Monday, December 27, 2010

The Wall Street Bull Crocheted All Over: Public Art Without Permission

A photo from Marina Galperina's post on Animal New York.

I have mentioned previously how the guerilla crocheting movement and guerilla art in general as an example of a new sense of ownership of the streetscape and public spaces in our cities which is fueled by the ease with which we can now own and personalize online spaces.

A couple of days ago New Yorkers were surprised to find Wall Street's Charging Bull sculpture completely covered in a fitted crocheted outfit!

According to Animal New York, the work was created by Agata Olek who has taken the guerilla crocheting action to a whole other level! According to Animal New York, Olek did the work as an homage to the original installation of the Charging Bull by Arturo di Modica in 1989. The Charging Bull's wiki site tells the story of the sculptures guerilla art installation. di Modica installed the piece in front of the Stock Exchange without permission from the city as an ode to the "strength and power of the American people" after the stock market crash in '87. The police impounded the sculpture and there was a huge public outcry. It was then permanently relocated at it's current location.

While Olek's piece was only briefly in place and di Modica's work nearly didn't survive, The Charging Bull and it's new attire both are a testament to the power of creative ownership of public space and the potential of individuals who chose to gift their craft to their fellow citizens.

Illegal Graffiti: Microsoft Gets Busted

It's fascinating to see a major corporation resorting to guerilla advertising tactics to reach people. San Francisco's Prop G laws severely limit public advertising displays and this isn't the first time a big tech company got into hot water by subversively getting their message out in SF neighborhoods. In the "Not-So-Real-Estate" IDEO Pattern I wrote for IDEO, I referenced the example of an Intel advertisement that was affixed to an abandoned Disney Store on Market Street. It was considered illegal advertising and they got fined. You have to hand it to them for being creative!

Photo by Jessica Lum via MissionLoc@l

Now MissionLoc@l (big ups for neighborhood journalism!) reports that Microsoft admits to hiring an independent agent to chalk an ad on the Valencia Street's sidewalks. The problem is, they are not so easily removed, as you can see from the photos. Supposedly a similar incident involving someone who was hired by an agency that was hired by Microsoft ended in the individual getting arrested.

In an age where we are bombarded by messages from every direction, there is always a desire to limit the volume of messaging in public space. But increasingly, we expect to be able to communicate in urban space with a large audience instantly, just as we have grown accustomed to in the online space. It will be exciting to watch the battle play out.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Shared Space for the Amateur Scientist, Hacker, and Maker

A biofuel algae experiment at Genspace. Photo by: Dave Mosher/

We've looked at a lot of shared spaces for collaboration whether they are for the epicurean or the entrepreneur. Now we can add amateur scientist. Recently's David Mosher featured a piece about how a "DIY Biotech Hacker Space Opens in NYC." Genspace is the world's first government-compliant community biotech laboratory, "for a $100-per-month membership, anyone can use the space for whatever experiments they dream up."

With all of the complexities of navigating the regulations of urban real estate, you can imagine that setting up a biotech lab that is open to the public in one of the most densely populated cities would be a major headache, however, as Mosher points out, "biosafety officers approved it as compliant with the Center for Disease Control's biosafety level 1 regulations. That's a big difference between Genspace and DIY labs crammed into closets and garages across the country." Even the FBI had to get involved in this one.

Making sophisticated equipment available to everyone is a lofty goal and potentially an expensive one, so Genspace's founders got resourceful. "The small space is made of found parts. A sliding patio door, Plexiglas panels and old wire screens enclose the lab, and stainless-steel restaurant tables serve as lab benches," and they got most of the lab equipment donated.

After a little more digging I also ran across BioCurious, a similar venture that is starting up in the Bay Area. Check out the video on their successful Kickstarter fundraiser.

Co-working, incubator spaces don't have to be purely for the desk job crowd. There so many different varieties of these spaces/communities, that it is hard to keep up! I'm really excited about Noisebridge here in San Francisco. Tucked into a nondescript second floor space on Mission Street, Noisebridge describes themselves as, "an infrastructure provider for technical-creative projects, collaboratively run by its members. We are incorporated as a non-profit educational corporation for public benefit. We teach, we learn, we share." It's also exciting to see that TechShop is taking off here in San Francisco as a dedicated digital tool resource and workshop for makers of all kinds in the Bay Area.

As I described in the previous post regarding Chris Anderson's Wired Article on Crowd Accelerated Innovation, public space could learn a lot from the online video revolution that Anderson is championing. Public communal spaces like Genspace no doubt have a crowd who come together. And by bringing people together to share resources and knowledge in a common space they foster a visibility among members, light. And lastly there is no doubt, desire as this wouldn't happen without a lot of passion from hard-working community members and leadership.

