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Crowdsourcing 2010: Behind the3six5 Project

An experiment in the collaborative authorship of history and our collective reality.

Today, we’re picking the brains behind the3six5 — a new blog-project that invites a different, often famous, person to write an entry for each of the 365 days in 2010, essentially crowdsourcing a snapshot of the year. So far, the project has enlisted a varied spectrum of personalities — from writers to comedians to TED speakers to, well, us. (Mark your calendars — we’re going on February 9.)

We sit down with co-conspirators Len Kendall and Daniel Honigman for a chat about the inspiration behind the3six5, its challenges and its ultimate goals.

q0

Hey guys, good to have you. Tell us a bit about yourselves, your background and your brand of curiosity.

Len: I’m a Chicago native, a first generation member of my family, and a digital marketing guy. My brand of curiosity stems from my desire to always be learning and discovered. I’m a self proclaimed “Expert at Nothing” which is a personal reminder to never consider myself a master of any discipline.

My career is a direct result of my interest in bridging creativity and business. I’ve spent time at 2 Chicago ad agencies focusing on digital media and currently am helping lead the charge of “Digital PR” at Golin Harris Chicago where I work with over a dozen major brands.

Daniel: I’m a news guy. I fell in love with journalism when I was an undergrad in college, and I moved to Chicago to study it. I started my career as a reporter, and then sort of fell into the digital/social media world when I started to cover it.

I then landed a gig at the Chicago Tribune as its first social media “person,” where I created and ran its Colonel Tribune persona, after which I then moved up to lead social media strategy for all Tribune newspapers and television sites. I started at Weber Shandwick in June 2009, where I work with brands to interact with consumers and best tell their stories digitally.

Whether I’m working with brands, or consulting with news organization or local businesses, my passion is working with others to help them tell their stories. I enjoy pushing the envelope, and I enjoy helping others think outside of the box.

q0

How and when did the idea for the3six5 first come up?

Len: Daniel and I are very entrepreneurial in nature and many of our discussions over cigars will revolve around potential projects we can team up on. This particular idea came up over the course of a few months and we decided to act on this one as it merged our interests of journalism, marketing, and technology (also not to mention a low cost of entry).

Daniel: We were talking one day about doing a similar storystreaming project for the city of Chicago, actually. We would gather folks from all sorts of life in town: athletes, politicians, artists and some regular, hardworking folks from the city and invite them to tell their stories.

We figured that it could be quite difficult to find 365 in Chicago, and we wanted to try to incorporate a more global perspective for the3six5 project, so we opened it up.

q2

We know from psychology that two people may undergo the exact same experience yet walk away with drastically different interpretations of and sentiments about it. Curating the lineup of contributors will thus be critical to the project’s final product. So, in a way, you’re outsourcing the content but shaping the course of it yourselves — how do you feel about that?

Len: Regardless of a person’s digital or offline footprint, we ultimately have no idea what kind of content is going to be produced over the 365 days of 2010.

No one can predict what will be taking place in the world that day and no one can predict what factors will be affecting the lives of our 365 authors in the future. All we can try to do is find people who we believe are creative, quality writers, and have a unique life experience to date.

Daniel: I feel great about that. With any big crowdsourced project (e.g. Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton’s Age of Conversation projects) there must be a theme. There must be guidance. We want to give our contributors an idea of what they could and should be writing, as far as format, types of content, etc., but we want to give as much flexibility as possible as to the actual content itself. Think of the3six5 is a collaborative diary for the year 2010.

q3

We’re big believers in eclecticism and the cross-pollination of ideas. Are you making an effort to ensure a diverse lineup from a wide spectrum of disciplines, or are you focusing more on social media personalities? What’s your selection process for the authors?

Len: The easiest route here would obviously be to leverage our social media channels to find authors, but Daniel and I knew that the variety of perspectives would suffer. We’re using social media as a starting point for exploration and discovery.

Through both of our usage of Twitter we’ve been able to bridge relationships with people offline and in industries that are polar opposite from our own.

