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Human writable, Machine readable: QR codes

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Physical tokens, digital presence

New shirt idea: QR a QT!

I figure I can start writing about an emerging technology once it hits Kanye West’s blog.

From my rigorous research, I learned that Q(uick) R(esponse) codes are like barcodes, with information that you can scan, decode, and get some kind of data from — usually a website, text, or an image.

They’re cheap to make and use, and you can slap them on billboards, mugs, paper, virtually any surface (spray painted onto asphalt, collated into a “living book“).

You use a a mobile phone as a decoder to snap the QR’s picture, and decode the information that will lead you somewhere else in the digital world. If the purpose of QR sounds vague and open-ended, that’s cause it is!

For a QR scanner, try the Kaywa Reader. If anything, you should check out the illustrated “story” on the home page, which explains QR as a treasure-hunt serendipity factor for nerds, with the closing moral being “The early nerd gets the QR code!”


On a trendspotting note, I have yet to see QR codes out and about in everyday life. How will I ever get that micro-platform-blogging dream job like Susanne above??

Big in Japan

Japan’s had QR forever (from Denso-Wave’s work for the Japanese auto manufacturing industry in the mid-1990’s) but it’s now resurfacing, likely tied to the rise of personal mobile phone use. QR codes are often used as a promotional tactic — gaining you entrance to “Try-vertising” sampling salons in Tokyo, for example.

If you’re not a big ad agency, perhaps you’re using QR codes to help mobile technology in developing countries. In India, 40% of the rural population are illiterate. This population is challenged the text-based format and confusing iconography of mobile phones. Experience design consultancy Adaptive Path came up with a video sketch for MobileGlyph, a system of using QR codes to capture photos and information about contacts that can be used in an easy user interface, without having to rely on text or numbers.

Personal Branding

For a BRAND YOU bent, Emma Cott turns QR codes into wearable art “through a beautiful and elegant code concealing your hidden message.” In other words, you customize a QR code and stick it on a t-shirt or a button. The open code creator is simple: enter your URL website, pick a motive (HIRE ME, ADD ME, DATE ME, BUY ME, or customize your own) and out comes a custom generated QR patch.

Here’s mine for Indienomics. (Besides “Hire Me”, I can think of some other motivations I want to silently and mysteriously communicate to people. Ahem.)

emmacott indie

Emotional design

QR codes are kind of ugly, aren’t they? The Marc Jacobs one is cute only because it’s blocked by a cute illustration of “Miss Marc.” I think the design aesthetic flaw of the QR code is a small part of what Microsoft Tag is trying to conquer. No ugly, black-and-white pixelated squares there! You can create, customize, and color your own series of machine readable codes…. even using, yes, PowerPoint as a design tool! (The design aspect is no small part of our perception of a product’s functionality. This is why Donald Norman’s Emotional Design book is on my reading list. And also because Matt mentioned it.)

“Miss Marc” QR code for Japanese mobile website, launching today.
via Hypebeast

**7/2/09 UPDATE:
Vizitag, a startup in the “mobile tag management system” industry, had a good FAQ that answered at least two of my questions:

I Already Have a Website – Why Do I Need Vizitags?

These days, every business has a website chock full of content but you have to find it, visit it and search it to find what you want. Vizitags are designed for the ‘mobile generation’ who expect instant information gratification via the phone they carry with them everywhere.

In practice it doesn’t take much longer to load the reader and snap a tag as to load a browser and click a bookmark to go to a web page. The difference is that snapping a Vizitag will display some very specific and useful information immediately on your mobile and/or email you some targeted content that you can refer to straightaway or later.

What’s the Difference Between a Vizitag and Barcodes/RFID?

Barcodes are normally used to identify products – for example for the purposes of pricing them, stock taking or asset management. Barcodes usually require fixed or handheld scanning hardware and convert a specific alphanumeric code – like a Universal Product Code (UPC) – into a black-and-white bar image.

A RFID chip is a piece of hardware that can act in passive or active mode to be read or to read/write data and requires fixed or handheld readers. RFID chips are often used to track products through a supply chain for inventory control and lifecycle tracking purposes. Unlike a Vizitag, RFID chips cost money to buy the device itself. They are also more vulnerable to damage and therefore could be subject to replacement costs.


Written by @hellopanelo

July 1, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Gestalt advertising

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Frank J. Oswald’s latest Mental Shavings post is about the new Scientology commercial: Chocolate and Football Games

Frank notes: “Of the smattering of comments on YouTube, nearly all are positive, like this one: ‘This makes one of my friends cry every time. So beautiful and so true.’ ”

Filmmakers know that any sweeping montage of opposites — life, death, up, down, yin, yang — tends to have that tearjerker effect.

Or at least some kind of awe-inspiring, holistic, gestalt effect, like those commercials for multi-national conglomerates. These are the Koyaanisqatsi type clips of ships, airliners, wind turbines, planets… The viewer asks, “What does this company do?” The campaign says, “What we do is everything.” (Think Dow, GE)

Who doesn’t like a good, random collection of nouns? Shoes, ships, sealing wax, cabbages, and kings. I dare you to read one page of Adrian LeBlanc’s Random Family and not be spurred on to read the next 100 pages, just to see where all these nouns lead. Perhaps to chocolate and football games… roast beef, and trampolines.

