Zellers is Killing Itself to Live on Social Media


Big box discount stores are generally glum places by nature. The more aesthetically pleasing the environment, after all, the more it feeds the perception that the cost is being handed down.

Walmart just pushed this cheap philosophy so far that it provided room in the U.S. for a fashion-conscious alternative.

The positioning of Target was further validated when it secured its first 105 locations across Canada. No longer would the country be stuck with so many of those bleak Zellers stores that the Hudson's Bay Company never quite knew what to do with.

And, in the run-up to the $1.8 billion handover of about half of its 273 stores from one U.S.-based owner to another — Walmart will get 39 of them, actually — Zellers has seized permission to publicly admit that it became the last place Canadians wanted to shop at.

The lack of need for traditional advertising in the two-year transition period has reportedly helped HBC make more money off the dying stores. Now, the company has accelerated its use of social media to entice customers through irony.

Fake is the New Real is the New Fake


Those looking to catch a break in the self-expression business would have it easier if they were attached to a corporate sponsor ahead of time. Why wait to be discovered as a conduit for advertising if a sell-out is inevitable?

Still, we remain attached to the idea that credibility has to be earned — that an authentic voice requires a trial en route to a payoff, even if no one would voluntarily submit to that hassle.

YouTube has provided a glimpse into universe in which far-out ideas can reap commercial rewards if they get enough clicks: Epic Meal Time might be the most financially successful Canadian television show, ever. So, time will tell if YouTube's strategy for pre-capitalized celebrities will come at the expense of outsiders.

Brand names would obviously rather attach themselves to a proven commodity, after all. Mindshare, the media buying agency for the Ford Motor Company of Canada, didn't need to look any further for a social media-friendly voice than one Amber MacArthur.

When Does the Movember Backlash Begin?


Movember has served as a case study of how to ping with the modern monoculture — a fundraiser for prostate cancer awareness flecked with just enough ironic entertainment value. Moustache maintenance might as well replace breakfast auditing as status update fodder for a month.

Plus, it puts a fuzzy face on cause that used to never be spoken of in mixed company.

What happens, though, if the novelty value runs its course? The number of Canadian companies looking to align themselves with the campaign foreshadows an inevitable burnout.

For now, advertisers seem eager to attach themselves to something perceived as authentic. But this isn't as much about furthering the potential for social enterprise as trying to reach a demographic that much mass media has given up on.

This year, Movember Canada branding has been attached to Rickard's beer, Speed Stick deodorant, Schick razors, Bread & Butter skincare and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Basically, the campaign has swept in to provide a more ethical platform than a wet T-shirt contest would.

Notes From Calgary: Innovate Cowtown


A sea of white men in corporate suits met to invest in computer technology. I decided to talk to a woman but she was representing Ernst and Young. So I went to the second floor where an avatar on a screen was mimicking a person moving round with a motion sensor suit; an intriguing design by Colin Curwen and New Machine Studios.

Most of the booths at the 12th annual Innovate Calgary were improving already existing technologies. There was NexTeq Navigation upgrading the accuracy of GPS equipment through the Geomatics Department as well as iconnectivity Midi systems enhancing the interfacing of phones and pianos. Accountants, investors and creators drank wine for United Way and flung cards for a better day.

One of the companies promised to speed up the ability of the military and police to respond to emergencies through a technical upgrade. Do half of their profits go to supporting the prosperity of communities and reducing the possibility of emergency? I asked this question and got laughed down the line. So I talked to an organizer of Innovate Calgary who was wearing a “support the troops“ ribbon. Are racism and theft of resources the real reasons we are bombing Afghanistan? I asked this question and was told no.

This Week in Open Government Was Like Last Week in Open Government


"I gather it's been the worst kept secret in politics for the last few days," said Peggy Nash at the Friday morning announcement that she hopes to be the new NDP leader, "but that's OK, I believe in open government."

The proclamation showed that a certain terminology has worked its way into her subconscious. But the finance critic wasn't talking about "Making 'Open Government' About Actual Government" — discussed last week at a Metaviews event in Ottawa.

Rather, it reinforced that politicians are now forced to put so much energy into burnishing their social media image, that it comes at the expense of understanding how the departments that they're charged with overseeing need to be fully accessible online.

Going down the rabbit hole of Open Government-related rhetoric can be as maddening as the efforts to hash out solutions to salvage the information or entertainment industries from disruption. The difference is, while technology will transform our tastes in decades ahead, a traditional structure of public service will remain.

The Occupation Will Continue in Calgary

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We are the 99%. A microcosm of the revolution, Occupy Calgary is lead by a leaderless consensus. They say that the gap between rich and poor can narrow. Corporations can be held to moral account. Internet and phones can be free. Governments don't have to let banks gamble and pillage. People here are speaking truth to power. Unfortunately the rest of the city is glum, even hostile about those standing for a new wavelength of reality where people come before profits and the me is really the we.

