Sochi is a déjà vu all over again

Count Henri de Baillet-Latour at the opening ceremony of the 1936 Winter Olympics

Count Henri de Baillet-Latour at the opening ceremony of the 1936 Winter Olympics (Source: Wikipedia)

Count Henri Baillet-Latour, chairman of the International Olympic Committee…

attacked energetically groups in the United States that have opposed American participation in the Berlin games. He asserted that the agitation against participation was exclusively a political campaign, citing as evidence the fact that none of the national Olympic committees now opposed having the games in Berlin.

He declared that the non-participation movement was being well financed and was “based on lies,” representing nothing more than a trump card in the hand of certain interested groups that have nothing to do with sport.

This excerpt is taken from a from a 1935 New York Times article (behind a freaking paywall).

Does it sound familiar?

Here is what the current IOC chairman, Thomas Bach, has to say:

We are grateful to those who respect the fact that sport can only contribute to development and peace if it is not used as a stage for political dissent, or for trying to score points in internal or external political contests. To other political leaders we say: ‘please understand what our responsibilities are, and what your responsibilities are. Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful, direct political dialogue and not on the backs of the athletes’.

Source www.7msport.com

Watch brands and bloggers, a few tips to make this relationship work

I wanted to name this post “Luxury brands and bloggers, a few tips to make this relationship work”, because what I’m going to cover here should work for any luxury brand, but since I have more experience with dealing with watch brands, I opted for this title.

It’s been already four years that I’ve started WatchPaper, a blog about watches. I have to admit, there was a few years that I haven’t touched it as I was too busy with other projects, but now I’m back in action with big plans for this website.

Since 2009, I noticed many changes in the luxury industry: if in those days you wouldn’t see too many brands having a Twitter account, not to say a Facebook page, now, watch brands  realized the importance of social media and most of them are using it (with a few exceptions, either because they live under a rock or don’t care because their business is booming anyways). The really smart ones are on YouTube, Tumbler and Pinterest too. Yes, Pinterest! It’s the perfect social media platform for luxury.

With a good chunk of their sales being made in China, you might even find a few brands using Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. Hěn hǎo!

Just a couple of years ago, most of the watch brand websites were running on Flash, somehow they thought that we’re still in 2001 and people have patience to wait for a splash screen to load and we’re curious to find out more about the music the CMO likes. Luckily for us and for them too, most of the websites today use modern technologies and those that are really on the cutting edge made their website play nicely with mobile devices too. We can still see, here and there Flash websites, but they are the exception and not the norm.

Just as with social media, brands realized that blogging is a great tool to reach out to potential customers, nurture a brand image and create new relationships. There are a few blogs out there that are run by the brands themselves and the number of blogs written by hobbyists and collectors has significantly increased too.

If you’re the CMO or any other person in charge with PR, here are a few things I would like you to keep in mind:

Respect my time

You are in the business of measuring time, you know better than anyone else the value of time.

I’m not a journalist payed by a big publication, I have a full time job and other obligations that keep me busy. If I decide for whatever reason to write about you on my blog, please don’t make y life more difficult. I don’t have the time and patience, there are 600 other brands I can write about.

Access to news and media

When I say make my life difficult, I mean give me access to your materials in a streamlined fashion, so that by the time I gather all the stuff I need for a post, I won’t feel like Asterix who entered “The Place”.

I’m fine with registering for newsletters and accessing press rooms, because I want to be up to date with your latest novelties, but once you have my information and especially once you see where I’m coming from don’t ask me to contact your PR representative directly to get the images I need.

That’s a big NO!

Your PR officer has two options: to send me all the images, which is a huge file and too much hassle to download and unzip, or she will send me a few images that she considers relevant, but that are not exactly what I was looking for and again very much time consuming.

Your PR officer has other more important roles and duties than sending me images from your media library. They should be there as point of reliable information, answering specific questions that are not covered by a press release.

If you want to alienate bloggers, be frank about it and tell me to buzz off, like the brand we all know is doing it. I’m fine with it, it’s their choice to be reclusive and MAYBE I will try other channels to write about them.

Media libraries I like

There are a few brands that do it in a really great way and it’s a pleasure to brows their press corner. News are in chronological order, the images have thumbnails with captions and they are also optimized for the Web.

A small parentheses: I’m a blogger with a very short attention span, if your media library consist of only high resolution CMYK TIFFs, 50 MB each, I won’t be happy.

