Urban Outfitters or the complexity of shitstorms

The current kerfuffle about Urban Outfitters apparently stealing the idea for a jewelry line from an etsy artist is a good opportunity to express two thoughts about how we handle shitstorms.

But first, here’s the source for the outrage:
Not cool Urban Outfitters, not cool.

Here’s how it spread:
What can we learn from the Urban Outfitters PR disaster?


  1. I’ve learned the hard way that situations are always more complex than they may seem at first. It’s just so easy to get worked up by a tweet or a quick blog post. But like in this case, it helps to wait a bit and do some more research on the situation. Just like Helen Killer from regretsy did who found out that the artist complaining about getting ripped off by Urban Outfitters is definitely not the first one to “have the idea” for this kind of jewelry. And that might be something you want to know before you add to the retweet storm.

  2. Do you think this shitstorm will hurt Urban Outfitters sale? Will it even make a small dent in their revenue? Do you think GAP felt the backlash against their logo relaunch in their registers? Or what about Nestlé and their Kitkat shitstorm? Did the sales drop?
    From everything I know, not from one of the companies that had to endure a social media shitstorm I have ever heard that it had substantially hurt their sales. I mean, I have a Kyptonite bike lock laying beside me while I write this. And they have been part of every social media deck as the bad example for years.

What I mean is, is what my buddy Matt talked about at Next11: what we mostly focus on with social media is in a lot of cases not what really matters for bigger brands. So before we all add the “Urban Outfitters”-case to our decks, let’s think twice and come up with something more relevant for our clients that talks about the difference between something hurting a brand and something hurting their sales and how to handle and plan for that.

Update: Urban Outfitters reacted

Things, Algorithms and Data

Here are my favorite talks from the international track of the Next11 conference (Disclaimer: Next11 is a client of Third Wave. We have curated the social track for the conference.). As soon as more videos are available, I will write another post about the social track.

In my opinion, Russell Davies’ talk about Buttons, Behavior, Robots and Toys was the best presentation of the whole conference. I follow the man’s output closely. But even I heard something new.

Andrew Zolty is co-founder of Breakfast NY, an agency in Brooklyn which is basically a tinkering shop but has received a huge amount of praise lately. Watch the video to see why.

Kevin Slavin is the founder of area/code, which he has sold to Zynga recently. His talk about algorithms will blow your mind. I’ve seen the talk before, but even hearing it for the second time took nothing away from the effect.

We’re living in crazy and amazing times. And these are just three presentations from Next11 that give you a glimpse of what’s happening around us. Check out the other videos from the international track.

Change is inevitable

We are living in times of exponential change driven by emergent technologies – everything will be different.

William Gibson

There’s an idea that somehow, if we just do things with more effort or skill, we can go back to the Brady Bunch and mass markets and mediocre products that pay off for years. It’s not an idea, though, it’s a myth.

Seth Godin

The pain isn’t from the change, the pain is from the struggeling against the change.

Ben Hammersley

While we try to get a better understanding and a finer definition of what we do at Third Wave throughout the last weeks and months, I developed this growing fascination with change and our (as in humans) abbility to cope with it…or lack there of. So I’ve recently written out part of a presentation that dealt with the change we’re facing. So here’s how we (as in Third Wave) cope with change.

Cross-pollination in the urban space

The open-data folks need to be speaking with the data-visualization people, the architects need to be listening to the mobility planners, the regulators need to understand the implications of new technical potentials…and all of them need to ground their work in the everyday urban experience of getting around and getting by.

Adam Greenfield

I think, Adam nailed my vision for CoCities right there. My fascination about the future/networked/smart/whatever city right from the beginning, has always been the amount of possibly involved disciplins. Architects, sociologists, designers, city planners, politicians, all kind of developers (software, hardware), social workers, landscapers, retail etc.

There’s a mind-blowing potential to gain new perspective from people on the same topic but from a different discipline. I’ve always been fascinated by the possibilities of one disciplin having a problem or new challenge and another disciplin providing a unique solution by offering its own pattern for solving things. Like city planners adapting agile development and rapid prototyping to test new neighbourhood developments like, someone told me, it is happening in Copenhagen, for example.  

My hope for CoCities is that we can provide a platform for all these disciplines to come together, share their challenges and insights and create new and sustainable approaches/remixes/mashups that improve cities and living in them. Silo thinking kills kittens!

