Category Archives: mass_customization_

Brain Belches and Sentience

Somewhere this past year, I effectively traded blogging for brain belches.  Blog posts gave way to tweets, FB status updates and foursquare check-ins. "@"replies and retweets replaced blog comments as my virtual crack.

I'm not proud of it, and I will  rectify that this year (resolution #3, just after #2's "ripped abs")

In Katie Hafner's NYT piece "Driven to Distraction, Some Unfriend Facebook" (a piece dealing with kids attempts to self-regulate their Facebook addictions) she quotes Michael Diamonti, head of school at SF University High School:

"[I support] these kids recognizing that they need to exercise some control over their use of Facebook, that not only is it tremendously time-consuming but perhaps not all that fulfilling."

Hafner goes on to quote Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, who writes of an 18 year old male who quit FB while working on his college application:

"Facebook wasn't merely a distraction, but it was really confusing him about who he was."

Jonathan Harris, in his recent piece on World Building, writes

"Our online tools do a great job at breadth (hundreds of friends,
thousands of tweets), but a bad job at depth. We live increasingly
superficial lives, reducing our relationships to caricatures and our
personalities to billboards, as we speed along at 1,000 miles an hour.

We trade self-reflection for busyness, gorging ourselves on it and
drowning in it, without recognizing the violence of that busyness,
which we perpetrate against ourselves and at our peril."

There is something beautiful, terrifying and powerful about the rise of ambient intimacy, and our willing adoption of the latest and greatest tools to feed it.  We feed it with our hearts and souls like a confessional booth after a Las Vegas bender, but occasionally forget that every wry observation and catty tweet is now searchable, indexable and forever. 

But seeing is not knowing.  Telling alone does not create understanding. And the fact I can't actually deal with the immediacy of a restaurant until I've "checked in" in pursuit of my "Crunked' badge is…well, a little sad.

Sad, but I believe it will evolve into something beautiful.  This stuff would not survive, we would not be obsessed by it, if it did not meet a fundamental human need.  Our job is to understand that need and work to meet it with technology that enhances our humanity, and deepens our connections, rather than reduces our rich world of experience to 140 character bleats.

But it does make you think – children learn interaction by observing our emotional states.  How much of our hearts and souls can we pour into the technosphere before it develops its own api to tap our raw data, and begin to react?

It feels inevitable that a status update will someday generate a reaction – "feeling blue" may generate a skype call from an unknown (but somehow familiar soothing) voice, suggesting you "look on the bright side – you've got that Mexico trip coming up!  You'll be tan and happy, and you'll probably hook up!" – and when the line goes dead, you'll feel great, and maybe slightly, momentarily unsettled.  But you shouldn't be – you put the trip into dopplr, booked it through Expedia, and you've got a profile that matches someone else who did the same (and is single)… predicts sun for the 10-day forecast, and the tweets you posted from Tulum the last time were, algorithmically speaking, the happiest of your 8,956 posts. 

You can't miss!

Toilet Paper Users and Facebook Users

We social media wanks often earn our fear money through hyperbolic/histrionic presentations laden with "you're business model is f***ed" slides, typically including a gasp-inducing image that compares the population of users of Facebook to the population of actual countries.

But Facebook isn't really a country.  Individual users of Facebook have as much in common with each other as individual users of toilet paper. 

And come to think of it, there may be more TP than FB users for a little while yet.


(FB heatmap when they were limping along with 200MM users back on april 8th,2009, stolen from Dave Know's HardKnox life blog…and interesting to note that if in April they were "admitting" 200MM, and in December Zuckerberg claims 350MM, HOLY HOCKEYSTICK, batman.)

If FB were a country, it would be an interesting one – a preselected technological "upper" class who have sufficient material resources to at least guarantee access, so they probably aren't hurting for basic needs – food, shelter, etc. 

They'd be the world's third most populous country – 350MM+ people, all a few rungs up Maslow's ladder.

And in spite of various valuation discussions, this "country" of tech "haves" wouldn't be a G-7 or G-20 candidate.  Various estimates peg the FB "GDP" at about a billion for 2009 – with about half that coming from ad revenue, the other half from monetization of the FB platform via third party developers.  that puts them at #169 for global GDP, a few steps behind St. Lucia, and just edging out Dijibouti.

The smartest, wealthiest, tech saavy folks in the world, 350MM strong, barely edging out a win on Dijibouti?  Golly.

But there is something much more interesting and a little sad going on here.  A real country has many things that make for an engaged citizenry.  The two I think are relevant here are

  1. economic/social/emotional barriers to leaving, and
  2. a national mythology/narrative

Friendster, MySpace and Facebook are cheap, easy, and addictive, but their glue is driven by the critical mass of friends (network effect) and the difficulty of porting your entire life onto the NEXT BIG PLATFORM.  Facebook Connect is a brilliant way to deflect the need to re-port, but at the end of the day, FB loyalty will be proportional to its perceived utility.  Like toilet paper.  If there is a softer better cheaper toilet paper, I'll use it.


