Archive for October, 2011
A little while ago I posted my excitement about AndroidTO. There’s a special place in me for that conference because it really shows how far hard work and cooperation can take you into building something amazing. Although I didn’t have as much to do with organizing it as last year, instead taking a strictly volunteer role (some of you may recall me directing you to the appropriate room for the Keynote in the morning or checking your coat), I was amazed by how much the conference has grown in just one year.
In it’s inaugural incarnation last year, AndroidTO pulled approximately 200 or so people. This year more than 700 attendees packed the entirety of 99 Sudbury and that’s nothing to sneeze at as that venue is a particularly huge one. The separate streams were helpful in making sure that speakers were addressing a room of people who were genuinely interested in their content. As expected there was a lot to be learned from the speakers and it made for a successful event. The volunteers this year came out in force and ensured things ran smoothly and it all went off without a hitch.
In stark contrast to the organization and general “conference-ness” of AndroidTO, the ensuing HarthFest was a horse of a different colour far removed from the feel of the conference. I don’t know where to begin: the Pan-AM style Harth Airlettes burlesque show with Raymi? The extremely vulgar and profane rapping of Andy Milonakis? Sean Ward‘s tuxedoed MCing? The excellent performance from Tiny Danza, the Toronto Roller Derby girls skating about, or the host of follow up rap acts that followed Milonakis to a decidedly non-hip hip crowd? It was at once absurd, strange, ugly and beautiful. It was a night of random insanity that only the creative minds at Bnotions can conceive of and for a Harth Night veteran like myself, it was all par for the course of the usual HarthTV hijinks, just bigger and at a reasonable hour. I suspect that some people in the room didn’t know what to make of it but I tip my hat to the organizers for doing something very different and unique that breaks the mold of what conferences look like after dark. It was artistic and as silly as it may have been at some points, I believe it was an outward expression of what makes great developers distinguished innovators and, in some cases, legendary game changers: creativity.
Rannie got involved in a new, yet at the same time old-timey endeavour this year: The Tweed Ride in support of Bikes Without Borders. As you are probably well aware of, October is the ramp up month to open season for just about every charity you’ve ever heard of to begin their major fundraising cycles in November. It’s a pretty good move to get the jump on November by fundraising in October to avoid what I call “donor burnout” because come mid-November people are starting to get tapped out with all the benevolence as they start saving up for Christmas gifting.
I appreciate the Tweed Ride because it takes a similar approach to Movember in that it gives fundraisers and donors an activity that appeals to their sense of irony and fun. People love Movember because, simply put, moustaches are hilarious and that one fact is a big reason why there is so much enthusiasm around it. The Tweed Ride gives its fundraisers an excuse to ride around town en masse in 1930s tweed attire while onlookers wonder what on earth is going on. I think my favourite aspect of the ride was that. The faces I saw on people were priceless and I bet that they will be searching the internet to find out what took place last Saturday on the streets of Toronto.
The ride was staged in Trinity Bellwoods Park and had several stops: a photo opp in front of Old City Hall, High Tea in Grange Park, and finally (and most enjoyably) the nightcap at Dovercourt House where, after a delicious chicken dinner, many of us went upstairs for Lindy Hop lessons. Here’s a piece of Stay Classy advice for this week: Go take dance lessons! It’s better than greasy nightclubs, the people are nicer and you WILL meet lots of new people and dance with them. No need for painful pick-up lines here, everyone is just happy to be there learning together. After the dance lessons the dance floor was opened, prizes were awarded (Rannie won a brand new bicycle for raising over $1000! Go Photojunkie!) and we were treated to some big band music stylings by a group called “Sly Balloon.”
Rannie has a great set of pics for the event which I’m sure he’s working on and will put up shortly here. I have a few and it was so hard not to put them all in sepia.
Yes, there was a penny farthing bicycle. Pip pip.
Sly Balloon makes it a swell swingin’ soiree
We were treated to uh… this during high tea at Grange Park.
I wasn’t going to write about Steve Jobs because I knew there would be more than enough coverage on his untimely passing. But one particular post by John Gruber that I read this morning really put things in perspective. Read the short post here before reading on.
I found about it last night just after speaking on a panel about Facebook for Business and the announcement must have come sometime near the end of the panel as Twitter started going crazy. While everyone was schmoozing in the room I seemed to be the only person to check his twitter feed and became the bearer of bad news. Kerry actually hollered “NOOOOOO!” and Daniel Patricio told me that he would always remember the day Steve Jobs died because I was the one who told him.
