for what it’s worth

stories and stimulus from a consumer insight consultant



According to MSNBC, Google have announced that they are offering every homeless person in San Francisco a phone number and voicemail to help them get back on their feet. The number given will be theirs for life and messages will be able to be picked up from any phone, with no indication to the caller that the service is different from any other voicemail system. Working with the City of San Francisco, Google launched the scheme at a Project Homeless Connect event on Wednesday.

Mayor Gavin Newsom and Google said they want to empower people. “How do you communicate as a homeless individual? ” Newsom asked. “How do you expect your life to turn around if you can’t even get information or if someone can’t even get in touch with you?”

“It just seems exactly like any other voice mail,” said Craig Walker, senior project manager of Google. “There’s no stigma attached to it that ‘hey this is a temporary thing’ or ‘this is an 800 number.’ It’s really just a local number owned by the user.”

“We’re firm believers in the power of technology to improve the daily lives of individuals and communities as a whole, and we recognize that access to phone and voicemail services is one way that Google can help San Francisco’s homeless stay connected with family, friends, social workers, health care providers, and potential employers.”

If the program is successful in San Francisco the plan is to offer it to homeless people in cities across the state and country.

However, it looks like Google might be making good promotional use of the already succesful Project CARE (Communications and Respect for Everybody) Program created by clever number aggregation service GrandCentral that Google acquired last year. Project CARE first hit the news in April 2006 offering the same free voicemail number for life service, and by October had registered more than 1,000 of the estimated 7,000 homeless in San Francisco. So the question is- is this just a Google PR stunt, or a case of poor journalism at MSNBC?

MSNBC: Google gives all SF Homeless Free Voicemail

Filed under: good, ,



Yesterday’s Guardian Media Briefing pointed me to The Newspaper House, a public art installation as social and environmental statement currently under construction in East London. Over a one-week period artist Sumer Erek in partnership with Creative City and a team of helpful volunteers, is erecting a five-metre tall house made entirely out of freesheet newspapers contributed by members of the public. The frame for the building is currently being put in place in Dalston’s Gillett Square, built of course from sustainably sourced wood, ready for the week-long paper extravaganza which starts next Monday. The project’s MySpace page explains further:

‘ London has a growing problem with the large quantities of free newspapers that clutter our streets and public transport. Tube passengers alone discard approximately nine-and-a-half tonnes of freesheet newspapers a day.

This is a lot of paper. What do about it?

On March 3rd, sculptor and installation artist Sumer Erek will construct a (5 m3) ‘House’ in Gillett Square, out of newspapers brought by members of the public. Visitors will insert their own observations, secrets, etc into the newspapers and add them to the structure. In this way, the public connects with the Newspaper House; their action is a contribution to the building of a public project.

The Newspaper House as an interactive public artwork is an opportunity to invite the public to participate and actually be involved in creating an artwork.

The theme of the project is “the city is our home” and as well as being an art work in its own right – exploring a variety of themes around the concept of “house” and the materiality of paper, the notion of waste and value – the project also encourages people to think about protecting and improving the environment, so that we can enjoy a cleaner, healthier world, together with a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood, and a wish of all to make it a pleasant place to live in.’


Getting in on the action, online campaign Project Freesheet took to the streets last night to collect up as many discarded papers as possible within two hours. the 70 volunteers collected close to 8000 free papers- weighing in at 800kg of paper – all of which will be used in the Newspaper House, and then we assume recycled? Despite the project’s huge environmental statement that is being proudly supported by the local Hackney Council, there is so far no mention of what will happen after the big unveiling, nor of the glue being used to hold every rolled-up paper in place or the plastic strips being used to bind each bundle- we can only assume that these are biodegradable and it has all been planned with the highest eco-morals. Otherwise isn’t it just a case of greenwashing for artistic purposes?

Visit The Newspaper House from Monday

Filed under: arts & culture, clever promotion, ,



Showcased at Seamless, a “fashion event featuring innovative and experimental works in computational apparel design, interactive clothing, and technology-based fashion” organized by MIT Media Lab graduate students, Markus Kison’s ‘Charming Burka’ is a digitally-enabled covering that gives the wearer the option of electronically displaying the face they are being made to hide. A controversial product, though not explicitly forbidden by Islamic law, the burka apparently deals with Freud’s idea that all clothes can be positioned between appeal and shame.

