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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

Mission

I believe that creativity is a combinatorial force — it happens when existing pieces of knowledge, ideas, memories and inspiration coalesce into incredible new formations. And in order to make a concept (or product, or idea, or argument) fully congeal in your head, you have to first understand all the little pieces that surround it — pieces across art, design, music, science, technology, philosophy, cultural history, politics, psychology, sociology, ecology, anthropology, you-name-itology. Pieces that build your mental pool of resources, which you then combine into original concepts that are stronger, smarter, richer, deeper and more impactful — the foundation of creativity.

This is Brain Pickings. It’s a modest exercise in vision- and mind-expansion. Selected bits of culture that will, at the very least, introduce you to new ideas and perspectives and, at their very best, help you think more, laugh more, create more.

BP

Culture-Crossing Subcultures

$12,000 hot dogs, digital Olympics, friends with money, friends without, virtual bridges, virtual divides, what Atlantis has to do with high fashion, and why testosterone now comes in silver.

CULTURAL KNIT-PICKING

Guerrilla knitting. Yes, it exist. And it’s not a bunch of grannies running around town with gigantic needles in a bout of end-life crisis. It’s the practice of using knitting to create public art in clever, won’t-believe-this-was-knitted ways. It’s “knit graffiti.”

knit.pngIts roots can be traced to the early 70’s when British-born knitter Elizabeth Zimmerman was commissioned to knit a sweater based on a pre-canned knitting pattern. Which she did, except she radically rewrote the pattern with a proprietary system and set off the beginning of the “thinking knitters” movement, rising above the “blind followers” of patterns.

Now, we remember seeing a small knitted hot dog at an art gallery a couple of years ago, accompanied by a 5-digit price tag, at which point we promptly concluded this was the stuff of insanity. But despite our prior view of the craft, we recently came across a fascinating talk by sociologist Rose White on the history of guerrilla knitting that goes as far as aligning it with the history of computer hacking. And history aside, today’s guerrilla knitting has reached unbelievable levels of craftsmanship and creativity.

Sure, we still couldn’t swallow a $12,000 knitted hot dog. But maybe that’s just because we don’t have the knitted digestive system.

ARTIST-SLASH-ATHLETE

Hell hath no fury like a designer’s ego challenged. Or at least that’s what the guys behind Cut&Paste found in November of 2005 when they held the first digital design tournament, a live face-off judged by a panel of industry all-stars amidst a rowdy crowd of onlookers.

Today, Cut&Paste designathons have been held all over the world, spreading the tournament’s three-fold mission: to end designer anonymity, to bridge the gap between artists, clients, recruiters and consumers of good design, and to educate about how design really “happens” by cracking open the creative process.

And in case this is giving you the impression it’s all just fluff, rest assured: it’s hardcore. Designers get 15 minutes. They may bring in approved objects to capture with a digital camera, but these objects become available to everyone. And none of it can be artwork, images, pre-designed digital elements or anything that falls outside the strictly-from-scratch framework of the tournament.

It’s all worth it, though — besides the laurels and the street cred, winning designers get material kudos from the likes of Apple, Wacom and Adobe. Not bad, not bad at all.

And because it’s something this cool, it calls for a grateful nod in the direction of the tip-off, one friend-of-a-friend Mr. Richard Parubrub hailing from North Carolina. Gracias, señor.

FRIENDS WITH MONEY

LendingClubSure, money matters can inject a healthy dose of awkward into a conversation or a relationship. Especially between friends. But it doesn’t have to be that way, mostly because we live in a capitalist world where it’s only natural for our financial capital and social capital to intersect.

That’s where Lending Club comes in, a social lending network that lets members lend and borrow amongst themselves at rates much better than the bank’s. And because money ventures are also naturally likely to get you suspicious or skeptical, pull that eyebrow back down: Lending Club got major kudos from Barron’s, BusinessWeek, USA Today, and more. Which is no surprise since the folks behind it hail from big-timers like eBay, MasterCard, Wells Fargo, Agency.com, and aQuantive.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbdsO7gMAE4

So far, over $5 million has changed hands since Lending Club launched last May. No wonder, what with all the careful screening (no sub-640 FICO scorers here), lending done entirely on members’ terms (you pick the level of risk you’re comfortable with, even what specific “need” to lend to), and the smart, proprietary lender- borrower matching system.

