Archive for December, 2007

Green Marketing And The Experience Economy: Not Comfortable Bedfellows

Posted on December 30, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Commercial ventures are beginning to combine experience marketing with green initiatives. The pioneers do their level best to understand what they are getting themselves into. But what are their chances to achieve success, realistically speaking?

Marketing Green, a specialist organization, sums it up nicely. “Marketers may find that they also have to invest in consumer education if they want to target anyone today but the most committed green consumers.”

One big consideration is that experience marketing is so incredibly, uuuh, personal. It makes the normal marketing methods by companies appear awfully roughshod. But what is it actually that makes personal consumption so apparently strategic?

Alex Steffen, executive director at WorldChanging.com, says the short answer is ‘multiplied leverage’. But he points out that the philosophy behind it is akin to the illogic relationship of consumerism and being ideal. The most sustainable consumption/invention/design is of course the one that is not made. But that premise offers little solace to a marketer who needs to invent new strategies.

The real power of the individual is that personal taste generally isn’t branded yet generally desirable. In that sense, the power that small has over big has magic connotations. Almost to religious proportion, if you go by the credo of Kunkelfruit, a wiki project investigating how products are made, consumed and disposed of. It is a direct quote from Benjamin Kunkel’s novel Indecision; ‘When you eat from this fruit then whenever you put your hand on a product, a commodity, an article, then, at the moment of your touch how the product came into your hands becomes plainly evident to you. Now there is no more mystification of labor, no more of a world in which the object arrives as if by magic – scrubbed clean, no past, all of its history washed away’.

Others point at the limits of economic growth as a key factor. “Our growth-system now covers the whole planet, there is no more outside”, says Michel Bauwens of the European Centre for the Experience Economy.

It appears that these are notions that producers are beginning to be aware of. Some big companies have begun to undertake efforts to zero in on human consciousness and capitalize on hypercorrect information flows.

One initiative that takes the market research concept right to the very point of a company’s inception is Fluid Innovation. The company launched Virtual Ventures, a fantasy game that allows ordinary people to act as wannabe venture capitalists in a fantasy game. People are invited to bet on the viability of real life technical innovation ideas. The game applies crowd sourcing with prediction markets, say reviewers at ZDnet. Players determine the viability of technologies that are not fantasy. Each week, Virtual Ventures enlists the ideas of five wannabe companies for research by players. The data generated, unwittingly, by players of the fantasy game is sold for hard cash to real-world buyers.

Kunkelfruit’s attraction underscores the idea that what is (possibly mistakenly) perceived as the narrowed consumer producer relations are the new trend. All its entries have a tremendously exciting feel to them because they reveal information about the things that surround you every day but that you had little knowledge about other than through glossed up advertising messages.

The products that are descibed include Nintendo Wii, toilet paper, pringles potato chips.

Kunkelfruit not only follows the entire life history of the product from raw material extraction, to sale, and in some cases, disposal but also shows a breakdown of costs as percentages of sales price. To know just how the ingredients to the chips you’re eating were grown, harvested, belabored, packaged, and marketed might make them taste like they’re home made. Isn’t that the ideal that, deep down, everybody dreams of?

In the near future, Kunkelfruit’s editors are about to launch a series of anthologies about string theory. The project complements Kunkelfruit perfectly because it fills a gap that exists for both consumers and marketers. String theory is described as “a relatively new [..] branch of theoretical physics that attempts to unify the realm of the very large, described by Einstein’s theory of general relativity, with the realm of the very small, as defined by quantum theory”.

Despite the new developments that put the consumer center stage, the gap between marketers and consumers could still be widening, not narrowing. The reason? Michel Bauwens of Experience Economy believes there’s a “growing discrepancy between the direct creation of use value through social relationships and collective intelligence”. In other words, what is experienced as value might be a lot more complicated.

Experience Economy developed a tool to measure the impact of meaningful experiences to research this. Turns out that its findings showed that only a fraction of experience ‘value’ can actually be captured by business and money. Innovation is becoming social and diffuse, that is undeniably the case. But Bauwens points out it is only an emergent property of the networks rather than an internal R & D affair within corporations. Ouch.

