The Hunger Games, from dystopian novel to Hollywood movie

I have a friend who is seriously into the fantasy book genre, and I usually take her book recommendations with a pinch of salt. But I am seriously into what I call the end-of-civilization genre, and critics refer to as the “post-apocalyptic” or “dystopian” novel. So, when my friend recommended the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins – supposedly, a “young adult” work, no matter how bleak -, I read it and enjoyed it as shamelessly as Harry Potter fans have enjoyed the J. K. Rowling series.

I learned today that the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy is now a movie. And the actress in the lead role, Jennifer Lawrence, comes with serious credentials as teenage heroine from the gritty, dark Winter’s Bone, which led her to an Academy Award nomination for Best leading actress (who won that year? Oh yeah. Natalie Portman won), and which you should watch by all means if you haven’t yet. District 12 is, after all, a fictional version of the Ozarks. Enjoy.

Fiat 500 Abarth, or On Stereotypes in Advertising

Just hearing the Fiat Superbowl commercial on the radio as I was driving home today made me think: is this straight out of the Mad Men era? Wasn’t it a trite cliché years ago to personify a desirable car in the image of a desirable woman? And all that copy about ogling, undressing, owning? Do women not buy cars, in the world as Fiat sees it? Do women not buy small cars, for heavens’ sake?

Then I watched it on YouTube and I was further dismayed. Feel free to tell me that I have no sense of humor, but it is not clever if you make white latte foam trickle down between the woman’s breasts; it is sophomoric. There must be other ways to get a young single male target segment to take an interest in a zippy car with a shift stick. I hope. I do hope.

Is Volunia search or social? It doesn’t matter.

The launch of Massimo Marchiori‘s new search project, Volunia (live streaming tomorrow, Feb. 6, at 12 CET on the University of Padua site), could not come at a more interesting time for the discussion of what the Web will look like in the next five years.

This weekend we have been variously entertained by the discussion between Robert Scoble, John Battelle, Dave Winer and many others about whether the Web we have known and loved for the past 15 years or so is melting away, like polar ice caps (Battelle’s metaphor), under the heat of our planetary addiction for Facebook’s “walled garden” (an odd term from the ’90s era of AOL, but one that is making a far bigger comeback – under Zuckerberg’s leadership – than we ever thought it could).

And that’s just the PC- and browser-based Web, and now the Android-based Web, the one that was defined by Google and that Google defined. But search is changing, morphing beyond recognition. As a user, one of my most common search question is “where on my iPad is that app I downloaded two months ago but whose name I don’t remember”. As a business leader, I need to deal with whole new domains for SEO, such as ensuring the in-Market and in-iTunes Store ranking of my company’s apps. As a strategist, I wonder whether the whole debate between the open search model and the social silos model is somewhat overblown: they’re really two sides of the same coin, and the heft of that coin is the solid metal of advertising, the business that funded search for years and that is funding social today, as Facebook’s IPO filing confirmed just last week.

So, is Volunia going to be a search platform or a social platform or both? “Seek & meet”, says the company’s tagline, hinting at both. But it does not really matter. It is going to be – sometime, at a later stage, post-launch – an advertising platform. It will need to be. Because Marchiori’s backers, led by Mariano Pireddu, have reportedly invested a couple of million euros in the project; and even with the best researchers and engineers, even at Padua-level salaries and not Silicon Valley- level salaries, a couple of million barely gets you a workable beta, if at all.

So, consider Volunia a nascent advertising platform. To attract advertisers, it will need to attract eyeballs. Details are hazy, but today’s paper edition of Nòva, the Sunday supplement of Il Sole 24 Ore, reveals some hints (and promises a video with Marchiori showing off his creature, on the site later today).Many are rooting for Volunia, but early screenshots seem disappointing. The search box searches for sites, within a site, or for Volunia users; you can see which users have been to a certain page, and which ones are there now, with an interface oddly reminiscent of the Rockmelt browser. You can comment and chat on a Web page with other users (Google Sidewiki, anyone?) You can make friends with people who share your interests, based on the pages they visit. According to Pireddu, the engine can be used anonymously if one wishes, users will not be profiled, and navigation data will not be tracked – so there is a bit of DuckDuckGo in there, for now.

If Marchiori and Pireddu get traction, they will be able to raise serious money and build up their dream. If the Volunia beta disappoints (and disappointments loom large in both search and social: remember Cuil? remember Color?), they will have to pivot very quickly and downscale to lesser ambitions. But I am an optimist, and an Italian: so I wish them all the best and I look forward to being wowed by their creature.

(Updates: screenshots here; video – in Italian – here.)

Next Generation Women Leaders: Paris, March 22-24, 2012

ImageIs your sister, cousin, daughter, niece or friend a university student or young graduate with less than three years’ work experience? Then suggest that she apply to Next Generation Women Leaders, a fabulous workshop by McKinsey in Paris, March 22-24. The deadline for applications is February 17.

My friend Eva Berneke is one of the speakers at the event (see program) and I am confident it will be a great way for young women to develop their leadership profile. Because the earlier you start thinking of yourself as a leader, the earlier you actually become one.