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Monthly Archives: July 2011


The Thinking Mechanism is a series of weekly posts, published on Fridays, covering the ideas The Mechanism is thinking and talking about with our peers and clients.

The week in quick links:

• Now that you finally got an invite, how Spotify works.

Google Offers To Re-Write Your Webpages On The Fly, Promising 25% To 60% Speed Improvements.

• OK GO’s next viral hit, featuring Pilobolus, goes interactive with Chrome: All Is Not Lost.

• Apple makes Xcode free to all with release of 4.1 on Mac App Store.

• Information Architects – Should you scroll or flip pages on the screen?

Think Quarterly by Google hits the US with The Innovation Issue.

This is why your newspaper is dying.

• And lastly, Lucas loses Star Wars copyright case at Supreme Court.

The Thinking Mechanism is a series of weekly posts, published on Fridays, covering the ideas The Mechanism is thinking and talking about with our peers and clients.

The week in quick links:

• Mac OS X Lion is out. Here is what to do to prepare for it, what to expect from it, and a massive book-length review from Ubernerd John Siracusa.

Apple said to be considering making a bid for Hulu.

• Quarterly results are out: Nokia, Microsoft, Apple.

Apple opens Business App Store for volume purchases.

R.I.P., Google Labs.

Andy Hertzfeld on Google+, UI design and how Bob Dylan influenced the Mac.

Translation technology may let humans speak with dolphins.

Reinvent NYC.gov – An unprecedented community event at General Assembly to kick off the reinvention of New York City’s primary web presence. Civic participation meets the digital age.

• Speed Matters: How Ethernet Went From 3 Mbps to 100 Gbps … and Beyond.

• And lastly, Russia classifies beer as alcoholic, until now it was considered a food stuff.

The Thinking Mechanism is a series of weekly posts, published on Fridays, covering the ideas The Mechanism is thinking and talking about with our peers and clients.

Consider this one the take a break from work edition. It is perhaps a bit New York City centric but the spirit of it applies universally. If you don’t take the time to experience things outside the realm of your day to day work you are severely cutting your ability to be inspired. In addition, as Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons convey in their book The Invisible Gorilla, if you are hyper-focused you are very likely to begin experiencing a psychological phenomenon that renders you unable to see things that are right in front of you, in a kind of blindness that compromises your intuition.

With that in mind here are a couple of suggestions to clear your mind and perhaps lead you to new experiences:

Viral video kings OK GO have developed a collaborative dance piece with the fantastic Pilobolus dance company. They are in residence at The Joyce Theater until August 6 with the band dancing with the company on July 25 and 27. If it takes OK GO to get you to see dance at The Joyce Theater, the home of dance in NYC, then so be it. Your creative life will be richer for it.

• British company Punchdrunk has developed an extraordinary new work called Sleep No More. They company have taken over three warehouses and transformed them into The McKittrick Hotel. You arrive, meet at the bar, and then a strange character hands you a mask. For the next three hours, in silence and while wearing the mask, you traverse the hotel exploring complexly designed spaces and follow the actors as they re-enact a version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Everything, from the sound to the objects in the rooms, is tone perfect. You are free to do as you please and explore. In a recent performance I followed Lady Macbeth and watched her wash her bloody hands. Characters sometimes use the audience to pass notes to other characters.

Sleep No More is wordless Shakespeare, living film noire, the best of contemporary dance, true augmented reality, masterful storytelling, respectful homage, detailed design and that is not even taking in consideration the technical requirements needed to produce and perform such a “play” every night. Punchdrunk have taken the performing arts and remixed them creating something completely new, yet familiar, and absolutely spellbinding.

• And speaking of Shakespeare, you have not experienced New York completely until you have attended Shakespeare In The Park, produced by The Public Theater. It consistently presents some of the best Shakespeare productions with Central Park as the backdrop. This year’s productions are The Merchant of Venice and The Winter’s Tale and they run until July 30th.

• Now until July 24 is restaurant week in NYC, with dozens of restaurants creating prix fixe menus that are affordable and a great way to discover new cuisines. Have a decent meal with friends for a change and for goodness sake, no talk of work.

