A well executed commercial for a mobile phone in Japan - Johan Sebastian Bach's 'Jesu Man of Joy Descending' played on a really wide xylophone and a ball. Enjoy :)
A well executed commercial for a mobile phone in Japan - Johan Sebastian Bach's 'Jesu Man of Joy Descending' played on a really wide xylophone and a ball. Enjoy :)
|Putting It All Into Context|
|Jesse Chenard, Mar 31, 2011 01:15 PM|
|As each phase of online offerings prove, there are many reasons we spend an increasing amount of time searching, emailing, connecting with friends, colleagues and family, and entertaining ourselves with the amazing array of options available via a browser or mobile app.
What state of mind are you in when you read your favorite news source, check sports scores, or gossip sites? What about when you are in the market for something (could be a car, could be a new recipe for dinner, information on health matters, whatever) or when you just need to connect, to feel like the people, places and opinions that matter most to you are close and accessible?
Despite all the digital analytics, it's surmising your state of mind that is the ultimate goal: are you searching car sites because you are in market or because you just love to see new cars, or maybe you need to know what is coming down the pike in automotive offerings because your job requires it?
What emotions are triggered by content is why endemic advertising is so highly prized. Knowing someone is actively engaged reading about new car models is one indicator that they may be in market for purchasing a car soon. Medical information about specific conditions is valuable to marketers of medicine for that condition because people who have the condition, or those that treat them, read it closely. That's why one of the most time-honored ways advertisers choose to engage with their intended customers is via association with content that triggers emotions, matching what the marketer hopes to activate - association and action because the state of mind is ripe for what the marketer is offering.
When considering context, online widens the options for marketers in surprising ways. When your message is associated with content that is aligned with your message, the 'halo' effect heightens the message's impact. For example, most of us care about safety features in the cars we drive, but it's not necessarily the only reason we choose to buy one model over another. While reading an article on safety measures for children, ads highlighting features specifically about car models and brands in the context of safety can greatly increase engagement and improve brand metrics for the advertisers.
Since few can afford to place their message indiscriminately to the fragmented masses, consider all options of filtering to find your ideal consumer at the ideal time. This has been the promise that's fueled mobile marketing's growth for years now. It's also why audience segment targeting is widely used. However, in the rush to target exactly the right people at the exact right time, we sometimes overlook the most powerful association available: contextually relevant content.
Bottom line: if you put your brand in context, within content that is aligned with your product or service, and associated with the brand promise, you will gain valuable impact. Just because placing ads in context within specific content is an age-old technique for heightening advertiser results, doesn't mean it's no longer valuable. Indeed, today's fragmented audience and marketplace make context even more important than ever.
IN an uncharted world of boundless data, information designers are our new navigators.
They are computer scientists, statisticians, graphic designers, producers and cartographers who map entire oceans of data and turn them into innovative visual displays, like rich graphs and charts, that help both companies and consumers cut through the clutter. These gurus of visual analytics are making interactive data synonymous with attractive data.
“Statistics,” says Dr. Hans Rosling, a professor of international health at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, “is now the sexiest subject around.”
Dr. Rosling is a founder of Gapminder, a nonprofit group based in Stockholm that works to educate the public about disparities in health and wealth around the world — by offering animated interactive statistics online that help visitors spot trends on their own.
Hit the play button and an animated graphic, called Gapminder World, shows a constellation of brightly colored bubbles, each representing a different country, bouncing along over two centuries. Without ever having to view yawn-inducing numbers on gross domestic product per capita, you can watch some countries, like the United States, rapidly growing healthier and wealthier before your eyes while smaller bubbles, for countries like Congo, rise on the life expectancy axis even as they dip on the income line.
The advanced animation has let Dr. Rosling make wonky statistics about poverty as intuitive and potentially fascinating for viewers as a nature program about the Serengeti on TV. “If we show a herd of zebras, and one zebra has a bad leg and lags behind, you can see that immediately,” says Dr. Rosling, whose video clip from the BBC on health and wealth statistics has been viewed more than four million times on YouTube. “If one country gets left behind, you can see that, too.”
Visual analytics play off the idea that the brain is more attracted to and able to process dynamic images than long lists of numbers. But the goal of information visualization is not simply to represent millions of bits of data as illustrations. It is to prompt visceral comprehension, moments of insight that make viewers want to learn more.
The growing field has implications for companies, governments, academic institutions, nonprofit groups, news organizations and marketers — just about anybody who tries to convey huge amounts of information in visual, interactive forms. But advances, he says, come with both benefits and risks.
On the benefit side, people become more engaged when they can filter information that is presented visually and make discoveries on their own.
On the risk side, Professor Shneiderman says, tools as powerful as visualizations have the potential to mislead or confuse consumers. And privacy implications arise, he says, as increasing amounts of personal, housing, medical and financial data become widely accessible, searchable and viewable.
“The visual analytics research community works on these issues,” he says, “but more needs to be done.”
In the 1990s, Professor Shneiderman developed tree mapping, which uses interlocking rectangles to represent complicated data sets. The rectangles are sized and colored to convey different kinds of information, like revenue or geographic region, says Jim Bartoo, the chief executive of the Hive Group, a software company that uses tree mapping to help companies and government agencies monitor operational data. When executives or plant managers see the nested rectangles grouped together, he adds, they should be able to immediately spot anomalies or trends.
In one tree-map visualization of a sales department on the Hive Group site, red tiles represent underperforming sales representatives while green tiles represent people who exceeded their sales quotas. So it’s easy to identify the best sales rep in the company: the biggest green tile. But viewers can also reorganize the display — by region, say, or by sales manager — to see whether patterns exist that explain why some employees are falling behind.
“It’s the ability of the human brain to pick out size and color” that makes tree mapping so intuitive, Mr. Bartoo says. Information visualization, he adds, “suddenly starts answering questions that you didn’t know you had.”
For entertainment value, the Hive Group has also posted a tree map of the 100 most popular songs on iTunes, updated every 24 hours.
The fact that serious software companies are now tree mapping the pop charts is a sign that data visualization is no longer just a useful tool for researchers and corporations. It’s also an entertainment and marketing vehicle.
In 2009, for example, Stamen Design, a technology and design studio in San Francisco, created a live visualization of Twitter traffic during the MTV Video Music awards. In the animated graphic, floating bubbles, each displaying a photograph of a celebrity, expanded or contracted depending on the volume of Twitter activity about each star. The project provided a visceral way for viewers to understand which celebrities dominated Twitter talk in real time, says Eric Rodenbeck, the founder and creative director of Stamen Design.
Information visualization has changed substantially in the 10 years since the studio has been in business, Mr. Rodenbeck says. Designers once created visual representations of data that would steer viewers to information that seemed the most important or newsworthy, he says; now they create visualizations that contain attractive overview images and then let users direct their own interactive experience — wherever it may take them.
“It’s not about leading with a certain view anymore,” he says. “It’s about delivering the view that gets the most participation and engagement.”
TO that end, the company has just introduced an initial version of mondowindow.com, a site that shows airline passengers a detailed satellite map of the landscape they are flying over — and lets them direct the view.
For passengers with Wi-Fi access who enter their airline and flight number on the site, mondowindow.com displays more than just the terrain below. It also offers information bubbles highlighting different place names, local landmarks and tourist attractions like schools and botanical gardens, and photos of native fauna, like a blue jay.
On the ground, we may live in a world of T.M.I. — too much information. But Stamen Design is betting that we will relish rich images of ground data when we are flying several miles high.
It shows a flame changing colour from blue to purple as a multicoloured chemicals bubble in a series of pots and test tubes while steam flies out of a coffee pot.
Born in Gottingen, Germany, on March 31 1811, Robert Wilhelm Eberhard Bunsen was a prominent chemist in his day who discovered the elements caesium and rubidium and developed the Bunsen cell battery.
But he is best remembered for the distinctive gas burner he developed with his laboratory assistant Peter Desaga in 1854 and 1855 to study the colour spectrum of different heated elements.
It was during the construction of new lab facilities at Heidelberg University that he came up with the idea.
By Lucy Kellaway
Published: March 27 2011 15:52 | Last updated: March 27 2011 15:52
On the lavatory wall of a colleague’s flat in Hong Kong hangs a framed letter. It is written on HSBC notepaper, and dated January 22, 1998. “Dear Sir,” it begins. “Please note that we have had occasion to return your cheque due to insufficient funds in the above account. This state of affairs is most unsatisfactory and the practice of issuing cheques without first ensuring that there are sufficient funds to meet them must cease forthwith, otherwise it will be necessary for your account in our books to be closed.
“Yours faithfully, P. Mandal, assistant manager customer deposits, Bangalore branch.”
In displaying this letter in such a prominent place, my colleague was seeking to amuse his visitors with its Indian-English verbosity. In reprinting it here, I have a grander purpose. For all its stiff wording, it is the best letter to a customer I’ve ever seen. It sums up everything that used to be good about banking, but which has got hopelessly lost. Indeed, if all bankers still behaved like P. Mandal, there would have been no financial crisis.
For him, banking was a solemn matter, where prudence was all- important. In his world, there was none of the dodgy stuff that all banks now routinely engage in: pretending the customer is king while fleecing them if they go into the red, and investing their money in incomprehensible and ruinous financial instruments. Instead, recalcitrant customers were given a thorough telling off – which made them behave better. My colleague tells me that he has, indeed, ceased his unsatisfactory behaviour forthwith: he has not bounced a cheque since January 1998.
It all makes one wish P. Mandal had been transported from Bangalore to the London HQ and made chief executive instead of Sir John Bond. The Indian banker would never in a million years have agreed to the £9bn takeover of Household, the US subprime lender it bought in 2002. He would have cast one eye over the loan book with its millions of dodgy customers who could not afford their mortgages and said he wanted nothing to do with them.
But it is not just his prudence I like. It’s his writing style, too. Though somewhat pompous, it is short and to the point. And despite its threatening message, it is immaculately polite. “This state of affairs is most unsatisfactory” is a delightful and useful phrase that deserves to be rehabilitated at once.
The same day I was inspecting the walls of my colleague’s lavatory so approvingly, I was e-mailed an exchange that had just taken place between an FT reader and Comcast. She had sent a brief message to the cable operator complaining that she couldn’t find out how to get her mobile phone bill itemised. The reply was everything the lavatory letter was not: disingenuous, unintelligent, emotionally incontinent, unhelpful and miles too long.
“We are very glad to have you as part of Comcast family,” it began, unpromisingly. The idea that in signing up for an account with a mobile phone operator, one is not merely agreeing to share its airwaves but to share its genetic lineage is most disturbing.
