BREGUET Marie-Antoinette Grande Complication pocket-watch ~ N°1160

The hidden benefits of luxury

BREGUET Marie-Antoinette Grande Complication pocket-watch ~ N°1160

BREGUET Marie-Antoinette Grande Complication pocket-watch ~ N°1160 (© WatchPaper.com)

I’m fascinated by fine watches, it doesn’t matter if they are powered be mechanical or automatic movement. My fascination stops at an outside contemplation of these timepieces, since I can’t afford most of them. Something I can live with, after all, how many of us can afford a Picasso, but we wouldn’t mind stopping in front of a painting hanged in a museum to admire it.

As a graphic/web designer/photographer, I was always attracted to mediums where creativity and technology would meet. Watchmaking is one of these mediums,  a craft that molds together knowledge of mechanics with aesthetics.

Just look at this Breguet pocket watch, with more than 800 components, priceless… Believe me, you can’t afford it.

There is this question that bugs since quite some time, why luxury is good for people in general? Are there benefits to the luxury industry, that are less talked about?

Social Media answering

I decided to go and ask around using Social Media. I asked on Twitter, Quora, LinkedIn and on LuxurySociety.com, what are the benefits of luxury for people in general? I was curios to investigate how luxury has benefited everyone. I was not interested in personal benefits, like driving a super car would give a person more prestige, and I was not interested neither in the record earnings of LVMH, or Richemont.

Twitter is not good for asking questions that need a complex answer, while on Quora, to my surprise, there was nobody who would give an answer.

On LinedIn, Daren Jones wrote:

Mainstream Luxury by definition cannot benefit everyone, it is exclusive not democratic.

It also works only in relation to the ordinary

Its primary asset of luxury (ignoring any utility or extra-function which luxury rarely offers over conventional solutions) beyond the temporary experiential nature of any sensual pleasure it delivers, is its ability to allow the owner to identify themselves with something that elevates their perceived social status and individual value in the minds of others. Therefore it is relativistic in nature and cannot exist alone as such, and therefore has little lasting intrinsic benefit beyond egoism.

It also requires a collective Societal belief in the ability to create and raise individual status and value (in relation to others) through attachment and association to objects and organisations. It is fair to call this a collective delusion that benefits very few.

It does not answers my question, I post it here, just to show how difficult it is, to think about luxury beyond individual self gratification.

On LuxurySociety, I got a very interesting answer from Benjamin Berghaus, a true eye opener for me:

From my point of view, there is much potential for social / community gain in the general concept of luxury production while I would doubt that individual examples for social activities today are carried out in completely unselfish, altruistic manner leaving public relations and marketing effects out of sight – for good economic reasons. Even though I’d be very happy to learn otherwise!

First and foremost, virtually all luxury brands with significant heritage developed out of individual, very high quality workshops employing craftsmen with considerable skills. Developing these skills with their workforce was the central competitive advantage of these producers allowing many to become suppliers to noblesse and beyond but also empowering their workforce, raising standards. For most product groups with most producers, this will not be feasible today anymore – of course, that always depends on the definition of the dimensions of the luxury market.

Second and third, from a socio-economical standpoint, luxury helped to foster two great advances in tandem (at least in the western world): democratization of societies and fueling the economic progress brought along by the industrialization. The democratization came to pass as luxury goods enabled (sufficiently rich) customers of lower standing to emulate the symbols of higher classes – the general model of the aspirational customer today. This emulation tended to be so popular that it did not only help society to overcome rigid class barriers but also, en passant, to fuel (by the standards of the time) mass production of high quality products that were of a certain value.

So you see that there are many more advantages that luxury consumptions brought to humankind (even though all of these points are somewhat contended, always depending your interpretation of history). Today, luxury production still has great potential for “doing good”. As Arnault said: Only in luxury, there are truly luxurious margins. With the stock market fights between the major players of the market within the past years and even today, it is quite safe to say that the financial vantage point of the managers are still prevalent. But: The changed market atmosphere, especially in Europe, might lead to new demand of “considerate consumption” that will lead to a more socially conscious identity as key to successful luxury brands.