• Looking for something that you can explore at your own pace? Starting July 24 and running until November 7 The Museum of Modern Art is displaying Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects in the special exhibitions gallery. From the exhibition description “Talk to Me explores the communication between people and things. All objects contain information that goes well beyond their immediate use or appearance. In some cases, objects like cell phones and computers exist to provide us with access to complex systems and networks, behaving as gateways and interpreters. Whether openly and actively, or in subtle, subliminal ways, things talk to us, and designers help us develop and improvise the dialogue.”

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, at The Met until August 7, will make you question everything you know about fashion and art and their roles in your life. It is a glorious tribute to an artist gone too soon. A friend recently described it as “the most lavish and gorgeous visual concert ever produced” and I have to agree.

• Can’t attend any of these this weekend. Well, iTunes has Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 available for $.99 rental until next Tuesday. Revisit Part 1 and then head to the theater to catch Part 2 as the Harry Potter movie saga comes to an end.

• For those of you that have not read the Harry Potter books, let me try to entice you to read them with the words of Stephen King “Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity.” J.K. Rowling single-handedly got a generation of children to read and at over 3000 pages total across seven books that’s a lot of reading. She changed the publishing industry. The recently announced Pottermore is set to change publishing once more as she releases the novels in ebook format. But the main point here is not the praise or the business, the point is that a single mother, during tough times in her life, had a singular vision and worked very hard to create a world were hard work, loyalty and persistence pay off. So go right ahead, take a break from work, dive into the series, you may not like it, you may love it, you may be re-reading it, but above all you may learn how to apply that same level of creative detail to your own work.

There you have it, no excuses, walk away from the screens for a few hours and fuel your creativity with something unknown.

On July 12, media sources were reporting that Google+ — Google’s latest (and potentially most successful) foray into social networking, launched in a limited-release on June 28 — had already, or would soon have reached 10 million users. Now, that’s not much to crow about if you compare it to Facebook’s 750 million, or even the (recently sold-for-scrap) MySpace’s 37 million remaining accounts. But when you consider that Google+ is still an invite-only party that has been online just two weeks, and that those invites were out-of-service for much of that time — 10 million starts to sound a little more impressive.

Of course early-adoption is no guarantee of success, and it’s obviously too early say whether or not Google+ will be able to attract users beyond the first flush of novelty — it certainly wouldn’t be the first time Google laid an egg in the social networking realm (*cough*Buzz*cough*), but based on what I’ve seen and experienced so far, I will say that Google+ has legs, and I’d be willing to bet that, while I wouldn’t call it a “Facebook killer,” exactly, it has the potential to become even more integrated into our daily lives than Zuckerberg’s oeuvre has. Here’s why:

  1. It’s not Facebook. Or as someone in my Google+ circles said, “I’m trying to escape Facebook!” Perhaps a backlash is inevitable anytime something goes from niche-popularity to total ubiquity and market-dominance, but Facebook detractors have no lack of reasons to welcome a new player onto the field. From concerns about personal privacy to frustrations with the graphical interface, Facebook has pissed off a lot of users, and Google will doubtless benefit simply by being an alternative that works. Additionally, Google has been paying attention to people’s complaints, particularly as it concerns privacy, and they seem to have learned from others’ mistakes. The Google+ Privacy Policy is shorter and an easier read than Facebook’s, and the privacy settings on Google+ are (for now, at least) more customizable than Facebook’s, which by itself could be the deciding factor for a lot of people.
  2. You’re already using it. Okay, so maybe you haven’t gotten an invite into Google+ yet, but it’s fairly likely that you’ve utilized one of Google’s several other web products, such as Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Blogger (re-branded as Google Blogs), or Picassa (now Google Photos). Even if you haven’t taken advantage of any of the offerings in the Google “cloud”, chances are pretty slim that you’ve spent any time on the internet in the last 10 years without availing yourself of the web’s most popular search engine.

    So Google isn’t some new kid on the block — it’s a source we’re all familiar with, and that a lot of us use often in our day-to-day routines, for work and pleasure. Google+ interacts with all of its sibling programs and products, with notifications and the ability to share things among your “circles” in the upper-right-hand corner of any Google site. How much easier is it, for those of us who are already using Google sites and products for our workflow, to check our notifications, or write a status update from the very page we’re already working on?
  3. Granular control of your communications. Google+ gives users more control of the messages they send into the ether — not only by allowing people to use “circles” to organize their contacts, but but also by allowing users to edit and remove content they’ve added to their streams, or to “mute” conversations they’re no longer interested in. It seems small, but how many times have you wished you could go back and edit that typo out of your status update? Or wished you didn’t have to be notified every time someone else leaves a comment on your sister’s new profile photo?
  4. Huddles and Hangouts. I haven’t had the chance to use the Huddles feature yet (this is a mobile-only feature that hasn’t been released on iPhone yet — more on that below), so I’ll reserve comment except to say that the idea of a non-SMS chat for mobile phones sounds good, and will no doubt be exceptionally popular with the teen and tween populations currently forced to send texts one-at-a-time to their friends.