The police are putting pressure on the people to move the 42 tents that now inhabit small parcels of grass. Most of the concrete plaza is empty and yet the city has pressured the occupiers to leave so that a few trees can be trimmed. It looks as though they will hold their ground at least to the end of the month. They’ve been clean and respectful, helping to educate anyone passing by with a booth of films and books or a meal. “Freedom and equality for all, not just the rich” adorned one side of a tent with the other reading, “Love and peace always."

For the most part, Nenshi and the alderman are tolerant of the occupiers. They even lifted a decade’s long ban on camping at St. Patrick’s Island, where many homeless are occupying the land with strong messages against corporate greed. Instead of hiding in the trees, people can now come out and legally sit by an open fire 24 hours a day in solidarity.

Parking or Paradise? The McLuhan Coach House Makeover


The continued commemoration of the 100th birthday of Marshall McLuhan has included contemplation of how his influence should be permanently represented in Toronto. Historical plaques are nice and all — but the rustic McLuhan Coach House, relatively hidden along Queen's Park East, may benefit from being a less enigmatic structure.

With a wave of digital upgrades at universities around the globe — particularly just a few blocks away at Ryerson — the centenary couldn't overlook that the building designated for The Centre of Culture and Technology in 1968 has remained in a static state. Shouldn't a room synonymous with media evolution feel futurist?

The challenge was posed to several architectural firms for a design charrette, held nearby at St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto throughout Monday. The brainstorming marathon culminated in presentations that hypothesized about how to transform the Coach House to help influence a makeover strategy.

Occupy Twitter: Courting the Counterculture in 140 Characters


The forthcoming MTV reality special about Occupy Wall Street is sure to raise curiosity — if not for the way it presents the movement, then at least for which corporations were willing to advertise on the show.

Twitter apparently has no problem accepting protest-friendly patronage, though. Progressives United, the group founded by Senator Russ Feingold to counter corporate influence in the U.S. political system, has planted its link at the top of searches for #OWS.

Yet for a service still challenged to figure out a sustainable business model, which would require dealing with a system that many protesters are rallying against, this kind of association may just reaffirm the perception that Twitter is too big to succeed.

Being associated with something more psychologically distant, like the Arab Spring, might be a whole lot less complicated as a sideshow to vanity media and sponsor accounts. Occupy, by contrast, risks hitting too close to home.

CivicCamp Calgary: Engaging Change


Some 300 friendly people packed a library theatre to hear Mayor Naheed Nenshi and community choreographer Dave Meslin yesterday. They espoused the rights of Calgarians to do more than work hard and keep to themselves. Nenshi encouraged entrepreneurship in the public sector to great applause, and Meslin carried the message of people power throughout.

If there were windows in the theatre we would have seen the small showing of young people at Occupy Calgary. When asked about this, Nenshi was bemused, noting that those people were occupying their own city. However, most of us feel that City Hall is a place where politicians look over a privatized shopping mall hell. It’s almost impossible to just be in public. We go out to work, buy things and come home. It’s not our city yet.

Nenshi’s incredulity about the occupiers is odd because I couldn’t picture them sitting in a lecture hall for an hour and half instead. We are responsible for ensuring that youth are actually creating their own realities unencumbered and supported to live free. Too often there’s little for young people to do but stand in lines at chain stores to keep the “economy going," or crowd into classrooms to get theory.

Making 'Open Government' About Actual Government


Social media expert Tony Clement played off his Twitter reputation Tuesday morning at the Government Technology Exhibition and Conference in Ottawa. Clearly, the new Treasury Board president is seen as the most qualified Conservative cabinet spokesperson for the federal Open Government initiatives, a plan for which he promised would be presented next March.

For the mainstream press, the main takeaway appears to have been a call for the federal government to move toward a paperless operation. But there is nothing radical anymore about moving information to a screen.

Mercifully, as we've seen in other disrupted industries, a change in delivery systems provides the opportunity to transform the substance of the communication into what the public wants.

Consultations will be involved in the process of piecing the plan together, promised Clement, which is certainly better than the paradox of keeping deliberations about Open Government closed.

Yet, the discussion was already advanced 12 hours ahead of Clement's keynote, at a Metaviews discussion event in Ottawa, titled "Beyond the Kool-Aid."

Michael Bryant is the Future of the Book Business


Michael Bryant's aborted attempts to leverage social media to argue that he was innocent after an altercation that led to death of cyclist Darcy Alan Sheppard two years ago failed to gain him much sympathy — despite the best efforts of PR firm Navigator — but Penguin Canada seem confident that the tale of the former Ontario attorney general's confrontation will make a few bucks in book form.

