Brain Pickings

Mmm-Hmmm

by

Invisible furniture, molecular ad cuisine, pricing out the art of living, 1406 ways a photo lens can change your outlook, why the world is 774% friendlier than this time last year, and what Regis Kelly has to do with iTunes’ impending demise.

TUNING OUT OF ITUNES

itunes.gif No question the iTunes empire is one to be reckoned with. And many have. Last year, Microsoft released Windows Media Player 11 jukebox software, which included Urge, MTV’s digital music store. At that point, the Microsoft/MTV partnership had been around for a few months, so the new player/store platform sent bloggers and business analysts alike on a rave spree.

Well, all that stuff went down the crapper.

Take 2: Viacom is dumping the PC guys tribe for RealNetworks, whose struggling Rhapsody music service could use a symbiotic partnership with MTV, a brand so digitally challenged its iconic status pedestal is shaking like a polaroid picture.

And while the corporate powerhouses are busy forging all sots of anti-iTunes alliances, a grassroots army of boycotters is afoot. Remember how years ago non-profit Mozilla‘s free, open-source Firefox made Microsoft’s Internet Explorer obsolete even for hardcore PC-ers? Goliath iTunes may be headed down that same road thanks to Songbird, a fresh new David born out of open source king Mozilla. It’s a piece of web/desktop mash-up genius that lets you find and organize music, on and offline, in a beautifully integrated way, far beyond what iTunes can offer.

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Besides the neat design, Songbird has infinite, mind-blowing capacities: it’s cross-platform (so Mac Guy, PC Guy and, um, Linux Guy can play nice and share), comes in 39 languages (so you can finally get original song titles for that Zimbabwean album there), and will play any music file format, including mp3, OGG, AAC, FLAC, WMV and more (suck that, MPEG-4). And that’s just the beginning. Best part? Songbird will pull all media files from a web page you’re viewing (say, Bitter:Sweet‘s band website) into a playlist you can, well, play on your desktop. Plus, it’s got all sorts of community features like blogs, forums, website buttons and super-cool merchandise (profits, of course, go to funding the project). Overall, that birdie is getting the Brain Pickings seal of approval right smack in the middle of its birdie forehead.

But the bigger point is, all these developments show one thing: the whole iTunes monopoly, with its proprietary bullshit and various usage limitations (how many computers have you authorized to listen to your library?) is quickly turning into Regis Kelly — old, pompous and annoying. We say time for change.

UNKODAK MOMENTS

The trouble with the whole digital thing is that it makes it super easy for everyone and their mother to take pictures and splatter them all over the web. They do it, too. And we can only take so many photoblogs and albums of people’s chubby kids playing with other people’s chubby kids. Good thing there are folks out there claiming photography back from the overexposed and the cliche. Folks like those at FILE Magazine, a “collection of unexpected photography.”

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FILE mag aims to reinterpret our way of looking at imagery and the world at large. They also make a point of what they’re not: a photoblog, a photography contest, a home for family albums, a source of glossy fashion spreads. It’s an actual magazine in that involves actual editors curating unconventional photography wherever they spot it, then contact the authors and ask to include it in The Collection, currently 1406 photos wonderful.

We were pretty taken with all projects we looked at, but a couple of favorites did emerge:

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Back of the House explores the culinary world behind the scenes, zooming in on the human element in the fine dining subculture. Endless Summer takes on the postcardish, touristy, aging-boomer-stereotype side of Florida and counters it by delving into its opposite. In Misspent Youth, photographer Andrew Newson takes a trip to his childhood school some 16 years later, looking at simple memory triggers with the complex eyes of a life-worn adult. The aptly titled Untitled steals glimpses of scenes, places and objects that no one seems to notice, letting their static, geometric qualities take on a hypnotic, haunting vibe.

Pick your own favorite projects or submit your own off-center photography.

ART IMITATES COST OF LIFE

A fundamental rule of art is that it’s not to be taken at face value. Another fundamental rule of art is that there are no rules. So a 20-something couple from New York, originally propelled by creative vision and starvation, has rolled with the latter and turned the former on its head.

Wants For Sale is a strikingly how-come-no-one-thought-of-this- earlier concept that challenges the starving-artist stereotype head-on.


Here’s how it works: Artist wants iPhone. Artist paints iPhone in acrylic on 2″-deep gallery canvas. Aritst posts painting for sale at $649.17, the exact price of iPhone. Art enthusiast sees painting, loves it and buys it. Artist gets iPhone. Genius.