Written by @hellopanelo

June 25, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Layoff schwag: the curious pile of left-behinds

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roulette industries

roulette industries

In the office kitchen, there’s a table crowded with knick-knacks and odd-ends, like the forgotten corner in a yard sale. Old books, plastic flowers, a vase, a bowl, several variations on a paperweight.

Upon closer inspection, you realize these are the desk remains of colleagues recently departed — most of them involuntarily, part of the fallout of an organization shedding layers to improve efficiency.

One book left behind was the above 1998 Cambridge Press title, Entertainment Industry Economics: A Guide for Financial Analysis by Harold Vogel. I flipped through it and immediately knew it would be one of my more, well, entertaining reading projects.

This book interests me for a few reasons:

1. It provides the economic theories/realities behind contemporary entertainment industries. It’s a financial analyst’s perspective of pricing structures, revenue models, distribution methods, and other considerations that an MBA would need to know, but may not be as apparent to the person marketing these industries. Someone like me, pursuing an MS in Strategic Communications, is used to approaching these industries from a narrow marketing perspective. This book is like a transparency filter to me, and fills in a lot of gaps I had about these industries. On the marketing side, I knew there were a lot of missing answers, but I didn’t know how to ask the right questions.

2. Because this is a real economics book, it does go more into the social sciences aspect of entertainment itself. The introduction dives into conceptual differences between “leisure” and “work” and the sociological factors that have increased our time for entertainment and the cultural place it holds in American society.

3. The book is tightly-written in the language of finance — macroeconomics, profitability synopses, corporate overviews, big-picture accounting — but is easily grasped as a simple narrative. I credit Vogel for striking a good balance of intellectual depth with accessible readability. As Edith told us (from Zinsser’s book On Writing Well), the simpler your words, the smarter you sound.

4. If the internet is a time machine, old books are the way-way-back machine. This book was written over a decade ago and it’s so much fun to read sections on the Music industry or the Broadcast industry or Motion Pictures and laugh about all the things the analysts never even saw coming! (Retro Futurism in general is a fun genre, looking at the past’s idea of the future, often involving flying cars and other imagined flights. My favorite retro-future concept involves food — surprise! — as featured in The Gallery of Regrettable Food, including some real culinary puzzlers from mid-century America… weiners in a sea of beans, anyone?)

I recommend this as required reading for anyone in or entering the entertainment industry, to get a lay of the land and understand the economic forces behind it all. This text doesn’t look readily available for mass market purchase, but you can preview the latest edition of this book (2007) on Google Reader or find it at the library.

On second thought, I guess this type of analysis is readily available from research consultants like Forrester’s or Deloitte, who routinely publish their industry outlooks as their core business. I prefer the book and its physical presence though. The weight feels appropriate — 500 pages, bound and covered, in your hand.

Written by @hellopanelo

April 23, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Think global, act hyperlocal:

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Seen in NYC:

(Twitpic posted by Jack Cheng)

This is when an open-source GPS system could come in handy… especially if you’ve ever tried the steamed pork buns at Momofuku.

(Do you think star chef David Chang uses Google Latitude?)

This outdoor ad promotes a beta website for “Locals Only” — NBC’s attempt at hyperlocalism for the true NYC insider. It’s a familiar tune: big media giant attempts to be smaller, friendlier to the consumer, now that the consumer has many more options than the old giants of broadcast television.

John Wallace, president of NBC Local Media, confirmed:

“Our goal was to create a new type of user experience that’s less an extension of our TV stations and more of an online destination for the latest local news, information and entertainment. These sites are about putting consumers first and giving them the content they’re looking for from the best available sources.”

(link to press release here)

In the same release, Brian Buchwald, Senior Vice President of NBC Local Integrated Media, defines the target audience as Social Capitalists: “people who loved their cities, embrace change and have a huge appetite for local news and information.” It’s less a demographic than “a state of mind,” according to Buchwald, which I’m sure frustrates marketers who can’t run quant research on “states of mind” as accurately as they can demographics.

NBC joins the hyperlocal-experimenting ranks of the New York Times, who recently started “The Local”, a blog with a beat that’s only interesting to residents of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, in Brooklyn. NYT’s attempt at a hyperlocal blog is criticized by some who see it as a useless intrusion of a big brand into a space already populated by grassroots residents of those neighborhoods.

I see it as a place where I can potentially see news about block-specific events that would never make any other news, but would satisfy my morbid curiosities about why there were two accidents two days in a row on the intersection in front of my apartment, for example. (Edith, I hope you’re not reading my blog, I don’t know where that runon sentence came from!)

The stuff of hyperlocal blogs: selling illegal turtles on Flatbush and Fulton.
(story and photo here)

I’m reminded of small-town newspaper clippings — from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama — sent to me as charmingly anecdotal jokes, reminders of what is “news” in small towns.

