Tag Archive | "innovation"

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Hearst Hosts Fashion Week Hackathon Amid an Evolving Publishing Industry


This post was originally published by PBS MediaShift on February 13, 2013. I reported live from the Hearst Fashion Hack, during Fashion Week, during a blizzard. Totally ruined my shoes.

Picture this: You’re waiting in line at your favorite local drugstore or grocery store and have two minutes to kill. What do you do?

Five years ago, many people would flip through one of the many magazines positioned near the checkout counter: Cosmo, maybe, or Esquire.

In 2013, we still browse and buy magazines in checkout lines, but customers are much more likely to whip out their smartphones — checking text messages, updating Twitter or Instagram, maybe a quick game of Angry Birds. But not so much reading sex tips in Cosmo anymore.

That’s a big problem — not just for your spouse or significant other, but for the traditional magazine publishing industry in general, which has seen it’s single-issue sales plummet because of scenarios just like I described above. Why buy four magazines and a newspaper for a cross-country flight, when you can get lots of media on your iPad or Kindle?

“We do find a number of people, if stalled for a minute, will steal a look at their email or news feed. Everyone that has products at checkout has to battle for consumer attention,” David Carey, president of Hearst Magazines, was recently quoted as saying on the front page of the Financial Times. You see, Hearst Corporation publishes Cosmopolitan and Esquire and a number of other popular titles like Elle, and you’re not buying as much of them as you used to. Roughly 18 percent less of them in the U.S., in fact.

Not coincidentally, I found myself sitting in the auditorium at Hearst Tower the very day after that quotation appeared in the FT, listening to Carey kick off a hackathon with roughly 150 hackers, designers, and fashionistas in attendance to compete for cash and prizes for the best new pieces of software designed in a frenzied 24-hour session focused on fashion and mobile.

If you’re going to look at your phone at Whole Foods, Hearst wants to be in your phone. As Carey said in the Hearst Fashion Hack kickoff, “We are blessed with so much IP.” Now the only question is, what are all these geeks going to do with it? It’s easy enough to come up with some applications of Hearst’s API, but will the new apps be truly relevant to readers as they move from print and across screens? That was the question posed to the hackers by Hearst’s creative CTO, Phil Wiser.

Creativity compressed

Hearst is an old company — over 100 years old, in fact, founded in 1886 by an American icon, William Randolph Hearst. The company is still, to a large degree, controlled by his direct descendents, which is great for control and stability but not necessarily for creative destruction. Regardless, the face of media and publishing is evolving rapidly, and Hearst and similar organizations (think: Conde Nast, News Corp., large book publishers like Pearson) need to experiment with new technologies and business models for their very survival.

And so an experiment began with these hackers and their technology company partners and sponsors, including Microsoft (which I work for), Google, Amazon, HTC, Klout, GILT, and more, fueled by Red Bull, coffee (writer’s note: the coffee in the Hearst Tower lobby is actually pretty great), cookies, and a phalanx of beefy, suited security guards watching over more nerds in one room than they’ve probably seen in their lifetimes.

At some point during the Hearst Fashion Hack, the VP of Engineering at Hearst, Jim Mortko, commented, “There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you have to get something done in a compressed time period.” And compressed this hackathon was, down to only about 24 hours due to, oh nothing, a Fashion Week blizzard that befell the city the evening before. But passionate hackers arrived on time in the snow and slush, ready to create fashion and mobile applications drawing on Hearst’s API and those of the tech partners present.

The hacks

I write in some detail about the best apps (and particularly about the best Microsoft platform-based projects) elsewhere at Publicyte.com, but here’s a sampler of some that I liked, in general:

  • Co-Fashion correlates static content from Hearst’s magazines with trending social conversations (on Twitter, etc.), filtered and curated by influence and theme. For example, I could pull up all the Esquire articles about coats from 2012 and cross-reference that with what coats influential people are sharing photos of online; I may find that Esquire recommends bold, plaid coats, but that influencers I follow outside of New York City and Boston haven’t bought into the message yet.
  • Zine helps you self-publish your own magazine based on Hearst’s content. Their tag line is “Ziners gotta zine.” For example, if I wanted to I could publish a zine that deciphers women’s fashion trends for urban men (I’d call it Mysterious.)
  • Shop Up extends the retail experience by empowering you to pull up Hearst content about a specific item of clothing. If you’re like me and one dress shirt looks a bit like the next one, you can actually scan the bar code and learn that Esquire recommends, say, the Ralph Lauren dress shirts but never discusses Hugo Boss ones, and that may influence your purchasing decision. (This one would be nice to see on kiosks in in retail stores too, perhaps.)

