Friday, November 21, 2008

WTF Underwear

Have you ever bought a pair of underwear and thought to yourself, "Dang, these underwear would be perfect, if only they had a pocket for my iPod!" Well, to all you modern-day Joel Goodsens out there, you're in luck. Play Underwear offers something called the "iBoxer," an MP3 compatible pair of boxer briefs for men and women. I know companies feel the need to make everything "wired," but isn't this taking it a little far? It almost seems like a product there would be a fake commercial for on SNL... Keep reading...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cool Sites of The Day

Sprint has just released one of the coolest websites I've seen in a while. The main concept behind the site is "Now." Basically the page is a bunch of simple widgets that represent "now" in various ways, from scrolling counters of various items to live video, to interactive games. There's also a futuristic female voice who intones statistics and clever statements every few seconds or so. Definitely a site to check out. Incidentally, I've noticed that several sites recently have used as background noise a low-pitched hum, possibly recorded from an aircraft flying overhead. I'm more of a visual than sound designer, but perhaps this sound is the equivalent of a plain black background on a

Addictomatic is a cool new search engine that simultaneously searches a bunch of different social media sites for the most current web activity on a given topic. Drawing from a variety of sites seems to be the new trend in online search (see also Perhaps Google should get on this boat. It's definitely a much better reflection of today's internet than a single list of webpages. Keep reading...

Cinematic rebirth

In advertising, it’s called rebranding. In showbiz, you can call it a good bet to make lots of money. The basic idea is to take something old and stale, and refresh it to make it popular once again. It’s worked wonders with brands like Tab and Cadillac, and filmmakers have recently adapted the concept to some of our most beloved TV and movie dynasties.

The first example was Batman Begins in 2006. The Batman series was struggling. It had gone from intentionally campy to almost serious to unintentionally campy, and audiences were not pleased. But put in the hands of a “serious” director like Christopher Nolan, and with some intense acting from Christian Bale (just realized both of the principals responsible for this cinematic resurrection have “Christ” in their names), the character was reborn and the soul of this American comic classic revived.

It happened again with Casino Royale in the same year. Writer Paul Haggis and director Martin Campbell rewound the clock on the timeless Bond character, effectively rebooting the story of the debonair British spy. They made Bond more physical (though less sexual), more brooding, and more rugged. The film was less about puns and cheap laughs than a study in cold and efficient espionage.

Both of these films were extremely successful financially, and were followed by equally successful sequels this year. This, too, ran counter to the history of both series; normally each sequential movie was not a direct chronological follow-up to its predecessor, but rather an altogether new story. Next year another landmark series will be reborn on the big screen, namely Star Trek. In the able hands of J.J. Abrams, it will follow James Kirk from boy to captain of the Enterprise. This film, like the others above, must strike a balance between presenting a whole new vision of the story, while also maintaining a visual and narrative link to the past.

No matter what, this return to “seriousness” (possibly mirroring the similar change in politics) is a welcome improvement. With a view to the long term development of the character, rather than an individual blockbuster movie, the studio ends up instead with a succession of blockbuster movies.

Keep reading...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Piperlime: A brand I love

Searching online recently for the best price on a pair of Tom’s shoes, I came across a site called Piperlime. I noticed that the site was connected to the websites of the Gap and Banana Republic, which turned out to be because all three are owned by the same parent company. This came as a surprise to me; I had no idea the Gap operated an e-commerce site that sold other brands of footwear and accessories.

The Piperlime site itself had an excellent, intuitive interface. A variety of pictures from different angles were available for each shoe, all of which could be zoomed in on with no loss in picture quality. I was sold. But before confirming my order, I did a quick search on to see if any coupons were available for Piperlime. And indeed there were; just like that, I got an extra 20% off my purchase. Between the coupon and Piperlime’s free shipping (and free return shipping, if necessary) I spent only $28 and change for the shoes, which cost at least $8 more on other websites. Within minutes I had an email confirmation of my order.

A couple days later, I got another email announcing that my shoes had been shipped, and would arrive in 4-9 business days. To my surprise, they arrived the next day. Inside the box, I found the Tom’s box, wrapped in tissue paper fastened with a Piperlime logo sticker. The interior of the shipping box itself was decorated with a pattern of Piperlime logos, and all the paperwork was tucked neatly into a small green folder made of cardstock. A note from Piperlime thanked me for my purchase, and instructed me how to use the return shipping label if I wasn’t satisfied.

From top to bottom, I was completely blown away by my shopping experience with Piperlime. From the cheery name and logo to the consistent brand identity throughout all consumer touchpoints, Piperlime does everything right. They make the buyer feel happy and appreciated, setting the stage for future purchases. In an era in which customer service is all but dead, it’s great to see a company that takes it so seriously.
Keep reading...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Facebook and Election 2008

When voters went to the polls in 2004, Facebook was still in its infancy. Created in the spring of that year exclusively for Ivy League students, the website was only beginning to spread to larger state universities. High school students were still more than a year away, and the controversial opening to everyone in the world wouldn’t come until late 2006. The role it played in the ’04 election was minimal, for several reasons. Externally, John Kerry was just not as exciting to young voters as Barack Obama. He failed to energize the Facebook generation, and subsequently lost the election. Obama, however, has great appeal to the young and tech-savvy; his youth and composure, his photogenic family, as well as his outstanding personal branding campaign have all contributed to his popularity among a typically-apathetic voting bloc.

