signal as noise in clothing.

Clothing is a point of interest for me, because it's the main signifier that people can shift without a lot of effort. Clothing, as I'm sure I've mentioned here before, is one of the strongest signifiers of identity, because it denotes an allegiance to a sub-culture, and often the level of dedication / sect in which one fits into that culture.

I'm starting to wonder how much farther we have to go before clothing because noise, just like everything else.

[note: i'll go link diving later to illustrate the point better]

I've heard that some lines are considering offering more than 2 collections a year, simply because the gap between something hitting the market, and becoming ubiquitous, is shrinking. Even with the coming recession (as far as I'm concerned, it's coming) people are willing to spend heavily for differentiators. This also becomes a problem when displaying large labels is out of fashion, and on-trend clothing is readily available at low prices, thanks to retailers like H&M and Forever 21. People will spend more to point out that they can, or for an increase in quality, fine. The question is, will the increase in number of new collections result in a more direct, and complete mining of the sub-cultural fashion landscape?

Couture has grabbed inspiration wholesale from subcultures time and again, forcing fashion migration in some groups. I recall at one point in the mid-90s commenting that being a skateboarder was tantamount to being a Backstreet Boy, in terms of buying in to the mainstream culture that skateboarding has claimed to reject.

I've never thought that you could actually judge someone's personality by their clothing, but there was a time you could judge how they wanted to be perceived. If the timetable and absorption of new fashion / inspirations is accelerated much more, I have to wonder if that will result in fashion's signal becoming noise.


free for consumers, sold to enterprise.

The internet, and attached economy, is more or less built on ad revenue supporting the idea that things should be free, accessible, and equal. I think this model works, to an extent, but I think the greater idea should tie back to one that has become popular in software, whether or not anyone discusses it.

Microsoft, and Adobe, as two basic examples, create software that is world-standard in what it does. It's also absurdly, and often prohibitively, expensive. If the big money is coming from enterprise sales, whether through licenses, or through packages that pro designers or artists buy, then the model is, to an extent, built on piracy, or extreme discounting.

In short, Microsoft got rich not off selling software at full price to home users, but instead offering it to equipment manufacturers dirt cheap, having it pirated, and then, as world standard, charging a ton for business users (who are easier to track and sue if they pirate it), and selling support, etc. Open Source software business works more or less the same way, they just remove any impediment to ubiquity, and say -go forth, adapt, improve, and if your company needs some experts, well, a whole industry has popped up to serve that need.

This is really, really obvious, but I needed to get it on the page before we can move on.

I think this is the model that will take internet based business somewhere special. You can see it already in the trendwatching/coolhunting/business intelligence industry that has, on many sites, developed a blog (free) / report (enterprise pricing) / support and consulting (enterprise pricing) stance. This serves the same purpose as people pirating Adobe products does. It creates respect and reputation for the product (or the ideas, or the advice, research, etc), and some level of ubiquity. With that achieved, enterprise customers can be convinced to pay handsomely (but reasonably considering what they get in return) for a more advanced, more targeted, more tailored version of the same.

This model can be adapted to most internet based business. The blog / report / consultant model, mentioned above, is just the only approach in which I can currently see this happening. I do think, however, that this model is the future of most things. Imagine free news and newspapers, delivered and ad-supported, with more in depth versions targeted to specific industries, sold at a premium, with the research appended.

To be continued.


music, albums, and metacontext.

I generally prefer a great EP to a great album. Mostly because 5-6 songs is perfect to make sure I get through it in one sitting.

As music has shifted from a separate experience, to an additive experience, albums are less likely to get listened to in one sitting. This is something that artists have flipped out over - and it makes sense; iTunes singles make the individual song the work of art, not the album. It removes metacontext. Metacontext is, in online terms, value.

Preserving metacontext is something that could be addressed by the idea floated by Jakob Lodwick, selling albums as an iPhone app.