(stolen from

But none of these social nets has an embedded narrative or mythology.  they have a perceived "cool" factor, or not, but they are social tools, little more.  FB is doing its best to become the Leatherman of social nets, with a tool, port or app for every need, but I question the loyalty of its users and the longevity of its position.  Because they have no narrative.  The US Army/Marine Corps CounterInsurgency Manual (available as a pdf here – Download COIN-FM3-24) defines a "narrative" as:

"a story recounted in the form of a causally linked series of events that explains an event in the group's history and expresses the values, characters, or self-identity of the group.  Narratives are means through which ideologies are expressed and absorbed by members of a society."

There is no common purpose to FB, no shared mission, no shared narrative. 

Like Toilet Paper. 

We flush (TP) and upload (FB) our crap every day.

When will a virtual social net nourish our souls?

W+K+Schmidt+Birkett+N900+OneDotZero = fun

As part of our effort on behalf of the Nokia N900, W+K London partnered with computational designer  Karsten  Schmidt and software architect Gary Birkett in conjunction with OneDotZero to demonstrate what happens when

per Birkett:

“we are using a 3 inch display to try to control a 70 foot
display”. Based on the N900’s accelerometer, the software uses an
interface that takes movement data from the handset and sends it to the
projection app, created by Schmidt.”

This is so cool, it must be 37 degrees

OK – so that's a reference to the "perfect pour" temperature of Coke – 37 degrees Fahrenheit – that optimizes the drinking experience to the point you have to sit down to drink it or your brain will explode with pleasure.  And frankly, that'd be a mess, what with the bubbles and all.

I know that because (disclaimer) I have the pleasure to work with Coke.

Read about Coke's "interactive fountain" in Fast Company today.  Touch screen + 46-ounce concentrated flavor cartridge = your perfect Coke.  That in and of itself is pretty neat.

Coke machine

But I like it for two reasons – one that was stated in the article, one that wasn't:

(1) According to the article, "Another perk is the business data the dispenser sends back to Coke's headquarters in Atlanta.
The machines upload data about beverage consumption, peak times, and
popular locations. Coke can also talk back to the machine, letting it
know if a particular flavor needs to be discontinued or recalled and
causing it to stop serving the drink immediately."  This is FANTASTIC.  The machines become real-time focus groups and interactive sales terminals.  As long as the info generated isn't left in the hands of the inventory department but rather feeds the broader marketing organization, this has significant implications.

(2) This machine will feed a fundamental behavior intrinsic to Coke's target audience – sharing.  you can't create a witch's brew flavor without the friend next to you asking for "just a sip" to compare to their concoction – and you'll probably see an uptick in sales as people 'experiment' with different flavors.  Expect different flavor combinations (the more esoteric the better) to form fan groups and passion communities online.  Expect #Coke flavored hashtags cropping up on Twitter, etc. etc. etc.

The machines don't just mix flavors, they start conversations.  probably not unlike the ones that mmay have happened at soda fountains.  Even better?  Good-natured arguments.  And THAT is cool.

"My Diet Vanilla Black Cherry Bomb is tastier than Biff's Crap-tastic mix…"

Kudos to Coke for harnessing a technology that speaks to both their heritage (the soda fountain) and their future.  And for turning their product into a participatory experience. 


OMG – Nokia buys Symbian, MSoft screwed? Google kneecapped?

This is going to take a lot to process.  And there's a lot to be worked out (what does "royalty-free to members of the alliance" mean in practice?  Will this be Open like Linux, or 'Open' like…brrrr…AT&T/Verizon Wireless?). 

But OMG, IN YOUR FACE, iPhone (6MM handset sold US, 10MM projected by years end) and Google Android Handsets (None sold, nor to be sold soon):  Nokia (1 Billion handsets in market) just got all 'Open-Source' Symbian on you.

"On Tuesday, companies including Nokia,
Motorola, NTT DoCoMo, LG Electronics, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, AT&T,
Texas Instruments, STMicroelectronics and Vodafone announced that they
will work together to make the Symbian OS open source. They will offer
it under a royalty-free license to members of a new nonprofit group
called the Symbian Foundation.

Symbian is used in about 60
percent of the world's smartphones [~200MM handsets], which means that open-source
software will soon drive the majority of those devices. The proprietary
model behind mobile operating systems from Microsoft, Research In
Motion and Apple, then, will for the first time be in the minority."

– Nancy Gohring, IDG News Services, Symbian Shifts Mobile World to Open Source, for PC World


200MM handsets in market using Symbian.  Sure there will be legacy issues with handsets running older Symbian software, but c'mon.  Microsoft's like "yeah, no worries.  We don't see much of a change in the short term based on this announcement".  That's like the Titanic's captain saying "well, in the light of news about an iceberg dead ahead, we see no need to alter our current course".  Dude, did you read the FREE part?  The market leader against whom MSoft is struggling for dominance in the mobile OS market [Symbian] just made their product free.  Microsoft CHARGES people to use their mobile OS.

