Whose Umbrella Matters?

I was a little surprised this morning to see one of my favorite blogs reference Do I Need an Umbrella, a site that, conveniently enough, answers the question Do I Need an Umbrella?

Turns out, Do I Need an Umbrella? (left) is a downmarket version of Umbrella Today?. Perhaps the most popular single-serving site out there. Umbrella Today? does the exact same thing (and more), was established earlier and has since become immensely popular. In the case of Umbrella Today? versus Do I Need an Umbrella? the former’s brevity of initial query and the quality it suggests shines through in all aspects, making the site, in every way possible, better than its more literal stepchild.

But, despite Do I Need an Umbrella? appearing to be a knock-off, it made me think. A few weeks ago, someone I know wrote something like “I didn’t like the weather report, so I just kept looking at other places until I found one that was suitable.”

So why not check and see if they agreed, and if not, which one was correct? I was after all, in the mood for something to tell me whether to bring an umbrella.

They didn’t agree. One told me I needed an umbrella, the other said I didn’t. So who do I trust?

I didn’t want to just toss it up between those two, so I hit my F12 and checked the old standby, the easiest weather report, the one I check nearly every day. My dashboard widget showed a thundercloud; the only icon for the day was rain. It’d have to be an umbrella day.

I hedged one more time–Weather Underground. My old standby said I could get away with not carrying an umbrella until 5pm, when the storms rolled in. (All these tests were done by inputting my zip code within a span of five minutes.)

Done, right? The binary yes/no nature of the Umbrella sites was conflicting, and Apple’s weather widget wasn’t detailed enough. With a better forecast I could make the decision.

But it’s interesting that the uniquely internet phenomenon by which we tend to select our news and choose only sources that are similar to our bias, say electing to receive only news that’s been run through a liberal filter, has extended to something that should be mildly scientific. I don’t want to carry an umbrella on a Saturday, so I’ll look around until I find evidence to support my position.

Meteorology is by no means an exact science, but we can now ask dozens whether it’s going to rain and get different answers. That sort of thing never happened down on the farm.

So, to that end, wrapping up this non-item item (really, blogging about the weather is about as prosaic and time-filling than talking about it) someone needs to develop an optimist’s Umbrella Today?, which will only ever answer with an emphatic “No” and indeed, additionally, let us know it’s going to be a beautiful day where we’ll get closer to our dreams then we ever imagined.

And we can curse the weatherman on the odd days it’s not correct, unless of course we want a spectacular summer storm and wind up getting one. I’ve been hoping for thunder and lightening from 5pm onwards today and Weather Underground has yet to deliver.

UPDATE: Never content to let an idea easily executed languish on the Internet unfulfilled, Noah Brier slapped up doineedanumbrellatoday.com, your one-stop shop for permanently sunny weather news. Another version of this whole affair came up recently when I was reading James Wood’s How Fiction Works. Speaking about the protagonist, Ricardo Reis, in Saramago’s The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, Wood writes “He reflects fondly on the story of the ninety-seven-year-old John D. Rockefeller, who has a speciall doctored version of The New York Tmes delivered every day, altered to contain only good news. ‘The world’s threats are universal, like the sun, but Ricard Reis takes shelter under his own shadow.'”

Kickstart My ♡

I ran into an old pal of mine from Flavorpill, Yancey Strickler, last year at an entrepreneurs meetup. I was there researching a story but he had was looking for practical intel for a new venture. We caught up later and he told me about the site he and his partner were working on; It sounded promising then, and I’m pleased to say it launched last week: it’s called Kickstarter, and has a noble aim.

The site is modeled around people outlining creative projects, setting funding goals, and then soliciting pledges from fans to help them create. As the process evolves, fundees give their fans exclusive content in the form of updates, behind-the-scenes peeks and general bonus bits. When the project reaches its funding goal in the allotted time, then fans have to pony up what they promised. The site’s got some great backers, smarts coming from the likes of Waxy.org’s Andy Baio, and an Internet full of folks yearning to make things and help others in the process.

