Tag Archives: Local

Listen Local: A Pandora for Live Music

27 Jul

I’ve always been a huge fan of music, but never a big concert-goer. Personally, I prefer listening to music to watching it, but when I do make the occasional trip out to support my friend’s band or am convinced to buy tickets to a show, I always end up having a good time. I would love to be able to check out more local bands, but where do you even begin?

In DC and every other major metropolitan area in the country – and around the world, really – there are numerous music venues hosting dozens of bands of various quality and success every week. At some point, as I’m sure psychology professor Barry Schwarz would agree, the seemingly unlimited options for live music entertainment become overwhelming to the point where making decisions becomes an anxiety-inducing endeavor since you’re always left wondering, “Did I make the best possible choice given all other existing options? This band is good, but what’s the opportunity cost of staying here versus trying to catch the 9:30 show at the venue down the street?” This might explain why you won’t see too many economists crowd-surfing at music clubs, but it doesn’t address the issue of choosing which band to check out the coming weekend.

Sure, there are myriad “music discovery services” such as TagWorld and Last.fm, not to mention the recommendations from friends’ Spotify and YouTube posts to Facebook, but these services are largely still designed for mainstream, studio-produced music. What about the local music scene? Gruvr helps users locate local concerts, and countless other websites profile and spotlight local musicians, but all of these options are largely aggregators of music. As in other digital media, I think it’s time to evolve from aggregation to recommendation.

What if there was a Pandora for live music?

Just as Amazon can leverage my purchasing and browsing behavior to make (often spot-on) recommendations, Pandora “learns” from users’ listening behavior and plays music that the user is likely to enjoy due to similar traits such as melody, harmony, form, composition and lyrics.

Pandora’s algorithm uses almost 400 attributes to classify each song in its library, and codifying each song required about 20-30 minutes of human analysis per four-minute song. Clearly, this level of granular analysis cannot be feasibly applied to a Pandora-like service for live music, but I think a combination of self-identification and crowdsourced voting would be sufficient to build a product that users, musicians and venues could all greatly benefit from.

A typical band interview always has a question along the lines of “So how do you define your sound?” Bands, tasked with the challenge of defining and labeling their art, usually respond with a reference to other bands that serve as reference points for the interviewee and readers. The Local/Live Pandora I’m imagining would allow bands (or their promoters and fans) to self-identify with genres, artists or songs catalogued in Pandora’s Music Genome Project. Users can weigh in regarding the degree of accuracy of bands’ self-identification, voting whether the sound is similar and making recommendations for a better match. Over time, enough data would be entered to produce a fairly accurate analysis.

Because the point of the service is to introduce users to bands to see live, the service would leverage smartphones’ geo-location features and the algorithm would only introduce users to bands that are playing within a certain radium and within a certain timeframe. You could also imagine being able to configure personal settings, so if you were visiting Chicago in a few months, you could get a sense of the local music scene and stumble upon a new band to check out.

Obviously the production quality would not be as high as it is on Pandora or similar services, but the point isn’t to use the service as a music player; instead, it’s a tool to identify bands to see live. This implies unique revenue streams that could be harnessed. For example, imagine you sign into your account and the service pushes you a band that you might be inclined to like, since the band or song has been identified as being similar to many other bands and songs that you have already liked (perhaps pulling data from users’ iTunes, Pandora and Spotify accounts). A notice would pop up, notifying you of an upcoming show. You could then click to purchase tickets, and the service would take a cut of the ticket sale; in effect, the service becomes outsourced marketing for local venues, who would be willing to trade a share of ticket sales for increased attendance (and therefore increased bar sales).

Is it just me or is this music to anyone else’s ears?

Fab Labs – Democratizing Manufacturing

15 Dec

While traveling through the states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil last week, I often found myself dwelling on the challenges and intricacies of the supply chains of various goods and services in both the densely populated cities and the sparse, remote areas that I visited. As far as emerging markets are concerned, Brazil is one of the most developed, but its infrastructure—though rapidly developing—and its trade policies dictate that goods are often priced at a premium to their perceived fair market value. For years, multinationals have struggled with the challenges confronting distribution in markets such as Brazil, but what about the local entrepreneurs and manufacturers?

I spent two days on Ilha Grande, an island paradise a few kilometers away from the mainland, 45 minutes by high-speed water taxi. Everything anyone could need – tourists and locals alike – had to be brought in by boat. I watched from the pier as crates of food, souvenirs and various widgets were hauled in by hand, one load at a time. Not only are these goods more expensive because of the high costs incurred in transporting them to an island – as Manhattanites can testify – but they also dictate a larger environmental footprint.

“Downtown” Ilha Grande

I was reminded of a recent talk at Digital Capital Week where RTKL architect Kashuo Bennett discussed the concept of “fab labs”, small-scale fabrication laboratories that democratize manufacturing by providing local innovators with access to digital fabrication technology and rapid prototyping.  Fab Labs, which originated in MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, have opened in dozens of countries around the world, and their potential applications in developing countries and remote regions are particularly interesting. Instead of paying significant premiums to move goods around the world to places such as Ilha Grande, perhaps local entrepreneurs could harness local Fab Labs to design, develop, and manufacture products.