It is also really nice when I can download images one by one, or select several and download as a single file, it gives me more control over my bandwidth and my time.

Start using metadata

Here is a tip that is worth sending me a limited edition watch. It’s unbelievable how metadata is so underestimated by companies! Luxury watch brands are not the only ones to ignore this gem of technology, but it’s time for you to start using metadata.

When you’re adding images to your media library, you can include a wealth of information with the JPG files, such as the name of the watch, the reference number, the name of the photographer, who is the copyright holder, etc. It would make it so much more easy to build really smart websites that would read this information and link them together in a meaningful way.

I’m not talking here about corporate open data and linked open data. That’s for another post, maybe in a few years when the industry will be ready to talk about these things.

Keep an archive

I would love to see brands taking over the control of their history. It’s not normal that in a business where heritage and history is so important, that when it comes to the Internet, it is presented with only a couple of paragraphs and a few black and white pictures.

Your history is more than that. Just as museums around the world, you should start looking at your archives and start digitizing everything: sketches, photos, patents, diplomas, etc. This digital archive should be available online for us bloggers, journalists, writers.

Symbiosis

This list could go longer, but there is one thing I would like to emphasize here: you, the brand and me, the blogger, we’re in symbiosis. I need you to feed me with brute materials for my stories and you need me, because blogs are the cornerstone of social media.

I want you, the watch industry, to be known, to be respected and prosper! The craft of watch making is part of our human cultural heritage and in a world of smart watches and other digital gizmos, it’s important to keep this tradition alive. Please help me help you!

A new logo for WatchPaper

Logo of WatchPaper

I’m working on revamping WatchPaper, my long neglected blog about luxury watches. Part of the work is to polish the logo and get it up to date with the latest norms in branding.

Since I own the .com domain name, there was no need to keep it in the logo, so that was the first thing I dropped. I was also uncomfortable with the symbol that initially I created as a reference to an RSS symbol turned vertically, to elude to the 10 minutes past 10 position of watches, but it looked more like a WiFi sign, so that too I had to change.

Finally I changed the camelcase for lowercase and two colors.

Next thing on my list is to change the design of the website. It’s quite dated and I should make it responsive, so that it looks good on mobile devices too.

A mobile app logo

Going trough some old files, I found this logo that I did a couple of years ago for a mobile app.

The main idea behind the app was to find an environmentally friendly solution for urban commuting by sharing taxis rides with others.

Tapxi logo

The task of designing the logo was easier than usually, since I came up with the name too and I was involved in the planning phase too. The app never made it to the App Store, but I still had a lot of fun working on the logo.

Why I prefer Google to DuckDuckGo

Google is an important part of the Internet and there are many people that are not happy about it. They are concerned about their privacy, about the fact that there is way too much power centralized in the hands of a corporation. Although Google was founded on the principle of “don’t be evil”, it became an easy target for sceptics.

One of the “evils” that Google is blamed with by many is its algorithm used for the search results. Google will serve up different result to the same query for different people, based on data Google might have about them.

You can read more about this on a blog post by Gabriel Weinberg, founder of DuckDuckGo, a competitor of Google. If you just want to get to the essence of his message, here is a promotional video that attacks Google’s result filtering practice:

I gave DuckDuckGo a spin more than once, and often the results were not that helpful. I remember when hurricane Sandy was approaching Canada, after days of havoc in the US, the top DuckDuckGo results to the query “Sandy” had nothing to do with the hurricane. The same query on Google gave me a legion of useful information, including to official websites of emergency preparedness.

Yesterday, when I learned about the bombings in Boston, like everyone else, I was curios to find out more what happened. My first destination was Twitter, than Google and for the sake of being better informed, I searched DuckDuckGo too.

Here were the results I got from Google, on April 15 at 4:50 PM, for searching for “boston marathon”:

Google search result for boston marathon

Here are the results from DuckDuckGo, at the same time, for the same query:

DuckDuckGo search result

As we can see on the screenshot of the Google results page, the first thing we see is the date of the Boston Marathon, which comes from the Knowledge Graph, a semantic result enhancement introduced last year. It is followed immediately by headlines from CNN, NBC and CBC about the explosions. As this was a developing story, after the news headlines, there were the regular search results, starting with the official website of the Boston Marathon.

On DuckDuckGo, it was business as usual, with the results, that I have to admit are neutral and unfiltered, but given the moment, with very little value. I also got a banner add on the top, inviting me to save up to 70% on hotels near the Boston Marathon.