The e-mail continued “ . . . and it is our privilege to provide you an exceptional and unparalleled customer service”. This is even worse – a combination of excessive bowing and scraping with excessive boasting, without conveying any meaning at all.
“Thank you for bringing this billing concern to our attention, Elizabeth”, it goes on. “Elizabeth”? How dare they? P. Mandal would have had a stroke at such fresh familiarity.
“Rest assured that we will properly address the concern by making sure that the best resolution will be provided to suffice your overall satisfaction . . . ”
I’m getting restive even typing this drivel out and so you will have to believe me that there are 500 more words of the same, including further apologies, further congratulations and wishes that Elizabeth have a nice day – without actually solving the problem in hand.
“We appreciate that you took time out from your busy schedule to share your concerns,” it said. But if they thought her schedule was busy, why did they think she would have time to read so much guff?
Finally, the sign off: a first name and a title, Comcast customer care specialist. At last, something with meaning. The author of this reply has proved herself a specialist in “customer care” – a virtuoso at apology and making all the most fashionable noises. The only problem is that there is no need for specialists in this area. Customers don’t want “care”. They just want their bills itemised.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011.
1959 was a time of change. Disney released their seminal film Sleeping Beauty, Fidel Castro became the prime minister of Cuba, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower made Hawaii an official state. That same year, a British industry magnate by the name of Henry Kremer wondered: Could an airplane fly powered only by the pilot's body?
Like Da Vinci, Kremer believed it was possible and decided to try to turn his dream into reality. He offered the staggering sum of £50,000 for the first person to build a human-powered plane that could fly a figure eight around two markers set a half-mile apart. Also, he offered £100,000 for the first person to fly across the English Channel. In modern U.S. dollars, that’s the equivalent of $1.3 million and $2.5 million. The Kremer Prize was the X-Prize of its day.
[Paul MacCready holding a “Speed Ring,” a device he invented for competitive glider flying.]
The problem was the process itself.
A decade went by. Dozens of teams tried and failed to build an airplane that could meet the requirements. It looked impossible. Another decade threatened to go by before our hero, Paul MacCready, decided to get involved. He looked at the problem, how the existing solutions had failed, and how people were making their airplanes. He came to the startling realization that people were solving the wrong problem. “The problem is,” he said, “that we don’t understand the problem.”
MacCready’s insight was that everyone who was working on solving human-powered flight would spend upwards of a year building an airplane on conjecture and theory without a base of knowledge based on empirical tests. Triumphantly, they would complete their plane and wheel it out for a test flight. Minutes later, a year's worth of work would smash into the ground.
Even in successful flights, the flight would end with the pilot physically exhausted just a couple hundred meters later. With that single new data point, the team would work for another year to rebuild, re-test, and re-learn. Progress was slow for obvious reasons, but that was to be expected in pursuit of such a difficult vision. That’s just how it was, went the common thinking.
The problem was the problem. MacCready realized that what needed to be solved was not, in fact, human-powered flight. That was a red herring. The problem was the process itself. And a negative side effect was the blind pursuit of a goal without a deeper understanding of how to tackle deeply difficult challenges. He came up with a new problem that he set out to solve: How can you build a plane that could be rebuilt in hours, not months? And he did. He built a plane with Mylar, aluminum tubing, and wire.
The first airplane didn’t work. It was too flimsy. But, because the problem he set out to solve was creating a plane he could fix in hours, he was able to quickly iterate. Sometimes he would fly three or four different planes in a single day. The rebuild, re-test, and re-learn cycle went from months and years to hours and days.
Find a faster way to fail, recover, and try again.
Eighteen years had passed since Henry Kremer opened his wallet for his challenge. Nobody could turn that vision into an airplane. Paul MacCready got involved and changed the understanding of the problem to be solved. Half a year later later, MacCready’s Gossamer Condor flew 2,172 meters to win the prize. A little more than a year after that, the Gossamer Albatross flew across the English Channel. So what's the lesson? When you are solving a difficult problem, re-frame the problem so that your solution helps you learn faster. Find a faster way to fail, recover, and try again. If the problem you are trying to solve involves creating a magnum opus, you are solving the wrong problem.
[Thanks to Alan Kay for turning me on to this story.]
London - OMG! The exclamatory online abbreviation has won the approval of the Oxford English Dictionary.
The term - short for 'Oh my God' or 'Oh my gosh' - is one of dozens of new entries in the authoritative reference book's latest online update.
Other Internet-inspired expressions given the stamp of approval include LOL, 'laughing out loud'; IMHO, 'in my humble opinion'; and BFF, 'best friends forever'.
Dictionary compilers say that although the terms are associated with modern electronic communications, some are surprisingly old. The first confirmed use of 'OMG' was in a letter in 1917.
'Things people think are new words normally have a longer history,' says Mr Graeme Diamond, the dictionary's principal editor for new words.
'Who knows how many people from 1917 onwards were using that term, in correspondence that we just don't have access to. With the advent of the mass media we have access to much more personal information.'
That helps explain a flood of new terms from the online world, including ego-surfing - the practice of searching for your own name on the Internet - and dot bomb, a failed Internet company.
But not all the new abbreviations originated online. One new entry is wag, for 'wives and girlfriends'. First used in 2002 to describe the female partners of the England football team, it is now used to denote the glamorous and extravagant female partners of male celebrities.
The new update includes about 900 new words and meanings, from 'flat white' - a milky espresso-based drink originating from Australia and New Zealand - to 'muffin top', defined as 'a protuberance of flesh above the waistband of a tight pair of trousers'.
The dictionary includes a new entry for 'heart' as a verb, a casual equivalent of 'to love' that is represented with a symbol, as seen on millions of souvenirs proclaiming 'I (heart) New York.' Editors publish updates to the online Oxford every three months.
The Internet version of the dictionary, launched in 2000, gets two million hits a month from subscribers and may eventually replace the mammoth 20-volume printed Oxford English Dictionary, last published in 1989.
By the time lexicographers finish revising and updating a new edition - a gargantuan task that takes a decade or more - publishers doubt there will be a market for the printed form. By then, a multi-volume printed work may be - to use another new OED entry - TMI: too much information.
The dictionary includes a new entry for 'heart' as a verb, a casual equivalent of 'to love' that is represented with a symbol, as seen on millions of souvenirs proclaiming 'I (heart) New York.'
LOL, TEACHERS WON'T ACCEPT IT
Just because the Oxford English Dictionary has accepted abbreviations such as OMG, LOL and BFF and usage of 'heart' as a verb to mean 'to love', it does not mean that English language and literature teachers in Singapore are prepared to accept them in students' schoolwork and essays.
Five teachers The Sunday Times spoke to unanimously agreed that they would penalise a student who uses the abbreviations in essays.
Most of them, like Mrs Shamini Rajandran of St Margaret's Secondary School, cited reasons of formality.
'Any writing piece is a formal piece of work, and these words are rather informal, the sort you would use in an e-mail or SMS.
'They're definitely not acceptable in national exams, so why allow the use of them at school level? Regardless, I'm personally quite traditional and particular about these sorts of things, and wouldn't allow them.'
And what about students who argue that they should be allowed to use these newfangled words because they are in the dictionary?
An English department head of an all-boys secondary school, who wanted to be known only as
Mr Liang, had this to say: 'The four-letter word is in the dictionary, but that doesn't mean you use it in your schoolwork, right?'
Heather Marie Lee
Food for thought... from one of my favourite FT columnists.
By Harry Eyres
Published: March 25 2011 22:03 | Last updated: March 25 2011 22:03
All systems at the Slow Lane offices have recently been upgraded. These upgrades might be considered small beer in the Fast Lane but they have caused no little disruption to our world. First, we had to get a new cordless phone, as the old one, inherited when we bought the house, had begun to die in the middle of conversations.
You might think this would be quite straightforward but my experience of living in the wonderful new digital world is that nothing is straightforward. I purchased the cheapest and simplest model I could find, on special offer in John Lewis, and I imagined it might be a simple matter of plugging the thing in and getting going. How naive can you be?
I found myself faced with an instruction manual 74 pages long – the size of a substantial novella or a collection of poems – including instructions on matters such as “writing text messages”, “adding a new birthday (organiser) alarm” and “using a handset to put the base in registration mode”. There is a whole section on games (I can’t quite imagine what could induce me to play games with a telephone) and another one on security, which is the most bizarre and arcane of all. Maybe “modifying the base code” might come in useful if you were buying equipment for a place such as Guantánamo Bay but it all seems a bit excessive for a home phone.
Needless to say we still haven’t got the hang of this new phone, keep pressing the wrong buttons and have had to deactivate the answering machine (too complicated).
So far I’ve had better luck with the new printer/scanner/photocopier but can’t help feeling this magnificent, and absurdly cheap, piece of machinery, capable of producing colour prints to a professional standard, is altogether too magnificent. Perversely, I find myself missing the modest old Canon, less than half the size, which kept going loyally for more than a decade.
All of these feelings are amplified in the case of the throbbing heart of Slow Lane systems, the new laptop computer. When I mentioned to people that the old one was seven years old, their mouths gaped open as if I’d been talking about a penny-farthing bicycle or a wind-up gramophone. Seven years does not seem such a great age for a well-constructed machine – I recently retired the speakers of my hi-fi system after 40 years’ service – but computers, for all their modernity, or because of it, have no staying power; they age much faster than dogs, as fast as rats, perhaps.
The old laptop was getting slow and absent-minded and every now and then had one of those alarming blue screen episodes (senior moments, you could call them). The new one is faster and a bit sleeker and doubtless has more gigabytes of whatever you’re meant to have gigabytes of.
This machine, and this goes for any modern computer, has truly amazing capacities and powers. Linked to a search engine such as Google, it can scour the entire cyberuniverse in milliseconds. It forgets nothing, unlike this poor human brain of mine. It is incapable of making a Freudian slip; it is, I suppose, equally incapable of dreaming.
Our machines get better and better, more and more powerful, faster and faster (though not necessarily more reliable). We, on the other hand, do not. What is the effect of having this inhumanly powerful thing squatting in the centre of our lives? The computer and the web are miracles of connectivity but, as the journalist and blogger Nicholas Carr argued in The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember, “the web’s connections are not our connections”. Might they not make us feel inadequate?
Old-fashioned instruments are not like that. They don’t intimidate us with their superior power. I don’t find my piano or my bicycle or my pen and notebooks intimidating – they are made on a human scale, they are designed to help me express myself in a human way. The piano will respond to my touch like no other; in that way it is more like a person than a computer, which responds to all touches in the same binary way.
