We are Anti-Modern

Design, Uncategorized

PSFK posted an article on a new, exclusive, invitation-only social network called Metrofunk.  The concept for this social network is described as “nightlife, fashion, sound and music.”

This sounds like a bad :30 for a vodka brand.  Visions of chicks with daddy issues sucking on an ice cubes surrounded by dashing metrosexuals come to mind.

But what did catch my eye was an image PSFK copied from the Metrofunk homepage and posted on their site:


What is this design called?  It has been popping up all over the place for at least five years (probably longer if you have lived in Brooklyn).  It is the mark of a hipster, the fashion of the decade, and yet I can’t seem to find anyone that has firmly marked it as the symbol of design post-grunge.

I looked around for an answer to my question, and all I got was this from Wikipedia (not sourced…but I like it):

In the ’00s, as the future began to seem increasingly bleak, fashion, and indeed the Arts in general, looked to the past for inspiration, arguably more so than in previous decades. Vintage clothing, especially from the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties became extremely popular and fashion designers often sought to emulate bygone styles in their collections. The early ’00s saw a continuation of the minimalist look of the Nineties in high fashion.

Later on, designers began to adopt a more colorful, feminine, excessive, and ‘anti-modern’ look. 

Yes yes, we all know this decade is about postmodern art: the “bleak” end of the road.  The 80s are back, as are the 90s, as are the 50s, 60s and 70s for that matter.  There are no new layers to uncover, only existing layers to inhibit.

BUT, this (lack of) style aside, the design from Metrofunk is not really a part of any decade.  It is quintessentially part of this decade.  Anti-modern is to the 00s as grunge was to my adolescence.

Examples are best found in t-shirt design:




Planning Spore


Some people become planners over a long period of time. For me, it was sudden. I became a planner when I got hold of Will Wright’s Sim City in the summer of 1989.


Since then, Will Wright has gone onto build blockbusters including Sim Earth and The Sims. His most recent project – for those who don’t know – is Spore.  The game allows a player to control the evolution of a species from its existence as a multicellular organism to a spacefaring sapient creature.  It has been under development for years and is expected to be released this coming spring.


Earlier this month, Wright gave a demonstration of his game at the 2007 New Yorker Conference. There are plenty of demos on the web already, but what this interview had was a thought-provoking Q&A session after the demo.

Write, one of the great planners of modern times, made two comments that struck this planner as profound.

The first comment was in regards to the issue of gaming reviews. Write notes that the gaming programmers of the world have not built a common vernacular to describe their work, thereby making it difficult for journalists, game reviewers and the like to qualify games with the same systems (e.g., stars, thumbs up) they often give to movies, music, and other forms of media entertainment. The fact this rating system remains nonexistent is but one more reason the world of marketing has trouble understanding how to tap into the gaming culture (beyond the G*ddamn in-game billboard).

The second issue he raised was how Spore and its genre is going beyond the traditional gaming style. Like my beloved Sim City, Spore has no goal and no end but what the player determines. There is little carnage and fewer adversaries other than your own skill set, imagination, and free time. Moreover, the game changes with the decisions you make. It is not a single path whereby a guy, be it Zelda or Master Chief, wreaks carnage, nor it is a specified rectangle where automated players chuck around a ball.

According to Wright, Spore and its ilk are designed so that “players are building a [path] in their head. The players are constructing the model as they play.”  In the interview, Wright went onto say “We build programing that starts modifying itself around what you enjoy doing. What your skill set is. What your aesthetics are. It can start modifying itself around you. THIS MAKES THEM A WHOLE NEW FORM OF MEDIA.”

Well, I don’t know if this is a totally “new form” of media, but it is definitely progressive. TiVo has a lot of the same traits, as do some of the new media search engines that aggregate your tastes and make recommendations you may not expect. But Wright does have a point; the largest untapped realm of game development is the type of game that changes its fundamental elements based customer control.  Smells like a virtual world, no?