When I initially grabbed beers with Yancey and his partner Perry Chen I dug the idea; I’d just read Kevin Kelly’s Long Tail-informed essay “1,000 True Fans” and realized creators have lots of latitude to reach myriad potential enthusiasts on the web to sustain their efforts. Kickstarter seemed like it’d not only create a platform for those ideas, but also serve as the carrot to keep people focused on their creative goals. (After all, knowing someone you’ve never met in Phoenix pledged $20 and wants to read stuff you cut from your screenplay or video updates on how your harmonica practice is going is a pretty good carrot to keep you from drifting to another thing.)

So far, there are some interesting projects going, from indie games to an amazing-sounding, massive crossword puzzle.

Yancey’s got invites if you’ve got something brewing and like their infrastructure. I’m sure if you ask nicely on Twitter he’ll help you take the first step to working up the wherewithall to making your pet project a reality.

#sxsw: The Tweets Cometh

Many are painting this as the year Twitter reached mass acceptance, but for the crowd of internet types who headed to Austin last weekend for South by Southwest the service was already almost two years old.

I went down to Texas, and saw some great stuff, met interesting people and had a wonderful time, as usual1 and want to pass things along to you, dear reader. But in an effort to keep my fresh-faced Twitter followers who weren’t in Texas from fomenting a rebellion at rapid-fire updates I decided to collect everything I would have put into 140-character updates and leave them here. Old school! Hopefully you’ll enjoy, and, if not, dismiss with the speed with which you surely ignore many unwanted messages daily.

Day 1, Saturday, March 14

4:34 am: Awake from what cld pass 4 sleep w/ dog fidgeting all night between my sprawled legs. Dogsitting makes for strange bedfellows.

5:44 am: At LaGuardia, security line reaches around longer than I’ve ever seen. Involuntarily say Fuck when the functionary motions to the end.

5:46 am: Oh, it’s spring break.

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  1. I’m not really an old hand at this; last year was my first time down. But it’s been educational enough to stay in my calendar for a few years []

Foursquare to make drinking more playful

Dodgeball’s reincarnated as Foursquare! Hit up the right nightspots and become the king of the town (at least as far as Internet cool points are concerned).

I’m reminded of Bright Lights, Big City:

… How did you get here? It was your friend, Tad Allagash, who powered you in here. You started out on the Upper East Side with champagne and unlimited prospects, strictly observing the Allagash rule of perpetual motion: one drink per stop. Tad’s mission in life is to have more fun than anyone else in New York City, and this involves a lot of moving around, since there is always the likelihood that where you aren’t is more fun than where you are.

Hopefully this’ll be available to test out while Austin-hopping at SXSW this year.1

I’m also hoping there’s an “achievement” called Alcoholic Loser for those who spend 4+ hours a day in only one bar, or “Cheapskate” for those who only get blotto at work-related gratis cocktail functions or “Fearless” for someone who drinks exclusively at bars in areas with really, really low average income and/or high crime rates. Perhaps integration with the iPhone breathalyzer to crown the real King Drunk?

  1. I’ll be down from Saturday-Wednesday and may update here if anything wild happens. []

Highlights from the Creativity 50

A few avid readers of both Creativity as well as this thing may not need the spur, but we’ve just posted our annual list of 50 interesting people and groups in the innovation game.

The Creativity 50 has changed a bit in the three years I’ve been involved, and I’m glad to say this year we have a great balance of both interesting and inspiring people in the world at large and the world of marketing. The latter can be myopic to a fault at times and one of the parts of the magazine I’m gladdest to bolster is introducing new viewpoints to our readership.

