WALL STREET JOURNAL – When a friend suggested that he write a blog, Joel Backaler saw it as a good opportunity to share some of his most interesting stories about working as a consultant in China. One of his clients, for example, was the chief executive officer of a state-owned chemical company who lived in a province renowned for hand-pulled noodles. The CEO had a passion for noodles, so he ended up opening a chain of fast-food noodle houses that would offer jobs to laid-off factory workers. “I was surrounded by so many great stories to write about, but I never had an outlet to write about what I was learning through work. It was a passion project,” says Mr. Backaler, who would regularly wake up at 4 a.m. and post new articles to his blog “The China Observer,” before going to the office. He’d also blog on weekends and on holidays. His hard work paid off. Within months, Mr. Backaler became a quoted authority on business in China. His articles were linked to by well-known industry blogs, and he was asked to write on international business topics for Forbes and BusinessWeek. He was also offered a full-time job in 2011 to start up Asian-Pacific operations for the Frontier Strategy Group, a Washington, D.C.-based advisory firm. Mr. Backaler is now working on a book about the rise of Chinese companies in overseas markets for Palgrave Macmillan entitled “China Goes West.” In the current competitive job climate, hard work alone doesn’t always get noticed, say career experts. Good employees are getting passed up for new opportunities because companies may not be aware of their full capabilities. That’s where branding can be used to promote your value to your busy bosses, peers and anybody else that can help you from inside and outside the company. Through a coordinated networking, social-media and blogging effort, you can become the go-to specialist in your field. First, think strategically. How do you want to be perceived by the world? You should choose a unique specialty to promote that is not based on any other brands, says Dan Schawbel, a workplace expert from Boston and author of “Promote Yourself: The New Rules of Career Success.” “Instead of being a LinkedIn expert, you could become a LinkedIn expert for baby boomers. It’s important to find your own niche that sets you apart from your peers.” Fill any knowledge or skill gaps. Especially if you’re looking to advance, ask for honest feedback from co-workers. You may find that you need to shift to a different functional area within the company, for example, to get that international assignment that you want, says Dorie Clark, a branding and management consultant from Somerville, Mass., and author of “Reinventing You.” Don’t be self-conscious. It’s OK to promote your accomplishments. Bragging can be a good way to increase visibility. Just don’t make self-promotion the only thing that you tweet or blog about, says Mr. Schawbel. You want to attract new readers by becoming a resource or mentor for colleagues and by reaching out and participating in online discussions in company forums or in LinkedIn groups. Blog regularly. It may seem old-fashioned when compared with Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, but blogging is the best way to showcase what you do and how you think—especially if you are a knowledge worker known for your ideas. If you make the effort to blog, you are setting yourself apart and showing that you are a thought leader in your company or your field, as opposed to being just a commodity, says Ms. Clark. “You don’t want to be a commodity, since there’s somebody out there, literally, that’s willing to do your job for $3 an hour. You have to provide a compelling reason why you’re worth the money. Otherwise, it’s a race to the bottom.” It’s important to establish your brand outside of your company since that can help you get recognized from within, says Ms. Clark. “So if you’re being asked to speak as an expert by media and winning awards for your blog, that may compel the powers that be at your company to re-evaluate you.” Writing credibly takes research which keeps you on top of trends. It’s also is an opportunity to mention blogging to your boss at key moments. If something that you blogged about is mentioned in a meeting, you can drop in that you wrote about that topic, which would highlight mastery of the strategic elements of a job that you want. Don’t stagnate. Be proactive with your brand. You may need to reinvent yourself multiple times to keep up with shifting industry trends and changes to your career fortunes, like recovering from a layoff. Make the best of your situation. Even if you’re in a job that you don’t like, you can continue to broadcast your expertise through social media and your blog and use that experience to flush out new opportunities. No surprises. Tell your boss what you plan to do. You don’t want him or her to stumble on your blog accidentally and find that you’ve been posting 1,000-word stories throughout the day when you should be working, says Mr. Schawbel. It helps to get your boss’s sanction. He or she may even make it part of your job. Otherwise, do it outside of work. Illustration by RALPH BUTLER. You can see the full story here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304744304579248122219811370