    Hangouts are a bit more exciting — think of them as temporary, virtual living rooms (or cafes, or pubs, or screening rooms, what-have-you…) where you and your circles can convene, chat, view media together, and generally, well, hang out. This is more than just video conferencing. I haven’t used it much, but I can see Hangouts being useful in several different arenas, from professional conferencing to long-distance family reunions. As another of my Google+ contacts put it, “I just really like being able to share a real experience (even if virtually) with people I can’t see because of geography.”

Things are not all sunshine and rainbows, however. As with any new product, there is some room for improvement, and some areas where Google has some kinks to work out. Personally speaking, my only real complaint is that they launched Google+ without native iPhone or iPad apps (yes, I understand they’re giving their own Android apps a leg up, but no iPhone app out of the gate? Really?). Other users I’ve communicated with offered such wish-list improvements as better integration among the Google sites (being able to access Google calendar without having to open a new tab, for example) and a more consistent, less “cutesy” naming convention for the various functions and features. I have heard a bit of grumbling online that the “Sparks” feature (a kind of customizable recommendation engine) is not quite ready for prime-time (to be fair, I’ve also seen this called the most underrated of Google+ features), and while the Huddles feature is a great addition to the mobile platform, there is no analog for regular web users (we’re stuck with the now old-fashioned feeling Google Talk). But that’s why Google is calling this a project instead of a product — it is still a work in progress, and will continue to evolve as it continues to gain a user-base (my Google+ circles have been growing steadily since I signed on nearly two weeks ago), and communities form.

Here are some useful links for those of you not yet familiar with Google+, and those of us hoping to learn more:

The Thinking Mechanism is a series of weekly posts, published on Fridays, covering the ideas The Mechanism is thinking and talking about with our peers and clients.

The week in quick links:

• Facebook’s “awesome” announcement this week: Video Chat via Skype.

One Week In, Google+ Users Are Growing Followers, Getting Traffic.

Google Web Fonts v2 is now out.

Barcodes Enter Expressionist Period.

The New York Times lists all their journalists on Twitter.

The Dieline Awards 2011 Winners – Honoring the best in package design.

A brief history of hacking.

MediBabble: The iPhone App That Could Save Your Life

Slipscreen: A Love Story – a fantastic short film shot entirely on a phone.

The Thinking Mechanism is a series of weekly posts, published on Fridays, covering the ideas The Mechanism is thinking and talking about with our peers and clients.

Right before we all have a holiday weekend to spend time face to face with our circle of friends Google makes several announcements concerning the social web:

Google+, their next foray into social networking after Orkut and Buzz, has a distinctly micro-social approach and user-friendly privacy settings. The fact that you can easily download any content you input into it and can easily delete your account with one click, if you chose to do so, proves that Google intends to compete with Facebook by providing ease of use. Click here to see the introductory videos. Click here to read a comprehensive look at the launch by Steven Levy of Wired Magazine.

• Google Analytics now features Social Interaction Tracking. Update your Analytics code and get full activity reports on all your social media buttons, including +1, Like, Tweet.

Google Takeout allows you to download a copy of your data stored within Google products.

Google Swiffy is not directly related to social networking, instead it lets you upload a swf file and convert it to HTML5. More HTML5 sites means access to the web in more mobile devices and more content to share on Google+.

• Let’s not forget about Google search, they’ve also announced a collaboration with the Getty Museum to allow visual searches of artworks.

What Do You Love? A new page that shows you the results of your search across all Google products in one location.

• On the other side of the social spectrum, Facebook is quietly testing their first major redesign in over a year. The new design, which some of us are already experiencing live, feature an additional “What’s Happening Now” Twitter-like stream besides the News Feed and will have navigation and advertising elements remain static on the page as you scroll down.

• And lastly, in honor of the Fourth of July: how fireworks and sparklers are made.