Amazee

Amazee Gothic – First Cut

The latest participants of the Web Portraits Zurich project were Dania and Gregory, the folks behind Amazee.com and help organize events like Web Monday Zurich and the Swiss Startup Camp. Before the shoot I sat down with Greg and Dania for a brainstorming session (after presenting some ideas to them online), which included Amazee Gothic. The purpose of Web Portraits Zurich is to give people a platform to be photographed, to challenge their ideas of themselves and be a part of how their images are created and portrayed.


Amazee Gothic

There’s an iconic image from Americana called American Gothic. It’s an image of a man and woman standing beside one another. The basic interpretation is that they’re married and have labored hard to build the barn, which dominates the background of the painting. The man holds a pitchfork, and you get a sense that hard work and family come together to build a life for the two of them and for the future. I love thinking philosophically about images, and tracking the origins of ideas. With Dania and Greg, the analogy was perfect and obvious. The two are married and have labored hard in the startup land of Switzerland to build their barn, Amazee.com using the tech tools and business sense of modern times. This was the central theme I presented during our brain storming session, and then we exploded out in a couple different directions, and settled on a Tech-Flesh Jungle analogy to represent the internet environment of startup and internet companies in the new net universe – but this one will take some time to digest and to present coherently.

Raw Shoot


Before jumping into the Tech-Flesh concept, we did some basic portraits in my apartment studio. Dania and Greg dropped by one fine Tuesday night, and after a raclette dinner we set about shooting some portraits. Part of the Web Portraits project is to give people who don’t know much about photography and lighting the opportunity to learn. So we started out with Greg shooting after I’d set up the lights. Then I shot sets of Greg and Dania separately and together, getting a nice pool of images for the Amazee Gothic concept.


I wanted some nice, not-dark-and-moody lighting for the two of them. Greg has one of those fabulous near-bald heads that draws up from his body into a sort of classic form which almost demands a gridded softbox. I had one on hand and put an Elinchrom BxRi 250ws into it (a Creative Light 60×90cm gridded softbox). For Dania, and to balance out the sharper light hitting Greg I setup a white Elinchrom beauty dish with a diffusion sock, and inside I added a gold reflector element to give a warmer tone to her. I added some Lastolite Trilite reflectors in front of the two of them and we ready to shoot.

First Cut


I put together a quick first edit of images from the shoot. I had just picked up a flame thrower for a future ProtestLove shoot and it seemed perfect to pair a pregnant Dania with a destruction device I originally saw when the Watchmen promotional posters were released. Basically I was looking for a retro-styled flame thrower like the one the Comedian used to light his cigar, and this one with Dania has the perfect look. The device I found is simplistic and is the perfect size, not too long and not too short. We were sort of thinking of compositing in a bomber in the background dropping a payload of blossoming flowers from the sky. All I need now is to hook the thing up to a propane tank and shoot the flame and do some photoshop magic.


Greg found a pair of those cool 80’s glasses in my apartment I bought on the boardwalk in San Diego, and he wears them extremely well. I shot him with my large Creative Light softbox, and I guess he’s staring into the internet future, and with his smile, sort of reminds me of Max Headroom, I dig this look immensely. In the previous projects, I focused on a grungy look with Mathias, a cleaner look with Lukas, and now with Greg I wanted to do something lighter, so I worked up a composite of Greg with a summer sky shot in Berlin. I wanted something with a lot of light, but to maintain the texture of a painting canvas, some lightflare was added in Photoshop and I sort of want a hint of the awesome flare seen in Star Trek: where J.J Abrams used an anamorphic lens to get wicked flare, you also see this feeling in the Transformers movies, it gives you the sense of sitting in a desert.

A Person Is Not A Subject


When photographers talk about their photographs of people (like portraits), when I read comments on photo forums and on blogs from popular professional photographers it’s popular to use the term subject when referring to the image capture of a person, as in…


“I photographed the subject using a gridded octabox to feather the light off of their nose and give depth to their cheek bones…blah, blah…”


I like to call the humans I photograph people. After writing about subjects and lighting a lot of photographers then say something like, “but you have to make a connection with your subject.” I think that if you treat people like people instead of subjects, then it makes everything easier and natural to start out with. I think of a photo session as just an extended conversation. If you lose the human element in the photograph or image, then you also lose authenticity. And when you lose authenticity you have a picture which is worthless, without emotional impact, and is a waste of time to look. It’s tempting to say subject because it implies that you’re doing something grander than tripping the shutter on a camera during a conversation, but the truth is portrait photography is just about being a human talking to another human. When you get caught up in lights and gear and subjects you might not ever learn that simple fact, and end up treating a person you’re photographing like a science experiment – and I like photography because I’m not in the lab.

Web Monday Zurich #14

One of the coolest things about the Web Monday Zurich meetings are the cool locations. Every Monday it takes place in a different place, and after a while you get the feeling of exploring the unique office spaces of the Zurich tech scene. One month you’re sitting in the cozy office space of Amazee, the next you’re chilling on the comfortable couch of Wuala, I took a ride down the rabbit hole slide at Google and on May 3rd, 2010, I got to check out Big Blue, the IBM European headquarters in Bahnhof Altstetten in Zurich. IBM is famous for being (historically) the Evil juggernaut of Silicon Valley (my feeling via Steve Jobs), the beast which Apple and Microsoft rallied against in the early days of the personal computer wars. But now that Apple is the old skool corporate entity – well…IBM sort of feels like the nimble innovation-minded corporation reborn from the ashes of the Silicon computer wars. The people there seem energetic and free-minded – like tech-prophets marching into the future with their heads high and without the corporate giant stigma you see when watching the Pirates of Silicon Valley.


The IBM building has a fantastic atrium, where you can mingle and enjoy an apero before heading into the auditorium. There’s a giant sort of aquarium with blue lights and a couple of huge serves on display, it’s an interesting place to have a beer, and IBM beer surpasses the offerings at Google. I enjoyed a weissbeer while getting my head slightly twisted for my presentation on Web Portraits Zurich and mingled with folks. But before I got up on stage and tried to make a fool of myself, we were treated to talks and thoughts from IBM, Dein Deal, and Kooaba.

