A pair of theme-park ride designers is restoring the house where Walt and Roy Disney were born, reports Brooks Barnes in The New York Times (12/4/13). The designers are actually a married couple – Dina Benadon and Brent Young – who "mostly work for Disney rivals." The house – located "at the corner of Tripp Avenue and Palmer Street in Hermosa, a working-class neighborhood about five miles from downtown Chicago” – was built in 1893 by Elias Disney, father of the Disney boys. It was based on "blueprints their mother, Flora, helped draft. They lived there until 1906." (video)
The city of Chicago has repeatedly declined to give the house landmark status, and it "has remained a private residence." Last year, Dina and Brent spotted a listing for the home and snapped it up for $173,000. Their plan is to restore it, and "authentically recreate the Disney household life experience," says Brent. They will run it "as a private museum, called the Walt Disney Birthplace, offering tours and staging modest exhibitions." The couple says they will not disrupt the neighborhood, but want to do something more than just put "a plaque on a house."
"Our dream is that this house becomes a place that inspires creativity," says Dina. "We want to inspire parents to raise more Walts and Roys." Dina and Brent hope to raise the $500,000 needed to make that happen via KickStarter, (link) and by "selling mementos from the house, like old shingles encased in glass." They have neither the blessings nor support of the Walt Disney Company, but they do have the gratitude of Roy’s son, who says the family is "pleased to see Wall Disney’s historic birthplace restored to its humble origins." Dina and Brent hope that eventually the site will win landmark status.
December 6, 2013 Comments
The Saab brand is back, producing two 9-3 Aero sedans per day, reports Christina Zander in The Wall Street Journal (12/3/13). Most automakers have to push out "dozens of vehicles per hour to be profitable," but of course Saab is a special case – and at the moment is far from profitable. The Saab nameplate is currently owned by National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB, which is Chinese-backed. It plans to manufacture the 9-3 in Trollhattan, Sweden, and initially will be available for sale in Sweden only, although the long-term plan is to market an electric Saab in China.
For now, however, the cars are strictly gas-powered. If you want to test drive it, you have to travel to the Trollhattan factory, and if you want to buy it, you can only do so online "because a Saab dealer base no longer exists." If you want to buy the first car off the line, that’s not a possibility either because it will first "be shipped to China for a certification process" and "then travel back to Trollhattan, where it will end up at the Saab museum."
In other words, it’s still a very long road ahead for Saab. For starters, its new owner lost about $18.5 million during April and December of 2012. Figures for this year haven’t yet been released. It also must pay "suppliers — burned by the brand’s past – to get back on board after the plant in Trollhattan had sat idle for 2-1/2 years … the new owners of the brand had to invest ‘substantial amounts’ to regain their trust." Company officials are not making sales forecasts but, with production "now up and running" it says it "can make promises on prices and delivery times."
December 6, 2013 Comments
David Gelernter is a computer scientist who hates computers but wants to change that, reports Alexandra Wolfe in The Wall Street Journal (11/30/13). A Yale University professor, David says he refuses to play with computers and claims that whatever success he’s had in the field is because he is such a bad fit for his calling. The only reason he became a computer scientist was because of "a passage in the Talmud saying it’s an obligation to do something practical in addition to studying Torah." He now considers this a "silly decision … made in a bout of ideological fervor."
David’s basic complaint is that computers aren’t logical. "I want software to work in 30 seconds," he says. He’s actually wanted it to work in 30 seconds since the mid-1990s, when he launched a company called Mirror Worlds. He hoped to commercialize software he developed at Yale that "created a desktop format that allowed users to look up a thread through their entire history. Before an appointment with a colleague, for example, the user could hit a button that would pull up every interaction, information exchange and document that related to that person and then list them in narrative order."
When he tested the software among employees of his 30-person company, he enabled them to see each other’s stories. One of them "posted a picture of her engagement ring," and others added "photographs of birds and scanned takeout menus … much like Facebook and Twitter streams today.” The venture failed, but not before Steve Jobs saw it, and allegedly borrowed some of its features (this is now in litigation). David’s son is now trying to revive the software with a new company called Lifestreams, and plans to re-launch it in early 2014, initially among families, Little League teams, and college classes.
December 5, 2013 Comments
It’s no longer sufficient just to take pictures; you need to know how to build the camera too, reports Sophia Hollander in The Wall Street Journal (12/3/13). That’s the thinking at MS 534 in Brooklyn, New York, a public school where students are expected to understand the relationship between arts and science. The camera serves as "bait to draw the user in and then expose them to as many concepts as possible," says Shree Nayar of Columbia University. "One kid may come away being drawn to the sciences, another one may take photography."
