activating the hypothetical

Applications have been emerging that enable us to activate the hypothetical. For example, Fundable lets people pledge payments for new ventures, and once enough pledges are collected, translates them into payments that are sent to the venture's organizer. The venture simply hangs out in a hypothetical space until it either expires or has enough backing to actualize itself. Similarly, [insert name of app I can't seem to remember] enables people to pledge their willingness to participate in a political demonstration around some issue, and once enough pledges have been made, notifies pledgers that it's time to hit the streets. Again, the demonstration hangs out in the hypothetical until it has a critical mass of demonstrators. (And indeed there's great potential for activating the hypothetical, perhaps anonymously, in politics.)

So, I wanna nuance this a little bit. Take social events. Why we go to one event instead of another is largely based on who else is going – are any of my friends gonna be there? What's the male/female ratio? This makes social calendaring awesome, because you can see who is (and isn't) going, and it makes the 'Maybe Attending' option even awesomer, because you can see who's sitting on the fence. But the fence is so ambiguous and there are so many folks sitting on it, that it doesn't really help you make a decision either way. Here's where some nuancing could add value. Instead of RSVPing with a mere maybe, give the system some conditions for saying yes, e.g. you'll attend if at least 8 of your FB friends are also attending, or if the ratio of male/female is between 0.9-1.1. If conditions are satisfied, the system changes your RSVP to “Attending,” notifies you of the change, and accounts for its effect on other peoples’ conditions. The mass of maybes goes from being a dead sea to an active solution, with yeses precipitating out.

Applied to new ventures and political demonstrations and elsewhere, just imagine what might be sitting in solution, and what could precipitate out...


"I got a Crush.... on the entire Obama administration."

Considering its inability to appreciate the brilliance of my previous slogans, I can hardly believe I'm still making an attempt with this crowd. Call it determination, call it stubbornness, but I have my eyes on that $400 prize + $100 worth of, um, t-shirts.

branded utility as public service

Barbarian Benjamin Palmer and Anomalous Johny Vulkan define their concept of branded utility as "brands being genuinely useful to their customers, employees, suppliers and the people they touch." Although this concept his been around for a few years, surely I'm not the only one who'd venture to say that its reality is old-school, e.g. the proverbial friendship with your oh-so-useful shoemaker. (Ok maybe there's no proverb about being friends with your shoemaker, but what about your horse's shoemaker? I.e. your blacksmith?)

Anyways. What I really wanted to say about branded utility was not how actually historic I think it is, but how obvious/ingenious it is as a purveyor of public services. Essentially, if the utilities brands provide are services traditionally provided by governments, like education or healthcare, branded utility starts resembling the provision of public services. Brands already sponsor stuff in order to have their names plastered all over it, but what if brands were integral players in the public service landscape? Sounds scary and ludicrous, I know, but many so-considered public services - like healthcare, education, and even military - are already offered by private actors. So I find it somehow obvious/ingenious that your friend the shoemaker, big poppa Nike with lots of money/resources, could provide you with health services to cultivate your loyalty and help you keep running in his shoes for a long long time.


subsidizing Love with mouseclicks

As too many of my recent posts indicate, I've been making Threadless T submissions, thinking I'd swiftly take the $500 prize that accompanies a winning t-shirt slogan. (Sad but true: Threadless has dominated this shower in the dark as of late, and I'll now return to blogging about topics of greater sophistication like ping pong songs.) I thought some of my slogans were pretty fantastic. "If you think I'm cute, you should see my dog." Fantastic, right? Wrong. At least, according to the Threadless crowd, which as I've come to learn, is a damn tough one. Or a damn tasteless one. Or something, but anyways. Meanwhile, I'm madly in Love with someone who lives very very far away. It costs lots of money to see each other. Like $500. [Light bulb sound effect!] So why not submit a slogan that says, "I voted on this shirt so that Nathaniel could visit Stephanie," blast it out to our friends, and defeat (i.e. become) the Threadless crowd! Which is what we did. And we made a Facebook event for it and got adorable scribblings on the wall and people downvoted other slogans and suggested creating aliases to vote multiple times on ours and even those who didn't attend the event voted for it (note: there was nothing to attend).

Too late into this whole thing, I realized we didn't do it right. We should have submitted a stand-alone awesome slogan that wouldn't have smelled fishy to Threadless (Who are Nathaniel and Stephanie? What's up with all these first-time accounts voting for this slogan?), and would have gotten votes regardless. What started as an impossibility became a possibility, but we should have treated it as such from the beginning. Hmph. Polls closed. And the verdict was...........a rockin 82%!!!!!!! Which means, well, we don't actually know what it means. Because, says Threadless, "we look at the top 300 designs every couple of weeks and pick out around 10 designs that we want to print based off of the designs score, comments, and the number of i'd buy it's. Ultimately the decision of which shirts get printed are left up to us." Every couple of weeks? Ultimately the decision is up to Threadless? How absurdly anticlimactic. At the very least, threadless should fork over the $500 for driving so much new traffic to their site.