I repeated the same experiment this morning, this time with the query “boston explosion”. Here is Google:

Google search result for boston explosion

Here is DuckDuckGo:

DuckDuckGo search results

As we can see the Google results are dominated by news about the explosions from the Huffington Post, RTE, NYT, CBC, BBC, etc.

DuckDuckGo, gave news results from more or less the same sources, the only difference is that here, the stories are a bit dated. The “Wanna Win MegaMillion” banner is there to prove that DuckDuckGo too, is just another company that wants to make profit.

In conclusion

Filter bubbles are a reality; it’s not just Google using them, but many other major online platforms that deal with a huge amount of data. The main reason filter bubbles were introduced was to keep people interested in the content of the platform, in a fierce battle for attention.

With a lot of data, you also get a lot of noise and the answer to a question might change, depending of who is asking it, when and where.

The danger with filter bubbles is that you fall into stereotypes. A few weeks ago I wrote about this online art project that is exploring filter bubbles across the world. It’s important to be aware of their existence in order to take results with a grain of salt and to constantly look for new channels of information.

Personally, I found the unfiltered results of DuckDuckGo unhelpful and outdated. On another note, as a profit seeking entity, they should have had the decency, not to show ads next to results dealing with this tragedy, at least for a few days.

ODX13 was a fantastic open data conference

Last Saturday, I attended the Open Data Exchange 2013 mini-conference, organized by Naomi Kincler and Ted Strauss. After the International Open Data Day, in February, where I was a volunteer, this was my second conference on open data and it was great to see again many familiar faces.

While the Sauvé House proved to be a bit tight for us, the panel format of the presentations was an excellent choice.

In the past, I participated at many tech conferences where a person would talk for an hour, than another one for another hour and so on. Unless they were outstanding public speakers, the presentations become really fast boring and often frustrating to the point that I would just leave early.

This time I stayed till the last minute and a bit after.

Watching a panel was really enjoyable, we had four people that had 5 minutes to talk and than the questions came. It was a great opportunity to get different views on a subjects, not just from the panel but from the audience too.

The cherry on the top of the cake came at the end of the conference, where more than 10 lightning talks made sure we go home filled with ideas and enthusiasm.

While hackatons are great events to get together people with different backgrounds, interested in open data, they are all organized around data sets, applications and other techie stuff that might scare away certain people. At ODX13, even those that had no programming or data analyst background, could fully enjoy and benefit from the event.

I’m sure, bringing together this many outstanding speakers, some of whom came from distant cities, was not an easy task for the organizers. Thanks a lot for this fantastic Saturday!

A website and a logo for Pearl Dental Clinic

Screenshots of the website

The Responsive theme is adapting to different screen sizes.

I just launched the website I designed for Pearl Dental Clinic.

The website is powered by WordPress and the theme is based on Responsive Theme, that makes the website adapt to different screen sizes.

The website is rich in information about dentistry and I really hope it’ll get many visitors and will bring new clients to the clinic.

If you’re looking for an excellent dentist with lot of patience and kindness, int he West-Island of Montreal, than you should go to dr. Shafiei.

Image Atlas, the art of filter bubble

Search results for Canada in the Image Atlas

Search results for Canada in the Image Atlas.

Image Atlas is an art project created by New York artist Teryn Simon and the late Aaron Schwartz. Here is a paragraph from the About page:

Image Atlas investigates cultural differences and similarities by indexing top image results for given search terms across local engines throughout the world. Visitors can refine or expand their comparisons from the 57 countries currently available, and sort by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or alphabetical order.

I searched for Canada, and it’s quite interesting to see how it is perceived around the world. Of course, the Toronto skyline and the Rocky Mountains are everywhere, and God knows that Canada is way more than that. It’s fascinating to find a mosque in Egypt or an Indian couple, a 20 dollar bill and a cricket picture in India as a top result.

Please let me know if you try a term and what results did you got.

A few thoughts about the Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants text by Marc Prensky

Marc Prensky wrote this text in 2001, in which he coins two important terms for the study of technology, the digital natives and the digital immigrants. While it’s not clearly defined who are exactly the digital natives, I can deduct from the text, that it’s a generation born in the eighties, also known under the name of Generation Y:

What should we call these “new” students of today? Some refer to them as the N-[for Net]-gen or D-[for digital]-gen. But the most useful designation I have found for them is Digital Natives. Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.

