leonardo-digitalI wrote a post on the new publishing platform Medium on the names that several players are giving to Physical-Digital Products, Services and Experiences.

(Why did I write it on Medium? I wanted to try it and that was enough of a good reason for me.)

I’m re-posting it here to avoid the content being lost in case they close it sometime in the near future, like it happened with Posterous, where I wrote about products that I liked, after it was acquired by Twitter. Yes, I did get a backup of my posts on Posterous and Medium does offer a backup tool too (and I believe that also Tumblr does, where I host a couple of micro-blogs for very specific subjects that wouldn’t fit in this or my other blog ConferenceBasics.com), but that’s not the entire point. It’s about owning your own [online] identity (this blog is self hosted), like Marco Arment writes in this article on hi self hosted blog.

Physical-Digital Products, Services and Experiences: There’s a Name for That!

The new terms that describe the physical-digital space

Now that the Internet (especially the world wide web) has come of age, its applications are finally maturing at a more noticeable speed. For the last few years, there’s been an “excess of digital”, with thousands of tools being launched but very few of them sticking.

Since the times of Leonardo (da Vinci), our “human interface” hasn’t changed much. Most of us still have two hands, two ears, two eyes, one mouth, etc and our way of interacting with the world around us is still based on our five senses and emotions. Yes, we’ve picked up a few new behaviors (like that of interacting with glass rectangles for satisfying several of our needs, entertainment and work) but all in all, we haven’t changed that much.

The maturity of digital tools and services has reached a point in which now we see more and more of them trying to bridge the gap between physical and digital, often in novel ways and adapt to our natural ways of interaction by involving the use of more senses (not just sight or the so called “touch”).

In the process, we have created terms to describe these new digital tools, like “apps”, which is almost unequivocally used to describe mobile applications, albeit for different kinds of platforms.

Even the usage of the words “real” and “virtual” has taken a slightly different meaning. Until recently, those of us who live and work online referred toa face-to-face meeting as it happening IRL (“in real life”) as opposed to interactions just via digital channels (e.g.: email, chat, Skype, etc). In the documentary TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away From KeyboardPeter Sunde — one of the founders of The Pirate Bay — mentions that they don’t use the expression IRL but “away from keyboard”, because they believe the internet is for real, or in other words, if you spend your time behind a computer screen, that IS your real life too.

What’s in a name

So how do we call this space, those products and services (and why not, experiences too) that merge the physical and digital domain into an unicum?

Several actors have come with their own names for them, whose appication varies depending on the nature of the product, service (or experience). Let’s look at some of them:

Physibles: created by The Pirate Bay and announced on January 23rd 2012, it refers to data objects (i.e. digital 3-D designs) that are able (and feasible) to become physical.

We believe that the next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects. Or as we decided to call them: Physibles. Data objects that are able (and feasible) to become physical. We believe that things like three dimensional printers, scanners and such are just the first step. We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare sparts for your vehicles. You will download your sneakers within 20 years. [The Pirate Bay blog]

Phygital: phygital is the concept of creating an interactive user experience through the use of technology to bridge the digital and physical worlds. The term is a trademark of Momentum, a global marketing agency.

PhysiDigital: similar to the previous one, it describes a physical manifestation of a digital experience. The website Physidigital.comprovides inspiration of these kind of experiences and is curated byRyan Bigge from the design and technology consultancy Nurun.

The Internet of Things (IoT): is probably the most famous expression to refer to something that connects physical and digital “stuff”, mainly products or objects connected via the internet (definition on Wikipedia). IoT has been used to describe different kinds of interactions from industrial to consumer goods and is gaining traction. In the mainstream, even though consumers might not refer to it as IoT, which is in fact considered a geeky expression.

Note that while the IoT requires by definition that objects are connected to the internet (or a private network), the others don’t necessarily have to.

What’s the point of coining new words to refer to this space?

Well, first and foremost it helps to better communicate a specific experience/product/service — like the aforementioned “apps” in the mobile space — towards its users.

