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January 2007

BIMA: The 2007 Digital State

Bima_2 Last week I attended the latest in the Boston Interactive Media Association's Eyeballs educational series, The 2007 Digital State.

It was a full house at the Marriott Long Wharf, where marketers, publishers and agency folks alike gathered to discuss such hot topics as consumer generated content, blogging, time- and place-shifting, media fragmentation, and how it's all affecting our business.

The panel was [humorously] moderated by TS Kelly of Media Contacts, who in the true spirit of the evening asked audience members to text in their questions throughout the evening on their mobile phones. Panel participants included:

Keynote speaker Josh Tyrangiel, Editor of Time.com, kicked off the evening with a comprehensive look at the changing media landscape and challenged the audience with this bold statement:  "If you don't embrace it, you're dead."

He went on to recount some of the more notorious stories from last year when companies did try to embrace this new world order; some saw success, while others failed miserably. He highlighted Chevy's attemp at consumer generated media (which I blogged about last year and still consider a win, despite the negative responses it elicited). He also mentioned Proctor & Gamble's decision to post its recipes for toothpaste and laundry detergent online, in an effort to leverage the wisdom of crowds and come up with some truly innovative product improvements.

Someone made reference to "Web 3.0" - the additional layer of artificial intelligence on top of content (1.0) and interaction (2.0) - believed to be the next big thing beyond today's social computing construct. But Brian Haven, who is a recognized authority on emerging media and social computing, refutes this numbering schema: he thinks we'll continue to see an ongoing evolution in the Web environment, but no more seismic shifts.

The group also discussed the changing nature of metrics: while 1.0 Web success was generally measured in eyeballs and clicks, 2.0 warrants a closer look at engagement metrics like time, attention, depth, communication, submissions, pass-alongs, etc. Interestingly, no one mentioned leads or sales!

And judging from the audience questions (e.g., "Does podcasting work?"), people are still confusing tools and channels with stand-alone solutions. Podcasting, RSS, and even broadband video - like email before them - are simply distribution mechanisms for your content. If you don't start with compelling and relevant content, then none of these channels will work.

It's too bad BIMA's recent online poll didn't break down the '07 budget allocations to include some of these newer channels; it would have been interesting to see if the Boston audience intends to embrace any of them in the coming year.


Instant/Space: Mail Order Decorating

Paint_palette I got my home decorator fix this morning with the February issue of Domino magazine. I love flipping through their articles for inspiration and take Editor Deborah Needleman's philosophy to heart:

"[Homes are] the foundation of our lives - the better they look and function, the happier the lives we carry on inside them. Ideally, our homes are a souce of strength for dealing with the world outside, and a huge relief from it as well."

And here's good news for home owners/renters who'd like some professional decorator advice, but want to get it on a budget:

Designer Betsy Burnham has launched a program called Instant/Space, a mail-order home decorating service where you simply send in photographs of your room(s), along with some design direction (inspirational tear-sheets, favorite colors or periods, etc.) and in return she'll send a box containing a floor plan, furniture suggestions, fabric swatches, paint palettes, and a concept board showing how it might look. She also provides a list of actual items and places to shop, to help you pull it all together.

Burnham's design ideas take about 6 weeks to develop, and prices range from $750 to $1,250 per room; for more information see BurnhamDesign.com.

When Women Rule the World

Women_vs_men Back in September I received a MySpace message from a casting director at Rocket Science Labs who was looking for women to participate in a new reality program for a then-unnamed "top 4 network."

Here's how she described it:

It's “The Island Project” and basically it’s a show about what would happen if women rather than men ruled the society. It’s totally an amazing opportunity. It’s an all expenses paid (literally EVERYTHING) and you get $20,000 just for participating. I still can't get over that one. We’re looking for smart, articulate, well-educated women who fully believe that a woman can do anything a man can do…except better! It shoots in November. The requirements are as follows:

  • Must be 25-35 years of age.
  • Must have a dynamic personality, be overtly confidant, and hot.
  • Must be single (as in no significant other, legal or otherwise). Although this isn’t a dating show.