Sure, some of our authors may have a social media presence, but we’re looking for people who are well-versed across different types of subject matter. Having variety is critical to this project, otherwise it will just sound like a diary written by one person which is the exact opposite of what we’re trying to achieve.

Daniel: Successful social media efforts happen both online and offline, therefore, we didn’t want to limit this project to people we know online. We hope this project brings people together. We hope this project introduces folks to others they never would have met otherwise. That’s what will make the3six5 so much fun.

q4

“Lifestreaming” has evolved from musings on one’s immediate cirumstances in personal blogs to broader reflections on the chancing social, technological and cultural landscape – just look at some of the big-name blogs, from TechCruch to BoingBoing. How do you see the idea of content curation fitting in with lifestreaming?

Daniel: For A Day in the Sun, the Austin American-Statesman’s crowdsourced news project, editors and reporters received content from Austinites first, and then posted it to the web. For an open brandstream — aggregated or published — it’s easy to flood the stream with all sorts of content the brand may not want.

Therefore, for brands and news organizations to take advantage of lifestreaming platforms, the actual content, if crowdsourced, has to be verified and of an agreed upon standard.

This is not to say content in an individual’s lifestream isn’t curated. By reading an article and posting a link or other content, users are curating their own content in real time, whether they know it or not.

The purpose of a lifestream is to publish one’s digital activities for others’ benefit. Not everything you’ll read or do can — or should — be shared for others. Therefore, not ALL content should go in a lifestream.

My take is that for crowdsourced lifestream projects to be successful, editors must establish clear guidelines.

q5

A key criticism of the web is the dilution of authorship — it’s often hard and sometimes even impossible to track down the true origin and author of a piece of information online. Would you say the preservation of authorship is important in writing our own history as a society and civilization?

Len: I have mixed emotions on this topic. On one hand, if we don’t preserve authorship, then there will be less motivation for people to create content.

Let’s be honest, we’re a proud species and if we’re not getting credit for something we created, we aren’t going to want to continue. That being said, from the audience’s perspective, there isn’t much concern about who or where content comes from, we just want it to be of substance.

With the3six5 we’re going to do our best to make it very clear of who the author is each day. By showing readers a different author each day, we’re reminding them that the story is coming from a different perspective. Unlike reading a book, here the audience needs to reset its expectations each day in regards to style and personality.

Daniel: People steal credit for other people’s work — and have done so — for thousands of years. As we move forward, and with more information readily available, it’s going to be incumbent upon us to cite our original source material, as this will only lend more credence to our own original thoughts, when we do have them.

q6

Well, thanks for letting us pick your brains. Any last thoughts left unpicked?

Len: Thank you for taking the time to share our project. I’d like to take this opportunity to point your readers to our listing on Kickstarter. Although the3six5 does not require any money to work, our ultimate plan is to publish 2010 as a hard copy book and as such, we would love to have assistance with the potential publishing process. Donations will go towards buying a future book, and also an additional copy for an author of the3six5.

Details are available here.

BP

Living Design

Ornithology is the new Adobe, happy misers, Satan, Art Deco geeks, Kenneth Cole, what Whitney Houston and monsters have in common besides Bobby Brown, how the sun can save Africa, and why inflation is a good thing.

NEST OF ART

Until recently, the main criticism of the Internet’s capabilities was that it was didn’t allow for fast and precise image editing online, at least not at a beyond-red-eye-removal professional level. No more.

AviaryEnter Aviary, a brand new suite of high-level Internet applications “for people who create” — smart, useful stuff for pretty much any kind of artist. All the tools are free, aim to inspire collaboration among artists, and come with cool bird names. Although still in Beta and invite-only, you can request an invitation — we got ours pretty quickly, and we’ll just say it was more than worth the wait.

