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50 posts from January 2005

Toys with Clubs

From Gary McWilliams at the Wall St. Journal, here's a nice round-up of social groups formed around toys and electronic gadgets.

Link: - It All Connects -- and Converges (subscription required)

Join the Club
Weaving social networks around electronics products -- once just for hard-core gamers -- is going mainstream.

By offering events and dedicated Web sites, product developers are hoping to create communities of enthusiasts who otherwise might not find one another. The ultimate goal is to build buzz -- and sales.

The movement emerged from PC role-playing software such as Quake, made by id Software Inc. of Mesquite, Texas. As these programs moved from early single-player games to multiplayer and local-area-network versions, players started to compete against one another and hold so-called LAN parties where groups plug into a network and do battle. In 1996, id Software started an annual competition that attracted 150 players. Last year, some 5,000 players showed up.

Now, mainstream retailers are getting in on the action. Japan's Nintendo Co. hosts online chats with its game developers in addition to allowing customers to post reviews of its games.

After it noticed kids were tuning their radio-controlled cars with custom wheels, suspensions and running lights, RadioShack Corp. hosted a radio-car Web site and sponsored a national racing competition around its Xmods cars last summer. Its Web site is a gathering place for owners to swap tips on customizing and racing cars. Enthusiasts also use the site to recruit for racing clubs.

Sony holds Aibo days almost once a month at its retail stores, allowing owners of its Aibo robotic dog to gather and show off their training skills.

Portraits of Courage in Iraq

You will have to register to read this story by Karl Vick in The Washington Post, but don't miss it. I love stories about people who 'bounce back' when faced with adversity.

Link: Even in the Wake of Suicide Blast, 'They Didn't Want to Go Back Home' (

Nawar Khadim Ahmed had gone home after seeing the man explode as he raised his arms. By 3 p.m., he was back to vote, carrying his 2-year-old daughter, Noor. "We have to bury this chaos now and form a government," he said. "This is the time that we make a stand."

The Most Innovative Merchandiser in the Country: 7-11?

Thanks to Tim Manners of Reveries for a heads-up on this article by Elizabeth Esfahani in Business 2.0. Convenience store chain 7-Eleven is joining retail powerhouses like Zara is engaging its store employees in figuring out how to delight customers. The latest technology helps managers customize their inventory for their most loyal customers and 'team merchandising' brings in small manufacturers to help 7-Eleven create its own products from candy to 'coffee wipes.'

Link: Business 2.0 :: Magazine Article :: Features :: 7-Eleven Gets Sophisticated.

As it happens, 7-Eleven has an underappreciated history of innovation dating back almost 80 years. In 1927 it invented the concept of convenience stores, when an employee at Southland Ice in Dallas started selling milk, eggs, and other sundries to customers dropping by to replenish their iceboxes. Recognizing that refrigerators would soon kill Southland's ice business, president Joe C. Thompson moved to capitalize on demand for convenience by opening a chain of stores that would stay open from 7 a.m to 11 p.m. The concept was an instant hit. By 1980, 7-Eleven had more than 6,000 outlets and had pioneered other ideas that are now commonplace, like 24-hour service and coffee to go.

Signs of Life in Mainstream Recording

Over at Business 2.0, Eric Hellweg reminds us that Bob Hurwitz has a license to innovate for Warner Music Group at the Nonesuch label, which is bucking the industry trend with growing revenues.

At the web site, you can listen to the tradition 30 second snippets or load Nonesuch radio and just float along with complete songs from David Byrne, k.d. lang, the Buena Vista Club or many others.

Link: Business 2.0 :: Magazine Article :: What Works :: The New Maestro.

While the industry giants rack up losses chasing megahits, Hurwitz thinks small. His specialty is niche acts with rabid fan bases -- so Nonesuch doesn’t have to spend much on promotion. And he’s not afraid of the Net: Last year he streamed Wilco’s entire A Ghost Is Born album as a free come-on. That tactic would have given most label execs seizures, but it helped Hurwitz move a respectable 250,000 copies. Says Mark Kates, a former Geffen A&R rep who’s now CEO of Fenway Recordings, “The future of selling recorded music will be based on the models Hurwitz is creating now.”

Stray Impressions Unlock Creativity

More great stuff on creativity: Grant McCracken observes that sometimes you observe something unexpected...

Link: This Blog Sits at the Intersection....

Stray impressions are not one of the places from which ideas come. But they do have a role to play. They are about the “departure” on which creativity depends. They persuade us that things can be other than they seem. They persuade us that we can occupy these alternatives, because for a second that’s what we’re doing. Stray impressions act like that revolving stage at the MET. They deliver. Now we have proof that the conventional scheme of things is not necessary, inevitable, or lasting.

Oops, here's the permalink.

The Computer Changes Everything: Even Writing

Cory Doctorow has a great entry on creativity over at Boing Boing. I'm not a frequent reader of that blog, but when rock'n'roll is blaring in my headset, it's hard to read serious stuff...

Link: Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things.

How computers change writing
Steven Johnson (author of the fantastic Mind Wide Open and other books) has written a fascinating essay about his new creative process, which involves a suite of tools that store his notes and works in unstructured databases, and tease out and suggest subtly connected ideas, so that as he writes, his computer jams with him, suggesting neat tangents to his subjects. It's a great example of good computer-human interaction, where computers are used to programatically count and compare quantifiable elements (word and phrase frequencies) and human beings are used to pass judgement on the output of the computers. People are good at understanding and crap at counting; computers are just the reverse.

Visit the original entry for more great links.

Block View: Something I didn't know I wanted

Gavin O'Malley reports that over at the A9 search engine, Amazon has added the capability of viewing a photo of the neighboring stores of the brick store you just found. How clever! But apparently this has been brewing awhile. Google has acquired similar technology. Unfortunately, A9 doesn't have Houston yet.

Link: MediaDailyNews 01-29-05.

"This service is meant to break down the barriers between on- and off-line retail so that users feel as comfortable online as they do on Main Street," explained Barnaby Dorfman, director of product development at A9. The service's "block view" feature--which gives users a peek at neighboring stores --offers previously unavailable information about businesses, such as parking availability, handicap accessibility, and a general sense of the area surrounding the business, said Udi Manber, CEO of A9.