We could finish with some obvious pun on how networking really pays off. But let’s cut the clever crap — the concept is fucking genius.

REEL DIFFERENCE

Film. What a cultural commodity of the western world, one we take for granted and consume alongside popcorn. And what a way to treat the seventh art, one with enormous and often unexpected power.

FilmAid InternationalThankfully, there are visionaries out there using the overlooked medium to send a message of hope to those in the underprivileged world. FilmAid International uses film to enrich the disrupted lives of the millions of displaced people living in refugee camps all over the world. The simple act of hanging a 12-by-16-foot movie screen from the side of a truck has been making a tangible difference in the lives of refugees from Kosovo to Afghanistan to East Africa to Louisiana since 1999.

Sure, it’s easy to say that with no roof over your head and hardly any food on your folding table, film is the last thing you care for. But that’s such an underestimation of the far-reaching effects of psychological trauma, such a painful stab at the power of human imagination, the capacity to transcend the bite of the present and see hope in the future. Which is exactly what the million-and- counting viewers in FilmAid’s seven camps are doing. More than that, a 2006 study found that 96% of the project’s refugee audiences found it to reduce conflict and strengthen community building.

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Movie producer Caroline Baron, whose brainchild the project was, nails the answer to the why-film-when-no-food question: “I throw the question back to the refugees themselves. They say the film is food for them — that if their minds are not well, the food doesn’t help.”

If you’re feeling like putting a tiny stitch on a broken life today, make a small donation to keep the hope reel rolling.

PARALLEL VISION

For artist friends Stephanie and Mav, telecommunication wasn’t enough of a bridge between their creative brains when they had to move apart. Instead, last January they set up 3191, a visual blogging site named after the exact distance between their homes. Every morning for a year, each took pictures of herself and some other environmental element of her morning, then posted the pictures side by side on 3191.

The result: a joint photography project absolutely brilliant both in concept and in execution. So brilliant, in fact, that Princeton Architectural Press picked it up and is publishing 3191 a year of mornings this fall.

3191.jpg

Meanwhile, Stephanie and Mav are chasing the sun this year with project sequel 3191: a year of evenings. And suddenly, we feel like all those awful cliches about the beauty in the little everyday things are, well, not so cliched.

Simple. Stunning.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gifThere’s little we love more than irreverent design, geeky web stuff and, um, data. Which is why we were delighted to discover the following take on today’s virtual world: a map-visualization of online communities and their related points of interest, wherein geographic areas reflect estimated membership bases.

And, um, anthropomorphic dragons? Wait, are they talking about Sergey and Larry?

Sure, we may take some issue with the accuracy, but the concept is nonetheless neat, playfully reminiscent of Grayson Perry’s brilliant “Map of an Englishman.”

AU REVOIR PARIS, CIAO MILAN

And whilst on the subject of geography and topography, who better to contribute than the masters of the man-made archipelago? Yep, Dubai is at it again, this time with Isla Moda: the world’s first blob of freestanding ground inhabited entirely by fashion.

The island is intended to be a global fashion hub, with boutiques from the world’s most celebrated designers, a slew of residential villas (set to go on sale for shameful amounts at the end of this quarter), and an extravagant fashion hotel. Dubai Infinity Holdings even plans to invite high-end designers from each continent to design the various pieces of the island. (We can’t wait for the one from Antarctica.)

At $80 million, this project seems to have outclassed class and outluxed luxury. Too bad global warming’s plans for it skew more Atlantis than fashion world atlas.

STREET PICKINGS

We’re not ones to put people in danger of overdosing on class. And it seems like neither is Philly.

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Oh, Philly, city of the enviable ability to see beauty (booty?) in the least likely of places. Wait, we take that back. This was actually spotted across the street from a respectable establishment sporting neon silhouettes and gentlemen walking out with brown paper bags in hand. In broad daylight.

Guess what: Philly’s just as fun when you don’t sleep over. Silver Sharpie on us.