The tools span the uber-creative, the geeky and the biz-minded, making for a comprehensive suite that helps create, distribute, manage and sell creative products. The creative side alone is impressive enough: there’s Phoenix, the image editor; color swatches and palette creator Toucan; algorithm-based pattern generator Peacock; Raven for vector editing; Hummingbird, the 3D modeller and skinner; Myna, an audio editor; music generator Roc; Starling, for video editing; Owl, the desktop publishing layout editor; Penguin, a word processor for creative writers; painting simulator Pigeon; Tern, the terrain generating minitool; font editor Horus; and Woodpecker, a smart image resizing minitool.

Geeks will have a field day with Eagle, a smart online app that reads the pixel patterns in an image and is able to identifies complex data about it, like which specific camera it originally came from.

ToucanAnd because 2.0 creativistas want nothing to do with the “starving artist” stereotype that haunts their traditional brethren, Aviary provides just the right kind of tools to propagate the business of creativity: Rookery is a free, unlimited-traffic file system network accessible to anyone for data storage and management. It’s also what powers Aviary‘s file search engine. Hawk is a marketplace for digital content, allowing artists to showcase and sell their work. And Crane is a custom image product creator.

Here’s the biggie: unlike other online image editing tools, Aviary is layer-based (like Photoshop), far more powerful than any image-processing web software, supports limitless revision, and has an entire suite of apps that communicate with each other.

Something else huge for artists: Aviary helps with copyright and royalties, tracking — forever — all sources used in a work and where a work is used by others. And that’s something even Creative Commons can’t claim. Which, come to think of it, is not surprising given Aviary is the brain child of 12 international top-notch artists who know all the joys and perils of creativity inside and out.

Phoenix screenshot

Once you get invited, you can access Phoenix — the first of the tools being made available to Beta testers. All the rest, though, are flying in soon. We’re still pinching ourselves, but it does seem to all be real — you can find out more about the individual tools on the product blog. And, speaking of blogs, we love their Idea Blog where different members of Aviary‘s team get to dish on various design and creativity topics — like this particularly refreshing take on the foundations of good design.

Enough from us, just go experience the instinctive self-pinching for yourself.

UNTRIVIA

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Here’s a blast from our psych class past: the “misery is not miserly” phenomenon — the tendency to spend more money in negative emotional states, particularly sadness — is now confirmed by a new study. Powered by researchers from four academia big-wigs (Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford and Pittsburgh University), the study exposed some participants to a sadness-inducing video and others to a “neutral” nature video. They then asked the subjects to spend any amount of their $10 participation incentive on a reusable sports water bottle. Here’s what they found:

  • The sad group spent an average of $2.11
  • The neutrals spent $0.56
  • The sad group used significantly more self-referential expressions (“I,” “me,” “my,” “myself,” etc.) when writing a brief essay on the seen video

What explains the glaring difference? Turns out, sadness makes people enter a “self-focus” state: an insecurity-driven self conception that leads us to believe we and the stuff we own are worth little. So, we’re willing to spend more to make our stuff appear more valuable, thereby making ourselves feel better.

Even more interestingly, this phenomenon occurs with pretty much zero awareness — subjects, despite the clear data suggesting otherwise, vigorously denied the video-induced sad emotions had anything to do with their spending amount. So it’s something different from retail therapy altogether, wherein we consciously try to make ourselves feel better with a, say, Mac Air. (Yes, we do have a tendency to go overboard — we must be watching all the sad sap of the cinematic world.)

What’s our point? Stay happy, stay rich. Meh, easier said than done — who are we kidding, it’s back to the Apple Store tonight…

THE DEVIL’S IN THE RETAIL

If you do anything online, you’ve come to appreciate the importance of tags — all those coveted keywords and labels can make or break your content’s success. “Tags” actually take their name from the eponymous little things that hang off various types of merchandise in the offline world. Fashion retail, in particular, is one place where offline tags are nearly as important as the 2.0 kind in selling stuff.

We’ve long been fascinated with label-tags on clothing, ranging from the plain bad to the plain to the mediocre to the brilliant. So we’ve been collecting ones that are exceptional in some way — a good design, a clever use of materials, an unexpected touch, you name it. And here are a few of our favorites, in no particular order of preference, plus the reasons we heart them. (Click the image to magnify.)