The application of Fab Labs in developing countries and elsewhere holds numerous benefits, as well as significant challenges that cannot be ignored. Firstly, fab labs allow local entrepreneurs to stimulate the local economy. When goods from large multinationals are sold in a given market, that money flows back to the corporations, rather than staying in the local economy; however, if products are designed, manufactured and marketed locally, the economic benefit created stays in that market. Additionally, one can argue the sustainability aspect of manufacturing locally, as well as the benefits of educating, training and hiring local workers needed to manufacture Fab Lab products.

Granted, it is a pipe dream to think that any community could just give up trade and manufacture everything locally – particularly given the various resources and inputs needed to manufacture anything designed in a Fab Lab in the first place – but it does seem that there is significant momentum behind such movements, and myriad markets in which the application of such “local” elements could produce innovative solutions.

Temporary Urbanism – Innovative Uses of City Spaces

2 Dec

“Cities only learn to be innovative by trying and failing – you’re not trying hard enough if you don’t fail” – DC Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning

Park(ing) Day

I’ve always been fascinated with cities, and spend a lot of time thinking about how smarter urban planningcan foster innovation and drive significant social and environmental change. When I saw a lecture called “Temporary Urbanism” on the schedule for Digital Capital  week, I immediately signed up.

The engaging lecture at Washington’s National Buliding Museum this past Saturday discussed how cities can effectively activate empty storefronts, abandoned lots or even cultural institutions in order to create engaging neighborhoods, boost the local economy and push sustainability efforts – all noble goals for major urban areas.

DC Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning, RTKL architect and 24 Hour City participant Kashuo Bennett, and Christine Ewing, Regional Fine Arts Officer at the U.S. General Services Administration shared their ideas and insights around the subject, and discussed examples in which vacant spaces have been effectively utilized to build better cities. Here are a few highlights, many of which could easily be adopted in urban areas around the world:

Park(ing) Day is an internationally celebrated event “that invites citizens everywhere to transform metered parking spots into temporary parks for the public good.” The event is particularly fascinating given the traffic, pollution and danger to pedestrians that cars create in urban environments. Tregoning suggested that more than 80% of the estimated $8,000 it costs to keep a car in the city each year – including gas, insurance, parking, etc. – leaves the local economy; extrapolating those statistics, she postulates that more than $125 million could be added back into the local economy if just 15,000 people got rid of their cars.

In comparison to the markets in other cities across the U.S., DC real estate is relatively strong: retail vacancies are 4.5% versus the national average of 9.3%, and office vacancies are 11.1% versus national average of 16%. Still, that translates to a lot of empty space. If a small percentage of those vacancies were filled with pop-up stores or art spaces, there would be significant tangible value created for the local economy, as well as intangible value in the form of more vibrant and interesting neighborhoods. Temporarium is a great example. Open for 24-consecutive days between February 18 and March 13, 2011, the pop-up storefront in DC’s Mt. Pleasant neighborhood housed 34 local artisans and crafters. It grossed more than $31,000 in sales from 1,030 customers, 70% of whom reside in immediate area – the District’s Ward 1.

Another interesting local example of the creative use of vacant space is Truckeroo, a monthly festival held June through October in a DC parking lot showcasing food trucks and live music from the area. The event has drawn thousands of patrons to a space that would otherwise lie vacant.

DC’s Truckeroo

There are countless other examples of innovative ways that people in cities around the world have effectively leveraged existing outdoor, retail and office space, and I’m excited about the growing interest in doing so in our very own backyard. Given the countless artists and entrepreneurs in DC – not to mention the 180 missions and embassies in DC, many of whom I’m sure would love to introduce their culture, art, businesses, etc. – I have to imagine there is a healthy demand to occupy such spaces.

What about the supply? One of the biggest obstacles of introducing such interesting manifestations of “temporary urbanism” is the bureaucratic matrix of permits, insurance and lease agreements. Maybe it’s a matter of asking for forgiveness, rather than permission? DC Councilmember Tommy Wells weighed in on the subject, noting that the city’s unofficial stance is to often turn a blind eye to such community-enriching efforts, many of which are not technically legal; for example, camping on federal parks is illegal, yet when it comes to policing #occupyDC, the city leaders look the other way.

The takeaway from the discussion was that building more vibrant urban destinations can be an exercise from the bottom-up: build better blocks, which lead to more interesting neighborhoods, which are the hallmark of desirable cities.

For more information on DC’s Digital Capital week, including a schedule of events, click here.

Mytinerary – A Smarter Way to Travel

14 Nov

Is there anything more fun and rewarding than traveling to a new city or a new country? Not in my book. Everyone and their mom loves to travel, but there are definitely a few pain points along the way that don’t necessarily take away from the trip, but they do create an opportunity to improve the overall experience.