I was not among those lucky enough to get seats to Sir Simon Rattle’s concerts in London last month with his orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic. But that splendid, flawed, beleaguered, democratic institution the BBC gave all of us here in the UK the luxury of the best seats in the Berlin Philharmonie hall, relaying two concerts the orchestra gave in its home city.
I happened to catch parts of two of them while out driving and each time I had to pull in to the side of the road. Playing as beautiful as this – in the fourth movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony, and in Stravinsky’s Apollo – might cause accidents. Apollo is Stravinsky’s Apollonian answer to his own Dionysian Rite of Spring, concerned with the assuaging powers of art, not its disruptive ones, content to convey nothing but its own magnanimities of sound. In this case the sound of 34 stringed instruments, old-fashioned things, in no need of an upgrade.
More columns at www.ft.com/eyres
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011.
January 12, 2011
Hey, fellas, want to spice things up with your lady? Procter & Gamble, the consumer products giant, has some ideas.
A Web site created by the company for husbands and fathers offers articles with titles like “Conquering Sex Problems.” Among other things, the article advises men to take their time in bed.
“If you want a hot woman who acts like a porn star in bed, you need to be prepared to spend some time getting her to that place,” suggests the site, ManoftheHouse.com.
While the Internet is crowded with all kinds of sex advice, P.& G. — the maker of Pampers and Ivory soap and the nation’s largest advertiser — says it has found an untapped marketing opportunity for its products in the family man.
Much of the popular sex advice for men, in publications like Maxim and GQ, is directed toward singles on the prowl, the company says. Even its top rival, Unilever, has gone decidedly raunchier in a campaign for Axe, a grooming brand aimed at young men, that includes a double entendre about cleaning sporting equipment and a man’s private parts.
The P.& G. site gets out of the bedroom, offering tips on grilling burgers, cleaning toilets and disciplining children. It promises, “We’ll make men out of you yet,” while also promoting Gillette razors, Head & Shoulders shampoo and other company products.
“What we are trying to do is speak to the whole man,” said Jeannie Tharrington, a spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble Productions. “Certainly, relationships and sex are part of an adult man’s life.”
Josh Bernoff, senior vice president at Forrester Research who has written about P.& G.’s marketing efforts, said ManoftheHouse.com was not so different from “As the World Turns,” the TV soap opera that was another P.& G. innovation.
“This is the 21st-century version of the soap opera,” he said. “It’s information. It’s topical.”
More and more big companies have discovered the how-to genre as a marketing tool. General Mills offers dieting advice and coupons on Tablespoon.com, and Wal-Mart has a Web site in which mothers blog about everything from being frugal to reviewing products.
Jeremiah Owyang, a partner at the Altimeter Group, a digital strategy consulting firm, said company-generated lifestyle sites could be effective as long as they did not push the brands too hard. Reviewing the homepage of ManoftheHouse.com, he said, “All of these discussions on this page are already happening on Facebook,” he said. “The reason these things do work is that consumers are already having these discussions, having a healthy breakfast, talking about their wives in relationships.”
Ms. Tharrington said company research found that men were going to women’s Web sites to find information on recipes, cleaning the house or getting a stain out of a shirt. As for sex talk coming from a company that has honed a wholesome image — remember Mr. Whipple? — she said, “For us, it’s part of it, but it’s not the whole thing. What we try to do is be tasteful.”
Procter & Gamble has a long history of unusual marketing. The Cincinnati-based company created one of the first radio soap operas as a way to market its products, and years later it created its own soap operas, including “As the World Turns,” for television.
In the last decade, Procter & Gamble was one of the pioneers in word-of-mouth marketing campaigns in which mothers and teenagers were plied with samples and coupons to draw more customers.
In 2000, the company introduced Beinggirl.com, which provides information and expert advice on issues that teenage girls might be too embarrassed to ask a parent or a doctor about, like menstruation, eating disorders, acne and dating. The site also advertises P.& G. tampons and offers free samples.
In the years since Beinggirl.com was created, Procter & Gamble has started several other lifestyle Web sites, including one that is directed at women, Homemadesimple.com. David Germano, the general manager of ManoftheHouse.com, said consumer data showed that 10 percent of the visitors to the women’s site were men.
ManoftheHouse.com has brought on several writers who had established father-focused blogs. Karl Withakay, a Utah-based singer and songwriter who writes some of the sex articles, including “Conquering Sex Problems,” was already writing about relationships for other media outlets.
“The pieces he wrote were based upon his own experience,” said Craig J. Heimbuch, ManoftheHouse.com’s editor in chief, in an e-mail. “I appreciate his perspective a great deal. It lends itself well to the tone of the site, which is men helping men.”
So are men drawn to a PG-rated Web site when so much R- and X-rated competition is out there? Procter & Gamble says that so far it is pleased with the number of visitors. The site was started in June, and by December it had topped a half a million monthly unique visitors.
Jonah Disend, chief executive of the brand strategy firm Redscout, questioned whether ManoftheHouse.com would generate a big following. He said men tended to be more interested in specialized publications about a specific hobby or sport.
“Just because no one’s doing it doesn’t mean there’s a real market for it,” he said.
Racy also works. Indeed, that is just what Procter & Gamble’s archrival, Unilever, discovered in its efforts to market Axe. The campaign it started last year, which included the double entendre, has become a sensation; last month, Zeta Interactive proclaimed the ads as having received the most social media buzz in 2010.
“We’ve taken a calculated risk,” said Heather Mitchell, a Unilever spokeswoman, “knowing what resonates with our guys.”
SAYAMA, Japan — The Kura “revolving sushi” restaurant chain has no Michelin stars, but it has succeeded where many of Japan’s more celebrated eateries fall short: turning a profit in a punishing economy.
Efficiency is paramount at Kura: absent are the traditional sushi chefs and their painstaking attention to detail. In their place are sushi-making robots and an emphasis on efficiency.
Absent, too, are flocks of waiters. They have been largely replaced by conveyors belts that carry sushi to diners and remote managers who monitor Kura’s 262 restaurants from three control centers across Japan. (“We see gaps of over a meter between your sushi plates — please fix,” a manager said recently by telephone to a Kura restaurant 10 miles away.)
Absent, too, are the exorbitant prices of conventional sushi restaurants. At a Kura, a sushi plate goes for 100 yen, or about $1.22.
Such measures are helping Kura stay afloat even though the country’s once-profligate diners have tightened their belts in response to two decades of little economic growth and stagnant wages.
Many other restaurants and dining businesses in Japan have not fared so well. After peaking at 29.7 trillion yen in 1997, the country’s restaurant sector has shrunk almost every year as a weak economy has driven businesses into price wars — or worse, sent them belly-up. In 2009, restaurant revenue, including from fast-food stores, fell 2.3 percent, to 23.9 trillion yen —20 percent below the peak, according to the Foodservice Industry Research Institute, a research firm in Tokyo.
Bankruptcies have been rampant: in 2009, 674 dining businesses with liabilities of over 10 million yen went under, the highest number in the last five years, according to Teikoku Data Bank, a credit research company.
In November 2009, Soho’s Hospitality, the company behind celebrity restaurants like Nobu and Roy’s, filed for bankruptcy. Roy’s is now run by another company, while Nobu’s chef, Nobu Matsuhisa, has opened a new restaurant elsewhere in Tokyo with Robert De Niro.
Along with other low-cost restaurant chains, Kura has bucked the dining-out slump with low prices and a dogged pursuit of efficiency. In the company’s most recent fiscal year, which ended on Oct. 31, net profit jumped 20 percent from the same period a year earlier, to 2.8 billion yen.
In the last two months alone, Kura has added seven stores.
“If you look at the restaurant business, consumers are still holding back because of employment fears and falling incomes, and there’s no signs that will change,” said Kunihiko Tanaka, Kura’s chief executive, who opened Kura’s first sushi restaurant in 1995. “Amid these worsening conditions, our company feels that consumer sentiment matches, or is even a tail wind” to the Kura business, he told shareholders earlier this year.
The travails of Japan’s restaurant industry, and the changes in Japanese dining habits, may be among most visible manifestations of how Japan’s “bubble economy” excesses in the 1980s have given way to frugal times since the bubble burst in 1990.
With wages weak — average annual private sector pay has fallen 12 percent in the last decade, to 4.05 million yen, or about $49,300, in 2009 — the Japanese now spend less on eating out. An average single-person household spent 163,000 yen on dining in 2009, 27 percent less than in 2000, according to detailed budget surveys compiled by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
In a survey by Citizen Holdings, the watchmaker, of 400 men in their 20s to 50s, the average time spent at cafes and restaurants plunged from 7 hours and 52 minutes a week in 1990 to 2 hours and 25 minutes in 2010.
An aging population is also depressing restaurant sales. More than one-fifth of Japan’s population is already over 65, and surveys indicate that older people tend to eat out less. The population is also shrinking, reducing the restaurants’ potential customer base.
Meanwhile, Japanese companies have cut back sharply on their entertainment expenses, further hurting restaurant sales. Total corporate spending on dining and entertainment has halved from a peak of 9.5 trillion yen in 1991 to 4.8 trillion yen in 2008, according to data from the National Tax Agency.
“The restaurant industry here is so linked to the state of the economy, and that’s why we’re seeing this decline,” said Munenori Hotta, a food service industry expert at Miyagi University in Japan. “In this climate, even top restaurants are having to moderate their prices to keep attracting customers,” he said.
Japan’s dining-out boom had its roots in the 1970s and 1980s, as incomes grew and rural populations flocked to big cities. So-called family restaurants brought cheap, Western-style food to the masses flourished in that era. So did American fast-food chains, which were considered novel at the time. Kentucky Fried Chicken opened its first restaurant here in 1970, followed by McDonald’s in 1971.
At the other end of the price range, a new generation of wealthy Japanese savored imported French wines at lavish restaurants. By 1986, there were 503,088 restaurants across Japan, according to records from the Internal Affairs Ministry. That was nearly double the number from 15 years earlier — and was more restaurants than now operate in the United States, which has more than twice the population of Japan.
After the bubble burst in 1990, new low-cost restaurant chains that offered pizzas for as little as 400 yen, or $4.86, started to spread across Japan, and restaurateurs spoke with alarm of ready-made, convenience-store meals that were siphoning off sales.
In the depths of the slump, in 1995, Mr. Tanaka started a company based on serving quality sushi on the cheap.