Tags

  1. adidas — call us geeks, but when we buy performance apparel we like to know exactly what makes it…well… perform. This little 6-page booklet managed to crunch in all the geeky info while keeping the design super sleek and adidasey. The free 3-week trial for professional online training was just the cherry on top.
  2. Hydraulic Jeans — they may not believe in search optimization, but their tags have that grungy-cool feel of hard cardboard, twine and old-school type. Bonus points for the feather-filled sampler bubble on a down jacket.
  3. Buffalo Jeans — with an edgy delicacy you can expect from a European designer, this tag for David Bitton’s denim line says it all. Too bad you can’t feel the canvas-meets-paper texture.
  4. Tyte Jeans — some of the boldest use of colors we’ve seen in a while, plus we’re suckers for non-plastic tag strings.
  5. GLO Jeans — not quite our taste here, but we have to give them props for doing something that speaks to their target of bubbly teenage girls and 35-year-olds who like to think of themselves as bubbly teenage girls in lieu of better aspirations.
  6. 7 for all mankind — boring colors, sure, but the design is clean and the texture is its own beast: a fascinating contrast between the soft matte canvas of the tag and the glossy satin string.
  7. Cosmopolitan — what better way to play off the brand name than by paying tribute to the ultimate cosmopolitan accessory, the credit card? The plastic tag, complete with those vibrant colors, is just the kind of thing a girl would have a really hard time throwing out.
  8. Jou Jou — despite the contrived and illegible type, the tag challenges the conventions of size, shape and material. The hard-canvas texture and the thick string are a refreshing touch.
  9. Tapemeasure — never mind being sold off by Liz Claiborne, never mind being unfindable online. These guys are certainly not never-minding tag design. Easily our favorite here, there’s something intangibly French about the red-white-and-black, super-clean design. Also of note: the matte texture embossed with tiny matte circles. Best touch: the miniature tapemeasure tag string. Genius.
  10. GAP — say what you will of the (RED) project, but we love the oversized metal hoop on this otherwise slim, soft tag and the understated color design. More street c(red) than the usual blah GAP tags.
  11. BONGO — neat play of space and borders, complete with a super-hard, metallic red surface that feels strangely glam-rock.
  12. Industry — yep, those are real stitches right on the cardboard and that’s real fabric. We have to respect a break from the conventions of materials segregation, but then again they’re French — it’s a whole nother conventions ballpark anyway.
  13. Levi’s — ah, the mother of all denim. There’s something strangely comforting about a pair of Levi’s, so it’s only natural the tag would exude that same vibe of approachable timelessness. A soft fabric tag with just the right amount of fringe, complete with subtle graphics, clean type, and a hung with a delicate string.
  14. YUKA Paris — we’re not crazy about the serif font, but the round black tag with silver type has a luxurious feel that really captures the brand’s signature heavy woven-silk fabrics.
  15. HOLDEN Outerwear — another favorite, and another shameful underestimation by image. The beauty of this tag is in the tactile experience of etched graphics on hard matte cardboard, although the color choice is elegant enough to be its own delight.
  16. Ymi Jean Co. — again, not exactly our taste, but we have to respect the bold use of dark denim and white lace, and in a tag of all places. Fresh. Young. Like the brand’s product.

So next time you go shopping or get a gift, stop and smell the…tag. We don’t care much about the Devil, but we do know the good stuff is always in the details.

HIGH-CONCEPT DESIGN GEEKERY

Design Museum If retail is too low-brow for you, you’ll love the Design Library at the London Design Museum. It’s a tremendous, get-lost-in- it-for-hours resource on architects, technologies and designers featured in the museum. There’s a lengthy profile on each designer, complete with images, interviews and biographies that can put both Wikipedia and your fashion textbook to shame.