But hear hear, imaginary audience: if executed wisely, this could be (as one voter/attendee/friend put it) "the stuff of legends." And if you go for it, lemme know. We can cut a massive vote-swapping deal.


human flower chain

At any given moment, all city intersections have at least one crosswalk available for walking, if not four (like 4th and Folsom in SF), or even more (a la Shibuya Crossing, above). That means you could hang out in a street intersection perpetually, because there’s always somewhere safe to hang – as long as you keep migrating to the available crosswalk. And crosswalks are connected to each other by sidewalks, also safe places to hang. Imagine a flower chain of people, holding hands through an entire city from sidewalk to crosswalk to sidewalk. Now take a bird’s eye view, and watching sidewalkers and crosswalkers fluctuate like swinging doors. I wonder if there are enough homeless people in SF to make a human flower chain from the Presidio to Hunter’s Point. But even the scaled-down version of a perpetual street hang at the 4th and Folsom intersection would be dandy.


craig's middlemen

The beauty of direct seller-to-buyer services, like the 'for sale' section on Craig’s List, is that they eliminate the middlemen, enabling sellers to get the entire cut. But they therefore require sellers to do all the work. And believe you me, it takes work to sell stuff on Craig's List: you gotta respond to a flood of emails/phone calls, be around when prospective buyers want to come by and check out the bike, re-post the ad every couple of days as it expires, etc. Economists tells us scarcity creates demand, and scarcity is a matter of context, so why not re-introduce the middlefolk in the context where they're lacking with a Craig’s List selling service? Pay a small fee, and they'll sell your stuff for you. Sounds like a ridiculous perversion of Craig's dream, but I bet there'd be a demand for it.

"if you think I'm cute, you should see my dog."

That's Threadless #4. And #5:

"If you think I'm cute, you should see my cat."

There's actually a story here. When my sister and I were even littler than we are now, my mom had us wear t-shirts that said: "If you think I'm cute, you should see my mom." (Still so true.) But I'm betting that the way to peeps' hearts is through their pets. If that's the case, vote here.


"first came the universe, then came the university to explain it."

Get out the vote for Threadless T number 3!

"what are you doing right now?"

Threadless #2 pays homage to Twitter and Facebook status updates, and a question special enough to warrant submitting to Threadless for printing a t-shirt. So special, in fact, that someone had already submitted it. Boo. My next (and actual) submission forthcoming.


"it's not that I dropped out of Harvard, I never even went there."

My first ever Threadless T. I've been racking up ideas for too long, and I'm finally submitting them. Submissions will be posted here, so you (my imaginary audience) can vote on them. It might be obvious, but just in case: this first one is joking about how dropping out of Harvard is almost becoming a virtue, an indicator of future success, something to brag about. It specifically references Harvard-dropouts Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, but pays broader tribute to other fantastically successful college-dropouts, like Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein. Ok fine, and Eminem. So as part of your pitch, you'd tell the VC, “it's not that I dropped out of Harvard, I never even went there.” A surefire way to get your startup funded. I was pretty amused, but it didn't do super well with the Threadless crowd. Heh.

New submissions will be posted on Sundays. (Another one coming tonight.) Vote here!


ping pong song

Dropping a shitload of ping pong balls on a resonant floor and waiting for mayhem to become total stillness would make a nice soundtrack for a dance, intense scene in a movie, or layer in a musical composition.

feeding tweets to the text-hungry

There's a whole heap of things that feed on short snippets of somehow-interesting text: fortune cookies, teabag tags, bumper stickers, Threadless T's, Better Place's 10-word minifestos, etc. Meanwhile, Twitter relentlessly spits out snippets that are 140 characters or less. (Not that all tweets are interesting, but some of them are designated as favorites.) So why not feed the latter to the former, i.e. use somehow-interesting tweets as fortune cookies, etc.? Create a feed of just favorite tweets, and you'll have a bunch of awesome slogans for Threadless T's.

functional condoms

In the past x years, we’ve seen a y% growth in the consumption of functional foods, which Wikipedia defines as foods with “health-promoting and/or disease-preventing property beyond the basic nutritional function of supplying nutrients.” So how about functional condoms, which help you lose weight, supply your daily dosage of anti-oxidants, and/or ward off that nasty flu while giving head? Yea but whotf gives head while the condom is on? Listen - if there’s a market for flavored condoms, there’s just might be a market for functional ones.