There are plenty of other nuggets in the interview that make it worth the watch, including Wright’s thoughts on how gaming technology mirrors the Renaissance. I highly recommend it: CLICK HERE for the full presentation/interview.


Virtual Inertia

Virtual Worlds, Web 2.0

A new virtual world by the name of Kinset has been creating some buzz lately.  Boston Globe wrote them up last week, and MIT gave their perspective on the format this past Tuesday.


Kinset is essentially a Second Life that is devoted to retail.  It’s a walled garden, it requires that users download software, and it’s a bit clunky.  It has a few interesting additions, such as search, but for all intents and purposes it is more of the same.

I could rant about their choice in using a real bookstore for virtual inspiration – floors and aisles and bookshelves – all day, but I won’t. 

Well, maybe a little. 

It’s creatively lazy, guys.  Adhere to the cliche and think outside the box.

Moving on, I strongly believe that Kinset is doomed to mediocrity by the simple fact it has not built itself as a web-based technology open (or licensed) to the general public.

Web-based virtual worlds (WBVWs) are still in their infancy, but when the technology catches up with our dreams, many 2D websites will be converted to 3D. 

Fortunately, WBVWs got a leg up last month.  After years of speculation, the startup Areaehas built the most powerful and open WBVW ever.  It is called Metaplace.


Wagner James Au of GigaOMgave the new software a great writeup.  At the TechChrunch40 conference, were Metaplace was unveiled, he writes:

To be honest, I’d expected a user-created online world built on top of a Java platform or something. Instead, Koster’s vision is far more ambitious: in effect, he’s proposing to make online world elements like dynamic, graphically shared space, avatars, and virtual currency part of the standard code which drives the web. How is that possible, and how can they compete in such a crowded market?

Here is how Areae is going to do it (per Au’s notes):

  1. Destroy the Walled Garden (YES!)
    • The Metaplace platform is a web browser with virtual world capacity.  It comes with a toolkit, and if people want to build worlds – for any reason – Areae will host it.
    • It uses HTML-style code and each individual “world” is served by the Areae network. Any code can literally be copied and pasted from one page to another.
    • Instead of a contiguous world (like Second Life or Kinset), someone visiting the Metaplace site will get a YouTube-style home page, but instead of videos you will get teasers of all the virtual worlds available to explore.  2D plus 3D.  I love it…check out the demo at the bottom of this post.
  2. Get Gamers To Embrace the System
    • Areae has been talking with an “A-list roster of people interested in creating their projects in Metaspace.”  Soon, several MMOs will be built on the network, which could help Metaplace get an critical mass of followers in a hurry.
  3. Have Multiple Revenue Models
    • Make it free to use.  Make it free to host.  Start charging when the traffic increases to a critical mass.  This is the tactic many blog hosts (e.g., WordPress) use.
    • Let companies sponsor sites…duh.
    • Build out a virtual currency that can be shared across the network (I hate this idea…but they’re going to use it anyways).
    • Build out an Adsense-style ad network that will track and target user behavior.

Au summed up his article with the philosophical differences between Second Life and Metaplace:

While Second Life is evolving as an immersive 3D metaverse which slowly incorporates web elements like XML and RSS in-world, Metaplace is beginning as a web-based network which swallows the attributes of online worlds. As Koster put it: “We don’t think the Net is getting stuffed inside a giant 3D client.” That’s just the Second Life strategy, which demonstrates the fundamental philosophical difference between Raph Koster’s Areae and Philip Rosedale’s Linden Lab. Rosedale wants a one-world utopia where all Second Life users share the same space. Koster wants a metaverse that looks more like the web. “Cramming people into one world doesn’t make sense to us,” he told me.

Amen.  This is exactly what we need.  It is going to be very exciting to see how Metaplace changes the web, and communication, as we know it.

Raph Koster’s Demo of Metaplace:

Rogue Advertising

Ad Biz, Heroes, iTV, NBC, NBC Rewind, Nissan, Rogue, Web 2.0

I have recently become a junky for Heroes.  I say recently because I’m a year late to the party. 