So, to that end, I was really excited to get to talk to some interesting people for this edition, above and beyond exciting achievers in advertising. Jason Fried is the CEO of 37Signals, and knows a thing or two about productivity and development. Aaron Koblin has an exciting worldview and is one of the few who’ve been able to wrap samples of our world’s data in elegant cloaks. Jonathan Blow, the creator of Braid, is part of a group of game developers pushing to make things that are much more intellectually and emotionally stimulating than the standard entertainment offerings. I had an in-depth and highly informative conversation with Blow, but that’s still under wraps until April.

Lastly, I got a chance to talk with the ever-interesting Dean Kamen, a guy I consider a real pioneer. The full Q&A is on our site now, and I urge you to check it out. Kamen has some very exciting opinions about growing up in our era and how our future innovations will come about.

Browse through this year’s list of honorees; you may come across a nugget of wisdom or two. Special thanks to Von for the kickass cover illustration.

Update: Something screwy came about between the ampersands in the Creativity links and my WordPress RSS feed. If you’re into the links and they’re returning noise in the syndicated version, click through to the actual post and they’ll work from there.

Old Media

“Old media will not be forced back into a historical village, like cute old handicrafts, wielding the same brief power of nostalgia as a spinning wheel in action. The old media are as intoxicating and empty as the new playthings. Their age is no guarantee of wisdom. Nor can we accuse the old media of dull or demented behavior. Their chronicling continues; they perceive with the one sense to which they have been doomed. With a little exercise, old media may serve us just fine, amidst all the contemporary telematic machinery.”

Buddy Scott sent this over a while back; it appears here on Agentur Bilwet’s “1000 Fehler,” an audio recording of these guys. “Adilkno (Dutch: “Bilwet”), the Foundation for the Advancement of Illegal Knowledge, was established in Amsterdam in 1983. It is a free association of authors and researchers. ”
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Android Cometh: First Looks, Critiques and Bugs in the G1

So, I got my G1 Android, aka Googlephone ahead of schedule last night and have now spent some time with it, so here’s a hands-on look as well as a bit of criticism.

I think the phone, especially the Android OS, has a lot of promise, and potentially can unseat the iPhone, if you look at functionality.

Stylewise, the G1 is a bit of a beast, though, and won’t win any beauty contests. But, erstwhile netcrunchers, we don’t want pageant wins, do we? We want to work! Handle business. That’s why we owned BlackBerries. Or at least I did.

Updated!!

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Spark it up! We’re talking Facebook next week.

Next week is Advertising Week in New York, the week many in the industry gather for a celebration of selling things. It’s not all parades with mascots down Fifth Avenue (though I can’t find any info this year about the “Procession of the Great Icons”); there’s some jibber-jabber too, and an unhealthy amount of socializing.

I’m going to be moderating a panel Tuesday, talking with three very intelligent guys about the potentiality for big ideas on Facebook and other social media. If you’d like to come by, it’s free, all you have to do is RSVP. (Oops–I just looked, and it says it’s sold out on the Advertising Week site. Contact me if you’re interested in coming, or just show up early.)

Anyway, we’re going to be (hopefully!) talking about interesting stuff, including a pretty conceptual look at what some future hypothetical Facebook marketing efforts might look like. I’m joined by some great creatives/forward-looking digital guys, so expect some cool ideas to pop out.

The Facebook Spark Series: Spark The Big Idea

How do good ideas spread? What does it take to get people to share branded content or offers with their friends? Top creative thinkers discuss innovative work and the methods to developing big ideas worth sharing in today’s social media world.

Moderated by Nick Parish, Associate Editor, Creativity

Panelists:
Rei Inamoto, Co-Chief Creative Officer, AKQA
Richard Ting, VP & ECD, Mobile and Emerging Platforms Group, R/GA
Rick Webb, Co-Founder and COO, The Barbarian Group

Tuesday, September 23
9:00 AM to 09:45 AM
The Times Center
242 West 41st Street
New York, NY

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone for coming to what turned out to be an interesting session. Audio is here, and video may or may not be coming soon. Ad Week saw fit to dispatch a reporter, who summarized the event quite well.

