Global collaboration produces a beautiful cover of “Stand by Me”

The organization Playing for Change is producing music videos by inviting artists worldwide to record accompaniments to a base track, then mixing their tracks together. The effect is like a more polished version of the remix “The Mother of All Funk Chords,” which I reported on previously.

One nice feature of the Playing for Change videos is that each artist or group is recorded in his or her own environment, mostly outdoors, so you really get a beautiful international flavor in the videos.

Here’s a great version of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” that they’ve done:

AB — 28 April 2009


Crisis Crowdsourcing: Harnessing Mass Collaboration to Cope With Emerging Crises

The wave of post-election violence that enveloped Kenya early in 2008 has given rise to a new movement that uses crowdsourcing to provide real-time reporting on unfolding crises., a project spearheaded by a group of African bloggers and software developers, is creating an open-source platform “that allows anyone around the world to set up their own way to gather reports by mobile phone, email and the web — and map them,” according to the organization.

Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, began as a web site during the crisis in Kenya. According to Megha Bahree, writing for Forbes (see “Citizen Voices“), Ushahidi began when Ory Okolloh, a Harvard-educated lawyer and blogger living in Johannesburg, South Africa, went home to Kenya in late 2007 to vote in her country’s elections.

When riots and looting erupted in response to alleged corruption in the election process, conventional news media “went black for three days,” writes Bahree. During that time, though, Okolloh continued to blog and to receive reports from around the country from multiple sources, including journalists and government sources.

The stream of information coming to her reached such a volume that she appealed to tech-oriented contacts to assist with converting the stream of reports into a map-based visual form, a mash-up of reports of violence using Google Earth. The following gives an idea of the original mashup presentation on




Speaking in a February 2009 TEDTalk, Erik Hersman, one of the builders of Ushahidi, describes the application as “a system that would allow anyone with a mobile phone to send in information and reports on what was happening around them.” (See “How texting and GoogleMaps helped Kenyans survive crisis“)

Since mobile phones are increasingly available in Africa, Hersman says they make a good “common denominator” as a way for on-the-scene reporters to contribute to an overall view of what is happening during a crisis situation, such as a tumultuous political event, an armed conflict, or a natural disaster.

Hersman says that in the wake of the Kenya crisis, the Ushahidi group decided they needed to do more: “We needed to take what we had built and create a platform out of it so it could be used elsewhere in the world.”

Since then, the platform has been used by Al-Jazeera in Gaza, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in South Africa to “map xenophobic attacks perpetrated against non-South Africans,” according to Ushahidi, and is now being used in India to monitor that country’s general elections.

However, the “next big thing,” Hersman believes, has to do with coping with information overload and evaluating the accuracy of reporting during crises:

What we’re finding out is that we have this capacity to report eyewitness accounts of what’s going on in real time — and we’re seeing this in events like in Mumbai recently — where it’s so much easier to report now than it is to consume [the reporting].

There’s so much information, what do you do? … How do you decide what is important? What’s the veracity level of what you’re looking at? … we find that there’s this great deal of wasted crisis information. Because there’s just too much information for us to actually do anything with right now.

During the initial hours when a crisis breaks out, says Hersman, a great deal of information can be streaming out of the crisis area — in the form of mobile messages, blogs, web postings, emails,or  Twitter messages. But the world outside the crisis zone, and indeed the citizens inside it, have no way to aggregate and process the extreme volume of reporting, as well as to evaluate the accuracy and truthfulness of it.

Hersman’s group is now working on a filtering process and technology that will “take the crowd and apply them to the information,” using peer ratings to evaluate, refine, and weight the reliability of data coming out of a crisis zone — “so that we have a better understanding of the probability of something being true or not.”

One key application of the Ushahidi crowdsourcing platform is to help relief organizations assess the situation in a crisis zone in real time and direct aid to the area as quickly as possible. “The idea is to get immediate attention and relief to strife zones, and fill the gap left by news organizations that have slashed their foreign bureaus,” writes Bahree in her Forbes article. She relates one experience of how this worked during the Kenya crisis:

A ranger in Bogoria (northeast of Nairobi), William Kimosop, was driving to check on a remote outpost one evening in January when he stumbled across several hundred women, old people and children, lost in a ravine as they fled their villages where the men were still fighting. Four babies were born in that ravine, and supplies were running out.

There were no government officials or police around. He sent a text message to a friend in Nairobi, asking her to get help from aid agencies. The friend forwarded his plea to a few people, after which it got picked up by Ushahidi and within six days a Red Cross truck reached him.

AB — 22 April 2009

Behind Tropicana’s failed re-brand

Natalie Zmuda, writing for Advertising Age, says that Tropicana’s full-reverse on its new branding for its Pure Premium orange juice line was surprisingly quick. “Beverage experts were hard pressed to think of another major brand that had pulled the plug on such a sweeping redesign as swiftly as Tropicana,” she writes. (See “Tropicana Line’s Sales Plunge 20% Post-Rebranding,” April 2, 2009.)

