What is “Fast Fashion”, how it relates to big data, Facebook and us

Speed. Data. Lack of security. Encouraged anxiety. What makes a self-identity? And… fashion, clothing retailers and social media. n+1 has an interesting read in: The Accidental Bricoleurs:

…As the fast in fast fashion implies, the companies’ comparative advantage lies in speed, not brand recognition, garment durability, or reputable design. They have changed fashion from a garment making to an information business, optimizing their supply chains to implement design tweaks on the fly. Zara “can design, produce, and deliver a new garment and put it on display in its stores worldwide in a mere 15 days,”2 and this flow of information is by far the most significant thing the company produces, far more important than any piped pinafore, velveteen blazer or any of its other 40,000 yearly items. The company’s system of constant information monitoring allows it to quickly spot and sate trends and at the same time largely avoid overproduction boondoggles and the need for heavy discounting.

Unlike earlier generations of mass-market retailers, like the Gap’s family of brands (which includes, in ascending order of class cachet, Old Navy, Gap, and Banana Republic), companies like Zara and Forever 21 make no effort to stratify their offerings into class-signifying labels. They also don’t adopt branding strategies to affiliate with particular luxe or ironic lifestyles, à la Urban Outfitters or Abercrombie & Fitch. Instead they flatter consumers in a different way, immersing them in potential trends on a near weekly basis and trusting them to assemble styles in their own images. Clothes reach stores with practically unspoiled semiotic potential, and consumers are invited to be expressive rather than imitative with the goods, to participate more directly in fashion. We become the meaning makers, enchanting ordinary cardigans and anoraks with a symbolic significance that has only a tenuous relationship to the material item. We work in lieu of advertisers to reconfigure trends and remix signifiers, generating new and valuable meanings for goods. The more new clothes come in, the more creative we can be.

Fast-fashion retailers reap the fruits of that creativity by capturing our preferences in successive generations of products and nearly synchronizing to our whims. Thanks to the rich data we generate as we select, reject, and recombine the items fast fashion offers, the companies need not develop their own brands so much as seize upon customers’ ingenuity, distilling their choices into easily replicable trends and rushing the resulting products to market. If fashion functions like a language, then the fast-fashion firms are mainly interested controlling the underlying system and leave the meaning of the “words” to interchangeable designers and individual consumers. As long as customers are willing to speak fast fashion’s language, the companies aren’t particular about the specifics of the vocabulary. They are concerned only with the rate and volume of change.

…Like fast fashion, social media have brought with them a profusion of means and ways to reshape and display our identity. Constantly given new tools to share with, always prompted to say something new about ourselves (“What’s on your mind?” Facebook asks thoughtfully), we are pressured to continually devise ingenious solutions to our identity, which suddenly appears to be a particular kind of recurring problem: one that can be solved by replenishing social media’s various channels with fresh content. Just as fast fashion seeks to pressure shoppers with the urgency of now or never, social media hope to convince us that we always have something new and important to say—as long as we say it right away. And they are designed to make us feel anxious and left out if we don’t say it, as their interfaces favor the users who update frequently and tend to make less engaged users disappear. One can easily fall out of fashion with the algorithms Facebook uses to select which content users see out of the plethora of material friends in their network contribute.

…In social media, where everyone can employ design ideology, the persistent messages of advertising—that magical self-transformation through purchases is possible, that one’s inner truth can be expressed through the manipulation of well-worked surfaces—become practical rather than insulting. Not only do the methods and associative logic of advertising become more concretely useful, but its governing ideology no longer seems conformist but radically individualistic. Social media encourage us to appropriate whatever we want and claim it as our own without feeling derivative or slavishly imitative. On Facebook, if I link to, say, a YouTube video of Bob Dylan singing “I Threw It All Away” on the Johnny Cash Show in 1969, I am saying something particular about myself, not merely consuming the performance. I am declaring that video clip to be essentially equivalent to an update I may have written about a trip to Philadelphia or to pictures of me at a party that someone might have tagged. It is all bricolage for personal identity building.

It is a long, but thought provoking read. Go read it.

Related Metafilter thread: “The Total-Corporate State May Have Arrived”.

An open data challenge from Anil Dash

Anil Dash: “The Health Graph: Mortal Threats & Signs of Life”:

As a community of developers and technologists, we have to build powerful, indispensable apps and services on top of this data. Killer apps that save lives. If we can make ourselves invaluable, they won’t have the chance to try to cut off our oxygen.

How poor information design led to Waterfall

I just took part in a great 3 day training session with Uncle Bob Martin on TDD and healthy software design. One of the tidbits Bob shared was the history behind the Waterfall methodology that some of us older folks strained against until agile and lean methodologies started to get well known. Waterfall originated in a paper by Winston W. Royce, in which he describes the process… as a straw man to tear down! Unfortunately, the poor information design of the paper (it puts the summary tearing down the methodology on later pages instead of right up front) led those who read the nice graphics on leading pages to come away thinking they found the solution to their software engineering process needs.

Watch Glenn Vanderburg’s “Real Software Engineering” talk on Vimeo about this.

Real Software Engineering – Glenn Vanderburg from Engine Yard on Vimeo.

“Chance favors the connected mind”

YouTube: “‘Where Good Ideas Come From’ by Steven Johnson”

via Corey Latislaw

Is – the universe – just bits of information?

It is a fascinating question that led to some awesome lunchtime conversation the other day at work. Some more food for thought was recently written by Freeman Dyson in The New York Review of Books, who was reviewing James Gleick’s newest, “The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood”, which I’m gonna just have to read. Metafilter, as usual, had an interesting discussion to follow.

Other related links:

Nicholas Carr at The Daily Beast

Wired: Why the Basis of the Universe Isn’t Matter or Energy—It’s Data

Philadelphia Inquirer: Tirdad Derakhshani: Information Please

It used to cost a $1 trillion, now it costs $60 dollars

Computer World: “Today’s $60 1TB drive would have cost $1 trillion in the ’50s”

YouTube: “TEDxPhilly – Robert J. Moore – The data explosion “:

Related:

Hal R. Varian, University of California, Berkeley: Economics of Information Technology

MIT Technology Review: “The 70 Online Databases that Define Our Planet”

guardian.co.uk: Data Store

TechCrunch: Devin Coldewey: “The Dangers Of Externalizing Knowledge”

ScraperWiki

O’Reilly: Mike Loukides: “What is Data Science?”

Data Journalism and Visualization with an Example

Guardian: Paul Bradshaw: “How to be a data journalist”

ProPublica: Jeff Larson: “The Rainbow Connection: How We Made Our CDO Connections Graphic” (tools mentioned: google-refine (formerly Gridworks), Raphaël, JSON)

Interested in data and visualizations?

Check out the Guardian’s Datablog, and while you are at it, read/watch the Guardian’s Simon Rogers interview with Jonathan Stray of Nieman Journalism Labs on the rise of data journalism and the tools they use.

Ever front a database with a RESTful interface?

This looks like it could be handy – or at least the recipe one to consider: PHPRESTSQL.

Parsing HTML with your favorite language

This thread at Stack Overflow is just terrific. One for your bookmarks.

Related:

help.hackshackers.com: “What are the best tools for “scraping” data off a Web page for analysis in Excel or other software?”

Will Larson: “An Introduction to Compassionate Screen Scraping”

Michelle Minkoff: “How to Scrape Websites for Data without Programming Skills”

Firefox plugin: Outwit

Dan Nguyen: “Coding for Journalists 101 : A four-part series”

Prog-a-Month: “Easy HTML web scraping with Groovy and Java. (w/XOM)”