Paper is What I Hope Facebook Becomes

February 3, 2014
Screenshot of Facebook on Desktop

Every time I open Facebook on my laptop I’m blown away by how cluttered and inconvenient the design is. Despite (or perhaps because the site is used by more than a billion people, it is one of the most difficult on the web to navigate. There are a myriad of menus, entirely too many links on four different side-bars (if you count the persistent header), and the content sandwiched in between all of these extraneous “resources” is never  organized in an understandable order.

Screenshot of Facebook on Desktop

All of that being said, everyone I care about is on Facebook, and I do a lot of my work there (both academically and professionally) so I continue to use it constantly. And I think that may be the issue. Most people I talk to hate the site’s design (and the apps aren’t much better), but they use it because it has become the cultural mainstay. Today’s launch of Paper, Zuck and company’s answer to newsreaders like Flipboard, we may finally be on the way to a more user friendly UI and a site that gives us what we want without a bunch of junk we haven’t needed since High School.

Paper’s simple, yet effective, side scrolling interface shows you each post or article form your friends (in the news feed section) or publications (in the interest sections) as individual Twitter-style cards. Tapping a card opens the story which can then be expanded to full text or viewed as a summary. You can comment, like and share just as you would anywhere else in Facebook, but these  buttons are subtly placed in small toolbar at the bottom of the card. And that’s it. No sidebars, no groups, no “pokes”, just the stories and the calls to action.

Screenshot of Facebook's Paper App

I played with Paper for about thirty minutes this afternoon and I’ve already enabled the setting to route all of my Facebook Notifications through it rather than the default app. In fact, between Paper, Messenger and Pages Manager (for Brand pages) I may not have to open the default app for anything other than adding new friends now. And I am completely okay with that. I love the connections I have on Facebook, and I’m over the moon with the addition of a simple, minimalist interface for managing them. I can only hope that this design proves popular enough to make the transition to the desktop site.

Apple’s Most Forward-Thinking & Game Changing Phone(s) Yet

September 12, 2013
The iPhone 5c in it's five bright colors.

This Tuesday Apple held their semi-annual iPhone event during which they announced the latest in their line of immensely popular smartphones. The computing giant announced two models this year (as opposed to their traditional one per event); the feature-heavy iPhone 5s and the ‘budget-priced’ iPhone 5c. During the announcement they flaunted the 5s as their most “forward-thinking” phone yet, a title being picked up by all sorts of tech blogs that is quite accurate considering the company’s previous releases. What fewer people are discussing is how the 5s is thinking ahead of others in the field, and how game changing the announcement of the 5c is.

The Forward-Thinking iPhone 5s

The iPhone 5s in it's three colors: white, gold and black. (Courtesy of Apple, Inc.)

So, how is a device released by one of the largest and longest-running smartphone manufacturers any more forward-thinking than their six previous devices? For the first time, Apple is releasing a device with features that aren’t available anywhere else on the market yet.

The iPhone 5s, with it’s new Apple A7 processor will be the world’s first 64-bit smartphone. For those who don’t speak tech, this means that it will be able to run highly intensive apps that other phones won’t and it will run faster and harder in the paint than a traditional 32-bit smartphone like the iPhone 5 and previous models. While this high intensity processor is sure to cause a massive drain on battery life, it’s the sort of thing that makes techies salivate and wait in line even earlier in anticipation of release day.

The 5s also has a built-in motion sensor, which may not seem like a huge deal, until you consider the app they’re developing with Nike (Nike + Move) that is set to track users’ fitness, sleep and other habits through said sensor for healthier living. Now, you’re probably thinking that this isn’t all that big of a deal since devices like the FitBit and the Jawbone Up already serve these purposes. That’s just the thing though, with the 5s you won’t need to wear a clip on peripheral or a bracelet. The same functionality is packed into a device you already carry everywhere anyway. I fully expect this functionality to be phased into all smartphones and put companies like FitBit completely out of business.

