I can now die peacefully knowing that my imbecilic sense of humor is not lost on Jon Stewart nor the studio audience of The Daily Show. I’m sorry, but this is just fucking cool:
Full details of the John McCain MySpace enhancement are available at Newsvine. The whole story and additional video should make its way around CNN and other stations on Friday.
Since the Newsvine server farm is getting pounded into submission today (still!), I’ll post a link to this here. The Seattle NBC affiliate, KING 5, dropped by Newsvine global headquarters today to find out more about the MySpace/John McCain prank. The video of the segment — just aired on the 10pm and 11pm news — is available at the following KING 5 link:
Kudos to the McCain camp for playing this cool. Being a good sport goes a long way. Daily Show, Colbert Report, Countdown? Where are you?
Via Valleywag comes word of an interesting technology implementation called the “Hot Captcha”. A “captcha” is essentially a test you perform in a web browser to prove you’re human. Its purpose is to keep automated bots from creating registrations and wreaking havoc on websites.
Typical captchas ask you to type a series of letters from a distorted image, answer a simple question, or perform mouse actions on objects. Users generally don’t like dealing with captchas because they require brainpower and sometimes trial-and-error, and there is no immediate pleasure gained from using them.
Enter the Hot Captcha from a fellow calling himself “frozenbear”. The Hot Captcha pulls photos of 9 women or 9 men using the open API from HotOrNot.com and asks you to select the three “hot” people from the group. The chances of picking the correct answer randomly are only 1 in 84 and you could bump that to 1 in 220 if you added a row, so the false positive rate would be extremely low.
What’s interesting to me is how effective this captcha test is, at least from my 20 or so tests. With these things, it’s not only important to make sure humans can easily pass the test but that computers cannot, and I honestly can’t imagine how a computer could programmatically determine the “hotness” of a photo. And what’s extra nice is that since you’re clicking on photos of attractive women or men, you could argue that this captcha may be the first ever that could be considered “fun” to use.
Interestingly, when I switched over to the “men” version, my accuracy went down from 100% to about 25%. I bet this effect would happen to a lot of men but not a lot of women. In other words, it seems to me that both women and men could easily identify “hot” women, while only men would struggle to identify “hot” men. Perhaps it’s because the physical traits that make men “hot” seem less obvious than the corresponding traits in women.
I wonder if this captcha could also be used as a reliable, surreptitious gender test for incoming visitors. As the operator of a social site which gives users lots of control, I’ve often thought to myself “If I could just tell for sure you were a female when you signed up, I’d probably give you ‘trusted’ status right away”. I say this not as a “ladies night” type of thing, but because the majority of evil-doers on the internet (e.g. spammers, network marketers, general assholes) seem to be men.
Though probably meant more as a joke than anything else, the Hot Captcha shows yet another function that the human brain is surprisingly efficient and consistent with that computers may never be able to match.
So this is it. Pretty vs. ugly. Clean vs. cluttered. Class vs. schlock.
I’m talking about Virb. And specifically, its newly initiated battle for the hearts and minds of would-be MySpacers.
Those of us in the web industry have had to put up with a peculiar theory since the meteoric rise of MySpace: that encouraging people make absolute pig sties out of their home pages is the leading factor in the success of MySpace and MySpace-like sites. The theory goes even deeper in saying that MySpace itself succeeds because of its own awful design.
The first part of the theory is built on the notion that people, in general, like crap, and the second part of the theory is based on the idea that the younger generation eschews the appearance of order and professionalism in all sorts of design.
Those of us who refuse to believe such claims have our own claims. Specifically that MySpace instead is succeeding despite its woefully gaudy design esthetic. We hold that it was the only social network around a few years ago that did enough important things right in order to build up a huge lead, and since it’s built up that lead, it’s essentially stood still on a foundation that grows shakier by the day.