IBM


Siddhartha Arora (from IBM) was our host for evening, and presented the IBM Global Entrepreneur Program. Basically, IBM is interested in working with startup teams to build a smarter planet. This is an awesome higher purpose to hear from giant company like IBM. So what do startups need when starting out? They need to be low cost, they need mentoring and networking, and then they need marketing and sales. And if you’re accepted into the program, IBM offers it’s project support, people, and marketing strength. Teams would have access to IBM servers and technology support to allow the growth of new ideas and startups. What’s in it for Big Blue? The intellectual property stays with the startup, but I think there’s the belief that helping technology grow is a good thing. If you have a sweet idea that works well on a small startup scale, at some point you’ll need to scale toward the sky, and you need IBM for that. So, basically IBM is enabling new ideas for a smarter planet by supporting startups, and hopes to benefit from the eventual resources required for cool startup ideas to turn into killer companies. I think that this approach is what big companies like Big Blue should be doing to foster and encourage the spread and evolution of ideas, and the higher purpose here, “To build a smarter planet” sounds authentic and is highly inspirational. If you’re interested, you can apply for the program at www.ibm.com/isv/startup.

Dein Deal


There are a number of cool social marketing ways to form new selling opportunities, and Dein Deal is basically taking the idea of grouponworkes.com and putting it in practice in Switzerland. The concept is as old as supply and demand, if you pool the buying power of people, you can reduce the price of a product. Dein Deal focuses on providing deals on “experiences” in Switzerland. What’s an experience? Going out to dinner, a massage, wellness, whatever can be offered. It’s good for deal providers because they get a lot of people using their services, and encourages people to come back after trying it out. It’s good for Dein Deal, because the concept has already been proven successful in a ton of other countries. It’s a copycat concept, but who cares? If something works in one place (like America or Germany) why not see if will downscale to a small country like Switzerland?

Kooaba


I’ll be honest, I love the idea of Kooaba, because as a photographer and visual imagery junky, it’s the technology I was always excited about. And since I live in a cave, I also didn’t know the technology already existed and felt like an idiot in a crowd of brainiacs. What does Kooaba do? Image recognition. That’s it. That’s what I love to learn about. The Kooaba technology recognizes objects in images. If you can identify these elements and then link it to something (like Amazon) you have a very powerful tool for image searching and monitization of online imagery. Why is this important? Because you can’t search for images on the internet. You can only search for tags and text associated to imagery, but you can’t draw a house and find images of houses on Google (not that I know of at least). The idea is that you have an iPhone, Android, smart phone, take a picture of something, and then you get buying info on that object (online stores, Amazon, etc.). Google has a similar application called Google Goggles, which is now the main competitor of Kooaba. The old competitor used to be a startup called Snaptell, who was bought by Goolge (see how the circle of life works).


Kooaba isn’t able to recognize everything though. If you have a picture of a cat, it won’t know what to do with it. Basically the technology works by querying a database, recognizing an object in the image, and then sending the user to buying services. They also have some applications like Paperboy, which is used to take a picture of a magazine article, and then you get connected to the electronic version online on your smart phone. They also have Shooting Star, a photo management app with flickr integration, and using the image recognition technology your image is instantly tagged based on recognized objects. Very cool I think. At the moment it looks good for tagging according to landmarks and scenery, which is great for travel photography. However, this is really just a very small part of what image recognition has the potential to do for retail business and advertising.


Why is imagery recognition so important? Because we love celebrities because of who they are in our minds and love to buy the shit they pose with in magazines. So companies pay advertising agencies to develop ad campaigns with famous faces to sell stuff like Nespresso and clothes. But with image recognition all you would need to do is have a picture on an Android/iPad/iPhone/internet tablet, and in an online magazine and click on an object that Lady Gaga is wearing in some random article about music and then using location based information technology your device could be connected with the closest store offering ghastly latex shoes or you instantly get One-Click link to an Amazon store. Of course, this sucks for the advertising photography industry because it means that any image can be used as an ad, not just those that have been licensed to ad agencies. Imagine my Urban Ninja photos on Flickr being used to sell Katana Samurai swords in Austin, Texas when some kid is looking for cool martial arts photos on his lunch break at school? My images would have aided in selling a product, but I get no split from the sale. But that’s the future, and it’s already here.

Web Portraits Zurich


The last presentation of the night was me and I went low-tech as I presented the Web Portraits Zurich project that I started on Amazee. I went over the concept, explaining why I started taking photos, and how I got bored with self-portraits and started taking to women on the internet to setup model shoots, and then came to the web portrait project idea. I stared the portrait project because I’m continually inspired by the thoughts and visual style of the people I meet in the startup scene. Then it was the most natural thing in the world to start a portrait project, the higher purpose being, “to create cool imagery of people in the startup scene around Zurich and Switzerland.”


I presented images from Mathias Möller and Lukas Fischer, and then talked a bit about the brain storming process and online tools we’ve been using to develop portrait ideas like Google Wave and Cacoo. The next portrait will be with Dania and Gregory from Amazee, and if all goes well a giant Tech-Flesh jungle portrait of the Amazee team will find it’s way onto the net.



Zurich is an exciting place to be if you’re into the startup scene. For more info on what’s happening check out the Web Monday Zurich group on Amazee.com or UX Chuchi or Marketing Chuchi, or just walk the tech streets and explore the possibilities.

A Web Portrait – Lukas Uncut

Lukas from Guzuu agreed to do a Web Portraits Zurich shoot at my studio just before Easter. Lukas is interesting on many levels and was one of the reasons I started the Web Portraits Zurich project. He’s got a web startup (Guzuu.com), he has a cool style, and he’s a DJ on the side. Lukas was the inspiration for the web portrait project. I met him at the Amazee booster party in 2009 and it was after a Web Monday meeting that I decided to start the web portrait project on Amazee. The reason was clear, people in the startup community have a cool combination of brains and style, making for excellent portrait subjects.




Pre-Production Concepts


After Lukas agreed to do a web portrait we met for a brain storming session at Cafe Spheres in Zurich and from there we developed some visual direction for the shoot. I used Cacoo to work up a mindmap of the brainstorming meeting and used that in the pre-production lighting setup. Like Mathias, Lukas has a strong identity to music and the associated visual imagery. This is sort of a dream for the concept portrait photographer, because the person already has an opinion of what they like visually. This makes the whole portrait process way cooler, because it’s then a coming together of the minds and visual direction. Lukas knows the imagery he likes, it’s my job to work with him to create it virtual reality (digital imaging, photography, whatever you like to call it).