The German designer describes the concept behind his project:

The Burka was chosen because it is often perceived in the west as a symbol of repression. Then a digital layer was added to it so that women can decide for themselves where they want to position themselves virtually. The Burka sends an image, chosen by the wearer, via bluetooth. Every person next to her can receive her picture via mobile phone and see the woman’s self-determined identity. The laws of the Koran are not broken, so the Charming Burka fulfills the desire of living a more western life, which some Muslim women desire today. the Burka is equipped with bluetooth antenna/micro-controller and uses the OBEX protocol, already working with most mobile phones.

Although the “Charming Burka” is positioned in the context of religion, this project should be seen as a research towards the future possibilities of everyday clothing to own a digital layer and transmit additional information about its wearer. It questions which information people would choose to send. For example this might also be an image of their “Second Life” avatar.

Markus Kison – also the creator of the Vanity Ring

Filed under: products with a purpose, talent worth watching, ,



Here’s a step up for in-flight entertainment; Virgin America have just announced that from this Friday they will be offering TED talks through their entertainment channel. From the image it looks as though it’s part of their pay-per-view offer which seems a little cheeky when the videos are free online, but at least it beats watching re-runs of old sitcoms.

‘The TED Talks channel will premier on Virgin America flights in March and will feature some of the most compelling and groundbreaking thinkers of our time – including former President Bill Clinton, designer Philippe Starck, rock star/activist Bono and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.’

via BoingBoing

Filed under: entertainment,


According to the Sunday Times, planners at Broadland district council in Norfolk have just approved a 22-home “green hamlet” designed by Conran & Partners, Terence Conran’s architecture and design studio, to be built in natural clearings in preserved woodland a few miles from Norwich. With these homes – 17 detached, plus a terrace of five affordable houses – Conran, the creator of Habitat and a major design force in many UK households, is putting his stamp of approval on affordable housing and sustainable living:

The Drayton scheme is the pilot for a larger eco-community of 4,000 homes, and Conran & Partners is part of a consortium of players in the housebuilding industry hoping to work with one of the developers chosen to build one of the 10 zero-carbon eco-towns planned in Britain.

“I passionately believe that as designers – whether we are working on buildings, products or even modes of transport – we have a great deal of responsibility to find eco-friendly solutions to the serious and real problems that threaten future generations. Eco-towns are going to be very much part of the future, and it is vital they are affordable and comfortable and that they function as places to live in their own right.”

The Drayton hamlet is a mix of three, four- and five-bedroom homes. No trees will be felled to make way for the properties, which will have pitched clay-tile roofs and be finished in render and timber cladding, with triple glazing and an array of eco-features. The hot-water system will be solar-powered, and rainwater, harvested and stored underground, will be used to flush lavatories and water gardens. The homes will be as airtight as possible and highly insulated: wood-burning stoves and small gas-fired boilers will provide top-up heating.

The big question is: will his eco-homes sell? They’re not cheap. The price of the smallest three-bed detached is expected to start at £300,000; a five-bedder will cost £500,000, and prices for the affordable homes are yet to be finalised. Given that five-bed new-builds in nearby estates are priced at £350,000 and the average house price in Drayton is £250,000, others aren’t so sure. “Eco-homes come at a premium, and I do not think there are enough people willing to pay those prices yet,” says Dave Richardson, head of group marketing for Howards, a local estate agency. He nevertheless predicts the affordable properties will be snapped up: “If people can have an eco-home and qualify for an affordable property, I’m sure they will.”

Times: The eco-hamlet that Sir Terence Conran built

Filed under: future cities, visions of the future, ,


londonwordfestivalLaunched last night, the inaugural London Word Festival offers three weeks of evenings celebrating poetry, prose, music and comedy, with events devoted to lectures that are sung, the best in hip-hop poetry, “univocalism” (the art of writing poetry using only one vowel), comedian story-telling, and poetry and jazz mash-ups. With the recent success of spoken word events such as Book Slam, Fitzrovia Radio Hour and the B Club, Londoners are clearly enjoying a resurgence of live literary events- helped along by the addition of a healthy dose of alcohol. As testament to this, the 15 events during the festival are spread over eight East End clubs, bars and trendy venues including traditional Victorian music hall Hoxton Hall, über-trendy Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, and celeb hang-out the George Tavern.

