Interesting story in the WSJ this morning about Alec Duffy, the 33 year old theater director from Brooklyn.  Duffy found himself in an opportune position after he won the rights to singer/songwriter Sufjan Steven’s, newest single.  According to the WSJ:

Duffy won the rights to Mr. Stevens’s song in a 2007 contest called the “Great Sufjan Song Xmas Xchange.” Mr. Duffy submitted a song that he wrote — called “Every Day is Christmas” — that Mr. Stevens judged the best. In exchange, Mr. Duffy won the rights to Mr. Stevens’s “The Lonely Man of Winter”…In describing the prize, Mr. Stevens’s Web site said: “Sufjan’s new song becomes your song. You can hoard it for yourself, sell it to a major soft drink corporation, use it in your daughter’s first Christmas video, or share it for free on your Web site. No one except Sufjan and you will hear his song, unless you decide otherwise.”

The contest created by Sufjan is indeed deserving of major props.  It is, however, not a concept that should be seen as terribly mind-blowing, especially in today’s environment.  Artists, or I should say, the artists who intend on surviving in this climate will continue to be the trendsetters in the utilization of social-networking methods and tools that connect with and empower their fans–making them feel like an even larger part of the process.  It is the only way to break through the clutter and engage with the loyal and devoted fans you’ve already hooked in; the only way to maintain your brand’s/band’s reputation.  Releasing a decent recording simply won’t cut it anymore.

For me though, the coolest part of all this was Duffy’s response to his new position of musical-power.  Instead of selling the song for some sort of commercial use–which, I am sure, millions of people would have done if given the opportunity–he sent out an invite on his theater company’s website for fans to come to his home in Brooklyn to listen to the song (on headphones), together.  “The experiment lures strangers to Mr. Duffy’s living room about once a week, to [as he says,] “recapture an era when to get one’s hands on a particular album or song was a real experience.”

Duffy describes Sufjan as “the wizard behind the curtain,” and it’s very cool to me how, without being guided in any way by the artist, he has essentially gone out of his way to perpetuate this artistic perception.  He has taken full responsibility for maintaining the brand’s (Sufjan’s) reputation, almost making it a fulltime job.  It’s an amazing example of a brand’s message being embraced and consequently strengthened by the “consumer,” organically.  Authenticity at it’s best…

My favorite quote of Duffy’s is when he says about the gatherings, “This is the finest way we felt we could curate this song. It brings people together, rather than being lost among 14,000 iTunes.”

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I am on Facebook.  In fact, I’ve had a profile on Facebook for about 5 years now (just writing that shocks and embarrasses me a little).

At first, like any college student on Facebook, the ability to connect with high school friends and browse through my current school’s “directory” of peers simultaneously, was incredibly exciting and entertaining.  But since then, my interest in the relationships we are able to build through Facebook has shifted a bit.  Facebook is not only a tool for social extension between individuals, but between brands, too.  Not everyone is sharing my excitement though.

A sense of worry and suspicion has begun to surround Facebook and the enormous pile of consumer information they sit on.  Yesterday, in WIRED’s “Your Facebook Profile Makes Marketers’ Dreams Come True,” Eliot Van Buskirk wrote:

“Never before have we voluntarily publicized so much of our personal data and consumption preferences, especially not in very structured ways that ease the work of marketer’s data scrapers.  And most of it accurately reflects what’s going on in our actual lives.  But the individualized nature of social networking profile pages means that some of the resulting marketing campaigns target specific individuals too, which is what concerns privacy advocates.”

I understand the concern over privacy, but should we (consumers) really be afraid of being marketed to in more relevant ways?  The way I see it, it is happening now and nobody seems to mind all that much.

Take Pandora: I enter “Jose Gonzalez” into Pandora and a mix of a dozen or so different (but similar) artists–most of which I have never heard of–is instantly streamed to my iPhone.  I love most of what Pandora creates for me, but I only come away purchasing ONE song (Sean Hayes’ “Rattelsnake Charm”) that day–the only one song I wanted to be sure I had “on-demand.”

Or, take Amazon: I search for Seth Goodin’s, “Tribes” on Amazon and I’m given a list of related titles.  A few of them I find particularly intriguing and I add them to my “Wishlist,” for future consideration, but I don’t buy any of them.

Sure, these are both niche channels, but they are also microcosms of this “personality aggregation” phenomenon.  They are perfect examples of an online network using my personal information and preferences as a way of delivering the most relevant products/services to me.  Does anyone really dislike this?

As Rob Walker explains in Buying In, we all want to feel like we belong.  Whether it’s through association with other like-minded people or through participation in activities we feel define us best–we want to belong, and brands and symbols help us satisfy this basic need.  Wouldn’t it be a positive thing if our interests (music, books, movies, TV, etc.) could be delivered to us in a more efficient way?  Wouldn’t this actually empower individuality?

Maybe we’re afraid of having more and more relevant products and services tempt us–I find it hard to believe we are that submissive.

For so many reasons, owning a Smart Car makes sense.  It is an unbelievably effective model for owning a car these days, especially if you live in the city.  On average, cars spend something like 8-16 hours parked per day!  Smart Cars simply make sense and so does the creation of So-Smart URL.

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I’m not usually one for marketing gimmicks, but this little service created by Smart Car is not only brilliantly on-brand, but practical, too.  Don’t be surprised if So-Smart becomes the tool of choice for millions of “tweeters” looking to include lengthy URLs while still staying within the 140 character limit–even Twitter’s “tiny urls” can be too big.