Internally, the site itself has evolved immensely, having added many features and undergone numerous changes that have turned it into the world’s most popular social networking site. Status updates, or microblogging, is now an extremely common way of communicating with one’s friends. Users update their Facebook (as well as their Twitter, Gmail, etc.) status with surprising frequency. Though I do not have statistics to support this theory, I would guess the amount of status updates today surpasses that of any previous day. Everyone is weighing in on the election, from proclaiming their political allegiance to decrying the drawn-out campaign. Through the “Causes” application, the site even allows users to donate their status, either in support of a particular candidate, or just to encourage voting.

Beyond the enthusiasm of its community, Facebook offers several applications or tools that allow its users to express their political voice. Within the popular “Gifts” app, one can post buttons to friends’ profiles. These icons normally cost $1, but the special election buttons are free. (The Obama buttons, tellingly, perhaps, are somehow sold out.) Additionally, the site has designed an entire election page, complete with a running counter of Facebookers who have voted and a tool for finding your polling place.

It’s exciting to see a site to central to the daily lives of millions of people playing such an active role in one of the most important elections in decades. Facebook is remaining nonpartisan, merely serving as a resource and gathering place for the hoards of election-hungry news junkies. Politics has gone social, and the world is the better for it.
Keep reading...

Absentee Voting Is Awesome

(Thanks to Zlatko Unger for the sweet photo)

Along with an unprecedented number of other excited citizens, I recently voted with an absentee ballot for the first time (OK, it was only the second presidential election in which I’d been eligible to vote). Nonetheless, the beauty of the absentee ballot was quickly apparent to me. In fact, this type of voting offers so many benefits over traditional polling-place voting, that I believe it should become the standard. Let me explain.

First, the obvious: convenience. The ballot comes to you. No waiting in long lines in the early morning. This inconvenience is a major deterrent for many dispassionate voters, who cannot be bothered to wake up early or take time off from work to head to the polls. Bring the ballot to the voter, and see turnout explode.

This convenience also has an important side benefit, the ability to learn about unknown candidates or referenda instead of casting a blind vote. There are many minor local races that fly under the radar of most voters, but being able to vote at home allows proactive citizens to research the issues online in order to make an informed decision. Thus absentee ballots make the election process both more rational, as well as less prone to common voter biases (first name on the ballot, cool-sounding name, etc.)

Some might argue that mailing tens of millions of ballots is bad for the environment, given the massive amounts of paper it would require. I argue the contrary. Most voters currently drive to the polls, generating large quantities of carbon dioxide, as well as clogging up traffic. Although paper requires energy and resources to produce, it can be recycled. Thus absentee voting is more environmentally friendly.

There is one final bonus to absentee voting: government revenue. Returning a ballot costs each voter about 60 cents, which, when multiplied, is tens of millions of dollars in revenue for the Post Office (suffering lately due to competition from email, as well as reduced quantities of junk mail and catalogs). The cost of a couple stamps is negligible, especially when compared to all the hours of productivity and pay lost when people miss work to vote.

Though it’s too late to vote absentee this year, I strongly encourage everyone to give it one more go at the polls before they close. But we can all hope for a more fair and effective voting process in the future.
Keep reading...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Poor Microsoft Banner Ad

I'll refrain from excoriating Microsoft and CPB for their utterly uncreative and boring television campaign, given the thousands of bloggers who have already done so weeks ago. But I would like to excoriate Microsoft and CPB for the banner currently running on the Yahoo home page. The ad is made up of a bunch of thumbnails of people's faces, and runs across the page. It's completely static, so it really doesn't grab your attention as a banner in that position should.

It's the copy, however, that really bothered me. I had to read the line three times to understand it, due to several copy flaws. First, it's set in all caps, which is generally hard to read. Second, they use an apostrophe to indicate the plural of "PC," which, while understandable, could have been made more legible by setting the "S" in small caps. Third is the confusion introduced by referring to "Real PCs" as "who." Given this pronoun, I assume they mean the people, rather than the PCs, but this conclusion is not an obvious one. Lastly is the phrase "got on TV." I tripped up over the final words twice, and I still am not sure I understand what they mean. In what respect did these people get on TV?

The only redeeming part about this ad is the interactivity of the banner. Each individual square picture is clickable (and programmed with their own rollover action). That's pretty cool, considering most Flash banners have only a handful of distinct clickable areas. The problem is, the payoff for clicking is unimpressive. Just a five second clip of the person saying, "I'm a PC, and I love ____." Booooring. Keep reading...