Apr 15, 2008

Futures: the Smaller One

The future is freer, smaller, mobile. This is not news in terms of design and consumer products. But what about other aspects of culture?

I predict a revival of the novella in literature. Perfect for our small attention spans and mobile demands. Or maybe the American pulp "novelette" of the 1940s and ’50s? Not only are novellas small, but in many ways they were the original blog or communal autoblography: stories and news from urban life worth repeating for amusement and edification.

This image was taken at Melville House, which has published a series "THE ART OF THE NOVELLA", helping prove my theory.

Apr 14, 2008

Video on Flickr

Video on flickr is a fascinating evolution of the application. It only allows 90 second clips, which is perfect. The addition of video seems to further define the flickrverse as a visual communication tool. 90 second clips broadcast "this is what I'm seeing, this is what I'm doing". A viz-tweeter's haven. Video's by Kalkor and Ti.mo show the diversity and range of visual communication possible, from a cool experience to a piece of art.

The Here and Now

"Where are you now?" Here and everywhere. Urban, nomadic, multifunctional. We are mobile and able to navigate the varied responsibilities of our lives unburdened by gadgets or jobs that pin us down to one location in space, one moment in time, one focus.

We need a new word for how we, as urban dwellers, live, work , love, relate and engage with the world. In the article "Nomads at last", the Economist coined the term "techno-Bedouins" to describe 21st century nomads. But I think we are in need of a better aggregate word as we seek to understand ourselves, our interactions and the way we shape our world.

We vibrate with a hum of constant connectivity, not external motion. Simultaneously localized and global, we participate in the rewards and consequences of an ubietous and ubiquitous culture. We are both rooted in our local communities and constantly connected to the larger trends and happenings of the planet.

Apr 8, 2008


"The computer encouraged me to read in exactly the wrong way, leaving me with little but a series of disembodied passages." ~David Bell

The distracted self. Disembodiment and dislocation are consequences of the way we browse and parse information in our busy, overloaded lives. This is bad when we lose the context as Bell argues. But what about when we glimpse the beautiful, connected patterns of ideas in the array? Isn't this why we do it--traverse all the connections? Why we design, invent, evolve?

Many of the new innovations that are considered "technologies" are much more than that. They are interaction patterns, behavioral developments, evolutions of our senses.

As we evolve into twittering, snapping cyborgs, who are we really and what do we lose along with the context?

This paper by Brian Whitworth (crazy New Zealand physicist) explores the idea that the universe is a giant virtual-reality construct created by information processing. It's an interesting read, even if Occam's Razor--science should strive for the simplest theory--makes this argument fairly implausible.

But this paper and the ideas associated with it have arisen repeatedly over the last few years as we try to deconstruct and contextualize our real/virtual beliefs, philosophies, lives. It seems important to make note of ideas that get recycled and re-blogged.

Libraries are places of experimentation and truth, where we and our users put ideas to the test. In the age of ubiety and ubiquity, location and place matter. The here and where. With new technologies (see my post) we will be able to see who and what is checked in, who/what was there earlier, and what or where they/it will be in the future. We don't really understand yet how people feel about this, and what it means for usage, access and interaction. Let's find out.

Apr 7, 2008

Search Interfaces

Peter Morville's search patterns on flickr are a collection of search examples, patterns, and anti-patterns that he has collected and categorized. Visually browsing the various categories is an interesting way to explore the ecology of search. And flickr is a perfect platform to play with categorization. Morville is a librarian by training, though now wields the power as an information architecture, user experience, and findability consultant.

Apr 6, 2008

Spring Exposure: Walking Enunciates the City

"Men travel in manifold paths: whoso traces and compares these, will find strange Figures come to light; Figures which seem as if they belonged to that great Cipher-writing which one meets with everywhere..." ~Novalis (Die Lehrlinge zu Sais)

Michel de Certeau, in ‘Walking in the city’ from The Practice of Everyday Life, describes the act of urban walking (or cycling) as an articulation of the language of the city. It is how we understand the boundaries and particulars of our urban consciousness, community, and self. The body as text vocalizes the unseen textures of urban interaction.

It is once again the time for exploration and exposure, leaving our winter havens for the unpredictable city streets. Walking, I get pulled into the minutiae, jolted into a new awareness of the urban landscape and my body. Slowly traversing the streets of Brooklyn late on a spring night, I know exactly where I am, it's locative. Stepping into the awakened verdure after a rough winter, I fall in love again with the city.

