Thursday, April 26, 2012

Project Goodcry Adds a Dash of Pathos to Digital Culture

Lately, I’m noticing a humanizing of the web. Take, for example, Dee Kim and Bistin Chen’s Project Goodcry. It asks users to choose YouTube videos that made them cry.

Until now, YouTube has primarily been about getting a few laughs. This social experiment sets out to make crying a community-building experience. Fascinating.

It’s also a good example of marketing with meaning in a digital age. People want to share their emotions. People want to express how they feel. To facilitate that, Project Goodcry lets you install the ‘I cried button’ on YouTube. When you see a video that make you shed a tear, then you can rank it not by stars, but with tear drops. It works just like the Facebook ‘like’ button.

Every video that gets an ‘I cried’ rating is ranked on the Project Goodcry site. So far, topping the saddest list is a clip from the Disney film The Fox and the Hound. It’s proof that classic culture and digital culture are enmeshed in a remix process that’s generating a new meaning system. In the case of project Goodcry, it’s a virally-devised meaning system for collectively sharing more complex emotions.

We live in a digital age, where the level of noisy content drowns out subtler expressions. That makes this splash of pathos right on time.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Time Management Tool for News Junkies Re-brands as Pocket

Read It Later, a news reader app, saves articles from around the web so you can “read it later". The app was just rebranded. It’s now called Pocket.

Has anyone used it? I’m in need of a way to keep my reading list to a manageable glut, rather than the torrent that it is now. On my bucket list for this year: “Manage your freaking time better, you spaz!”

Anyone want to weigh in on Pocket, erstwhile Read It Later? Is it a good tool for time management? Or just another stacking spindle for more content? My iPhone is already groaning with eBooks.

Here’s the product description: “Pocket is everything you’ve always loved about Read It Later, now with a cleaner, lighter viewing experience and a ton of new features to help you see what you’ve saved—from articles to videos, images and more. We’ve also made Pocket free for everyone.”

Can’t beat that last bennie—FREE!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Amsterdam in Photos

I spoke last week at Bibliotheekplaza, an international conference of innovative librarians.  Before the conference, they took me on a tour of Amsterdam and DOK Delft, a completely new library concept.  Here are some of the photos I took.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Photos: The Secret Lives Of Musical Instruments

I love these photos taken inside musical instruments. I recovered an old mandolin that belonged to my Dad as a boy. Makes me wonder…do instruments go a little dead inside when they’ve been abandoned?

Photo by Mierswa Kluska for the Berlin Philharmonic

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chicago Police Bust Food Trucks Using Social Media

Photo by abjam77
The sting is on. Police in Chicago have begun cracking down on illegally-stationed food trucks, allegedly using social media tools that many vendors rely upon. Over the past month, the Chicago Sun-Times reports, truck operators have been stung repeatedly with tickets and fines, putting the squeeze on what many fans of food trucks believe is a valuable contribution to urban culture.

Are the intrepid authorities tracking the city's trucks on Facebook and Twitter? Lupita Kuri, owner of the Sweet Ride bakery, thinks so. She claims Sweet Ride was ticketed one day before even serving their first customer.

"You can’t get me for premeditated selling of a cupcake," Kuri's driver protested.

The police department denied accusations of a citywide crackdown on food trucks, but acknowledged they were unaware of any directives that may have been launched on a district level.

Others believe the crackdown may have been spurred by recent calls for a new city ordinance that would ease restrictions on where food trucks can do business. Current city laws prohibit food trucks from operating within 200 feet of any brick-and-mortar restaurants. Well, that’s a rigid regulation given the plethora of eateries in Chicago. This forces many meals-on-wheelsters to set up shop in loading zones, often illegally.

Apparently, when food truck owners met with city officials to cooperate, the vendors reportedly disclosed a list of some of their most popular spots. Coincidentally, thereafter police began showing up to those locations to write tickets.

Good news: Chicago Police are using social media to fight crime. Yea! 
Bad news: Food trucks are a top target in a city with no shortage of criminals. 
Bright spot: By turning food truck vendors into underdogs, the authorities are ensuring the vendors' cult status as the ultimate urban hack—the simple food truck.

Friday, April 13, 2012

eBooks on the Cheap: How the Internet is Becoming Backwater Bargain Village

Photo by goXunuReviews
The Internet is all about CHEAP. Real life is the premium environment. That’s why Amazon’s price cut on eBooks doesn’t surprise me. It’s the invitable Groupon-izing of rich content.

