will.i.am on chips talking to chips

In a post last year, I paraphrased a quote, “If you are not paying for a product, you are the product.” Will.i.am recently updated this quote with the line,

You are either the person getting pimped, or you’re the person doing the pimping.

The video below of will.i.am from the Black-Eyed Peas speaking with John Battelle at a recent conference he hosted in LA has been looping away in my mind for the past week. In it, he questions the 80/20 revenue split with Apple of iTunes digital distribution as something left over from the days of Tower Records when distribution meant up-front manufacturing commitments, inventory stocking, and shipping of physical goods. The fact that record publishers still keep this uneven split for digital “licensing” to places such as iTunes is the, “dirty secret nobody’s talking about.”

will.i.am’s description of how the Black-Eyed Peas negotiated a new type of advertising unit for the Super Bowl and collaborated with Marc Benioff and Salesforce to promote Chatter.com through the mini-site thebabypeas.com is a glimpse at how switched on celebrities are using modern tools to manage their brand without the help (or interference or commissions) by an agency.

But the most visionary thing and something I keep coming back to is will.i.am’s vision of the next generation internet. It’s a world where brand “alliances” pool together to subsidize content producers. A world where, “chips talk to chips” without a middleman to make the free flow of content seamless and automatic. In this new world, a collection of devices will marry themselves to a library of content and work seamlessly together.

Extended further, it’s a world in which we no longer need the internet to connect us all. When you text someone next to you, why do you need to connect to a cell tower and send the message over a network only to round trip it right back again. If you extend the chips-talking-to-chips metaphor, why not just have the phone turn itself into the modern version of a walkie-talkie and beam the message right over? Bluetooth and NFC have started this vision but taken further, why can’t cellphones self-organize into mini-networks so that a group of phones together could share information without having to connect to the cloud?

Three Schools of Thought on the Internet

Adam Gopnik has a survey in this week’s New Yorker running down a few of the recent books about the internet and divides them into three schools of thought:

  1. The Never-Betters believe that we’re on the brink of a new utopia, where information will be free and democratic, news will be made from the bottom up, love will reign, and cookies will bake themselves.
  2. The Better-Nevers think that we would have been better off if the whole thing had never happened, that the world that is coming to an end is superior to the one that is taking its place, and that, at a minimum, books and magazines create private space for minds in ways that twenty-second bursts of information don’t.
  3. The Ever-Wasers insist that at any moment in modernity something like this is going on, and that a new way of organizing data and connecting users is always thrilling to some and chilling to others—that something like this is going on is exactly what makes it a modern moment.

Seeing the title of this blog is everwas, I think you know where I come in. The arrival of the internet and hopes and fears that we collectively foist upon this new technology is something we’ve seen before.

Commuters in Tokyo, Absorbed in the Cell Phones

The printing press, the telephone, the radio, the television, the internet, and now the cell phone. Each successive wave of communications technology push and pulls our society to new behaviors. I read somewhere when the telephone was first introduced, no one knew how to start a conversation with the person on the other end of the line. For a few years, “Ahoy!” was the commonly adopted opener, choosing to go with nautical terminology maybe to acknowledge the fact that we were all sailing into new waters together.

Eventually we adopt and assimilate the new technology into our daily life much like the body develops an immunity to a new virus. We grow stronger and learn to control our tools rather than let them control us. What was once shiny and new becomes less so. Gopnik continues to draw the arc of history,

Yet everything that is said about the Internet’s destruction of “interiority” was said for decades about television, and just as loudly. Jerry Mander’s “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television,” in the nineteen-seventies, turned on television’s addictive nature and its destruction of viewers’ inner lives; a little later, George Trow proposed that television produced the absence of context, the disintegration of the frame—the very things, in short, that the Internet is doing now. And Bill McKibben ended his book on television by comparing watching TV to watching ducks on a pond (advantage: ducks), in the same spirit in which Nicholas Carr leaves his computer screen to read “Walden.”

Now television is the harmless little fireplace over in the corner, where the family gathers to watch “Entourage.” TV isn’t just docile; it’s positively benevolent. This makes you think that what made television so evil back when it was evil was not its essence but its omnipresence. Once it is not everything, it can be merely something. The real demon in the machine is the tirelessness of the user. A meatless Monday has advantages over enforced vegetarianism, because it helps release the pressure on the food system without making undue demands on the eaters. In the same way, an unplugged Sunday is a better idea than turning off the Internet completely, since it demonstrates that we can get along just fine without the screens, if only for a day.

