7pm – The Clappy Hour Project

There is music in everything we do. With unstructured collaboration over a sustained period, a community forms, even when words are never spoken. Unique personalities emerge from the din.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, shelter-in-place orders were given in many locales, New York City included. As a native New Yorker, the notion of telling everyone (or almost everyone) in the City That Never Sleeps to stay home and isolate, stop going to work, stop pretty much everything was inconceivable. And yet, as they do over and over again, New Yorkers adapted and did it with grace.

Then there were those who had a much more challenging assignment – the Essential Workers and Frontline Workers. Without people doing these jobs, the city would simply not function. They are common people and some with high profiles. They work underground, in the shadows, on the streets and in the air. The stark realization that so many of these folks get no recognition for the critical wok they do everyday emerged among those at home.

Beginning back in late March of 2020, New Yorkers began a new ritual – one that seemed to be happening in cities around the world. At 7pm each night, people would go to their windows to clap and cheer in appreciation of the work that the Essential and Frontline folks were doing. To say the least, it was heartwarming and cathartic. The NY Times reported the story on April 6th. My family participated each night with great enthusiasm, as did our neighbors. For a few days I would play my electric guitar or synth out the window – just making noises to see how the community would react. Oddly, it just seemed to get incorporated with no distinct response.

For the first month of the 7pm phenomenon, until April 29th, I was all about participation in the celebration. During that time, I began to notice certain things:
– For starters, I live in an apartment that does not face the street, it faces other buildings in the complex. So, we had a very small isolated group of participants – king of like a Galapagos Island in Manhattan.
– People had shifted from clapping to using some sort of noise maker – for me a tambourine and my voice.
– Some people had very consistent and distinct “calls” like bird calls – you couldn’t see them, but you certainly could recognize them.
– For the most part, people didn’t discuss what they did at 7pm with other neighbors, there was no planning, no formal collaboration, each apartment/family practiced in their own way.
– Most importantly, it seemed like a moment in time when all of NYC pulls together.

Unfortunately, we New Yorkers are too familiar with these sort of events blackouts, terrorist attacks, hurricanes and flooding. The clapping had been going on for about a month and I was really unsure about how long it would last. So, I set out to capture as much of it as I could.

Beginning on April 28th, 2020, I began to record the clapping from the window in front of the desk I am sitting at now where I have been camped out with all my work stuff and my audio gear. I simply stuck a microphone out the window and hit record.

Now I’ve never really done any field recording like this. I decided to take a complete Beginners Mindset and a DIY approach and just learn a bit each night.

I also pondered how this collection of recordings could be used by others. I imagined:
– analyzing the recordings and generating a dynamic map that would approximate the location of each of the “calls”
– I thought of using some sort of machine learning – like they have done with bird calls – that would allow for identifying the participants each night – not by their human identities, but by their “call” What days were they there, what days not?
– I also started thinking about how this is a data set that could be plugged into a nascent knowledge graph of shared experiences during the pandemic globally. More on this when I announce the Context Capture Project.

One of my concerns was when will it end and how will it end. On May 23rd, the NY Times reported a story from the UK where the person who had started a weekly clap was calling for it to stop. “I think to maintain the positive impact that it’s had so far, it’s best to stop at its peak,” she told the BBC. In a statement, Ms. Plas said that those who want to continue clapping should feel free to do so. Needless to say, the clapping continued here in NYC.

Come July, my family decided to take a break from the city and I rigged up a remote system that would record the happenings automatically everyday at 7pm. On July 10th, the system failed. When we returned later in July, the clapping had stopped. I am truly saddened to have failed to record the final days, especially “the day the clapping died”. I’ll never know for sure when it actually happened.

The first day back, I did nothing but listen to the silence. The second day I started shaking my tambourine and a few people responded. I faced a dilemma. Should I prod the community to continue, thus injecting myself into sustaining the ritual? I chose to be more of an observer, even though I had been a whole hearted participant. However, I didn’t start the phenomenon, so I decided to let the community decide.

So, what to do with all these recordings? I decided that doing some sort of analysis would be interesting, but I didn’t have anything to prove.. or did I? The notion of examining a data set with a very different set of tools would be interesting. That is, looking through lenses that I have never used before, being naïve, the beginners mindset.

