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The Bookworm Issue

The world’s first $430 million book, college admissions on steroids, the little bookshop that took the click-and-mortar universe by storm, agency all-stars, how print may solve the global warming crisis, and why Philly’s 30th Street Station needs the best a man can get. Welcome to The Bookworm Issue.

GUTENBERG’S GHOST

Yeah, yeah. Print is dead. We’ve heard more iterations of this eulogy than there are pages in War and Peace. But, the thing is, print ain’t dead. It’s just different.

We’ve been highly skeptical about audiobooks since they first came around. Visions of meditation-tape voices and a tone that stresses all the wrong words plagued the imagined experience. But seeking a fair verdict, we finally decided to suck it up and try it, getting a book we’d read before for comparison purposes.

simplyaudiobooks.pngThe pick: Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point from Simply Audiobooks. And, in all honesty, it was a pleasant surprise.

The CDs arrive fast. (We wanted all judgement points available, so we went with the hard-copy mail-based rental club, but they also have a neat download club and a purchase option for those who don’t care for the restrictions of monthly or annual memberships.) And there are no Netflixy restrictions on what you can do with the content — ours got sucked right into our iTunes library, so the “rental” ended up as ownership. Best of all, our book was actually read by Gladwell himself — granted, in a rather meditative voice, but nothing beats hearing an author’s interpretation of his own work.

An added bonus: subtle print on the neat blue cardboard boxes CDs come in tells you they are made from 100% post-consumer materials and are fully recyclable and biodegradable. There’s no mention of it on the site, there’s not boastfulness about it — seems like an authentic effort by these folks to make a small, tangible difference. You don’t get that a lot in the fanfare-driven eco movement.

Then there’s print that’s actually printed and just as 2.0. Initiated by the World Bank and funded through the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, On Demand Books created the world’s first print-on-demand (POD) device last spring: the Espresso Book Machine. It takes this media shaker 3 minutes to print and bind a 300-page paperback from a digital file. Which, come to think of it, would work great with Google’s Library Project, an effort to digitize the world’s libraries and make them fully searchable, once it leaps over the self-serving, pointlessly bitter naysayers and takes off full steam.

Espresso Book MachineOn Demand Books and Google seem to share more than functional compatibility: just like Google’s do-no-evil, empower-people-though- information vision, the Espresso is out to solve a larger problem. From a sustainability perspective, the gizmo will eliminate the enormous global shipping and warehousing costs for books and reduce paper consumption (in which the U.S. is a world leader, at 715 pounds per capita a year and growing at about 10% each decade). Thanks to Uncle Gore, we all know what this has to do with them glaciers. And from a socioeconomic perspective, it will give that smart, hard-working but incredibly poor student in Mozambique access to the educational tools that will empower her to pursue her dreams and passions. It’s hard, after all, to ignore the powerful role education and information access play in socioeconomic status, driving the dynamic between education, employment and poverty.

The miracle printer is expected to retail for about $100,000 — much less than what the majority of national libraries, including ones in the developing world, spend on stocking every year. Plus, given the machine’s workhorse capacity, it seems like a sound investment. See it all in action and marvel.

BETA VERSION OF YOU

We remember the days when CollegeBoard.com was as high-tech as college application got. But it seemed intended to ease the process on the administrative end, not the student end. Not exactly a hook these days when kids are all about being in control. That’s where 2.0 startup Zinch comes in.

They cater to one of the most powerful, universal human aspirations — to be recognized as unique individuals. Because, really, who likes being reduced to a standardized test score, a bunch of acronyms (hello, GPA, AP, SAT, TOEFL, and others), and a bullet-point list of extracurriculars? Certainly not budding twenty-something hipsters.

picture-1.pngStill in startup-classic Beta, Zinch was inspired by the simple observation that the current admissions process seems to favor those in already favorable positions. (Hey there, private school all-stars, alum kids, extracurricular whores and grade-grubbers.)

Combined with various research findings that test scores and high school GPA are poor predictors of how kids do in college (known to some of ous as the keg effect), a vision was born: to level the playing field, giving students an outlet for showcasing their individuality without the traditional expensive resources like essay-writing courses, test preparation services, tutors, and other get-in-bed-with-the-Ivies plots.