The Shoot – Respect the Image


Lukas dropped by with a bag full of cool clothes and after popping open a beer we talked for a bit and then started shooting. The interesting thing about the web portrait project is that I’m shooting real people in their own skin. When you shoot with models you’re often times shooting someone acting out a scene. They retain certain traits of their personality, but the image and concept comes from the photographer, the shoot is produced, the final image a result of pure direction. When I shot Demari Vi Syth her “psychotic sister of the girl next door” vibe is evident, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect who she is in real life. But that wasn’t the point of that shoot. A good model knows how they look, how to best portray their body, and it’s the job of the photographer to use that and make it look authentic with respect to the image concept. In general, real people don’t know how to pose, and as a photographer I’m not so motivated to tell them exactly what to do. I know this is what photographers are supposed to do, but if you direct 20 different people the exact same way you end up with 20 nearly identical portraits.


Respect the Person


The faces change, but the form of the body basically stays the same if you direct everyone the same way. How boring is that? Oh sweet, another picture of a band in front of a brick wall. Think outside the cookie cutter softbox. The goal of Web Portraits Zurich is to give people a platform to be themselves in an artificial environment, to create portraits which present their personalities as they see themselves. Naturally I add a lot of interpretation through shooting, lighting, and post-processing, but only so long as I can maintain that authenticity of the person in the portrait. I’m not saying I’m succeeding in this respect, I’m just saying I’m doing what feels right. Be true to the integrity of the image, and all the details will fall into place.


Fin?


By the end of the shoot we’d gone through a variety of looks and killed a few beers. We had the idea of following a certain combination of color and jackets. Lukas had a shirt from Guzuu in Yellow with a tape on the front (one of the most popular items) and I let him borrow my version in red. Near the end Lukas brought out the DJ headphones an I switched to a wide-angle setup, shooting him like he was leading the crowd of a fanatic music rave calling out to the Gods of nights. Of course, the images aren’t finished, I’ll now move into the abstract stage and start putting together some post processing concepts for the images.






Web Monday Zurich #13

Web Monday Zurich #13 was held at the offices of Wuala in Zurich (I took a sticker for my laptop), and covered such lovely topics as why companies fear Facebook, the history of the music industry and the visual searching tool I always wanted but never knew existed. I had a headache during the presentations, but that didn’t deter from the coolness of the tech evening from settling into my neuron flow. To join future Web Monday meetings check out the Web Monday Zurich project on Amazee.


I can’t say where the pain in my head came from exactly, some combination of being sick last week, finishing a review of a new electroactive polymer paper, ski touring towards the Wildstrubel (before recovering) in a snow storm and building up an image of a beautiful woman next to a nuclear mushroom cloud is bound to put pressure on essential areas of my neural networks. Plus I think I need new glasses.


According to the book “Neuro Web Design: What Makes them Click?” (which I read for the last UX Book club Switzerland ), people love stories, and if you start one everyone will be captivated. This explains why iMusicianDigital AG was my favorite presentation of the night, because it was mainly a story, that of the music industry from the 1990’s till today.


The 90’s were the golden age of the music industry. People went crazy buying over-priced CDs and more money was made in this time than at any other time in the history of the industry. Then, around 2001 broadband hit along with cheap CD burners and P2P networks, and all the consumers who were pissed off at paying $20 for an album on CD with two good songs and a lot of crap on it were all too happy to pirate as much music as possible (this last part is my own take on the history). CD sales dropped and there was a 20% sales decline per year. Discount CD sales were pushed by big retailers like Media Markt and Best Buy (in the US) who lost money on CDs but made a killing on other stuff (first get them in the stores). While this all went down the local retailers and cool CD shops where put out of business…and now where are we?


Now it’s estimated that 60% of the music we consume is pirated in some way or another. Why? There is a theory, purported in books like “Free” and “Economies of Abundance” that the value of things like images, music, movies, and other media will always tend to zero in the long run (like your survival rate). So how does one make money on something with a declining perception of monetary value like a music album?


Well, first off, in the traditional model of the music industry there was no real-time accounting and the administration of selling music was very inefficient. In the new model, such as with iMusicianDigital the content is user generated whenever possible. An artist creates an account, uploads the album as uncompressed audio and that music is distributed to iTunes, Amazon, etc. The musician sees real-time stats for where the music is bought, what countries, how much, when, and is paid in a timely manner.


How successful an artist is financially is dependent on much more than the distribution system. The savvy musician needs to build a fan base, often through live shows (connect the poetry to the reader) and now through social networking tools like Facebook, MySpace, etc. It’s like anything else, you need some way to connect to the fan base and develop a community.


iMusicianDigital is attempting to fill that niche, that area of the music industry which is in flux. Artists upload their album and a little while later it’s available on iTunes, Amazon, etc. It’s interesting for me to learn about this stuff, because I want to the a similar thing with self-published books. Seeing how music is distributed and promoted online is similar to the publishing-on-demand business models for books, putting the promotion and marketing of the material in the hands of the creator.


Raphael Briner from HyperWeek gave the first presentation of the night about developing online social networking communities (think Facebook) for businesses. Why do businesses need his company? Because it’s too hard to build the platforms up from scratch. A few examples were shown including stackoverflow.com and it’s cool to hear about the development of this stuff. However, since I’m a consumer and am now overloaded with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, my blog and Flickr, I stood around wondering when I’m going to actually start shooting pictures again (yes, my mind wanders, the result of too many social networking sites).


The last presentation was for Oskope, the visual search and find design I’ve always new was possible, and continually frustrated when it didn’t exist. The concept of Oskope was originally presented two years ago, but this was the first I’d seen of it (I’m often oblivious to the world, I admit it). The idea of Oskope is to present products as images, allowing you to search visually and have the image products grouped in a certain way that you can better find what you were looking for. Ever tried searching for “Shoes” on Amazon? I’ve even tried using eBags to find a cool leather bag, and ended up going to Scaramanga in the UK. To be fair, Scaramanga sells some of the coolest vintage bags I could imagine (perhaps I’m just shallow) but the point is that sites like Amazon are really a cluster-fuck to search through unless you specifically know what you want (or just accept what they want to see to you).


For me Oskope is a window into how online shopping should be done. But the technology is distributed in a licensing model, and till now I never knew it existed. So where is the value in it? Promote it, get in online stores, revolutionize my online buying experience. If Oskope gets ported to Android (and as well the iPhone and iPad) I think it will really take off, as it’s the exact type of shopping experience a touch device consumer will love.