One new app even projected Hearst’s magazine content onto the inside of an umbrella (how apropos in the bad weather) — take that, smartphones!

With startups like ModCloth, StyleSeat, Birchbox and others merging fashion and technology and making Fast Company’s “most innovative companies in technology” list for 2013, it’s more important than ever for fashion brands, media companies, and other entities in the space to be building relationships with tech-savvy idea people, developers, and established entrepreneurs.

By that standard, Hearst Fashion Hack was a success for its namesake. Wiser summed it up nicely for me just before the final app judging on the stunning 44th floor of Hearst Tower, overlooking Central Park and midtown Manhattan: “This event has already exceeded our expectations…Everything is upside from here.” I’m looking forward to seeing if Hearst Fashion Hack becomes a yearly New York Fashion Week staple.

Mark Drapeau, Ph.D. is the director of innovative engagement for Microsoft’s public sector division, is a member of the Microsoft Office of Civic Innovation, and is the producer of the Microsoft-Bloomingdale’s charity fashion show series Geek 2 Chic. You can follow him on Twitter at @cheeky_geeky.

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SECTOR: PUBLIC – A New Site About Technology For Public Good


Last week, during the Mashable / 92Y / UN Foundation “Social Good Summit” in New York, I launched a new website called SECTOR: PUBLIC.  The focus of this blog is on leading the conversation about innovative social change via technology’s influence on the public sector, public service, and public good.
 
From my “Letter from the Editor“:

Right now, three entities contributing to the public good – citizens, the public sector, and private businesses – are incredibly dependent on each other. Citizens need support from government and the broader public sector, and jobs from businesses.  The public sector needs the support of the private sector through products and services, and needs input, ideas, and other contributions from its citizens.  And private sector organizations increasingly seek to stand for something more than merely selling products – they seek to help the public sector and contribute to citizens’ well-being.

SECTOR: PUBLIC lives where these three entities meet.  If necessity is the mother of invention, there has been no period in our lifetimes during which technological innovation is able to have such a great impact on civic progress.  Every day at SECTOR: PUBLIC, we will discuss cutting-edge technology, share public sector stories, and provide thought leadership about how American progress and public good are being both disrupted and benefited by the rapid innovation era we are living through.

Check out a well-received initial post about “Open Government Entrepreneurship” and read our “Geek 2 Chic” interview with the innovative CEO of iStrategyLabs, Peter Corbett.
 
I hope that many of you find my new website about public sector and public service stories involving technology useful and interesting!
 
You can subscribe to SECTOR: PUBLIC by email or RSS, and follow the Twitter feed at http://twitter.com/sectorpublic.  Learn more about our goals for the site in this Federal News Radio interview.

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What Does Innovative Social Engagement Look Like?


As many of you know, I’ve been thinking about the topic of Government 2.0 a lot lately. Part of this topic deals with the multi-directional engagement between government and citizens. This is what the White House and others have termed a more transparent, collaborative, and participatory government.

Unfortunately, the engagement for the most part is not very authentic nor meaningful. Boring “fan pages” on Facebook are one example I’ve written about, but there are many others. Often, engagement, when it does happen has so many rules associated with it, or such a high barrier to entry, or such a limited window as to be practically meaningless.

It seems to me that everyone can celebrate the fact that government entities merely have a YouTube channel here, a Twitter account there, or a Blogger profile some other place (the so-called “TGIF revolution“), or we can think a little harder about what the goals of citizen engagement really might be.

On the evening of Nov 2nd, I tweeted from my phone about a local restaurant, Co Co Sala, just as I was leaving. We had a nice experience, but the hostess had been a little, shall we say, disinterested in helping us? So I commented as much.

Less than a week later, the co-owner of Co Co Sala sent me an email and cc’d his general manager. He apologized for the treatment I experienced, assured me it was not policy, introduced me to the manager, and said he’d talk to his staff. It was a four-paragraph email. I’ve never met him before, and furthermore, my personal email is discoverable but not the most easy thing to find.