Beyond that there are huge improvements in the camera including a dual-tone flash designed to give off a more natural light and a built-in slow-motion video capture mode. These features as well as the purported slight improvement in battery life, are about what we expected and are the sorts of things most phone manufacturers add when they upgrade. However, Apple did take a recent smartphone functionality trend and push it to a new level this time around, which is somewhat out of their character as well. A number of Android devices released recently have included fingerprint scanners for security purposes, but with the iPhone 5s users can tie their fingerprint to their App Store account. Meaning that their unique fingerprint is required for purchases made from their phone. This kind of password-free security could be what it takes to make apps like Passbook and Google Wallet actually appealing to the general public for the first time.

The combination of uniquely innovative features and brand-new applications for new(ish) hardware features definitely supports Apple’s claim that the iPhone 5s is their “most forward-thinking” phone. This not only increases the buzz for the upcoming device’s release, but sets a powerful precedent for all future iPhone reveals.

The Game Changing iPhone 5cThe iPhone 5c in Green. (Courtesy of Apple, Inc.)

For the longest time Apple stated they had no intention of developing a cheaper iPhone marketed at a budget demographic. I can’t help but think that the reasoning behind this was the fact that iPhones are quite the status symbol in America. Owning an iPhone over any number of Android devices carries a connotation of higher social influence, affluence and/or technological awareness depending on the individual and various other factors. A close non-tech industry friend of mine from high school tweeted after the announcement that she thought the iPhone 5c looked tacky and that she would probably judge the first person she saw carrying the plastic-backed iDevice. This says quite a lot about the social sway iPhones have on the smartphone market.

Why then would Apple release a device that will appear tacky or second-rate? I think they’re playing the long game here and thinking internationally. At the end of August, Samsung held the highest market share of smartphones in India, one of the world’s largest countries and one with a developing economy (in comparison to the US at least). Apple didn’t even place in the top five. With a half-price iPhone, Apple could easily tap into markets in countries like India while simultaneously broadening their appeal in the United States and slowly pushing back their elitist reputation. It’s essentially a win-win.

The other game-changing element to the 5c actually comes in the form of it’s bright colors and (potentially) tacky design. Look at the phones. Don’t they just jump out as the next big ticket Christmas gift? The iPhone 5c isn’t just a budget iPhone, it’s an entry level iPhone. Competitively priced with entry-to-mid-level Androids, the 5c is perfect for Johnny’s first smartphone. And I can just hear my not-so-little-anymore cousins (13 and 14) pleading with their  parents to buy them pink iPhones this holiday season. Sure the 5c may seem tacky or second-rate to college students and young professionals, but their younger siblings and cousins are going to be begging for them.

The iPhone 5c is dramatically widening the demographic range for the iPhone and thus exponentially increasing Apple’s potential sales. It’s honestly one of the smartest moves I’ve seen in tech all year.

“Brainfreeze”; A Kick Like You’ve Never Felt Before

September 6, 2013
Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow pose with 45 inch records in a 7 Eleven for the cover of "Brainfreeze".

During the late 90’s a strange thing was happening in Hip Hop music. Subject matter was shifting away from socially-conscious and community minded lyrics to more self-aggrandizing “Gangsta” style writing. On the fringes of the genre however, some of the most interesting experimentation in it’s brief history was happening unbeknownst to much of the general public. In 1996, DJ Shadow released his groundbreaking debut LP, “Endtroducing…”, the first full-length to be created from entirely sampled material according to Guinness World Records. Around the same time, another West Coast DJ, Cut Chemist, was producing Instrumental Hip Hop 7″s in addition to his work with Jurassic 5. In 1999, the two joined forces for a dual-headlining tour in support of their instrumental work. During the rehearsals for this tour, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist cut a live to tape LP entitled “Brainfreeze”.