Web Portraits Zurich – Mathias Shoot

The first willing subject for the Web Portraits Zurich project was Mathias Möller, Editor and Community Manager at Amazee who agreed to have his portrait taken.


The shoot was relaxed, the way a portrait shooting session should be. We had had a concept meeting a few weeks before, and organized some ideas on Google Wave, so there was a clear direction for the shoot. Grungy and not too bright, a little counter culture and gritty. This wasn’t a high pressure shoot, Mathias just dropped by the apartment studio and we talked about random stuff like the Spores (a band out of L.A.) and imagery from Joy Division. An observer might call this “connecting with the subject” but I just call it a fun time talking with an interesting person. There were two main looks we went with during the session, Mathias had a vintage Swiss Army jacket and a cool band denim jacket. I was shooting on white seamless with a few lights and reflectors.



Lighting Philosophy


Mathias wanted some darker sort of photos, which is what I’ve sort of developed a style shooting, so our expectations worked well together. For me this meant creating lighting with shadows and darkness, while allowing the main features of Mathias be revealed. This meant some directional lighting on the face, casting dark shadows across his body, and a grungy post-processing philosophy. I worked primarily with my Elinchrom BxRi 250ws strobes and a Sunpak 383, with Lastolite Trilite reflectors and a large 5-in-1 silver reflector.


For the portrait with a Swiss Army jacket I put a BxRi in an extra small Photoflex octabox, and used this to create a large contrast on his face. A sort of Yin-and-Yang, darkside/lightside sort of lighting. A reflector and Orbis ringflash (with Sunpak 383) were used to maintain lighting detail of his cool vintage jacket. For post-processing I used some industrial grunge, including compositing Mathias into the old abandoned Packard car plant in Detroit, Michigan. Other background images and textures were shot around Zurich and Winterthur in Switzerland.


For a cleaner look, I shot Mathias with a BxRi flash in a large Creative Light softbox (60×90cm) with a grid, and added some fill using the Photoflex extra small octabox. The Creative Light softbox was placed on the side, and gave a lot of bright directional light, which works well for creating defined shadows with smooth but small transitions.



Visual Results


The idea with Mathias was to create images with a certain grungy darkness to them. This was accomplished via lighting and post-processing in Photoshop using layers of concrete and industrial scenes. Overall I think we accomplished the not-to-bright and not-to-sterile look without making Mathias look like a grungy gangster from the Zurich hood.


I’m always looking for new faces to shoot, if you’re interested in the idea of documenting the people from the Zurich startup and web scene it’s easy to get in contact with me to set up a concept meeting. More about the Web Portraits Zurich project can be found on Amazee.com or the articles here:


Web Portraits Zurich – Amazee Project
Web Portraits Zurich on the blog


Mathias Web Portraits Zurich

Web Monday Zurich #12

Lazy_Art_IIMy mind is still bleeding with inspiration from Web Monday Zurich #12. I sometimes paint and at some point I get into a sort of trance with the colors and shapes that paint themselves on to the canvas – the madness takes over and I think I’ll crawl out of my skin. I admit this is an overly dramatic way to describe my reaction to a Geek gathering about web startups, but I don’t watch much TV, and never got into drugs – so it stands to reason that I have to get my kicks from somewhere – and in die Schweiz, there’s no Route 66. I keep thinking that one day I’ll get bored at these web gatherings but my mind is always on fire by the end of the night and I count the days till the next one. There were three topics at Web Monday Zurich #12 including, Memonic.com, the UBS Web 2.0 contest winners were revealed, and HowToPedia.org got my neurons moving. It was held at the offices of LIIP/Nektoon, and drinks were sponsored by UBS.


memonic_pageMemonic


Dorian Selz from Nektoon presented Memonic – a website where you “keep the essential” of your web journeys and save only what you need. I first saw Memonic at the UX Chuchi where we discussed their user interface and overall design. The current site looks a lot tighter than the initial offering and is serious competitor for a site I will actually use day to day. Basically, with Memonic you save elements of webpage you visit, and then organize those elements on your Memonic account. It was developed based on the needs Dorian and his colleagues saw as well as their experiences in their own web travels. Basically you go to a webpage, then click on a bookmark for Memonic, and you then can pick paragraphs of text, pictures, make multiple selection, basically click whatever is on the webpage, and these elements are saved to your account. Or you just bookmark the site as well. The point of course is that you just take those pieces which you need, and then can access that information quickly. You can also export that information in an email, to a twitter account, facebook, and also to a smart phone. This is great for traveling and really takes information storage beyond bookmarking, and therefore much more useful in daily life. These saved elements can be organized into sets on your account and that way organized. It’s similar to tagging, and then clicking on a set and getting all the saved information. Naturally you can have multiple sets, as pieces of information rarely fit in only one category, which is more how we store and access information in the brain.


YouTube Preview Image


“But, how do you make money?”


The business plan is always the first question at Web Monday during the question and answer session. Basically Memonic currently offers a free service, and later will offer a paid service with more functionality. These models are on a Business to Customer (B2C) design, but they also have ambitions to do Business to Business (B2B) to fulfill the needs of companies. Also in the future there are plans to actually use the information you’ve stored on Memonic as a search filter while you surf the web. So, it will be possible to analyze the stuff you’ve saved to Memonic, and use that as a filter to direct internet searches, which means a user should end up with more relevant search results (relevant to their needs) – very cool. When I think of competitors to Memonic I think of Zootool, but there’s also a US site called Evernote (which I had never heard of). I like Zootool because it’s based around saving imagery (the downside is that it doesn’t do text like Memonic), and is more of a visual-media/micro-blogging/almost-like-Flickr service, which also reminds me of Tumblr. Zootool operates very similar to Memonic when it comes to saving content and in my opinion currently has better social network integration (easier to share stuff) – but I see a lot of potential with Memonic for the future.


ubs_logo.jpgUBS Web 2.0


So, basically UBS sponsored a contest to learn about Web 2.0 and banking applications. Andreas Hoffman and his colleagues awarded 5000 CHF for the three best presentation of ideas concerning what UBS should be doing with web 2.0 to connect with their customers. Winners included Go beyond ebanking today (Roland Studer), Collaborative Filtering (Amancio Bouza), and UBS Super Trader (Martin Moser and Roger Singer). To a certain extent, the presented ideas were not ground breaking in the sense of new technology, but rather applying existing ideas to the question of Web 2.0 and UBS banking applications. But this is how many great shifts in technology occur, not by totally new inventions, but by interpreting existing technology in new ways and applying them to new areas (Idea Generation and Development – Startup 2009 Basel). Overall many ideas were similar to what is currently being done in other places like Amazon.com or other websites which focus on customer interaction. The point was to apply those principles to a UBS business model. In my opinion the main idea is to give more freedom of interaction to the client, and not keep them fully dependent on the client advisor. I sent in a entry as well, basically I said they need to empower the Web 2.0 client, but I don’t think I was really able to communicate the concept I have in my head. Roland posted his entry to his blog in a post titled, Go beyond ebanking of today.