Alternately, EPs could be sold in a one track format, with chapters (the way you can put chapter breaks in podcasts). I think this would be unwieldy in an LP format, but for 5 tracks, for 20 minutes, I think it would work perfectly. Maybe with a full-featured suite of album art and lyrics, similar to the PDF and mp3 package that went with the most recent Saul Williams release.

[this is slightly adapted from a post on my tumblr account.]


demonstrated economics of free music / niggy tardust

I was more than slightly excited when Trent Reznor decided record labels were an embarrassment, and he would go it alone. I was excited when he produced spoken work artist, poet, and hip hop artist Saul William's latest record, and decided that it would be put out in either a free 192kpbs version, or 5 dollar you call it. The results (for the moment) are here.

Trent was displeased with the results, and that's fair. Only 20% of those who downloaded the record paid, which isn't impressive or shocking.

At the same time, I have to wonder what the comparison in net profit is when compared with a the last album, released in 2004, that sold around 34,000 copies. With no label to pay, no packaging costs, I'd assume a hell of a lot more of that 5 dollars stuck around. At the same time (and you'd know this if you were reading the links) the production was expensive, with "an A-list team and studio, Musicane fees, an old publishing deal, sample clearance fees, paying to give the record away (bandwidth costs), and nobody's getting rich off this project."

I guess I'm thinking that no one was getting rich, or even comfortable off the last project, and now more people are listening, more people have the chance to become fans, and as mentioned, more people will come out to shows.

But my real question is this - is the failure we're seeing for audiences to respond to reasonable (arugably more than reasonable) pricing and conditions because people are unreasonable, or because after several years of having ethical justification for resorting to piracy, it's become enough of a habit that we don't have apologists anymore?

The Saul Williams record discussed above, 'The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust', is excellent, and really makes me hope for a future in which Reznor will produce further hip hop albums. It's good enough that I'd go see him in/when he plays in my area, and that I would consider purchasing merch, or a physical version of the album. It was my first experience with Saul Williams' work outside of books of his poetry. I downloaded the free version, and, to be honest, have no problems with that.


discarding people vs using them.

I've been reading Chris Matthews 'Life's a Campaign' while in the bathroom for the last couple weeks. The most important lesson, thus far, is one thrown in the book jacket, which, imho, makes the book worth buying (or receiving as a gift), the gist of which is that people don't mind being used, they mind being discarded.

This, I am starting to think, is a universal truth. How many problems in your life, or in the modern world, can be traced to someone being abandoned and ignored after they were used. A large part of me thinks this is the real issue behind a lot of the war on terror - if you train someone, convince them to risk their lives, and point them at an enemy, they probably aren't expecting abandonment afterwards. So, when abandoned, guess who the new, worse enemy is?

However, I've only recently started considering this in terms of branding and advertising. I complain a lot about the use of 'authenticity' as a buzzword panacea for any failings on the ad front for anyone. And generally, I've thought of authenticity as a bullshit substitute for actual value. The only people I encounter who use the word authenticity work in branding-related fields, for are insufferable hipster-stereotypes who think of it as something conferred by drinking cheap beer, and spending the savings at Urban Outfitters.

But consider authenticity in terms of the using vs. discarding argument. Advertising is about creating associations, and using those associations to create desire. At a base level, it's about creating a desire to be the things associated with the brand in question. So, if a brand needs to maintain a justification for those associations to avoid making the consumer think that their identity, which has, to an extent, become an offshoot of the collection of brands they accumulate, then any glimpse that those associations were a transparent attempt to bring more customers is the same as discarding the originals.

To put it more simply, authenticity isn't the issue. Brands needs to develop organically, in a way that makes sense based on the associations they have claimed in the past, or abandon those who have used the brand as an identifier.

When a brand you have taken on as an aspect of your persona changes inorganically, they have discarded you, and everyone of their previous customer-base.

So. Either I misunderstood, and everyone who was talking about authenticity meant this, or authenticity is still a bullshit buzzword in the world of branding, but one with a hint of truth behind it.

