Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How to make Washington cool - followup

Recently (see my previous blog post) I was interviewed by a journalist from the Washington Post about how cool Washington is. Her conclusion was that DC is not cool. This led to a backlash of negative reactions - I got my share of it also, see the post here and the comments on the original story.

I would like to point out there are very cool places in Washingon. There is for example the hotel I stayed in one of my last trips to DC, the Tabard Inn, a very cool boutique hotel. But there are also less cool things in DC, like when I was scheduled to give a presentation on Collaborative Innovation at the World Bank, and was not let in for 45 minutes because security was so tight they could not find anybody with the right credentials to identify me.

But actually it would be quite easy to make Washington very cool. Cool places are made by cool people, and one of them just started in his new job last week. It’s now up to all of us to get more of the same to Washington!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

How to make things and places “cool”?

Yesterday the Washington Post published a timely opinion piece on “how to make D.C. cool”, pondering the question whether Washington D.C. could ever be cool. The journalist had interviewed me for this article, and the discussion with her got me thinking about what it takes to make a place “cool”.

Why is it that NYC, SF, or Boston are cool, while D.C, a popular tourist destination, seems in dire want of coolness? Let’s first look at what makes things cool.

“Cool” things have four properties. First, they need to be fresh and new, we don’t want yesterday’s stale old ideas, but radically new and better ones. Apple is cool, Microsoft is not. Why? By ushering in a new era in computers with the Macintosh, in music players with the iPod, or in mobile phones with the iPhone, Apple has shown a unique knack in coming up with beautiful new things. Microsoft may be more profitable, and having grown to much bigger size with its copycat strategy, but nobody has ever accused it of being cool – that’s reserved for creators of radically new things. Microsoft’s technology does the job, but it’s clunky, arcane, clogged with features that nobody wants. Apple, on the other hand, consistently defined new markets with superbly designed innovative products.

Second, cool things make us part of a community, they help us be with people like us. As psychologists and sociologists have found out, if we have the chance, we would like to be with as many people “like us” as possible – the more the merrier. Why was it that two million people trekked to Washington, to the inauguration of President Obama? Why did people stand in line for eight hours to get to the Mall to Obama’s inauguration, and not just watch it on TV? Simple answer: other people. It was the chance to be part of something cool and new, to witness change, jointly with two million likeminded souls. Even something as simple as owning the latest iPhone or Blackberry makes the owner part of a community, a sister and brotherhood , with the token of entry being the iPhone or Blackberry.

Third, cool things are fun. Owning an iPhone is fun, because it looks so well-designed and cool. Going to a musical on Broadway is fun and relaxing. Making calls and surfing the Web on an iPhone is fun, playing music on an iPod is fun. Drinking coffee in Starbucks is fun too, not the least because every Starbucks customer is in good company with other people who are enjoying a good cup of coffee in a relaxing atmosphere. It’s not for nothing that Starbucks carefully selects and trains its barristas to provide a superior customer experience.

Finally, cool things give meaning to our life. Cool things make people happier and feel good. Owning a cool thing can become a goal all by itself, whether it is the new iPhone, the bag from Adidas, or the car we always wanted, or joining an activist group fighting global warming. For many people the thing that gives meaning to their life is making the world a better place – the ultimate in cool.

Now that we know why something is cool or not, the next question is what makes up – or does not – the coolness of a place like Washington. The main thing that makes a place cool is cool people. For cool people to show up at a place, they must find cool things there, not the least other cool people. Once a place is bustling with stars, actors, models, artists, movie stars, or star entrepreneurs, more of them will show up.

What are the external landmarks of a cool city? There are three parts to it: a recreational, educational, and a business part. Recreational components of a cool city are funky cafes, elegant boutiques, artistic shops, art galleries, all sorts of restaurants from cheap and greasy to organic and healthy, theaters, museums and parks to stroll around. The second ingredient of a cool place is educational institutions such as universities, colleges, or art schools, bringing the droves of students who provide the social glue of the cool city. A third mark of a cool place is a dense organic mix of business life, scores of startups combined with larger well-established companies. The more of these three things – recreation, education, and business – there are compressed within a city, the cooler it is. That’s why NYC is cool, or Boston and San Francisco.

One of my recent favorites among cool places is Savannah, a port city in Georgia, which until just a few years ago was in serious decay. But when I was visiting Savannah last fall, I found a city bustling with life, full of artists, students, and tourists. Talking with locals I found there is one institution that heavily influenced this conversion to coolness: SCAD – the Savannah College of Art and Design, founded in 1978, with 9000 students as of today. SCAD has renovated many of the old mansions and historic buildings that had been rotting for the last fifty to hundred years into lecture halls and student dorms. During my visit in Savannah I noticed all components of a cool city – coffee shops and art galleries, theaters and music festivals, educational institutions, and an active business life, ranging from numerous startups to Gulfstream Aerospace, a large manufacturer of jets.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Who will be the next "Stadtpraesident" (mayor) of Zurich?

There is a hot race currently between the two ladies Kathrin Martelli and Corinne Mauch for the succession of the popular mayor of Zurich, Elmar Ledergerber, who stepped back recently. I was curious to see what Web and Blog have to say about the chances of the two candidates.
Here is the Coolhunting result of Condor for today on the Blog (Jan 8th, 2009) - Corinne Mauch leads with 53%

Repeating the same process on the Web, to get the more long term trend, leads to the same result - it looks even worse for Kathrin Martelli who gets only 35% of the Coolhunting vote.

We will know Feb 8, after the election. The only thing certain: Zurich's next mayor will be female.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Analyzing film scripts with condor

While participating this winter in a seminar on Social Network Analysis and COINs (Collaborative Innovation Networks) by Peter Gloor and Kai Fischbach at the University of Cologne, it occurred to me that a film script provides a great source for Social Network Analysis.

Each character in a movie receives and sends messages through dialogues with other characters. These are represented as edges in Condor - the social network tool we are using in this seminar. As the film script only allocates the sender of each dialogue, one has to manually add one or more receivers. A timestamp for each conversation can be created by looking at the scene in which the conversation is initiated.

As you can see in the picture above, the film industry has very strict rules on the layout of a film script. So once one writes a parser for one script, it will work for almost every other script too. There are a few good sources like, or where you can find film scripts in almost every genre.

The movie Babel by Alejandro González Iñárritu as an example is interesting because it not only is set in different regions of the world. There can also be identified four sub groups that rarely get in contact with each other as can be seen in the picture below.

One group of characters in Tokyo doesn’t share any dialogue with any other main character from other regions, whereas two other sub groups in Morocco are connected through a side character (gatekeeper) who doesn’t even have a name in the movie. So the story is not carried by a global social connection between the characters but through a unifying object (a rifle) with which the characters are connected.

Looking at the contribution index of each character, you can identify different roles. The main characters seem to have a very balanced talk/listen ratio, except a character called “chieko” who is deaf and hardly replies to anybody. Side characters often act as advisors (doctor, grandmother) or as servers (driver, bartender). As a advisor you send more messages than you receive, as a server you receive more than you send.

The following video shows how the connections between characters develop throughout the story of the film.

Other movies can have a completely different representation in a graph. In “The Graduate” by Mike Nichols the main character is a star and almost every other character is connected through him. “The Godfather” by Francis Ford Coppola shows a big galaxy with a high group density. “Burn After Reading” by the Coen Brothers brings up several social groups that are autonomous at the beginning but get mixed up at the end.