After rushing to finish the first season in only two weeks via Netflix, I geared up for the second season only to discover it had already started.  Nice timing, NBC.

Fortunately, NBC has one of the best online content sources on the Web: NBC Video Rewind.

There, I have caught up with what is going on in the second season.  I have been pleasantly surprised with the image and sound quality coming through my home network (DSL and Aiport Extreme) to the point that I have decided not to watch any future episodes on TV.  I just wait until Monday night’s episode is uploaded on Tuesday (which means I have a new episode to watch tonight).

The only thing that irritates me about this service is the advertising model.  NBC is still working out the kinks, but as far as I can tell they have chosen to keep the same format: ten minutes of content followed by a commercial break.  Rinse.  Repeat.

The breaks are only one spot long, and from what I can tell they are devoted wholely to one company that buys all the blocks for a given episode.  That’s not irritating, but what the companies choose to do with their time is.  It’s the same spot they air on television, broadcast over and over and over and over and over…

This is a slap in the face of the medium in which the advertising sits.  This is not TV, don’t run a TV spot.

The only exception is for Heroes episode 205 (2nd season, 5th episode).  This one was snagged by Nissan to advertise their new Rogue crossover (also seen extensively throughout the second season of Heroes).

What Nissan chose to do was make spots specifically for this format.  They aren’t remakes of their TV work or their website; rather, they are interactive snippets that let you scroll over the ads with your mouse to activate information about the car.  You can even click on it to learn more (without interrupting Heroes).  The interactive component quickly exits the screen after 30 seconds, and on with the show:


Great stuff.

It also ties in nicely with the microsite built out for the car. 

At this site, you can learn more about the car, play a few games, and customize your own Rogue (to ultimately purchase):


Try to get the ball past the cabbie in Rogue Baller


Avoid potholes while driving through a digital city in Maze Master.

Inform.  Entertain.  Engage.

Check. Check. Check.

Kudos to Nissan.  You are the first brand (I know of) to figure out iTV. 

Target Shoots the Messenger

Ad Biz, courier bag, Cultures & Fringes, Design & Creativity, Lamitron, Pop Culturisms, RootPhi, Target, Timbuk2, Wal Mart

This past June, Treehugger reported that Timbuk2 was going to team up with RootPhito build a messenger bag by pressing (laminating) recycled billboards, grocery bags, posters, and the like.  The bags will be called Lamitron, and their development process has been closely watched by influential bloggers including Cool HuntingWired and PSFK.

Here are a few prototypes:




I dig it.  I dig it so much that I have postponed buying a new courier bag until these roll out.  Think about it, an ad guy walking around with a bag made of deconstructed ads. 

I signed up for their email and was immediately notified that Lamitron bags would be available for purchase as soon as Timbuk2 and RootPhi ironed out the production process.  That original email is lost, but it included an image with yet another example of what the bags could look like (ever mindful that they are all custom):


(sorry for the fuzzy image…I had to do a screen capture)

As you can see, one of the primary materials RootPhi and Timbuk2 were playing with was the always hip, always branded Target shopping bag.  Cool idea, right?

Not according to Target.

Today, Timbuk2 sent out another email notifying all those interested in Lamitron bags that Target tossed them a cease and desist order.  It read:


Note the Lamitron bag in this email.  The right panel, made of a Target shopping bag, has been blurred. 

Obviously, Timbuk2 is taking this cease and decist letter seriously.  Their tact and tone indicates they do not want to poke the beast for fear of legal repercussions, but come on…

Shame on you, Target.  This is a new era, and you know that.  Your marketing efforts are some of the most progressive in the world.  You have a keen understanding of how to engage customers in new, interactive ways.

Timbuk2 may be another “company” rather than a “customer”, but what they offer you is a way to keep the Target brand relevant, fresh, and at the cutting edge of fashion and design.  Why in the world would you ask Timbuk2 to remove your logo from their bags?  It is a critical step in the wrong direction.