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Researchers Find a Way to Recycle Plastic Components of Dead Cars

Posted on December 24, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Plastics, once they´ve been installed in a new car, rarely make it to recycling projects by the time the car’s life is over. That is because once the plastic’s compressed in granulates, the car plastics tend to be too coarse to permit further use.

Researchers have now found a way of separating the different types of plastic. In theory, any car that ends up on the junkyard is a source of raw materials. But, other than to the Picassos and practical mechanics among us, this is virtually not a proven theory by any means. The ´available´ resources are used far too seldom, especially when plastics are concerned.

So how can clever recycling put an end to this? Generally, when cars are recycled, the plastics in its interior, known also as polymers, land in the non-metallic shredder residue along with dust, slivers of metal and textile fluff, and are made into granulate using the SiCon process.

Most shredders simply jumble the plastics. But a research project sponsored by Toyota and Sicon has solved the problem of car polymeres; It is now possible to separate them into individual types. This means that most car polymeres, rather than being used in blast furnaces, will be recycled and transformed, once again, into dashboards and other car parts.

The project, also known as CreaSolv®, is researched by the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Freising. The researchers have developed a special solvent that removes a particular type of plastic from the coarse granulate. `The polyolefins used to make air filter housings, shock absorbers and side panels,” says IVV project manager Dr. Martin Schlummer. “While this type of polymer dissolves in the solvent, the other plastics remain in the granulate.”

The project then devised a way to separate the solvent from the polyolefin so it can be re-used. The researchers also discovered another advantage, they say. The CreaSolv® process turned out so effective as a cleaner that scientists can also separate out any toxins with which the polymer may have come into contact during shredding. “Using this technology, the overall recycling rate for end-of-life cars – metals, plastics and textiles – can be increased to over 90 percent,” says Schlummer.

The researchers have conducted tests on the recovery of styrene copolymers from electrical appliances such as computers and TVs. When doing the tests over the past year, they managed to recycle about 50 percent of the high plastic content in discarded electrical appliances.

Nevertheless, a great deal of development effort was necessary before it was possible to process the plastics from cars as well. “Different polymers are used in cars than in electrical appliances, so we had to develop completely different solvents,” the expert explains.

The researchers have already put the basic process into practice. In future, they intend to recycle other types of plastic from cars in addition to the polyolefins – perhaps by combining the methods for recovering styrene copolymers and polyolefins. Eventually, Schlummer hopes, it will be possible to make optimum use even of plastics from shredding plants where refrigerators, kitchen ranges and cars are all shredded together. The ultimate challenge, for sure, would be airplanes and train compartments!

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Play The FreeRice Game And Feed The Starving

Posted on December 20, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

A recently launched website combines an addictive intellectual game with feeding the poor and is already popular among finance executives. The site donates 10 grains of rice for each right answer to the United Nations World Food Program.

The site, FreeRice.com, explains very clearly how rice is transported to people in need. Well-known companies are linked to the cause in equally well explained deals.

The site offers companies an alternative way to reach customers than the established marketing strategies dictate; partnering with a good cause that their customers endorse.

But the game is undoubtedly most interesting because of the way the sponsors achieve almost see through transparency levels. They explain exactly what they are about, how the site works, where the rice comes from and how it gets to its destination. Freerice.com also shows exactly how much progress has been made in providing the needy with free rice and which companies are sponsoring what. Check it out! You can also watch a video of rice being distributed.

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The Next Step In New Approaches To Global Problems Is Making Them Tangible

Posted on December 16, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

In today´s data-rich environment there´s an increasing need for knowledge based wisdom. The tips that are passed on from human to human. Several organizations have begun to be active in this field. They run massively interesting programs…

Organizations that specialize in re-connecting human beings in novel ways mostly focus on linking the individual to the communal. They create new presentations of what it means to be part of something larger, using technology but celebrating humanity, taking off at a point where we left off ages ago.

Next March, speakers at TED, a US organization that combines technology, entertainment and design (hence the acronym) will address such ambitious questions as “Who are we?” “What is art?” “What is love?” and even “What is evil?”.

If the organization´s reputation is anything to go by, attendees are in for one thing: surprising answers. The speakers list includes people that might classify as ´innovative´ but who in reality are sooo much more. They give their best in 15 minute speeches.