So, eighth graders work in pairs to figure out how the 38 pieces of a camera kit fit together before they are turned loose to create art with it. "There’s only one way to put a camera together but there are infinite ways to interpret a picture," observes Jerry James of the Center for Arts Education (CAE). "On one hand you have logistical stuff to work out and on the other hand you have imagination." CAE is "a nonprofit and advocacy organization that promotes arts programs in New York Public Schools." Combining the arts and sciences is seen as a way to stem the decline in funding arts classes.
This drive, known as STEAM – adding an "A" for Arts to the existing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) acronym – is also promoted by the Blue School, founded by members of Blue Man Group, who say their performances were "like a science show … They used pi to calculate wood dimensions" for a drum, for example. "The technology kids have now is the worst technology they’re ever going to have," says Allison Gaines Pell, who heads the school. "We need to give them opportunities to take things apart and put them back together in connection to solving problems in the world."
December 5, 2013 Comments
Viral news can kill viral news, reports Farhad Manjoo in The Wall Street Journal (12/2/13). That’s what Neetzan Zimmerman, whose job it is to feed the viral-news beast on a daily basis for Gawker, worries about. Neetzan generates huge traffic for Gawker by spotting and posting news-stories likely to spread quickly online. The problem is that in recent "years viral news has been co-opted by advertisers, pranksters, political operatives and others looking to sell something." Neetzan feels obligated "to note when a story looks fishy," but when he does, it tends to be a buzz kill.
Neetzan is concerned that if "internet culture eats itself," he’ll be out of a job. "When speaking truth to internet culture doesn’t result in traffic," he worries, "I may lose my edge and I’ll have to find something else to do." For now, however, Neetzan doesn’t seem to have much to worry about: "He posts only about a dozen items a day. Almost every one becomes a big traffic hit – an astonishing rate of success." On a monthly basis, his posts often generate more traffic "than everyone else at Gawker combined," possibly making him "the most popular blogger working on the web today."
Neetzan attributes his hit rate to "a deep connection to his audience’s evolving, irreducibly human, primal sensibilities." He says he can assess a news item’s viral potential within about 15 seconds, crediting a "biological algorithm." His advantage over a machine is his ability to detect subtle shifts in "big story arcs" quickly, feeling "the changes on a day-to-day basis, as the viral news turns." He says it’s like "being plugged into the foundation of man," the "stuff that people really care about, not the stuff they’re pretending to care about at cocktail parties."
December 4, 2013 Comments
The future of books may be more distant than predicted, reports David Streitfeld in The New York Times (12/2/13). The concept of ‘books’ is “apparently embedded so deeply in the collective consciousness that no one can bear to leave it behind.” Apple may have filed “a patent to embed autographs in electronic titles,” and Amazon may have developed Page Flip, “which mimics the act of skimming.” However, “efforts to re-imagine the core experience of the book have stumbled. Dozens of publishing start-ups tried harnessing social reading apps or multimedia but few caught on.”
Among the stumblers is Social Books, “which lets users leave public comments on particular passages” and Push Pop Press “whose avowed aim was to reimagine the book by mixing text, images, audio, video and interactive graphics.” Peter Page, author of Breaking the Page, says the issue is that many “of these solutions were born out of a programmer’s ability to do something rather than the reader’s enthusiasm for things they need … We pursued distractions and called them enhancements.” This has not stopped digital entrepreneurs from developing new platforms, however.
For example, Safari Flow “offers chapters of technical manuals for a $29 monthly subscription fee.” Another service, Inkling, lets users buy single chapters for $4.99 – for instance the pasta chapter of a cookbook. Citia reduces lengthy tomes into a series of “digital cards that can be read on different devices and sent through social networks.” So far, it has “done cards for only four books,” but sees potential for brand storytelling. Peter Brantley of Books in Browsers, says the innovations are coming not from publishers but from technologists who think in terms of “storytelling platforms” rather than the stories themselves.
December 4, 2013 Comments
Brands earn loyalty on at least nine levels. By Michael Harris. We can all agree that loyal customers are of great value, however it is important to distinguish between loyalty marketing and brand loyalty. Ever since the 1980s, when data capture and manipulation could be automated and made cost-efficient, many companies and brands have confused the two. The critical question to ask is: Are consumers more loyal to the brand or the loyalty program? Loyalty marketing programs undoubtedly have their place and do provide specific benefits to brands (notably behavioral data), but enduring loyalty is earned rather than bought.