I think UBS should be awarded some sort of uber Web 2.0 Technology award for their efforts and I’m happy to say I’m a UBS banking customer, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with. The banking world is generally seen as having linear thinking and business practices. I’ve been reading/listening to “Break from the Pack – How to succeed in a Copycat Economy” and I’m really impressed that UBS is taking initiative to educate themselves on the Web 2.0 opportunities. They’re helping to define the future of banking instead of waiting for someone else to do it, but without knowing what the eventual outcome will be for their profits. This is the exact type of dynamic, non-linear thinking companies should be doing to break from the pack and lead their industries. Plus, Andreas Hoffmann came to the Zurich web community and partnered with Dania Gerhardt (Amazee.com) to setup the competition. It’s good for UBS, good for the participants, good for technology and idea development, and there’s more to come. UBS also plans on putting together a small consultancy team from three of the competition participants to do a business study and presumably help develop their Web 2.0 platform, really awesome initiative – they should get a write up in Forbes.


logo_howtopediaHowToPedia.org


It was the last presentation of the night that really set my mind on fire. As my first beer was wearing off and before I had time to grab another one, Maud Châtelet talked about HowToPedia.org, a non-profit website with the goal of empowering people in developing countries and enabling for autonomous, sustainable development in their lives. Maud started by showing two world maps. On the first was plotted the areas of poverty. On the second, the number of languages within a certain geographic region. If you superimpose onto the other, they more or less match up perfectly. The basic conclusion is that difficulty in communication is a significant factor in the development of people and technology in their lives. So how do we empower people to change that trend?


poverty-lanuage-map


The goal of HowToPedia is to manage and distribute practical knowledge to people throughout the world, which they can use to improve the quality of their lives. To me this is like empowering the engineer in all of us, no matter our educational background. I personally think everyone is a poet and an engineer, an artist and a scientist, and that you don’t need to study in a university to practice these things in your life. So, through the website, practical knowledge is presented such as, purifying water, how to build a windmill, or even making sandals from old tires. To reduce communication barriers a goal is to translate this information into various languages, so that a maximum number of people can use it. This type of information exists on other sites, but the point is for howtopedia.org to be the main place for knowledge management, so that various organizations aren’t duplicating their efforts and wasting resources. The information is for free, but the site needs money to work, so at the moment there’s a focus on fundraising. I’ve been interested in getting into a program like this. I know a couple people doing Engineering Without Borders in the US, but I haven’t been able to find EWB in Switzerland, plus I love the idea of empowering through knowledge distribution, so it looks like howtopedia could be a good way for me to give back with my engineering skills.


So, Web Monday Zurich rocked hardcore. If you’re interested in more info on the Startup scene around Switzerland check out :


StartWerk.ch (their German reporting on Web Monday #12)


Think of attending StartupCamp Switzerland 2010 on Feb. 13th in Basel


Check out Web Monday Zurich on Amazee.

WPZ – Mathias Concept Meeting

WPZ - Video 1.001The Web Portraits Zurich project is moving forward. This was a project I started on Amazee to integrate photography with my interest in web technology. The first portrait shoot is with Mathias Möller, who works at Amazee and freelances for laut.de, a German music blog. The Web Portratis Zurich project is as much about exploring creative collaboration tools as it is about creating excellent portraits of people in the Zurich Web/Startup Scene. During the concept/brainstorming stage we’ve been using Google Wave, but at some point it makes scense to sit down for a face-to-face.


Face-to-Face


So, on a fine Friday night Mathias and I sat down at Cafe Sheres in Zurich discuss and get a concept direction for his portrait. I took along a sketchbook to make a mindmap while we talked. All in all it was an excellent meeting…coffee, free-flow of ideas, the stuff that brainstorming dreams are made of. The goal of our face-to-face was to throw ideas around, see what we like for the main shoot and make sure I don’t show up with a suit of Medieval armor when he imagined being photographed like a punk-rocker. A portrait is really a delicate thing, you are not making an image of a person, but rather taking an image of an idea (at least, that’s my view on it). The person is the idea, and their physical body a changing representation of only the outer shell. The key is to meld the elements of the person with the shadows of the outer shell. Maybe I think too much, but an image is usually not just a picture, and a portrait is rarely an accurate represenatation of the person in front of the camera.


The Person


During our meeting, I was sort of interviewing Mathias and the other half of the time he was talking out aloud about his ambitions and elements of his personality, which is exactly what should be going on during just such a meeting. What I learned is that Mathias is totally down with doing a cool concept portrait. Just to be safe, we’ll do a nice clean one as well (like Jill Greenberg/Platon), because it’s possible the concept fails (but it won’t). Among the various questions, I asked things like,

What movie do you see yourself in, or identify with?
What type of imagery do you like from music and album covers?
How do you want to see yourself?

These type of questions tell you a lot about a person, and I see it as more or less essential to get this background information, otherwise how will you know what elements fit the personaility of the person. Also, I don’t want to put Mathias into a concept he’e not comfortable with. The elements all have to flow together for the image to work. I learned that Mathias identifies with the Punk rock movement, doesn’t own a pair of Doc Martens, likes the dark and grungy tones in my photography, is interested in the skinhead culture, counter-culture, often sees things in a political context, likes the imagery of Sonic Youth and Morrisy, is interested in the connection between Pop and Art, wants an image that isn’t too sterile, and also not too bright.


Most importantly I found out that Mathias is interested in taking elements from himself (the person) and melding that the concept of the shoot (the idea). This was awesome to hear as it’s the way I go about developing portrait shoot concepts.