His idea of using conveyor belts to offer diners a steady stream of sushi on small plates was not a new one; an Osaka-based entrepreneur invented such a system in the late 1950s. But Mr. Tanaka set out to undercut his rivals with deft automation, an investment in information technology, some creativity and an almost extreme devotion to cost-efficiency. In Japan, where labor costs are high, that meant running his restaurants with as few workers as possible.
Instead of placing supervisors at each restaurant, Kura set up central control centers with video links to the stores. At these centers, a small group of managers watch for everything from wayward tuna slices to outdated posters on restaurant walls.
Each Kura store is also highly automated. Diners use a touch panel to order soup and other side dishes, which are delivered to tables on special express conveyor belts. In the kitchen, a robot busily makes the rice morsels for a server to top with cuts of fish that have been shipped from a central processing plant, where workers are trained to slice tuna and mackerel accurately down to the gram.
Diners are asked to slide finished plates into a tableside bay, where they are automatically counted to calculate the bill, doused in cleaning fluid and flushed back to the kitchen on a stream of water. Matrix codes on the backs of plates keep track of how long a sushi portion has been circulating on conveyor belts; a small robotic arm disposes of any that have been out too long.
Kura spends 10 million yen to fit each new restaurant with the latest automation systems, an investment it says pays off in labor cost savings. In all, just six servers and a minimal kitchen staff can service a restaurant seating 196 people, said a company spokesman, Takeshi Hattori.
“Its not just about efficiency,” Mr. Hattori said. “Diners love it too. For example, women say they like clearing finished plates right away, so others can’t see how much they’ve eaten.”
Traditional sushi chefs have not fared so well, however. While the overall market for belt-conveyor sushi restaurants jumped 42 percent, to 428 billion yen, in 2009 compared with 2003, higher-end sushi restaurants are on the decline, according to Fuji-Keizai, a market research firm.
“It’s such a bargain at 100 yen,” said Toshiyuki Arai, a delivery company worker dining at a Kura restaurant with his sister and her 3-year-old son. “A real sushi restaurant?” he said. “I hardly go anymore.”
ORLANDO, Fla. — Deep in the bowels of Walt Disney World, inside an underground bunker called the Disney Operational Command Center, technicians know that you are standing in line and that you are most likely annoyed about it. Their clandestine mission: to get you to the fun faster.
To handle over 30 million annual visitors — many of them during this busiest time of year for the megaresort — Disney World long ago turned the art of crowd control into a science. But the putative Happiest Place on Earth has decided it must figure out how to quicken the pace even more. A cultural shift toward impatience — fed by video games and smartphones — is demanding it, park managers say. To stay relevant to the entertain-me-right-this-second generation, Disney must evolve.
And so it has spent the last year outfitting an underground, nerve center to address that most low-tech of problems, the wait. Located under Cinderella Castle, the new center uses video cameras, computer programs, digital park maps and other whiz-bang tools to spot gridlock before it forms and deploy countermeasures in real time.
In one corner, employees watch flat-screen televisions that depict various attractions in green, yellow and red outlines, with the colors representing wait-time gradations.
If Pirates of the Caribbean, the ride that sends people on a spirited voyage through the Spanish Main, suddenly blinks from green to yellow, the center might respond by alerting managers to launch more boats.
Another option involves dispatching Captain Jack Sparrow or Goofy or one of their pals to the queue to entertain people as they wait. “It’s about being nimble and quickly noticing that, ‘Hey, let’s make sure there is some relief out there for those people,’ ” said Phil Holmes, vice president of the Magic Kingdom, the flagship Disney World park.
What if Fantasyland is swamped with people but adjacent Tomorrowland has plenty of elbow room? The operations center can route a miniparade called “Move it! Shake it! Celebrate It!” into the less-populated pocket to siphon guests in that direction. Other technicians in the command center monitor restaurants, perhaps spotting that additional registers need to be opened or dispatching greeters to hand out menus to people waiting to order.
“These moments add up until they collectively help the entire park,” Mr. Holmes said.
In recent years, according to Disney research, the average Magic Kingdom visitor has had time for only nine rides — out of more than 40 — because of lengthy waits and crowded walkways and restaurants. In the last few months, however, the operations center has managed to make enough nips and tucks to lift that average to 10.
“Control is Disney’s middle name, so they have always been on the cutting edge of this kind of thing,” said Bob Sehlinger, co-author of “The Unofficial Guide: Walt Disney World 2011” and a writer on Disney for Frommers.com. Mr. Sehlinger added, “The challenge is that you only have so many options once the bathtub is full.”
Disney, which is periodically criticized for overreaching in the name of cultural dominance (and profits), does not see any of this monitoring as the slightest bit invasive. Rather, the company regards it as just another part of its efforts to pull every possible lever in the name of a better guest experience.
The primary goal of the command center, as stated by Disney, is to make guests happier — because to increase revenue in its $10.7 billion theme park business, which includes resorts in Paris and Hong Kong, Disney needs its current customers to return more often. “Giving our guests faster and better access to the fun,” said Thomas O. Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, “is at the heart of our investment in technology.”
Disney also wants to raise per-capita spending. “If we can also increase the average number of shop or restaurant visits, that’s a huge win for us,” Mr. Holmes said.
Disney has long been a leader in technological innovation, whether that means inventing cameras to make animated films or creating the audio animatronic robots for the attraction It’s a Small World.
Behind-the-scenes systems — typically kept top secret by the company as it strives to create an environment where things happen as if by magic — are also highly computerized. Ride capacity is determined in part by analyzing hotel reservations, flight bookings and historic attendance data. Satellites provide minute-by-minute weather analysis. A system called FastPass allows people to skip lines for popular rides like the Jungle Cruise.
But the command center reflects how Disney is deepening its reliance on technology as it thinks about adapting decades-old parks, which are primarily built around nostalgia for an America gone by, for 21st century expectations. “It’s not about us needing to keep pace with technological change,” Mr. Staggs said. “We need to set the pace for that kind of change.”
For instance, Disney has been experimenting with smartphones to help guide people more efficiently. Mobile Magic, a $1.99 app, allows visitors to type in “Sleeping Beauty” and receive directions to where that princess (or at least a costumed stand-in) is signing autographs. In the future, typing in “hamburger” might reveal the nearest restaurant with the shortest wait.
Disney has also been adding video games to wait areas. At Space Mountain, 87 game stations now line the queue to keep visitors entertained. (Games, about 90 seconds in length, involve simple things like clearing runways of asteroids). Gaming has also been added to the queue for Soarin’, an Epcot ride that simulates a hang glider flight.
Blogs that watch Disney’s parks have speculated that engineers (“imagineers,” in the company’s parlance) are also looking at bigger ideas, like wristbands that contain information like your name, credit card number and favorite Disney characters. While Disney is keeping a tight lid on specifics, these devices would enable simple transactions like the purchase of souvenirs — just pay by swiping your wristband — as well as more complicated attractions that interact with guests.
“Picture a day where there is memory built into these characters — they will know that they’ve seen you four or five times before and that your name is Bobby,” said Bruce E. Vaughn, chief creative executive at Walt Disney Imagineering. “Those are the kinds of limits that are dissolving so quickly that we can see being able to implement them in the meaningfully near future.”
Dreaming about the future was not something on Mr. Holmes’s mind as he gave a reporter a rare peek behind the Disney operations veil. He had a park to run, and the command center had spotted trouble at the tea cups.
After running smoothly all morning, the spinning Mad Tea Party abruptly stopped meeting precalculated ridership goals. A few minutes later, Mr. Holmes had his answer: a new employee had taken over the ride and was leaving tea cups unloaded.
“In the theme park business these days,” he said, “patience is not always a virtue.”
Angry Birds is dominating the best-selling-applications charts for Apple's iPhone.
Not since the invention of bacon and eggs has the collision of fowl and swine tasted so good.
A game called Angry Birds is dominating the best-selling-applications charts for Apple's iPhone with a simple, whimsical premise: Players turn different species of scowling birds into projectiles with which to crush a collection of grunting pigs scattered around various ramshackle structures. More than 12 million copies of Angry Birds have been sold since it went on sale late last year, most of them 99-cent downloads for iPhones and iPod touches, according to Rovio Mobile Ltd., the Finnish company that created the game.
Casual games are defined by the ease with which they can be picked up, including by players bewildered by more complex "hardcore games" for PCs and consoles, with their intricate story lines and controls. The category spans early sensations like Tetris, the Russian-made puzzle game for PCs and consoles from the 1980s, to Bejeweled, a decade-old shape-matching game that is still in wide use in mobile devices. The average mobile-game player is 45 years old and nearly as likely to be female as male, according to a survey last year of more than 1,100 customers of AT&T's wireless service sponsored by PopCap Games, the maker of Bejeweled and other titles. When asked where they play mobile games, the top answer from respondents to the survey, conducted by Information Solutions Group, was while waiting for an appointment.
Angry Birds has attracted an unusually high-brow roster of fans. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has said he plays the game on his iPad, according to Andy Payne, chairman of a British games-industry trade group, who spoke to Mr. Cameron at a group dinner in September. (A spokeswoman for the prime minister didn't return a request for comment.) The author Salman Rushdie in a recent radio interview called himself "something of a master at Angry Birds." And comedian Conan O'Brien posted a YouTube video recently to promote his new talk show, in which he boasts that he's on level four of Angry Birds.
Angry Birds falls into a category known in the industry as "physics-based games," in which basic actions like falling and ricocheting provide the underlying challenge and fun of a game. Players use their fingers on the iPhone or iPad's touch-sensing screens to adjust the tension and angle of a slingshot loaded with a bird, with the goal of maximizing the damage the avian missiles cause to the pigs.
Another physics-based game at the top of the App Store's charts is Cut the Rope. Players must figure out how to deliver a piece of candy dangling from various cords into the mouth of a sweet-hungry monster called the Om Nom. Cutting the cords in the proper order swings the candy into the creature's mouth.
Amber Strocel, a 34-year-old stay-at-home mom in Coquitlam, British Columbia, got hooked on Angry Birds a few months ago when she got an iPhone and has often played it while waiting for dinner to cook. Ms. Strocel, who says she hadn't played a game in years before Angry Birds, says she's amused by the game's characters, especially the mix of laughs and grunts that the pigs emit when she fails to hit them with birds. "They kind of kind of mock you," she says. "There's an appeal to that."
Players' infatuation with games like Angry Birds can end as quickly as it starts, often when the novelty of a game's features wears off. Ms. Strocel recently dumped Angry Birds for another reason: She completed all its levels. "It was fun while it lasted," she says.