script your etiquette

While visiting my Lover-at-the-time in New York this past January, I took him to the Veselka Diner for a performance by the Foundry Theatre called Etiquette. It’s a performance for 2 audience members, in which the 2 audience members are the performers. We sat at a table for two on which were placed numerous props, and were given a set of headphones that gave us instructions. I was told to knock over the chess piece, and he was told to bring tears to his eyes with the liquid dispenser; he was told to write something on the piece of paper, and I was told to take the note and put it in my back pocket (…only to rediscover it days later, presumably part of the intention). It turned out he was an old man in Paris and I was a prostitute and I don’t remember the rest of the story but essentially we had a very personal, albeit scripted, interaction. And I think this could be applicable to couples therapy: script the interaction you need to have but are not having, and then have it.


dining in while eating out

I'm considering transplanting myself from San Francisco to New York, but if eating out here is already pinching my wallet, eating out in there is gonna be worse. Even though my friends and I can make delicious food ourselves, eating out is somehow more social, exciting – it is, after all, eating out. So how about a kitchen-bar-thingie where you bring your own ingredients, pay a minimal fee to use a high-quality kitchen, and make your own food communally, with access to a bar? You'd get the best of both worlds: pay less for delicious food and enjoy the eating out experience. Live music would be pretty awesome too.

wine tags

A buddy named Noah Brier started something called brand tags, an application that lets people tag brands with words. What results are tag clouds for brands, i.e. an ingeniously simple way to gauge how consumers feel about different brands. Ever since I started using del.icio.us, I've wanted to do this kind of thing for, well, everything: political candidate tags, musical band tags, and of course, TCHOcolate tags. But a pretty great application could be wine labels, which oftentimes feel irrelevant to the point of satire and are written by only a handful of wine connoisseurs. No offense, they certainly know their wine, but how much more meaningful might wine labels be if they were crowdsourced to consumers via a wine tagging app? A tag cloud as a wine label might not only be meaningful, but beautiful.


mixed-world videoconference

It shouldn’t be too difficult to cook something up that lets a person videoconference with an avatar. With improvements in virtual body language, a person chatting with an avatar might actually look pretty great. Consider how fun/dangerous it would be for kids to talk directly to SpongeBob, not to mention the marketing potential for animated characters in general.

space by the minute

Throughout a 24-hour cycle, furnished urban spaces alternate between vacant and occupied. Meanwhile, urban centers are becoming denser and space is in high demand. So it may become sensible to start renting out space not only by the month or year, but by the hour or minute; kinda like City CarShare. Take telecommuting, which has risen x% in the past x number of years. A database of vacant office space by the hour would cut rent costs for companies with telecommuters, besides being a more efficient use of space.

This might be especially interesting/infeasible if applied to homelessness. It would help homeless people perpetually migrate from one semi-furnished urban space to another, creating a distributed home throughout the city. If nothing else, at any given moment there are probably more vacant parked cars in San Francisco than there are homeless people. But if cityfolk aren’t comfortable with a municipal let-the-homeless-sleep-in-your-car night, there are more (semi-)public venues, e.g. movie theaters between flicks or the tactile dome between birthday parties. Sure we could build funny-looking contraptions, or we could just let the homeless occupy furnished spaces that are already available. Of course this pig would never fly and even if it did, it's just a band-aid. But band-aids are a part of the trajectory, so more people might as well enjoy the view of the bay from an otherwise empty AT&T Park while we're on route to preventative health. (Plus, the sight of homeless people hanging out in AT&T Park would make quite a compelling view in itself.)

Flying pigs aside, space by the smaller-increment-of-time is coming, because the legos are here and all we have to do is make them smaller.

if a tree falls in a forest and nobody’s there to hear it ...

…it doesn’t really matter because we’re still talking about it. And laughing at us is what made the tree fall over in the first place.

So Close Yet So Far Away

“Why talk/twitter/whatever with your long-distance Loved one when you can share some romantic chocolate with them? Announcing So Close Yet So Far Away, a Valentine's Day experiment in tele-intimacy. Tables for two: you across from your date via your laptop. Using videoconference, you two can sit face-to-face and enjoy some luscious chocolate. Together. We provide the chocolate, network connection, and romantic ambiance; you’re responsible for yourself, your partner, and your laptops.”

