Facebook Area 404: The Innovation Lab

USA Today: “Deep inside Facebook’s sprawling campus here is “Area 404,” a reference to the error you get when a Web page can’t be found. Engineers gave it that name because it’s a space they wanted that didn’t exist: a lab outfitted with state-of-the-art testing equipment and heavy machinery where they can crank out ideas and model makers can turn those ideas into prototypes with the goal of speeding up the cycle of innovation.”

“The lab is divided into two areas: an electrical engineering lab with rows of long desks to test and debug designs and a prototyping workshop with large machine tools such as a 5-axis water jet that can cut sheets of any material from steel to granite … Jay Parikh, Facebook’s head of engineering and infrastructure, believes Facebook can leap ahead by incubating everything in one space where people and ideas commingle. ‘It brings together a lot of opportunity for teams across the company to work together, and work on shared problems here together,’ he says.

Silicon Valley forecaster Paul Saffo comments: “Ten years ago we were lamenting the end of corporate R&D. The grand old labs were all shutting down and the question was where was the big thinking coming from? This is a very good sign that large company innovation is very much alive. This could be where next big ideas come from.”


Domino’s Pizza Meter: Slicing Big Data

Slate: “In the 1990s, America believed in the predictive powers of pizza. Online anecdotes abounded … When Operation Desert Storm launched in January 1991, the Chicago Tribune published an account of a D.C. pizzeria owner who was able to predict that military action in the region was imminent, thanks to spikes in his sales.”

“But perhaps the best example of the pizza obsession of the 1990s lay in the existence of the ‘Pizza Meter,’ a short-lived annual report put out by Domino’s … By polling delivery drivers, the report claimed to offer insights into American political and personal attitudes. Real conclusions from the 1995 report include statistics like, ‘People who answered the door while listening to rap music were 45 percent more likely to order a meat-topped pizza than non-rap listeners’. Or, ‘People who answered the door wearing polyester ordered 9 percent more vegetarian pizzas than those sporting natural fibers’.”

“Perhaps pizza-based analysis fell by the wayside thanks to the rise of more serious data-driven journalism. Or perhaps there was a growing cynicism about the blatantly branded marketing ploy that was the Pizza Meter. But in the past 20 years … the internet has made us more accepting of such silliness. We don’t necessarily need to correct the pitfalls of the original surveys—like the horrendously unscientific data collection techniques or the flippant attitude toward causation vs. correlation—to capture that unique excitement that came when previously inaccessible insights were made plain and laid bare.”


Five Stars: Hospital Hospitality

The New York Times: “While clinical care is the focus of any medical center, hospitals have many incentives to move toward hotel-inspired features, services and staff training. Medical researchers say such amenities can improve health outcomes by reducing stress and anxiety among patients, while private rooms can cut down on the transfer of disease.”

“But a big driver of the trend may be hospitals’ interest in marketing — attracting patients with private insurance who have a choice in where they receive care, and encouraging word-of-mouth recommendations … Competing on the amenities is all the more important … because there is so little reliable comparative data on hospitals’ medical outcomes.”

“At Henry Ford West Bloomfield, scores from federally mandated surveys show that the evolving features at the hospital have helped to improve its customer satisfaction ratings and make patients more likely to recommend the hospital to others … Indeed, a study by Deloitte found that hospitals with higher patient experience ratings were generally more profitable than those with lower scores.”

“Of course, all these new features and services come with a price tag — part of which is billed directly to patients.”


Misty Copeland: Ballet Megastar as Megabrand

CNBC: Ballet star Misty Copeland “is one of the few dancers who is business savvy enough to have become a brand of her own. She has performed on Broadway, appeared as a judge on ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and written a best-selling memoir. She’s picked up endorsement deals with T-Mobile, Seiko, Under Armour, Coach and others — honors usually reserved for high-profile sports figures. In May, she signed on with Dannon to promote its Oikos Greek yogurt.”

“Her next act is a dancewear line ‘for all shapes and sizes’ debuting in August. The inspiration for the line, Egal, stems from her own struggle to find supportive leotards when she was an awkward teen.”

Copeland comments: “Celebrities today make all this money and have all this time to travel and play, go to clubs and get in trouble. But there’s never a moment that a dancer can take off and just be like, woo hoo, I’m enjoying all of the applause that I got in my last show! The work never ends until you retire, and I think that having that structure in place as a classical dancer has really benefited me as a businesswoman.”


Disney Technology Tracks Guest ‘Footprints’

Orlando Sentinel: “The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued Walt Disney Co. a patent for a new type of technology: A system that can track theme-park guests through their feet. The company says that there are no immediate plans to use such a system. This project is part of Disney’s ongoing innovative research process, the company said, and many projects it explores may never actually end up in the parks.”

“According to information supplied to the patent agency, sensors and cameras would help identify particular visitors, and the data ‘can be used to output a customized guest experience’ including photographs. Theme parks could also use such a system to mine data about common paths from ride to ride.”

“Current methods of tracking guests and matching them up ‘are limited to rather invasive methods, such as retinal and fingerprint identification methods,’ the patent information said. These methods are obtrusive and some guests may not feel comfortable providing this type of biometric information to a third party’.”


