Pure Content

Look at more stuff. Think about it harder.

the promise and peril of Amazon's 'Search Inside the Book'

Amazon.com recently introduced it's 'Search Inside the Book' feature to great fanfare. Users can now search the complete texts of 120,000 titles (33 million pages of text) in the Amazon.com database for a particular word or phrase. If you remember that seven years ago you ran across the phrase "glass flagon" but have no earthly idea where it's from, a quick search with the 'SItB' feature will tell you that two different books by Diana Gabaldon (Outlander and Voyager) carry that exact phrase, while the Larousse Gastronomique includes the sentence "The first of these brought the wine in a flagon, and the king's glass, covered; the second brought a silver jug full of water. . . ."

It's a wonderful tool for the searcher--but some authors and publishers are a little distressed that making the full text available on a page-by-page basis will enable people to find just what they want--a recipe, a citation to another work, a museum address and description--without having to buy the book. Some are saying that "what Amazon is doing is no different than what Kazaa is doing to music" because "it presents major copyright problems for a large class of authors who have largely been silent thus far."

I'm intrigued, however, from the pure searcher/researcher angle. As a Wired article on the Amazon initiative stated, "I immediately recognize the power of the archive to make connections hitherto unseen. As the number of searchable books increases, it will become possible to trace the appearance of people and events in published literature and to follow the most digressive pathways of our collective intellectual life. . . . The Amazon archive is dizzying not because it unearths books that would necessarily have languished in obscurity, but because it renders their contents instantly visible in response to a search. It allows quick query revisions, backtracking, and exploration. It provides a new form of map."

On the other hand, the very fact that you're searching using a particular, predetermined keyword or phrase precludes you from stumbling across completely unrelated--yet helpful and/or interesting--information just by pure chance. The lack of serendipitous discovery is painful to contemplate, as Ted Gup pointed out in his essay "The End of Serendipity" (referenced here ):

When I was a young boy, my parents bought me a set of The World Book Encyclopedia. The 22 burgundy-and-gold volumes lined the shelves above my bed. On any given day or night I would reach for a book and lose myself for hours in its endless pages of maps, photographs, and text. Even when I had a purpose in mind -- say, for instance, a homework assignment on salamanders -- I would invariably find myself reading instead of Salem and its witch hunts or of Salamis, where the Greeks routed the Persians in the fifth century B.C. Like all encyclopedias of the day, it was arranged alphabetically, based on sound and without regard to subject. As a child, I saw it as a system wondrously whimsical and exquisitely inefficient. Perfect for exploration. The "S" volume alone could lead me down 10,000 unconnected highways.

The world my two young sons inherit is a very different place. That same encyclopedia now comes on CD-ROM. Simply drop the platinum disk into the A-drive and type in a key word. In a flash the subject appears on the screen. The search is perfected in a single keystroke -- no flipping of pages, no risk of distraction, no unintended consequences. And therein lies the loss.

The Amazon.com 'Search Inside the Book'--or hypertext on the Internet, for that matter--is helpful if you want to follow threads among related bits of information. But what if you want to run across something new and completely unrelated? Or even if you don't want to, but you do it anyway--how easy is it going to be?

EJ in Richmond


on the origin of play

I've been doing some research into the origin of play (the activity, not the consultancy). Some interesting current tidbits I ran across recently:

Play is responsible for giving us bigger brains

The New Scientist reported recently (reprinted here) on new research into the origin and benefits of play:

[P]lay shapes the overall architecture of the brain rather than individual circuits connected with specific activities. "Most likely, [animals at play] are directing their own brain assembly," says [the University of Idaho's John] Byers.

"People have not paid enough attention to the amount of the brain activated by play," says Marc Bekoff from the University of Colorado. Bekoff studied coyote pups at play and found that their behaviour was markedly more variable and unpredictable than that of adults. Behaving this way activates many different parts of the brain, he reasons. Bekoff likens it to a behavioural kaleidoscope, with animals at play jumping rapidly from one activity to another. "They use behaviour from a lot of different contexts--predation, aggression, reproduction," he says. "Their developing brain is getting all sorts of stimulation."

Not only is more of the brain involved in play than was suspected, but it also seems to activate higher cognitive processes. "There's enormous cognitive involvement in play," says Bekoff. He points out that play often involves complex assessments of playmates, ideas of reciprocity and the use of specialised signals and rules. He believes that play creates a brain that has greater behavioural flexibility and improved potential for learning later in life. "It's about more connectedness throughout the brain," he says.

Play helps us deal with the unexpected

Mark Bekoff (above) joined two others in a June 2001 article in the Quarterly Review of Biology, in which they proposed the following:

Our major new functional hypothesis is that play enables animals to develop flexible kinematic and emotional responses to unexpected events in which they experience a sudden loss of control. Specifically, we propose that play functions to increase the versatility of movements used to recover from sudden shocks such as loss of balance and falling over, and to enhance the ability of animals to cope emotionally with unexpected stressful situations. To obtain this "training for the unexpected," we suggest that animals actively seek and create unexpected situations in play through self-handicapping; that is, deliberately relaxing control over their movements or actively putting themselves into disadvantageous positions and situations. Thus, play is comprised of sequences in which the players switch rapidly between well-controlled movements similar to those used in "serious" behavior and self-handicapping movements that result in temporary loss of control. We propose that this playful switching between in-control and out-of-control elements is cognitively demanding, setting phylogenetic and ontogenetic constraints on play, and is underlain by neuroendocrinological responses that produce a complex emotional state known as "having fun" . . . . We argue that our "training for the unexpected" hypothesis can account for some previously puzzling kinematic, structural, motivational, emotional, cognitive, social, ontogenetic, and phylogenetic aspects of play. It may also account for a diversity of individual methods for coping with unexpected misfortunes.