Here’s how it works: students sign up and create detailed profiles, or “portfolios,” where they showcase what they’re all about. Anything goes — blogs, obscure art, a garage band gig, you name it. Portfolios are then assembled into a sophisticated database, which colleges and universities across the nation can search based on whatever criteria they think matter.

Sure, it may take some time until the admission process recognizes the human factor involved in sifting through applicants to select those who’ll make the greatest brains of tomorrow. (Because, really, it’s the successful ones that shell out the biggest alum donations.) But we dig that someone out there is starting to nudge things in the right direction.

Plus, there’s the “i am more than a test score” tagline. Simple. Honest. And sadly revolutionary.

UNTRIVIA

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A recent partnership between STORES Magazine and BIGresearch produced the Favorite 50, a survey in which consumers ranked their favorite e-tailers. If anything, it’s a useful snapshot of how the contrast between the brick-and-mortar and online retail landscapes — offline many of the rank-toppers are either B-grade or nonexistent altogether. Here’s a top-line of the findings:

1. Amazon.com — The interesting thing is that if you were to walk into a traditional retail store that carries all the products available on Amazon, you’d be so overwhelmed with the paradox of choice you’d either pass out or walk out. But the success of this search-based system enhanced by personalized recommendations suggests the future of shopping may just be in online stores that operate as sophisticated, algorithm-driven retail databases.

2. eBay — The Barry Bonds of vintage stores seems to be hitting a home run with shoppers.

3. Wal-Mart — Despite various questionably effective attempts to be, like, totally hip and catch the young set (including the latest merciless milking of the green cow), this retail giant is doing well as ever.

4. Best Buy — Eh, not really “Best,” but “4th Best Buy” doesn’t really have the same ring to it.

5. JC Penny — We’re talking massive dollars here, not pennies. And it’s quite a jump for this lovemarked (see appropriate snark below) retailer. Can they really be better liked than…

6. …Target? — All the multiplying pretty people, the swirly stuff and the poppy tunes seem to be paying off.

7. Kohl’s — We’re guessing quietly kicking up their posh quotient with the Vera Bradley line didn’t hurt.

Also of note: Google (#9) and Yahoo (#16) are sending clear signals that search engines play a big role in e-commerce beyond your grandmother’s basic search optimization.

But most importantly, unlike “objective” spending-based rankings, the Favorite 50 assessed how people feel, subjectively, about the retailers they shop with. And while the dollar can’t be neglected as a business driver, it’s brand equity and love that keep it coming year after year. Refreshing to see some commercial entity out there actually cares about how consumers feel, not how much and what they bought today.

GLOSSY VS. GRITTY

While we’re on the subject of brand love and the number-five ranker above, it seems like for lovemarker K-Rob there’s no shame in being one justifiably smug, smart SOB. (You may recall JC Penny’s unexpected, pitchless shift of business to Saatchi & Saatchi, allegedly after top execs were blown away by Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts’ Lovemarks. If this is the case, it makes it the world’s most expensive book, with a price sticker of the $430-million business.) Especially if he’s willing to put his money where his pen is.

Which he did, kinda. The lovemarketing campaign is a-rollin‘, replete with bouncy imagery, life-is-good cliches, and — our biggest gripe — commodification of formerly-indie acts in soundtracks. (To be fair, as much as we love Regina Spektor, we first thought she was showing symptoms of sellout after being prominently featured on the first season finale of addictive primetime soap Grey’s Anatomy, but this is a whole new level of commercialization.)

Daniel Goleman booksIn any case, our biggest concern with K-Rob’s literary foray is that while it includes some superficially innovative gimmicks, it simply offers a glossy iteration of social and psychological research findings that have been around for quite some time. And while we have tremendous respect for the complex psychological principles behind it all, we’d have to go with the grittier, down-and-dirty reads on the subject.

And on that note, here’s a Brain Pickings rarity: a shameless endorsement and recommendation for those who care to dig deeper. Yep, we’re shamelessly endorsing and recommending Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence (and sequel Social Intelligence), an incredibly smart (yet very credible) foray into sociology, neuroscience, psychology and behavioral science that sheds light on why we ever care about anything. Bonus: Goleman is not an ad agency CEO and the book is not intended to be a new business hook.