The raw recordings have a sound like some sort of unruly Gamelan orchestra. Using digital audio tools, with their inherent analytic capabilities, could I create a soundscape that was unlike anything else and in that process capture the mood and spirit of this one little spot in the globe at a time when everyone on earth shared something in common.

And so I have just begun to process the recordings day by day beginning with April 29th and ending on July 9. With each day, I am making small and occasionally radical changes in the processing applied, so while some may sound very similar day to day, rest assured they will morph over time. As I mentioned before, this is a naïve approach – I am learning by doing, so it is expected that what May 2nd sounds like may be completely different than June 12th. And because this is all digital, it will be possible to apply a given “process” to any day’s raw recording. The the long term goal – to build an interactive experience that will allow for endlessly mixing the “days” and the “processes”. Who knows what it will reveal.

You can follow the progress on Soundcloud – https://soundcloud.com/nickknyc/sets/7pm That is where I will be posting each day when completed.

I will also be posting them to Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/nickknyc/

I will also try and add commentary to each day in posts here on the blog – the ones that are up there now don’t have any commentary yet – but they will. This will be a mix of observations from the world at large and my personal experiences on that day as well as the technical trials and tribulations.

If anyone is interested in the raw recordings, I will make them available under creative commons (as are the processed recordings). Contact me if you are interested.

Wednesday April 29th @ 7pm

Kicking things off with a short piece

Welcome to the first day of the 7pm Project.
To get an overview of the project please look here.

On April 29, 2020, I began recording the 7pm clapping and cheering that was happening in my neighborhood, and around the world. Cheering with thanks to the frontline and essential workers who were out there on all of our behalf, keeping the world spinning.

This is the first of those recordings – well sort of. Allow me to give a quick overview of the process I followed. Beginning on April 29th and ending on July 9th (due to technical glitch), I would place a microphone out my window and record the cheering.

Step two, which began in early July, I began to prepare the recordings for use. The recordings had a fair amount of wind noise which I was able to remove using a piece of software from iZotope (I will get more into the technical aspects in later posts). The process took a while because each days recording was different. That all took a few weeks.

Step Three, which I am in now is taking those cleaned-up recording and applying a variety of audio processing/digital music technologies to create soundscapes that attempt to capture the mood or ambiance of those few daily moments when we as New Yorkers joined our fellow global citizens. When you think about it, it’s 7pm somewhere. We were part of a global relay that went on for months.

Perhaps I should have mentioned that, while I have a keen interest in the technologies in use and enjoy playing music, I am by no means a musician. In fact, my approach draws pretty heavily on a notion that was put forward many years ago by Brian Eno – that of the non-musician. Here is an excerpt of Lester Bangs interview with Brian in Musician magazine from back in 1979.

This brings up the famous ”I’m not a musician” quote from early in his career, which confounds fans and critics alike to this day. It seems like a conceit turned inside out, inasmuch as I’ve got almost a dozen albums of his music sitting here. “Again,” he almost sighs, “it was a case of taking a position deliberately in opposition to another one. I don’t say it much anymore, but I said it when I said it because there was such an implicit and tacit belief that virtuosity was the sine qua non of music and there was no other way of approaching it. And that seemed to be so transparently false in terms of rock music in particular. I thought that it was well worth saying, ‘Whatever I’m doing, it’s not that,’ and I thought the best way to say that was to say, Look, I’m a nonmusician. If you like what I do, it stands in defiance to that.’

“When I say ‘musician,’ I wouldn’t apply it to myself as a synthesizer player, or ‘player’ of tape recorders, because I usually mean someone with a digital skill that they then apply to an instrument. I don’t really have that, so strictly speaking I’m a non-musician. None of my skills are manual, they’re not to do with manipulation in that sense, they’re more to do with ingenuity, I suppose.”

And yet one wonders still how disingenuous all this might be. So I asked him point blank: “Have you ever had any formal music or theory training at all?”

“No.”

“Have you ever felt the pressure that you should get some?”

‘No, I haven’t, really. I can’t think of a time that I ever thought that, though I must have at one time. 

http://music.hyperreal.org/artists/brian_eno/interviews/musn79.html

I am by no means a virtuoso and have no real formal background, but I have been making and manipulating sounds since I was a kid hotwiring my dad’s HiFi. I have found the when given the opportunity to approach something with a Beginners Mind, I am much more engaged and the results are often more interesting.