BP

Angles, Visions and Illusions

Art hearts, saving cyclists, 16 feet of genius, whiteboard wonders, surfing with your posse, mouthing off online, what sex triangles have to do with printing, and why the paranormal is a matter of shutter speed.

THE ART OF THRIFT

Back in the day, we introduced you to Tiny Showcase, the brilliant enterprise that lets artists and art enthusiasts pursue their passions through affordable prices, even donating a portion of profits to a charity of each artist’s choice.

Today, we bring you another art visionary: we*heart*prints, a compilation of great sticker- shockless prints from contemporary artists.

For anywhere between $20 and $150, you can get your art-lovin’ hands on original, anything-but-bland work from folks who do it for anything but the money — while still helping them make rent.

But wait too long and it’s gone — stuff sells out fast. Great for artists, bad for slacker art lovers.

SPIRIT OF GIVING

This year, we’re spreading the holiday guilt-trip-giving spirit early.

Relax, it’s all cool stuff — literally. Like those LED Christmas lights you can get instead of the traditional incandescent variety to save energy, maintenance efforts and “fuck, that was hot!”exclamations upon touch. That’s right, these nifty suckers consume 90% less energy than the standard fare, have a lifetime 10 times that of incandescent ones (so they’re like the CFL’s of mini-lights), and don’t heat up at all (which is why they can afford to be covered by thick plastic rather than “shit, what did I just step on?” glass). And, just like CFL’s, they may cost a bit more, but you’ll be sparing that billboard-powering cycling volunteer some major pedal time. (Remember that from Brain Pickings 1.0 a year ago?)

DAMAGED / GENIUS

The human brain. We’re a little bit obsessed with it here. Its touch is everywhere, from the art inspired by its inner storms, to the complex software modeled after it, to the humor that tickles it. In fact, we’ll argue it’s the greatest product in existence.

But like all products, the human brain is susceptible to glitches in the assembly line. Glitches that result in what society deems “damaged goods.” Glitches like Alzheimer’s disease, Autism, Tourette’s Syndrome and other neurodevelopmental or neurodegenerative diseases.

And based on this social yardstick, Stephen Wiltshire is damaged goods. The 33-year-old British man was diagnosed with Autism when his was a kid and spent his childhood as a mute because he couldn’t relate to other humans. He was sent to a “special school”, where he spent most of his solitary time drawing. Soon, the hobby became his only way of communicating with the world and it became apparent that Stephen had an extraordinary talent.

But the school decided to use the gift to “normalize” him — they took away his drawing supplies so he would have to ask for them, forcing him to speak. And speak he did — his first word was “paper.” By age nine, he was fully verbal. Far more impressively, he was also fully able to draw areal images from imagination (like the imagined effects of an earthquake) and recall to astounding detail.

Stephen is an artistic autistic savant. In 1987, ex-president of the Royal Academy Sir Hugh Casson called him “the most talented child artist in Britain.”

Today, Stephen’s talent has reached new heights. He flies in a helicopter over major cities (Tokyo, Rome, Frankfurt, Hong Kong) and draws panoramic views of the city on a 16-foot-long canvas, down to the most amazing details like the exact number, proportion and position of windows on each building.

Read Stephen’s full life story, check out the gallery of his mind-blowing work and/or buy some prints of this testament to the capacity of the human brain. Meanwhile, see how he crafts a panorama of Rome after he hovers over the great city.

Damaged goods? You be the judge — if you can wrap your own brain around the magic of this one.

THE FLIPSIDE

While seeing a depiction of the world so perfectly linear, static and accurate is impressive, it’s also fascinating to look at the kind of art that interprets the world much like our brains operate: in a non-linear, dynamic, constantly shifting fashion.

Which is why we dig this stop-motion by artist Kristofer Strom, done entirely on a whiteboard — just like the blank slate of our perception uses static shapes and time to interpret complex motion.

See more of the same great art/design vision at Ljudbilden & Piloten.

THE SOCIAL SURFER

Ah, the social web. It stopped being a catchphrase ages ago and now it’s just a fact of life. As is multitasking. So to address the seemingly omnipresent web multitasker, a bunch of web masterminds have just released Flock.