Saltwater Brewery: Edible 6-Pack Rings

Quartz: “Saltwater Brewery has introduced new, eco-friendly six-pack rings for their beer … The grain-based rings are both biodegradable and edible—so rather than choking on them, marine life can safely chow down on them instead.”

“The brewery makes the rings by shipping grain leftover from its beer-making process offsite. The grain is then bound with biopolymer, a protein occurring in living organisms, and pressed into shape … While the spent-grain compound isn’t super nutritious for sea creatures, it’s not harmful in any way.”

“The switch to biodegradable rings was costly for Saltwater Brewery … Currently, consumers have to pay about 10 cents more per beer for the technology. Right now the brewery offers a mix of plastic rings and the new biodegradable rings … In coming months, the brewery hopes to shift completely over to edible rings. The brewery also plans to make the biopolymer technology blueprint available for purchase, so that other beverage companies can stop using plastic rings, too.”


Under Armour: Kevin Plank’s Baltimore Platform

The Washington Post: In Baltimore, Under Armour founder Kevin Plank “has plotted a $5.5 billion development project, one of the largest in the country, comprising 45 city blocks and more than two miles of riverfront … Plank’s project, when completed in 25 years, would dwarf Baltimore’s celebrated Inner Harbor, delivering a new Under Armour headquarters, tech and manufacturing businesses and 40 acres of parks. It would also yield hundreds of millions of dollars in projected tax revenue and provide an estimated 25,000 jobs.”

“Plank unveiled a plan calling for 18 million total square feet, including offices, hotels, shopping, attractions and at least 7,500 residences in Port Covington, a peninsula isolated from the city by Interstate 95.”

Says Plank: “We want to shine a light on this great city of Baltimore. I can tell you, I love this city. I love my company. I believe in this city. I believe in what’s going to happen. And ladies and gentlemen, I can promise you, at Under Armour, we are truly, truly just getting started.”


Auto Innovation: The Incredible Nash

Jalopnik: “For a defunct car company, we still feel Nash’s influence a surprising amount, in ways that are pretty basic and fundamental to how cars are today … Nash was the first to really build a full-unibody car in an affordable car in real volume: the Nash 600 … it came up with the HVAC system that formed the basis of pretty much every one in use today … Saab and those safety-loving Swedes introduced the modern 3-point harness in 1958, but nine years earlier, in 1949, Nash was offering lap belts as an option on their cars.”

“Nash was a pioneer in the subtle and beautiful art of sleeping in your car. Way back in 1936, it pioneered the ‘Bed-in-Car’ system, where the rear seat would fold down, creating an opening into the trunk, allowing you to sleep in the car, with your legs in the trunk … This also may be the first example of a folding rear seat to get bigger things in the trunk, as well.”

“Nash can make a reasonable claim to have one of the first true muscle cars, the Rambler Rebel … Nash was the first American company to build (compact cars) in real quantity, and the way it built them presaged the modern, very international auto industry … That’s a lot of pretty important firsts for a dead car company, and most of these highly influential things are all under the skin or behind the scenes. It’s easy to forget about Nash, but once you really start digging into how cars are built today, you see their fingerprints all over the place.”


Game Changer: In-App Purchases

The Wall Street Journal: “In-app purchases are ‘dramatically changing the mobile-entertainment landscape,’ said Andrew Phelps, director of digital media at Rochester Institute of Technology. They ‘engage people in a longer financial discourse than you would have in an upfront sale’ … The secret sauce behind many in-app purchases is the countdown clock—a frustration tax that forces gamers to idle before they can perform duties such as farming crops or replenishing fuel, unless they pay for more turns or items to speed up the action.”

“Converting players into spenders without turning them off is key; gamers have derided free-to-play games as ‘free to play, pay to win’ for years. Developers, though, have gotten savvier about giving players more free things to do to keep them hooked until they start spending. In ‘Pokémon Go,’ players can go weeks capturing dozens of ‘pocket monsters’ without needing to spend money. After investing so much time, players might be more inclined to dole out cash to upgrade their gear so they can carry more items and creatures, for example.”

“Algorithms are playing an increasing part in nudging players to spend. Based on dozens of data points—how often gamers play, what model mobile device they use, location and gender—developers might raise a game’s difficulty level, making no two players’ experiences exactly alike … Data on players’ behavior also are used to strategically tweak prices for virtual goods in real time … Other tactics: tapping into players’ “fear of missing out” through limited-time events, and cultivating relationships between players.”


Dollar Shave & The Digitally Native Vertical Brand

The New York Times: “The same forces that drove Dollar Shave’s rise are altering a wide variety of consumer product categories. Together, they add up to something huge — a new slate of companies that are exploring novel ways of making and marketing some of the most lucrative products we buy today. These firms have become so common that they have acquired a jargony label: the digitally native vertical brand.”

“By cutting out the inefficiencies of retail space and the marketing expense of TV, the new companies can offer better products at lower prices. We will get a wider range of products — if companies don’t have to market a single brand to everyone on TV, they can create a variety of items aimed at blocs of consumers who were previously left behind. And because these companies were born online, where reputations live and die on word of mouth, they are likely to offer friendlier, more responsive customer service than their faceless offline counterparts.”

“It’s striking how few of these online companies could have taken off in the presocial age. At the very least, they would have been sunk by the inability to target ads to the demographics they’re aiming to serve.”