CHICAGO TRIBUNE – Digital technology is dramatically changing how books are printed- -and by whom. The growing use of print-on-demand services is creating a new generation of self-published authors. It also is changing how traditional publishers bring books to the market. Doug Cummings, a reporter for WGN-AM 720, is one aspiring novelist who turned to self-publishing after two literary agents failed to find a publishing house for his mystery novel, “Deader by the Lake.” (WGN is owned by Tribune Co., which also owns the Chicago Tribune.) Through iUniverse, a self-publishing service that helps authors design, print, distribute and promote books, Cummings has sold 1,250 copies since December. He recently sold about 70 books at a Barnes & Noble book signing. “I’d like to have a hand in erasing the stigma of self- publishing. I was never pleased by the regular publishing process, since they basically own you once they buy your book,” he said. “And many authors are abandoned after the book is released.” More self-published books have started to show up on the racks at major booksellers for several reasons. One is that self-published authors, like Cummings, spend a lot of time promoting their work. Another reason, and perhaps more important, is that the books are becoming indistinguishable from those printed by traditional publishers. That has become a key selling point for services like iUniverse and Xlibris. “The early days of self-publishing and [print on demand] suffered from a lack of reliability and quality but have since evolved to a point where traditional publishers now look at us,” said Susan Driscoll, iUniverse’s chief executive. Furthermore, new digital printing technology allows these services to offer aspiring authors full-color covers in hardback and paperback editions as well as the option of full-color pages inside. Each book includes a bar code and an international standard book number. But the key advantage to print-on-demand publishing is that books are produced as needed. That has gotten the attention of mainstream publishers seeking to avoid the biggest publishing headache: remainder copies. Publishers usually take a significant loss on unsold books unloaded to wholesalers, who, in turn, sell the books to clearance resellers. Now, for first-run titles where sales success is in question, small publishers are turning to print on demand to avoid the expense of a large print run. Also, publishers of technical books, including John Wiley & Sons Inc., use print on demand to lower costs. They are willing to trade lower overall printing costs, but higher costs per book, for a smaller profit. “Publishing is an industry that has always had tight margins. It’s not expanding; it’s not improving. Any technology that’s going to save is going to be adopted,” said Thad McLeroy, a publishing consultant and analyst. For Lighting Source Inc., a print-on-demand publisher based in Tennessee, the short-run book market is pretty big. The company prints as many as 500,000 books a month with a round- the-clock printing operation. Some of those orders are single copies, which the company says it profits from, even though margins are small. Orders also come from traditional publishers that want to keep backlisted titles–older books that have small but regular demand– in circulation. Until recently, it was not practical for publishers to print fewer than 5,000 books on an offset press. But offset printing–a process that uses metal plates and ink–is losing ground to digital printing. “The quality difference between offset and digital presses would not be noticed by 99 percent of the population,” said Kirby Best, Lightning Source’s CEO. “The cost difference between digital and offset printing is rapidly shrinking,” added publishing analyst George Alexander. Eventually, he said, digital printing’s improving quality will make it a viable choice for bigger runs. For some authors, self-publishing has opened doors at big publishing houses. Laurie Notaro, a former humor columnist for The Arizona Republic, had little luck peddling her essays to publishers. Although her collection included a few of her newspaper columns, most of it was edgy, personal work. She was rejected 70 times before turning to self-publishing at iUniverse. “It was only $99 to start, and I got one book,” said Notaro. “But