Polaroid Story: The Camera Does The Rest

The Wall Street Journal: As described in The Camera Does The Rest, by Peter Buse: “There aren’t many 3-year-olds who can take credit for inspiring a revolution in the way millions of people view the world … it was engineer Edwin Land’s daughter, Jennifer, who asked one evening in 1943 why it took so long to view the photographs that the family had shot while on vacation … Land set out on a walk to ponder that question and, so the story goes, returned six hours later with an answer that would transform the hidebound practice of photography: the instant snapshot.”

The first Polaroid camera was introduced in 1948: “People loved watching the image emerge on paper—even in bright sunlight. Users of the early cameras waved the picture in the air believing that it would develop faster (it didn’t). Taking a photograph was suddenly fun in itself. You could view the good times while the good times were still going on … ‘One minute’ pictures owed nothing to the past; they celebrated the present.”

“The party might have gone on forever had it not been for … the digital revolution … The corpse of Edwin Land’s company was not yet cold when a wave of nostalgia for the Polaroid look swept over the digital-photo community. Today there are several apps that will duplicate the 70-year-old Polaroid appearance—white borders and all—including one app called ShakeIt Photo. The shooter snaps a photo with a smartphone, then shakes the phone to hasten development of the ‘film.’ And in an instant, like magic, the picture appears.”

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Gendered Shelves & Toy Segregation

The Atlantic: “Today, toys are more divided by gender stereotypes than they were 50 years ago, thanks to broader marketing shifts in the industry and worldwide … According to the sociologist Elizabeth Sweet, toy companies began intensifying their use of color-coded marketing and segregation of toys in the 1980s … Gender-based compartmentalization in stores and online is meant to help customers find what they’re looking for, but according to … Jess Day of the nonprofit Let Toys Be Toys, ‘it’s driven by a massive assumption about what a child might want’.”

“Let Toys Be Toys’s biggest target is segregation by aisle, because it reflects the infrastructure of toy companies, where separate divisions develop products for gendered shelves. The division ends up reinforcing gender stereotypes and making it more difficult for gender-neutral or gender-inclusive toys to find space in stores.”

“Still, many consumers seem happy to shop along gender lines, and gender-inclusive toys tend to be on the higher end of the market and target progressive parents with time and money to spend. But with the Internet encouraging greater awareness and enabling the production of countless new toys, a revolution within the industry could be on the horizon.”

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The Future is Platforms, Not Products

Quartz: “A trait shared by the fastest growing and most disruptive companies in history—Google, Amazon, Uber, AirBnb, and eBay—is that they aren’t focused on selling products, they are building platforms … A platform isn’t a new concept, it is simply a way of building something that is open, inclusive, and has a strategic focus.”

“Think of the difference between a roadside store and a shopping center. The mall has many advantages in size and scale and every store benefits from the marketing and promotion done by others. They share infrastructure and costs. The mall owner could have tried to have it all by building one big store, but it would have missed out on the opportunities to collect rent from everyone and benefit from the diverse crowds that the tenants attract.”

“What has changed is that technology has reduced the need to own infrastructure and assets and made it significantly cheaper to build and scale digital platforms … Companies such as Walmart, Nike, John Deere, and GE are working towards building platforms in their industries. John Deere, for example wants to be a hub for agricultural products … Building platforms requires a vision, but does not require predicting the future. What you need is to understand the opportunity to build the mall instead of the store and be flexible in how you get there.”

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Designing Virtual Assistants: Poetry in Automation

The Washington Post: “As tech behemoths and a wave of start-ups double down on virtual assistants that can chat with human beings, writing for AI is becoming a hot job in Silicon Valley. Behind Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana are not just software engineers. Increasingly, there are poets, comedians, fiction writers, and other artistic types charged with engineering the personalities for a fast-growing crop of artificial intelligence tools.”

“As in fiction, the AI writers for virtual assistants dream up a life story for their bots. Writers for medical and productivity apps make character decisions such as whether bots should be workaholics, eager beavers or self-effacing … Even mundane tasks demand creative effort, as writers try to build personality quirks into the most rote activities … many developers of artificial intelligence make a point of adding a weird element to their avatar designs — such as an asymetrical face or an odd joke — something that signals that the virtual assistant isn’t human and doesn’t aspire to be … At the same time, the imperfections are meant to be endearing. A robot without such flaws could seem cold and alienating.”

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The True Cost of Good Content

Jesse Weaver: “We want our web and we want it for free. However, the inconvenient truth is that there is a cost to doing business and at some point companies have to make money …. And so we sacrifice the magic. We devalue content and products by refusing to pay for the work it takes to create and maintain them. We are satisfied wading through poorly designed, ad-based experiences. And we allow our most precious resource, our time, to become a commodity to be traded, sold and manipulated. Our data is mined, our privacy discarded and our actions tracked all in the name of more targeted advertising.”