Price depression in eBook publishing will force traditional print into the realm of high art. Books will be fetishistic items for connoisseurs. But what will everyday book-lovers do? How will we continue to read and enjoy a life of the mind?

Libraries. Having spent a week in the Netherlands talking with some of the most ambitious, innovative librarians, I’m convinced that the eBook debate between libraries and publishers is superfluous. It’s based on an antiquated model of production and consumption. Librarians have more power in the discussion than they realize.

If the digital space itself is a category, it’s becoming Filene’s Basement. This smells like trouble.

Photo by Joe Lemonade
Of course, I write this from CafĂ© de Pels in Amsterdam. I’m here to speak at a conference. It’s been a terrific day of big ideas. UK author and pundit Ben Hammersley was a stand out. He’s smart, funny and refreshingly kind.

Love that. I will process more of my journey as I find time.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Alchemy of Amsterdam

Photo by Willy_G91
Amsterdam rocks! I’m here speaking at an international conference of cutting-edge librarians. I’ll be talking about what the RenGen--renaissance generation--wants from libraries. It’s a thread I’ve been following for a few years that looks at what the future will “like” and what it won’t.

As the culture sheds the institutions that no longer give life meaning, people inside those institutions are left scrambling for relevance. They fall into a few categories. Some want to find a new path, pronto. They become planning machines. They are ones with their whiteboards. Others want to hang onto whatever sliver of the dying reality they can clutch. They tend to be older and nearing retirement.

Then there are the makers. They want to experiment and take things on. They want change like a drowning man wants air. But not for change's sake. They are filling an urge to create, manifest, and make one’s mark for the better.

Everywhere I turn, I encounter some aspect of tradition and rebirth here. Amsterdam’s alchemy feels like a RenGen city.

Shoot me your Amsterdam favs if you have them. I’m game for anything, well…it’s Amsterdam, so almost anything.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Finding the Best Behaviors of Brand Personalities

Photo by Patricia Martin
A recent swing through Michigan landed me at the fabled Zingerman’s Deli. Its owners are passionate about delivering a heartfelt customer experience that elevates a Pastrami sandwich into something more transcendent. How do they do it? Well, they offer training classes. And one of their founders, Ari Weinzweig, wrote a book that shares his wisdom on building a great service culture. During this visit, I tried to see the place through fresh eyes. I was determined to unearth what makes the Zingerman’s brand come to life through its people.

Here’s what I saw:

1. Engagement: The long line to order was daunting. I nearly turned away. But a young woman caught my eye and greeted me like a person at a party: “Hey, how are you? I’m Jane. (She shakes my hand.) Are you here to pick up sandwiches, or do you want to sit down for lunch?”

Jane’s engagement method:

Smiling eyes
Handed over a menu
Knowledge share (see below)
2. Sharing knowledge: The transfer of knowledge builds trust. Jane offered samples and encouraged me to try her personal favorites. She warned me away from a pasta salad sample saying, “It’s a little too bland for me, but you might like it.” Okay, so she doesn’t think everything is terrific. I can trust that.

3. Making simple magic: One of the best ways to create a magical experience is to anticipate unmet desire. Behold: Once inside the store, which is cramped and loud, I noticed a little boy with his nose pressed to the glass of the cheese case. Observing the boy’s wonderment, a butcher reached inside pointing, “Which one looks good to try? I’ll give you a bite.”

Whacking off a generous slice he handed it to the boy’s mother saying, “There’s enough for both of you to share.” Face it. The cheese case always looks so forbidden in most delis. Like museum cases. Helping a customer break into the treasure chest, completely unsolicited, makes the experience magical.

By engaging both mother and child, he creates a memory. Surprise and delight is often cited as the sole reason for retail to exist anymore. But HOW we surprise and delight in a culture that has seen it all can be a little more elusive.

I emerged from Zingerman’s with a ton of notes scribbled in my Moleskine. I’m gathering insights on rich brand environments for a new study. The aim is to discover the best brand behaviors in a digital culture—both live and online.

Zingerman’s remains a powerful customer experience because the brand has been conceived as a persona, rather than a sandwich joint. That makes it easier for the brand personality to be lived out by its people through sincere gestures of compassionate service. Not every brand can claim that pedigree, so I am eager to find ways that brands can genuinely infuse their service ethos with personality.

Got any examples of rich brand environments you’ve experienced lately?