Her article gives some of the sales figures behind the reversal: “After its package redesign, sales of the Tropicana Pure Premium line plummeted 20% between Jan. 1 and Feb. 22, costing the brand tens of millions of dollars.”

At a press conference in January 2009 by Pepsico (owner of the Tropicana brand), Peter Arnell, CEO of Arnell Group, the branding agency that executed the redesign, explained his rationale (See Ad Age’s video of the press conference here):

We thought it would be very important to take this brand and bring it or evolve it into a more current or modern state … Historically, we always show the outside of the orange. What was fascinating was that we had never shown the product called the juice. There was a strong drive to bring a big messaging onto the carton where the biggest single billboarding was.

I think it was in the billboarding where Arnell failed. The instant I saw the two carton designs side-by-side, my first thought was, ‘The new one looks like a store brand.’:

Really, which one of these designs does a better job of billboarding? On the new carton, every color has been drained out (except the cute new squeeze-cap, which Pepsico will be retaining), and the new font looks almost generic.

It makes me wonder what kind of testing Arnell did with this new design. I would think one important part of the process would be to stock a supply of the new package design in an actual grocery-store cooler or shelf to see how well it stands out against the competition.

For a good example of on-the-shelf billboarding, take a look at this cereal aisle:


See how Special K stands out on the shelf? The packaging does it.

In one of our ILO Institute reports (“Best Practices for CPG Design Teams”), we commented on the contribution packaging can make toward getting the attention of shoppers in the store (we used this same photo in the report):

As an example of simple visual differentiation through packaging, we note that Special K achieves high visibility on the retail shelf with standard package sizes using one simple graphic technique – making sure that on the front of every package is a big red “K” with a mostly white background. This emphasizes Kellogg’s offering by placing a distinct swath of giant “Ks” across the cereal aisle.

We also used the following example from spice company McMillan:


In our report, we commented:


McMillan’s shelf dispensing system achieves strong visual emphasis for its spice products. In the case of the display shown here, McMillan’s has even gotten the retailer to agree to alter its shelving configuration to accommodate the dispensing system.

This emphasizes the importance of including on the product design team members who are knowledgeable about the retail destination of a new product and the restrictions likely to be encountered in the store.

One positive aspect of the Tropicana re-branding debacle is that we analysts now have another negative case study to refer to!

AB — 3 April 2009


Skaterdater: Fantastic 1965 skateboarding movie

[Updated 24 Sept. 2009]

I was floored by Skaterdater when I saw it in about 1970 as a short before a feature film (possibly the Beatles’ Let It Be). I never even knew the title of it until just this evening when it suddenly flashed in my mind and I did one of those shot-in-the-dark Google searches like “old skateboard movie.”

The movie has no dialogue, just a beach-music soundtrack. It’s a coming-of-age movie about a California skateboard gang. One member disgraces himself by taking up with a (gasp!) girl. The movie ends with a skateboard duel between the traitor and his former buddy. The two face off doing slaloms down a steep hill.

Wikipedia has an article on Skaterdater here.

I almost hate to link to this low-res version of Skaterdater on Google Video — it might be posted without permission. Sadly, however, the movie does not appear to be available commercially (otherwise I would buy copies for children, grandchildren, and some kids I know!)

[Update 24 Sept. 2009:] Since I posted the Skaterdater entry, I have heard from Bill McKaig, one of the cast from the film — see his comment below.

My friend Paul Girolamo (with whom I originally saw the movie, although sadly he doesn’t remember that) is a video professional — after watching the movie recently, he commented:

I took a film class once where the perfect film was defined as a story told with pictures and no dialogue or captions. I think Skater Dater is pretty close to the ideal. What a gem.

It’s pretty sophisticated technically too. Those close-ups following the feet on the board would be tricky today. In 1965 the camera team really had to know what they were doing.

AB — 2 April 2009

Google Noticeboard: Net-based communications for “have-nots”?

In a recent article on his Content Nation site, John Blossom of Shore Communications discussed the possibilities for the new Google Noticeboard application as an Internet and computing tool for the world’s 5 billion people who are too poor to have Internet access.

Blossom is a respected expert in the content industry, and his new book, Content Nation: Surviving and Thriving as Social Media Changes Our Work, Our Lives and Our Future, explores the future of society in light of social media.

In the recent article, “The Other Five Billion: Google Focuses on Truly Universal Publishing for Content Nation,” I learned of Blossom’s interest in the Hole in the Wall project, in which, Blossom writes:

… in the back alleys of New Delhi poor children with no previous exposure to computers were given access to the Web via a PC embedded in the wall of a building. Almost immediately they became what an adult would consider “computer literate” and started teaching one another how to publish and how to collaborate on content.

The Hole in the Wall has also has also attracted my attention for its lessons on human-computer interaction. For more on the Hole in the Wall, see my blog entry “The Hole in the Wall: Computing for India’s Impoverished.”

The Google Noticeboard application Blossom discusses allows people to use publicly-shared computers to send text or voice messages through public Noticeboards. The application is designed such that it can be used by people with no computer experience, or even people who are illiterate.

The following series of images gives an idea of the interaction design:

AB — 1 April 2009