“And it’s not even the best scenario for companies either. In Q4 of 2015 Facebook brought in $5.9 billion in revenue with 1.59 billion active users/month. That’s roughly $1.23 of revenue/user/month. If, in the same quarter, Facebook moved away from ads and instead charged each active user just $1.50 a month for the service, their Q4 2015 revenue would have increased by $1.2 billion dollars, from $5.9 billion to $7.1 billion.”

“Now, what if Facebook started using that extra $1.2 billion to pay content creators for posting quality content on the platform? … Suddenly the revenue sources for content creators starts to diversify. The reliance on advertisers wanes. Feeds … are designed to promote connection and shine a light on creators. Bloated, ad-filled UIs start to disappear … Creators develop more immersive content experiences focused on the people using them. The balance of power flips back to the user … we stop being the commodity and we start being the driver. And when users are the driver, companies will focus on adding value, not just grabbing our attention.”

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Shakespeare & Co: Amazon Isn’t Its Problem

Wall Street Journal: “Soon after Dane Neller bought Manhattan bookseller Shakespeare & Co. last May, he shut the doors and built the bookstore where he wanted to shop … After Mr. Neller got done tinkering … the store, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, had a distinctly different look. Space inside the store dedicated to books has been cut by nearly 40% to 1,200 square feet.”

“Mr. Neller … is also chief executive of a company that makes a desk-sized device called the Espresso Book Machine, which prints new paperbacks in five minutes or less. An $85,000 unit is featured prominently at Shakespeare & Co. ‘It’s the secret sauce,’ says Mr. Neller. ‘The machine enables a bookstore to have a much smaller footprint’.”

He “says book sales from September through the end of March are up 10% compared with the same period when the store was under different ownership” and “attributes the gains to better-chosen titles, increased store traffic attracted by the store’s new cafe and the Espresso machine … ‘Amazon isn’t my problem,’ he says. ‘My customer is here because they care about more than price. They want to be greeted, they want a sense of community, and they have a craving for culture’.”

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Virgin-Alaska: Passion vs. Performance

The New York Times: The Alaska Airlines takeover of Virgin America may test whether passion or performance is paramount when it comes to creating customer loyalty. “Although Alaska has been a perennial leader in best-airline rankings, its allure comes more from its reliability than mood lighting or funny safety videos. Like Virgin America, it inspires loyalty among customers, if not the same passion.”

However, travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt thinks Virgin America “failed to capitalize on its San Francisco hub or to build on its early innovations … The airline compensated for its financial losses by cutting flights in recent years, even as it added routes to Hawaii and elsewhere. While passengers may love the ambience of a Virgin flight, they love the ability to get where they are going more.”

“The combination of hip and practical could give the new company a competitive advantage, Mr. Harteveldt said. The smartest thing Alaska could do … would be to combine the characteristics that have made each airline popular.”

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The Gray Market: Boomers are Booming

The Economist: “Today the developed world is in the early stages of a ‘gray-quake.’ Those over 60 constitute the fastest-growing group in the populations of rich countries, with their number set to increase by more than a third by 2030, from 164m to 222m. Older consumers are also the richest thanks to house-price inflation and generous pensions. The over-60s currently spend some $4 trillion a year and that number will only grow.”

“Some firms are trying to understand older people better. Kimberley-Clark, a maker of consumer products, has built a mock-up of what a senior-friendly shop might look like in the future. Ford has created a ‘third-age suit’ for car designers to wear to help them understand the needs of older people: the suit thickens the waist, stiffens the joints and makes movement more cumbersome … Understanding is giving birth to new products and business models … Retailers are surreptitiously lowering shelves and putting in carpets to make it harder to slip … Kimberley-Clark has overhauled its Depend brand of adult nappies to make them more like regular underwear.”

“The baby-boomers have changed everything they have touched since their teenage years, leaving behind them a trail of inventions, from pop culture to two-career families. Retirement is next on the list.”

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Fisher-Price Designs Chic Toys for Stylish Parents

“Mattel Inc. is bringing in designer Jonathan Adler as creative director for its Fisher-Price baby gear and infant toys, as it seeks to reverse a prolonged sales slump at the brand,” The Wall Street Journal reports. Mr. Adler, a ceramicist turned interior designer who has produced collections for Barneys New York and other retailers, has reached a three-year partnership with the company.”

“Mr. Adler has designed a premium priced collection of Fisher-Price baby furniture, gear and apparel that will start selling in September. His design influence also will be applied to everyday Fisher-Price products that will be widely available in early 2017, which will be priced in line with current Fisher-Price items. ‘Your kid’s stuff is going to be in your life and your living room all the time. It’s the landscape of your house … It needs to look chic,'” Mr. Adler said.

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