Perhaps the continued development of these incubator/co-working spaces are the urban environment's "in real life" version of the online video explosion.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Crowd, Light, Desire: What Public Space Can Learn From the Online Video Revolution

In the January Wired magazine Chris Anderson (from TED not Wired) outlines how and why the online video revolution is creating a new form of crowd accelerated innovation, entitled "Film School." In it he explains that through video, by showing someone rather than telling someone, many communities of performers, makers, artists, scientists and amateurs of all kinds are creating a global innovation lab that is rapidly accelerating the advancement of the endeavor of each of these communities. It's fast. It's accessible. It's an easy way to learn from your peers. And it strongly encourages each member to up their game! He uses the example of Jon Chu's League of Extraordinary Dancers (LXD) as an example that culminated in a phenomenal performance at this year's Oscars.

While I the article isn't available online, Anderson explains much of this phenomenon in this TED Talk:

I am particular intrigued by the 3 drivers that Anderson sees as critical to online video, or any collaborative circle, enabling an acceleration of Innovation.
1) You need a Community. A Sizeable group with common interests.
2) You need Light. All of the members have to be visible to one another.
3) You need Desire. Passion of individuals fuels the pursuit of great things within the group.

So what could public space learn from these three drivers? In Chris' lecture he uses a public space where two break dancers are performing as the example of a small amount of "light." In the public square, you are only visible to those who are present in the space with you. But in online video... you get the idea. The fact is, public space does have one advantage. You simply can't beat face to face interaction.

Anderson points to many of the revolutions in collaborative circles of the past. And most of them involve a common location. Until the opensource movments and online video, it was all about location! He references the trade routes of Asia, the coffee houses of 17th century Europe, the 20th centuries urban slums, and all of these were about proximity.

With all of the plaza's limitations, could there be a hybrid of public space and online video as a platform for innovation where you have the advantage of being surrounded by your peers in person in your community and the ability to see the global innovation lab online at the same time? Anderson's own TED is a great example. They have created a tight knit community and a commons (the stage) for them to gather around. The genius of TED's recently popularity is the viral spread of the online videos and the ability to replicate TEDx in your own community anywhere in the world. Now if we could only combine the networking and sharing that happens at TED with the global presence of the online videos. Basically, shouldn't we have a place to watch all this together in our communities? It should be a public, communal space that is supported by our municipalities. It would replace television and radio as our govenrment mandated source of information. It would be a place for debate, and a place for advancement of ideas and abilities.

I imagine this in the form of a hybrid park/megaplex where people can perform/collaborate and watch video from around the globe. Movie houses are losing out to other media channels precisely because they lack the convenience of on-demand and the ability to be participatory in the way that online media is.

People do love the idea of the lone genius in the bedroom. But the bedroom is lonely!

On-Demand Life

Another colleague of mine, Sandy Speicher passed along this link about Self-Storage by Mail from Springwise. Thanks, Sandy!

As we have been discussing on-demand consumption of goods, services and experiences and the on-demand shared use of real estate, we now have an answer to all of the stuff we already possess and don't always need in our presence. Enter who allow you to send them all of your excess possessions which they will store in their warehouse until you need them mailed back to you.

Images from the homepage.

Taken to the extreme, we could imagine a future where our lives are completely on-demand and on any given day we have only what is immediately necessary and efficient before us. Combined with a shared consumption of on-demand automobiles, tools, real estate, along with an ability to store excess items, our daily lives could be incredibly lightweight, flexible and nomadic! It does beg the question of how we would manage all of this movement of items to and fro, but there is no doubt an app for that on its way.

I find my experience traveling with colleagues around the world frequently as an extreme use of this lifestyle. We keep work tools (projectors) and daily life tools (a clothing iron) stored in our hotel in Sao Paulo, but next month we might need them redistributed to our next location. The Springwise post refers to this lifestyle as that of the "Transumer". They reference a Trendwatching post that defines Transumers as:

"consumers driven by experiences instead of the ‘fixed’, by entertainment, by discovery, by fighting boredom, who increasingly live a transient lifestyle, freeing themselves from the hassles of permanent ownership and possessions. The fixed is replaced by an obsession with the here and now, an ever-shorter satisfaction span, and a lust to collect as many experiences and stories as possible.* Hey, the past is, well, over, and the future is uncertain, so all that remains is the present, living for the 'now'."