ONLY IN PHILLY

Ever feel like you’re constantly climbing the (social, corporate, whatever) ladder to no avail? Philly, always the literalist, has taken that metaphorical concept to a verbatim level. Spotted on the concourse of 30th Street Station by a certain young lad is this architectural head-scratcher.

30th Street Station concourse

Of course, if we had a Gillette Mach 3 Turbo, that wall would be a piece of cake.

BP

In The Spotlight

Because, occasionally, stuff comes about that matters more than the latest Facebook widget. Welcome to Brain Pickings Spotlight.

RESERVATION FOR HELL

A recent reader letter to GOOD Magazine (which is easily the best publication we’ve ever encountered, offline or on) pretty much nailed a much-dwelled-on gripe of ours. Here’s an excerpt:

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Which is exactly what we were thinking last week when passing by a group of twenty-somethings who had chosen not to spend their Friday night lounging in a trendy downtown club, shooting the shit about their latest “green” purchases and their respectively respectable price tags. Instead, they’d chosen to spend the night doing some real, grassrootsy, gritty green activism on the streets of Philly.

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Just minutes after we snapped this shot, more kids joined them, more flyers were handed to curious hands, more people stopped to ask questions.

Sure, it’s tempting to write them off as a bunch of self-righteous hippie types with nothing better to do than spoil the dinner of the swankier set. But we thought they might be on to something, so we poked around a bit.

Turns out the issue they were protesting goes far beyond pollution. It entails something called foie gras, French for “fatty liver,” which comes about in an incredibly gruesome way, making it pretty much the most cruelly produced food on the planet. Here’s some gory detail from the protesting kids’ way too cutseyly named but nonetheless right-on website, Hugs for Puppies:

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foiegras.pngIt gets even worse when you step inside a foie gras farm. Now, from our own experience with the PSPCA, we can spot animal cruelty when we see it. And this one’s hitting us over the head with a metal pipe.

But here’s the thing — the kids at Hugs for Puppies mean business. Since 2005, they convinced 15 Philly restaurants, including dining meccas by Stephen Starr, Neil Stein, Susanna Foo and George Perrier, to nix foie gras from their menus.

So what’s the deal with Matyson? We’re not shy about asking. Turns out, the kids met with the owner several times last year and his response is frankly bewildering to us: he simply “didn’t care either way.” So it’s not that he wants to sell some more gourmet cruelty, or that he wants to please his patrons, or even that he happens to think his foie gras is particularly spectacular. Indifference, really, can be more despicable than any act of corrupt self-interest.

Still, the owner reluctantly agreed to take the stuff of the menu, promising to “only” offer it as an off-menu specialty. That was a few months ago. Recently, foie gras crept back onto the Matyson menu. Hence the protest.

The activists even started a website exposing this particular restaurant’s numerous environmental and humane sins, and offering dining alternatives that are less, you know, vile. But on the foie gras front, Matyson is not alone — a number of other local restaurants still serve it and, for your boycotting pleasure, here they are exposed. So drop them like a needy boyfriend and go with these guys instead — they nixed the gory stuff after getting the full scoop.

Okay, on a brighter note, the Hugs for Puppies folks actually have a quite a bit of neat, ungory stuff on their website. Including this nifty Philly Veg Eating Guide. Now here’s a way to never witness, pay for, or experience any force-feeding through a metal pipe.

BP

This Week…

Smurfs on drugs, little kids, a three-way call with McDonald’s and your BFF, where to have the best affair in Zambia, what Einstein and a bunny have in common, and how to butter up your boss for the holidays. Welcome to Brain Pickings.

SWEETLY PRETENTIOUS / PRETENTIOUSLY SWEET

Unadmitted intellectuals, self-admitted New Yorkers at heart, culture hogs and cheapos alike: rejoice. The holy grail of web publishing is finally being handed to us on a digital platter. Yes, it’s true: The New York Times has made its online content available for…gasp…free. Which leaves us with in an oh-so-familiar paradox: so much to explore, so little free time.

Luckily, we’re all kinds of nice here. So we’re sifting through it all for you at 5th-gear-full-throttle rates to bring you the very best. Stuff like painter and experimental filmmaker Jeff Scher’s The Animated Life, a blog (but, oh, so much more) about the abstract and the nitty-gritty of life, beautifully written and marvelously animated. What more is there, really?