My answer

I would add two things to Benjamins observation: innovation, and the safeguard of traditions.

Often innovation comes at a premium price, but with time and the advancement of technology it could benefit larger segments of society. For example, think of the technology that goes into electric cars. You still need to cash out quite a lot more for an electric car. The Nissan Leaf is a luxury Versa, but with time its technology will become mainstream and will benefit not just those that drive such a car, but everyone, because of less pollution.

When it comes to tradition, I’m thinking of crafts, that in the post-industrial economy are surviving because there are still people who are willing to pay extra for goods that are hand made, with tools and techniques unchanged. Protecting these crafts, means respecting our cultural heritage and avoiding the fall in oblivion of priceless knowledge.

Art?

I wonder can we put art in the same basket with luxury? In some cases, I think we certainly can. Paintings, buildings, operas and concertos were created at the order of affluent people. In order for art to strive, it needs the comfort of patronage, and thus becomes luxury, but in the same time, it benefits large dimensions of society.

Consequences of Usage Based Billing of the Internet

The CRTC has decided that it’s OK for Internet Service Providers (ISP) to bill their customers, depending on how much Internet they use. Here is the summary of Telecom Decision CRTC 2011-44:

In this decision, the Commission determines that usage-based billing rates for an incumbent telephone carrier’s wholesale residential Gateway Access Services or equivalent services, and for an incumbent cable carrier’s third-party Internet access services, are to be established at a discount of 15 percent from the carrier’s comparable usage-based billing rates for its retail Internet services.

For you and me, the regular Internet user, it means that there will be a certain limit imposed on how much we can download or upload. If we exceed that, we’ll be charged somewhere between 2$ and 5$/GB. My ISP is Bell Canada and my contract with them stipulates that, I can download 60GB of data. So far, I did not came close to that limit, so why should I worry?

I should worry, because the decision does not defines, what should be the minimum limit, meaning that next year Bell can tell me, the limit now is 10GB, take it or leave it.

It can also affect the price of long distance telephony, because these days most of it happens online trough VoIP. I never really understood Bell charging so much for long distance, when they could provide VoIP easily, but now they seem to keep going in the opposite direction, instead of introducing a service priced realistically, they are busy destroying their competition.

With all these rules, forget Netflix and other products that might appear in the near future. The impact of this decision goes beyond entertainment, it can affect research and even the economy of Canada in general (see Many to suffer from usage-based billing).

The good news is that this time online petitioning seems to be working. As of today 357.700 have signed the Stop the Meter petition and the politicians start to react. If you did not signed it yet, I encourage you to do it.

Not just the Liberals and the NDP, but according to the latest news even the Government is contemplating to overturn the CRTC decision.

I’m tired of hearing that we have to pay way more for cell phones and have slower Internet because of the size of the country. Yes, Canada is the second largest country in the world, but the telecommunication network is far from covering every corner of Canada. It’s a lame excuse, since inhabited areas are not that large and are mostly concentrated in the South, near the border with the US.

This afternoon, il capo of CRTC  will face the Commons committee, let’s hope reason will triumph over greed.

Square Victoria, painting by Adam Sofineti

Square Victoria

Square Victoria, painting by Adam Sofineti

Square Victoria, acrylic on canvas, 30"x40"

When we landed at Dorval at around 6 PM, it was already dark and from airport we headed to my cousin’s place in DDO. Thinking back, as we were drown on the 20 and than on Sources Boulevard, it was no big deal of a cityscape, but I felt a great deal of happiness and I was overwhelmed with a sentiment of accomplishment:

“We did it! We’re now in Canada!”

All the restaurants, car dealers and gas stations looked magnificent in the night.

The next day we wondered out to discover our new neighborhood, in daylight it was even more impressive, with its wide roads and Pharmaprix that had so many hidden treasures. As fearless explorers, we even got as far as the mall, by foot…

It was probably on our third day in Canada, that we decided to go downtown to get our social insurance number and medicare cards. What a ride! We had to take the 208 bus, than the 215 till its terminus and from there to take the metro. So many people, so many different faces, so many different languages, all being so cool, knowing how things work.