Further Reading (I’ve added a few books of my own, feel free to suggest more in the comments):

Adam Gopnik, How the Internet Gets Inside Us, The New Yorker

Never-Betters

Better-Nevers

Ever-Wasers

Nike Cosplay in Akihabara

When it comes to Japan, they just do things different here. The video below is actually several years old but is a brilliant piece of advertising. Produced for NikeiD to promote their custom design shoe line.

Mobile in Japan – ON FIRE!

comScore released their Mobile Year in Review report for 2010 which, for some reason, includes Japan for the first time this year. Japan has been years ahead of other markets for some time now and their findings, summarized in the graph above, confirm that. In their words, Japan is, “perhaps one of the most mature and sophisticated mobile markests int he world.” Other highlights:

  • In December 2010 (that’s just 31 days folks!) 9.8 million users in Japan made a purchase using their mobile wallet software embedded in their phone. 9.8 million!
  • 76.8% used “connected media” vs. 46 % in the US and 41% in the EU. I have a tweet into @comscore to get details on how they define “connected media” and will update when I hear back.

I clearly have to figure out how to get my butt over to Japan.

Update : I never did hear back from ComScore but Rudy De Waele of @mtrends helpfully defines connected media as “browsed, accessed applications, or downloaded content” which basically means email, games, streaming video, and any application that pulls down bits from the network. Makes me wonder what the remaining 59% in the EU and 54% in US are doing on their phone. Voice, SMS, and Snake?

Japanese Train Infographics

Japanese trains are the paragon of efficiency. During peak rush hour, 11-car commuter trains rumble in and out of stations at 90-second intervals. There is no room for error. Everyone needs to know where to go.

So, when the trains were fitted with interactive displays, on the inside, over each doorway, information designers set to work jamming them with useful information for their captive audience.

Yamanote Line Infographic

In the graphic above, which switches between Japanese and English, you see the following pieces of information:

  1. Destination of train and next stop.
  2. Car number.
  3. Location of stairs, escalators, and elevators in relation to your car and which exit they lead to.
  4. Which side doors will open at the next station (important if you need to start squeezing your way through the crowd to get out).
  5. Name of other train lines served by the next station.

That’s a lot of information to absorb. The efficiency of information design has caught the eye of a blogger at Sun as well. A couple more examples below.

Showing destination and car number.
Showing destination and minutes to next station
Showing next station and minutes to each station on the line.
Showing which side doors open at the next station.

Coca-Cola’s Secret Recipe

Could this be Coca-Cola’s secret recipe? NPR’s weekly radio, This American Life, show dusts off an old newspaper article from 1979 which featured the photo scanned below.

On the episode (podcast), Ira Glass works with the folks at Jones Soda and tries to recreate the original recipe which includes things such as coriander and neroli oil. Fast Company has a post by the son of Charles Salter, the Georgia Rambler, who filed the original story and took the photo above for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Secret Coke Recipe on “This American Life?” My Dad Found That.

IBM Watson on Jeopardy

In a brilliant piece of PR, IBM Research stormed back on the scene matching their artificial intelligence computer, Watson, against top contestants of the popular American game show, Jeopardy. On February 14, 15, and 16 Watson’s competes against two humans on live television.

According a piece on Wired’s Epicenter blog, 25 IBM scientists spent four years building Watson. “Powered by 90 IBM Power 750 servers, Watson uses 15 terabytes of RAM, 2,880 processor cores and can operate at 80 teraflops, or 80 trillion operations per second”  The database of content upon which Watson draws its “knowledge” is from over 200 million pages from reference texts, movie scripts, entire encyclopedias, as well as, Wikipedia.

How did Watson do?

After the first day, Watson is tied with Ken Jennings for the lead at $5,000, beating out  Brad Rutter who has $2,000. For details on the game and some behind the scenes of what was going on, listen to the interview with Stephen Baker on Arik Hesseldahl’s post on All Things Digital.

Footage from a practice round back in January below.

More details at the IBM Watson mini-site and a documentary on Nova, Smartest Machine on Earth.