Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Right Mix of Fun and Fear

A holiday that lets us become someone else for a few hours seems like an obviously popular concept. Who wouldn't want to be Batman or Hillary Clinton for the night?

A holiday popularized by ghouls, ghosts, witches, goblins and other evil-doers is a less likely success. In real life, most of us don't want to be haunted, taunted, or scared.

So how does Halloween find the right mix of fun and fear? Candy. Whether young or old, candy is sweetness - both literally and symbolically. Candy puts us at ease and solidifies Halloween as a lighthearted event. Symbols such as candy are very powerful - that's one of the reasons why sweets are a part of nearly every popular holiday.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Value of Time

Most of us realize that the perception of time is a relative and ever-changing thing. Sometimes a year feels like a minute and sometimes a minute feels like a lifetime - especially in those early morning attempts at more sleep.

Time is also the most fundamental currency, the most innate way to measure value. It's difficult to accept the fact that something as elemental as time can have a value that fluctuates so wildly. Potent personal power comes from recognizing what type of time we're expending at any particular moment - half of the battle is recognizing that a minute with a loved one is the most valuable form of time.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

No Answer

I realized today that I'm a phone number screener. If someone calls my mobile or home phone, I make sure that I recognize the phone number prior to answering. I'll think twice about answering if a number looks familiar but doesn't necessarily trigger recognition. I won't even think about answering a "Private Caller" or "Unknown." I suspect that I'm part of the majority when it comes to filtering calls.

What's most interesting about this now-dominant phenomenon is the speed at which it's become a nearly ubiquitous human habit. Thirty years ago, every call was a "Private Caller." Twenty years ago, few home phones had Caller ID and mobile phones weren't even in the picture. Ten years ago, the habits had sprouted with built-in Caller ID and some mobile phones. Today, my friends don't answer my calls unless my number is in their phone.

Many claim that the digital-communication revolution (both Internet and mobile) has fostered only open and free communication. Here is a prime example of an opposite trend primarily driven by the same technology.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Short-Lived Internet Communication Paradox

In an interconnected, omnipresent, real-time world it's easy to forget about language barriers. But we still live in a very fragmented time - where only a few miles could mean a completely different culture that has opposite social norms.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, the Internet often magnifies the effects of these communicational human differences - because the Internet makes us forget about distance and difference. Someone might be a click away, but in reality lives in a completely different culture. Because the Internet makes connecting seamlessly simple, we often forget that one word can be understood in hundreds of different ways.

What we get is a mini-paradox. The technology that has brought the whole world together may force moments of extreme pain (misunderstanding) - stemming from extreme miscommunication. But this pain is well worth it - since what we're moving towards is a global creative community.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Lost Episodes

As most of my dedicated readers know, I'm a big Lost fan. It's one of my favorite shows. Although I'm a big follower of the show, I missed most of Season 5. Being that I live in the 21st Century, I figured that I could watch all the Season 5 episodes on either or was wrong.

Apparently ABC is witholding from officially putting all the episodes online for a few reasons. I suspect that the top reason is that they fear that DVD sales would be somehow hurt if all the Season 5 episodes were easily available on the Web.

This small example clearly illustrates the remaining friction between a short-term, profit-oriented perspective and the inevitable future of a purely digital medium. These last gasps by the likes of the old guard, e.g. ABC, are both annoying and harmful. Once this reality fully seeps into the mainstream media moguls there will be no more DVDs or CDs. Only once this reality is fully accepted will the likes of ABC be able to innovate adequately profitable business models that make Web TV infinitely more powerful than physical formats such as DVDs.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cyber Sports

I'm a big fan of international sports such as soccer and European league basketball. Living in the United States meant that I couldn't have timely updates on the results of my teams. Following events in real-time wasn't even an option. That was ten years ago.

Five years ago, I could follow any major global sporting event in near-real-time via textual, Internet-based updates. Today, I can watch any major sporting event live, via some form of Web TV. In a few years, the Internet will enable me to watch any sporting event.

If ESPN and the likes are even considering capturing the long tail of sports fans, they'll need to significantly increase the number of television channels they offer. Otherwise, fans will increasingly turn to the Internet for all their sports needs.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Apple > Google = Absurd

While conducting my nightly scan of the news, I was drawn to the unbelievable fact that, at this point in time, Apple is considered to be more valuable than Google. This is based on the current share prices of each company and is thus likely to quickly change.