Mathias-Portrait-Concepts.png


Mathias_Wave_PicOnline Collaboration Tools


One goal of the Web Portraits Zurich project is experimentation with different online tools to help the brainstoriming process and…let’s call it: Creativity Management. We started the brainstorming process on Google Wave, which worked ok to throw up some initial ideas and concept images, but it’s not about to replace the face-to-face meeting anytime soon. In the future we’ll use Wave to throw around some basic ideas, and then meet at a cafe for a sit-down brainstorming session.


For organizing workflow and mindmaps, I’ve been using MyMind on my G4 Powerbook and Cacoo, an online diagraming tool. First I took the notes from the meeting, wrote them all up in MyMind for visual organization, and then cut and pasted the main ideas to Cacoo. Cacoo works very well for making mindmaps and workflow diagrams. Since it’s online I can access my documents from any computer. These can be exported as png images to be embedding in webpages, and the maps can be shared via a url link to the online document, which makes it a very nice online tool. Above is the mind map I made up on Cacoo for Mathias, something I do for every photo shoot now. It’s an easy way to view and arrange elements of a portrait shoot, mixing concepts with the shooting requirements.


The Resulting Vision


At the moment I see Mathias standing in front of some old TVs looking a bit like Ian Curtis from Joy Division, the background is gray, layered with a bit of industrial grunge. On the TV’s are images of static and protest. He sports an awesome pair of framed glasses (the ones he wears). Part of the visual style will be influenced by Control, the definitive Joy Division flick. The point here will not be to make Mathias into Ian, but to take some visual points from that music style, and layer with Mathias, sort of like adding a grunge layer to a portrait.


The next step is finalizing the concept and doing the shoot.

Web Monday Zurich #11

Google_Tennis_Seat.jpgThe days after a Web Monday Zurich (01.12.2009) is always hard on my head – still exploding from the tech-inspiration from the night before. On nights like this I need to find a dim place with mellow music and down a beer, sometimes with a chocolate brownie to calm my mind (this often happens at Alltag in Winterthur). The 11th Web Monday Zurich took place in the Zurich Google offices, that alone was enough of a reason to attend, the technology insight was just a bonus. There were three topics; Panoramio, UBS Web 2.0, and Mathias Vogel. Then I got a chance to tour through the Google offices.


Panoramio_logo.jpgThe Panoramio presentation wasn’t so much about the software, but more of a how-I-woke-up-and-found-myself-successful talk by Joaquin Cuenca Abela. Joaquin sounds like the type of startup personality everyone imagines it should be like. A basic idea, applied to a certain technology, you keep pushing your ideas, and for some reason you get a call when you’re in the mountains to hear that your one server has crashed and your idea is becoming a success. Joaquin tried a few different ideas before thinking it would be a good idea to allow people to post pictures on Google Earth (the purpose of Panoramio). Basically they did that, eventually Google got interested in it and added it as an option on Google Earth. Then the server crashed and they knew they had arrived. It’s the feel-good type of story that makes a person want to quit their job and sit around an apartment drinking beer and programming. However, the real essence of the talk was that one should just keep trying with their ideas, many successful web startups are by people who are not necessarily super smart or unobtainably talented. Just do what feels right, respect you decisions and try different things to find out what works.


ubs_logo.jpgNext up Andreas Hoffmann gave a presentation on a challenge/contest from UBS. Basically, UBS wants to know how to use Web 2.0 in the banking business. All they want is 4-5 PowerPoint slides by Dec. 24th explaining your concept (details at the Web Monday Zurich project on Amzaee). The top three winners get 5000 CHF each. Sounds pretty sweet, pretty basic, straight-forward, everything you always expected in an idea contest. Since I’m an idea man I’m planning to brainstorm some ideas and send it in. After all, I’m a UBS banking customer, and if I can tell them how I want Web 2.0 in my banking life and they’re going to take me seriously, well, that’s worth a few nights at the coffee shop combined with some scribbles on a piece of paper on the way back from a night out in Zurich.


fhnw_fhnw_logo_de.pngLast up Mathias Vogel talked about the Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz (FHNW). The FHNW school is interested in applied research, which means creating prototype technologies, serving industry partners, as opposed to basic science and writing publications (like at ETH Zurich). The program is currently after woman and industrial partners at the moment, with one goal being making computer science more attractive to women. I like this idea, and I can understand the motivations but generally dislike programs which separate one group of people from another at this level. I sort of felt excluded in many ways from the research communities in the United States because such a great push was made in universities and companies to recruit everyone who isn’t a white male (and that would be me). I decided to do research work at ETH Zurich largely because they seemed to be interested in results and ethics more than looks or gender. I think the best way to get more woman into the tech fields is to do more outreach at the lower levels and preschools and teach children at an early age not to exclude colleagues because of their gender or skin color. Pushing for women at the professional level, after they’ve already gone through a male-biased system and are already taking a research carrier direction (already succeeded despite the roadblocks) seems like a good start, but I think that giving support to tech-minded girls so they realize they could become startup-creating-women could have a greater influence (hmmm, sounds like a cool Amazee project idea). But now I’m interjecting random commentary where it might not belong (or does it?).


coolpeople_map.pngAs part of the FHNW program two projects were also presented. Amazee is included in one of their partner projects, one goal being the creation of a sort of Karma Index into the Amazee system, which will include a recommendation engine so that new users are quickly connected with other users with similar interests when they join. I find this to be fantastic, because the first thing you wonder about when joining an online organization like Amazee (or Stylished, or Talenthouse, or Flickr) is how to find the people you want to work with. My mind had become a tad befuddled by this point from the free beer, but it was able to coherently listen to the presentation of the Galaxyadvisors.com website. It’s basically a connection engine, trolling through networks picking out connections between different people, creating connections between them, and then displaying this as a giant web. I’m more or less smart enough to appreciate the full value of it, as were most people in the room. I’m going to keep tabs on Galaxyadvisors, as many great things could come from it.


After the talks I walked around the room enjoying two quick glasses of wine talking with cool people, and then took a tour of the Google offices half buzzed on vino. The experience was…fantastic. You don’t need to be half buzzed to enjoy the Google offices, but it does enhance the experience. Just walking around you feel drunk, wondering if it’s possible, or if you’re simply hallucinating, can it be possible for offices be this “cool?” No, this is madness, surely I drank a bottle of bottle of Jack at my apartment and am simply losing all functions of my mind, and as a last gasp before dying my brain has created this fantasy land for me to enjoy before I cease to exist. But this actually happened, and I have pictures to prove it, as well as a video of my shoes sliding down a pole instead of taking the stairs.