"It's unclear whether device manufacturers will
want to continue paying high fees for Windows Mobile license when [Nokia] the
market leader suddenly cut costs to zero." – J. Nicholas Hoover, Symbian's Open Source Gambit Ups Stakes in Mobile OS War, for Information Week

Really?  Unclear whether people will want to pay for something they can have for free?

Nokia just made a BOLD MOVE. 

Some say they've grabbed their future, others that they've just opened up mobility.  Good piece over at ZDNet byEd Burnette discusses Symbian deal winners and Losers.

Your Collective Brand

Melissa Sconyers, W+K interactive scout, shared with us Noah Brier’s (a Naked-ite) newest creation, Brand Tags.

"Brands exist in people’s heads" goes his premise – and here everyone’s
brand-related tags are collated and rendered as a swarm, creating a graphic
illustration of the brand as socially-constructed collective
perception, with each perception proportionally scaled by it’s
importance to the group.  [Interestingly, as participation with the site
has increased, Brier’s noted more "noise" being introduced – profanity,
brand bashing, etc.]

How does it work?  Brier’s site shows you a logo, and you free-associate a word (that becomes a tag) into the handy blank field.  Then the next logo appears.  It’s shockingly simple, and irritatingly addictive.  So people come to you to tell you about your brand.  Contrast this with Summize, the Twitter search tool that searches public twits/tweets for brand mentions and aggregates them, or their "sentiment"

He’s cobbled together a single player Google Image Labeler, only now instead of help Google tag every image using your free labor, you can help Brands get a gut check.  And make Naked look brilliant.  Sweeet.

What I really liked was the gaming aspect of the site – Brier lets you try to guess the brand based on the swarm and see the tags posted by referral URL (so you can ferret out any domain-based swarm biases 🙂

Melissa conjectures that the site coding may reveal potential Brier-based brand bias in the order in which brands were entered – Nike is #1 (ID=1), Google is #2 (ID=2), etc. – but his numbering scheme skips from #9 (H&M) and doesn’t pick up again until #25 (Yahoo!).  Perhaps this has something to do with their client list?   Or maybe he’s leaving room to put them in later?

Check these swarms for W+K partners:

Brand Jordan
EA Sports

If Brand Tags sits at one end of the spectrum of collective brands (where people are required to go to a destination to create and experience collective perceptions), Summize sits at the other.

Summize positions itself as a provider of "conversational search", and it searchs public twitter streams for keywords.  Enter a brand, get a slew of brand-relevant tweets.  In aggregate, it’s a pretty interesting snapshot of what people are saying, right now, about your brand.  You can even sift for sentiment.


Facebook legal issues?

Facebook’s new ads will allow Netflix to serve an ad with your image to a friend to market a movie title you have seen/reviewed/commented on. 

But we in advertising have to pay for use of people’s likenesses when we use them to market product.

Henry Blodgett [on the ‘Silicon Valley Insider‘] notes hat the NYT’s Saul Hansell, dug up a law professor’s blog post arguing that

"Facebook’s "social ads"
violate some ancient New York State statute prohibiting the use of
names or likenesses in advertising without first getting written
permission.  Facebook immediately responds by saying the professor is
interpreting the law "too broadly" and that online opt-in is now the
same as a written signature."

WIll Facebook cut you a check if you sell something for their partners?

Fraudvertising – Phishing 2.0

Give a man a fish, he’ll eat it for lunch, but teach a man to phish and he’ll eat yours.

This email one arrived in my mailbox today from "Paypal", subject line "Urgent Message".


Your Debit Card must receive a refund worth 288.40$ USD from
Oregon Community Credit Union.After the last annual calculations of your
account activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax
refund of $288.44 credit. Please submit the tax refund request and allow us
6-9 days in order to process it. To get your Tax Refund Money please click
the link below:

 Regards, Oregon Community Credit Union Customer

 Copyright © 2007 – Oregon Community Credit Union – All rights

This smelled bad, but rather than just delete it, I figured I’d do a little digging.  And with a logo like that?  Got to be fake.

But it’s not.  There is an OCCU.  The first giveaway for me was the copy, which felt like a digital ransom note.   The website address looks pretty innocuous, but it’s bullshit.  But good bullshit – the customer service # was actually correct, and for the heck of it, I tried the rep.  She was a good sport about it and shared with me that OCCU had been hit with a raft of these things in the past week.  4-5 Phishing attacks had been shut down or cut off YESTERDAY alone.  They don’t the source, but it’s been getting pretty hectic.

Add to this a new form of spam – bogus MP3-vertising.

How does it work?  You get a blank email with an MP3 file  attached – something like
"mychemicalromance.mp3" or "justintimberlake.mp3".  They look like mobile ringtones, but if you launch it you get an audio file with a come-on to purchase crap stocks.  Imagine opening up "bartsimpson.mp3" on the crowded cubicle floor and hearing a digital sideshow barker shouting about improving your sex life and you can see where this might go.

With fraudvertising becomes more efficient (better designed, co-opting realworld logos/brands/customer service and technologies), muddy water gets murkier, and the need to deliver real value as a brand, not just ads, becomes even more critical.