Mikael Hed, chief executive of Angry Birds-developer Rovio, says the game's success is "really the sum of all of its parts," including the edgy-but-cute characters, amusing sound effects and simple rules. Rovio started in early 2009 with a rough idea of the protagonists it wanted to feature—a cast of stern-looking birds. It decided to make the game's villains a group of sickly-looking green pigs, in homage to the swine-flu pandemic then grabbing headlines. The reason the birds are so angry with the pigs, according to the back story of the game, is that the pigs swiped the birds' eggs to cook them up.
Rovio spent about $100,000 on the original Angry Birds and has invested more in new game levels that it offers, free, through updates to the game, a Rovio spokesman says.
Fueled by word of mouth, the game landed on the best-seller chart for Apple's App Store for Finland late last year. In February, when Apple made Angry Birds a staff pick in the U.K. App Store, sales exploded, Mr. Hed says. A couple of months later, the game became a best-selling paid app in the U.S. App Store, he says.
Like many casual games, Angry Birds uses positive reinforcement to make players feel good when they succeed: After a player lays waste to all the pigs on a level of the game, a raucous wave of cheers goes up. Other than the gentle mocking of the pigs, Mr. Hed says, "our game doesn't really punish players."
Game designers say this type of "reward system" is a crucial part of the appeal of casual games like Angry Birds. In Bejeweled 2, for example, players have to align three diamonds, triangles and other shapes next to each other to advance in the game. After a string of successful moves, a baritone voice announces, "Excellent!" or "Awesome!"
"That's a big part of" the game's success, says Jason Kapalka, chief creative officer of PopCap. "You're getting this unambiguous encouragement." PopCap estimates Bejeweled has garnered more than $350 million in sales and sold more than 50 million units since coming out a decade ago.
The length of the typical casual-game-playing session was less than 15 minutes, according to the survey of mobile-phone users. The survey also found that the primary benefit respondents said they got from playing was a "distraction from the issues of daily life."
In the 2008 study, sponsored by PopCap, 134 players were divided into groups playing Bejeweled or other casual games, and a control group that surfed the Internet looking for journal articles. Researchers, who measured the participants' heart rates and brain waves and administered psychological tests, found that game players had significant improvements in their overall mood and reductions in stress levels, according to Carmen Russoniello, director of the Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic at East Carolina University's College of Health and Human Performance in Greenville, N.C., who directed the study.
In a separate study, not sponsored by PopCap, Dr. Russoniello is currently researching whether casual games can be helpful in people suffering from depression and anxiety.
Write to Nick Wingfield at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved
TRAIN and bus commuters in Dublin who use integrated transit cards next year and future metro passengers in Rio de Janeiro will have something in common.
The know-how behind their transport systems tracks back here - from the ticketing software for the Irish contactless card to the passenger-information displays on the Brazilian trains.
Singapore's expertise is also what officials in China's Tianjin relied on in their World Bank-funded study of improvements to its public transport system.
In the past decade, several companies that have built up experience developing public transport infrastructure here have, with the support of IE Singapore, hawked their expertise overseas - and clients from China to the Middle East are biting.
The companies' success reflects what is valued about Singapore-style systems - not just the technology, but also the integration of different systems that view transport planning in totality, transport engineers told The Straits Times.
Examples include Singapore Technologies (ST) Electronics, CPG Consultants which was born out of corporatising the Public Works Department in 1999, and MSI Global, the external arm of the Land Transport Authority (LTA).
The contracts they clinch are no small potatoes: For example, a dozen of ST Electronics' rail, road traffic and taxi projects in the past four years have exceeded $270 million in total value.
MSI, which started out as a $2 shell company in 1995, is today a $22 million firm with a mostly foreign client list.
The Dublin Rail Procurement Agency is one of its clients, to which it delivered software enabling commuters to use one card for trains, buses, coaches and trams. MSI pipped its Hong Kong, Korean and American rivals to the contract, said MSI business unit head Silvester Prakasam.
Reasons include Singapore's success with contactless cards usable not only on trains and buses, but also in shops. Knowing how to achieve this kind of integration, which Dublin valued, came from the way MSI's parent, the LTA, worked with other government agencies here.
Similarly, CPG's clients from Fiji, Brazil and China also recognise its holistic transport planning skills.
For the project in Tianjin, completed last year, CPG roped in veteran consultants Joseph Yee and Gopinath Menon. Their work on Singapore's land transport system, spanning more than 30 years, has taken them from planning to developing congestion-pricing measures like the Area Licensing Scheme and its successor, Electronic Road Pricing (ERP).
The study they did for Tianjin examined issues such as the city's masterplan, road-building programme, bus-priority lanes and plans for a city-rail system.
But transport engineers here say they are careful not to insist the Singapore way is the best way. Often, they have to adapt their expertise to local conditions and hire local consultants to get access to the right people and cut through red tape.
Mr Yee noted that, unlike in Singapore, other countries have more than one level of government; competing jurisdictions can create roadblocks to a project.
Political will is also not a given abroad. In Singapore, 'we dare to do what's unpopular when we know the long-term benefits for the country', he said.
Getting a grip on the local situation in a third world country is thus crucial, said Associate Professor Menon.
ST Electronics president Lee Fook Sun cited one such experience in Guangzhou in 2005. A single contactless card system looked like the neatest solution for the city, but the company had to accommodate its client's wish for a system that also accepted tokens. This was because its commuters included people from other provinces who were passing through and would not pay for a stored-value card.
ST Electronics has since sunk roots in foreign soil. It hired 150 research engineers in Shenzhen and transferred technology and production to a Shanghai subsidiary, where costs are lower than here.
This subsidiary has even come full circle: It has worked with trainmakers from China to clinch deals elsewhere - including here for the Downtown Line trains.
Nice! The 32-second track in a video player demonstrates Google's innovation through Lennon's popular song "Imagine."
SAN FRANCISCO — If you want a smartphone powered by Google’s Android software, you could get Motorola’s Droid 2 or its cousin, the Droid X. Then there is the Droid Incredible from HTC, the Fascinate from Samsung and the Ally from LG.
That’s just on Verizon Wireless. An additional 20 or so phones running Android are available in the United States, and there are about 90 worldwide.
That very short list explains in part why, for all its success in the phone business, Apple suddenly has a real fight on its hands.
Americans now are buying more Android phones than iPhones. If that trend continues, analysts say that in little more than a year, Android will have erased the iPhone’s once enormous lead in the high end of the smartphone market.
But this is not the first time Apple has found itself in this kind of fight, where its flagship product is under siege from a loose alliance of rivals selling dozens of competing gadgets.
In the early 1980s, the Macintosh faced an onslaught of competition from an army of PC makers whose products ran Microsoft software. The fight did not end well for Apple. In a few years, Microsoft all but sidelined Apple, and the company almost went out of business.
Can Apple, which insists on tight control of its devices, win in an intensely competitive market against rivals that are openly licensing their software to scores of companies? It faces that challenge not only in phones, but also in the market for tablet computers, where the iPad is about to take on a similar set of rivals.
“This is a really big strategic question,” said Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein and Company. “No one knows whether openness will ultimately prevail as it did on the PC.”
Apple declined to comment on the issue.
By some measures, the competition Apple faces this time is even more formidable than it was in PCs. In addition to the Android family, Apple already competes with Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry.
And the iPhone will soon have one more powerful, and familiar, foe: Microsoft. That company’s well-reviewed Windows Phone 7 software will appear in as many as nine new smartphones beginning next month. Others like Nokia cannot be counted out.
The stakes are huge, as the mobile computing market could prove to be larger than the PC market ever was.
No one is counting out Apple, of course. The iPhone 4, which Apple began selling this year, has been its most successful phone introduction yet. On Monday, when the company reports financial results, it is expected to announce that it sold nearly 12 million iPhones in the quarter ending Sept. 25, according to analysts’ estimates. That would represent a 60 percent increase from a year earlier.
And with Apple expected to bring the iPhone to Verizon early next year — most likely in an attempt to slow Android’s momentum — the sales growth may well accelerate.
Among investors, there is little doubt that Apple’s strategy is the right one. The company’s stock has soared nearly 50 percent this year, and on Friday it closed at an all-time high of $314.74.
But the rise of Android has been both sudden and unexpected, and its ascent highlights some of the advantages of an open approach.
“There is much more rapid innovation taking place in an open environment,” said David B. Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School who has written recent case studies on Apple. While Apple comes out with a new iPhone model once a year, slick Android phones with new features hit the market often.
That leaves little room for error at Apple. The company must continue to create hit products, as a single misstep could give Android and other rivals an opportunity to make inroads and steal market share.
Also, as the number of people with Android phones grows, Android will grow more attractive for app developers. For now, Apple’s App Store, with more than 250,000 applications, enjoys a large advantage over the Android Market, which has about 80,000. And those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Apps made for the iPhone tend to be of better quality, are more frequently downloaded and on average are more profitable for developers.
But that edge may not last, especially as many developers fret about Apple’s tight control over the App Store.
“Having a tightly controlled ecosystem, which is what Apple has, is a large short-term advantage and a large long-term disadvantage,” said Mitchell Kapor, who as founder of the Lotus Development Corporation is a veteran of the PC-versus-Mac wars, and is now an investor in app makers. “The question is, how long is the short term?”
But for all the similarities in Apple’s approaches to mobile computing and desktop computing, there are plenty of differences, and most analysts doubt that history will repeat itself.
For starters, Apple is the richest company in the technology industry. With $45.8 billion in cash, it can afford to invest heavily in research and development. Apple’s large early lead in devices and developers puts it in a much stronger position than it ever had in the PC market. And because it is one of the largest purchasers of Flash memory, which is one of the most expensive components of a smartphone, it has “enormous economies of scale,” Professor Yoffie said.
What’s more, the iPhone isn’t really fighting alone. The two other devices that run Apple’s iOS mobile software, the iPad and the iPod Touch, further strengthen the iPhone, because consumers like being able to access the content and applications they bought on iTunes and the App Store on multiple devices. Apple has sold more than 120 million iOS devices.
And while Apple’s personal computers were by and large technically superior to Microsoft-based PCs, they were also far more expensive. In the smartphone market, carriers, who play a vital role in distribution, have been willing to subsidize the iPhone so that its cost to consumers is roughly the same as that of comparable Android phones.
For now, the smartphone market is growing so rapidly that the rise of Android has not necessarily been at the expense of the iPhone. That will change as the market matures. But most experts predict that no single company or operating system will rule the mobile market like Microsoft ruled the PC.