This week, TED published video clips of speeches delivered last March and these include Nobel Prize winner Murray Gell-Mann who addressed such poignant questions as to whether elegant mathematic formulas are also better and whether the ´theory of everything´ really explains everything. Other speakers include Philippe Starcke (the designer), Ron Eglash (the fractal mathematician) and Robert Full (who talks about insects).

The TED concept is similar to the worldwide rage known as Pecha Kucha – the Japanese invented evening meetings in cities around the world where people impress audiences with spectacular ideas by showing less than 20 slides.

TED conferences are fully booked until March 2008, when 1,000 of the world´s ´most remarkable people´ get together for fast paced presentations with 50 speeches booked over 4 days. “Many people come to TED seeking something out of the ordinary. A chance to mentally recharge. A chance to step back and consider the big picture. A chance to understand life in a richer way”, the organization states on its website.

Another organization that is similarly inclined is Pop!Tech. The organization approaches world change from a practical interdisciplinary incubator they have christened the Accelerator. Criteria for inclusion into the accelerator is that people use new tools and embody new approaches to ´significant global challenges´.

Pop!Tech organized a highly successful ´think-in´, in Camden, Maine, last October, which was a remarkable example of a highly unusual, ´missing link´ approach to modern issues.

The Guardian describes the event this way; “[Pop!Tech] took some of the world’s most intractable issues and applied social theory and thinking to them”. What happened was that the event moved on from visualization of issues, to making them even more tangible in a first step toward ´charting´ human problems the way they are in all actuality.

Over 500 ‘thinkers’ contributed their ‘thoughts’ about climate change and cultural disharmony in industry, business, technology, academia, journalism and the blogosphere. The organization’s curator Andrew Zolli explained how it tackled social change in what might be the most hands on approach that has ever been tried out on a significantly physically large scale, with the aid of technology. He told the Guardian “If you want to think about galvanising people, you have to start with a structure, a map. So when we talk about the human impact it starts by charting what is,” says Zolli.

Photographer Chris Jordan applied this mindset to digital photography and publicly available statistics. His pictures show real quantities of rubbish produced by US consumers. Based on true information, he photographed 426,000 mobile phones to show people the number of phones people throw out each day. He’s also produced photographic ‘evidence’ of the number of plastic bottles thrown out every five minutes (2m).

The newness of both organizations is that they point out how technology can be used to hit home a message that thus far we have hardly been able to grasp in any other way. To label these approaches ´refreshing´ or ´arty´ would both be wrong. They are not refreshing because they´re totally ´new´ and they´re also not purely arty because they involve real organizations. The newness is that people are encouraged to think in a new way. It feels like the truly exciting side of sociology.

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Norway Is The First Country To Mandate Female Board Members At Corporations

Posted on December 10, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

As of the beginning of this month, Norwegian companies are required to have a 40% female representation on their board. If they do not comply, they might face closure by the authorities.

Norway is the first country in the world to have such a law. The Wall Street Journal assesses the practice in an article entitled Behind the Rush To Add Women To Norway’s Boards.

“The law is already reshaping Norwegian boardrooms. As of early December, women now occupy nearly 35% of the seats at the roughly 500 companies covered by the law, up from nearly 7% in 2002”, the paper writes.

Since the law was adopted in 2003, Norwegians have dramatically overtaken US women in company positions. The WSJ reports that in the U.S., women hold 14.8% of the board seats at the 500 largest companies.

Such rapid change is significant. Even though Norwegian women work out of the house in higher numbers than many other European countries, they’ve been relatively discriminated compared to men for decades. So how does the change into a way more sophisticated corporate set up impact the corporate landscape in Norway?

The direct effect is as yet unknown but some people believe corporate governance benefits. One corporate sector member interviewed by the WSJ says men do more homework before board meetings because they want to impress their female colleagues. “This is human nature,” he said.

For the time being, the Norwegians themselves have little time to wonder about sociology in the boardroom. Many companies are having real troubles finding appropriate women, it appears. The U.S. search firm Korn/Ferry International told the WSJ that finding board members of the female sex has been its bread and butter in the past two years. Nearly every assignment has involved a board member.