There are already hundres of products, services and experiences marrying digital and physical and in the next few years we’ll be seeing them grow exponentially and become mainstream as, say, social media related products, services and experiences have become in the last decade.

As for me, I don’t like proprietary names (like Phygital) and IoT is limited to some specific applications. For the time being I’ll keep usingphysical/digital until a better term emerges from the community or market (or I trademark my own name ;-).

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Yagi-san at work

[Pictured above: craftsman Yagi-san from Kaikado company, Kyoto]

Another edition of the Milan Design Week (or Salone del Mobile) has come and gone. Thanks to serendipity and my friend Nobi I managed to visit what would was probably the most relevant exhibit for my personal and professional interests: the Japan Handmade exhibit that was part of MOST, a space curated by British designer Tom Dixon at Milan’s Museum of Science and Technology.

At MOST I met a bunch of amazingly talented craftsmen from Kyoto, Japan, that were showcasing their art, which merged several generations of high quality work (some of the craftsmen represented the 16th generation of their family dedicated to that specific activity) with modern interpretations of simple everyday object and luxurious accessories for the home.

I was surprised not so much by the beauty of the products, which I gave for granted (being a fan of the Japanese culture, I’ve become accustomed to their beautiful high-quality and detailed products and services) but by the youth and kindness of the craftsmen. Several of them were probably in their mid-20s and not only did they exude passion for their craft but also they were eager to explain, showcase, and interact with the visitors in a humble way.

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A particular thought goes for the kindness of Yagi-san, who creates beautiful Chazutsu, or tea caddies and who gifted me with a personalized “tea spoon” (seen at the end of the video below), that I will use everyday when I prepare my daily cup of Sencha or Gyokuro green tea, and the good humor of Tsuji-san, who specializes in metal-knitting and who – by his own saying – resembles the character Takeshi Gouda, AKA “Gian” in the Doraemon anime/manga.

While I enjoyed the stimulation of these bunch’s products, it also brought some sour thoughts to mind when contrasted with the current state of Italian craftsmanship, especially in relation to young artisans or – actually – the lack of them. These Japanese craftsmen were young, hardworking, passionate, extremely talented, interested in promoting their land and craft (in fact they invited me to visit their workshops, which I will certainly do in my next visit to the country of the rising sun) but above all they were proud of their work, which sells at extremely high prices (e.g.: the stools made by Nakagawa-san retail for something between 5,000 and 10,000 dollars each).

Italy has – for centuries – been the cradle of some of the most talented craftsmen in the world but that seems to have come to an end. Yes, you can still find a few ageing workers, while others have given birth to huge companies (like Ferragamo or Gucci). The issue is that in the last decades, the hard work required to become an artisan, from apprentice to master, has become totally uncool for the youth, who are more attracted by the artificial lifestyle, promoted by mainstream media, of footballers and “veline” (a mix between showgirls and cheap models).

I visit Tuscany often and from the the vines to the design workshops I hardly see any young Italian apprentices. In most cases they are Asian (mostly Korean and Japanese, who sooner or later return to their land to further develop their newly acquired skills, imprinting them with their own culture) or Eastern European (especially those doing the hard work in the fields or in the high quality food industry). During a recent visit to a Parmigiano Reggiano cheese production facility in the province of Reggio Emilia (thanks to Andrea), the “cheese master” told me that even though they make some of the best Parmigiano in Italy and offer very competitive salaries (an average of 6,000 euro/month) they are desperate for finding young hands to work in such a demanding job.

 

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I wonder what it would take for Italians to pride again in the country’s legacy of craftsmanship and if it will be too late or not to stimulate a new renaissance. Some authors like Stefano Miceli (Futuro Aritgiano – “Artisan Future”) express how Italy’s DNA contains the right skills to get back in track.

At the same time, I’m surprised that the Maker movement – which represents a sort of renaissance of craftsmanship, albeit using modern tools and technology – is not as strong or cohesive in Italy (it is growing but IMHO way too slow). Apart from the USA, where a big part of the Maker movement has been booming for at least the last decade, I’ve seen more enthusiastic and collaborative makers in cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona and London.