Granted, the man’s credits make him sound a bit pompous (and by “a bit” we mean Niles Crane pompous): he has screened at the Guggenheim, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Pompidou Center in Paris, and opening night at the New York Film Festival, among other distinguished venues. And he’s done work for HBO and PBS, among other distinguished acronyms.
But we, regardless of our general tendency to go for the darker stuff, dig that he’s not a trend-follower. That whole “dark” trend, that is. Because we’ve noticed that in recent years, that whole generation of teen-angst-ridden kids has grown up to become a generation of twentysomething-jaded artists who, however talented, often exorcise it all through the aforementioned “darker stuff.” And a lot of it is painfully alike. Good, sometimes even great, but alike.

Jeff Scher’s work is anything but. Dark and seen-it-before, that is. Part 50’s Russian animation, part Wizard of Oz, part early Disney, part French cartoons from the early 90’s, it’s truly whimsical and feels eerily timeless, and yet it captures those can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on things about modern life. No wonder NYT kept it in their private Fort Knox for so long. Hell, we would, too.

Except we’re nicer than the Ochs-Sulzberger family.

YOU’D BETTER BELIEVE IT

Okay, we’re not in the business of putting people at risk for getting overcultured. So let’s hurry and offset any damage we may have done.

The interesting thing about click-and- mortar warehouse Amazon.com is that it lumps together serious, reputable products (like, say, one Options Playbook) with, well, let’s just say less reputable ones. Stuff like our product pick of the week which, had we seen it elsewhere, we would’ve instantly taken for some sort of viral gag.

Well, it ain’t.

Alas, it ended up in Amazon’s digital clearance bin and garnered no reviews whatsoever, so we guess people were unable to not believe and therefore refused to buy.

Now here’s something to kick off our holiday gift shopping early.

WHEN A MOTEL WON’T DO

Long before bad movie remakes put the name on public lips, Mr. & Ms. Smith was a niche travel website that bridged couples with their dream romantic escapes, at the world’s most luxurious destinations. The allusion to the original movie, in the team’s own words, is “a wink to couples everywhere, who fancy checking into a fabulous hotel under this classic dirty-weekend pseudonym.” Ah, marriage.

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Their travel portfolio includes the poshest destinations and independent hotels across the globe, each reviewed anonymously by a professional Mr. & Mrs. Smith reviewer. And speaking of the team, besides the three key chronic entrepreneurs, it features a reviewer panel made up of writers, restaurant critics, designers (including Stella McCartney) and rock stars. If these guys don’t know luxury and incognito, we don’t know who does.

Exclusive memberships come in three ego sizes — BlackSmith (£10), SilverSmith (£75), and GoldSmith (£250) — all promising cardholders various levels of very, very special offers. (No, not in that Asian massage parlor kind of way.)

BIG BROTHER WANTS TO CALL YOUR MOTHER

Convenience is the new capital. We pay more to get places faster (hello, overpriced Accela Express), do things with less effort (Amazon.com, thank you for sparing us many a shopping trip), watch things on our terms (TiVo, anyone?). But it was only a matter of time until smart business models started popping up, offering convenience in exchange for something other than money. Ours, at least.

San-Jose-based Pudding Media is one such interpreneur — using the Internet to revolutionize telecommunications. Last week, they launched The Pudding (in Beta), a VoIP service that allows free calls to anywhere in North America straight from a web browser, sans annoying application downloads.

The business model also includes “breakthrough technology that makes your conversations even more interesting by displaying content that is relevant to your conversation.” Read: repurposed contextual targeting technology that nudges highly targeted ads into your conversation. For the Gmailholics among us, it’s nothing new: you know those contextual ads to the right of your message? Same deal, only The Pudding’s technology uses voice recognition software (the same thing that lets you add voice commands to your cell’s call options.) But it’s made it into The New York Times, so we guess it’s significant enough an innovation to warrant the big guns’ attention.

The Orwellian privacy police of the blogasphere is already going at it. But, really, who’s forcing their fingers over t-h-e-p-u-d-d-i-n-g-.-c-o-m on the keyboard? We’re just glad the option is out there.