“Oh, you have to pull that wire, to get off at the next stop!”

It must be the terminus, everyone is getting off. We just follow them, most of them will take the metro.

We’re in the metro, checking out the map on the wall, we don’t need to change lines, Square Victoria is our stop. More people, more faces, more languages.

Square Victoria

Which exit should we take? Should we go left or right? We go right, till the end of the passage, we get trough the door and… We almost felt on our back as we looked up at the buildings! This is how skyscrapers look in real!

Getting out of the metro at Square Victoria, in February 2003, is a memory I will never forget. I tried to express through this painting the emotions I felt that moment. It was a cold day and there was quite a lot of snow, but this is painting and not a photography of that day.

The New Yahoo! Mail Beta

What’s New in Yahoo! Mail beta

The New Yahoo! Mail Beta

The first thing you see after logging in

Yahoo! is not among my favorite brands online, although I do use it a lot for catching up on international news. I saw on the Yahoo! Mail blog that they are working on a new version and there is a beta out there for the larger public to mess with. You can imagine I could not resist to the temptation to give it a spin. Here are a few impressions:

  • The design is bold, in line with the design I saw earlier on the Yahoo! News Canada: dark blue header, a search box that stands out and large tabs that makes navigation easy. I’m not a big fan of Yahoo! News Canada, it always gives me the impression that in terms of content, it’s  more like a watered down version of its international counterpart.
  • Once I logged in, to my great disappointment, I was still taken to a What’s New section, see the screenshot above. There is a preview of my Inbox, a Top News section, a large (300x250px) ad selling me a gadget to control snoring and a Trending Now block. Apart from the preview of the inbox, all the others are wasting my time. If I log in to my email, I’m expecting to read my emails and not to see the latest news and to find out that Miley Cyrus is trending on Yahoo. The advertisement I can forgive, since that’s the one that pays for my email and let me give here a small tip to Yahoo, I don’t have a snoring problem and I’m not looking to loose weight neither.
  • I do like that there is an inbox tab and more especially a contacts tab, with the current official version of Yahoo Mail, it took me months to get used to finding the My contacts link.
  • Once you’re inside, they’ve changed the way your online contacts will show and the icons are redesigned.
  • The black buttons to write a new message and other actions related to messages selected, I find them too harsh.
  • The header of the table that shows the list of messages looks like another email and it’s confusing.
  • The flagged messages are somehow better now, because the icon is more visible, but it’s still pushed to the right as the last column and I find that it doesn’t stand out. I flag my messages when I want to remember something, and I want them to stand out next time I log in. I would suggest Yahoo, that apart from having that orange triangle hidden in the extreme right, make the background of that flagged row a different color, maybe a light orange, or a light blue to be less harsh.
  • For reading and writing emails, the interface is cleaner, but the black buttons on the top are still ugly…

These are just a few impressions I jotted down, without going into details. It’s still in beta and I can see they put into it a lot of effort to make it more up to date, but someone up there at Yahoo loves clutter and loves noise. The title of this post should be a hint to Yahoo to get rid of the What’s New tab. I’m not sure that clutter and noise is the best differentiating factor for their brand. There is so much talking about the fading importance of emails, that I don’t think they can afford to screw this up.

Do you use Yahoo! Mail? What do you love about it and what would you change?

AdamSofineti.com on Facebook

Why an AdamSofineti.com Facebook page?

AdamSofineti.com on Facebook

I usually see people creating official Facebook pages, when they reach the limit of friends they can have (5000 on a personal account). It makes sense, the average FB user will never get to that number and I’m not expecting in the near future neither to reach that limit. Why have than a separate Facebook page for this website?

The main reason I did it, is the widget you can see in the left hand, under the Categories section. On my personal account the privacy settings are set in a way to let only my friends have access to my info. This is because I want to keep my Facebook account open only to my friends, in most of the cases people I know personally and in some cases people I would love to meet in person. Adding a “Like” widget would have meant that I have to change my privacy settings and go public, something I refuse to do.

The other option was to create an AdamSofineti.com Facebook page that is public. I changed the syndication settings in my NetworkedBlogs account to feed my blog post from now on to the AdamSofineti.com FB page, so that I won’t spam anyone with my posts showing up twice on their wall.