Will craftsmanship recover it’s allure in Italy? Can young italians re-learn to value the hard work, dedication and as a consequence become proud (but humble) of their craftsmanship once again?

I believe that both in its classical (woodcrafts, jewellery, leather, wine makers, etc) and modern (“makers” using CNC machines, 3D printers, Arduinos, etc) versions they pose one of the most viable ways to create high quality jobs and valuable products for the world, regaining ownership of our cultural heritage and projecting it into the future, a magical way through the current economic and financial crisis.

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Have you noticed how over the last few years Book Trailers, a sort of cousin to Movie Trailers has taken a center role in the marketing campaign to promote upcoming books (usually by tech savvy authors, but not only)?

I’ve been following this trend with interest trying to answer the following question: how has the marketing of books — those activities that make a publication stand out in a sea of digital and print books churned by the industry ever day/month/year — changed with the advent of the web, social media and other new media?

(not so secretly, I’ve been wanting to — event offered to — publish a book for some time now and as a marketer I’ve been constantly thinking on “how would I promote this book-that-I-have-yet-to-write”).

While many of the means detailed below have been in use in one form or another for several years, it looks like producing a book video trailer  has become a systematic step in the promotion (or event before that, during the funding phase) of a books on a wide range of fields, no longer limited to technology.

The most used tactics to promote a book

Video trailer

The book trailer aims to do the same as movie’s short teasers: present the main actors, argument and some exciting scenes in order to move you to make a purchase. An important difference with movies is in the storytelling structure, at least for non-fiction books. Hardly ever a movie preview will tell you what the conclusion of the story is while books tend to start with a hypothesis (in the case of non-fiction texts) and the reader is interested in finding more about it by buying the book (support, how it could be useful for her, etc).

For example, in the vide below, author Steven Johnson explains what the whole book is about, what the hypothesis is and a few of the reasons supporting it. Nonetheless, you’re not less interested in buying the book because of this.

There are even a few book trailer specific search engines like Bookcaster and tons of companies offering specialized in making them (just Google Book Video Trailer).

Blogs

Using blogs to support a book is not new — Chris Anderson was doing it back in 2004-2009 for his books The Long Tail and Free. In Anderson’s case, it probably happened by chance that a blog he had created to expand on an article written in 2004 on Wired magazine on the concept of the “long tail” later became a platform to support the research and promotion of a book he published in 2006 (the aformentioned The Long Tail).

One of the biggest challenges of using a blog to support a book is what happens after the book has launched and the author’s interest have moved onto a different topic. Maybe a rich community has been created around the blog based on their interest in that specific topic, but how can the author migrate that community in a coherent way to her next project? On a first thought, it might seem more appropriate to create an author’s blog to promote the books but if the author is not well known, it;s reasonable to keep the focus on the theme and not the person. In Anderson’s case, the blog went into hiatus in December 2009 after the publication of The Long Tail’s successor, Free. His following book, Makers, focused on a theme not related to the previous ones and it wouldn’t have made sense to house them under the same theme-driven website.

Kickstarter

The crowd-funding platform Kickstarter has been a revolutionary force for several passion-driven projects, a few of which have been books. While the main goal of Kickstarter is to fund a project, the author of the project has to actively market it to achieve this goal. This includes a set of best practices (making an engaging video, writing frequent updates, interacting with current and potential backers, promoting it on social media, etc) that rapidly become innocuous so it stimulates the author to keep creative and trying new things.

Some examples:

The author has to create a marketing campaign that is effective enough to achieve the minimum funding required, which requires her to create the most engaging (viral) marketing campaign possible… with the advantage that she hasn’t yet compromised the resources involved in producing the product and the marketing techniques tend to be rather low-cost. If the product doesn’t get funded, well, that’s sort of proof that there wasn’t an current market for it (or the marketing sucked so nobody would have purchased it anyway).