The mix combines the styles of each DJ, with funk-flavored grooves out of Cut Chemist’s wheelhouse and vocal samples so obscure they can barely be attributed, brought to the table by DJ Shadow. The opening section of the tape is based around audio from a trailer for a kung-fu film produced by the defunct Cannon Group entitled Thunder Kick, which never even had a theatrical release. This vocal is laid over a funky re-imagining of the opening them from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Oddysey, a dramatic opening for an inspiring piece of underappreciated post-modernism.

The rest of the mix combines various genres (primarily funk) with aspects of 1990s Turntablism and the hybrid genre Trip Hop (a combination of electronic music and hip hop). It’s 52 minute run-time (with a break halfway through only for the benefit side change of a vinyl record) seems intimidating if you’re unfamiliar with the genre or mix-tapes as a musical format. However, it’s an enthralling listen that flies by and leaves you wanting more of its bizarre aesthetic.

DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist would go on to produce two more collaborative mix-tapes (2001’s “Product Placement” and 2007’s “The Hard Sell”) all of which were only distributed at live shows and are thus out of print (though they’re fairly easy to find on YouTube and fan forums). However, “Brainfreeze” being the original is perhaps the most significant in that it was the first tape produced in this live format by these two skillful DJs simultaneously cueing tracks on multiple turntables and samplers and then playing them off of one another to create a smooth cohesive hour-long mix.

Cincinnati Summer Concerts 2013–An Infographic

April 3, 2013

I can’t afford to go to all of the concerts I want to this summer. So I made an infographic to help my friends and I make the decision. I’ll probably go with either a combo of one average show and the Of Montreal show, or just one of the big festival shows.

Cincinnati went from not getting any good alt-rock shows when I was in high school to getting tons of them each summer now that I’m in college. I think part of it is the rise of touring as a revenue source for musicians, but there are also now much nicer venues in Cincy thanks to renovations and the construction of the Horseshoe this year. What show(s) are you excited about this year?

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A Beginner’s Guide to OFWGKTA–An Infographic

March 29, 2013

This is an infographic I made for Content Curation class. It’s meant to be a beginner’s guide or intro to the OFWGKTA, or Odd Future, hip hop collective, focusing mainly on their musical contributions. I’m really intrigued by the way OF has set up their group and love the immediacy of their creative process (even if the work is outside my usual genre).


A beginner's guide to Odd Future infographic


Despite their reputation as inexperienced teenage pranksters, Odd Future are a surprisingly organized and well managed collective. They have merchandised their brand extremely effectively and created paid positions for dozens of employees through their various endeavors. Though their music is admittedly juvenile, as is their fanbase, the group are a serious business entity beneath the surface and a critical force to be reckoned with.

The Importance of Relevance

March 15, 2013
Like Icon

Like IconRelevance is key for relationships and relationships motivate people towards movements and purchases. It’s all about relevance. You have to be relevant to your audience or client otherwise you’ll never be able to win them. Having goals and values are all well and good, but without personal relevance to the consumer your values are meaningless. You either have to have values or a mission which are already relevant or you must build a relationship to establish your relevance in order to obtain the confidence to present your values and your mission and your ideal without seeming “preachy”.

Even this term has a connotation based in the idea of relevance, as it refers to a preacher or priest. Priests and preachers are being viewed more and more as the church’s irrelevance. An out of touch figure who speaks down on the masses and tells them what to do and what not to do. No one wants to be spoken down to and very few people are interested in complete conformity. However, it’s what we were used to in our religion. This isn’t how it has to be though. Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus say “you must build buildings with linear rows of seats where people can sit silently and hear my divine word amplified and echoing down upon them”. Rather he says “where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am also”. Jesus went out into the world and interacted with the people inter-personally. He spoke to them in city centers and in their houses and at dinner tables as well as in the temple.