And we dig it because these guys seem to share our passion for a genuine understanding of consumer behavior — the online reflection of which has changed tremendously in recent years, but the fundamental application that propels it — the web browser — hasn’t necessarily kept up. So how about a browser’s that’s the intersection of media, people, and discovery?

flockscreen.pngDubbed The Social Web Browser, this smart newbie aims to give users the most fulfilling experience across all information platforms, from gathering to exchange to self-expression to interaction, as well as across all media. As soon as you login to all your favorite social networking and sharing services, Flock pulls your friends from them into the browser so you can access them whenever. You choose how much you want to see and how often so you can keep track of when your friends have updated their profiles, access their shared media, share web stuff with them, and stay generally connected via whatever services you’re craziest about. See how the magic happens.

A bunch of new themes and extensions are coming soon, but the Flock crew promises a best-of-Firefox fiesta.

Although it’s compatible with Mac, Linux and PC operating systems, its interface and functionality decidedly have our beloved Mac feel — sharing with friends is a drag-and-drop heaven. At the top of your browser window, you get a scrollable filmstrip view of photo and video streams from Facebook, Flickr, PhotoBucket, Piczo, Truveo, YouTube and others. And, of course, the whole ordeal is appropriately open-source so you can code-write your heart out.

Our only caution: not ideal for those 12″ screens. But, hey, now you have yet another excuse to get that spiffy 15″ MacBook Pro.

UNTRIVIA

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And speaking of social, we keep drumming on and on about the power of word of mouth, about how online reviews can make or break a consumer product, and guess what: it’s been confirmed.
Turns out, there’s a particularly WOM-hungry group of net dwellers out there now called “social researchers.” In the yet-to-be-released “Social Shopping Survey 2007,” PowerReviews probed 1,200 people who regularly shop online and spend more than $500 annually. They found that a good 65% of these folks are “social researchers” — a set who actively hunts down consumer reviews before buying stuff and bases final purchase decision on them. More on those WOM-ravenous shoppers:

  • 78% spend over 10 minutes reading the reviews for a single product they’re interested in
  • 64% research products online at least half the time, regardless of where they end up actually buying
  • 82% prefer sifting though consumer reviews to finding out about the product from a knowledgeable store staffer

Ok, we’re off to finally buy that PowerShot we’ve been lusting after with the stellar Amazon reviews.

RAG DEPARTMENT

Okay, the last thing we wanna be is an industry tabloid: enough people talking about Wal-Mart sex triangles and Dentsu upskirt shots of Kournikova already. But we just heard something too gotta-spill to keep to ourselves.

hp2.jpgFresh from our Rumors Allegations, and Gossip department: seems like Hewlett-Packard is cooking up a new web-based service to address the marketing, design, production and printing needs of small business. There’s also some sort of personalized marketing consultancy involved. The mystery creative solutions service will offer pretty much everything an old-school ad agency would: logo design, direct mail, website hosting and design, collateral, online banner advertising, search optimization, print design and production, copywriting and more. And, of course, a promise of affordability.

We’re not exactly sure how HP will attempt to pull this off. (Craigslist wanteds for unemployed creative folk come to mind. And more stock photography than should be legal.) But we’re not surprised: HP has been pushing the “creativity” message big time lately, mostly thanks to some fresh work from Goodby and the recent Gwen Stefani endorsement with its various extensions.

We’re just not exactly convinced their end products won’t end up a tad too close to a certain NASA page.

GHOST OF ART

Yes, it’s real.

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It’s William Hundley‘s completely in-camera, completely haunting, completely brilliant photography. The Entoptic Phenomena project isn’t a product of Photoshop, the wind, or paranormal forces. It’s the work of Hundley’s creative mind…and his social circle.

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The secret: Hundley has his friends jump completely covered in fabric and snaps shots of them mid-air. We love the eerie vibe of the result. Also not too shabby: the photographer’s boldness with colors, patterns and textures.

See his the full project and its interesting extensions. (Our favorite: Friends, in which the Entoptic Phenomena awkwardly share space with static everyday characters.)

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