With so much of what we carry around with us being paired down to only the essential, we could be freed to be where we want to be, when we want to be. And our lives could be freed up to focus on the experiences we collect rather than the possessions.

Now, if can just figure out how we are going to manage all of this movement to and fro so that we aren't spending all of our time "demanding" our On-Demand Life.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Epicurial Entrepreneurial Space

My friend and IDEO colleague Peter Bromka passed along the article "A Kitchen-for-Rent Is a Lifeline for the Laid-Off" from the New York Times on The Entrepreneur’s Space in Queens, a 24/7 commercial kitchen available to local epicureans.

The regulations and tremendous expense of having your own commercial kitchen are an obviously enormous challenge to overcome if you want make money from your passion to cook food for others.

As Fernanda Santos points out in the article:
"The kitchen, rare in its approach, solves many problems. It offers cooks space they do not have at home, is fully equipped and complies with the city’s health code."

And it's the power of a collective sharing of resources:
"The place has also fostered an informal network, where cooks combine purchasing orders for things like butter and olive oil to save money, or rely on one another as taste testers."

It reminds me of La Cocina in SF's Mission district who's mission, "is to cul­ti­vate low-income food entre­pre­neurs as they for­mal­ize and grow their busi­nesses by pro­vid­ing afford­able com­mer­cial kitchen space, industry-specific tech­ni­cal assis­tance and access to mar­ket opportunities."

I'm also reminded of the long successful Mission Street Food, where a group of ambitious, creative young chefs who lacked their own legal commercial kitchen rented out a Chinese restaurant on Mission Street for one night a week. The proceeds from the evening were donated to local charities. There were many nights where the line at MSF was half a block long. The concept was so successful that it has yielded the permanent establishment in their foster home, the Lung Shan Restaurant, called Mission Chinese Food. A permanent cohabitation of two restaurants in one where the Lung Shan Restaurants were trained by the Mission Street Food's Danny Bowien in new techniques using new, fresh ingredients.

If your only limitation in starting your own restaurant is actually getting the restaurant itself, a little creative real estate sharing might just make access to a quality space the easy part. Having a network of like-minded people to share resources and knowledge makes it all the more powerful.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Marketplace for Experiences

Another variation on the collaborative consumption kick is Skyara, an online marketplace that allows anyone to share/sell unique experiences. Some of the unique engagements featured on the site include: Having tea with entrepreneur Ron Conway and MC Hammer (free), skeet shooting with the founder of MySpace (free), and a lot of wine country tours (~$150). And there is a link to request experiences you are interested, keeping the conversation between those who buy and those who sell alive and kicking.

What will be next in these online collaborative platforms? Sharing software (I need an AutoCAD license for 2 months)? Sharing expensive but infrequently used items (I need a large crystal punch bowl for the weekend). Sharing venues (where am I going to host a party for 300 peeps!). Sharing artwork (I need an original Banksy print to impress, but next month I'll probably get tired of it and want something else.)

The possibilities are endless...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Urban Space Designed for Collaborative Consumption

As a follow up to yesterdays post Who Will Tend My Garden, I ran across some videos related to a new book by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers which captures some of these trends in what they call Collaborative Consumption. airbnb and Getaround, which I've discussed before, are superb examples of this phenomenon of pooling resources from individuals to yield a service that is available on demand for everyone to consume.

WHAT'S MINE IS YOURS from rachel botsman on Vimeo.

While there is much innovation in the reinvention of collaborative consumption business models, it's less clear how urban space will be reinvented to except these new platforms. So much of what makes collaborative infrastructure work is location specificity. How will we reinvent our neighborhoods and public spaces to enable these shared resources and experiences?

Here's more video of Rachel discussing Collaborative Consumption:

Watch live streaming video from alldaybuffet at

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Who Will Tend My Garden?

I was recently having a conversation with some colleagues about the pros and cons of Farmville, the enormously popular Facebook game that lets you "farm with your friends." And, while I have zero interest in ever playing Farmville, it's sensational success does make me wonder what is yet to come in these socially potent online games.

One interesting take on the next big thing for Farmville is from gaming expert Jane McGonigal awhile back at (click her image, the third one, to see her audio quote). McGonigal's research at Berkeley and the Institute for the Future envisions a future where the boundary between the physical and online world of games is blurring, and if she succeeds in her game designs, gaming may be a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives.

