds, the improv team running the session extended my little vignette (“Yes, and…”) with material that made me profoundly uncomfortable and I honestly lost myself for a minute. That doesn’t happen every day.


One of the other participants in the improv class was Abner Ramirez, who is half of the singing duo Johnnyswim. I didn’t know who he was on Thursday, but when he stepped on to stage on Friday to perform with his wife, his killer improv skills suddenly made sense. The guy was born to be on stage. As Matt tweeted right after they performed, “Holy shitballs this group Johnnyswim is great.”


Two other musical bits: Vi Hart’s presentation about how she uses math to compose music blew me away, especially her toss off comment about how a melody she had developed was basically the Fibonacci sequence. And Jace Clayton, aka DJ/rupture told the story of how at the end of a set where he’s been getting a crowd to dance, he’ll bring them down deliberately with samples of Tracy Chapman’s song “Behind the Wall,” which is about listening (“Being a DJ is all about listening”), and having to make a decision about whether you should act on what you hear.

And other quick notes, just to jot them down… Tom Lee gave an incredible overview of One Medical Group, demonstrating the problem with today’s health care system by playing back audio clips of patients trying to make a doctor’s appointment. … Perry Chen deftly used video clips from Kickstarter submissions to describe what they do, including this one for I Am I. Highly recommended. … Old friend (we are getting old) Anil Dash didn’t disappoint: he brought the Malcolm and the purple in his talk about combining tools and networks to do good. … Kirby Ferguson revealed that the next chapter in his Everything is a Remix video series is going to be about Apple. (Whoa.) … And Nicola Twilley’s talk on creating a scratch-n-sniff map of New York was great, and she used the phrase “ocular centrism” at the drop of a hat, so double plus for that.

nicola twilley's smell map

There’s a lot of talk lately about curation. Lousy curators deliver shit you don’t care about, shit you’re already seen, or worse, shit you don’t care about that you’ve already seen. Good curators deliver quality material you do care about, quality material you haven’t seen, or even better, a combination of both.

Mark Hurst is a great curator. His skill comes from a deep love and respect for his audience, which shows in the passion he has for the program and experience he assembles. It’s definitely not “safe”: the Thursday experiences pushed me out of my comfort zone, and not all of the Friday speakers were perfectly polished. But all of the content was there for a reason, all of it connected to the main theme, and it was all things that Mark cares about. It takes guts to put an eclectic program like GEL together–even with a great set of smart people doing interesting talks, there’s always a chance the program slips off the high wire. But Mark pulls it off, and when he’s up on stage walking that wire you can see the joy he takes in sharing the things he loves.

Well done.

Apr 16, 2011

telling simple stories

A couple of friends of ours are the super geniuses behind Paulson Bott Press. Pam Paulson and Renee Bott work with artists from around the world to create limited edition intaglio prints out of their studio in Berkeley. For years I’ve been telling them that they should be blogging – they’re both chock full of personality, have great stories about the artists they work with, and the process of printmaking is super photogenic.

They finally took the leap earlier this year, and they’re not disappointing. Renee’s latest post, Getting to Know Ross, is about how they convinced painter Ross Bleckner to come make prints with them.

As huge admirers of Ross’s work, we decided to invite him to our studio. I found an address for him by sleuthing the Internet and wrote a letter introducing myself and asking if we could meet. I explained that Pam and I were going to be in New York in two weeks. The days passed and we never heard back from Ross. Time was running out. Katrina Traywick, our sales director at the time, was quick to point out that everyone in New York has their phone numbers listed (even famous people)*, and sure enough, I found his phone number in the white pages.

It’s a great post – a simple story told from a personal point of view, simply illustrated with photos (one of which I’m particularly fond of), giving a behind the scenes look into how something wonderful happened. As friend of the show Andrew Anker posted earlier this week, blogging is no longer a technology – it’s a state of mind. And I love seeing more great people – like Pam and Renee – enter that state of mind.

* Trina laughs at this now. But it worked then!

Apr 13, 2011

three things i love about postagram

I know I’m behind the news cycle on this by about 24 hours, but If you haven’t seen it yet, Postagram is a thing of wonder. It’s a new web and iPhone app that does something simple and ingenious: connects to your Instagram account and helps you send photo postcards to your friends at $0.99 a pop. The postcard is designed to let the recipient pop out the photo, which was clever enough to motivate me to download the app yesterday and send one to my parents of their (oh so cute) granddaughter at the ballpark on opening weekend. Can’t wait to hear how it turned out.

But even without seeing the final product, here are three things I already love about Postagram…

  1. It’s simple. Simple is always self-evident…but think about what they didn’t build. They didn’t build a general purpose photo printing service. They didn’t connect it to three or four different photo sharing sites. You can’t choose a card or a letter or a print or a poster. In fact, you can’t customize the product at all, save your 140 character message that is printed on your postcard.

  2. It’s social. Postagram is physical photo sharing. You have a photo, you want to share it with someone. You could invite them to Instagram, of course, or you could email it to them, or you can do something special and send them an actual photo. The act of sharing is designed into the product itself…and ties directly to the nature of its “host,” Instagram. Also, who doesn’t love getting a postcard in the mail?

  3. It’s physical. This line from Adam King has been rolling around in my head the past week or so: “Our lives are spent trying to pixellate a fractal planet.” There’s so much attention and effort being put into pushing more and more real world experiences on to the screen (or augment them with the screen), it’s refreshing to see something flow in the opposite direction.

Seeing (and using) Postagram sparked that great “of course!” feeling. I’d love to see a lot more services like this: rooted in online, easy to understand, simple to use, impulse price point, creating something useful and emotionally resonant in the world.

Apr 05, 2011


This is a test


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