“I don’t think we’ll be in a situation where there is one operating system,” said Matt Murphy, a partner at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, where he manages a fund that invests in applications for iOS devices. “This market will be more fragmented than the PC market.” Mr. Murphy said he expected one or two operating systems to co-exist with Apple’s.
Professor Yoffie agreed: “Apple will lose its overall leadership, but maintain a share of the market that could easily be in the 25 percent to 30 percent range.” He added: “That’s enough to sustain a very large and very profitable business.”
As one of the few remaining singles left among my peers, I've long accepted that any outing with friends these days means having the children in tow.
But what I'm still sometimes annoyed with are the interruptions.
Lunch, tea or dinner would never be complete without needing to fuss over the young'uns.
Inevitably, the adult conversations would be put on hold while mummy or daddy (depends on whose turn it is) attends to:
a) a soaked diaper
b) a cranky child
c) 'Timmy poke my eye'
d) all of the above
Recently though, my friends have come up with a solution to our conversation-killers - the iPhone.
A solution to boredom, a source of conflict resolution, a pacifier which helps put children to sleep, the iPhone is your one- stop-shop.
I remember being in awe at the power the gadget has on kids during a recent gathering at my friend James' home. It's never pretty when his son gets into one of his epic battles with our friend's four-year-old.
It almost always ends up with the two kids having to be pulled apart and be told to sit in a corner for 'alone time', but not before violent protests and potential ear-drum damaging screaming.
But on this occasion, all that was needed for peace to resume was both dads whipping out their iPhones.
I've never seen anything like it.
One second, the kids resemble hobbit-like transformers ready to rearrange the other's face, the next, they're sitting next to each other watching Barney and Ben 10 on their respective screens.
'There's no conflict it can't solve,' said James of his new 'nanny'.
'Well, except, a soaked diaper.'
Amazingly, this latest must-have among young parents doesn't just work on older children. Babies as young as 12 to 18 months are also charmed by the gadget.
Another friend says 'phone' was one of the first few words her daughter uttered, after mama, dada and milk.
I don't recall any point in history - well maybe not since ET phoned home - that 'phone' was such an important word in the English vocabulary.
Her mother sees it as an accomplishment worthy enough to parade in front of relatives. Uncles and aunties would gather round the cot during nap time to wait for the moment little Andrea cosies up before she breaks into the cutest: 'Mama, phone, pwease?'
Cue the 'awwws'.
Maybe I need to be a father to understand this, but I see it more as an addiction. How else can you explain the iPhone being a must-have for nap and sleep time?
'She falls asleep better to Barney', is her mother's rationale.
But my concern is that while one can wean a child off a pacifier or drinking milk from a bottle, I don't see the same happening for electronics. In fact, I see it getting worse.
The iPhone at two, Nintendo DS at five, Xbox by 10, full-blown geek devoid of any social skills by the time he reaches his teens.
Of course, I exaggerate. But one can see how it will be a sad day if even half the scenario comes true.
Youngsters these days are spending more time on computers and away from playgrounds. I was impressed when my 10-year-old nephew spoke highly of the football skills of Pele and Gerd Muller.
'Uncle, I can even do a bicycle kick,' he enthused. I shared in his excitement, for all of 10 seconds, until he told me that his moment of football genius was on the Xbox while playing with the Fifa All-Stars.
I then made the mistake of asking him why he doesn't go out and play the game.
His reply: 'But it's so hot!'
Call me a student of the old school, but I still believe kids should be out there, climbing trees, catching spiders, getting bruises.
In today's world, children getting into computer and hand-held games are inevitable. Do we need to hasten the process?
Yet, I can understand the fascination with the iPhone, or for that matter, the iPad. One needs only to type in 'kids and iPad' on YouTube to see what a hit the phone and the tablet are among the young.
They're interactive, full of colours, easy to use - what's there not to like?
My friend has even come up with a new mantra: An Apple a day keeps the children at bay.
I'm, however, not 100 per cent sold. I hope to have my own children some day and can't see how getting them hooked on electronics so early is good. But if the good people at Apple can teach an iPad to change a diaper, I just might reconsider.
Marc Lim will alternate this column with Sandra Leong
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The other day, I got an email from a new friend. The subject line read "Are you a TED talk person?"
It linked to an 18-minute video of MIT behavioral economist Dan Ariely talking about the bugs in our moral codes. Other friends have sent me videos of Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert on the spiritual dimension of creativity; rocker David Byrne on how venue architecture affects musical expression; and UC Berkeley professor Robert Full's insights into how geckos' feet stick to a wall.
Each of these emails is like a membership card into the club of "TED talk people." I love being a member of this club. The videos give my discovery-seeking brain a little hit of dopamine in the middle of the workday. But just as important, each one I see or recommend makes me part of a group of millions of folks around the world who have checked out these videos. What links us is our desire to learn; TEDsters feel part of a curious, engaged, enlightened, and tech-savvy tribe.
These two things -- great ideas and the human connections they create -- make TED a unique phenomenon. Other conferences, such as the World Economic Forum in Davos and D: AllThingsDigital in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, have similar elite A-list rosters. But TED, which takes place annually in Long Beach, California, is the only one that fully exploits the power of what you might call, with apologies to Cisco, the human network. In the nine years since publishing entrepreneur Chris Anderson bought TED, it has grown way beyond a mere conference. By combining the principles of "radical openness" and of "leveraging the power of ideas to change the world," TED is in the process of creating something brand new. I would go so far as to argue that it's creating a new Harvard -- the first new top-prestige education brand in more than 100 years.
Of course TED doesn't look like a regular Ivy League college. It doesn't have any buildings; it doesn't grant degrees. It doesn't have singing groups or secret societies, and as far as I know it hasn't inspired any strange drinking games.
Still, if you were starting a top university today, what would it look like? You would start by gathering the very best minds from around the world, from every discipline. Since we're living in an age of abundant, not scarce, information, you'd curate the lectures carefully, with a focus on the new and original, rather than offer a course on every possible topic. You'd create a sustainable economic model by focusing on technological rather than physical infrastructure, and by getting people of means to pay for a specialized experience. You'd also construct a robust network so people could access resources whenever and from wherever they like, and you'd give them the tools to collaborate beyond the lecture hall. Why not fulfill the university's millennium-old mission by sharing ideas as freely and as widely as possible?
If you did all that, well, you'd have TED.
Its "faculty": A roster of speakers that runs from Bill Clinton to J.J. Abrams, from Desmond Tutu to Isabel Allende -- anyone who's driving change across the globe. Their topics range from biophysics to graphic design, covering all that Roman playwright Terentius might have had in mind when he said, "Nothing human is alien to me." The economic model? With attendance fees, advertising, and corporate sponsorships, TED ran an operating surplus of more than $2 million last year, which was reinvested into expanding its reach.
That's because unlike fearful old-school colleges, TED is finding that the more open it is, the more it becomes the global education brand of the 21st century. The runaway success of the TED talk videos, Chris Anderson tells me, persuaded him "to completely rethink what TED was, from a conference to a platform for ideas worth spreading." When you frame your mission in those terms, transformation follows. TED's Open Translation Project has in the past year made its videos truly accessible to a global audience; 3,100 community volunteers have translated the videos into more than 77 languages, adding a potential audience of 2.2 billion people. Anderson has gone even more radical, doing something that few universities would ever consider: He has started licensing the TED name and video content to anyone who wants them -- for free. The result: In just the first year, with comparatively little input from the mothership, TEDsters from around the world have put on 615 independent conferences, called TEDx, in locations from Kiberi, Nigeria, to Amsterdam. "We're exploring TED as a global classroom," Anderson tells me. "It's very much part of what we're dreaming of."
The story of TED goes back to 1984, when Richard Saul Wurman -- everyone calls him Ricky -- started the Technology, Entertainment, Design conference. As the former chair of the American Institute of Architects, Wurman had helmed the Aspen international design conference. But with TED, he says, "I just wanted to throw the world's best dinner party."
Wurman wrote the elegant, distinctive design rules that have been key to TED's success: A single track of programming ("They think people want choice, but the people talking at the break don't have a common memory and all feel that they went to the wrong session"); no Q&A ("Out of the first 20 questions you get, 19 are either speeches or bad questions"); and, most famously, an 18-minute-talk length. Wurman is Jewish, and 18 is a significant number in Judaism, representing the word chai, or life. But don't bring that up with him. "It's become mystical -- it's not fucking mystical," he says. "Fifteen minutes would be trivial, too short. If you said 20, people would talk for 25; 19 seems perverse, 17 is a prime number, so I made it 18."
Wurman, who's a cross between Ricky Jay and P.T. Barnum, turned TED into a three-ring circus of ideas. (One year, in fact, a Barnum descendant handed out red noses to attendees.) "I had the stage decorated with Norman Lear's copy of the Declaration of Independence valued at $25 million here; a couple million dollars' worth of Chihuly glass there; a cast of the head of Sue, the big dinosaur from the Field Museum, in Chicago," he remembers. "I had animal acts with live snakes and cheetahs. I kissed a brown bear that was as tall as I was. I had magicians and I had jugglers and I also had Nobel Prize winners and Bill Gates and Billy Graham and the Google guys when they were just two kids from Stanford -- everybody you could think of."
With that kind of mix, speakers (who have never been paid, but don't have to fork over the $6,000 admission fee) would hang around for the entire week, mingling with celebrities, writers, moguls, and their moms in a marathon bull session. These days, TED's atmosphere is more Sundance than circus, but the bull session still thrives. And that's something, sadly, that you won't find on a conventional college campus. "I teach really smart kids," says Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz, whose TED talk on the paradox of choice was based on his best-selling book, "but mostly I'm teaching them. Maybe once or twice a year, some particularly sophisticated, talented, imaginative kid will come up with something I haven't already thought of." The same holds true, he says, of his fellow faculty. "The problem is I've been in this place for a long time and after awhile you develop this lazy attitude that you no longer have anything to learn from your colleagues. You withdraw into your own cocoon. Well, people who come to TED are open to being changed by their interactions and conversations. They're in an environment where they're going to learn something new every five minutes. You could create something like that on a college campus, but generally that doesn't happen."