And, more than anything, we’re fascinated by the most interesting finding of all: while running some testing, Pudding Media CEO Ariel Maislos found that the advertising content actually influenced the course of the organic conversation between the caller and the callee. How’s that for proof of the very real feedback loop and Conversationality potential between brands and everyday folk?

WHAT LIVES UNDER THE DIGITAL BED

What happens if you take the Smurfs, get them high on psychedelic drugs, have them watch Six Feet Under for seven hours, read them selected excerpts from your favorite Stephen King novel, and let them loose with a bucket of paint and a brush? Zoomquilt II happens.

Zoomquilt IIDubbed “a collaborative art project,” it’s really a digital mashup of various artists‘ illustrations, pieced together in Flash to produce a mesmerizing, dizzifying, endless loop of interlocking images sure to give you more optical illusions than walking into Disneyland after downing five Purpletinis.

Originally conceived by mastermind artist and developer Nikolaus Baumgarten, the first generation of Zoomquilt was born in 2005. Over 100,000 Google hits later, it was retired to make room for 2007’s upgrade: Zoomquilt II.

Check it out and see how long you can last before your head starts spinning and your recurring childhood nightmare about that creepy clown living under your bed comes back.

ANIMAL PLANET MEETS NIP/TUCK

Most of us have moments when we feel weird, awkward, odd, and generally unfitting. (Some of us more frequently than others.) So it’s nice to know that there are other weirdos out there in the global high school that is the Biosphere.

yeti_crab.jpgFor your viewing pleasure, we present you with “25 of The World’s Most Interesting Animals.” (And, dare we add, our 8th grade English teacher’s words of literary peevishness — that “interesting” is what you call an ugly baby — never seemed more fitting.)

We’re having a hard time picking a favorite. There’s the blob fish, which looks like a certain great uncle of ours; the tarsier, which finally helps us make sense of Simon Cowell’s comments regarding a certain American Idol contestant’s appearance; the aye-aye, which gives us a sneak preview of what next century’s anthropologists will see when they exhume Paris Hilton’s dog; the angora rabbit, which looks like it proposed the Theory of Relativity; and, of course, the Komondor dog, which we’re pretty sure can be purchased at the Pottery Barn.

Pick your own favorite oddball, or just sit back, check yourself out in the mirror, and be grateful you didn’t end up on nature’s aesthetic shitlist.

BP

Gadgetry, Widgetry and You-name-itgetry

A shirtless Tiger Woods, a very ethical octopus, how the fabric of culture makes a great quilt, why you may be a municipal light fixture, and what possessed 8,058,860 people to hurl sheep at each other.

THE TENTACLES OF INNOVATION

Gone are the days of boxy, bland gadgets. These days, if peripherals don’t come built into your computer, they’d better come in great design that makes you wanna showcase them as much as use them. But how about a mashup of this new thinking about gadget design and the new green ideology?

U.K. sustainable development tech company United Pepper, in a partnership with digital technology group EuroTech, has just released two adorable oddballs: Lili (an octopus webcam) and Oscar (a starfish hub) who are just as green as they are functional and cute: they boast fully recyclable bodies made from cotton, sand, Kapok (a tree fiber) and paperboard, 100% recycled packaging, recyclable PET, and 70% of parts produced in a free trade environment. (C’mon now, even Mother Theresa couldn’t know what sweatshop the fabric for her glorious attire was weaved in.)

Lili’s top-notch 1.3 megapixel webcam and microphone go for £29.99 (or $59.95, but we’ll have to hold off until the U.S. release.) Oscar’s asking £19.99 for his four 2.0 USB hubs (or $7.99 per tentacle). Both come in red, green and blue.

We’d be temped to whine about the little quirksters not being Mac-compatible. But then, of course, we remember this. And proceed to feel really, really, really cool. And superior. Yep, definitely superior.

HANDS OF THE TIMES

We’ve started seeing it everywhere. From products to services to communication to culture. The first Mini Cooper racing stripes designs. The home-delivered diet systems. The user-generated ads. Etsy.com. Forget pre-canned and factory-sealed, it’s the age of personalization and customization.

