Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Bunch of Great Ideas Going Nowhere

Rumour has it the New York Times Magazine is running out of ideas. Or, more accurately, they’re running out of space for ideas. There are significantly fewer pages in the 2006 Year in Ideas issue as compared with 2005. I was completely shut out of this year’s issue. Here are my favourite pitches (asterisk indicates an idea that actually appeared in the 2006 YII):

- End of the Clever Headline, The. Google news and other aggregators that use search bots respond better to literal headlines, rather than those with puns or tricky wordplay. In order to ensure high rankings, some newspapers are altering their headline style.

- Song Title Inflation. This year saw a number of lengthy song and album titles such as Yo La Tengo (I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass) or Panic at the Disco’s (There’s a Good Reason These Tables Are Numbered Honey, You Just Haven’t Thought of It Yet.) See also: Sufjan Stevens The Flaming Lips and Fall Out Boy.

* Mood Detectors. Two different inventions this year are designed for those who have trouble detecting emotions. A new mood phone for Asperger’s patients lights up in different colours, depending on the emotion of the person calling the sufferer. Meanwhile, a boring detector has been created for autistics, to let them know whether the person they’re talking is unimpressed by their conversation.

- Blipvert, The. In the futuristic show Max Headroom, blipverts were TV ads that compressed 30 seconds worth of info into 5 seconds. This year, five second TV ads were introduced to combat TiVO fast-forwarding, and Clear-Channel introduced one-second radio ads.

- Betrayed Consumer, The. A recent Journal of Consumer Research featured a study that explored how consumers attempt to gain revenge against corporations that have wronged them. Researchers from Arizona State University discovered strong parallels between consumer complaint websites and other civic protest movements. In other words, rather than speaking in the language of an angry consumer, gripe sites like frame their grievances in the language of citizen injustice.

- Viewer Generated Advertising. This year Ford launched viewer-created advertising online (it flopped). Meanwhile, both Chevy and Doritos are soliciting viewer-generated advertising (the winning entries will be broadcast during the Superbowl in 2007).

- Ringxiety. People are reporting hearing phantom cell phone ring tones with regularity. A host of environmental and psychological factors are believe to cause the condition.

- Death of Quiet Songs, The. This refers to the fact that over the past few years, CDs have been mastered louder and louder (using less and less of the dB spectrum) to make it easier to hear songs in iPod headphones. This has resulted in the death of loud-soft dynamics in most modern songs.

- Best Guess Radio. has created hundreds of internet radio stations/streams based on aggregating user preferences. So even if they play a song you’ve never heard before, chances are you’ll like it.

- Excel For Rogues. GirlFriend X (GFX) allows skirt-chasing bachelors better manage their harem. Various romantic details can be tracked with an, ahem, spreadsheet of sorts. (See also:

- Printable Organs. This sounds like pure sci-fi. Using bioinks and modified ink-jet printers, scientists are learning to spray cells suspended in liquid, allowing them to “print” tissue structures.

- Blogjects. Inanimate objects that can blog (that is, generate data) about the way they interact in their environment. According to Wikipedia, an example would be “your car, gathering data about distance, weather, road conditions, speed, as you travel.”

- Weight-Loss Camera, The. There’s a new “slimming camera.” It has a feature that compresses a photo in such a way to make a person appear to weigh less.

- Empathic Painting, The. Computer scientists have created a digital artwork that changes mood based on the facial features of the spectator. Webcams track eight different facial features. (See also: the Art-O-Meter a device that tracks the amount of time that people spend in front of an artwork compared to the total time of exhibition and then ascribes a qualitative rating to the piece.)

- Universal Password, The. Shibboleth is an open-standard authentication system. Basically, you log in once at the start of the day, and it has a record of all your passwords, no matter where on the web you visit. It also has some interesting privacy elements built into it.

- Viral Marketing Immunity (or VM Paranoia or VM Hypochondria). When the LonelyGirl15 phenomenon first started to unravel, immediate theories/suspicions involved a viral marketing scheme of some type. The hypochondria/immunity refers to the notion that user-submitted videos above a certain caliber or threshold of creativity are now suspected of being created by an advertising agency. There is also something to be said about the online buzz for Snakes on a Plane not translating into ticket sales (which would be viral marketing immunity).

- Tiny Electricity. University of Birmingham microbiologists have found a bacterium that excretes electricity-generating hydrogen when fed sugar. Another set of scientists, in Japan, meanwhile, have created "bacterial-propulsion units," a strain of Mycoplasma that crawl clockwise in a groove underneath a motor's rotor, tugging the motor in a circle.

* Incidental Electricity Generation. A Japanese railway is experimenting with special floor pads in their train stations that can generate electricity from the mechanical pressure of their commuters walking through the station. (

- Words on Water. This is a strange one. It’s a circular tank developed by Mitsui Engineering in Japan called AMOEBA (Advanced Multiple Organized Experimental Basin), that allows users to "write" letters on stationary waves of water.

- Anti-Brand Bonfire, The. In August of this year, Neil Boorman set fire to every last branded item he owned. He’s writing a book about the experience of living brand-free for the rest of his life.

- Tourist Remover, The. A new photo service removes tourists from photographs, leaving behind the landmark or architectural marvel you wanted to preserve on film, without all the rabble ruining your view.

- Anti-Fogey Ringtone, The. A high-frequency cell phone ring-tone was released this year that adults can’t hear, due to the natural deterioration of their hearing. Teenagers, however, can hear the ringtone.

- A Bribe for Watching Commercials. This fall, CBS is launching a contest that requires viewers to watch television ads to find clues. They’re offering over $2 million in prizes.

- Hipster Library, The. A new library in Minneapolis has iTunes and movie downloads and a reading lounge for teens that allows drinks and snacks. Meanwhile, librarians wander the stacks with wireless communication devices.

- Intelligent Egg, The. The British Egg Information Service developed an egg emblazoned with an invisible ink label that turns black when the egg is fully cooked (they have hard and soft-boiled versions, I believe).