I kept buying more. I think I had 500 to 1,000, roughly. And I submitted my own cover.” Today, the iUniverse basic setup fee is $459, which includes five books. Once her book was published, Notaro advertised on Amazon.com. Her ad attracted a literary agent who was able to sell it to Villard Books, a division of Random House Inc. “The Idiot Girls’ Action-Adventure Club” reached No. 10 on The New York Times’ best-seller list and prompted a six-figure advance for a follow-up book, “Autobiography of a Fat Bride.” A third book, “True Tales of a Loudmouth Girl,” is expected this year. “I’d been doing it for so long and had met with so much rejection,” Notaro said. “But when the right person sees you at the right time, that’s when it comes together.” Paul Glen, a technology management consultant, used self- publishing to promote his services. But he found print on demand to be too expensive and opted to do his own legwork. “I figured I could do it myself and save money,” Glen said. He contacted printers directly and wrote and designed the book using Microsoft Word. The only thing he contracted out was the four-color cover design. Glen regularly sends copies of his self-published book to potential clients, and he brings copies when he gives speeches. He puts it alongside his newest book, “Leading Geeks,” which was recently published by Jossey-Bass, a San Francisco-based business publisher. Although Glen hasn’t made any money from his first book, he insists that was never the intention. Still, he intends to self- publish more titles, as well as write for Jossey-Bass, a unit of John Wiley. “Each book has its own purpose,” Glen said. – – – Printer offers hint of future Digital technology may be revolutionizing publishing, but digital printers like Hewlett-Packard’s Indigo and Xerox’s iGen3 still fill entire rooms. And neither printer will do what the InstaBook Maker can do in five minutes: paginate, print and bind a softcover book while you wait. It also can print artwork on the inside pages. About the size of a large office copier, the InstaBook Maker aspires to achieve the print-on-demand ideal of total automation. Customers can choose to print a book from a large online catalog or can print their own work. The rest is handled by the machine. It’s the fastest way to get published, though the quality falls short of what print-on-demand publishers offer. Florida-based InstaBook Corp. plans to penetrate the library, retail bookseller and government markets with its all-in-one product. But products like the InstaBook Maker could have limited potential in the retail market. “Studies show that most book purchases are made on a whim,” said publishing analyst Thad McLeroy. “People like to thumb through books they find interesting.”
CHICAGO TRIBUNE – In the mid-80s, cellular phones were a dubious status symbol. They were costly to use and as unwieldy as cinder blocks, which made them impractical for most people. But the novelty of having one drew attention. Today, however, there are more than 140 million wireless phone subscribers in the U.S., and economies of scale have turned the cell phone into a common household tool. Yet for those who appreciated the early phone’s exclusivity, the current crop of plastic-clad handsets is big on utility but low on prestige. Now some mobile phone-makers seek to regain exclusivity with a new line of high-end phones. “People who wear custom-tailored suits and drive Rolls-Royces were tired of pulling a cheap plastic phone out of their pockets,” said Nigel Litchfield, chief executive of Vertu, a luxury phone company spun off from Nokia last year. “There have been a lot of requests for something nicer than what was being offered.” With prices comparable to midsize sedans, several ounces of precious metal and a sleek design, Vertu is looking to establish its phones to have the same cachet as Rolex and Prada. The company has already attracted the discerning patronage of some celebrities, including actress Gwyneth Paltrow and pop divas Madonna and Jennifer Lopez. The initial response to Vertu’s phones has been strong, Litchfield said. He declined to release sales figures but said Vertu’s first 18 months of operation have exceeded Nokia’s original projections. The phones’ retail prices range from $5,700 to $21,000. Yet some analysts question whether the U.K.