A Moment on March 11, 2011

I’m sitting on a plane from NYC’s Newark airport to Austin. I’ve just spend five days in New York, together with my friends and co-founders Igor and Peter (and fellow web geek Daniel) and now, we are on our way to the SXSW festival in Austin.

It was a much needed break after two super intense months. While the first three months of our business, starting in October, have been rather focussed on setting up the whole thing and organizing our CoCities conference, the business has been going crazy as of January 3rd. Agencies and clients have been calling almost non-stop and we already are turning down requests because we just can’t do it all. We expected February to be all about CoCities. But it was actually our most successful month with tons of paid client work. Nevertheless CoCities has been an great success with raving reviews wherever we look. We’re super happy with how it turned out. We had 320 guests (45% from outside Germany), 12 top-notch, international speakers for day 1, a great mix of events for day 2 (a screening of Utopia Lonndon, the first public showing of Immaterials, workshops on topics like design thinking) and an overall request to do it again next year.

So after 5 months of intense work with the new company and a great but exhausting conference, we needed a little time-out to digest. My head feels like it’s about to burst with impressions, inspiration and new trains of thoughts. So the annual global gathering of geeks at the SXSW Interactive festival in Austin seemed like the right kind of place to flee to from Berlin for a couple of days. And if you’re on route to the US, a stop in New York is a no-brainer for us. So we rented an apartment via AirBnB in the East Village, set up some low-key meetings and made sure we bring a well edited list of third wave coffee shops in NYC.

We been really fortunate with the people who have been willing so sit down with us. Most of them are right off the list of people who inspire me. Like our CoCities-keynote-speaker Adam Greenfield from Urbanscale who took some extra time to give us feedback about the conference and discussed its possible future with us. Like Kyle from PSFK, Mike and Sam from Undercurrent, Maria from Brain Pickings, people who have influenced me and the company I’m building.

People like these are also the reason why I’m really looking forward to SXSW. I don’t really care about the sessions. But SXSW is first and foremost a get-together of the digital world. Everybody is there. So I hopefully will be able to enhance the avatars in my Twitter timeline with a lot of personal encounters.

Visiting SXSW is also a special company thing for us. Igor and Peter have been there last year and this was were the thought of building something new was first born. So we’re going back one year later to celebrate what has come to life since then. This all feels darn good!

Ben Hammersley on the Future of Cities and Networked Society

The pain isn’t from the change, the pain is from the struggeling against the change. 

That Hammersley guy… Give him a stage or sit him in front of a camera or just buy him a beer, ask a question and get your mind blown. So this video was a no-brainer for Gabriel who has been on fire recently with his Future of Art conversation. 

You can’t help bu realise, that the next 10-to-40 years are going to be really strange. Totally strange. And… that rate of strangeness seems is going to get exponentially more strange. And the problem we have right now is the people that are in charge of this stuff don’t understand a) how strange it’s going to be, or b) the form of the strangeness itself.

Oh, and if you haven’t seen it yet, check out Hammersley’s Lift11 talk about Post-Digital Geopolitics
Sami Niemelä has similar thoughts about the future of cities:

The connected city will be a beautiful thing, despite sometimes being a bit broken, or off at the seams.

London Trip February 2011

It’s always great to be back in London. With the new business and stuff, it took me a bit longer this time to get back there. But when my friend Matt invited me to take part in the Ogilvy Idea Shop which they set up for Social Media Week, I finally had a plausible occasion to go. So here are my impressions.

I was on a hunt for a fine “Full English” breakfast. This was a pretty decent contender at Graphic.

The one at the Hospital Club was tasty but nowhere near a “Full”.

Talking about the Hospital Club, I really like this version of a members club.

About writing

Here are two quotes about the process of writing that I can really relate to.

I sort of have a built in hopper, or I’ve acquired one, into which I toss every bit of novelty that I encounter when I’m not writing. It goes into the hopper, and then it just sort of cooks — it composts, or something. I pay absolutely no attention to it, until the day which, for some reason, it pops back out. When it pops back out, it’s been transfigured by somehow having melded itself with something that happened to be adjacent to it, and so  it’s kind of a made-up novelty.

William Gibson

For me, writing seems to be a muscle. Without doing it regularly, I feel I’ve lost my ability to express cogently complex ideas in interesting ways.
And, because I haven’t been regularly talking about the ideas that interest me, I’ve not given myself the time to reduce down those ideas into pithy, understandable statements.
Writing seems to be associated with my sense of pattern recognition. I’m missing the structures of abstraction it gives me, and the room for wiggly play I get while I do it.

Matt Webb