Please keep in mind that I am learning and exploring through this process. The types of pieces that I make a month from now may be very different to this one. I will be trying to capture those evolutions/revolutions in the notes for each. So, I invite you to please sample a few pieces from different days to get a sense of the changes – both in the community participation and in my abilities to conjure something interesting.

To provide even more context for the recordings, I will also be providing some historical information for that given day, with a NYC slant. The notion of context will arise in many posts to come and is the main focus of the project which is trailing this one.

CONTEXT

Weather

https://www.wunderground.com/history/daily/us/ny/new-york-city/KLGA/date/2020-4-29

NYC Headlines from the Grey Lady

https://www.nytimes.com/search?dropmab=false&endDate=20200429&query=04%2F29%2F2020&sections=New%20York%7Cnyt%3A%2F%2Fsection%2F39480374-66d3-5603-9ce1-58cfa12988e2&sort=best&startDate=20200429

All NYC Data on this day from WolframAlpha:

https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=all+data+new+york+city+April+29+2020

https://nypost.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2020/04/front-cover-20.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=260

Next

Does the Rubber Meet the Road on the Path to Purchase? Thanks for nothing digital ecosystem.

Let’s start at the end. I’ve been riding on brand new Nokian WR-G3’s for the past few weeks in the very changeable NYC weather. Suddenly, driving is “way more fun”. My car, a 2001 Subaru Outback H6, is reinvigorated and I am attributing it all to the tires, the actual tires.

How did I discover the tires I really wanted?

Word of Mouth and phone calls were the only things that worked.  Every other aspect of the digital ecosystem that surrounds the path to purchase for a set of tires is horribly broken. Failures. Full stop.

The entire ecosystem has failed at providing me any value at all points along the path to purchase.

  • Make me aware that I might want to buy a new set of tires and why – I just thought you waited for the treads to wear down.
  • Know that I was due for new tires – I should have bought them a year or two ago – so many folks – from the dealership I bought it from to the various services stations and garages – to the ecommerce sites where I have bought parts and especially to the tire shop I had used previously
  • Get me relevant information about what is available – the search engines do not help you get to useful information, the return a bunch of SEO friendly pages that are simply ads.
  • No direct useful info from the brands themselves.

I’m a brand new Nokian brand loyalist and Nokian doesn’t know I exist or how I found them. If you think I am beating up on Nokian, you are missing the point.

The entire ecosystem failed itself. As I went down the entire path to purchase, not a single entity that I touched collected any actionable information from me. They don’t know what MY path to purchase was. They weren’t helpful in any of my “moments of truth”. They don’t even know I made a purchase.

The number of missed opportunities is staggering.

Think this is limited to tires? I am having the exact same situation purchasing a replacement dishwasher. This sorry state of affairs is everywhere.  In every “industry”. In every “vertical” It’s in B2B, B2C, B2B2C, Bricks & Clicks, physical & digital.

For 30 years, I’ve been professionally neck deep at the bleeding edge of what we now call “Digital”. Despite the blistering pace of technical achievement and adoption, despite huge investment and effort by the various brands and channels in the ecosystem, buying tires (or dishwashers) today is more horrible than ever.

Having participated in hundreds of digital marketing initiatives aimed at improving this situation with some very talented and well intentioned people, the goals are far from being achieved. Looking back, a handful of fundamental principles have emerged as persistent blockers to successfully seizing the opportunity.

Individually, these principles are simple. They are not new. They are well researched and documented. However, it is the connection of these principles into a coherent approach for establishing digital brands that have real impact and lasting value. To be clear – this is not about “the Uberization of X” – it is much more than that.

You may already have some of the principles in your mission statement – the point is how those words are turned into action. It is how the principles are applied to all aspects of the organization. It gets to the very heart of organizational culture and what your brand wants to be known for, in 50 years.

Those who are brave, who reconsider their place in the ecosystem, and make a sustained investment, the opportunity remains.

Yes, a story about tires can lead to turning point.

Algorithmic Attention – The new face of personal data and why brands need to catalyze the creation of Personal APIs

You want to build a personal relationship with your customers, become a constant companion and trusted advisor. Your customers deserve the professionalism embodied by the best coaches, concierges, maître’s d, doctor, teacher, and bartenders – well informed and impeccably discreet. However, this level of human attention simply does not scale.