-based company is aiming too high. Ren Zamora, a telecom analyst at Loop Capital Markets, acknowledges that Nokia has struck on a viable market. But he believes that Vertu will, overall, have a negligible impact financially. No Motorola “It is a limited market,” he said. “You won’t be seeing Motorola rushing into this new market anytime soon.” Peter Aloumanis, a vice president at Schaumburg’s Motorola Inc., said the No. 2 cell phone maker has no plans to enter the “hyperluxury” niche. Still, Motorola has been offering pricier handsets since 2001 that are sold in upscale department stores such as Bloomingdale’s. Their limited edition Bobby Jones and Baby Phat lines are two of a number of different series that retail for about $549. Motorola has kept the production numbers low–typically under 1,000 units–to increase their appeal. And despite the higher price point, most of the handsets have sold out. “They fall a couple of notches below Vertu,” Aloumanis said. “We were looking to appeal to thousands of users as opposed to hundreds, as is the case with Vertu phones.” Motorola has also found that this moderate-priced upscale approach appeals to overseas buyers as well. In China, which is the world’s fastest growing market for cell phones, domestic upstart TCL International started offering a faux-diamond handset that was viewed with derision by foreign competitors. But TCL’s success has prompted Motorola to offer its own faux-diamond editions. Vertu says the high price for its phones is justified considering how they were built. The phones do not roll off an assembly line and are not based on modifying an existing phone. Sony Ericsson, for example, has offered a special-order-only luxury option, but it is mostly cosmetic. The work is done by European partners who adorn handsets with 18-carat gold and precious gems. Austrian jeweler Peter Aloisson offers similar options for Motorola and Nokia handsets, which start at $24,000. According to Vertu, the company wanted to recapture the appeal of old world craftsmanship that draws people to luxury items like Patek Philippe watches. The handsets–or instruments, as Vertu likes to call them–have over 400 parts, which are hand assembled. The Vertu phones include features like jeweled bearings under each key; 18-carat gold, platinum or stainless steel options; and scratch-resistant sapphire crystal faces. The phones can be upgraded, an important feature considering how quickly cellular technology advances. Concierge service Besides the high-quality phone, Vertu emphasizes customer service. Its one-touch concierge service provides personal assistants–available 24 hours a day–to set appointments and reservations, buy tickets and even plan events. According to Vertu, most of its buyers subscribe and many use the concierge service several times a month. The typical user is a frequent traveler who wants the full service away from the home or office. “The range of what we can offer is potentially unlimited,” Litchfield said. “We once had a stranded yacht owner who called us to help him find a new mast after his broke.” Vertu phones are available at high-end stores throughout Europe, parts of Asia Pacific and at U.S. specialty stores and retailers like Barneys and Neiman Marcus. Starting this month, Vertu will also be sold at Saks Fifth Avenue. Initially the phones were sold by appointment only at special suites, a service still available for celebrities or other high- profile clients seeking discretion, said Vertu spokeswoman Erin Hawker. “We also have customers who buy several phones,” Hawker said. “They use one and hold onto the other for future collectors value.” Peter Shemomsky, director of fine jewelry and timepieces at the Bonham and Butterfield auction house, doubts the phones will have much collectible value beyond the worth of the precious materials they are made of. Especially when the phones become obsolete. “The value of the Vertu is heavily tied to its function,” he said. “A Rolex watch will always tell time, even as newer watches are being released that may do it better.” On the other hand, Katherine Williamson, Bonham’s celebrity memorabilia expert, believes used Vertu phones may at least hold their retail value if they can be tied to celebrity owners who have enough staying power to be remembered 20 years from now. “Madonna probably, but J-Lo I kind of doubt,” she said.
CHICAGO TRIBUNE – If Sony or American Express have their way, your wallet will find a permanent home in a drawer. You will carry your driver’s license, cash, credit cards and family photos on a single card (or in your cell phone) and make purchases by tapping a few buttons or waving the card in front of a reader. Although this vision isn’t quite ready for prime time, two basic technologies have emerged as the most promising standards for making wireless purchases an everyday reality. But a lack of interoperability between companies, and public skepticism, could hinder widespread acceptance. Radio-frequency identification and infrared are being tested in pilot programs by credit card companies, hardwaremakers, cellular providers, banks and soft drink companies. Sony Corp. is putting its formidable clout behind a proprietary RFID system called FeliCa, which the company says combines the words “felicity” and “card.” Sony rejected other proprietary standards, such as those utilized by Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Speedpass program. FeliCa uses smart card technology, which allows it to read, process and store information. This gives FeliCa more flexibility than other RFID standards because it can be upgraded as the technology advances and used for such other purposes as identification cards. And FeliCa shares the same ease of use as Speedpass, which makes it a good choice for high-traffic applications such as transportation. This is an area in which RFID has distinguished itself. In Japanese railway stations, the Suica automated ticket system debits fares from the FeliCa contactless cards of more than 5 million passengers each day. Sony also has partnered with DoCoMo, Japan’s largest cellular company, to integrate the FeliCa technology into handsets and jointly develop applications. DoCoMo also is testing an infrared mobile payment system with Visa International, which also is exploring RFID. And competitor MasterCard recently announced the rollout of its own RFID-based credit card and cell phone system called PayPass, which it is standardizing with American Express’ ExpressPay. Though this tangle of partnerships is confusing, the companies involved say researching the available technologies is one way to assure nobody gets left behind should one technology succeed over the other. It also helps to establish common standards that will be the key to more widespread acceptance. Analysts say Sony and DoCoMo’s success–as well as the future of mobile commerce–rests on users’ willingness to trust the technology. So far, the Japanese have been receptive to using such alternative forms of payment. And in South Korea, where 33 million out of a total population of 48 million have cell phones, thousands are using their handset’s infrared ports to make vending machine purchases. But in the U.S., consumers are wary of paying wirelessly. “Privacy and security have always been roadblocks,” said Creative Strategies analyst Tim Bajarin. Speedpass popular Bajarin said Speedpass has laid much of the groundwork in the U.S. for widespread acceptance of RFID payments. Now Speedpass is applying the technology elsewhere. After successful pilot programs that included Chicago-area McDonald’s restaurants, Speedpass is being prepared for other fast-food restaurants and some pharmacies. Joe Giordano, vice president of business and product development and the inventor of Speedpass, said the company is planning to upgrade the system this year to make it easier for merchants to plug Speedpass into their existing point-of-sale systems. The current proprietary system requires they have a connection to an Exxon Mobil host computer. Giordano said Speedpass also is working on new readers that can accept multiple standards, including infrared. The appeal of RFID technologies like Speedpass is simplicity, which is what American Express believes is the key to the technology’s success. “The barriers have to be as low as possible for the user and the merchant,” said Tony Mitchell, an American Express spokesman. “You need something quick and easy to use, and something that doesn’t require a lot of extra expensive equipment to process.” Alternative to Blue American Express has been testing its own RFID-based key fob called ExpressPay, which it hopes will go over better than its Blue smart card has. ExpressPay can be linked to any major credit card, not just American Express, and handles security by preventing fraud and placing a daily $150 spending cap on purchases. “This limit is something we’ve found users are more comfortable with,” said Mitchell. ExpressPay is being tested in Phoenix, where it is available at more than 300 locations and all Carl’s Jr. restaurants. The early tests showed that users spent as much as 20 percent to 30 percent more than if they had used cash or a credit card. “The results so far have been very positive,” said Mitchell. Still, analysts say there is still a lot of work to do. That includes overcoming the notion “that the current technology works fine for most people,” said IDC Research analyst Keith Waryas. “I already have a mobile payment device, and it never runs out of batteries,” he said. “It’s called a credit card, and it goes everywhere with me.” Infrared, which can be used by any cell phone with an IR port, is the better technology, according to some people. Mike Watson, for instance, says the major problem of RFID is the need for merchants to have different readers for each company, and that consumers will need to carry multiple cards or phones to take advantage of the technology. But “with IR you can link many different cards with the same device,” said Watson, a spokesman for South Korea’s Harex InfoTech Inc., which has