It's "networking extraordinaire -- just a total bonanza," says Cyndi Stivers, editor of Entertainment Weekly's EW.com . And out of that networking comes action. Wired magazine was born there. An Inconvenient Truth got a big push at the conference. Researchers and not-for-profits find sponsors; writers and scholars find agents and publishers; Web geeks find a path out of obscurity. Esra'a Al Shafei is a 23-year-old from Bahrain who runs an online hub for journalism and free expression called MideastYouth.com . In 2009, she was made a TED Fellow at the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford. "TED gives you a sense of credibility," she says. "I've been running Mideast Youth for four years, but before the fellowship, nobody talked about it." TED connections have led her to sources of technical and moral support that helped her launch CrowdVoice, which tracks voices of protest around the world.
In 2007, biologist E.O. Wilson won TED's annual prize, a $100,000 grant intended to make a world-changing wish expressed from the TED stage come true. Wilson and his team are creating an open biodiversity database called the Encyclopedia of Life. But if you ask them, their TED connections have been even more important than TED's money. Microsoft and Adobe loaned programming expertise, and the high-profile ad agency Razorfish made an award-winning four-minute video of the project. "We're constantly getting messages from people who have heard about us from TED," says Bob Corrigan, the project's acting deputy director, "and their energy has made real contributions."
This is exactly what Anderson hoped for when he bought TED in 2001. "I showed up there in 1998 for the first time," he tells me, "and basically fell completely in love with the conference, the people attending, their willingness to think big, crazy thoughts. From my point of view, it felt like something you could devote your life to."
Like TED, Anderson himself is a blend of technology, shiny entrepreneurialism, and do-good zeal. As the son of a missionary doctor, he grew up in Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan, and as an adult he sold two tech-related publishing companies. After purchasing TED, he changed its status from for-profit to not-for-profit, and went about trying, in Wurman's words, "to save the world." According to Bruno Giussani, a former journalist who now directs TEDGlobal, "Chris believes in the fact that when you put smart people together into a room, they tend to engage, and he wants to use that to make a contribution toward a better world."
The most important thing Chris did," says EW.com's Stivers, "was take this inward-looking, exclusive dinner party, and have it face outward." The TED videos best manifest this about-face, yet they're an idea that almost didn't happen. June Cohen, executive producer of TED Media, says, "Friends of mine thought this was professional suicide. It was not at all obvious that there was an audience for taped lectures online."
Think of online video and what's the first thing that comes to mind? Piano-playing cats? Lady Gaga? Maybe Paris Hilton? The instant popularity of TED talks might say something more promising about both our collective consciousness and our collective attention span. Cohen tells me, "When we launched, the example I used to help size the opportunity was a Malcolm Gladwell podcast that had been downloaded 40,000 times. Actually, the talks were watched 10.5 million times in the first year." People emailed Cohen from all over the world, saying that they had shared a video with their entire address book, or that they'd watched a video with tears running down their face. That passion reset TED's mission. "Within three months, we relaunched ted.com  and realigned the entire organization around this mission of spreading ideas," says Cohen.
It was a risk. Would lecturers who typically pull down five-figure fees agree to sign release forms and give their speeches away online? Would attendees grumble about sharing the secret sauce? "Releasing all the content to the world for free had the potential to capsize our business model," Cohen says. Not so. TED first put the talks online in 2006. "That year," she says, "we increased the fee for the conference by 50%, and sold out in one week with a 1,000-person waiting list."
If you visit ted.com today, you'll find more than 700 talks. The most popular clock 5 million or 6 million views apiece, and are backed by advertising from sponsors such as IBM. "It is absolutely amazing," says Nicholas Negroponte, who spoke at the first dozen TEDs. "I met a man in South Africa recently who told me that his wife is angry because he is spending all his time with a 'mistress' " -- that is, the TED talks.
TED talks appeal to some needs a little further up Maslow's hierarchy than Paris Hilton's video, but they're not steamed broccoli. "Most staged presentations," as Cohen says, "are filmed like a high-school musical." TED uses multiple cameras, ready to catch a close-up when Bill Gates decides to unleash mosquitoes on the crowd to demonstrate a point about malaria. It edits out throat clearing, aiming to grab the viewers' attention in the first 30 seconds. Its techies are expert in what Cohen calls the "black art" of encoding video in various formats -- an embeddable player, streaming video, YouTube, podcast.
One thing that it does have in common with the Hilton video is that when a TED talk goes viral, it changes the star's life. Just ask Jill Bolte Taylor, whose video about her spiritual awakening following a stroke went online in 2008. "My name was placed on Time's Most Influential list for 2008," she says. "Oprah saw the video and interviewed me immediately for her Webcast Soul Series. More than a dozen book publishers saw the video and wanted to republish my self-published book, My Stroke of Insight. It was a remarkable six weeks."
Kevin Kelly, journalist, visionary, Wired brain truster, and TED veteran, puts it best: "This is a new genre of communication. Now, just like people running to The New Yorker with short stories, there's this global competition to do the perfect 18-minute TED talk."
Sure, these talks have their limits as an educational medium. An 18-minute presentation, no matter how expert, can't accommodate anything overly theoretical or technical -- the format is more congenial to Freakonomics than economics. Sometimes the earnestness threatens to overflow, while trendy technophiles and bullish business folk are often too slick. And there's a more fundamental problem with the model: In the age of free, members of TED's virtual faculty don't get rewarded directly for their contributions. They must have a foundation, a consulting business, a book, or a job at a traditional university -- something else to do that ugly work of monetizing their ideas, even as the videos bring TED money from sponsorships.
Nevertheless, the videos are finding their way into classrooms across the world. After posting on Twitter, I heard from educators using them to teach 10th graders at a private school in Arlington, Virginia; MBA students at Indiana University; and even a freshman seminar built entirely around TED talks at the University of Mary Washington, in Virginia. And thanks to volunteers like Anour Dafa-Alla, an Arabic-speaking Sudanese PhD student who lives in Seoul, the Open Translation movement has subtitled 10,000 videos in just one year, bringing them into global classrooms too. This year, 61% of ted.com traffic is from outside the U.S., up from 49% in 2009.
Let's stop to review. With the best minds, an experiential aspect that doesn't burden the venture with ridiculous overhead, a business model that works, a brand name that creates great opportunities for alumni, and a fantastic way of disseminating this learning to the world, TED seems pretty far along in creating a 21st-century education model that's open, yet high in prestige. So what's next? And what's still missing?
"When we put the talks online for free," says licensing director Lara Stein, "the brand was increasing in visibility. The concept was, how can we leverage the power of that and allow people to create something with it?" Stein, previously at Microsoft, championed the idea of allowing the community to create spin-off conferences called TEDx. She established a short-and-sweet set of guidelines designed to affirm the balance TED has always sought between intellectual freedom and quality control. TEDx licenses are free. Events can't be longer than a day. At least 25% of the content must be existing TED talk videos. Local speakers must be recorded, with the videos released to ted.com and also to a YouTube channel. If more than 100 people are to attend, one of the organizers must have attended TED proper and "experienced the TED DNA," as Stein says. Live by those guidelines and you too can set up a TEDx event.
Anderson told me that the response has been overwhelming. "We thought we might get a few dozen and that they'd be small. Instead, we're getting 20 every week, and the ambition is breathtaking. Jeff Bezos was knocked out by [one]. He was saying it's an astonishing phenomenon. It's not exactly a franchise -- there's really no direct obvious precedent." The TEDx events have been on all kinds of themes in all kinds of places, from Sydney and Tel Aviv to the Great Wall, a village in Rajasthan, an American school for the deaf, and a shantytown in Nigeria. Last spring, people stranded in London because of the ash cloud created by Eyjafjallajökull organized a TEDx Volcano in 24 hours, and TEDx Oil Spill took place in Washington, D.C., in response to the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.
I gave a talk at TEDx Atlanta this May, on the future of higher education. The other talks were meaty, and as promised, the networking was even better. I hit it off with fellow speaker Gever Tully, who runs an unusual camp called the Tinkering School. I went to visit him later on the cloudy northern California coast. We played with cardboard and copper wire, as his students do, and he showed me a catamaran designed and hacked together out of PVC pipe by grade-schoolers, as we talked over future plans to collaborate. The experience drew me further into the learner-centered education movement. The Atlanta event was one of three organized by Tod Martin, president of Unboundary, a strategic and brand consultancy in Atlanta that has FedEx and Coca-Cola as clients. "It's more of a self-governing system than a TED-governed system," he says. "But people police the brand reverently once they're entrusted with it."
Giving the store away so successfully has softened even some of TED's harshest critics. In 2008, veteran tech columnist Sarah Lacy wrote a much-noted BusinessWeek piece called "Why I'm Fed Up With TED." Now, Lacy says, "From what I've seen on the ground, TEDx is doing a better job of walking the TED talk of including people from more underprivileged backgrounds in this conversation. I hope that continues. That is way more meaningful than a bunch of famous people sitting in Long Beach together and comes closer to actually changing the world." Even Wurman, who dismisses TEDx as "amateur night at the circus," says that the one he attended was of high quality.
That said, TEDx remains nerve-wracking for the TED team. "One of the mantras of management for the past 20 years has been that you must be obsessive about protecting your brand," says the European director, Giussani. And frankly, there are any number of ways that risk could backfire. What would happen if a TEDx event hosted a junk scientist or a hate-spewing cleric, or had a misfire like the Sarah Silverman debacle this February? (She gave a crude talk at the Long Beach TED conference, Anderson promptly tweeted his disapproval, and TED had its first celebrity fiasco.) And what would happen if TEDx events, by their sheer numbers, start to decline in prestige and excellence? It's hard to see how organizing, participating in, or attending one can give someone the same caliber of contacts or reputational boost as doing the same for TED proper. How can you keep up quality control if you let everyone play?
I don't know the answer. What I do know is that you have to admire an organization that has consistently doubled down on its philosophy of trusting the power of connected individuals and great ideas. "It is truly a new model," Stein says, "this willingness by a community to volunteer and change the world through education, and leveraging the platform to do that. There's nothing I can point to quite like it."
That's why I'm not surprised by TED's next move, which is to help its global community connect online. Global Conversation, which launches this fall and is sponsored by GE, is a set of tools that will allow people to hold conversations and plan meetings through ted.com. "Those tools will have a great impact, by empowering conversations and connection," says Cohen. "That's part of what fascinates me about working at TED: We're catalysts. What happens when you create a platform that can be used by people in a way you never predicted?" The answer, so far, is bold and promising. Here's hoping that promise is fulfilled.
By Lucy Kellaway
Published: September 26 2010 18:14 | Last updated: September 26 2010 18:14
Last week, at the very moment I was writing a column praising Apple for its plain way with words, Steve Jobs was entering into an e-mail exchange with a young woman that took plainness to a whole new level.