The same way Daniel will remember Steve’s passing in this way I am reminded of a similarly shocking event: Michael Jackson’s passing in 2009. I’ll never forget it. I was sitting in my mom’s kitchen and my grandmother was visiting from over seas. Growing up I was a huge Michael Jackson fan and my grandma took many photos of me wearing the red leather jacket and rhinestone glove. She too was appreciative of Michael’s impact on music, on racial unity, and world pop culture, so I thought I would tell her that I heard MJ had died and her reply took me by surprise. She said “SO WHAT?! YOUR GRANDFATHER DIED TOO!!” Man, did I ever get messed up by her but her outburst was so profound too. She didn’t have to explain it further, I understood. She had loved her husband for longer than most of us have been alive and then some. She never gave up on him even though Alzheimers had taken hold of him and he began to forget everything and everyone as his case got more and more severe. The patriarch of our family and her life partner had passed on and in comparison Michael Jackson’s passing was, well, unimportant. Her words were humbling and they were words of great wisdom and experience.
There is no doubt that Steve Jobs was an inspiration to many people around the world. My respect for him is immense, as I’m sure yours is too. He had great ideas and changed the way we live. That’s nothing to sneeze at. However, he will be missed by his family and close friends in ways that none of the millions of mourners do now. Steve was a visionary, a leader, a game-changer, even a genius but I’ve never met him. I never broke bread with him, laughed with him, cried with him and if he had lived and I had died, he would never have shed a tear nor would he have known. The only interaction, many times removed, that I’ve ever had with Steve is that I have used his products and read lots about him. My heroes are almost all dead too – Pierre Trudeau, Hunter S. Thompson, Lester Bangs, to name a few – and though I paid my respects to the first two (Lester died when I was 2 years old, so I didn’t know of him till much later), I never knew them. But I still weep for the heroes I knew, like my grandfather and my dad.
It is far better to celebrate the life and achievements of Steve as a symbol because what he did did have an impact on our world by way of his consumer goods and, for some, by way of the celebration and admiration of his passion and his support of innovation in the face of stagnation. If you read Apple’s old “Here’s to the crazy ones” manifesto you know what I’m talking about. I posted it above. But keep in mind that the ones who will really mourn him are the ones who knew him, the real him. He could have been the nicest person in the world or he could have been an egomaniac, but we’ll never know for sure. Steve Jobs spent his final moments with his family and friends who really knew him and that’s what’s important above all. When our time comes we can only hope that our final moments will be with those who love us.
With respect, Rest in peace, Mr. Steve Jobs.
People just love to speculate or wax dogmatic on how different the world of advertising is nowadays but no one has quite hit the nail on the head. I don’t profess to be the one who will finally strike it but I read this article about the future of advertising and I got to thinking about what it all meant. There’s a lot of vagueness and jargon abound today and I have doubts as to whether many of the pundits and pedagogues know what they are talking about when it comes to describing the state of the advertising industry today. I myself can only venture a guess based on what I’ve seen and experienced but in no way do I have the arrogance to suggest that I’ve figured it all out.
I’ve always been close to the ad game and a lot has indeed changed while some things remain the same. The difference to keep note of is that all the change in the ad game is due in large part to external factors while, internally, agencies stay more or less the same. What do I mean? Internally, it’s business as usual in terms of how an agency operates and services clients. Same old story, where agencies hire senior talent mixed with some scrappy juniors and people still change agencies like they change socks. Creative directors and partners still pitch clients as they compete against other agencies for accounts, etcetera, etcetera. If you watch MadMen you can get a general picture.
The big change, I think has been in how agencies approach the market and the people in it. Simply put, people don’t trust brands out of hand anymore and are researching the facts thoroughly before buying anything. Google calls this the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) and it’s one of the big reasons why Adwords and online campaigns in general are part of the frontier now. Furthermore the community itself is setting the trends faster than any agency can come up with and the paradigm has shifted from push strategies to mostly pull.
Before today, say in the heyday of the Madison Ave firms, agencies would help clients sell their product by pitching tailor-made campaigns with the goal of setting and popularizing a new trend or, in some cases, creating a new market altogether. They would push product at you. Using the Mad Men example, Don Draper-type Creative Directors used to think of the general social condition of the public and design a campaign that would at once be palatable to current tastes while also subtly introducing new ones. In effect ad agencies, due in part to their complete control of mediums such as TV and print, could almost tell you what you want, create trust in a brand or company by putting a face on it that lauds its benefits (“they’re grrrreat” or “it’s toasted!”) and, in a lot of cases, do more for a brand’s image than any PR firm could do at the time. People listened to the TV, the Radio and Print, and that was the arena in which brands contended. The prize that agencies fought for in the name of their clients was the hearts and minds of the public on those channels.
In the words of the fictional Don Draper, “What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons.” Not an easy thought to accept but there may be some truth in that. Think about the range of emotions you experience on a daily basis and the limitations of how you express them and you may notice that how you behave is heavily influenced by the society/milieu you grew up in. If you happened to have grown up in a media-rich environment, the ad game has at some point help socialize you to fit into society as we know it. But where they lose control is word of mouth, writ large: social media.