developed infrared technology. “IR devices can also accept information as well as send it, whereas RFID devices are only one way,” he said. But Mitchell is skeptical that infrared will make the same inroads in the U.S. as in Asia. “If you have to stop, pull out your phone and punch in a code, why not just pull out a credit card?” – – – Crowded airwaves pose hazard to RFID system The great thing about wireless technology is that it can be applied to anything. The bad thing is that it is being applied to everything. Cell phones, cordless phones, two-way radios, cordless mice, Wi- Fi Internet networks and radio-frequency identification tags are all competing for limited ranges of bandwidth allocated by the Federal Communications Commission. Although most RFID systems, like the Exxon Mobil Speedpass, have extremely short range, even this doesn’t guarantee immunity from conflicts. One problem with Speedpass is that it may interfere with RFID- based anti-theft systems typically used in high-end luxury cars. Auto manufacturers have been embedding RFID chips into ignition keys for years. That coded key signals the car and allows it to start. But there’s a small chance that if the car reads the Speedpass first, it could refuse to start. The solution: hold the Speedpass away from the ignition when starting the car. Speedpass has posted instructions on its Web site (www.speedpass.com). Wireless payment technologies Infrared, or IR, uses the infrared port of a cell phone or personal digital assistant to beam transactions to a reader. Since the technology requires a “line of sight” transmission, the chances of having a signal intercepted are low. Some companies require a personal identification number for added security. One disadvantage is that it can take too long to use. Infrared requires users to pull out a phone, make the connection and approve a purchase. Radio frequency identification, or RFID, chips are incorporated into key fobs like Speedpass or cell phone covers. The technology uses a low-level radio frequency that can be picked up from any direction. The technology is always on, so purchases are made by waving key fobs in front of readers at gas pumps and stores. The advantage of RFID is that it’s quick, nearly effortless and doesn’t use batteries like IR devices. The disadvantage is a lack of flexibility: Most RFID devices are designed to do one thing. They can’t receive information or be adapted when the technology changes.
CHICAGO TRIBUNE – When a video-game tester named Beta-7 began suffering from blackouts and uncontrollable fits of violence, he launched a blog to campaign against the release of the game causing his problems. After four months of battling gamemaker Sega, Beta-7 mysteriously disappeared. Sound like the premise to a thriller? It was a hoax. Beta-7 (www.beta-7.com) was part of a new marketing trend that uses fake blogs to promote products. Conceived by the New York office of Portland, Ore.-based advertising agency Wieden & Kennedy, the blog was intended to create a buzz for Sega’s “ESPN NFL Football 2K4” game and draw attention away from Electronic Arts’ “Madden Football 2004”–the game that dominates the segment. “We had to come up with something that EA wouldn’t do and with a smaller budget. We knew that most bloggers are also hard-core gamers,” said Bobby Hershfield, the lead copywriter for the Beta-7 campaign. The Beta-7 blog and two others featured pictures of injuries suffered by gamers during blackouts, and bulletin-board messages were posted across the Internet about the adverse side effects of playing. Confidential company memos–purportedly acquired by another game tester–were posted that portrayed Sega as increasingly worried about the problems. There were even video clips of Beta-7 and other testers tackling strangers on the street. The producers of the “Blair Witch Project” were commissioned to create the authentic-looking clips. Sega’s mock concern spilled over into other media. In a television commercial, Oakland Raider defensive tackle Warren Sapp denounced rumors that “ESPN NFL Football” caused violence or erratic behavior. Beta-7 ran for four months and ended with the September release of the game. The beginning and end of the campaign were scripted ahead of time, but everything in between was created on the fly and in response to how the audience reacted. “We were constantly changing things,” said Hershfield. “We were able to keep it entertaining.” The unique campaign–the sites attracted 2.2 million visitors– appears to be successful. Sega said sales have improved over last year by 20 percent, selling about 360,000 games. That is still a far cry from Madden’s sales of more than 5 million copies in 2003. And “Madden NFL 2005” broke records, selling 1.3 million copies in its first week of release. Faux blogs, while