While I couldn't imagine skipping out on my job for a month and pursuing such a thing, naturally I was intrigued. So I emailed her back to find out what this was all about, but never heard anything in return. And I forgot all about it.

Until now...

Variety reports that Fox is bringing When Women Rule the World to its network this Spring. From the release:

"You take 12 attractive women who feel like it's still a man's world and who think they've hit a glass ceiling, and you give them their own society to run. Then you take 12 macho, chauvinistic guys who also think men rule the world and see how they survive in a world where they're literally manservants. ... They'll have to obey every command from the women. Last manservant standing will win a quarter of a million dollars."

So...the women (who have to live in the same contestant-built lodging as the men for the duration of this experiment) get $20K and the winning man gets $1 million? And the women are ruling this world?

The creators claim that a desire to turn the tables might be a motivating factor in the women's decision to appear on the show, even without the promise of big money. I have to think the chance to be on television is the real motivator here.

It's also billed as a "social experiment" to test "social mores" and see if women will "be able to create a great society, or end up fighting with each other." It's certainly an experiment, but given that the only requirements are youth, attractiveness, and being unnattached, it's hardly a true battle of the sexes (wouldn't Forbes' 100  Most Powerful Women be somewhere  at the top?!).

God help the women who ended up in the casting call, because I have a bad feeling they are going to look foolish on this show. I'm flattered for the consideration, but think I'll hold out for the Forbes call :)

Abelardo Morrell

I was delighted to recently rediscover the photography of Abelardo Morrell, a Cuban-born Bowdoin grad that has been teaching at the Massachusetts College of Art since 1983, while exhibiting his work all around the world.

I first discovered Morrell in a 1999 edition of the Museum of Fine Arts' Preview magazine, which I still have to this day because I loved his photos so much. His work is typically designed to transform the familiar, forcing viewers to look at everyday things in a different way.

His camera obscura series, in which the outside world is projected upside-down against the wall of a room, are the most fascinating, IMO. Camera obscura (which is Latin for "dark chamber") is a  method by which a room is kept completely in darkness, except for  a small hole of light on one side, through which the image of the world outside will pass through the hole and appear inverted on the room's far side. Like this shot of the Manhattan skyline, project on the walls of an empty room:

Or this one of a farmhouse in England:

 16courtyard_full_1Morrell has multiple upcoming exhibits this year, the closest one an ongoing installation at New York's Fisher Landau Center for Art.

Salt: A World History

SaltWho knew that the everday kitchen compound we call salt was once a form of currency?

Mark Kurlansky did, and he painstakenly documented that and many other random facts in Salt: A World History. The book is detailed look at the crystalline compound we all know and love, from its early days as a form of high-value currency, to its present place in our kitchens, yards, and vocabulary.

I picked up the book because it, like its sister work Cod, was met with rave reviews and spent some time on the NYTimes best sellers list. Some of the highlights:

It's true that before it became commonplace in the home, salt was a highly-valued commodity, often used as currency. In a time before refrigeration and processed foods, salt was a critical component in food preservation, and was a high-priced luxury. In fact, salt cellars on the table were the sign of a wealthy home; they often took elaborate forms that today are considered valuable works of art (like this Cellini salt cellar).Cellini_salt_cellar_1

Salt mines were so elaborate during the 1600s that royalty would descend t0 the mine's core where they would dine in rooms carved entirely from salt, view chapels carved out of salt rock, and use chandeliers carved from salt crystals.

In time, developments in agriculture and canning meant food could be produced and stored throughout the year, decreasing man's reliance on salt for preservation. And while it is no longer considered a high-priced or scarce resource, salt is still ingrained (ha) in our daily lives.

The human body needs salt to function; it helps muscles and nerves work, and regulates blood pressure.