It was with great anticipation then that I began beta-testing a new site called Virb several months ago. Virb is the brainchild of a company called PureVolume and it’s absolutely everything a social network should be. It matches MySpace feature-for-feature and then some, but the great part about it is the thoughtfulness and style with which everything is presented. Under the keen eye of founder Brett Woitunski and the masterful design acumen of Ryan Sims, every single pixel of the site impresses. From the typography to the interactivity to the copywriting, it’s a jawdropping piece of work. It’s a place you’re proud to have a personal page on.
So what’s missing from Virb? Well, it just launched a couple of weeks ago, so really only one thing: your friends. And that is why — in my opinion — nobody’s been able to unseat MySpace yet. It’s extremely difficult to move entire social circles of people, no matter how great your offering is.
I could write a long review of Virb here but Brian Ford at Newsvine and many others have already done so, so instead I’ll close this entry with a plea:
Check the site out for yourself, and if you like it, be an ambassador in the name of good taste on the web. Invite your friends and let’s see if we can prove the antithesis of the schlock design theory: that better craftsmanship, better taste, and better effort will always win out in the end.
Here’s my page in case you want to kickstart your friends list with /mikeindustries.
Ever since replacing my god-awful Comcast DVR with a high definition Series 3 Tivo, I’ve really only had one complaint about this beautiful machine: it doesn’t support on-demand programming. In other words, even though Comcast would love to charge me $3.99 to watch an on-demand movie, I can’t do it anymore because I don’t use their hardware.
It’s a small price to pay for the greatness that is real Tivo service, but it is a legitimate disadvantage. It was with great happiness then that I noticed Amazon’s new Tivo on-demand movie service: “Amazon Unbox”.
Here’s how the service works:
To my pleasant surprise, the movie files aren’t highly compressed 500 megabyte slugs but rather super high quality 2 to 2.5 gigabyte files. To my even greater surprise, these files made their way to my Tivo in about an hour each. Not that I would evvvvver BitTorrent a movie, but the last time I tried to torrent 2 gigabytes, it took all weekend. 2 gigs in an hour is great, and my cable connection usually only peaks out at around 2 or 3 megabits. Considering a trip to the video store and back for most people is, say, 20-30 minutes, and waiting for your movies from Netflix is a day or two, Amazon’s Unbox service compares favorably in the time department.
I do have four complaints about the service, all of which I’m sure will be dealt with shortly:
All in all, I’m loving the service so far, but I just hope their rental selection expands quickly. If you’d like to try Amazon Unbox and get your first $15 worth of downloads for free, click over to their free offer here.
Amazon and Tivo have clearly beaten Apple to the punch, which makes me wonder yet again why Apple and Tivo — such perfect bedfellows — have never consummated their love.
Following is a list of upcoming speaking engagements. If you’re going to be at any of the below conferences, please let me know so I can say hi:
April 11 — Utah Advertising Federation, Park City, UT
If you’re in the Utah area around tax time, come hang with some smart advertising people at the AdFed conference in Park City. I’ll be doing the keynote and the subject will be harnessing online behavior with participatory media.
If you haven’t been to Seattle in June, it’s generally 70 and gorgeous all day and it doesn’t get dark until 10pm. If you’ve always wanted to visit, An Event Apart Seattle is your perfect excuse. This year’s conference will be terrific and I’m looking forward to my city hosting such cyber-yodas as Jeffrey Zeldman, Eric Meyer, Jason Santa Maria, Andy Budd, Khoi Vihn, and the venerable Wolf. The subject of my talk will be “Civil Disobedience in Interactive Media: Making Thoreau Proud” and I expect it to be suitably controversial.
A week after An Event Apart, I’ll be heading to the Serestandar.es conference in Spain for a talk on sIFR and breaking rules on the web. I haven’t been to Spain in about ten years and haven’t taken a vacation in almost three, so I’m excited for the trip. Also speaking will be Croftie, Andy Budd, Jeremy Keith, Veerle Pieters, and others. Anybody know of any great scuba diving around that area? Canary Islands maybe?