Michigan’s Digital Production Divide

All this looks like small beer compared to the meltdown here on Wall Street this month, but I was back in Michigan over Labor Day and found myself thinking the state’s huge production incentives program isn’t being fully utilized.

Up North, things are particularly bleak. In the town where my parents stay, Boyne City, 95 people started Labor Day weekend with a pink slip, as LexaMar, one of the biggest corporations in the town of 3500 laid them off on Friday. It made small talk everywhere, downtown, strolling past the classic cars on display, at the police-sponsored drag race at the city airstrip, another midsized manufacturer slicing off jobs as the economy expels another ragged breath.

The one point of light in a state with its biggest industry, automobiles, breaking down, is film production. It’s exceptionally cheap to shoot anything in Michigan right now, and that has ushered in the closest thing to a business renaissance the region has seen in years, at least the latest Band-Aid to create an economic buffer around the doomed car business, like Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s Automation Alley plan that began about a decade ago.
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Radiohead, but with lasers.

Oh, you know, just another day at the office writing about Radiohead, lasers, and the folks that love them. Last week I talked with James Frost, the director of Radiohead’s new “House of Cards” video. I’m seeing the group play for the first time at All Points West next month; I’ll report back if the stuff from the video is used at all in the live show. It’d be a bit of a shame if it wasn’t; this look is too closely connected to this song to be utilized in a fresh way anywhere else. So Radiohead might as well keep trotting it out with “House of Cards” when they play it live. Come to think of it, as amazing as applying this technology to film the crowd and band during a live performance would be, it’d probably be impossible to render the data in time to produce anything but the crudest preview. But I’m sure you stopped at the link to read Frost say that in our talk and have already ruled out that possibility.

Good thing, too, as who knows whether that LIDAR stuff might cause some impromptu LASIK for audience members, like these dodgy Russian rave lasers.

ffffind something for ffffacebook

A few months ago I began a flirtation with ffffound after receiving an invite from designer Keita Kitamura. It’s a neat little image bookmarking service created by Keita and Yosuke Abe in Yugo Nakamura’s Tha ltd web design shop. Check out a bit on Yugo I did as part of the Creativity 50 to learn more about them. It’s gotten a great group of beta testers who’ve bookmarked some zany stuff out there. (Though the beta has grown rapidly and now includes lots of random photos of tits off Flickr.)

After playing around with it for a while I figured it’d be excellent if we could get the images to go on Facebook, to spice things up a bit here beyond hatching eggs and super wall videos. So I drew out a little plan of what a simple Facebook ffffound app would do.

Problem is, I’m just coping with English; communicating with Facebook’s guts is a ways away for me. Luckily super Aussie Arnold Almeida found me after a desperate post on a ffffound appreciation group here and whipped up a spiffy little app according to my basic specs. And he’s been awesome enough to maintain it through several ffffound code changes since.

If you’re on ffffound already, now’s your chance to show off all the freaky nonsense you pick up on the web to your facebook buddies. If not, the app will still work! You can put in any user, like ‘yugo’, who’s always got interesting new stuff, which will then show on your page. (Or me, ‘paryshnikov,’ but no guarantee my bookmarks are interesting or new.) Cruise around, have fun, and look at interesting images.

Nerd Farming

Here’s a piece from the June issue of Creativity I feel came out quite well. Pulling in young talent is a constant source of gnashing whether you’re blogging or running a basketball franchise–but as far as digital marketing goes, it’s time to take the next step from hiring designers and coders who can make things look cool to hiring developers who can form concepts and bring together a team with knowhow to execute higher level things. Software tools. (Like, imagine if Chase built Mint.) There aren’t any great case studies yet as to how these things will look but smart agencies are already thinking beyond microshites to applications.

Here’s the full thing; poke around on the site for more goodies–we were all really proud of the June issue (let me know if you’d like me to send one). I’ve also pasted it below for convenience (erm, and search engines).

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