Quora screen capture

My first impressions about Quora

Quora screen capture
Here is Quora, a new kid on the block, whose name keeps popping up in quite prestigious blogs (see a few recommended articles bellow), so I’ve decided to give it a try.

What is Quora

Quora is another Q&A website, a bit like Yahoo Answers, but what I found unique about it, was the quality of the people active on it. Basically there are a bunch of topics and you can ask a question, other users will give answers and again others will vote on those answers. The answers can grow into discussions, giving you access to unexpected insights.

First impressions

The community has that early Twitter feeling to it, bunch of tech pioneers and many of the big gorillas of the tech world are quite active on it.

Unlike Twitter it is very fast, at least for me. I was so impressed that I’ve even found a question on this topic with some interesting details in the answer, but quite frankly by not being a developer some stuff are beyond my understanding.

The design is friendly and while it’s limited in features, what’s there works like a charm, overall I had that feeling that this website will be a place I will come back more than once.

Asking questions

My enthusiasm was watered down quite early, when I tried to ask a question about the way seniors are using Facebook. I kept getting a pop-up with this message:

Learn About Quora Questions Before Adding Yours
Use proper spelling, grammar and punctuation
Quality is important on Quora. Each question should be a complete sentence, with correct spelling, grammar and formatting. It should begin with a capital letter and end with a question mark. Don’t capitalize arbitrary words. If you want to emphasize a particular word or phrase use italics, not ALLCAPS. Avoid profanity.

Pick the question that meets Quora guidelines:
How to make a cheese omelette?
What’s the Best Way to make a Cheese Omelette?
How can I make a good cheese omelette?
for breakfast, how can i make a kickass cheese omelette

This pop-up would keep coming back and I could not post my question, no matter how I would rewrite it. Here is my question rewrote in four different ways:

I would like to know more about the way people aged 65 and up are using Facebook?
What are the most popular features of Facebook with people aged 65 and up?
Are you 65 and up? What do you like about Facebook?
What are the most popular features among seniors using Facebook?

Are my questions really that bad? Is Quora stricter than that English teacher in your worst nightmare? In my opinion the question I tried to ask met their guidelines, it was also a question for what I have a hard time finding answers on Google. I’ve tried contacting Quora trough several channels to ask them for help, but so far I did no get an answer for them. Maybe you can tell me what I did wrong.

Conclusion

I hope with their new found popularity, they will get more feedbacks and they’ll improve the things that need more work. I also hope they will have an iPhone app out soon, because their mobile website is not that great. It’s a website and a community worth checking out!

Recommended articles about Quora

How Quora could get interesting by Chris Brogan
Frequently Asked Questions About Quora on TechCrunch
The Question Of Quora by Mitch Joel

The noxiousness of technology

I stumbled upon an interview with Douglas Rushkoff, a media thinker, who also writes about contemporary Judaism. Here is an excerpt that I find interesting:

Is increased reliance on new technology coming at the cost of spirituality?

Well, the rabbis promoting the oral tradition asked this about the written law, right? New mediating technologies always cost us our intimacy and direct social contact. The less Judaism is about being in a room or under a tent together, the less real it becomes. It’s not that technology costs us spirituality. It’s that the misuse of technology compromises the spiritual components of real life.

This question pops-up everyday and there is always someone to forecast the end of civilization because of the new technologies. Nothing new under the Sun, as Rushkoff points it out, writing has diminished the importance of oral tradition. Since the early forms of writing, someone could sit down and read on his own, get informed, without the need of another human presence. Information could be transfered more easily and more accurately. With the appearance of the printing press, information became cheaper and more accessible. Renaissance and Reformation are all direct results of this technological invention.

Later comes the telegraph, the telephone, Radio, TV, etc. and now we get to use the Internet under its many forms. Social media is among the preferred targets of the naysayers, this week it was the turn of Montreal journalist Pierre Foglia with Expliquez-moi ce rien to express his dislike of Twitter. He complains about the low value of messages that float around the twittersphere, naming the tweets of a humorist, an MP and francophone singer. I won’t try to reply to him here, it was already very well done by the grand dame of Quebec social media, Michelle Blanc on her blog.