According to the Times:

‘The venues suit the material. You won’t find superannuated politicians or puffed-up chefs here. Instead the festival celebrates “Generation Txt”: the twentysomething poets, novelists and playwrights who draw as much inspiration from the gritty realities and illicit joys of the modern city as Wordsworth did from daffodils or Herman Melville from whales. In one typical gathering, for instance, the 22-year-old Richard Milward will be reading from Apples, his brilliantly gross transposition of the Adam-and-Eve story to a Middlesbrough housing estate; while the young American author Joshua Ferris offers an extract from his savage satire of office life in Chicago, Then We Came to the End.

Two things appeal. The first is that this is a festival bold enough to place writers on the same bill as comedians, rappers and jazzers, and confident enough to expect those writers to be just as entertaining. And the second is that the very existence of a lit-fest run by and for people under 35 refutes the notion that the well-crafted written word is dead, or at least withering into terminal paralysis in a world dominated by blaring images and thudding rock beats.

What’s clear is that both fiction and poetry are undergoing a renaissance among the young. But it’s a renaissance rooted in clubs and the internet, rather than in staid publishing conglomerates. That’s great.’

London Word Festival

Filed under: arts & culture, creative ideas, worth seeing,


If you happen to be in Soho this Thursday, get yourself along to a Valentine’s Day Flash Hug and spread some love- and body warmth! The communal cuddle is organized by eco-conscious community Green Thing who inject a monthly dose of fun into being good by suggesting something to do and fun ways to do it. At only 135 days old, Green Thing already has a global community of over 5,000 people spanning 140 countries, all looking to share and enjoy their environmentally friendly ways. Past Green Things have included turning your lights off early, using body warmth instead of heating, and swapping something instead of buying it- and by purely being involved in these activities once a month the community have so far saved a total of 1073.05 tonnes of CO2.

The Flash Hug will be taking place at 1.30pm in Soho Square this Thursday, but if you can’t make it in person you can still share in the hugging action through the Live Hug. All this week members of the community have volunteered to turn off their heating and are being streamed live waiting for viewers to hit the hug button and give them a little extra warmth from someone near by.

Valentine’s Day Flash Hug

see more ways to do February’s Green Thing

Filed under: good, search this out, ,


luggageWith even meat suppliers getting in on the RFID action, the BAA have finally decided to trial the same technology for tracking luggage coming in and out of London’s Heathrow Airport. A six month trial will see Emirates airline partnering to track all bags on their five daily flights between Heathrow and Dubai, which apparently equates to 50,000 bags per month. With tracking being enabled at every step of the journey, passengers can give their mobile number to be alerted by text of the location of their bag when they land.

A distinctly unimpressive report from travel insurance company InsureandGo claims that on average its customers lost 12 bags per day during the first half of 2007 – the equivalent of one bag every two hours- a shocking statistic in an era of supposedly increased aviation safety. If the trial is successful it would surely be a system the insurance companies themselves should consider investing in alongside the aviation industry, or could maybe even offer their customers directly?

[via BBC]

Filed under: technology, ,


picture-171A little over-dramatic maybe, but Reuters have put a video on their site titled ‘Euros Invade New York’, describing how some stores in Manhattan’s East Village are now happily accepting Euros from customers. With the weak dollar enticing European tourists to spend it’s interesting to see some stores adapting to cater to these consumers. As Robert Chu, owner of East Village Wines explains “We had decided that money is money and we’ll take it and just do the exchange whenever we can with our bank”.

watch the video here

Filed under: stuff on the streets, ,


hirstAccording to the London Evening Standard, Damian Hirst is planning to ‘democratize’ art by taking it to the high street. The original YBA has signed a 10 year lease on a shop in Marylebone that he plans to open this spring, selling artwork, T-shirts, postcards, plates and books featuring his work, as well as pieces from up-and-coming artists including Michael Joo, Matt Collishaw and Thomas Scheibitz.

The store, to be called Other Criteria– the same name as Hirst’s publishing company- will be stocking pieces such as an 18-carat gold pill-charm bracelet costing £250,000, a set of 12 plates decorated by the artist for £10,000, and a roll of Pharmacy wallpaper, featuring rows of brightly coloured pills and tablets, on sale for a mere £1,000.

Hugh Allan, one of the directors of Other Criteria, said: “Art has to be experienced and the shop is where people can experience it in a democratic atmosphere rather than a West End gallery.”

Shopping as a creative experience? Whether you see it as democratizing or selling out, he is the first artist to make use of the sales structure that luxury brands have been using for years, and with plans to open a chain of these stores, Hirst apparently expects great enthusiasm for these diffusion products.

Filed under: arts & culture, brand extensions