17 December 2008

"Digilogue" U-City

I've been interested in the relationship between analogue and digital for a while; two years ago I explored stepping back and re-exploring analogue for the ritual side of things. Over time, though, I started noticing that this doesn't need to be the case anymore.

I brought this up at the PSFK thingie earlier in the month. The introduction of new applications, products and even places (as you'll see) doesn't draw a line between the two at all. Probably just as well, since the generations behind us don't know what it was like "before the Internet" and it's hard probably hard for them to contextualize the idea of "offline." It's no longer about analogue vs. digital, but about how they work together and enhance each other, no?

[image from technabob.com]

I decided to write my February column around this thought, and was lucky to get some insight from the very smart guys over at Hyper. Simeon wrote to me about Ubiquitous Computing (otherwise known as "U"). "U basically means that everyday objects are embedded with the ability to send, receive and process information - everything from your chair to your Coke can."

You know how my head explodes a lot, right? Well, one of Simeon's examples of U made my brain fly out the window. I don't know how I hadn't heard of it before, but here goes: New Songdo City. It's a brand new city being built in South Korea that will be finished in 2015. Its digital infrastructure was apparently built before the physical one was started: in Songdo, every information system will be linked together. Residential, medical, governmental and business. Residents will have a card that they'll be able to do a a ton of different things with: pay bills, take public transportation, check your medical records and buy things. Simeon gave the example, "...you might buy a can of Coke in the store, drink it whilst walking down the street - then toss it into a recycling bin when you're done with it, for which you'll automatically get money credited straight back into your account (because the can's RFID will be unique to you, and the recycling bin will know what's in it and when)." Wow!

What else. Your house's floor will have pressure sensors in it. So let's say I fell off a ladder while installing a chandelier (or something). The hospital would be notified and help would be on its way, immediately. Or, as I was getting ready for work one morning, I could be told that traffic is really bad on Street X – which I usually drive on – so "try route Y."

As you can imagine, this type of U can be tricky regarding privacy. From what I understand, this is why the U-city experiment wasn't tried in the U.S. first (we're pretty touchy about that stuff). I found a quote on we make money not art which addresses this:
Much of this technology was developed in U.S. research labs, but there are fewer social and regulatory obstacles to implementing them in Korea," said Anthony Townsend, a research director Palo Alto. "There is an historical expectation of less privacy. Korea is willing to put off the hard questions to take the early lead and set standards."
Here is the video rendering of New Songdo City. I knew that the technology for this was good, but this video is so impressive. Not to mention that they used Sigur Rós as as soundtrack.

So, so cool... I can't wait to see what happens. What's your favorite example of U?

16 December 2008

Some stuff on loyalty

So, my column has changed a tiny bit - in placement and design, mostly. If you're interested, click for bigger or read the text below.
The fact that it's important to reward consumers for being loyal to your brand is indisputable by now. But how do you do it? One of the most readily accessible examples is the loyalty program. Most are the same: The more you spend, the more points you accumulate and can then redeem for swag, airline miles or discounts. But what does this reward? Certainly not true loyalty; the primary goal behind these programs is essentially to stimulate frequent purchases. And the consumer knows this.

If you ask anybody outside of the industry what loyalty means, you'll get a different idea. It's not just about repeat purchases, but also a strong conviction and belief that your brand is worth being loyal to. Given this, why does a brand need a standardized program - why not thank good customers every once in a while, without asking them to prove their loyalty?

With the help of WFG Media, Veuve Clicquot flew NOTCOT's Jean Aw and other influential design bloggers to France, to immerse her fully in their brand's rich history and value on design. She was put up in a five-star hotel, treated to a multi-course dinner on the Seine, flown in a helicopter over Champagne after a tour of the vineyards, driven around in their custom Bentley and served lunch at Madame Clicquot's country house; all just to say thank you for being a loyal fan, customer and Veuve Clicquot supporter on the NOTCOT blog.