So what does that make the rest of us? Those of us who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in our lives, become fascinated by and adopted many or most aspects of the new technology are, and always will be compared to them, Digital
Immigrants.

I find it interesting that Marc Prensky talks mostly about the difficulties adapting to these new realities in education. It’s perfectly understandable, at the time this text was written, the digital natives were in school and teachers, the digital immigrants, had to face new challenges. Even after a decade, these challenges are still haunting education, as you could see in one of my previous posts, but in the same time there are more and more teachers that are either digital natives themselves, or well adapted digital immigrants and they find ways to grab the attention of their students.

While I understand the need of sociologists to put up limits and define generations according to their date of birth, in this case we do have to take in account the socio-economic background of a person. Digital divide, resulted from factors such as income and geographic location should play a role in labeling someone as a digital native or an immigrant.

While I was born in the seventies, I don’t really fall into the digital native category, but even if I would been born in the eighties, I would still lie if I would call myself a digital native. In Eastern Europe technology was less developed and less accessible as in the developed countries and this sort of situations can be found even today in many corners of the world.

Anther description of a digital native presented in this paper that bothers me can be found in this passage:

As Digital Immigrants learn – like all immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their “accent,” that is, their foot in the past. The “digital immigrant accent” can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather than first, or in reading the manual for a program rather than assuming that the program itself will teach us to use it. Today‟s older folk were “socialized” differently from their kids, and are now in the process of learning a new language. And a language learned later in life, scientists tell us, goes into a different part of the brain.

There are hundreds of examples of the digital immigrant accent. They include printing out your email (or having your secretary print it out for you – an even “thicker” accent); needing to print out a document written on the computer in order to edit it (rather than just editing on the screen); and bringing people physically into your office to see an interesting web site (rather than just sending them the URL). I‟m sure you can think of one or two examples of your own without much effort. My own favorite example is the “Did you get my email?” phone call. Those of us who are Digital Immigrants can, and should, laugh at ourselves and our “accent.”

While the author acknowledges that some digital immigrants are well adapted, he gives me the impression that the digital natives would be digitally more literate than their older peers. Digital literacy does not depend only on the date of birth of a person, or on their childhood being surrounded by gadgets, but rather a mindset, a digital thirst that can drive a person to learn new things and adapt to new ways.

One of my friends grew up in a war zone, in a remote village, his home did not had electricity until he was 15. Today, he lives in Montreal and he’s a computer science engineer, the typical geek that loves gadgets and knows how integrate them in his life. Calling him a well integrated digital immigrant would underrate his skills and way of life. He’s for me the perfect example of a person that skipped the whole digital nurture of a native.

It’s important to make this nuance, because the oposite can happen too, a kid who grows up in a digitally loaded environment, not to perform well as a digital native as he would lack the thirst for digital literacy.

12 years after this article, I think we’re in a better position to understand this phenomenon and there are more and more signs of the direction the working field is taking. The more we learn about this, the less of guess work becomes drafting an educational curriculum.

A logo and a website for an African foundation

Logo of FONSAD

I’m really proud that I was offered the opportunity to design the logo af a new Nigerien foundation. FONSAD, or it’s longer name, the Salou Djibo Foundation is founded by Lieutenant General Salou Djibo, known for his involvement in the 2010 Nigerien coup d’état. He deposed the former President Mamadou Tandja, who tried to hang on to power unlawfully. You can read more about it here.

In less than a year, parliamentary and presidential elections were held, after which General Djibo handed over the power to the winner of the election, former opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou.

It was my commission by an NGO to design a logo. It was the first time that I designed anything for an African client. 

In the local culture, the dried gourd shells are used to store water and since water will be in the center of the development projects financed by the foundation, we decided to make it the logo of the foundation. The symbol of gourd is even more meaningful for Nigerien people, since it is also used in proverbs and expressions to describe plenty and abundance. The color blue also reinforces the reference to water, while also denote hope.

For the website, we went with Drupal, as it can cover all the expectations of the members of the foundation.

Now that the website is up and running, I feel good. Not just that mission accomplished kind of feel good, but that good karma feel good, as I know that I had contributed to make the world a better place, especially now, with all the turmoil happening just next door to Niger.

If I made you curios, had over to www.fonsad.org (the website is in French) and why not, make a donation. It’ll be for a good cause.

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