More importantly, take the advice to heart. Using people is fine. Discarding them is where things become problematic.


advertising vs. data collection in monetizing social networks.

I promised to follow up on this post around two weeks ago, but I think I can be excused due to the holiday madness that filled that time period.

In the previous post, my general complaint was that the amount of initiative necessary to elevate advertising in social networks from an annoyance to a service is negligible in comparison to the potential returns, both directly and in terms of reputation. The example at hand was Facebook, and the mediocre targeting that let me know a band I like was touring in my country, but didn't bother to take it a step further and actually point me to venues near me, and a place to purchase tickets.

The problem goes deeper than that, and it's pretty simple to explain. Facebook, like most social networks, has made the assumption that having a business model based on advertising revenue means you are a company that works in advertising. Looking into Facebook's brand promotion 'Fans' pages, etc, there is a lot of useful space in which to inject a brand identity. They've also made a point to keep the structure fairly rigid, which I respect - this feature was, at first, the major differentiator from MySpace. I'm not trying to question the advertiser focused initiatives that Facebook has created. I'm just wondering why they were necessary at all.

Facebook is not an advertising company. Facebook, like all social networks, is more accurately a clearing house of user data. Facebook has a lovely, massive community of people, many of whom are highly engaged with the 'social utility'. Most of whom have made vast amounts of personal information available. This is what Facebook is selling, first and foremost - the ability to identify a useful target market for ads, services, etc.

So why are they taking it further than that? You want fan pages for Brands, sure. This makes perfect sense to me. But beyond that? What you have to offer is a community, and your collected information about them. Leave the rest to people why can actually make creative, targeted advertising work. Don't further the spread of the pseudo banner ad by putting them into the News Feed.

Offer the information. Leave strategy to the same guys who handle the creative in other, slightly less closed systems, all the time.

When reading about advertising and the future, the word that is thrown around a lot is authenticity, because us youth of today have finely tuned bullshit detectors, etc etc. My stance is that it's often quality that's more important - you can't make something an ad, and hide that you are trying to sell me something by coating it in a fine layer of authenticity. But you can make me care, and sit through the ad, because the content is good, relevant to me, and entertaining.

Facebook has the information to be astounding at determining the relevance of a product or service to it's users. But honestly, trusting either quality of content, or entertainment value to a company who openly and proudly has been built on unpaid, personal contributions by users seems more than slightly odd.

Hopefully it's clear that Facebook is interchangeable for any other social network or social utility here. The issue is that if the only thing you are actually bringing to the table is information, why are you trying to sell a full service, rather than just taking money for the information at substantially less overhead?

bundling for good.

This is a random post to start out 2008, but I figure it fits better there than in my informal tumblr account. Here's my question: why does software only get bundled for pain-in-the-ass reasons, and never for betterment-of-service reasons?

This popped into my head the way everything does, by taking multiple pieces of new information, and then looking at either the compatibility, or incompatibility of them. This time it was the final death of Netscape Navigator (due to MSFT bundling IE with Windows for the win) and an article where David Suzuki was discussing how little we actually know about the environment.

Then my mind went to the SETI@home project, which is one of those things I have no issues with whatsoever, to the point where I will actually argue FOR it, although it provides me no direct or indirect benefit.

Imagine if every new computer came with software that dedicated the spare processing time to breaking down information on, I dunno, protein folding in relation to AIDS, or what ever problem out there could be helped by a few million more computers looking for certain flags, and forwarding that information back from said nebulous cloud to home base.

The reason I think this post fits in the brokengent mandate is the potential benefit from a reputational aspect for the company. Instead of offering 5% of profits to a rotating cast of charities, or what have you, imagine being able to say 'oh, and in case you were on the fence? the very act of buying and using our product makes you an active participant in the fight against disease in the third world, for as long as you use our product, with no extra effort on your end.

Project (RED) seems even less meaningful, in comparison.