relatively new, have not always been well- received. Soft drink-maker Dr Pepper/7 Up Inc. was among the first mainstream firms to use blogs to lend a “hip legitimacy” to a product, said business blog consultant Rick Bruner. The company invited bloggers to write about Raging Cow, a flavored-milk drink targeted at teens and young adults. But when legitimate bloggers discovered that company-sponsored shills were recruited to post comments, some bloggers responded by creating a Web site to boycott Raging Cow. The boycott is going a year later. That doesn’t surprise Jason McCabe Calacanis, founder of Weblog Inc., one of the largest blog publishing companies. “It’s tough to get away with anything on a blog,” he said. “Once people find out they’ve been burned, they’ll call you out.” Warner Bros. Records Inc. recently tried to insinuate itself into the blog world. It pitched a release by the Secret Machines to a new crop of MP3 blogs–forums that publish music reviews alongside links to download the song. One site accepted the song. But when a string of suspiciously positive comments appeared, the editors traced the messages to Warner Bros. The song was stricken from the site, and word spread quickly among blogs of what Warner had done. The tactic is not new for music companies. Record companies have been self-promoting for years on bulletin boards and chat rooms. But many bloggers consider themselves a new kind of journalist and take deception in their space personally. “Business has to rethink their approach,” said Calacanis. “Every time a new medium comes out, advertisers take advantage. It’s highly unethical deceiving your reader. It can impact the image and sales of products.” Some faux blogs make no pretense and declare themselves as self- promotional. Jane’s Blog (http://jane.blogs.com) is written by a character on the Oxygen Channel show “Good Girls Don’t.” The blog disclaims itself: “By the way, I’m not actually real, I’m a fictitious character. But that won’t stop me from writing to you every day.” The site features real links to other blogs and allows public comments, which are two of Calacanis’ defining traits for a blog. “It has to allow comments or it’s not a blog,” he said. Many visitors to Sega’s Beta-7 site who may have realized it was a hoax were entertained. Some commented on other blogs that they didn’t care if Beta-7 was a marketing campaign or not. Weiden even created a conspiracy site (http://truth.fjear .com) that kept people guessing. Two real fan sites sprang up to follow the drama. Blog consultant Bruner attributes Beta-7s survival to seamless execution and short lifespan. “They pulled one over on us, then they closed up shop. Good for them,” he said. “I suspect that was the attitude of many bloggers who did follow it.” According to Wieden, the three mock sites collectively attracted 2.2 million visitors and more than 4 million downloads in the four months they were active. The sites also proved sticky, meaning viewers tended to stay longer. “People were spending an average of 10 to 11 minutes on the Beta- 7 site,” Hershfield said. And die-hard fans continued to visit and write in after the campaign officially ended. “We never came clean,” said Hershfield.
CHICAGO TRIBUNE – Derek Ellis has been getting a lot of unusual requests. The account manager at PTE Distribution Inc. in Willowbrook typically makes prototypes of potential new products for big companies like Procter & Gamble Co. But lately he has been doing more work for smaller firms and even some entrepreneurial-minded individuals. One woman in particular, he said, wanted to scan her face so she could sell custom dolls with her likeness. “You can create anything you can dream of for not an awful lot of money,” Ellis said. His firm is using a technology called rapid prototyping, which can quickly produce a smorgasbord of different models for a variety of applications. Those include new designs for industrial equipment or to test an idea for a new mobile phone. They can also be used to create molds for actual products. One technique is to use a 3-D printer to create conceptual prototypes. The printers use powdered resins and plaster to create full-color models. The machines have shrunk to the size of office copiers and can be had for as low as $25,000. Although the prototypes are more fragile and less detailed than those made by other methods, companies are using them to communicate ideas with other divisions. Motorola Inc. has been using 3-D printers to design handsets for nearly a decade. A pair of Z Corp. printers recently allowed the Schaumburg-based electronics giant to compress the timeline for getting its svelte Razr V3 phone to market. “The product development for the V3 was a year from inception to shipping,” said Jim Caruso, Motorola’s director of