All this to say, play isn't just about playing for its own sake--it helps us to tackle the intricate and rapidly-changing world we live in in a way that will prove successful. In stasis lies death--we've got to be ready to deal flexibly with unexpected challenges, learn from new situations and apply those lessons to even newer situations. Playing makes learning possible.

And if we're intentional about our play, we're gonna be ready for anything.

EJ in Richmond


If I hear one more CxO say...

Today's economy - unemployment is up, but so is productivity. If I hear one more CxO or journalist/analyst say the reason is because the low performance employees are being weeded out I'll scream. So instead of waiting here is my 'scream.' I know a lot of talented folks that are looking for work. These are high producing folks that are in a bad economy. Especially where I live in Vermont. The economy has been weak here for over 5 years - can you say Howard Dean? - But that's another blog entry.

The reason production is high during low employment is fear. People produce at unbelievable rates when they fear losing their jobs. These same CxO level folks (see above) know this. I'm not here to say, "wait until the economy gets better and I'm outa here." What I am saying is people, even super-producers - can only work in this fear for so long without re-evaluating what is important.

The truly creative managers are those who see this trend of fear and instead of embracing it wish to change it. Capture the high productivity, but breed soul into the job. Make it a relationship worth pursuing for the long run. Truly commit, not just to stockholders, profits, or owners of family owned businesses, but to your workforce. Make them a part of your team before other creatives discover your employees’ high production and start an affair to remember - and leave you for the new romance.

Dave Dec


pssshhhttt, glug, glug--mmmm, the refreshing taste of turkey & gravy!

At the end of the local news last night, they did one of those crazy-but-true-at-the-end-of-the-news stories about the Jones Soda Co.'s latest product--turkey & gravy soda, ready to entertain your taste buds for Thanksgiving.

Described as "the color and consistency of watered-down gravy minus the floating giblets and globs of turkey fat, " the drink "has a faint meaty, peppery smell that falls short of teasing the taste buds like a turkey roasting in Grandma's oven. The taste? Hard to describe. It has a salty, sweet lingering bite."



X(3872), or matter ain't as static as you think

Scientists at the KEK electron-positron collider in Tsukuba, Japan, have discovered a new particle, the X(3872), that either means there's a whole new family of subatomic particles out there or that current theories on sub-atomic mass need to be reworked.

In looking for a particular kind of charmonium (a meson made up of a quark and an anti-quark, if that helps), the scientists realized they'd found something brand new, a particle apparently made of another pair of particles (the same way a molecule is made up of multiple atoms)--something that opens whole new avenues of research, and thereby whole new regions of knowledge. There are articles on the discovery here and here.

How fantastic is it that we're continually revising our models for the way the world is put together? It's a blow for serendipity! The fortuitious discovery of a thing unlooked-for. If research in quantum physics ain't "looking at more stuff," I don't know what is.

Incidentally, I love the merging of poetry and science when it comes to naming features of the subatomic world: "beauty" mesons, and quarks of six flavors (strange, truth, beauty, charm, up, down), the "colour" force. Maybe science is art and art is science. I like to think so, anyway.

EJ in Richmond


the artist as corporate commander

They make products that can hold the attention of paying customers. They're skilled at developing talent, and at making sure that talent works well together.

They're CEOs. Or they're artists. The one can help the other, for sure.

"Executives, however, could learn from artists' ability to dare to break molds, lead changes in taste, raise funds and be productive while being frugal. Artists also can show how to take criticism but not let it thwart their individuality or stop them from developing their work."

So says Carol Hymowitz in the Wall Street Journal.

EJ in Richmond


ADWEEK just reported that the Clio Awards have announced that they're adding a new category: Content & Contact.

Content & Contact "will recognize [advertising] campaigns that show both innovation in media as well as excellence in creativity."

One example they cited for a campaign that might do well in this category is Crispin Porter + Bogusky's outdoor installations for Mini. Nick Brien, the jury chair, said that "[t]he effort's oversize trashcans in airports excelled both in creativity and the innovative way they interacted with the public."

Here's a summary of the Content & Contact category, from the 2004 awards entry kit: "Content & Contact is a new category for work that demonstrates excellence in creative communications through the effective marriage of content creativity and contact innovation. Entries will be judged by an Executive Jury comprised of strategic media directors and creative directors. Judges will evaluate the intersection of media and creative concept to award the work that engages the target audience in a breakthrough way."

It's that "engaging the target audience" thing that's exciting--the "contact" in Content & Contact. No advertising--or any communication--is successful if it doesn't engage its audience, and it's good to see the Clios rewarding creative thinking in this area.

How does your message interact with its audience?

EJ in Richmond


Awright, I can't bear to see such a great resource languishing. . . .

EJ in Richmond

who / what / why

At Play we create brands, strategies, new products, and better cultures for Fortune 100 companies. Our formula for creativity: "Look at more stuff. Think about it harder." Pure Content is one place where we do that, daily.

the cool kids' table

Ben Domenech
(politics, football, and a boatload of know-how)

Creative Generalist
(if Pure Content had a doppelganger ...)

Heath Row
(punk + business
+ creativity = Heath)


go go gadget google:

stuck in an airport

A Pattern Language

Creative Company
Orbiting the Giant Hairball
The Ultimate Book of Business Creativity

The Little Prince

Wittgenstein's Poker

The Dancing Wu Li Masters

The Tipping Point

new to you

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see our neighbors
Comments by: YACCS