Confidence in the best-seller status of 28 Seconds next fall — if not the need to reassure critics of Bryant's sincerity — has already been reflected in the pledge to donate a portion of the profits to a foundation that treats adolescent mental health and substance abuse, factors that presumably played a role in the incident.

Nonetheless, much like how the initial attempts to refute reports that Bryant played no role in Sheppard's death were refuted online by cycling advocates, the memoir about the incident and surrounding media circus will no doubt be held to similar scrutiny.

Footage of the incident on YouTube won't hamper interest in Bryant's story, of course. Books remain the preferred storytelling format of any public figure who has come under fire — no doubt because a notorious name can command a healthy advance.

Occupy Toronto Made Me Homesick

Yesterday, my mother called me from Times Square and her voice was full of excitement. She had signed up to volunteer as a medic and was caught in a huge mass of bodies en route to Chase Bank to withdraw all their money. She’s sending me her copy of The Occupied Wall Street Journal. With some luck, I’ll get it next month (thanks to Can Post).

Occupy Wall Street has gone global, with marches on Saturday, October 15 in more than 1,000 cities all over the world. Yesterday Rome was in flames, Madrid’s streets were bursting with bodies, Hong Kong had people walking around in over-sized i-Phone placards with graphic messages depicting the factories’ exploitative labor practices. The movement that began in Madrid on May 15 at Puerta del Sol and then mushroomed in New York City on September 17 has permeated the home, the media, the typically apolitical and—reaching across traditional barriers and gaps—is bringing all walks of life to the streets.

I went to St. James Park in Toronto earlier today, counted tents and read signs and did an overall vibe-check. I felt like someone had pressed the mute button, but maybe that’s just because I can’t stand drum circles…

Occupy Wall Street and the 'North American Autumn'

Say it ain’t so… but of course it is. New York City’s Mayor Mike Bloomberg is threatening to evict Occupy Wall Street from its Zuccotti Park headquarters tomorrow morning. Last night Bloomberg and NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly alerted Occupy Wall Street protesters that they will be “cleaning the park” at 7 a.m. on Friday, October 14 and, in so many words, will do whatever it takes to make re-occupation impossible. If they proceed, there will be resistance and there will be turf war.

At this point, it is well known to many that Occupy Wall Street is not a flash-in-the-pan protest. To trace back to the beginning, in mid-July, hacktivist group Anonymous and long-time culture jammers Adbusters posted a call for a month-long occupation of Wall Street, beginning on September 17, 2011. September 17 was a Saturday. Generally, the only people in NYC’s financial district on a Saturday are tourists visiting the WTC crater, weekend shoppers, Staten Island commuters and Battery Park City dwellers. My first thought was: why Saturday? A lot of people don’t have to work on Saturdays, thereby making it easier to attend the event, but would this choice of date at this particular venue also create limits from the outset?

A New Social Network Seeks to Sort Out the Data Deluge


With an increasing number of profit-seeking publishers concluding that the unlimited free distribution of original web journalism won't be a sustainable business, it has cleared the path for more simplistic ways to relay stories, without the same demand on audience attention.

Infographics are increasingly being seen as a content genre all their own — while apparently riding the coattails of the movement to urge the public sector to open their data to the dabbling of developers. Naturally, media and marketing types have also seen the appeal, since any information capable of going viral beats the alternative.

With these developments has come an emerging sentiment that data visualizations created as social media bait are better off being ignored because the trend is going to fade.

For now, though, a slick user-generated infographic can still draw attention for its own sake — in the same way that chatrooms or blogs once turned heads on novelty value along. But an infographic slapped together out of self-interest isn't quite worth the scrutiny of a cave painting. Yet, some kind of filter could help draw attention to the data worth a look.

Bitcoin Validated by Quest to Track Down the Crypto-Currency Creator


Bitcoin was in the spotlight of the October 10 issue of The New Yorker, as "The Crypto-Currency" was featured amongst other stories about money, even if it was the only article to consider digital alternatives to the system.

Some peripheral attention has been paid to Bitcoin in the context of Occupy Wall Street. The movement has accepted donations in BTC — which has given its proponents hope that the concept will now be seen as more than a short-lived summertime novelty.

And while it's a long way from the current fringe status of Bitcoin to any sort of mainstream acceptance, the issues surrounding its development and distribution might be more pertinent than ever, at least among those spurred by the sit-in to wonder how the financial system can ever be adequately disrupted. Can the end of cash help popularize a decentralized system that isn't based on borders?

For now, Bitcoins are still the stuff of outsider art, as writer Joshua Davis explored how far he could get with the crypto-currency in America.