Understandably, it's not easy to perform grand gestures like this every day. One of the more replicable things that makes this example great is that Veuve Clicquot made rewarding loyalty about two-way, personal communication. There are creative ways that your brand can do this on a broader scale: Take the store club card, for example. UK-based grocery giant Tesco has a club program that uses tracked-purchase history to tailor quarterly mailings to its shoppers' needs and interests. This is a step in the right direction, because it shows that Tesco cares enough about the individual consumer to make things a little more personally relevant. As a result, Tesco has one of the most potent CRM programs out there.

Duane Reade has a Dollar Rewards club as well. What if they took advantage of the data they could be gathering through members' purchases? For example, if you have bought the same flavor of Orbit gum every couple of weeks for the past year, what if you came home one day to find that Duane Reade had noticed this pattern and mailed you two free packs of it? This goes above rewarding with a discount - it adds value and feels more like a two-way relationship.
Many, many thanks for Jean Aw of NOTCOT and Nima Abassi of WFG for their background on the Veuve Clicquot bit!

15 December 2008

A simple solution

Sometimes I hear about an idea that I think is so cool that my entire day is made. One of these times was last Friday, when I saw this image on swissmiss:

If you're not in the mood to click on the image to read it all, I'll give you a summary. There is a chain of coffee shops in Holland called CoffeeCompany. They wanted to attract more students, so they introduced free WiFi to their stores near universities. You can probably guess what happened: a ton of students started showing up, but then they would sit there for hours on their computers and not really order anything to eat or drink.

From my limited experience... when this has turned into a problem in New York coffee shops, they take it away from us. Aroma – an espresso bar around the corner from Naked – turns off their WiFi from noon to 3pm. Blackbird Parlour in Williamsburg put a tiny sign over their electrical outlets asking patrons to kindly not use WiFi on Saturdays or Sundays. This kind of thing has always left me thinking "But that is part of the joy of a coffee shop for so many people!," but I didn't know what the alternative could be so that a) people would be happy, and b) the coffee shop would sustain their business.

crossroads smoothie

Enter THEY, an agency in Amsterdam. Their solution: renaming the WiFi networks every now and then to advertise food and drinks, instead of just calling it "CoffeeCompanyWiFi." So, when students would sit down, open their computers and search for the network, it might say

or "BuyCoffeeForCuteGirlOverThere?"
or "TodaysSpecialEspresso1,60Euro."

A tiny explosion went off in my head. And then my face lit up and I sent it to the entire office.

Reading through some of the comments on swissmiss, pparently this type of execution has been done before. But I love the CoffeeCompany example. It leveraged a nearly unexplored channel to address a business problem, rather than an "everything else is cluttered, where else can we stick our message" problem. Made me smile.

09 December 2008

On loneliness in a big city

New York Magazine put out this article about loneliness when I was family-bound for Thanksgiving. I just got around to reading it yesterday (it's called Alone Together), and it's so interesting. It talks about the "loneliness myth" surrounding New York; people have been saying for ages that being lonely is inevitable here because you're by yourself in a sea of strangers who are busy leading their own lives. This article is saying the opposite: the unspoken sense of community that one feels when around masses of people is more comforting and binding than we think.

Sun is setting in TriBeCa

Something that seems so obvious now but I had never considered: loneliness isn't about objective matters, but subjective matters. So, the fact that 50% of all New Yorkers live alone (wow!?) doesn't affect levels of loneliness much, because there is that tacit sense of community here. You can be physically alone when you go to sleep and wake up, but perhaps it is comforting that you can walk out your door and be surrounded by hundreds /thousands /millions of people. I found out that big cities have much lower suicide rates than sparsely-populated areas (New York's is the 3rd lowest in the nation, Montana's is the highest).

