Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

29 MARCH, 2010

Magazines: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow


Robin-Hooding print, vintage infographics, and what organ music has to do with the iPad.

As big proponents of the power of curated interestingness, we have to admit that despite their umbilical cord to the corpse that is the print world, magazines — the best of them, at least — are one of the finest examples of cultural curation. But in order for this editorial-curatorial model to survive and flourish past print, it has to adapt to the platform-blind content ecosystems enabled by technology, while staying rooted in the behavioral and cultural demands of its audience. So today, we’ll try to contextualize all this by looking at the past, present and future of magazine publishing from three different angles, exploring everything from the digitization of print archives, to the emergence of niche, indie titles, to the publishing potential of the iPad.


In the past decade, the magazine industry has has an incredible roller-coaster ride, from the boom of indie publishing to the bust of print’s web-induced slow and steady demise. Michael Bojkowski of the excellent LineFeed has just released Decadism: Magazines 2000—2009 — a brilliant and ambitious effort to distill 5 million minutes of magazine publishing into a 50-minute history.

Bojkowski delves into the most compelling depths of the print world, from what drives innovation (technology is the no-brainer guess, but there’s also a surprising layer of environmental concerns), to what factors make a magazine succeed or fail, to how audience fragmentation Robin-Hooded readership, eroding big-name titles while allowing smaller, nicher, independent ones to flourish. He highlights a handful of landmark publications, including a few of our favorite titles today — GOOD and Wired, we’re looking at you — and dissects the styles of some of the most iconic editors, art directors and designers working in publishing.

Lengthy as it may be, this video retrospective is more than worth a watch. We highly recommend it not only as an insightful look at the magazine industry, but also as a fascinating slice of the cultural anthroplogy in which the industry is rooted.


We have to preface this by saying that digitizing print is insufficient and misguided — trying to appropriate contend designed with one medium in mind for consumption in another, guided by entirely different reading behaviors, is like listening to an organ music concert on your iPod: You still hear the sound and get the main message, but all of its quality, authenticity and allure are lost. Still, it has a certain archival value that we can’t overlook — understanding the heritage of a medium is essential to crafting its future.

In the past couple of years, we’ve seen some of the most culturally significant magazines release digital archives in one form or another. In 2008, LIFE partnered with Google to release one of the world’s largest and richest photographic archives. Last month, Popular Science made 137 years of its archives available online. And every issue of SPIN magazine is available on Google Books.

Fulltable, a site dedicated to “the visual telling of stories, collects vintage magazine covers, ads, maps, photographs, illustrations and other print ephemera, covering everything from fashion to early data visualization. Despite the clumsy interface, the site is brimming with gems — like these John Falter magazine covers depicting small-town life in America, or this fascinating flowchart explaining big unionism, or this gorgeous 1939 map of Los Angeles.

While digitization is obviously not the answer to print’s relationship with web platforms, it’s a potent antidote to one of the web’s biggest plagues: Its ephemeral nature and the burying of excellent older content in this culture of immediacy and compulsive currentness.


It’s no secret the iPad has been profusely drooled on by the magazine industry, with print publishers hailing it as a silver bullet that will save their business and do their laundry in the process. Which it may be, but only if used in a smart way that harnesses its power to offer a more seamless and intuitive curatorial experience, rather than merely its techno-bling potential. Here are a handful of the better-conceived efforts to appropriate the iPad as a keeper of magazines’ fascination.

From Wired, a reader prototype running on Adobe Air, designed for the iPad before there was an iPad, set to launch this summer. We saw the demo live at TED last month, but the video is yet to be released, so we apologize for this poor-man’s version shot at SXSW this month — but you still get the basic idea.

From VIV, an interactive iPad demo — which we think falls a bit too much on the bling-over-editorial side, but is still compelling.

From Time Inc., a tablet concept for Sports Illustrated.

Finally, a concept from designer Jesse Rosten for Sunset Magazine reimagines the magazine industry’s most potent currency and readership gatekeeper: The allure of the magazine cover.