One outspoken critic cited is Trygve Hegnar, CEO and editor-in-chief of Hegnar Media. He complains that “some very good” members have been kicked off to make room for women who didn’t land the position on merit. He applied for board membership twice and twice women landed the job.

One direct effect of the new law has been that 30 companies have opted to go private. Another 80-100 companies haven’t made the deadline. Theoretically they could be facing closure.

Dag Terje Andersen, Norway’s minister of trade and industry, whose department monitors compliance, says companies with too few women in their boardroom on Jan. 1 “will have a lot of opportunities to use common sense” and add women. “I am quite optimistic we won’t come to” shutting companies, he told the WSJ.

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Language Experts: Techies Have Difficulty Defining Terms Like ‘iPod’, ‘Flash’, ‘Cookie’

Posted on December 8, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

A top ten of most confusing yet commonly used tech words includes iPOD, Flash, Cookie, Nano and Kernel. Global Language Monitor, a consultancy, published its 2007 ranking, following up on similar research in 2005.

Other words in the top ten are Megahertz, Cell (cell as in cell phone), Plasma, De-duplication, and Blu-Ray. Global Language Monitor released its study recently, on the 13th anniversary of the ‘cookie’. Tech adepts will know that the cookie is the invention that made the World Wide Web practical for widespread surfing, communication, and e-commerce.

Paul JJ Payack, GLM’s president points out why the terms are relatively obscure in terms of their semantics; Educational metrics such as the Flesch Test would place a typical paragraph using these words at the Third-grade reading-level, he says.

“At the same time most college graduates, even from engineering schools such as MIT, Stanford, and CalTech would be challenged to precisely define all ten”, Payack says.

GLM has sophisticated tools to measure language issues. This ranking was created using a predictive quantities indicator (PQI). This is an algorithm that tracks words and phrases in the media and on the Internet.

GLM tracks words in relation to frequency, contextual usage and appearance in global media outlets.

Definitions of the Most Confusing Yet Frequently Cited High Tech Words of 2007 with Commentary follow:

1. iPOD: We all know the brand, but what exactly is a ‘pod’? A gathering of marine mammals? The encasement for peas? The evacuation module from 2001: A Space Odyssey?

2. Flash: As in Flash Memory. Given it is easier to say than “ I brought the report on my EEPROM chip with a thin oxide layer separating a floating gate and control gate utilizing Fowler-Nordheim electron tunneling”.

3. Nano: Widely used to describe any small as in nanotechnology. Like the word ‘mini’ which originally referred to the red hues in Italian miniature paintings, the word nano- is ultimately derived from the ancient Greek word for dwarf.

4. Cookie: Without cookies with their ‘persistent state’ management mechanism the web as we know it, would cease to exist.

5. Kernel: The core layer of a computer operating system serving as a connection to the underlying hardware. Ultimately derives from the Old English cyrnel, for corn.

6. Megahertz (MHz): Named after German physicist Heinrich Hertz, signifying a million cycles per second in computer processor (and not clock) speed. Next up: GigaHertz (GHz) and TeraHertz (THz), one billion and one trillion cycles.

7. Cell (as in Cell Phone): Operating on the principle of cells, where communicate through low-power transceiver to cellular ‘towers’ up to 6 miles away (which is why you can connect to ground stations from airplanes at 35,000 feet). The phone connects to the strongest signal which are then passed from tower to tower.

8. Plasma (as in Plasma Television): A top word in the last survey still confusing large-screen TV buyers.

9. De-duplication: One of the newer buzzwords meaning removing duplicated data from a storage device, as in ‘we’re in the process of de-duping the silo’. Ouch!

10. Blu-Ray (vs. HD DVD): New technology for high capacity DVDs reminiscent of the VHS/Beta wars of the 1980s.
Most Confusing Acronym: SOA (Service-oriented Architecture); IBM had to write a book to explain it!?

Other terms being tracked included terabyte, memory, core, and head crash.

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The Hidden Dimension Of Consumer-Producer Interaction

Posted on December 6, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The most contagious marketing messages are those that work the absence of their originators the right way. It is a fascinating game, not least because with the arrival of the intention economy, consumers are moving center stage.

