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I remember when virtual reality tried to go mainstream in the mid-80s, big, heavy headsets and poor computer graphics let you walk around a world that looked like a big pixel. It was interesting but even the teenage me was unimpressed. Jump forward to now and virtual reality has become cheap and nimble.

Enter Google Cardboard. For about $15 you can have a virtual reality headset sent to you. Slide your smartphone in, put your headphones on and you’re off.

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Sure there are more expensive headsets from Samsung or Facebook, but why bother? The experience on Google Cardboard is excellent enough to make you lose your balance or walk into chairs.

The New York Times sent its subscribers a free headset a while back and has been putting excellent content on its VR app: NYT VR. For now it’s just a cool toy, but I can see how the marriage of cheap headsets, smartphones, and apps, will lead to new ways to communicate, learn, get the news, etc.

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One year ago, drones dominated the Paris Air Show. Manufactured by major defense contracts, these drones were positioned as the future of warfare (and had a price tag to match in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars). Last month, the Hobby Expo China in Beijing featured similar drone with the same capabilities as the military ones (minus being able to blow stuff up). The difference? Many of these drones came with a price tag of less than a $1000. It’s no wonder open source drones, like the ArduCopter Quad from 3D Robotics, now outnumber military drones in the U.S.

What do drones and market research have in common? Well, nothing…yet. But reading Noah Shachtman article, 5 Drones at Work, there seems to be a common thread or strength if you will, of observation depicted. Drones that inspect oil equipment, conduct police reconnaissance, check on crops, and survey wildlife. In a sense, one could argue this is a form of ethnographic research, as ethnography simply aims to describe the nature of that which is being observed or studied (whether it be consumers, crops or wildlife).

At W5, observational ethnography is used to evaluate consumer behavior in detail, identifying meaningful patterns and themes that emerge through sustained, structured observation of people engaging in activities such as browsing, buying and trying products, or using services. By recognizing such patterns and themes and finding their underlying meaning, W5 ethnographers highlight the points of inflection at which consumers are most susceptible to influence, as well as develop a holistic picture of the market environment. Now, imagine a drone the size of a butterfly doing the observing. Impossible? Impossible like conducting Focus Groups in a virtual, online room? Impossible like collected data via mobile devices? Possibly.

One of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) latest project – a butterfly-shaped drone weighing just 20 grams – the smallest in its range so far – can gather intelligence inside buildings.

There are, of course, existing rules and regulations that address a future where people, companies and police all command tiny aircrafts. (See Rules for Proper Droning for answers to questions like ‘Can I use a drone to spy on my sexy neighbor?’ or ‘Could a police drone look in my window for drugs?’) Chris Anderson, co-founder of 3D Robotics, reminds us “the military created the Internet, but the people colonized it and created the web for their own purposes. The amateur UAV community is hoping to do the same with drones—demilitarize and democratize them so they can find their full potential. There will be good uses and bad ones, but the same is true of any tool, from a crowbar to an ultrasound machine. Ultimately the way society best figures out how to think about a powerful new technology is to set it free and watch where it flies.”

The fracturing of advertising along media lines and through disruptive technology has created a strange nostalgia in us for the good ol’ days when you could be forced to watch a commercial on television rather than switching to something else or hitting fast forward. It’s not that we want more interruptions, but there was something in that collective, obligatory experience of laboring through advertisements on television that today makes us go all misty-eyed at the thought of “giving the world a Coke.”

The web is a big problem when it comes to emotive advertising. Online ads are functional and easily ignored, most often  search algorithms that return relevant but uninspiring results. Google with Project Re: Brief  is taking on this challenge by retrofitting four classic advertising campaigns for the web: Coke’s “Hilltop,” Volvo’s “Drive it like you hate it,” Alka-Seltzer’s “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing,” and Avis’ “We try harder.” The whole thing is called accompanied by a documentary, the trailer for which is below:

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LinkedIn Industry Trends | Ritzholtz | Full Story

 

For those of you who haven’t started yet (I know one or two) time is running out. But for those who have been doing their Christmas shopping this year, it turns out that online shopping continues to grow (15% over last year according to the New York Times). What is interesting is that more people are using mobile phones in the shopping process, though appears they largely browse via these devices and make the actual purchases on a tablet or traditional PC/laptop.

It will be interesting to see how mobile phone shopping and purchasing evolves. In the early days on online banking (just about 15 years ago), consumers were willing to review information on their laptops but felt the desktop was much more suitable to make actual transactions. Back then they indicated they felt that desktop computers were more secure and they’d be less error-prone when entering numbers or commands. It may be that as consumers get more and more used to employing smaller mobile screens in the shopping process, increased transaction numbers will follow.

Who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll see an easy return the Christmas presents you don’t want app.

More and more often developers are skipping the PC when designing consumer applications. The latest example is Google’s new Flipboard competitor: Google Currents. Like Flipboard, the application is designed to make a tablet or mobile magazine reading experience better and more interactive. The one interesting wrinkle is that it’s also set up to import your Google reader feeds, taking that content and making it beautiful.  It’s good enough that it makes me want to read the content on my phone instead of on my laptop.

Also this week, Twitter released a new version this week.  The trick to get the new look and functionality? You had to download it to your Android or iPhone first.

So this morning, the new owners of the social bookmarking site Delicious launched their new, revamped version of the site. Gone are the Yahoo name and many features that long-time users are now complaining about on Twitter and other social networking sites. What they’ve offered is a new Beta site that is not without glitches. This, combined with a recent article in the Atlantic (The Cloud’s My-Mom-Cleaned-My-Room Problem) highlight the problems that many brands (especially online ones) face when they change a product or service.

It’s a clear reminder that users/customers/consumers whatever you want to call them, feel they have a stake in your brand.  Sometimes they feel their stake is as much as the actual owner’s. It’s yet to be seen if the new owners of Delicious can make enough changes to keep users attracted to their site, or if they’ll drive away existing users and do little to encourage growth. One thing is clear, they may have misjudged the passion and expectations that many of their customers have for their brand and service.

So Y Combinator, a start up incubator is launching 63 companies into the world today, the most in its history. What is it? It’s a way for start up companies to get the time and funding to ready their ideas and tech for demos with investors. They’ve helped get sites like Dropbox, Posterous, and Reddit up on their feet. So if you want to check out some of the web’s next services from the beginning, now’s your chance.

Check out the list of sites and brief descriptions over on All Things D.