You can find designers ranging from the obscure but great to the vaguely familiar to the ultra-famous, from product designer Tord Boontje to Eileen Gray, the mother of Art Deco, to the needs-no-introduction Christian Dior.

Go, dig in, brag.

SOCIAL DESIGN

And while we’re dabbling in fashion design, let us simultaneously dabble in what we call “thought design.” Take Kenneth Cole’s new Awareness Blog — a long-time-coming forum for the same issues the socially-conscious designer has stood for in the past 25 years. Out of Kenneth Cole Productions and Electric Artists, the blog churns out compelling daily takes on issues like politics, human rights, well-being, sustainability and more. Through them all runs a thread of being just the right amount of uncomfortable to really make you think.

The contributors are all big thinkers from various industries and walks of life, including the designer himself and the founder of our favorite magazine, GOOD. And it’s not just talk — it urges readers to get involved with one (or more) of 20 organizations that span everything from AIDS research to disaster relief to mentoring.

There’s also a YouTube channel chock-full of teaser videos united by the tagline-turned-platform “We all walk in different shoes.” Words that scream “word.” Refreshing to see this kind of initiative in society, and especially refreshing to see it coming from one of the most unscrupulous, whatever-it-takes industries: fashion.

THE JOY OF UGLY

Daily MonsterIf you find yourself overwhelmed by the monstrosities of the real world, why not take a break with monsters more likely to delight than derail? That’s exactly what you’ll find on Daily Monster — the talent-child of German-born, California-based graphic designer Stefan G. Bucher.

Each daily stop-motion film shows Stefan creating a new monster — he starts with a paint-dipped toothbrush, swashes a bit on a blank page, then squirts some high-pressure air on it to create a shape-defining splatter. Then, he attacks it with various drawing tools — pencil, Sharpie, fine-point pen, color marker — and draws his monster out of that shape.

Daily Monster #161Currently on monster # 161, he’s been going at it since November 2006 when Monster # 01 emerged from the fun-meets-darkness abyss of creativity.

It’s the kind of cool stuff you end up doing only after having done stuff across all levels of coolness: lived in Oregon, worked in advertising, designed album covers for Whitney Houston and Sting. And he must be doing something right — there’s a book coming out, plus the monsters have had cameos in Business Week and Wired. And, of course, Brain Pickings.

Update: The book, 100 Days of Monsters, is out — and it’s just as fantastic as we expected it to be.

SUN SNATCHER

When gadget design meets lifestyle design meets the design of Earth’s future, it’s a beautiful thing. Which is why we dig SOLIO — the universal “hybrid” charger. “Hybrid” because its powerful internal battery can be charged by plugging in the conventional socket way or by exposing the 3 glorious solar panels to the sun. And universal because it can charge anything — an iPod, a GPS, a digital camera, a cell phone, a game device, a BlackBerry and more.

Sure, it’s an enormous lifestyle treat — pop it in your hiking backpack, in your beach bag, in your carry-on to really take advantage of that window seat, in your city-dwelling purse…the possibilities are oh-so-indulgent.

But where SOLIO can really make a difference, we think, is in the third world. In poverty-ridden, infrastructure-deprived areas with no electricity, where the ability to boil water alone can save thousands of lives by preventing many an infectious disease. Where the presence of a single lightbulb could increase quality of life tremendously, help stave off crime, and extend agricultural and manufacturing productivity beyond the limits of daylight.

The simplest models run under $100, which is significantly less than many questionably effective humanitarian aid efforts spend per piece.

Then, of course, there’s the environmental angle. It’s pretty obvious — more solar power means less electricity means Al Gore likes us — so we no need to preach to the choir. Point is, SOLIO is as nifty a gadget — and lifestyle aid — as they get. We diggidy dig big time.

HIPS AHOY

Our product pick of the week — form (and boy oh boy what form it is) meets function. Salute the inflatable bikini life jacket — beyond its obvious drown-prevention capacity, it also ensures you’re the first one saved by that hunky lifeguard trampling children and little old ladies as he beelines for you.

‘Nuff said.

BP

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