In case you missed the comments on the last entry, What EXACTLY About This Ad is Offensive?, I suggest taking a look. In 240 blog posts over three years, it’s the most interesting comment thread I’ve ever hosted. Of particular interest:
Anyway, that’s about it. I normally don’t write posts about other posts, but this one just keeps getting more interesting with each comment.
Dolce & Gabbana recently decided to pull one of their magazine ads (pictured above) after “worldwide protests” by the National Organization for Women and other groups. There were even protests in Spain and Italy, two countries that some consider reasonably lenient when it comes to sexuality in advertising. The argument is that the ad portrays rape.
The ad shows a man and a woman, presumably about to have sex, with four other men at various levels of undress looking on. There’s no denying that the ad is extremely racy and people are well justified to be offended if strikes them negatively, but from a design perspective, I’m interested in *exactly* what elements of the ad push it over the line. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to throw out all people who find every ad involving the objectification of women offensive, because hey, then the entire industry is offensive. I’m also going to throw out all people who think everything is fair game and are offended by nothing. “The line” is basically when it’s offensive enough to the average person that it should be pulled.
So, let’s break down our cast of characters (left to right):
So the question is, what sorts of combinations of 1-6 would or would not be considered “over the line offensive”?
Removing everybody but Mr. Top and Ms. Bottom would seem to make it a “normal” fashion ad. Strangely, I think that the only person you could add back into the scene in addition to those two would be Withdrawn iPod Guy. He’s away from the action, he doesn’t seem overly interested and his presence doesn’t imply dominance or danger in any way. All three of the standing guys seem to be the worst culprits here, with Denim Cutoffs Guy and Purple Shirted Android Guy being 1 and 2.
Strangely, Mr. Top seems to be in the greatest “position of power” here but I don’t think removing him would really make the ad less offensive. I’m not even sure removing only Ms. Bottom would either. Imagine the ad with Ms. Bottom airbrushed out. It’s still basically an ad depicting a group of guys thinking about having sex with the same woman. The fact that the woman isn’t visible hardly changes things.
These are just my opinions and clearly others may disagree, but after working through the permutations, I think the uproar about this ad has nothing to do with “rape” at all. After all, there’s no evidence to prove that’s actually occurring. It has to do with multiple men having sex with the same woman in one setting, and that (perhaps rightfully so) is what causes this campaign to cross the tastefulness line.
You can read interviews with Stefano Gabbana (of D&G) and Kim Gandy (of NOW) over at this Newsweek article.
Disclaimer: I have never purchased any D&G products and I’m not a proponent of this campaign or anything it depicts. It’s just an interesting advertising issue to me.
I stopped by my local pizza joint tonight to grab a lazy dinner, and upon getting to the counter I noticed that I had five ones and one twenty.
The tab was $7.30 so the obvious choice would be to whip out the twenty, which I did. Upon holding this Jackson in my hand though, I remembered it wasn’t just any Jackson. It was a pre-1998 redesign Jackson. 1969 in fact.
I’d had this beauty in my wallet for a couple of weeks and tried not to spend it — although I knew I eventually would unless it was put into safe keeping. Such a beautiful bill… clearly superior in every way to the new rubbish.
My head told me I was the only person in the restaurant who would care about such a thing.
Inhale. Exhale. I handed the bill unceremoniously to girl behind the counter.
“Oh wow! An old twenty! I’m SO keeping this!” she said to my surprise as she plucked a modern twenty from her own wallet and made the exchange.
“I’m glad it’s going to someone who appreciates it,” I said as I watched her show it off to the other employees.
After relinquishing the twenty, I realized that it had been probably two or so years since I’d seen one… and I pay with cash a lot. I wonder what that says about the shelf-life and geographic distribution of paper currency in our country. I’d love to see some studies on this.
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