Chelsea Isaacs, a student from Long Island University, had got in touch with the Apple press office to get some information about the iPad for a paper she was writing. Six times she tried, but no response. So she e-mailed the chief executive to complain.
“Mr Jobs, I humbly ask why Apple is so wonderfully attentive to the needs of students, whether it be with the latest, greatest invention or the company’s helpful customer service line, and yet, ironically, the media relations department fails to answer any of my questions which are, as I have repeatedly told them, essential to my academic performance.”
Mr Jobs replied: “Our goals do not include helping you get a good grade. Sorry.”
Chelsea composed another long message in which she argued that Apple should have answered out of common courtesy.
This time he responded: “Nope. We have over 300 million users and we can’t respond to their requests unless they involve a problem of some kind. Sorry.”
So she pointed out she was a customer and did have a problem.
He replied: “Please leave us alone.”
It is just possible that Mr Jobs himself didn’t write these e-mails. Indeed, Apple’s media relations department has no more replied to queries on that score than they have to Chelsea’s.
Yet whether he did or not, the world is judging him badly. “Profoundly unhelpful,” says the Guardian. Various Apple-hating readers have gloatingly forwarded the exchange to me, inviting me to swallow my words of praise.
But I’m not going to swallow them. I’m going to spit out some more. Mr Jobs may be a slightly unpleasant piece of work, scary and arrogant. But if these messages are his, I congratulate him on his clarity, his tetchiness and on being entirely in the right.
Chelsea is to be congratulated, too. By goading the head of Apple, she has unwittingly stumbled on a much better topic for a journalistic paper than some nonsense about the iPad.
The first lesson is about brevity. Her initial message was 473 words. His was 12. His words were short and sharp and easy to understand. Hers less so. Even in the one unwieldy sentence quoted above, she makes three elementary mistakes. She uses the word “humble” when she isn’t. She refers to irony when there is none. And sarcasm is always a mistake in an e-mail, especially if you are trying to get your own way.
The next lesson is that it is OK for a CEO to be rude to a customer. The customer need not always be king, especially when he or she is behaving like a spoilt, tiresome brat. So long as the rudeness doesn’t involve a loss of dignity and it isn’t being used, Michael O’Leary-style, as a tiresome stunt to get attention for Ryanair, then it is fine.
Moreover, in this particular case, Mr Jobs’ grumpiness was in the public interest. He was making a vital, though unfashionable, point about priorities. If I were an Apple shareholder I’d be reassured to know that the company’s top priority did not include helping out Chelsea.
The point needs to be made harshly, because modern students simply don’t get it. I often get e-mails from them saying: “I’m doing an essay on marketing. Can you please send me everything you’ve written on this subject?” Next time I’m going to tell them straight: “No, I can’t. It’s not my job.”
When Mr Jobs was a student, if he needed help I daresay he did what we all did back then: ask a teacher, or work it out yourself. But Chelsea’s generation has been duped by the self-esteem movement into believing its development is a matter of general concern, and then duped some more by the internet, which has taught it that the world is democratic and it can have everything right now.
Alas, these beliefs sit so deep, that Mr Jobs’ forceful messages have not struck anywhere near home: Chelsea was last week still indignantly waiting for the busy head of one of the world’s most remarkable companies to say sorry.
“I have nothing against him,” she said magnanimously. “I hope he gives me a call.”
I trust she will have to wait an eternity for that call, and in the meantime will grow up and get a job and discover that working life is not a democracy and there is a hierarchy, and being just a little humble isn’t a bad way to start.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.
|Wired For Information: A Brain Built To Google|
|Gord Hotchkiss, Aug 26, 2010 11:15 AM|
In my last Search Insider, I took you on a neurological tour that gave us a glimpse into how our brains are built to read. Today, let's dig deeper into how our brains guide us through an online hunt for information.
Brain Scans and Searching
First, a recap. In Nicholas Carr's Book, "The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to Our Brains," I focused on one passage -- and one concept -- in particular. It's likely that our brains have built a short cut for reading. The normal translation from a printed word to a concept usually requires multiple mental steps. But because we read so much, and run across some words frequently, it's probable that our brains have built short cuts to help us recognize those words simply by their shape in mere milliseconds, instantly connecting us with the relevant concept. So, let's hold that thought for a moment
The Semel Institute at UCLA recently did a neuroscanning study that monitored what parts of the brain lit up during the act of using a search engine online. What the institute found was that when we become comfortable with the act of searching, our brains become more active. Specifically, the prefrontal cortex, the language centers and the visual cortex all "light up" during the act of searching, as well as some sub-cortical areas.
It's the latter of these that indicates the brain may be using "pre-wired" short cuts to directly connect words and concepts. It's these sub-cortical areas, including the basal ganglia and the hippocampus, where we keep our neural "short cuts." They form the auto-pilot of the brain.
Our Brain's "Waldo" Search Party
Now, let's look at another study that may give us another piece of the puzzle in helping us understand how our brain orchestrates the act of searching online.
Dr. Robert Desimone at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT found that when we look for something specific, we "picture" it in our mind's eye. This internal visualization in effect "wakes up" our brain and creates a synchronized alarm circuit: a group of neurons that hold the image so that we can instantly recognize it, even in complex surroundings. Think of a "Where's Waldo" puzzle. Our brain creates a mental image of Waldo, activating a "search party" of Waldo neurons that synchronize their activities, sharpening our ability to pick out Waldo in the picture. The synchronization of neural activity allows these neurons to zero in on one aspect of the picture, in effect making it stand out from the surrounding detail
Pirolli's Information Foraging
One last academic reference, and then we'll bring the pieces together. Peter Pirolli, from Xerox's PARC, believes we "forage" for information, using the same inherent mechanisms we would use to search for food. So, we hunt for the "scent" of our quarry, but in this case, rather than the smell of food, it's more likely that we lodge the concept of our objective in our heads. And depending on what that concept is, our brains recruit the relevant neurons to help us pick out the right "scent" quickly from its surroundings. If our quarry is something visual, like a person or thing, we probably picture it. But if our brain believes we'll be hunting in a text-heavy environment, we would probably picture the word instead. This is the way the brain primes us for information foraging.
The Googling Brain
This starts to paint a fascinating and complex picture of what our brain might be doing as we use a search engine. First, our brain determines our quarry and starts sending "top down" directives so we can very quickly identify it. Our visual cortex helps us by literally painting a picture of what we might be looking for. If it's a word, our brain becomes sensitized to the shape of the word, helping us recognize it instantly without the heavy lifting of lingual interpretation.
Thus primed, we start to scan the search results. This is not reading, this is scanning our environment in mere milliseconds, looking for scent that may lead the way to our prey. If you've ever looked at a real-time eye-tracking session with a search engine, this is exactly the behavior you'd be seeing.
When we bring all the pieces together, we realize how instantaneous, primal and intuitive this online foraging is. The slow and rational brain only enters the picture as an afterthought.
Googling is done by instinct. Our eyes and brain are connected by a short cut in which decisions are made subconsciously and within milliseconds. This is the forum in which online success is made or missed.
By Lucy Kellaway
Published: September 19 2010 19:26 | Last updated: September 19 2010 19:26
Like most Brits, I find success in others pretty hard to cope with. When that success is combined with good looks, I can’t tolerate it at all.
Apple’s continued glory eats away at me like a maggot at my core. I long for it to pick up some bruises. When the iPad came out, I prayed that it would be awful. My prayers were not heard: like all Apple products, it is sleek and gorgeous, and in due course I shall go to one of its wondrous temples of consumption and grumpily buy one.
Now I find that Apple has succeeded in an area even more revolutionary than designing beautiful products that are easy to use. This time, though, I feel no discomfort. Apple has discovered something that other companies have long forgotten, if they ever knew: language can also be beautiful and easy to use. Words can be fun to read. They can look elegant. They can make you laugh.
Earlier this month it published a set of guidelines for apps sold at its App Store. According to the laws that govern this sort of thing, this document should have been doubly unreadable. It was a list of legal requirements and was aimed at techies. Instead, it was funny and clear, and I found myself reading it effortlessly, even though I barely know what an “app” is.
“We have over 250,000 apps in the App Store. We don’t need any more Fart apps. If your app doesn’t do something useful or provide some form of lasting entertainment, it may not be accepted.”
The tone is direct, comic and elegantly threatening.
“We will reject apps for any content or behaviour that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, I’ll know it when I see it. And we think that you will also know it when you cross it.”
Now compare this to the standard stuff on the Microsoft website. The brand new browser, it says, “delivers a richer, faster, and more business-ready Web experience. Architected to run HTML 5, the beta enables developers to utilise standardised mark-up language across multiple browsers”. Well I never. Reading this, I’m bored and restless, irritated and alienated.
Given the towering superiority of the first linguistic style over the second, will it catch on? Will other companies copy Apple’s language just as they have copied its design?
You might think so. You might think there was a clear commercial advantage to be had in writing clearly and stylishly. But you would be wrong. There is no sign that Microsoft has been suffering from its stolid, dodgy way with words. Indeed it is one of the great mysteries of capitalism that there is no invisible hand that joins good language and good profits. If anything, the hand pushes the two apart.
Even in industries that make their money by selling messages there is no appetite for clarity. Just last week a reader sent me the following sentence from the blog of Bob Jeffrey, the head of JWT, in which he describes what his vast and successful advertising agency does: “Global consumers are rapidly re-evaluating and readjusting their value paradigms and purchasing decisions. Our job is to keep our ear to the ground with these consumers, providing relevant real-time insight to our clients that inspires cutting-edge, cost-efficient solutions.”
The Apple version of this would be something like: “Consumers can change so we try to keep up.” This version reads better, but it is not hard to see why Mr Jeffrey didn’t put it that way. “A relevant real-time insight” sounds like something that a befuddled client might pay more money for.
An even better example of the link between high profits and low language was on the appointments pages in the Financial Times 10 days ago. It was an advertisement from “one of the largest and most trusted banking and financial services organisations in the world” which was hoping to hire a “customer journey re-engineering manager”.
This title contains three layers of obfuscation: the ludicrous yet ubiquitous idea that a banking customer is on a journey; the idea that this journey needs re-engineering; the notion that this needs managing. There is only one conclusion to be drawn: surplus profits generate bonuses and bullshit in equal measure.
The only customers who are really on a journey are those of the transport sector. And as I looked at a collection of them chugging along into Moorgate station last week I thought of another reason why Apple’s brave effort to rehabilitate language won’t catch on. Words are finished. Customers on journeys don’t read. They watch videos on their iPads, iPhones and iPods.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.