Share them in the comments and I’ll see to it you get a free copy of our findings.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Losing My Mother

When my brother called on Thursday afternoon, I figured he wanted to talk about my mother’s dementia. But he was breathless and panicky. It’s Mom, he blurted, something’s wrong. The neighbors say she won’t answer the door.

By the time the EMS arrived, so had a minister. My brother refused to let anyone do anything more until a priest had been called. Trust me. He was not being a jerk about this. She was Irish Catholic from Belfast and would have been fussy about this final ritual.

By the time her death was confirmed, I had packed my bags and called my kids with details about the funeral. Then I drove for what seemed like the millionth time across the state of Michigan to Detroit. Every mile yielded a memory. My daughter and I reminisced until she grew silent with sleep.

Left alone with my thoughts, I was plunged into grief and cried until I reached Ann Arbor. No one would ever accuse me of being reserved. Still, I was surprised by how hard my mother’s death hit me.

Over the years, I’ve escaped the summer heat of Chicago on the beaches of western Michigan. There, you see signs warning swimmers of riptides. These currents can pull a swimmer suddenly into very deep waters. That’s what my grief felt like.

Cousins flew in from various parts of the country and Canada. It was a true Irish wake. For three days we mourned and laughed as we shared memories. When the grief stirred, I swam to the safety of my children before it pulled me under.

My mother was born to a large family in Northern Ireland. The eldest, she was educated in a convent school, but had to divide her time between books and family duties. Her father was a horse dealer. He bred and sold what were considered to be Ireland’s finest ponies. Truth be told, he sold King Albert a pony for Princess Elizabeth’s 16th birthday.

It’s hard to imagine surviving my mother’s life. After World War II, Northern Ireland had been bombed into oblivion. Belfast was home to the shipyards that built the British fleet. As such, it was a merciless target for German bombers.

When the war ended, inertia set in. With no job, few prospects, and an abundance of ambition, my mother grew restless. At the age of 22 she set out for America, all alone. Think about that. Women didn’t do that sort of thing in the 1940’s.

What would unfold for my mother is the stuff of Mad Men. She landed in Detroit, where she sewed upholstery at the Fisher Body Plant. There, she met my father. He was a guy from West Virginia determined to get ahead. They married and started a family. By the age of 40 he had earned a giant promotion. Soon after, he succumbed to a massive heart attack.

Alone and with little support, she rebuilt her life. She eventually remarried and left behind a leafy suburban lifestyle for the rough and tumble of Detroit’s east side. Adrift and isolated, she enrolled in community college and earned a degree. In a life struck through by tragedy, she kept finding her way to shore somehow.

During the funeral service, the heft of our loss bonded my siblings beyond our rivalries. We held hands and hugged whenever we felt like it.

Near the end of the service, the organist struck up the Ave Maria. To our utter shock and wonder, the priest stepped forward and belted it out with the vibrato of an operatic tenor. Had it not been a funeral, we’d all have cried, “Bravo!”

Later, at the graveside, a soft rain fell. Final prayers were said. People bobbed about aimlessly. Then, at the request of my sister in-law, my cousin from Ireland sang a farewell hymn in Gaelic. His voice lifted gently, tapping headstones as it went. The undertaker’s eyes glistened.

I cannot say how long it will take me to get over the loss of my mother. Perhaps as long as it takes me to finally learn how much I owe the grace of my existence to others.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Business Takeaways: Lessons from McLuhan in a Digital Culture

At the vanguard during the 1960's, Marshall McLuhan is one of those public intellectuals so far ahead of his time that today his work feels like helpful tips for living. I attended a panel on the Digital Aesthetic at SXSW, led by the always- thoughtful Tim Sheridan over at Razorfish. There, McLuhan’s work was quoted often. It inspired me to dive back in to his work.

Here’s a sampling of McLuhan's favorite aphorisms suggest his rich, playful mind:
• The medium is the message.
• The greatest propaganda in the world is our mother tongue.
• Schizophrenia may be a necessary consequence of literacy.
• Violence is a lust for compensatory feedback.
• War is compulsory education. Education is war.
• Discovery comes from dialogue that begins with the sharing of ignorance.
• Information overload equals pattern recognition.
• Artists are the antennae of the race.
• Electronics turns the earth into a global village.
• We don't know who discovered water but we're pretty sure it wasn't the fish.
• And my all time favorite: “If you don't like these ideas, I've got others.”