These words were my invitation to So Close Yet So Far Away, an experiment in tele-intimacy that I organized at UC Berkeley. And an experiment in tele-intimacy it was! Experiment in the sense that it was an initial trial; intimate because the people were few. But it was this smaller-scale setting that allowed it to be experimental. Different people engaged with different media in different ways: some used video and others purely audio; some iChatted and others videoSkyped; some videoSkyped together while sitting across the table from each another; some iChatted with one person on one laptop while videoSkyping with another person on another laptop (video-cheating?); some set their laptops screen-to-screen, allowing their tele-dates to tele-tele-date; some took photos and others video captured; some ate truffles and others ate dates. But we all sat together and communicated with each other and each other’s others. And I even landed a spot in WIRED. So although there are certainly kinks to iron out, I look forward to further exploring the potential of social tele-intimacy. In fact, I aspire to translate it into a career. Check the Facebook profile and comment below for further details...

Another hint of what this might taste like:

fireside videochat

Videochat with your political candidate of choice...or at least, feel like you are. Pre-script the candidate’s side of the conversation and then perform the other side Karaoke-style, à la Continuouscity. Just by chatting with candidates and then watching the conversation, even if pre-scripted, you might feel you know them better, and be that much more willing to vote for them. That is, until you find clips online of them the exact same conversation with thousands of other constituents. But I guess that’s what politicking’s about.

cosmology cake

There are lots of Libras and Monkeys besides you. But there aren’t as many Libran Monkeys. And even fewer Libran Monkeys who are ruled by Oyá. If you pile different cosmologies atop each other like a layered cake – sign in horoscopic astrology over animal in Chinese astrology over Orisha in Candomblé, among others – you may learn something new. I bet there's already a Facebook widget for it.

making your first tele-impression

For online daters who value efficiency, why not meet for a tele-drink first? You can check each other out via videoconference, and decide if increasing the bandwidth is worthwhile.

videoconference x bluetooth x touchscreen

Playing the mashup game with these ingredients at a dance club would let you talk to the person you’re tele-dancing with by touching them on the screen.

distribution of resilience

Assume that (our understanding of) the changeability of information in Wikipedia has undergone the trajectory of categories. In other words, it has undergone a trajectory from binary (something either is/isn't information, so all entries are equally subject to change) to spectral (some information is more x [insert metric, e.g. politically charged] than other information, so some entries are more subject to change than others) to typological (there are different types of information, so entries for different types of information have different subjectivities to change). If subjectivity to change sounds too subjective, use the word resilience, then check the history of an entry, and track how often changes have been made. The entry for science has been resilient for a while whereas that for social network has undergone lots of change recently.

The broader question is: how to categorize information into different types? And more specifically: what typology would emerge if information were categorized according to its resilience in Wikipedia? One possibility is information hierarchy, which splits the enchilada into data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. Considering that data is used to generate information, which is used to create knowledge, and so on, wisdom may be the least likely to change. But Wikipedia is only about information. Hmm. Another possibility is Funtowicz & Ravetz’s post-normal science, which splits it up into applied science, professional consultancy, and post-normal science (see image). But again, Wikipedia is about information; not science. (I’m aware that I’m littering this post with Wikipedia links, but if you don’t know the difference between information and science, check the talk pages of both entries in Wikipedia.) Still, these two typologies may be illuminating. Re information hierarchy, could information be categorized into concentric types? And re post-normal science, F&R’s axes of choice are decision stakes and systems uncertainty for science; what would be the relevant axes for information?

Wikipedia has been criticized for advertising itself as the encyclopedia anyone can edit, yet being increasingly resilient to editage; I’d argue that only certain types of information are increasingly resilient. At the net level, there’s a trade-off between editability/dynamism and quality/governance. But if you look at the distribution of resilience across all entries, there certainly is one.

Plus, their resilience to change itself changes through time. The entry for science was malleable, but as Wikipedia's governance system emerged, it has become more resilient, to the point of having been on lockdown at a few points along the way...

carbon-neutral cybersex

The Green Islands Project in Second Life enables virtual landowners to offset the carbon costs of running their sims via renewable energy credits. Translate that into a green cyber-brothel offering carbon-neutral cybersex. Because if you could make cybersex a mechanism for addressing climate change, that would be pretty absurd/spectacular.

covert crowdsourcing

Productive work is increasingly getting rolled into captchas and games. For example, reCaptchas, the next generation of captchas, present two skewed words bisected by a line, both of which were taken from the Internet Archive's project to scan public-domain books. “One word is known to the computer; the other couldn't be read by the Archive's scanners, so when you type it in you're doing a tiny bit of work for the project” (Wired, 06.25.07).

But captchas/games-cum-productivity could get hairy. What if private actors start disguising work as captchas/games in a feat of covert crowdsourcing? What if, in order to pay our bills online, we must unknowingly do work for Wells Fargo; work that their employees were once paid for? When productive work is performed unknowingly, where does economic value go? And might this sci-fi paranoia spawn some kinda ‘Captcha Code of Conduct’?