I have not control over the process, but I’m hopeful that, in an act of passive aggression, Timbuk2 and RootPhi stop by Wal-Mart on their way to the printing press:


A New Take on In-Game Advertising

Ad Biz, Media, Toyota Tacoma Viral Video YouTube, Viral

Did you see me lay down the law?

Absolutely brilliant strategy. The mid-size truck always gets a bad rap. Everyone is familiar with the mullet-and-gun machismo that is a full-size pickup spot, but how often do you look at an ad for a mid-size truck and feel cool? Tundra has some competition from the likes of Ford, Chevy, and GMC, but Tacoma is playing in a league of its own.

Nerd Nation Was Here


There is a civil war going on amongst the geeks.  How was I not told?

It turns out the geek community is split right now.  Since hipsters have recently adopted so many of the traits of geek culture – the dress, the hair styles, the nervous ticks, the social awkwardness, the lack of hygene – true geeks have been working to reestablish their authority.

It should be noted that such a discussion would have been very helpful to my status in elementary school.  Alas, all of this is two decades too late.

Moving on, the battle line has been drawn.  Those labeling themselves as “true geeks” have decided that one must be studied and committed to the sciences and technology to be truly considered a geek.  Anyone that dabbles only in the worlds of entertainment and/or liberal arts is an impostor – labeled geek chic – worthy of disintegration by ray gun…if ray guns existed.

TRUE GEEK                                              GEEK CHIC

geek.jpg       geek-chic.jpg

To ensure their rightful thrown remains intact, the true geeks have cultivated a number of behavioral traits (or markers) that anyone labeled geek chic would find inaccessible.   The primary marker of a true geek today is geek humor.

Geek humor is rather complex.  Some subcultures do not understand the humor of other subcultures, but that’s for another blog post.  The one thing most true geeks can agree on is xkcd is funny as hell.


xkcd is a comic started by Randall Munroe.  Born in 1984, Munroe is a programmer and graduated with a degree in physics.  Before and after graduation, he acted as a contractor for NASA.  He also likes to “go to goth clubs dressed as a frat guy so [he] can stand around and look terribly uncomfortable. At frat parties [he does] the same thing, but the other way around.”

True geek?  Yes.

Munroe’s comic came to life after he realized his stick drawings along the margins of his notebooks needed their own gallery.  He started xkcd by scanning his work.  Here’s a sample:


I don’t get it, but I’m not the audience.  There are a lot of true geeks out there that eat this stuff up.  His audience has been growing by leaps and bounds, and today xkcd is so lucrative that Munroe has left his gig at NASA to draw full time.

A few weeks ago, Munroe posted this comic:


Again, I don’t get it, but xkcd readers did.  True geeks immediately noticed coordinates in the banner at the bottom-left frame:  42.39561 -71.13057 2007 09 23 14 38 00

Interpreted, these are coordinates to a small park in North Cambridge, MA, on September 23, 2007, at 2:38 PM.

The xkcd forum lit up.  People starting talking about what these coordinates meant.  It was soon understood that this would be a gathering of massive, geek proportions.  People started making plans.

Jason Tocci, author of Geek Studies, got wind of the event and made his way there.  Here is a bit of his report:

As I walked into the park, I saw some college-age guys milling about, making eye contact with me to see if I was there for the event. They greeted me as I approached; one was from Long Island, and another was from Russia. He flew here just for the event, and had to get help from others on the XKCD forums in obtaining a visa…


By 2:30, hundreds of happy geeks were scattered across the park. A small group was competitively trying to see how far they could extend tape measures before they bent (as suggested in this post). A few were in costume or carrying props; I spotted one furry, a guy in a cape, a few people dressed as stick figures (e.g., tape over a white outfit), several people with foam or papier-mache weapons, and two people holding up “citation needed” signs (as in the Wikipedia reference from this post). The folks with fake weapons had playful battles for onlookers.