Written by @hellopanelo

April 12, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Please keep your hands inside the moment at all times

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The concept of now can be a zen-like experience. In this “website” (in quotes, because I’m not quite sure what to call it) from Sprint, now washes over you like a trance.

Drone-like music, punctuated by an attractive android voice that every so often, has some cryptic metaphysical statement:

“It is currently now in all time zones”
“How about a big bowl of now”
“All aboard the now machine”
“This point in time will self-destruct now”

Sprint certainly has a sharp marketing team, as evidenced by the website above, and this clever, infographic-intensive TV spot for their 4G network, the Now network. I mean, the commercial mentions Twitter, which I’ve never seen in any brand’s national TV campaign. That alone is some kind of savvy, as evidenced by the commercial itself saying 26% of the people watching it don’t know what Twitter is.

After John Keenan’s talk on wireless technology this week, I realized there’s this whole backstory to emerging technology that’s playing out among the big telecommunications giants. We, the end-user consumers, have no idea what’s at stake, who can win and who can lose, depending on how new technology is managed and distributed.

Now that I know more about this technology backstory, it’s interesting to see how the major players (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile) are approaching their advertising campaigns. I’m going to keep my eye out for those who are marketing to the power of the technology (robust networks, fancy phone hardware) and those who are marketing to more immediate consumer needs (price and minute value, “Fave Fives” social networks, games).

Also, can somebody tell me whose job it is to design a website like Sprint’s now? I want that job!

Buckle up and enjoy the millisecond!

*EDIT: Just configured my iGoogle page (thanks to Danny). It’s basically like the Sprint NOW page…

Written by @hellopanelo

April 11, 2009 at 11:24 pm

Take this equation and run

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(limited editions x low prices) + the internet = art for everyone

That’s the formula Jen Bekman used to launch 20×200, a website that spotlights 2 new art pieces a week, priced from $20 up, according to size.

If you’re 1) an art-world outsider and 2) broke like me, shopping for art is not easy. You get your big-box retailers selling you mass market wares (Ikea, Crate and Barrel, Urban Outfitters) or you have to do a lot of hunting on your own: roaming the street markets of SoHo or paying admission to art shows to haggle for pieces.

In contrast, websites like 20×200 offer enjoyable, laid-back browsing. You get to read a little about the artist and their inspiration for the work. You can browse high-res photos of the work, and detailed information about the edition, pricing, and quantity.

It’s a great example of a traditionally offline market (the buying and selling of art) taking advantage of an online space and adjusting for how people engage with prospective purchases on the web. 20×200’s U/X design (user experience design) is spot on, as illustrated by their awesome and deceptively simple infographic for estimating print size:


Written by @hellopanelo

April 2, 2009 at 11:45 am

A touch of humanity: the cult of the “handmade”

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Artisan cheese

Happy, factory cheese

Happy, factory cheese

In a time before Twitter and Facebook, there was… cheese.
Old-fashioned, hand-made cheese, long before factories could produce “cheese products” packaged in aerosol cans and individually-wrapped cellophane packets.

Industry trade mag Dairy Field reports that artisan cheesemakers are responding to evolving consumer desires — a subtle rejection of factory-produced goods:

Cheesemaker Valerie Thomas of Winchester, CA-based Winchester Cheese Co., cites other factors — most notably an innate, often unspoken, desire to return to a simpler time, before wireless phones and Blackberries.

“The time is right for artisan cheese makers to be successful because the general population is receptive to remembering when things were made by hand,” Thomas says.

So have an artisan cheese, wash it down with an artisan beer, while you lounge in your artisan socks, knitted by a collective of Swiss grandmothers who create and sell on-demand knitwear on the web.

The tailored suit: the measure of a man

Actor Ryan Gosling arrives

Actor Ryan Gosling arrives

A tailored suit signals your arrival. A bespoke tailoring for a man is the equivalent of women’s haute couture (French, “high sewing,” “high dressmaking”).

The word “bespoke” describes this industry of made-to-measure fittings, where the end user receives a product that is highly specialized, not mass market. Today, bespoke industries are popping up around cars, shoes, software, even financial products.

But in this economy, tailored suits and custom cars aren’t as accessible as the the bespoke sandwich.

City Sub sandwiches

City Sub #19: Ham, Salami, Provolone

City Sub #19: Ham, Salami, Provolone

Forget Subway, enter bespoke sandwichmaker City Sub. Once you have the latter, it’s hard to go back to the former.

City Sub’s tailored sandwiches — using quality ingredients and a methodical layering process — can “restore your faith in American craftsmanship.” That’s according to Gene B., a reviewer of City Sub on the website Yelp.

I’m not sure how old Gene B. is, but he sure misses that old-time sandwich-making process. In a post-factory age, we’re nostalgic for things still made by human hands.

“Watching the staff quietly and efficiently turn all those crazy orders into beautifully rendered sandwiches is a glimpse into the past, and what Old New York used to be.”

Written by @hellopanelo

March 29, 2009 at 1:17 pm