A New Kind of Business Card

Question: How do you share that great idea of yours while keeping your intellectual property secure? Answer: You use a non-disclosure agreement.

Beer: tool of the trade

But NDAs are way too formal for the modern entrepreneur, who is more likely to meet a potential partner or investor at a conference, in a coffee shop, or over a beer than arrange to meet at the lawyers.

In an informal situation, the most common business exchange is probably handing someone your business card. I’ve been thinking about this, so in the spirit of sharing ideas, here’s what I’ve come up with:

What if your business card could unlock new conversations?

On the understanding that a signed non-disclosure agreement allows for a far smoother flow of communication in the exchange of business ideas, my business card design offers the ability to turn a casual conversation into a pitch scenario, but without the formality.

Take a look at this mockup I created for MOO Cards, who sadly weren’t interested in the exclusive ownership rights!

Click the image to see in fullscreen

My design is a perforated piece of card designed to be ripped in half:

  • One half lists the usual business card details
  • One half has space for a signature against the statement:
    “I hereby agree to treat your idea as confidential in a bond of trust”
    (or whatever)

Each party keeps one half of the card in this interactive business exchange. Not legally airtight, of course, but still an innovative means of quickly forming trust with a potential partner.

So then, anyone out there want to help turn this design into a reality?

Pixar’s Zoetrope and the 4th Dimension

As leaders in computer animation, in terms of box-office takings, technical prowess and industry awards, it’s easy to forget that Pixar’s roots are in traditional animation: the frame by frame progression of a set of still images at speeds that trick the eye into perceiving a single moving image.

But in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, it’s hard to explain the essentials of what Pixar really do without spoiling some of the magic: as any Behind the Scenes DVD extra will show you, it’s a probably a bunch of sweaty animators slaving over their Wacom tablets for months on end.

traditional zoetrope
a traditional zoetrope

So when Disney sought to showcase their acquisition (they bought Pixar back in 2006) in a couple of their resorts, they tasked Pixar with a demonstrating how animation works in a way that keeps the magic in.

What they came up with – a modern re-imagining of the zoetrope – is something to truly surprise and delight.

Take a look at this:

Lovely, isn’t it?

What caught my attention is the point animator Warren Trezevant makes:

It’s the clearest explanation of animation, because you get to see every frame of animation before your current frame […] and every frame of animation after it. Here you have the opportunity to see the tricks the animators use to make things move.

Dr Manhattan
Dr. Manhattan

Thinking more deeply on this, one could consider the zoetrope’s design as illustrative of one other concept: four dimensional perception.

Unlike traditional screen-based animation, the zoetrope lends observers the ability to see ‘through time’. One can rewind or fast-forward through frames with a slight adjustment in perspective, much like Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan.

This recalls an essay I wrote applying McLuhanism to comic books, which talks around the medium’s unique ability to force a sort of cognitive leap between the panels of a page (despite speeds far lower than 30 fps).

In comics, the reader’s mind fills in the blanks, making it probably the most effective animator of all. And now that Disney owns Marvel too, perhaps we’ll see more examples of Disney playing around in the fourth dimension.

Strategy Bot: An Experiment in Social A.I.

In this post I’ll introduce you to my new pet project: an experiment in Twitter automation. The Strategy Bot (pictured) is ‘programmed’ to select & retweet key digital media resources, case studies or news items that provoke a higher understanding of the formation of good digital strategy.

Strategy Bot
He thinks, therefore he tweets.

Some context… I will typically have the odd side project on the go at any one time. Recent examples have included:

  • Recategorising all my RSS feeds for mobile, web & iPad
  • Linking up Instapaper / ReaditLater / Pinboard & Twitter
  • Testing Facebook ads to see if I can drive Twitter followers
  • Playing with XFBML, the new Follow button and Google +1
  • Sketching people’s Twitter avatars with my new stylus

All of the above would be worthy of a blog post, and that might happen for a couple of them, but there’s been one project I’ve been thinking about for a while that I reckon just needs to be shared, because, dear reader, I need your help!

I’ve been interested in getting the most out of Twitter for a while, and I’ve been certain there is some utility among the network’s parasites: the lowly twitterbot. I’d love to perform an autopsy on one to see how they really work, as there are some excellent cases of these automata being actually quite useful or cool. For example:

  • Spotibot – @replies suggested music based on your requests
  • Wikipediabot – random links to Wikipedia pages every hour
  • Easy Joke – RT’s with “that’s what she said” on certain phrases

There are loads more listed on the Twitter Fan Wiki, and of course there are millions of spambots that behave in similar ways. But I wanted to make something that would be primarily useful to me, and that others might enjoy too.

The idea arose from the need to detect, share and archive truly excellent links, without cluttering my personal Twitter feed. Did you know you can automatically add Twitter links to Pinboard for archiving? It’s a bloody useful way to passively log the stuff that’s held your attention. And did you know you can create a self-hosted archive of all your tweets? I use Tweetnest to this end, where I’ve been logging my personal tweets here. Try searching for something!

Mr. Strategy Bot is just another way to add useful stuff to my own personal content library. But throughout the course of his life, I’d like him to be useful to everyone. Or at least, everyone that works in digital media (you gotta have a niche). So how should I automate him to this end?

In my attempts to pin down what makes these robots work, I found a number of approaches, typically making use of Twitterfeed (a pretty blunt RSS syndication tool) or the Twitter API (way over my head). I needed something that would let me ‘scrape’ the top links from a list of Twitter users, and automatically RT the top five links.

I have totally failed in my attempts, even after a whole evening spent in the depths of Yahoo! Pipes. For now, I’ve had to settle on the manual way. Yep, I’m manually RT’ing the links until I find a better solution, five a day, with a bit of prose each time to help round out his character.

I will continue to research means of automating his behaviour, as I think the idea of one’s own personal virtual pet social robot is a really powerful idea. Wouldn’t you agree?

[box]Please leave a comment if you can help create virtual life! Let’s give this guy his own A.I. existence out in the digital ether.[/box]

In the meantime, you should follow him on Twitter here.
He’s programmed to follow back!