It’s interesting to see big names using Kickstarter too — that is, people with an existing strong community or that could have an easier access to other kinds of traditional funding. I guess that by avoiding an intermediation with their readers, they can keep their creative direction as free as possible from outside interruptions. A recent case has been that of bestselling business author Seth Godin and his The Icarus Deception project, which required 40,000 USD and got 287,000+ USD in funding.

In the introduction text of the project Godin writes “Please help me show my publisher, the bookstores and anyone with a book worth writing that it’s possible to start a project with a show of support on Kickstarter.”

 

Free Digital Distribution (limited or continuous) and  Sample Chapters

“Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.” Tim O’Reilly

That phrase  is often quoted by science fiction writer Cory Doctorow as an explanation to why he offers his own books for free in digital form. Also, he says that by giving away digital copies of his books for free he actually sells more printed units, contributing to his bottom line.

Now that in several markets the number of e-books sold has trumped that of printed ones, and that in a near future printed books could become an exception dedicated to special occasions and not just the kind of novels you read just once, I wonder if Doctorow will rethink his policy of giving away his books for free (being Doctorow a writer, I assume that getting payed for his books is one of the ways with which he pays his bills).

Since Amazon has started selling digital books for its Kindle e-readers, they’ve been offering the possibility of downloading a free sample (often one chapter) of any of the books available. This allows the reader to get a “feel” about the book before buying it which can complement the feeling obtained by reading the reviews of other readers.

Social Media

This is a no-brainer and many authors engage with their readers (current or potential) via social media like Facebook or Twitter. For example author Warren Berger launched his Twitter account @glimmerguy back in 2009 when he was writing/had just published the the book Glimmer (later renamed to CAD Monkeys, Dinosaur Babies, and T-Shaped People: Inside the World of Design Thinking and How It Can Spark Creativity and Innovation). Now that he’s working on his next title (A More Beautiful Question), the account sounds less relevant (actually, he could change his Twitter handle to his own name).

Recently, author Daniel Pink tweeted about the book trailer to his upcoming book, To Sell is Human.

This is the video he was tweeting about:

 

Live Book Readings

Book readings are not a new trend, and might as well have been one of the oldest marketing tools in the book world. What has happened though is that in a media world fueled by TED Talks (yes, I know, I’m speaking about just one slice of the world), authors have been encouraged to present live. Some examples from the tech and design world:

  • TED and TEDx Talks. Not all authors have the opportunity to be recruited to be recruited as a TED Speaker. Nonetheless, since the TEDx series of events became widespread, more and more authors have been able to give an 18-minute presentation on a TED-like stage.
  • Authors@Google is a series of lectures that take place in Google’s offices around the globe. Having the chance to listen and ask questions to various different types of writers is one of the several benefits that Google offers to their employees.
  • Pecha Kucha and Ignite talks (very short presentations, less than 6 minutes) have also been a great stage to indirectly promote a book as have many other conferences.
  • At the huge tech-music-film festival South by Southwest (SXSW), book readings have become a fixed part of the program and by conveniently placing the bookstore just out of the room where the readings take place, I picked up quite a few titles just out of impulse.
  • A specific presentation to a group of influential people. Last week I’ve got an invitation by a soon-to-be-author to a “‘Lab’ that brings together close friends, mentors, and subject-matter experts in an intimate setting to discuss the main ideas of the book concept and how they relate to various fields – and your work.”, which sounds as an excellent way to make an influential group of people to discover the book in advance and kickstart the public discussion about it.

The interesting thing about giving a presentation is that several authors do it before they write the book as a way to pitch their ideas to an audience and see their reaction, verify what sticks and what doesn’t, get feedback and later traction, thus becoming more of a market research.

Other Tactics

Following the success of his previous two books (The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body) Tim Ferriss has recently published The 4-Hour Chef under Amazon’s new publishing arm, creating some controversy among traditional book sellers which see Amazon as an enemy and will avoid selling the book in their shops. Ferriss has always been quite savvy in promoting his books using several of the tactics mentioned above (blogs, social media, use of Ad Word campaigns on Google to test different book titles, delivering presentations and offering free samples). Now, apart from launching a video trailer for the book, he has established a partnership with digital file-sharing site BitTorrent, which has 160 million monthly active users, to distribute the book (read: With Amazon Publishing Stonewalled By Retailers, Tim Ferriss Taps BitTorrent To Market His New Book).