My first reaction was, why on Earth someone thinks it’s cool not to get what social media is all about. Than on a second thought, especially after reading some of the comments on Michelle Blanc response, I came to the conclusion that it’s maybe a question of generations. Maybe older people miss those social interactions that were the norm at the time when they were young and now maybe because of the technology, or maybe because of their age, they become more isolated. This gave me the idea of thinking of tools specially built for seniors to initiate them in the usage of social media. There are many seniors who are already present and active on Facebook or Twitter, but for the rest a properly built tutorial would be helpful.

How should this tutorial be built? Should it be a PowerPoit, a PDF or a YouTube video?

St. Patrick’s Day Parade – stop motion animation

Montreal’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is the oldest in North America and maybe the coolest. I love this event, not just for its cheerful atmosphere, but it also brings a moment of green in our life and it reminds us that the Winter won’t last forever.

Étude de cas EconomicNews.ca

EconomicNews.ca a été le portal des nouvelles macro-économiques de l’agence de presse CEP News. Le site a été mis en ligne au début de l’année 2007 et il a fonctionné jusqu’au mois de mai 2009. Il avait deux sections : CEP News Online, avec des articles et des informations utiles sur l’économie, accessible gratuitement et CEP News Pro, avec du contenu enrichi pour les abonnées.

Au début


Au moment de mon arrivée au CEP News en août 2007, le site Web nécessitait des changements majeurs pour organiser et présenter mieux la richesse informationnelle du contenu.

Le site ne présentait pas une hiérarchie nette de l’information. Ainsi, des articles de fond étaient cachés par des nouvelles d’intérêt secondaire.

Le site était plutôt difficile à naviguer à cause de son menu mal organisé; les articles n’avaient pas des illustrations et cela donnait, à la première vue, une impression générale fastidieuse.

De plus, l’aspect de l’optimisation pour les moteurs des recherche (SEO) avait été complètement négligé.

La marque

Compte tenue du fait que la pierre angulaire de n’importe quel projet en communication est la définition de l’identité corporative et la création d’une stratégie de marketing ancrée dans une image de marque hors de commun, mon but initial a été de créer un nouveau logo et de rédiger un guide des normes graphiques.

Le logo devrait suggérer : The Canadian source of global economic news
Logo CEP News

Ultérieurement, ce logo a été remplacé à la fin du 2008 par une nouvelle version afin de représenter mieux l’aspect global de nos nouvelles.
Logo CEP News

EconomicNews.ca Version 2.0


La mise en page que j’ai proposée visait à corriger les problèmes de l’ancienne version du site. Les couleurs, la proportion des différents éléments, l’organisations des informations ont été changés pour faciliter la navigation des visiteurs. Trouver l’information pertinante dans le plus bref delai est cruciale dans la monde du finance. Ayant cette raison en tête, j’ai redessiné le site.

Pour cette version redessinée, l’équipe avec laquelle j’ai travaillé a utilisé pleinement des techniques Web 2.0, d’un côté, pour organiser mieux l’information et créer des liens entre les différentes sections du site, et d’un autre côté, pour créer l’image d’un site nouveau, moderne et branché.

J’ai créé une base de données avec plus que 500 illustrations, qui a fait la joie des nos rédacteurs et des nos lecteurs.

Le nouveau site a également permis à notre équipe de vente de proposer aux clientes des solutions de publicité en ligne diversifiée et flexible.

Conclusions


À mon arrivée, EconomicNews.ca avait presque 300 visiteurs uniques par jour. Après le lancement de la version 2.0, le nombre de visiteurs a grimpé exponentiellement. Dans les derniers jours du site, EconomicNews.ca recevait chaque jour entre 20 000 et 35 000 visiteurs uniques.

Avoir une mise en page structurant l’information d’une manière logique et une architecture de site facilitant la navigation est un des ingrédients principaux pour être compétitif sur le Web.