I find this quite unreasonable for two important reasons:
  • Apple's revenue is based on a portfolio of products that become obsolete after two years (at most). Because of this, Apple is dependent on constantly rolling out new products - and thus on the hit-or-miss nature of consumer tastes. Google serves as the gatekeeper to the Internet. Although their market share can be chipped away, Google could never lose 10 to 20% of its revenue over a few months - something that could easily happen to Apple if the next iPhone is a flop.
  • Google's revenue comes from a more diversified source of business customers. Google still earns the majority of its income from the advertising-network associated with its main search engine. The customers that pay to display these ads come from nearly all corners of the economy - thus likely mimic the overall economy. Apple targets a fickle, high-end customer-base that is rarely predictable.

Google is the cruise ship while Apple is the speed boat. Google is strong and large. Apple is fast and unstable.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Controlled Competitiveness

I have a very competitive spirit. Sometimes I'm able to hide it and sometimes I'm not. Sometimes I'm able to control it and sometimes I'm not.

In particular, my competitive urges peak when I see a competitor making substantial progress. This competitiveness usually stirs up many different emotions - including rage, excitement, fear, jealousy, sadness, and anxiety. Without the right control, most of those emotions can be quite detrimental to my own progress and well being.

So how do I harness these powerful feelings? Usually I am able to convert my zeal into channeled ambition by taking a step back via some sort of grounding moment, through a rational approach that focuses on lessons (facts) instead of distractions (wild emotions), and by gaining perspective through direct communication with my allies. Without this control-process, I would have the fuel but not the vehicle to move forward.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Web Design Can Be Fun

I stumbled upon a great website recently: The CSS Awards. This site highlights and awards other websites that utilize the CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) technology. It serves as a wonderful hub for discovering some beautiful designs.

Although most of the featured websites are quite different, a few underlying themes are apparent:
  • Photographs and cartoons are seamlessly combined.
  • No longer are white and black the only backgrounds of choice.
  • Huge font-sizes are in.
  • Humor can serve a serious purpose.
  • Straight lines no longer dominate - but neither do soft curves.
  • Rich and often natural textures give new depths to a fundamentally 2-Dimensional canvas.

None of the recent design trends are revolutionary, but they are fun, imaginative, and usually quirky. They do show a new sense of excitement and an ever-growing visual freedom.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Virtual Travel is Next

Lately I've been thinking about the travel industry and where new disruptive innovation will come from in this field - over the next five to ten years. Recent developments such as the electrification of automobiles is important but far from revolutionary. We haven't really seen a true change in the way humans travel across the globe since the proliferation and commercialization of air travel.

So what's next? What will shake the way we directly get from one place to another? It probably won't be a new car, a faster train, or a better airplane. It might stem from our ability to communicate in real time via the Internet - through the form of video conferences. But that feels rather cold and still far from equalling the communicational and emotional fulfillment seen in live face-to-face contact.

Teleportation always comes up as an extreme next step - but the best we've done so far is move some photons around. So I believe that the real future of travel (or lack thereof) will be somewhere in between the remoteness of current Internet-based communication and the closeness that teleportation will enable. It will come from the proliferation and continuing evolution of virtual reality and its ever-expanding supporting infrastructure.

Soon we will be able to mimic the senses of sight, sound, and in part - touch. This will be done seamlessly, in real time, and across the whole world. Most importantly - in terms of global adoption - virtual reality will no longer be perceived as a geeky niche-technology by large corporations - the same corporations which are the source of much of the world's travel troops.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Map Love

I love antique maps. If I had the space in my home, I would have a room dedicated to old maps.

I love these relics of human progress for their aesthetic value - i.e. they look very cool - and I love them for what they represent. Maps are symbolic of the uniquely human need to create abstract models of the world we live in. Maps are our attempt to simplify a complex environment.

I also love how clearly maps show the progress of human evolution and understanding. A map of the U.S. in 1776 is significantly different from a map of the U.S. in 1820. These visual models offer a sobering reminder of the fact that "facts" change, that very few things are set in stone, and that being wrong is a prerequisite for progress.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Augmented Reality in Aisle 3

Augmented reality is one of the leading technological trends in the mobile communications space. This concept brings together a few different mobile-centric features - including the handset camera, the location-sensing features, and a mobile connection to the Internet - in order to deliver quite a compelling mobile service. Essentially, augmented reality allows the owner of a mobile handset (usually a smartphone such as an iPhone) to point their camera at the world around them and see an overlay of useful information through the phone's display.