You might like or not his books (I’m currently reading The 4-Hour Chef, probably a review will follow shortly) but in any case you can’t deny that Tim Ferriss is a good model to follow if you want to learn the most effective marketing actions to sell your book.

Update 1: Tim Ferriss shared The 4-Hour Chef Launch — Marketing/PR Summary of Week One, where he sumarizes several of the marketing actions and partnerships made for the book launch

Update 2: If you’re writing a book on tech related topics or attractive to the tech community, consider asking and answering questions on that topic on Quora.com, which has a very cohesive community and seems to be rather untapped by authors.

BitTorrent page promoting Tim Ferriss’ new book

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During the 2012 edition of the PICNIC Festival in Amsterdam, a video team from GNR8 – a group of media students from the Netherlands – made a series of videos called “Story behind the tweet”. The goal was to interview some speakers and participants that had tweeted using the event’s hashtag to tell the story behind those short 140-character messages.

GNR8 picked the following message I tweeted during PICNIC:

My story: I used to live in Amsterdam (I was the marketing manager at PICNIC until the end of 2010) and now that I was back in town for just a few days, I wanted to reconnect – in person – with many of my friends and acquaintances, several of whom were attending the event too.

Often, naysayers complain that we are all too connected online (on social networks, etc) but we are disconnecting from each other in the physical world. On the contrary, I find that digital tools like Twitter allow me to make more meaningful connections in person than I could do before, like I successfully did during this trip to Amsterdam.

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I’ve been a fan of Sugru since I discovered it in late 2011. The video above explains what this new silicon based material is all about and what can be used for. The excuse I found to buy my first pack was that the rubber in my iPhone sync-cable was tearing off and buying a new one was more expensive than buying an 8-pack of Sugru (see photo below). Now I have a cool looking iPhone cable plus 7 extra Sugru servings (actually 5, been giving it away as a gift to my maker friends that have never heard about it).

For ideas and suggestions on how to better use Sugru, check the Sugru Guru message boards and the blog.

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Fake It Until You Create A (Positive) Habit

October 6, 2012

  This wonderful TED Talk by Amy Cuddy is about body language, or actually, “Power Posing” and how it can improve both how other people see us and how we see ourselves. (the video is just 21 minutes long so watch it now, you’ll find it’s useful for your personal and professional life). Cuddy explains […]

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[Book Review] The Maker Industrial Revolution As Seen By Chris Anderson

September 30, 2012

The Latest book from bestseller author and Wired’s editor in chief Chris Anderson is dedicated to the Maker Movement, what has been dubbed as the [start of the] third industrial revolution. Makers – The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson on Amazon.com If you never heard about  Makers, 3D-printing, digital fabrication, Arduino, Kickstarter, and the new […]

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Augmenting the Human Body: Brain Controlled Dog Tail and Cat Ears

September 23, 2012

Neurowear is a company that develops wearable fashion items that can be controlled using your brain waves and other biosensors, with the goal of “augmenting” the human body. Back in May 2012 I had the chance to try Necomimi (in Japanese Neko - 猫 – means cat and Mimi – 耳 - means ear), a pair of cat-like ears that […]

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My Online Presence Is [Mostly] Somewhere Else

November 6, 2011

I haven’t  been updating the content in this blog for a while, but worry not… my online presence is alive and kicking… just happening mostly somewhere else. My main [public] online hangouts are the following: I write quite often on my blog for conference organizers Conference Basics I post about things (gadgets, accessories, food) I see […]

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[video] Japan – The Strange Country

March 27, 2010

Made by Kenichi Tanaka, this video represents through various infographics some of the well know statistics about Japan… and some more other ones really worrying  that I was not aware of (like food consumption). While I was living in Japan I was overly struck by the amount of bottled water, plastic bags, disposable chopsticks (article on reducing the use […]

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