The game has changed today because ad firms do not have complete control over the digital space and the truth is that many firms, especially the legacy agencies alluded to above, don’t seem have a full understanding of the space. Instead of pitching tailor-made campaigns, we see more pitches make heavy use of credential decks and past work examples with nods to web campaigns. The brainstorming, ideation, and campaign work starts after that, a lot of the time only once the agency nails AOR (Agency of Record) for the client. You can’t blame them, though, because while print and TV advertising does work the channels have diversified. What tends to happen nowadays is that firms are playing a game of catch up and are designing campaigns that are more reactive to trends that have appeared completely independent of their control or planning. Viral content, grass root movements, memes, public sentiment on social networks, and a generally more critical public have all but done away with the days where agencies could dictate the market. The Zero Moment of Truth says that your potential customers will now research the crap out of your product before ever setting foot in the store or whipping out their credit card to buy what you’re selling online. So in effect, they’re not listening to you right away, at least not unless your brand jumps headfirst into the social and digital space with effective social campaigns or banner ads (the modern billboard). What drives me nuts is that many agencies seem to think that running a contest on Facebook or Twitter is the new way to create a market for the product and get into the community, but does it really create brand loyalty the way it was done in the past with traditional pull and push strategies? I think not.
Why are the highly successful ads completely absurd and escapist – like Old Spice. Well, the new human condition seems to be escapism, tech-savviness, Google searches, the Boomerang Generation (A.K.A. Peter Pan syndrome) and pseudo-expertise.
Is this the human condition created by ad agencies who finally “get it” or have the agencies been forced to conform to sell more deodorant?
It seems that there is a universally accepted icon for just about anything online these days. Checkins have that pin and map, links are typically a chain, delete is a trashcan or “x”, twitter is a bird, and so on.
Although some icons have double meanings, both are usually known across the web and are understandable within the context of the site or web app where they reside. With the popularity of blogs you would think a universal blog icon would have been in use for some time now but as far as I know there isn’t one. It’s probably difficult because conceptualizing what a “blog” (short for “weblog,” as you likely already know) is in itself difficult. A blogger gets inspired, types up a blog post, adds multimedia, shares it out to the web and social nets, and people read it. So how does one create an icon that pulls from all those actions? Also what about RSS feeds, a blogger’s lifeline in a lot of cases when s/he wants to keep people coming back with each new post?
Does an icon designer try to cram in the universally accepted thought bubble and keyboard icons for the ideation and typing part of the blogging process? The “add a picture” icon for multimedia, and the “sharethis” icon with the RSS feed radio waves? Surely not. Also, as blogs are often about the personality or subject matter behind them, how does one account for that? I think the reason why there isn’t a universally accepted icon is because blogs are hard to define in simple terms. Blog are all about content and that’s a very all-encompassing term that’s just too broad to put into an icon. Blogs can be repositories of all things internet and have a way of taking pieces of the larger pie that is the web and news sources and breaking it down to more digestible morsels by way of commentary, news feeds, satire, or reflection. Mashable understood this from day 1 and owes its success to being a central hub/mashup of the goings-on on the web.
Icons are generally very literal and therein lies the problem in this case, hence it’s not surprising that no one has really, come up with the “blog icon.” If Blogger/Blogspot didn’t trademark it’s logo, I think that would have been more or less suitable as a universal blog icon but WordPress is the king of blog platforms now and there’s no getting around the “W” as a brand logo rather than a universal one.
I was searching around and came upon a site owned by one “Brendan Mitchell” who, back in 2008, threw together the icon you see above. You can find the site at theblogicon.com. Sure, the icon proposed is somewhat derivative (it looks like the old “b” from Birdhouse Skateboards mixed with the RSS icon) but it’s so far the only real effort I’ve seen in trying to solve the blog icon problem. At the very least the radio waves taken from the RSS icon is apt as just about every blog has an RSS feed, so it makes some sense to me. Mitchell as also gone through the trouble of putting up all the Illustrator files in varying sizes and variations and allowing free usage of the icon with no restrictions. You can also just grab the gifs and pngs here individually. Apparently a Spanish site by the name of “Hipertextos“ came up with a very similar one but the differences are negligible. Both Mitchell and Hipertestos are aware of each other and are happy to share their icons equally as “icon brothers” – again the icons are almost identical anyway. I think if enough people start using any one icon, even this one, the icon will become truly universal or someone with way more artistic ability and inspiration than is fathomable will make something truly awesome and sort this out once and for all. In the mean time I’ll be using this icon in my endeavours. Feel free to follow suit if you also have found yourself in the same predicament when trying to represent the noble blog as an icon across your web presence or in print.