Le succès de EconomicNews.ca ne s’explique pas seulement par les changements d’ordre visuel. Une équipe des professionnels du marketing, de la programmation, de l’IT et du design (représenté par le soussigné) a contribué à ce succès. Le visiteur potentiel du site était au coeur des nos efforts. C’est pour lui que nous avons conçu la manière la plus adéquate de présenter le matériel fournis par les excellents journalistes du EconomicNews.ca.

D’ailleurs, l’amélioration d’un site Web est un processus continuel. Car, si d’une part, la technologie est dans un changement constant, de l’autre part, les utilisateurs changent eux aussi leurs habitudes. Bref, pour avoir des résultats optimaux et rester compétitif, un site Web doit suivre ces changements.

When will Google ebookstore open in Canada?

Books as we used to know them

In Romania we used to have many books at home. It was in our habit to buy books, read them put them on the shelf and maybe read them again, or maybe just let them collect dust. We had hundreds, maybe thousands of books, not just because both my wife and myself we were teachers, but owning many books was a cultural trait of Romanians.

I think it has to do with the political situation during the Communist time. When everything was censored, the TV was broadcasting only propaganda and there was little mobility, for intellectuals books were an excellent way to escape the absurdity of the moment.

Even after the fall of Communism, Romanians would buy a lot of books; finally you could read all the censored authors, books were still relatively affordable and libraries were a pain to use.

In 2002, when we finally got the Canadian visa, and started selling everything, it was painful to realize how little value our books carried. Nobody would buy them, the second hand bookstores were overwhelmed with books from people leaving the country. I sold hundreds of books literally for pennies, I donated to libraries that would accept them and the rest I still have it in boxes back in Romania, waiting that maybe one day something will happen with them.

This was a painful lesson for me and I told myself that I will never buy books again, unless I have to.

I’m sure other Canadians, not just immigrants, but anyone who had to move realized buying books is not a good idea. Anyone trying to sell their library, realized that  buying new books is a poor investment decision. These are universal truths, not just in Romania or in Canada, but everywhere and I would expect that book publishers and retailers to act accordingly.

Google Books

Google has ambitious plans regarding books. Sean Prpick from CBC, produced a very interesting Ideas show about Google Books called The Great Library 2.0 where he’s talking about the plan of Google to become the modern version of the Alexandrian library. There are some interesting points raised in the show about the possible consequences of letting a private company handle this task.  You can listen to it by subscribing to the Ideas Podcast.

Now that Google has managed to scan a huge number of books, it makes absolute sense to come up with a tool take make all that wealth accessible.

There are many manufacturers, retailers and publishers that came out with e-readers as an alternative to books. Amazon with it’s Kindle, Sony with it’s Sony Reader, or the Nook of Barnes  & Noble are all devices that claim to represent the future of books. I’m not that convinced, if readers are locked into using a device to read their books, we’re back to the same situation as with paper books. These days I would also expect of gadgets to do more than one thing, e-readers have limited functionalities, hence, they are over-priced, bulky and probably, rather sooner than later, will be collecting dust.

The Google ebookstore that was launched a couple of weeks ago is an amazing solution. It offers books for sale without locking you into a single device. Even more, it will help you synchronize among all your devices, so that you can start reading a book on the computer and finish it on your smartphone.

Here is a video demonstrating the features that come with it:

Google ebookstore in Canada

For now if you go on Google ebookstore from Canada, you won’t be able to buy books, only download the free ones. I hope the negotiation of Google with the publishers and retailers will advance faster and I hope that finally they’ll stop pissing against the wind. I would be curios to look at some statistics after this Christmas season about trends in buying paper books versus ebooks.

I’m also looking forward to the time when Canadians won’t have to pay 30% more for a book. Even as the Loonie is on parity with the Greenback, prices of books are still the same as when 1 CAD was .70 USD.

It will be also interesting to follow how Google will manage to give ebook owners true ownership over the content. There are other features that too that will revolutionize reading books. For now it’s not the technology that slows down the progress, it’s rather the mentality and the laws that are slow to adapt to new realities.

Should we be patient and wait while the lawyers get rich? Should we the readers put pressure on the publishers and the retailers to rethink their business model?