That’s easy to say, much harder to do. However, brands and businesses that have an intensely loyal and passionate following exhibit one or more of the following traits, starting with having a purpose. Brands that both have and clearly express an evocative reason for being — a feeling that if their brand didn’t exist we’d all be missing something — are also those with much greater levels of loyalty. Brands with real purpose don’t just have much greater customer loyalty; they also outperform their peers. According to research presented by General Mills CMO Mark Addicks at the 2013 Hub Brand-Experience Symposium, purpose-driven brands are growing at five times the rate of the market. continue …
December 4, 2013 Comments
After Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday comes … Giving Tuesday, reports Anne Kadet in The Wall Street Journal (11/30/13). Yes, yet another manufactured day for holiday-fueled action, but this one has an altruistic bent. The idea for Giving Tuesday – “a day for all Americans to give back and make a difference” – actually started with a UK Native, Henry Timms. He got to thinking about what should come after these various retail-driven happenings and the notion of a day of ‘doing good’ came easily.
It so happened that Henry is well-connected, starting with “his mentor, Kathy Calvin, head of the United Nations Foundation,” who had also been Gary Hart‘s press secretary “and the head of branding for AOL in its heyday.” Kathy began seeding the idea with her network of influentials, working through her connections at Unicef to get support from “the nonprofit’s celebrity partners, including Hugh Jackman and Charlize Theron, and her AOL ties ensured support from former CEO Steve Case.” A UN communications chief recruited “a pro bono exec team from top PR firms cranking out press releases.”
Two years later, Giving Tuesday has “1,000 volunteers in all 50 states” and “more than 8,300 partners planning events and promotions, including big names like Walmart and United Way. It has garnered more than 970 press mentions and 2.5 million social-media impressions.” Despite this, Kathy puts awareness of Giving Tuesday at about five percent of the US population. But Henry sees it taking off as the “unselfie” – that is, people “posting pictures of themselves doing good deeds” and Tweeting about it. “It’s a moment of permission,” says Kathy. “It’s cool to tell people what you’re doing.”
December 3, 2013 Comments
A mobile game whose goal is to kill people by spreading infectious disease is embraced by “gamers and public health officials alike,” reports Meg Tirrell in Bloomberg Businessweek (12/2/13). Plague Inc., available as a 99¢ download “on iPhone, iPad and Android,” has attracted “more than 15 million downloads since its release last year.” Its premise is that players take advantage of the vulnerabilities of countries around the world – “climate, population density, poverty – to help … disease spread before a cure is discovered.”
This appeals to W. Ian Lipkin, director of Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity. “Games like this reach people who don’t think about the importance of science,” he says. Dave Daigle, a spokesman for the US Centers for Disease Control, agrees. “We think everyone can learn from this,” he says. “Public health is one of those things very few of us know about unless something goes wrong.” The need for awareness is especially high given cutbacks for funding for science in the US.
Plague Inc. is the brainchild of James Vaughan, 26, who “designed it around actual risks such as antibiotic resistance.” He did not, however, “build the game with education in mind. While a consultant with Accenture in London, he sought a creative side project” and “spent less than $5,000 developing the game over the course of a year.” He says he now gets emails from everyone “from people teaching 11-year-olds to people doing PhDs in infectious diseases,” including messages from parents delighted that “Little Timmy” is suddenly interested in “where Bolivia is” and what kind of climate it has.
December 3, 2013 Comments
Most of its stuff is made overseas, but J.Crew "has come to own the Americana movement in men’s fashion," reports Emma Rosenblum in Bloomberg Businessweek (12/2/13). This fits well with J.Crew’s plans for global expansion, as "there’s huge demand for the ‘authentic’ heritage brands that J.Crew has curated" worldwide. With London’s Regent Street its first stop, it also helps that J.Crew has no history in overseas markets, and no prior image to live down. "The advantage we have in coming to London now is that it’s not J.Crew how it used to be," says CEO Mickey Drexler. "It’s brand new."
Perhaps best of all, there’s no need to tailor for the local market – "the Regent Street store could be in Ohio of Nevada or New York. It’s artfully filled with the latest designs … the same ones sold across the US – women’s skinny jeans and worn-in chambray shirts, men’s vaguely vintage plaid button-downs and slim-cut chinos … The vibe is casually stylish, cool yet cheerful. Perfectly American." The formula has certainly worked well across the retailer’s 446 North American stores, with revenues "up 20.1 percent" last year. The London market is different though.
In the US, J.Crew is known for offering department-store fashions at lower prices. In the UK, goods "are priced the same in pounds as in US dollars" – in other words, about 40 percent higher. However, Mickey says prices always vary from country to country, adding that the overseas stores promote the domestic ones, as "customers will buy even more when they come to America, because it’s cheaper." After London, J.Crew will move into Hong Kong, which should be fertile turf because customers "have historically gravitated toward logos and the it-costs-more-so-it-must-be-better mentality."
December 2, 2013 Comments