This is what real social innovation looks like. This is what customer service looks like. This is what true engagement with stakeholders looks like. I want to give this great lounge Co Co Sala a hearty shout-out for not only having a great product, but also really caring about their customers.

Now, imagine we weren’t talking about a restaurant here. Imagine we are talking about the Department of Motor Vehicles, or the Patent and Trademark Office, or your Congressman. If you tweeted, would they see it? Would they care? Would they react in any way? I think the answer in many cases is no.

Let’s look at a sliver of data. According to TweetStats.com, the people behind the White House Twitter account reply to individuals less than 2% of the time, and seem to have never @ replied to any single more than once (i.e., they have never come close to a conversation). They re-tweet others’ tweets about 6.5% of the time, but they only seem to re-tweet other government accounts and the New York Times. Granted, there are more people tweeting about White House issues than Co Co Sala, but does the above data represent any caring in any way, shape or form?

The terrific TechPresident blog recently noted that actor Vin Diesel is the single most followed living person on Facebook – and that he recently passed up President Obama. Perhaps that’s because Vin Diesel’s Facebook fan page is awesome. He is engaged, his fans are engaged, and the tone is informal and fun. When did “serious and formal” become a substitute for “informative and meaningful” in government circles? Why is everyone scared of letting their guard down in public?

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The Emerging Twitter List Arms Race


I use Twitter a lot, but I was not among the very first to see the new Lists feature. I can now, though. And what I find much more interesting than actually using the feature myself is the fact that I woke up this morning to find that I was on dozens of other people’s lists.

Even though the irony is that Twitter introduced lists about a year after I stopped wanting such a feature, I do think there is some value in having other people put me on their lists. Braggadocio. Oh yes, braggadocio. I’m talking about the incredible hubris that comes from knowing I’m on Ezra Butler’s list of people he’d take a rubber bullet for, the chutzpah of telling everyone that luminary Tim O’Reilly’s list of Government 2.0 people includes me among its few members, and the extra swagger in my step that comes from the radiant energy of being on professor Jay Rosen’s list of the best mindcasters he knows. I always knew I was awesome, but now I can prove it.

I’m joking a bit, of course. But when getting retweeted has been boiled down to a science (”Adding ‘please’ increases retweets by 12.3%!”), every maven is in search of a social media metric that shows who has “authority.”  Being on someone’s Twitter list is a difficult thing to game because it’s about organic usefulness to a community. I recently read Gary Vaynerchuk’s inspiring book  Crush It, and to me, Twitter lists have the potential to be a metric that measures how generous you are to the communities you’re a member of.

So forget about counting your number of followers, or how many retweets you get, or the many “Follow Friday” mentions you land – Those metrics have been blown out for a long time now. The new high fidelity for my vanity is the Twitter list.

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You Don’t Have To Follow Everyone You Like In Real Life On Twitter


I want to let you all in on a little secret: You don’t have to follow everyone you like in real life on Twitter, just because they have an account there!

Simple, right? Well, not really. A lot of people seem to have a disease whose symptom manifests itself in the form of a question, “Why don’t you follow me on Twitter?”

Guess what. I can choose follow people I don’t like in real life on Twitter. And I can choose to not follow people I enjoy speaking to in real life. Maybe you tweet so infrequently I forget you’re there. Maybe you’re boring. Maybe you don’t engage. Maybe I don’t even have to explain myself.

It doesn’t mean I don’t like you. You might just suck at Twitter. Let me give you one example. I unfollowed @MorningMika (http://twitter.com/morningmika) today. She co-hosts a terrific morning show on MSNBC, “Morning Joe” – I watch it all the time. But her tweets are boring. And she doesn’t engage her 13,000+ followers, almost ever.

So, follow people who add value to you. And link up with other people on Facebook, LinkedIn, the comments section of their blogs, whatever and whenever adds the most value for the least cost.

If using Twitter were the same as real life, it wouldn’t be very unique, interesting or useful, would it?

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Match Message to Medium: Talks Are Bigger Than Tweets


Learn one thing about Twitter: it is a unique medium of 140 character
or less communications. It’s like the haiku of the real-time Web. If
what you have to say is often longer than those 140 characters, maybe
you’re using the wrong medium.