This information can be purely factual - e.g. the name of the architect who designed the building in front of you. Or the information can be based on a collection of opinions, reviews, and other subjective matters - i.e. the ability to see a restaurant review by purely pointing the mobile device to the front door of the restaurant.

Where I see this technology potentially revolutionizing the we live is within the confines of shopping. For instance, the mobile phone's augmented reality features can fulfill the role of a personal shopping consultant - providing nutritional information and advice for food purchases, matching and pairing advice for clothing selection, or giving utilitarian advice when shopping for tools or construction materials. The possibilities are quite interesting and could be very innovative.

Although startups and software developers seem like the obvious catalysts for this innovation, old brick-and-mortar retailers might find that taking the early lead on this development might provide that additional spark in consumption needed to get us out of this recession.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Twitter Bots Kill Reputation

Twitter is clearly a fascinating phenomenon. It allows for evolutionary human traits, idiosyncrasies, absurdities, etc. to be clearly and easily displayed in 140 characters or less.

In fact, it's much more than just those 140 characters that make up a Twitter persona. The other main qualities any Twitter user has are the number of people that user follows and the number of people that follow the user. The prior describes overall engagement; the latter signifies overall popularity.

Companies have grasped these concepts rather quickly and now strive to make their Twitter personas followed by thousands of adoring fans. But what many of these fair-minded companies have realized is that it's usually pretty difficult to quickly manufacture followers. So various Twitter-"marketing" companies have sprouted touting the ability to miraculously provide thousands of fans in only a few days - for a small fee of course.

As we all know, when something valuable comes for only a small fee then things are usually not as they appear. These thousands of new fans are often bots - fake Twitter personalities created for the sole purpose of boosting the follower equation, for making it seem, at first glance, that someone or something is very popular.

(Un)fortunately, these types of shenanigans are usually quite transparent. The bots are not very good about posting realistic pictures in their profiles or communicating in natural ways - i.e. they can be spotted from a mile away. This doesn't really hurt the "marketing" companies that provide these fake masses, but instead damages the reputation of those seemingly honest companies that have these strange supporters.

So today, when I realized that a company that I've been following for months and that I felt was quite honest had gained over 35,000 fans in a week, something smelled fishy. And when I dug a little deeper I found a lot of fish - in the form of a reputation-killing digital mob. How sad.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Birthday Dip

Birthdays are a funny thing. They are one of the few recurring events in life that experience a complete reversal of meaning during a long period of time.

Between the age of 0 and 22, birthdays are celebrated through sweets, drinks, and presents - these special days are seen as purely joyful. During the period of 22 to about 65, birthdays are implicitly positive but always come with a strong sense of bitterness, nostalgia, and the brute awareness of the unstoppable force of time - these special days are usually celebrated in a more subdued fashion with a strong tinge of melancholy. Finally, all birthdays after the 65th are once again purely positive - they celebrate the will to live and each represent a new era of human accomplishment.

The few truly happy people that I've met throughout my life are somehow able to avoid that middle dip and are able to enjoy each passing year as if it were their first. Although this consistency isn't a prerequisite for happiness, it sure does help.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Three-Hour Formula

Last night I had the relaxing pleasure of watching a three-hour-long movie: The Great Escape. This 1960's classic depicts the intricate escape plan hatched and implemented by a group of Allied officers trapped in a Nazi POW prison. Although the film is based on a true story, the plot was significantly augmented in order to create a compelling film.

Even though the movie itself is quite good, what particularly interested me was the actual length and how a film this long could hold my attention. I live in a world where entertainment can be captured and consumed in milliseconds. In addition, most modern films are around two hours or less in length - often filled with action and/or intricate plot twists. So the habit of sitting down in front of a television set - which is endowed with over 500 channels - without changing the channel for three hours is not very ingrained in my being.

So what made The Great Escape good enough to hold me, a very selective attention-giver, for three hours? It was a surprisingly simple balance of good acting - quality of delivery, a sufficiently novel and captivating plot - intellectually stimulating experience, and fun - emotionally stimulating experience.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

We Can Learn from NASA's Resourcefulness

NASA is planning to test whether there is water on the moon through a very creative method - by crashing a set of spacecraft and evaluating the dust that is created. Leave it to NASA to conduct a complicated analysis on the composition of the moon's soil based on a violent pounding of its surface.