Fortunately, the ubiquitous mesh of digital devices, applications, services, and connectivity is here capturing every aspect of a person’s life. All this data, coupled with accelerating advances in computational techniques and ever falling compute and storage costs, mean the algorithmic attention you can lavish on your customers is boundless.

The quality of the experience provided by an algorithm, however, depends on factors shared with the humans they emulate:

1) The capability of the person or algorithm to take in a set of disparate information and synthesize it into meaningful insights.

2) Sufficient, up-to-date, accurate information describing a wide swath of the customer’s life – their context – for the algorithm to process. The data available through social networks may be helpful, but is insufficient.

For illustration, let’s consider a hypothetical service called MyBabyBlends.

MyBabyBlends is a nutrition program for babies. Subscribers will receive direct shipment of locally grown, seasonal ingredients that can be, following our carefully curated recipes and meal plans, prepared into fabulous baby foods. The selection of ingredients tailored for your babies through the use of a sophisticated child development and nutrition algorithm. Tracking the daily activities and developmental progress of your babies, it’s like having a dedicated nutritionist shopping and menu planning for you.

To deliver on this promise, the algorithm will require the following information, updated regularly:

  •   Baby’s names – for families with more than one, you need to create a profile for each child.
  • Baby’s vitals – birthdate, weight, height, known allergies or sensitivities, current ailments or medication, blood type, etc.
  • Dietary restrictions – vegan, kosher, halal, paleo, etc.
  • Developmental milestones and challenges
  • Current location – if you go away – the shipment will meet you and be adjusted to your new location.
  • Log of recipes liked and not liked
  • Parental eating preferences so we can get baby on track to join you in a hearty kale salad or a bowl of pork and habanero chili.
  • Genetic information – a DNA sample will provide the best results, in lieu of that the parents can answer a comprehensive questionnaire about the baby’s heredity.

This is the new face of personal data. It is not about cookies, or purchase history. It is not about traditional CRM . It’s more than social media.  Quantified self and the Internet of Things are a part of it.

This is the Personal Data Ecosystem that the World Economic Forum, Boston Consulting Group and others have estimated will create trillions of dollars of value stand in the next 4-5 years. These estimates have also asserted that 2/3 of that value will be left on the table if a viable solution to digital identity and data access is not established.

Getting the data required poses a number of challenges for both the user and the brand.

  1. Effort – How much effort is required to get started and then maintain the program? Will the user be willing to manually input this data just to try this one service? Can that data entry be leveraged for other products and services?
  2. Trust – Why would I provide all of this information to a high-tech grocery service? Who else will have access to my child’s data? How do I know it is being handled appropriately?
  3. Liability – What liability is a brand exposing itself to as it collects more intimate information about its customers? If working with partners to provide the service, how does that impact the liability question?
  4. Infrastructure and Governance – Does the brand have the appropriate systems, staff and procedures in place to manage this sort of information?
  5. Policy & Legislation – There has been increasing public policy and legislative action activity globally with respect to personal data. Some of the initiatives have found that existing terms and conditions agreements in use do not meet the privacy rights of their citizens. Others are looking to insure that data regarding their citizens remains within their borders.

The solution lies in the establishment of Personal APIs, a means for a user to aggregate their digital information, wherever it may live and then provide, on their own terms, programmatic access to that data. This gives users a single place to keep up to date information and manage who has access to what and when. It also gives brands a simple way to access user while respecting both the users’ terms and the legal constraints of the market they are operating in. Furthermore, it may reduce liability because it allows for the development of application that use the personal information, but do not store it.

There has been a tremendous amount of work done establishing the foundation for Personal APIs under a variety of names including: IdM (Identity Management), Project VRM (Vendor Relationship Management), UMA (User Managed Access), Trust Frameworks, Privacy by Design, Personal Clouds, Data Vaults, Personal Data Markets, and Identity Ecosystems.  These initiatives have failed to gain widespread adoption, because the value proposition for both sides of the market (users or the brands) has not been strong enough, until now.

This is the moment for a few leading brands to step forward and catalyze the Personal API movement and realize the dream of meaningful personalization.

For those interested in getting involved, the Internet Identity Workshop (IIW) is a great place to start. This un-conference has been convened twice a year since 2005. IIW 18 will be happening October 26-28 at the Computer History Museum in the heart of Silicon Valley.

 

Links