All over America, millions of hands are busy making, creating, crafting things. Things driven by visions, things that have something to say. And one artist-filmmaker spent most of 2006 traveling 19,000 miles to document the phenomenon. Fifteen cities, 50 indie artist interviews and 80 hours of video later, Faythe Levine was ready to start splicing together Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY Art, Craft & Design, the first documentary to really delve into what drives some of the most creative minds in the nation. The film, a deep-dive into DIY, art, craft and design, is still in production, but the trailer gives you a pretty good idea of the scope:

True to the culture it explores, the project is a low-key production almost entirely by the artist’s Etsy shop. And although its budget may be tiny, its scope and mission aren’t. It pushes us to step outside our daily microcosms, outside our own creative heads, and see how other minds make sense of the world, from the grand creative visions down to the nitty-gritty of paying the electric bill.

Now that’s not something you often get to do on the couch questioning yet again why you even bother with primetime TV.

UNTRIVIA

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If you’re like us, Facebook‘s 23-year-old CEO Mark Zuckerberg is your ultimate hate-what- he-does-to-my-ego-but-worship-him-anyway hero. Okay, maybe not that far. But, at the very least, unless you’re still not over big hair and leotards, you have the sense to acknowledge that when he opened up Facebook’s platform to developers a few months ago, he became the 2.0 mover-and-shaker of the year. Perhaps even of the decade. (And that only months after making the previously college-exclusive net available to anyone, .edu email or not. At that point, the social phenomenon that started out as a small online hub for a few Ivy League universities had raked up 24 million users, a toll growing by 150,000 a day.)

As a result, over 4,200 application widgets have popped up on Facebook, many of which ended up embedded in millions of profiles. Yep, profiles heaping with as much or as little demographic and psychographic information users choose to provide. But, unlike MySpace, the majority of Facebook users are not at all shy about sharing the info. (Because, after all, you only facebook-friend people you know or think you know, there’s virtually no spam, the interface is much cleaner and reassuring, and it still carries that insiders-only vibe from the pre-everyone-on-the-boat days). So you can get anything from a person’s age and location, to relationship status, to favorite music, TV shows and books, to intersts, to latest hangouts and even hookups.

Point is, all this embeddable apps and widgets are also heaping with advertising opportunities to people who actually welcome them. And thanks to a Bay-area start-up Adonomics (previously Appaholic), there’s now a very sophisticated app performance ranking and tracking system based on installs and active users. Think of it as Digg (who, by the way, just added a ton of super-cool features) for Facebook. Here are the must-know-about top 10:

1. Top Friends: 2,820,950 daily active users, 15,671,900 total installs

Lets you add a box of 32 of your best friends to your profile in a world where friend count is by the hundreds. Made by Slide Inc.

2. Video: 943,493 daily users, 9,434,930 total installs

Lets you publish personal video and tag your Facebook friends. You can even use your webcam to record and your cell to tag. This one’s a Facebook original.

3. My Questions: 516,474 daily users, 8,607,900 installs

Instantly poll your friends on whatever you’re pondering at the moment. Made by Jeremiah Robinson of said Slide, Inc.

4. Super Wall: 806,572 daily users, 8,065,720 installs

Upgrades your standard wall (the space in your profile where friends use to give you a publicly heard shout) to include photos, videos and more. Crafted by Stanford grad student Jia Shen. (Who, by the way, launched his first app, a photo slideshow, on MySpace, it caught on like wildfirewall, but because MySpace offered no monetization for developers, it ended up crashing Shen’s servers and costing him a fortune.)

5. iLike: 805,931 daily active users, 8,059,310 total installs

Lets you add music to your profile, check out where your favorite bands are playing next, see which of your friends are going, and get free mp3’s based on your music likes. Product of iLike, Inc.

6. SuperPoke!: 886,475 daily users, 8,058,860 installs

Makes the super-popular Facebook poke function (sorry, out-of-loopers, you’ll need this to get it) into a contact fiesta: pinch, tickle, hug, pin, throw sheep. Crafted by Stanford alumni Nikil Gandhy, Jonathan Hsu and Will Liu.

7. Likeness: 440,929 daily users, 7,348,820 installs

Another Jia Shen creation that lets you see which friends and celebs you resemble.