Although unconventional, NASA is definitely resourceful. I strongly suspect that NASA considered and disqualified numerous other, more expensive methods, for testing the moon's surface, and that their brilliant minds came up with the "crashing" method because it is both accurate and efficient. The organization has a mandate to move mankind forward, beyond the reaches of our planet - yet NASA has a very limited budget which makes tough decision-making a necessary skill.

If other companies (e.g. the automakers) were nearly as imaginative, we'd see some very creative innovations during the hard-times of this recession. If we can learn from NASA's approach, then the constraints of time and money can be turned on their heads and converted into an interestingly unpredictable opportunity.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Barcode

When I was in high school I worked as a picker-and-packer in the warehouse for a small online retailer. I would receive print-outs representing each of the orders that came in for that day; I would pick the items for each order from the warehouse; finally, I would pack the items and prepare the boxes for UPS pick-up. It wasn't a glamorous job, but it did help me pay for college.

During this job I was first introduced to the wonder that is the barcode - which is today celebrating 57 years since its original patent. The barcode allowed me to verify that I had correctly picked each order and ensured that nearly no box would be packed with the wrong items. The barcode enabled a teenage kid, like myself, to pack thousands of dollars worth of goods per day with nearly zero error.

The barcode is a silent innovation that has increased efficiency and decreased the number of overall mistakes made in not just shipping, but in many other industries. It is one of the unrecognized requirements for hugely successful ecommerce websites (such as It is still extensively used but often forgotten - at least for one day, the barcode was finally appreciated.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Criticism vs. Feedback

Criticism is destructive. It breeds antagonism because it stems from the wrong approach - from the focus on mistakes. Criticism could be a short-term band aid but is almost always a long-term parasite. It undercuts the future.

Feedback is constructive. It stems from the partnership perspective- from the focus on expanding the pie without sugar-coating the shit. Feedback can be painful in the short-term because it is sometimes indirect and subtle. But it is almost always a long-term seed for success. It feeds the future.

Monday, October 5, 2009

College Camp

As I've spoken about in the past, nostalgia is an extremely powerful emotion. It can make us make questionable purchasing decisions but it can also make for some very interesting innovations. One of these innovations is the summer camp for adults.

Just like during those wonderful years of adolescence, adults can now sign up for summer camp. These camps can be based on various themes (e.g. singles-only, celebration-oriented, etc.) or can just be an alternative form of vacationing. Either way, adult summer camps are driven by nostalgia. The social dynamics developed during such adventures mimic those of our childhood and thus add a new layer of satisfcation - in addition to being away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

I say that this concept should be expanded. If we can revisit the years of early adolescence then why not the teenage years or the early 20's? Both High School Camp and College Camp seem like the obvious extensions of this service. Who wouldn't want to go back to High School or College for a week, but this time, without the need to pass tests?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Local Should Be Everywhere

When I was a child growing up in New York City I loved to go to the movies on a regular basis. At that time, the most convenient way to find movie listings was to go to the street corner and pick up a copy of the Village Voice (a local newspaper), quickly flip to the back while trying to avoid the many ads, and manually find the movie theatres of interest.

Although the ads in the Village Voice were frequently annoying, they were usually geographically relevant. The local restaurants, nail salons, and dry cleaners would all advertise their establishments.

Today, movie listings are only a click away. But finding a relevant theatre via Fandango still involves putting in a local identifier - the zip code. Although I receive a list of local theatres, I don't see any ads for local establishments - instead I see ads for big, national brands. This means that the most current technology for finding movie information doesn't leverage the powerful knowledge that newspapers have been able to leverage for decades - the ability to geographically place the audience.

Clearly the Internet is still an evolving medium, but geo-location and related targeted advertising seems like an easy win. The long tail of small and medium local-establishments might provide that marketing boost that many websites are in dire need of.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Invite

Since Internet-based products and services are much more scalable than actual real-world products and services there is usually very little natural scarcity on the supply-side of these digital goods - i.e. a website can be read almost infinitely while nearly no additional resource is consumed.

Although this makes sharing wonderfully simple, it also prevents brands from creating the "long-line effect" - i.e. from showing how wonderful their product is through the long lines of people waiting to buy. So to overcome this temporary side-effect, many companies are now utilizing the invite. After initially launching an Internet-based product or service, these companies distribute only a select number of invites.

This creates both an artificial scarcity and a collective buzz. The most important characteristic of the invite is timing - using it for too short and there is no "long-line effect"; using it for too long and potential consumers will become frustrated and might never come back. Although the usage of the invite can potentially reap benefits, it is still more of an artform than a science.