Another fascinating part of Alone Together was the parallel drawn between NYC and the Internet:
It’s easy to see the parallels here between attitudes toward online use and attitudes toward solitary living. Perhaps there was once a time when living alone meant you were a hopeless shut-in. But you can’t exactly say this if 50 percent of the households in Manhattan contain just one person. Like Internet users, solitaires have a permanent and ambient sense of the world beyond their living rooms and a fluid sense of when to join it and when to retreat.
I’d argue that New York and the Internet are about the same, in the way that a large bookstore feels like it offers just as many possibilities as Amazon.com—maybe slightly less inventory, but more opportunities to stumble on things you might not have otherwise.
Cool, no?

Someone at breakfast this weekend talked about increased face time with surface acquaintances – relationships the article calls "transient connections" – due to the Internet is robbing us of time we could be spending with those closest to us. But apparently even transient connections can be beneficial. "Weak ties are essential to the creative economy, as Richard Florida pointed out in The Rise of the Creative Class, because diversity breeds innovation." My friend Mike definitely leverages this; he is always organizing events around bringing big groups of people with similar interests together; and fantastic things always come out of his projects.

color gel

The piece also talks about the significant other factor, the difficult time young & driven single people can have here because of focusing so much on their dreams, etc. This post kind of went all over the place, and I don't necessarily have any particular conclusion; I just thought it was fascinating. Check it out.

05 December 2008


I'm a tiny bit late on this one, but I just found out about Gizmine, an online store full of Japanese gadgets. Now, it's not that hard to find novelty Japanese thingies today at all, especially in New York. But wanting a specific item – rather than just browsing aisles and aisles of cuteness – has always been a little tricky. My most recent headache came from trying to get one of these beautiful humidifiers from Middle. Well, Gizmine has it. Now I can find almost any cute, colorful gadgety thing I can think of, and not have to convert from ¥ or pay a fortune in shipping.

Gizmine screen shot

There's some other interesting stuff about the site too, aside from its products. I've seen many "flash /html" links on sites before, but never this:

Ajax option on Gizmine

Now, I guess sometimes I'm a real twit when it comes to the web, but why would anybody want to turn Ajax off? An older browser?

This is on every single product page, tapping into a "Hey, look at this crazy /awesome /cute thing I found" insight about Japanese innovation:

Share with others on Gizmine

The store has your average categories, like home/office/bath, price ranges, toys/cameras/games, etc. But there are some awesome ones stuck in there as well. You can sort by color, which seems somehow especially "delightfully Japanese" to me. You can also search by theme, kawaii being one of them (it means "cute," which is an entire culture in and of itself in Japan).

Solar toy on Gizmine

Poke around... you can buy a wooden keyboard. A live plant-in-a-bottle cell phone strap. A waterproof, teardrop-shaped speaker for your bathroom. A Swarovski-encrusted mouse. And you can also subscribe to the New Product Feed, which is just plain dangerous.

03 December 2008

PSFK Good Ideas Salon [Digital]

Yesterday I was on a panel with Noah, Mike and Claire Hyland in one of PSFK's Good Ideas Salons. PSFK usually puts out an annual trend report, but this time it's in the form of a book with Good Ideas to "encourage positive change in 2009." There are 8 accompanying breakfast sessions, each about a different topic. So far we've heard about Good Ideas in Mobile, Design, Collaboration and Digital (yesterday's).

We talked about all sorts of things, and I loved hearing everyone's points of view. Noah mentioned Wii and Guitar Hero as being virtual reality in today's sense of the word, sans goofy goggles and funny movements. Nintendo and Activision are taking actions and behaviors we're already familiar with, and putting them in a digital context. As Mike said, we're not becoming more and more like computers; computers are becoming more like us.

The beginning of the discussion, prompted by Jeff Squires, centered around virtual identities and creating histories digitally, like leaving breadcrumbs of your life. Noah's My First Tweet was brought up... I really like stuff like that and Photojojo's Time Capsule, because they bring some of your documented history back to you. Since these are democratized channels that are so easy to use (no matter where you are), it can sometimes turn into a mindless act of information pouring with less deliberate thought as creating something physical.

Anyway, here is a link to the Good Ideas in Digital video if you want to see/hear the rest, since my blog makes it unbearably tiny. Mike and Fast Company also wrote about it.
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