So what does all this religion-y stuff have to do with relevance in marketing? Think of it this way: what outmoded cultural systems involve the few communicating ideals, values, missions and tasks downward to the many? If you answered broadcast media then you’ve been paying attention. If not, I’d suggest looking up some statistics. Mobile and social media are where people’s eyes are today, mine included, so we need to work to meet them there.

As pointed out by Gary Vaynerchuk, banner ads and billboards aren’t the currency of this new media ecosystem, it’s relationships. People aren’t on Facebook to comment on photos of new menu items at Taco Bell. They’re there to interact with their friends, and if brands they like are there then that’s a fine added bonus. As marketers it’s our job to create a form of friendship or other relevance with users. Not so they’re logging onto Facebook to look at our restaurant’s profile, but so that they stop there on the way to making plans for the night with another friend.

That process is going to look different for every brand, because every brand has a different audience. It’s also going to be a process that changes from year to year. There’s no secret sauce to this. It takes just as much (if not more) work as maintaining a few thousand real friendships. You can’t measure relevance in dollars, and there’s no concrete ROI of each comment on your status, but building a personal relationship with your audience or customers will be well worth it in the end.

Hey Qurl Check Me Out on Listen or Don’t

March 5, 2013

This past weekend I had the pleasure to appear on Listen or Don’t with Tim and Paul, an internet radio show/podcast run by my dear friends Tim Miller and Paul Mayersky. Tim and Paul are fantastic guys with great taste in tunes and comedy, and their show is a great outlet for those tastes. I was honored when Tim asked me last month if I was interested in appearing on the show, and had an absolute blast in the studio with them.

Though they don’t know what to call it, Tim and Paul’s show is a great content curation. They have excellent segments like “Guilty Pleasure” songs, weird news, movie reviews and Tim’s album of the week (which is always a treat, though we didn’t have time for it on this episode). Topics on this week’s show included: snow sculpture, iPad hoaxes, The Academy Awards, and of course the origins of the term “qurl”. You can listen to the show in podcast form after the jump if you’re so inclined.

Listen or Don’t with Tim and Paul- Episode 6 Season 1 (March 1, 2013) by Listen Or Dont Withtim & Paul on Mixcloud

Listen or Don’t airs live on on Friday nights from 8pm-10pm with live trivia, request periods and more in-studio eccentricities. You can also subscribe to the show on Mixcloud to receive the podcast version when it’s uploaded each Saturday after the recording. And don’t forget to follow Listen or Don’t on twitter for updates throughout the week as well as interaction during the show.

I’m also excited to announce that Tim is one of my partners on an upcoming YouTube project that’s in a similar vein. I’ll have more on that once the details and logistics get ironed out, but we’re hoping to get off the ground this summer. If you’re into music and/or popular culture and want to get on board with this one shoot me an email.

Windows 8 Apps I’m Waiting On

January 24, 2013

I found out this week that my Windows 7 Installation had some corrupt files in it that were causing some issues. So rather than having to clear my whole hard drive and just re-install Windows 7 I decided to capitalize on the uber cheap Windows 8 Upgrade Offer (only $15!) and moved up to Microsoft’s new hybrid OS.

I’m still pretty new to Windows 8, and don’t know nearly enough yet to write a good review. Instead I thought I’d write a list of some of the apps I think the OS needs.

1. An Official Twitter App

It’s apparently in the works, but I seriously can’t stress how frustrating every free Twitter app for Windows 8 is. I’m not willing to buy one, because I can always just run good old fashioned Tweet Deck in Desktop Mode, but I cannot wait to get a full featured Modern UI Twitter app that actually opens my feed up where I left off rather than at the top (I’m looking at you MetroTwit).

2. An Update to Evernote

I live in Evernote. I keep school notes, project plans, and even daily stuff like grocery lists in it. It was the first app I installed in Windows 8. Imagine my surprise when I found out that it only supports Simple Text Editing, and you can’t default to Notebook view. I can’t take lecture notes without bullet points, and I’m certainly not going to browse through two years of notes on the home screen when I just need to look up one vocabulary term or phone number.