The center of the playground was especially densely packed with mostly college-age men and women shoulder-to-shoulder in t-shirts referencing XKCD, Penny Arcade, MIT, and countless obscure jokes about science, math, and video games. I hurried to the center of the throng, taking pictures as I went, as people started a ten-second countdown to 2:38. After the cheers that followed, some started chanting “Ran-dall, Ran-dall,” calling for the creator of the comic to appear. I noticed a giant, unfinished version of the comic strip that started it all, affixed to the fence against the basketball court.


Randall Munroe appeared next to the strip just as people were calling “Speech! Speech!” All heads turned and the crowd quieted as he shouted, “Thanks for showing up.” Laughs, and he explained that the original strip ended wrong; apparently, wanting something enough does make it happen. Cheers, and he explained the next step: This means the comic needs a new ending, so he brought some markers. “It’s like Wikipedia,” he shouted, and in no particular order, people made their way to the strip to finish it in their own ways.


To me, this is a truly beautiful thing. 

This meetup shows how an audience can be empowered by the Internet and, more specifically, social media.  There are true nerds all over the world, many of whom want to find like-minded people.  Yes, we have seen this many times before with flash mobs and MMORPGs, but who would have thought that a comic strip, a web forum, and mapping coordinates would be what is necessary for true nerds to organize? I would love to know if Munroe had any idea what he was starting when he posted that comic weeks ago.

I wish I could have been there.  I wouldn’t have fit in, but maybe that is to be expected.  Who fits in among those who do not fit in?  The xkcd meetup proves that, even in the face of competition from the geek chic, the true geeks have staying power in American culture.



Cultures & Fringes, scavenger hunt, travel

I got hold of two interesting posts today that seem to tell a larger story.

The first was from Freakonomics.  Stephen Dubner got Arthur Frommer, travel magnet, to sit down and answer some reader questions.  Two stood out:

Q: What is the biggest mistake people make when traveling?

A: They fail to prepare themselves by delving deeply into the history and culture of the destination in advance of arriving. They wander as utter novices, unable to understand the sights and institutions brought to their attention. And all the lectured commentaries of their tour guide simply add to the confusion. Advance reading — a few nights at the library — is the key to a successful trip.

Q:What are your thoughts on Xavier De Maistre’s Voyage Autour de ma Chambre, in which the French writer urged that before we jet off to see the world, we should apply the same curiosity and attentiveness to our immediate surroundings? Do you think our obsession with travel blinds us to local pleasures?

A: I’ve always found that the best travelers are the very same people who are intensely interested in the history and culture of their own home city.

My takeaway is that innate curiosity prepares one to be a good traveler.  Time and curiosity prepares one (in Frommer’s words) to expand oneself.

The second post came from PSFK where Jeff Squires wrote up a piece on a new form of travel:

Urban Dare is a new competition that takes teams of two and sends them out into the city to complete various challenges in what is essentially a modern scavenger hunt. Part photo hunt, part trivia, part dares, teams solve clues to reach checkpoints where they must complete challenges and document it with a digital camera before receiving a ‘passport stamp’ and moving onto the next checkpoint. To solve the clues and get around town, competitors are encouraged to utilize any wireless technology they have at their disposal – this includes calling a buddy with Wikipedia and Google maps already open and expecting their call. Typically, the races last between 3 and 4 hours and teams cover around 6 miles. Transportation is limited to walking, running, and public transportation – no bikes, cars, or taxis.

As I’m sure Jeff knows, Urban Dare is part of a larger trend in travel: the urban scavenger hunt.

Cloud 9 offers a similar hunt.  Ultimate Quest has started a scavenger program in L.A.  Scaventures builds them out as chances for corporates to build team moral.  Singles clubs like this one in Chicago are starting their own.  Even brands have taken up the cause, including Nike (great site) and Subaru (corny site).

In my opinion, Frommer has it right – we need time and preparation to enjoy travel – but the catch is most people who can afford trips to foreign lands lack time.  There in lies the demand for a type of travel where people can learn about a place – sometimes on the run – in way that is familiar.  It’s fast, often based on technology, always based on gaming, with an outcome of personal expansion.