Many common words in our vocabulary are derived from the word salt (or, the Latin sal, to be exact); among them:

  • salad (originally, salted greens)
  • salary (money given to Roman soldiers to buy salt)
  • salacious (for years, salt was thought to be associated with fertility, and thus "salacious" and "salty" became synonyms for lustful)
  • salami (seasoned sausage)

Anglo Saxons called a saltwork a wich, so many of the salt-producing towns in England earned names with the -wich suffix (e.g., Sandwich). (I'm not sure if our present day towns with this suffix trace their histories to salt-production, or are simply carry-overs of European names).

And there are thousands of other uses for the compound, like de-icing roads, cleaning tarnished silver, and relieving tired feed, to name a few.

So salt is a pretty fascinating substance. And while Kurlansky does a good job of bringing these things to light, I found his book tedious at times, and a bit unfocused. Mention of a particular salt-based cuisine, for example, spiralled into a discourse about the region of the world in which it was created, or a related crop or food product (e.g., talk of its early use in Chinese soy sauce led to a lengthy discussion about the soy bean, and Marco Polo's visit to Kublai Khan in China). No doubt intended to amplify the lowly compound's place in history, I found these tangents distracting from the story at hand.


Likemind_1 I'm excited to announce that the likemind coffee mornings popularized by Noah and Piers in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Seattle are finally coming to Boston!

Here's the idea: when a bunch of likeminded folks get together over coffee, brilliant conversation ensues (or as likemind.sf member Karl puts it: "It's kind of like The View for Social Media types").

Gareth Kay and I will co-host likemind.bos on the third Friday of each month at 8am.

The inaugural event will be held on Friday, January 19th, at the Starbucks on 755 Boylston Street.

For a sneak peak, check out the likemind.us Flickr pool and YouTube video:

Hope to see you there!


Advances in technology (cheap broadband, web services, simpler interfaces) have resulted in an explosion in consumer generated content/peer production/collaboration/online networking. Witness: Wikipedia, SecondLife, MySpace, eBay, YouTube, and the forthcoming book, Wikinomics.

Those are just some of the "big guys" that have generated lots of talk in the mainstream media. There are countless other examples flying well below the (mass) radar.

Collectively, these sites and communities caused Wired to proclaim "People Power" the #1 trend in 2006 and Time to name "You" its person of the year. And they caused Ron Bloom to put forth the 5/50 rule back in 2005: that within 5 years, over 50% of content consumed would be created by other consumers. 

I've been following this with much interest, not only because it has a tremendous impact on advertising, marketing, and media, but because it's also having a profound effect on social norms, including the way people meet, interact, collaborate, make decisions, etc. There are hundreds (thousands!) of ideas to delve into on this topic, but I'm going to limit this post to one: Tribewanted.com.

In what Wired terms a "mash up of Survivor, Second Life and a Florida timeshare," Tribewanted.com is an experiment in Internet-enabled Democracy.


An online appeal has been made to recruit 5000 people, who, in exchange for annual dues of about $230, get "citizenship" in a group-built eco-community on the island of Vorovoro, Fiji. Dues include a stay on the island and access to the tribe's website where all governing decisions (elected leaders, designated holidays) are determined via concensus through email and online forums.

From the website:

After the tribe is formed it will start to make important decisions. Every member will be asked to discuss and decide on key Island issues including:

  • What will the Island be called?
  • Who shall be the 12 Chiefs that lead the tribe?
  • What kind of infrastructure will be required on the Island?
  • What kind of Island activities and adventures should be introduced?
  • Should specific days be celebrated in the tribal calendar?
  • Should the tribe educate each other on the Island?

All members will be actively involved in the running of the Island via the online community that will become the tribe's virtual headquarters for Island brainstorming and discussions. Tribe members will have their own profile, their own blog, their own chatroom, and the latest in online community technology.

Wow. That's taking social computing to another level. The community launched back in April, and has 1040 tribe members to date, which doesn't sound like much but is certainly enough to provide for a lively social experiment (as evidenced by their blog and MySpace pages). Students of social media know that a relative few can influence the masses.

Will it work? We'll have to stay tuned to find out.