Traditionally, consumers have been largely invisible. Just like nations and city communities have been described as hypothetical entities, consumers have been surrounded with vagueness more than anything else. The social scientist Ernest Gellner poined this out quite clearly when he determined that a nation is an imagined political community. It is impossible for members of even the smallest nation to ever know most of their fellow-members, but nevertheless, in the minds of each lives the image of the community. Gellner said ‘Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist.’

The consumer story is changing. Developments of perhaps even only the last months show a change of astounding proportions. Gellner and many of his contemporaries’ views are beginning to be overturned by real events. Imagining the future by speculatively taking bets on what is going to materialize is not only for the disturbed or fantasists with too much time on their hands.

A central role in the story is played by consumers who are turning the tables on producers, by indicating that their elusiveness is less and less of a vulnerability businesses can exploit. Uniting is key in the new development. Consumers are standing strong by uniting in their investigations on how products can be produced. The fun part of online groups is the involvement of an effort to achieve something, other than just stashing cash on a counter, which adds an experience to the enjoyment of shopping. One example is eventful.com. On this platform, people list their wishes for performances of certain artists. The site is incredibly viral; with normally over 125,000 demanded events. Trendspotting.com, a Dutch consultancy, says that the site “Should help persuade well known artists to now and then change their regular touring schedule, and should definitely create a long tail-style bonanza for niche audiences, and thus niche artists, niche events and niche performances.”

The music industry is perhaps where one should be getting the best ideas from, because it also lends itself for such models. Sellaband links fans to bands and enables them to sponsor them. The sponsoring fans get a piece of the action in return if a band is popular. This is how it works: fans, dubbed ‘believers’, find an artist they like on SellaBand.com. For 10 dollars they can buy a share, dubbed a ‘part’ in the band. Once the band has sold 5,000 parts, SellaBand arranges a professional recording, including top studios, A&R managers and producers. Believers receive a limited edition CD of the recording. The interesting twist is that the songs are then made available as free downloads. Income comes from advertising revenue, which is split three ways: artist, believer and SellaBand. Since both believers and artists benefit from getting 5,000 parts sold, both are likely to actively promote the band (and SellaBand) everywhere musicians and music fans are active: on their blogs, on their MySpace pages, in online communities and friends. The first band to win was Nemesea, from tiny Netherlands, my home country. This band is now in the studios recording their first album. The concept is not new in the music world, where fans of course have a long tradition of building close relationships with their beloved manufacturers of music. The band Marillion recorded one of its first albums also after fans donated the cash for them to book a studio.

Consumers are materializing slowly, by bonding together. The impersonal internet is a great medium to find like minded people makes this previously elusive class of citizens that one step more closely involved and one step more clearly revealed. Makes you wonder what we’ll all be imagining next.

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Professor Claims He Can Grow Computers, Cellphones Organically

Posted on December 2, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Computers won’t quite grow from trees, but with a little prodding, nature can grow them. Really. A professor at University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering, claims he has developed the necessary procedure.

A template for nature to follow to organically grow ‘self assembling’ structures was invented recently by Ray Phaneuf, an associate professor of materials science and engineering.

He claims the template he’s developed causes atoms to be arranged in a defined pattern that can be used like a semiconductor in a laptop, a component in a cell phone or a sensor in a wearable device.

The process sounds bafflingly simple, considering what the output amounts to. The templates are created using photolithography and nanoscraping. The first procedure is similar to photography – it’s a chemical reaction that takes place after a template is exposed to light. Another part of the process is termed ‘etching’ or ‘nanoscraping’. This is more complicated; an atomic force microscope is used to selectively scrape a pattern into the template.

The template process can be used by device manufacturers to mass-produce tiny components rapidly and efficiently, reduce costs, shrink device sizes, and improve devices’ functionality in ways previously not possible.

The template could be followed by natural growth processes to produce “self-assembling” structures, Phaneuf claims. He says that the idea of self-assembly in nature is natural (what else?) and points at crystallization as one such process. The formation of shells into spirals is another example.

Until Phaneuf made his template, research had been limited to designs that nature already creates naturally. Phaneuf’s work introduces a man-made template that nature then follows. He has, cleverly, included a number of manufacturing difficulties. This way, making things out of a countable number of atoms, currently a very complicated process, could be done by nature.

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