Friday, 18 December 2009

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Mental Exercise: Price Free Retail Stores

This past summer, I entertained the idea of purchasing a couple tables at the community garage sale and loading them up with my basement full of stuff-in-need-of-a-better-home.

And price everything at $0.

Primarily, because I can’t imagine spending the time determining a price for each and every thing, labeling it, handling money, and risk justifying the price to sophisticated hagglers. None of which sounds attractive. All of which keeps me from the goal of unloading unwanted inventory.

For what? Just a couple of greenbacks. Definitely not enough to cover my time managing the inventory, renting the space, even writing this post.

So, why does Wal-Mart, TJ Maxx, Target, Goodwill, and your resale shop put price tags on their inventory?

What if they didn’t?

What if we could walk into one of those stores and walk out with whatever we wanted, free and clear?

That’s very similar to what we do at Google, Craigslist, Kernest, and Facebook every day. We visit the sites, get the answers and resources we came for – and paying in our time, effort, and return visits.

Back to our imaginary price-free store.

Without prices – there’s little need to have a checkout area. So, the costs of pricing items, handling money (cash, credit) and the costs associated with fraudulent transactions are all eliminated. As is the costs of security to watch the employees, customers, and inventory.

Without prices – I doubt we’ll have carts or baskets – or even product packaging (little need for UPC codes – and it deters ‘re-sale’). All of those things would make moving lots of things easy. A freetail store will probably be structured to make moving more-things-than-you-can-carry very difficult; narrow aisles, narrow doors, etc.

Inventory would probably be more volatile – runs on bottled water and toilet paper during severe storms would be more pronounced. A similar problem exists at TJ Maxx, Costco, et al, today. Sometimes when something out of stock – it’s never coming back. Probably wasn’t in my size anyway.

But how are the shelves stocked in the first place?

Perhaps this freetail store is 100% financed with market development funds – like broadcast television being 100% financed by advertising. Manufacturers use it to quickly get their newest, most innovative products in front of potential customers – without the barrier of a price. Or like TJ Maxx and all the stuff in my basement – these things are obsolete just need to be unloaded fast.

Think of a product like your free mobile phone or your XBox 360. Without network connectivity – these products are far less useful, and those service plans heavily subsidize the device cost already. Why not completely?

I’ve only just started Chris Anderson’s Free. I’ll update this post with any A-HAs I pull from it.

Have you heard of any retailers that have experimented with rolling back the price to $0 – or sci-fi novels describing how a freetail world might work?


“Also, freeing yourself (pun intended) of paying customers early on would seem to allow you to make more radical moves (pivots), since you don’t have to worry about angering anyone that has given you money and expects you to deliver on their expectations in return.” – Michael Harry Scepaniak

“A new economy. Nobodies pay, but important people are paid to use your brand cell phone/mobile device. I’m sure that’s the future.” – Dave Winer

“People were in there getting groceries and just leaving money at the register because there was nobody to take the money.” – resident Leanna Havens on a Roseville, CA Safeway store left unlocked on Christmas Eve

UPDATE: Listening to Chris Anderson’s ‘Free’ audiobook – I heard about Sample Lab, a franchise retail environment very close to the model I describe above.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

2 Choices: Better or Shut Up

I’ve been saving Dave Slusher’s Punk and NaNoWriMo [mp3] talk until I could give it a proper listen.

After a week of working through some very hard problems – and only still only seeing just a glimpse of a solution, this morning seemed like a good time.

Around the 27 minute mark, Dave mentions the – nearly 4 year old – fan video I made for Shop Vac by Jonathan Coulton with archival advertising footage and the resulting commenters. To whom he responds:

“You have two choices; make one better or shut up.”

Dave, bringing up that project in your Punk & NaNoWriMo episode completely made my day and is a much wanted kick in the pants. Thank you.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Subdomain_fu and Destroying Authlogic Sessions with link_to_remote

I’ve been fighting with a bug that doesn’t properly sign a person out from a subdomain (using a combination of Authlogic and Subdomain_fu)

The sign out link looks like this:

< %= link_to_remote "Sign Out", :url => {:controller => 'person_sessions', :action => 'destroy', :subdomain => false}, :method => :delete -%>

While the session was destroyed, the AJAX updates confirming it – were not being made. Turns out, the cross-subdomain AJAX request was the culprit. To fix it, remove the :subdomain declaration.

< %= link_to_remote "Sign Out", :url => {:controller => 'person_sessions', :action => 'destroy'}, :method => :delete -%>

As you were.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Web Fonts – Identifying a New Species

“…the design of typefaces had existed for centuries as an exclusive discipline reserved for specialists, who had access to proprietary tools. Today the personal computer provides the opportunity to create custom type designs with an increased potential for personalization and expression…Our design of custom fonts for Emigre magazine grew out of our need for unique and more effective fonts…” – Zuzana Licko, Emigre Fonts, 2000.

Emigre Fonts was the first type foundry to embrace and exploit an inflection point in graphic design technology – Apple’s Macintosh and the laser printer.

Unlike Helvetica, Courier, Times New Roman, Emigre’s early fonts: Modula, Matrix, Citizen, and Triplex didn’t start as wood cut, hot-metal, or typewriter type. Emigre’s fonts are native to the digital world. And Emigres’ chunky, angular, low stroke contrast fonts defined the high-concept design aesthetic of the early 1990s.

Today, we’re at a similar inflection point of graphic design technology – @font-face adoption by all the major web browsers. Just as the introduction of the Macintosh brought with it Emigre’s digitally native fonts – the Web will bring forth a new species of fonts. Web native fonts.

At its core – the Web is about openness and speed of communication. Web Native fonts will have these 2 attributes visible in their letterforms and their licensing.

Web Native Letterforms
Openness in letterforms means larger x-heights with open counters and more visually comfortable at wider letter-spacings. Additionally, screen resolutions are still lower resolution than paper so, the thin and thick parts of the letterforms in web native fonts should be close.

These 4 factors increase the scannability of on-screen text decreasing the overall communication time.

Web Native Licensing
A web native font is licensed to support redistribution, reproduction, derivative works, and attribution within commercial or non-commercial use. The OpenFontLibrary recognizes 3 licenses with these characteristics; MIT, GPLv3 + Font-Exception, and Open Font License.

The MIT and GPL are well understood throughout the web, and many popular, successful (both commercially and non-commercially) projects are protected under those licenses. Three projects that come to mind immediately; Ruby on Rails (MIT), Drupal (GPL), WordPress (GPL), Linux (GPL).

The high profile nature of these projects and the eco-system of smaller, complementary projects similarly licensed means web designers and developers quickly know a font’s intended uses.

Additionally, like all software development – font design is a collaborative, iterative effort. Overtime, individual characters, weights, and styles may be added and revised by font designers with a specific need. Incorporating those modification into the original font or releasing them as a separate project – increases the value of the font in both the web and type communities. The Open Baskerville project is an example of this open, collaborative font design.

Who’s designing and releasing Web Native fonts today?
The League of Moveable Type comes to mind immediately. I’ve also started a Web Native font tag at Kernest, feel free to apply it as you find fonts fitting these criteria.

What characteristics of Web Native fonts have I overlooked?