What does the average travel process look like for most people? There are several stages of each trip that can each be as frustrating as they are exciting, which is why I’ve been thinking about an idea for a travel website and app called “Mytinerary”. For most trips, there is a meaty research and planning phase. This can be especially difficult if you are arranging a trip with a group of friends. WHERE do we go? WHAT do we do? WHEN do we go? WHERE do we stay?  There are myriad travel planning books, websites and tools that assist in the process of research and planning, but they do not address many of the intricacies of traveling – especially traveling abroad. More on that later.

After planning, the real fun begins – the actual trip. I can only speak for myself, but arriving in a foreign airport spackled with advertisements from unknown companies in foreign languages, navigating a different public transport system and finding your way through unmarked neighborhood after neighborhood, and settling down in your temporary digs before taking off to explore, work, feast, drink, meet up with friends and party (or whatever else one might do on a trip) is better then Christmas morning, Thanksgiving dinner, and other analogy-worthy awesome events all rolled into one.

Finally, upon returning home, you share your experience. You upload your pictures to Facebook, email them to grandma, and tell everyone within earshot how crazy that one night was when you met a few locals, or how much better the gelato was in that small Italian village than in your boring American city. You’re so cultured and everyone knows it!

The thing is, these three phases are all addressed by different platforms. What I propose is a comprehensive website, largely integrated with existing platforms and networks such as Facebook, Foursquare and Yelp (no need to reinvent the wheel!) that goes beyond aggregation of resources to actually provide targeted recommendations for your travels.

What inspires you to travel, or to choose a particular destination over another? Increasingly, our travel decisions are influenced by our friends. How many times have your friends posted pictures of exotic locales, prompting you to ask “Where was that? What did you do there? Would you stay there again?” Sure, we can go to Lonely Planet and similar travel sites to research, but we are more inclined to value the opinions of our friends, because we can identify more closely with their experiences. A young college student looking to hostel jump and party until 6am will have a different agenda than a married couple looking to indulge in the local foodie scene, yet each is presented the same “top 10” lists for the cities in which they plan to travel. What I propose with Mytineray is a more targeted, recommendation-based travel planning and sharing application that understands your individual travel needs and preferences, and allows you to build a trip that will be more fun and interesting to you.

Recommendations can be based not only on your travel profile – which could be built by answering a series of questions, or reflecting on your previous trips – but also your location. For example, if you are planning a trip to Washington DC and staying in the Foggy Bottom area, it would be valuable to know the travel time required to get to a restaurant on Capitol Hill, or how long it might take to get out to Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. I envision Mytinerary having a “drag and drop” feature, where you add activities to you itinerary, and a schedule is created based on the average time it takes to commute from your current location to the venue, participate in whatever event you choose (a recommended 1 hour to tour the Phillips Collection, 1.5 hours to dine at the fancy French restaurant, etc.).

There is a significant “local” component inherent in Mytinerary as well. Just as millions of Foursquare users check in at sites as often as possible to achieve the coveted “mayor” status, I would imagine that those local gurus would be interested in sharing their favorite local spots with adventurous tourists. Personally, I love when friends and family come to visit me in DC, because I enjoy showing off our unique city, from the Mall to the many unique, vibrant neighborhoods. It doesn’t take a significant change in behavior to take that tour-guide approach to your Mytinerary profile; after all, you want to become known as the local travel guru, right?

I think that to have the best chance for success, Mytinerary would have to be very tightly integrated with Facebook. After all,  you are trolling through your friends’ photos to decide where to visit, then posting your own photos after your trips, so why not embrace where all the eyeballs – and wallets – are? The close integration of Facebook would also allow for tagging, not only of the people in the pictures but also for the location and time of the picture itself. After you get back from your surfing trip in Costa Rica, you would be able to post your Mytinerary photos and share exactly where and when each picture was taken; going a step further, if your Facebook friends were inspired by your photos, they could drag and drop that particular tagged location into their Mytineraries.

All of these behaviors are currently happening in some corner of the internet, in books, or by word of mouth, but Mytinerary presents an infinitely more comprehensive way to manage the entire travel experience, from planning to sharing. As far as revenue streams are concerned, there is clearly a significant opportunity for targeted advertising and referral fees from travel booking sites, but it doesn’t end there. Normally, you might not appreciate getting spammed with Rosetta Stone advertisements ad nauseam if you have no interest in learning Spanish, but you might not mind a weekly email with common phrases and valuable vocab words if you did just book a two-week tour of Argentina. The data gathered from millions of Mytinerary users is valuable not only to the website/application itself, but also to the myriad companies involved in the travel industry that desire a more robust understanding of their potential customers.

I think this is a great idea with a log of legs, and a lot of wings (travel reference, get it?). Travel books and guides are so 20th century, it’s time to sign up for Mytinerary!