Dig this. When you’re at a large conference with (say) 20 people live
tweeting every interesting sentence from every speaker, are you
thinking about your audience? I seriously hope not, because you’re
often delivering them a bundle of jumbled thoughts. And when you start
retweeting each other, and then people not at the conference start
retweeting *that* everything stops being real-time and becomes
wrong-time. We don’t yet have filters and interfaces that can make
sense of this stuff.

Dig this too. There are alternatives. While celebrations of YouTube
and Twitter happen at dedicated events, you’re overlooking less-used
social technologies with great features, like Viddler and Posterous.
Look at my last few Posterous posts: they were from a conference I
attended. But instead of burying my nose in my BlackBerry for two
days, I listened and took notes, and when I saw something worthy of
250 or so words, I wrote a short post for Posterous and pushed the
info to Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, Xanga, Plurk, and more. What’s up.

Experiment with Web 2.0 technologies. Think about your audience. Do
what’s valuable for your community. Engage.

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Why You Probably Shouldn’t Mourn Media Property Loss


Today the editor of the terrific blog from PBS called MediaShift, Mark Glaser, pointed me via Twitter to comments on one of their recent posts about the closing of Gourmet magazine. Some people mourned its passing, and others didn’t. It’s more logical to be in the camp that didn’t. The reason is that a good deal of the content in a good deal of magazines and other media properties simply isn’t that valuable. It doesn’t have much value because it isn’t very unique, and it’s easy to duplicate and repurpose. Its fidelity is not high enough.

Commenters who didn’t mourn mentioned that they increasingly turned to sites like Epicurious.com for their information. Thus, in their minds, Gourmet (which costs a lot of develop, print, and distribute) is getting outcompeted by websites like Epicurious. If you want to sell hard-copy magazines for 4, 5, or 6 dollars, you really have to provide something on the order of 5X the value of all the websites I can access in 10 min. Otherwise, why would I make the effort to buy your magazine?

The 5X rule means that it is insufficient to simply have the same stuff as a website like FoodBlogs.com, and then add some glossy photos and an interview with Wolfgang Puck. Consumers no longer think that’s worth the money. What is worth the money? Unique, engaging, difficult-to-copy, valuable, branded content. The new database/wiki WhoRunsGov from the Washington Post is a good example of this strategy.

Another thing that is worth the money is getting you the same information as competitors, but faster, in a time-dependent situation. Unfortunately for Gourmet magazine, Thanksgiving dinner can be a few minutes late.

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The Human Side of Government Collaboration, IDEO Style


At the ACT/IAC Executive Leadership Conference, I just heard a panel about “innovation” that included David Haygood, a partner at the design firm IDEO. They’ve worked on something that’s touched your life: the Apple mouse, the Motorola VoIP phone, the design of Acela trains for Amtrak, and the Bank of America “change back” products and services are all things they’ve had a major hand in designing.

They’ve also worked with the government, and Haygood mentioned work they’ve done with the Intelligence Community (IC) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). One big theme of his was including the end user early in the process. As he related what one intelligence analyst told him, “Development happens to us, not for us.”

Haywood outlined some fundamentals of the “human side of collaboration,” having empathy for the end user. One, a design thinking process that includes enlightened trial and error and an easy-to-share narrative for senior executives. Two, a tangible working process. Three, a shared experience of a team that bonds together.

There’s so much more about design that I can’t possibly put in this brief post. But if you’re in government, or work with it, and are interested in the process of innovation, check out IDEO: http://ideo.com

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Amtrak Irresponsibility at Washington DC’s Union Station


Today, I’m taking a train to Williamsburg, VA from Washington, DC to attend a conference. Train #99, in fact, which was scheduled to depart Union Station at 5pm. In fact, it didn’t. As I type this we’re late, and still not moving.

Oh, I’m not writing about how an Amtrak regional train was late; I’ve been experiencing that pleasure since about 1993. What was interesting to observe was the way computer technology interacted with the actual train being late.

You see, a few weeks ago, someon installed new screens around Union Station that give gates and updated information about trains You know, “On Time,” “Boarding,” and so forth. They’re nice screens. You can find summary boards around the train station, and individual boards near the gates. They’re coordinated, and most likely run by some central software.

Sounds great, right? Well, anyone who’s taken trains knows that the big board says “On Time” until the second they switch it to something like “30 min late” (how can they not see that coming?). This doesn’t really happen with the Acela trains, but for the longer, slower regionals, they’re often off by a few minutes at least.