Of course, once these technologies are in place, pricing the content in an accessible way that’s not outrageously, unreasonably, prohibitively expensive is a different story. But however this forced evolution unfolds, one thing is for sure: A tectonic shift in media is upon us.

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12 MARCH, 2010

Beyond the Business Card: Three Alternative Tools


How to bump strangers, who killed the Rolodex, and what to do about it.

This week, we’re at SXSW, supposedly a mecca of interactivity and tech innovation. And yet we keep bumping into one massive business etiquette dinosaur: The exchange of physical, paper business cards.

So we’ve curated three handy digital tools to help unload the fossils and bring your networking up to speed with the digital age. The Rolodex is dead (we don’t even know anyone who owns one, let alone uses it), long live LinkedIn.


Bump may just be our favorite app ever. Free and available for iPhone and Android, it lets you exchange contact information with another person simply by bumping the two phones together. While it requires that the other person have the app as well, we’ve seen Bump adoption rates skyrocket in the past few months — it’s that good — so it’s bound to spare you a massive amount of number-crunching as you attempt to digitize those crumpled up business cards floating around your laptop bag.

Simple and incredibly fun to use, Bump combines seamless functionality with a kind of delightful playfulness — it’s hard not to smile when you see two grey-haired CEO’s bump fists and chuckle like fifth-graders.

Tip: If you keep your phone in your pant pocket, avoid walking up to people, saying “Let’s bump!” and pointing to said area of your pants. The capacity for martinis tossed in your face is limitless.


Let’s face it, most of us have more online profiles than we know what to do with — Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn, Google Buzz, Foursquare… they’re just the tip of the random registrations iceberg. And while a handful of them are actually useful for connecting with people, they’re becoming increasingly hard to manage, let alone share.

Enter, a nifty centralized home for all your digital dwellings. This tiny, update-from-anywhere video-enabled calling card contains all your favorite sites and services, giving you a simple URL to share with people.


We’ve always liked the idea of connecting real-life objects to the virtual world. Enter Stickybits, an ingenious tag-based platform for attaching digital information to physical objects. It’s simple — you get a bunch of barcode stickers, attach something to them online, and start handing them out. A free iPhone and Android app reads the barcodes and relays the embedded information.

Though meant for a much wider array of purposes — from “sticking” a wish on a gift to slapping on your laptop as a bring-it-home system in case you lose it — they’re perfect for sharing your contact info or even your resume.

Grab a pack of 20 barcodes for just $9.95 and start slapping.

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25 FEBRUARY, 2010

Kopernik: Crowdfunding World-Changing Design


Humanitarian three-ways, or what Polish astronomy has to with the future of civilization.

We fully endorsed Emily Pilloton’s vision that design can empower people and change the world. But there’s often a disonnect between the world-changing products and technologies that get dreamt up, and the actual ability to fund them and get them in the hands of those who need them the most.

No more. At least not if it’s up to Kopernik, a revolutionary new social platform that connects breakthrough technologies with the people and communities whose lives they will better the most, harnessing the power of crowdsourced microfunding.

The name, of course, comes from Copernicus, the Polish Renaissance astronomer who busted the geocentric model of the universe and completely changed the way people perceived the way around them — an aspirational metaphor for Kopernik‘s ambition to revolutionize how people see and understand the biggest challenges the world faces today.

From a rollable water container for women in East Timor, to self-adjustable glasses (remember those?) for refugees without access to eye clinics, to computer training for Sierra Leonean youth, Kopernik lets development groups write short proposals and submit them to the public for crowdfunding. Sort of like a humanitarian Kickstarter, which then does a three-way connect with individual supporters, technology provider companies, and the local organizations who seek those technologies.

Founded by a team of United Nations and World Bank expats, Kopernik is planning to expand beyond crowdfunding proposals and into developing their own products with DIY and open-source instructions that local communities can use to build technologies.

Because the only kind of design revolution that’s going to stick is one where grassroots empowerment lets people take ownership of the very solutions that are changing their lives.

via TBD

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