3. Pocket (aka Read It Later)

I just started using Pocket this week and I’m already totally reliant on it. I’ve queued up tons of articles and videos to keep me busy whenever I get downtime. Unfortunately I have to jump out to the browser to access what is essentially a Modern UI webapp from Pocket anyway. I’d love to just be able to launch this as a standalone, and also share things to it from other apps.

4. Buffer

Buffer is another recent addition to my app suite. For the uninitiated it queues up your tweets and status updates for you, so that when you find something cool at 1:00 AM your network will actually see it on their feed later on when they’re online and active. Being able to share to Buffer straight from the Share Charm would be most excellent.

5. Tumblr

Of all the social networks that could develop Win8 Apps, I figured Tumblr would be the first to jump at the chance. Their image-centric system would look excellent in the Modern UI. I really expect this one to be awesome when it comes along.

Honorable Mentions

1. Google Apps

Though they’ve already stated they won’t be going for it, I would love to have Gmail, Google Calendar, and especially a YouTube app in Windows 8. I know this will drive traffic from Chrome, which Google doesn’t want, but it would be so much more convenient. And the YouTube app for Xbox 360 might as well be a Windows 8 app anyway, so perhaps that will get moved over.

2. Facebook

Yet another tech giant who has refused to build a Windows 8 app. Though they have stated that Microsoft could build their own, Zuckerberg and friends aren’t going to writing anything for Win8 any time soon. Luckily the Messaging app takes care of your chat needs and for the News Feed you can always jump out to your browser of choice like the good old days.

Beck Hansen’s “Song Reader” Proves He’s More Hipster Than You

January 4, 2013
Beck Hansen: "Song Reader"

A friend was going through a quarter life crisis recently and said that one of his issues was that he’s been too into hipster culture and now feels like he’s entirely unrelatable. I consoled him, saying “There’s always someone more hipster than you, Beck Hansen”.

In case you’ve forgotten during his long hiatus Beck Hansen is an indie-pop singer/songwriter who has a habit of completely changing his style upon each release. He gained moderate mainstream success with 1993’s “Loser” and 2005’s “Girl”, and has collaborated with everyone from Pearl Jam to Childish Gambino.

Beck’s latest release, “Song Reader”, proves once again that he is the uberhipster. Someone so obscure that no other human being could possibly come close. “Song Reader” is not an album or a single, it is a book of sheet music composed by Beck to be played by a small ensemble. Hansen has refused to release a recorded performance of the album, forcing non-musicians to seek out versions performed by others.

Beck Hanson: "Song Reader"

In fact, up until this week the music community at large was subjected to poor quality YouTube videos if they wished to hear “Song Reader”. Thankfully though the bastion of all hipsterdom, NPR, posted a full album performance from the excellent musicians at The Portland Cello Project. And I must say, even performed by a cello-based group with female vocalists “Song Reader” still feels like a Beck album. It’s full of alt-country twang like his earlier material, but has some really big ethereal tracks like his middle “Sea Change” period.

But even if the album were crap, Beck would still have made his point. He is more obscure than you or any of your friends will ever be. Though not nearly as experimental as other hipster acts like Animal Collective and of Montreal, Beck has proven himself once again as the most obscure musician out there.

I really kind of hope this turns into a mini-trend where other artists emulate “Song Reader” and release music for live performance. Partially because performance possesses a level of intimacy that even vinyl can’t come close to. But mostly so that when Fun. puts out a full score I can say that such a move was really only cool the first time around with Beck way back in 2012.

Briefly on Tame Impala

January 4, 2013

Tame Impala is such a great band. They have just the right amounts of every type of psychedelia. And this track is so beautiful I can’t stop listening to it. The vocals almost sound like George Harrison, and the atmosphere builds in a really cool way throughout.

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