As we were running a few minutes late to board train #99 to Newport News, VA, the automatic screen at the gate (where I was standing at the front of the line) switched from “On Time” to “Boarding.”. Except we weren’t boarding at all. The attendant said it would be just a few minutes, and the door was shut with a fabric rope in from of that.

The attendant went in the back with his walkie talkie to check on something and we quietly stood by the gate, about a hundred of us. Jumbled. You know how these train lines go.

Suddenly, we hear a shriek. A middle-aged woman is running at us, yelling a bit about how her train is boarding, hurdling over people and their bags. “Where’s the train to Newport News?! My train is boarding!!” Before anyone could say two words to her, she quickly glanced at the sign that said “Boarding,” tore off the fabric barrier, barged through the door, and started running towards the escalator to the train.

Now, she bumped into the Amtrak attendant quickly, and he calmed her down and walked her back to us, and we all boarded a few minutes later. But what if this had happened on (say) October 15th, 2001? Would we have not taken this more seriously? Everyone was totally complacent today.

More importantly, this is a good example of how updated technology not only can be merely a cosmetic improvement (I don’t recall people asking for help reading the boards, or wandering aimlessly looking for gate E, before the new signs.) but also can be harmful when used improperly. In this case, Amtrak personnel clearly knew we were not boarding, yet the signs said we were.

In the minds of people these days, virtual boarding is as good as the truth, and we saw this with the middle-aged woman, who ran by a hundred people waiting to board because a digital display convinced her that her train was boarding. (We all must have been waiting for something else, maybe Balloon Boy?) This is a similar problem to the “celebrity death hoax” phenomena whereby Kanye West or a similar high-profile person is declared “RIP” by an enterprising Twitter user – and the information spreads like wildfire. Being dead on Twitter is now equivalent to actually being dead, unless you literally “resurrect” yourself via a YouTube video (Zach Braff) or a late-night TV appearance (Jeff Goldblum). How can we blame this pleasant woman for thinking she was going to miss her train?

So, I don’t know if Amtrak, Union Station, or some third party is working these signs, and I don’t care (It is a good question for a local journalist, though.). What I do know is that whomever is running this system doesn’t know what the fuck they’re doing, or even worse, does know what they’re doing but is too lazt to give a shit. After all, it’s just a Sunday afternoon; football’s on…what could possibly happen?

Amtrak is not totally immune from blame. Even if they’re not working the software running the signs, they have employees standing right next to them. Is checking the signs for accuracy in anybody’s job description? Today’s incident could have been prevented in a number of ways. It was very minor, but it serves as an example of what happens when half-assed technology is involuntarily injected into our daily lives by people we don’t know, who don’t care about us.

Boarding 10 minutes late may not seem like a lot, but to that woman it was. If we don’t have standards about making digital information match reality, where does that logically leave society? Working bathrooms declared closed? Incorrect pricing on lattes? Misleading highway directions during an emergency?

What I want to know is: Who’s going to be in charge of coordinating the digital and the real as our country moves toward a more technocratic future?

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Talking With a Real-Life Branded Avatar


Almost a year ago, I wrote a popular post for Mashable.com called Do Brands Belong on Twitter?, which turned out to be a controversial topic. The main thrust of my argument against brands with no names or photos attached tweeting was that it was very impersonal – brands have coupons, not conversations.

Well, I have more evidence for my argument, because last night I had the pleasure of meeting a branded avatar – in the form of a restaurant waiter. I was having dinner in the downstairs wine bar of the new J&G Steakhouse in the W Hotel in Washington, DC. My friend and I had a pleasant-enough waiter, but I knew there was something a little off with him. Sure enough, when discussing side orders to share, I asked if the potatoes au gratin were something really special, that we should try.  He replied, “Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] puts his heart into every dish at J&G Steakhouse.”

What? I just want to know about some potatoes! That was the funniest line, but the waiter’s demeanor was like that all evening. I commented to my friend that the experience was like ordering food from a PR firm!

Contrast that with Cyril Renaud, whose New York bistro Bar Breton I visited once, to get a hamburger (an amazing one, by the way) – he saw that I tweeted about the place and wrote me, and we’ve kept in touch a bit. He’s very authentic, and kept me thinking about the place long after I’d gone to it.Nobody likes talking with a nameless, faceless brand – on Twitter or in real life.

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