operations. “We made 10 to 20 Z Corp. models, which led to three final variations of the theme,” he said. “It’s much faster and less expensive to create prototypes this way. The typical handset takes an hour to an hour and 15 minutes.” In contrast, prototypes that are built by hand can take days, at least, cost thousands of dollars and require shipping to offsite partners every time there is a design change. For a company like Motorola, a lot of time can be lost waiting for FedEx. Today Motorola just e-mails the latest working designs to its partners, who can print the models on their own 3-D printers. The models can then be used to estimate, for example, how much Styrofoam will be needed for packaging. “We’re working with our Korean team at the same time because we put one of our Z Corp. machines in Seoul,” said Bill Maes, global prototyping manager for Motorola. “It enables us to share ideas and make better decisions.” Tom Clay, president of Z Corp. in Burlington, Mass., equates the ZPrinter to a 3-D fax and said three dimensions offers a more intuitive proof. “It’s harder to absorb in 2-D on a flat sheet of paper. People can understand and work in three dimensions.” The ZPrinter uses inkjet nozzles to spray resin, plaster and binding materials onto a tray. When a layer is finished, the tray will drop and another layer will be built. That process is repeated until the model is completed. The method resembles how desktop inkjet printers print on paper, except the ZPrinter can create 3-D prototypes with surface features and even full-color packaging. As the design cycle progresses, Motorola turns to more refined and expensive rapid prototyping methods like stereolithography, laser sintering and computer-aided manufacturing–a process that can carve metal into shapes. Motorola, for example, used computer-aided manufacturing to test the durability of the magnesium hinge in the V3 handset. Another advantage of higher-end rapid prototyping machines is that they can use a variety of materials–such as resins, metals and ceramics–which are solidified using ultraviolet lights or lasers. Of course, the cost is substantially higher and the machines much bigger. They require full-time operators to use and special hazardous-materials handling. Motorola said it usually outsources this work. The military is also a big user of rapid prototyping technology since it uses a lot of equipment that is no longer in production. Aircraft like the 50-year-old B-52 bomber need replacement parts, for instance, and those can be made in part by using the technology. Analysts believe it won’t be long before 3-D printers will be able to produce parts that have sufficient strength to be used for production purposes. The printers are rapidly increasing in resolution, so they are able to create prototypes with more detail. Clay said Z Corp. was dedicating resources for developing new, stronger materials. Statasys Inc. in Eden Prairie, Minn., a competitor to Z Corp., already offers printers that utilize a durable plastic. The models are not as detailed as those produced by the Z Corp. printers and they do not offer color, but Terry Wohlers, principal consultant for Wohlers Associates, believes the convenience of the material outweighs the shortcomings. “Durability of models is the most requested feature that designers want. It’s kind of a hassle to infiltrate and wait for drying time unless you want the model for a quick and dirty” evaluation, Wohlers said. Experts predict 3-D printers will hit consumer desktops within the next 10 years and 3-D models will become widely available to buy and download. Wohlers envisions this happening in three phases. The first phase is already beginning as more companies like PTE Distribution give consumers access to prototyping technology in retail environments. “You’ll be able to go to Kinko’s and have a model built,” predicts Wohlers. The second phase is on a professional level, where the technology will be used by self-employed consultants and designers to work at home. Many 3-D printers are already designed to be used in office settings and do not have any special material disposal issues. “You see people in their garages at night, and professional engineers who work out of their homes,” said Wohlers. “Those types will be using the technology.” The final stage will occur in seven to 10 years when component parts get cheap enough and printer costs fall below $500. “Then I’m going to buy one for my 10-year-old daughter who loves to build things,” said Wohlers. “She’ll download action figures and print them out.” In the meantime, PTE will continue to offer its services to anyone with an interesting idea. “A woman recently had us scan her two sons and gave the dolls with their faces to them for Christmas,” said Ellis. “It beats pictures, I suppose.”