8. X Me: 651,650 daily users, 7,240,560 installs

It’s not uncommon for many apps to offer similar functions and compete with each other. So app-master Jia Shen (again) decided to take on the SuperPoke! people above with this action-based poke upgrade.

9. Movies: 780,949 daily active users, 7,099,540 installs

Dish on movies via ratings and reviews, check out showtimes, view trailers, and see how your friends compare in cinematic taste. Brought to the film-hungry by Flixter.

10. FunWall: 839,575 daily users, 6,996,460 installs

Another competitor to a different top-10 app. Adds vids, photos, etc. to your wall — you know the drill. Crafted by Daniel C. Silverstein and Bobby Joe (poor kid) of — you guessed it — Slide, Inc.

Other rapid rank-climbers: Grey’s Anatomy Quotes, My Chatroom, Fashion IV, My Ruckus Music, and Halo 3 Service Record. Our personal favorite: the last.fm music widget, which turns your favorite music into a playlist of full-length tracks and makes a cool collage of album covers based on it, all embeddable in your profile.

So the virtual social world is eagerly embracing this new generation of widgets. And these are some big numbers to easily dismiss. Even more amazingly, a good portion of the apps are branded, including top-tier ones (hello, Flixter, Ruckus and XBox 360), which is just about the ultimate form of those over-pounded buzzwords “engagement” and “permission marketing.”

And a number of companies are already cashing in: besides good ol’ Google Analytics, upcoming niche ad network Lookery is zeroing in on Facebook and will offer clients extremely sophisticated profiles of their user base. Talk about ultimate targeting. And Gigya offers tools to help developers better distribute widgets, then track their performance in real time. That’s as hand-on-the-pulse-of-the-young-and-savvy as it gets.

And it doesn’t hurt that Facebook’s said user base grew a sweat-inducing 270% last year (and congratulations to one contributing Mr. Haag who can finally sit with the cool kids at the school cafeteria), leaving 72-percent-growth rival MySpace in the social networking dust. Mark Z, wanna go behind the school gym and make out?

VIRAL EMMIES

And speaking of trivia and 2.0 phenomena, 1,358,348 viewers can’t be wrong: animated vid “Internet People” is the best way to play Trivial Pursuit with yourself and test your viral pop culture knowledge.

So how many of the referenced vids do you recognize? (Hint: if it’s less than 10, you’re either too old or a lamp post.)

RIGHT UP OUR ALLEY

Keywords shmeewords. We don’t talk using operators and booleans, so why should we search that way?

We’ve seen hand-curated search and “artificial artificial intelligence.” And now one progressive start-up brings us another revolutionary concept: “natural language search.” Silicon Valley company Powerset Inc. is opening up its beta version on Monday, allowing the public to test out their natural language processing technology. The product of three decades worth of research at the iconic Xerox Corp PARC research center, this new kind of search will allow users to search the web using natural language.

In the great words of Powerset CEO Barney Pell, “Search today is like talking to a 2-year-old.” So he put his doctoral degree in artificial intelligence to use and decided to put intelligent conversation (Conversationality, anyone?) back into the quest for relevant information.

Once the Beta site launches, you’ll be able to check out two kinds of demonstration on how the search works. In one, “Cases,” you’ll get to see how conversational questions like “Does Tiger Woods shave that manly chest that lies beneath his Nike polo shirt when he bursts through walls?” produce better results than the standard keyword subject/verb fare. The other, “Powermouse,” shows the back-end of the search process, letting you see how the algorithms break down your search into grammatical components, revealing the underlying data links used to produce the results.

Sure, we’re completely conditioned to use traditional caveman search language. So it may take some time until conversation claims the online info world back. But we think this stuff is pretty neat and definitely something to keep an eye on. If only to see the day count until Google A) snaps it up or B) outsmarts, outintegrates and outmonetizes it with a way cooler version.

Get the full scoop from Reuters.

ONLY IN PHILLY

From the depths of the West Philly ghetto to your desktop. This elaborate grafittied garage door speaks volumes about what moves the urban culture needle. Dark? Maybe. Fucking amazing? Hell yeah.

garage_grafitti.jpg

And we love that homie Homer S. shares our own sentiments about what appears to be Ozzy Ozbourne in profile.

BP

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