Once a painting is bought, its online status changes from “Want” to “Have” so you can see the kind of stuff that people buy. Wants range from daily cravings like a buffalo wings (have; $12.70) and beer (have; $7.00) to nitty-gritty living stuff like one month’s rent (want; 1,056.07) to intangibles like financial security (want; $1,000,000) and a night of booze-induced amnesia (have; $100.00). So much for the whole artists-can’t-do-business-to-save-their-life notion. Although we do have to wonder why only beer snob beer would do and what kind of superhuman workouts are involved in getting a six-pack in just a month. (While having buffalo wings and beer.)

The folks even offer to paint anything you want, with the fair disclaimer that it has nothing to do with the Yankees. Yep, Christine and Justin seem like quite the characters, which is also evident in their minimalist, sweetly quirky self-intro.

AD SERVING A LA CARTE

Earlier this month, Australian ad-personalization-solutions pioneer Qmecom unveiled a platform truly revolutionary, a much-needed marriage of today’s two biggest marketing trends: customization and that whole 2.0 experience thing. No, it’s not your grandmother’s behavioral targeting. It’s a beautiful system of complex algorithms that goes by the (not-so-catchy) name of Personalized Video Advertising Platform and does just what the name implies: allows advertisers to personalize a video ad to the individual viewer. Their explanation of the platform is a bit wordy and confusing, so we’ll digest it for you and spit it out.

Here’s how it works:

The algorithm engine takes your regular Flash file and breaks it down into molecular-level creative components. (These can be any video and static elements, including colors, text, sounds, images, calls to action, offers, message tags and more.) The system then uses these to generate a library of possible creative templates. Next, the templates are matched against the viewer’s site visit patterns, any CRM and data profiles, or historical and/or real-time behavioral data. The template that best matches the viewer’s personal patterns is delivered, resulting in the most engaging creative possible.

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So say you’re doing a shoe campaign for adidas. You decide to run a Flash banner on Amazon. Frequent shopper John Doe stumbles upon it after having just looked at desks and messenger bags. You know from his Amazon profile that he’s 19. And his user history tells you he always buys stuff eligible for Amazon’s “free super saver” shipping option. Oh, and he’s recently bought a couple of kelly-green shirts. A-ha, you say to yourself (if you’re a Qmecom algorithm, that is) and figure he’s a college student shopping for back-to-school stuff who likes green and is a sucker for price-related promotions. So you deliver that neat stop-motion animation of the green Campus sneaker and throw in your “free overnight shipping” promotion for shopadidas.com. J.D.’s all “oooh, check thiiiis out…” and you’re all “sweeeeet.”

If you’re still not buying/getting/fully appreciating it, check out some samples of campaigns they did. We were particularly impressed with the BMW 3 Series email campaign and Virgin Blue Airlines web stuff. We just can’t wait to see what Qmecom can do with ad delivery on social network platforms where info on personal preferences is rich and aplenty, supplied eagerly and willingly straight from the source.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gif And speaking of social networks, anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock knows they’re on fire. But 774% on fire? That’s how much worldwide traffic to newcomer Tagged grew between June 06 and June 07 according to comScore. Boy-hee.

So while this may be standard fare for a newly launched net as it garners its first members, the major social networks (MySpace, Facebook, Hi5, Friendster, Orkut and Bebo) have also been rolling in the traffic dough. MySpace is keeping at its steady climb with 72% growth and development beast Facebook is soaring with 270%, probably largely due to the recent addition of numerous widgets, mini-platforms and other developer fare.

And just in case you’re suspecting traffic stats are driven by “samplers” who rarely visit the websites, rest assured daily visits are also growing like the number of celebrihoes making trips to jail: MySpace is up 72%, Facebook 299%, Hi5 65%, Friendster 96%, Orkut 75%, and Bebo 307%.

This leaves us wondering how much time and engagement all the online dwelling displaces from good ol’ face-to-face conversations, hanging out with friends and other such pre-2.0 social activities. But oh how much easier it is to befriend someone by clicking a shared music interest link than by, you know, learning actual social skills and getting out there. And who cares if your new buddy happens to be one of those 29,000 registered sex offenders, you both dig High School Musical. (Although probably for very different reasons.)

LACK-A-RACK

If you happen to share our love of minimalist design and our disdain for applied physics, then you’ll also happen to dig the Self Shelf.

It’s pretty much what it sounds like: a shelf that looks like a book. It attaches to the wall invisibly thanks to a back bracket and holds up to 8.5 lbs. (That’s almost 3 War and Peaces, or almost 23 US Weeklys. Your choice.)

Get it for $29.95 from Firebox or pass it on to your friend who, you know, actually has something display-worthy to put on it. (Nope, Harry Potter doesn’t cut it.)

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