Google Wave – Photo Project Brainstorming

google_wave_logo-400x320.jpgI’m running a project on Amazee called Web Portraits Zurich. Basically it’s about creating cool portraits and images of people in the Zurich/Switzerland web and startup community. To try and be a little innovative, I started the project not just as a way to gather a lot of cool subjects to shoot with (like any selfish photographer), but also as an experiment in the online creative process. I usually do a lot of pre-shoot work for any portrait project I engage in, and I was thinking to myself, “what web tools can be used to improve the creative process?” I’ve written a lot about my Concept to Photo workflow here on the blog, and basically this includes initial brainstorming, shot logistics, and lighting design. What I was wondering was, “how can we do this online, so that multiple people can participate and really make it a community project?”


The biggest problem with brainstorming a photo shoot online is the lack of interactivity on most web platforms. Wether we’re talking about Flickr, Talenthouse, Amazee, etc. we’re always basically talking about posting messages and responses to a message board. The flow of dialogue is then static, and one has to read through the whole post of messages to figure out what was being said. That’s why I was excited to try out Google Wave and use Web Portraits Zurich as a test case for online brainstorming and as a photo shoot organizational tool.WPZ_Wave_Example.jpg


My expectations are that we post a new Wave for each new portrait project, then people start brainstorming how to do it. Do we shoot in my studio, on location, how will the startup company play into the portrait? Do we want dramatic lighting, soft, are there example images we can use to illustrate our ideas? Can we keep the dialogue going, with people commenting on certain parts of the conversation and can we replay how the how project evolved? In short, all of this is possible with Wave – and it’s fucking awesome.


With Google Wave you have the ability to create posts, and have people add and respond to different parts of the dialogue. You can upload files like images, which is important for brainstorming a photo project, where the concept is always the most important thing (I think). The concept of the person being photographer, the concept of who they are, how they are perceived by the world, etc. With Wave a person can sketch out an idea (for posing for example) and upload it directly to the Wave. Everyone can then visually see what they mean and thereby we maintain momentum in the brainstorming process.


WPZ_Wave_Example_2.jpg


I started out with an example Wave to illustrate the process. This was an attempt to recreate the brainstorming process I went through to create my Urban Ninja images. With Wave I can upload sketches, concept images from Watchmen and 300 (a significant inspiration for this set), and you can see all right there on the screen how the idea evolved. People can then discuss about the concept for a portrait, post example images (like a scan from a magazine) to illustrate the type of look they want, and then we can directly discuss how to create it in reality.


The Future


Google Wave is an awesome product. I don’t say this often about we technologies. Often “new” are just regurgitated copies of a copy of a copy of an old idea. I feel that Wave is more innovative than the common “new” web thing (like Facebook), but what I see in my head is even better than what I’ve described so far. Think Android and Chrome for a second. Android is the open-source mobile operating system Google has developed for devices like smart phones. There’s the Droid, the HTC, that run on Android, and that’s only the start. Android can be used on netbooks, and soon on web tablets. This is the perfect combination in my mind for the creative professional who want’s to network.


Imagine a touch phone or net tablet running Android with Wave as an application, allowing you to interface directly with other people on your creative team anywhere in the world. Imagine creating and changing lighting diagrams intricately and posting concept sketches and having a creative director on the other side of the world adding notes. Imagine doing this on your computer at home, on the move running around during the day, and doing online conference calls to shore up all the detail. I think the possibilities are fantastically awesome for Wave and the future of mobile computing.

Web Portraits Viral Intro

WPZ - Video 1.001The Web Portraits Zurich project got a viral presentation today. I put it together and uploaded it to SlideShare to act as a viral type of device to embed in other pages and visually communicate the main idea, inspire people, etc. The design includes a bit of the grunge look that I like, as well as a few mottos like,


“...the net is also human.”


“the web is also mortal.”


Afterall, the whole point of this project is to make that emotional connection between the creator and the users of web technology, so the mottos seem proper to use in this context. Over the past month since I launched the project I’ve been going over the organizational themes in my head before gathering people to start shooting with. The main question is how to handle the creative brainstorming. I would really love to use Googe Wave for this purpose. The main project flow will be as described in the diagram below (unless someone has an excellent alternative). Basically we’ll brainstorm some ideas for cool portraits based on who is being photographed, organize the concept, location, etc. and then produce some sweet pictures.


WPZ_Workflow


I’ve been experimenting with Googe Wave to brainstorm a portrait. It would be sweet if the Wave could be embedded hereWith Google Wave you basically have a mad-scientist cross between a forum posting, a time machine, and a normal conversation. At least, you should have all of that once it’s out of the Beta stage. At the moment I can’t upload photos, which will be pretty important when brainstorming ideas for shooting and production. I want people to be able to sketch out and upload their ideas to the discussion, and from there we get ideas on lighting and stuff, and then we have a cool tool for creative portrait brainstorming online. A person from Tokyo could suggest the makeup, one from San Diego the lighting, someone from Zurich suggests a location, etc.

Another option is to use the Wall on the Amazee project board. However, there are some limitations here, and it’s more like using a forum to post and discuss ideas, which works for some things but isn’t the idea brain storming platform in my opinion. Well, part of the project is exploring how to organize a creative project online, so whatever happens, I’m sure we’ll all learn something.

Here is the Intro Presentation

Web Portraits Zurich – The Idea

Amazee-Balmhorn


A few weeks ago I launched a project on Amazee called, Web Portraits Zurich.


The project is simple, easy to explain and painless to promote. I want to combine photography with the interesting people I’ve met in the Zurich web scene. While heading to events like the Swiss StartUp camp in Basel, barcamps in Berlin and Switzerland, as well as the WebMonday meetings in Zurich, I’ve met a lot of interesting people with interesting ideas. Then, after WebMonday Zurich #10 I brainstormed some lighting setups for an upcoming photoshoot - and then an idea was revealed in my head. The idea is to use Amazee to organize portraits of the people in the web and startup community around Zurich. Right now I’ve cut a few videos in my head explaining the Web Portraits Zurich concept and will cut them for real this week. These will both present and explain the Web Portraits concept and organization. This seems the most effective way to give people an idea of what to expect and to promote to interested parties.