In the short audio on The Times website, McGonigal mentions a new platform called Groundcrew and suggests that it is something "like Farmville, but for the real world." She points out that people playing Farmville "are constantly being asked to water your neighbors crops or feed their chickens, but what if you could water somebody's crops in the real world. What if you got alerts when you passed by an urban garden and were able to actually stop and help real urban crops."

Now we're talking! A game like Farmville exploits our willingness to be collaborative, especially in virtual worlds, for the mutual benefit of the group. The idea that this positive quality of games could be lent to the real world to do actual good is profound.

Groundcrew defines their platform by pointing out that, "Customers use our software to organize action: from running city-wide games to helping elderly people in their homes to responding to disasters around the world, you will get to be a part of it." Whether in use as a game, something very "serious", or something in between, the willingness to spontaneously collaborate is extraordinarily powerful, and enabling it to erupt spontaneously and adapt quickly through mobile technology could be a useful workaround for the challenges of organizing for change in the slow-to-adapt urban environment.

Lastly, I've also just found, an online platform that connects gardeners looking for land with those who have land to share. These collaborative sharing platforms are popping up everywhere and for every purpose! This doesn't have quite the same spontaneity and collaborative nature that McGonigal and Groundcrew propose, but it may be that some collaborative sharing does require a more formal and longterm agreement between those who have and those who need.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

More Fun With Video Mapping

Thanks to Jen Panasik for pointing me to this one. Another retailer uses this fantastic technology to create an engaging street experience.

Thanks to Wilfred Castillo for pointing me to this phenomenal display of the Prague clock tower, as seen over 600 years. Stunning.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Online and Physical Retail (Slowly) Merging

Last night I went to visit the San Francisco location of AllSaints, and in it I was intrigued by the installation of an iPad in an "antiqued" wood and metal frame amidst the merchandising in their Union Square store. While the iPads definitely stand out dramatically from the style of AllSaints decor, the juxtaposition seems to work.

What's more intriguing is the fact that we are getting ever closer to a meaningful merger of the online and brick and mortar shopping experiences. It's a small step, but just by moving the online experience closer to the merchandise and enabling it through a much friendlier interface (not a clunky computer keyboard and monitor) it somehow makes it more engaging as an embedded part of the shopping experience. Unfortunately the content of this iPad app was the AllSaints website and nothing more. It didn't recognize that the user was in the store or offer anything that you couldn't see at home!

Imagine if it could connect me to relevant merchandise in the store based on what I had already purchased or was currently considering. What if the online selections activated some highlighting technique in the merchandise in the store. The inability to really feel materials and truly see the item is what prevents so many people from using online stores even when they do shop online for other things like electronics or media.

It is as if we are witnessing an early relic of proto-pervasive retail technology, but it still feels that an opportunity has been missed and we've got a ways to go.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Le Truc's 'Bustaurant' Takes the Food Cart to Another Level

Wired Magazine's Underwire blog wrote on Tuesday about the Le Truc bustaurant in SF's SoMA which quite a next step in the ever-evolving nomadic foodie cart phenomenon.

It's another fine experiment in working around the rigid constraints of the regulations that make restaurants a challenging venture in many cities. As the article suggests:
"Street-food people are crafty,” said Dan Sider, ombudsman for San Francisco’s planning department. “Le Truc has got something that’s pretty unique. They worked with the planning commission and lobbied for a particular set of rules that would allow for their bus to exist.”

And it solves for a lot of the challenges of wanting to be in multiple locations in a city that loves to dine out and experience something different with each experience:
"They also plan to set up for dinner (and maybe al fresco movies) in a second location a few blocks away near San Francisco’sSouth Park neighborhood, home to many dot-com startups over the years."

"As if that weren’t ambitious enough, the Le Truc crew has been working with the city’s planning department to gain a spot in the mobile food truck Narnia that is the Upper Market/Castro area."

Best of all Le Truc is using an online system to streamline the ordering process for the nomadic diner:
"Le Truc has developed a point-of-sale system similar to those in some upscale convenience stores and gas stations: Rather than overwhelming the kitchen staff with questions and orders, patrons sidle up to the kiosk outside the bus, browse the menu according to dietary specifications, and order their food electronically. An online version allows orders from computers or mobile phones — when the food is done, the system sends a text."

And Le Truc's computer recognizes repeat customers and rewards their loyalty with discounts!

If you've dreamed of owning a restaurant but find the infrastructure to support such a complicated venture to be overwhelming, there is a wealth of inspiration in the food cart revolution's workarounds.

Thanks to Underwire's Allison Davis for the great article and permission to quote and relink here!

Interior of Le Truc "bustaurant" Photo by Jon Snyder/