But as a prelude, I’ll reveal some personal motivations behind the project. Why Web Portraits? Why organized on Amazee? After all, to just do some portraits of the web people in Zurich, I can just contacted people and shoot the portraits and than would be it. You see, with Amazee I see some inspiration to experiment with Creative Production.


The Web is also Human


The Net is also Mortal


If you shoot a portrait it might all be done by the photographer, setting up lighting, choosing a location, organizing things and then doing the shoot. In my experience the process of creating a portraits involves a few steps (or non at all): Concept Creation, Production Design, Shooting, Post-Processing, Distribution.


I want to give back, to give the opportunity to people to participate in the process of creating these portraits. Why? Because I’ve found that exercising your creative tendencies outside of your normal interests (or jobs) makes you a better, more flexible thinker and enables you to improve your ability to view the world in different ways, and that improves your ability to come up with new solutions for different problems in life.


Since the project was launched on Oct. 29th there’s been a healthy interest on Amazee, including a feature on the main page. Now it’s up to me to build on the momentum and release these videos and start shooting. If it all works out in the end there will be a sweet collection of portraits from the Zurich web scene, we’ll integrate the interesting personalities with their cool technological achievements and see what trouble we can get into along the way.

Get_Shot_Crop

Web Monday Zurich #10

WalimexOcta150cmWeb Monday Zurich is a meeting setup on Amazee.com to enable interaction between people in the web community around Zurich.  Startups have a chance to present their ideas and get feedback, everyone has a chance to mingle and network, feed your brain and your innovation side in social atmosphere, how can you not go?


I wanted to attend my first Web Monday at the end of August, companies like MAGMAG Magazines were presenting, and being a photographer looking for new ways to present visual content, I was eager to see what was up.  But that Monday I had just flown back from shooting a wedding in Rome, had picked up some sort of sickness, and took down the wrong address.  So I ended up looking for Feldstrasse 113, a fictions address just different enough from Feldstrasse 133 to make me think I was going out of my mind.


Web Monday #10 was held in the Amazee office at the Technopark in Zurich (I was there before for a booster party), and my mind was sharp, so it was problem to find and attend. I could have stayed home and played with my new Octabox, but I was itching to infuse my mind with something new.


Two companies presented, GetYourGuide.com and StreamForge.


getyouguideGetYourGuide.com


So, there’s like a thousand travel website on the net, you can book a flight, book a hotel, book a car, book a train…but what about booking “an experience?”  GetYourGuide is a newly out of Beta website Startup which seeks to connect trip provides (suppliers) with people looking for travel experiences (customers).  The idea is you head to the website and and quickly search through destinations or activities and quickly find a cool experience, like a city tour, bike tour, etc.  I see a lot of potential for GetYourGuide, because I’ve been in a position to use it many times.  During the Spring I was in San Diego and L.A. for a few weeks.  In San Diego I was trying to book a kite boarding class, in L.A. I was searching for the best graffiti.  I ended up buying some Bratz dolls and shooting them on the streets of the cities.  So, in the end I didn’t learn to kite board, but did have a cool experience.  However, I didn’t end up kite boarding because by the time I found a school, I had run out of time and had to fly back to Zurich.  For a travel consumer such as myself, GetYourGuide can offer a lot of value, and I’ll use it to find a cool trip in the next city I visit.


For trip suppliers GetYourGuide is attractive, because it connects the local suppliers to the global customer directly.  It includes a very nice back-end with analytics software to help suppliers see how people are visiting their trip listings.  At the moment GetYourGuide is targeting popular destinations, and finding trip suppliers in those main cities.  This is nice strategy, as they can bring in revenue quickly, and then expand to targeting trip suppliers in broader destinations.  This is what interests me the most, because if you’re looking for a cattle driving experience in New Mexico and you live in Stuttgart, it’s not so easy to do.  I also had problems in the past contacting mountain guides in Bolivia when I flew down there.  I think if GetYourGuide expands into these areas and eventually targets specialty suppliers, they’ll set themselves apart from their competitors like Viator.com and have a web company offering a lot of value to their customers and suppliers.  I’m looking forward to a travel experience-enhanced future.


streamforgeStreamForge


So, when Barack Obama was giving his inauguration speech, so many people tuned in that the video feed was unavailable, the internet was broken - overloaded, users were blocked, their experience ruined.  I didn’t watch the speech, but I do recall trying to watch the 2009 Leica webcast during the launch of their new cameras, the S2, X1, and M9.  Their servers were overloaded and I had to read about it on a forum, how disappointed I was.  How can we avoid this in the future?  By using Peer-to-Peer strategies like those employed in LimeWire and previously in Napster (and now many others).


Instead of downloading the video or audio content directly from a website, parts are downloaded from other people who are downloading the same content.  This removes the load from the main server, and enables people to maintain their enjoyment of the internet without overloading the system.  This isn’t a new idea (in principle) it was tried (and failed) in the past.  But StreamForge is using technology developed from the latest research at ETH Zurich, and like many technologies, the subsequent try is often far better than the first attempt.


Like (as far as I know) all Peer-to-Peer sharing platforms, StreamForge does require that their software be downloaded and installed by users, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to upload data and remove the load on the main server.  But this presents a potential problem, because many consumers are wary of installing random programs which are connected to the internet, even though it may not be any different than using a webpage.  Also, this is a technology which the main server companies need to adopt and trust in.  If these two barriers can be overcome, then StreamForge has a bright future.  There are other examples of companies with similar problems.  Flash was introduced something like many, many years ago, but it’s really only in the last few years that it’s gained wide acceptance, and nearly every web browser has it installed.


Brass Tacs


Web Monday #10 rocked, I love seeing how different technologies develop and how new companies launch and present themselves. It’s very inspiring, and makes you think in new ways (at least, it works for me). I had an excellent time at Web Monday #10, I’m sad I missed #9, and am looking forward to #11, which will include presentations by Prof. Manfred Vogel from FHNW, Joaquin Cuenca Abela from Panoramio and Andreas Hoffmann from UBS (there’s a contest in the works).


The next Web Monday is coming up on Nov. 30th, location to be announced.  Check out the Web Monday Zurich magazine on Amazee for further details.  Also, STARTWERK.CH was a German write-up on Web Monday #10.