The physics of crowds, self-organization phenomena and the effects of this on urban ecology are a fascinating read in the Dynamics of Crowd Disasters: an Empirical Study.

Those with asperger's or a fondness for structured repetition should try algorithmic or generative walking, pioneered by the Dutch art collective Social Fiction. Just imagine where you might end up.

Check out Conflux (happening September 11-14 this year), an event that uses art and technology to explore urban public space. Projects often highlight the physical consciousness of cities and use walking, mapping and psychogeography to ask "who are we?"/"where are we?"

Go there, get lost, the city is there for you to wield.

Cyclists: head over to Grand Army Plaza on April 12th (11:00-3:00), where the DOT will distribute free NYC bike helmets and volunteers will offer tune-ups (bike not body).

Apr 2, 2008

Building a 21st Century Mashup Space

I am building a 21st century public space. Think of it as a mashup of library-coworking space-gallery-cafe-future flexible (the as-yet-to-be-imagined purpose). This is not an isolated occurrence in a bored, overmediated mega-tropolis. It is happening simultaneously (a meme) all over the country and the world. We are building this new model because we need it and we need to build it ourselves from the ground up.

Libraries exist and they do their job well. But are they addressing the needs of urban adults (particularly 21-35 year olds) in the 21st century? See Nate Hill's excellent post on why this is necessary and why it's so damn hard to create new models in the already burdened public library. Also, I think we want something new, that we (as a population/generation/society) dictate.

Coworking is a toddler movement looking for evolution. It is a movement to create a community of cafe-like collaboration spaces for developers, writers and independents. See Citizen Space in San Francisco, IndyHall in Philly and New Work Space in NYC.

These spaces take the best elements of coffee shops and are social, energetic, and creative. But in addition they have the necessary aspects of workspaces, and are productive and functional. They offer indie workers the chance to have their own, affordable space.

And these models can evolve. My mashup space is all the above, plus:
  • Collaboration is the key. Multiple people working and engaging in a shared space.

  • Information is here. A librarian/curator/information person will always be present to act as a guide and connector of people and ideas. Through social software, users can share books/media.

  • Community is at the center of this experiment. It is both local and virtual. The space is dictated by us, the users.

  • Workable and non-invasive. Working can be anything: building software, plotting a new business, writing, reading, telling stories to kids.

  • Accessible and usable, it will endeavor to create both a financially, physically and psychologically accessible space.

  • Open and free for everyone. What happens here will be transparent and open. People working in collaborative spaces and talking about their ideas.

  • Sustainable and ecological because sharing space is better for the planet.

  • Beautiful and flexible because this makes it desirable to be there. Art will be incorporated in the space and change regularly.

The community decides what else happens here: movie nights (aka CitiCinema), openings, book clubs, demoshackathons (like Mash Pits), meetings, non-profit events, seminars’, salons’, art shows, book launches, meetups, etc.

This space will be downtown, in an accessible urban area, wireless (with laptop locks, etc), welcoming, friendly and serious.

It will NOT be a crashpad, library, lounge, restaurant, private, exclusive, remote, sterile.

Most important, there will be good people here and therefore good things will happen because this is a coworking environment.

Are you with me?

Apr 1, 2008

Mapping the future

A post on the BLDG Blog got me thinking about mapping the future via Google Earth. There are already historical overlays. What about overlays of future data? What would it look like and how would we navigate? People have mapped the ever present now--pandemics in real time, crime stats in Oakland, state of the environment--but not the fantastical and imagined future.

With GPS, Google Maps, and the ever present iPhone, I miss being able to get lost. It is extremely difficult in a mediated, controlled world.

What if it were possible to map the future, which would constantly shift. We would regain our disorientation, that dizzying moment when nothing looks familiar. In the physical world, you have to slowly find your way back to recognition with your senses. What about in Google Earth?

Mar 31, 2008

Color Wars on Twitter (MeM Addiction Part III)

Apparently, Twitter can be anything you can imagine.

The Color Wars on Twitter are a perfect example. It has been twelve days and they are solidifying and getting serious. There are thousands of people playing on dozens of teams and there are games for the teams to participate in. Official headquarters are at ColorWar2008, made by the SepiaTeam. This may be the first time Twitter has been used on a wide scale for any kind of game. Check it out, just do it. I can't explain.

The creator Ze Frank says: "So, for a while I've been thinking about how a color war might look online. How would you play tug of war, or other group games that were silly, time limited, and awesome... and more importantly how could you create teams within an already functioning environment to have that same people-mash-up effect that we did at camp. Twitter seemed perfect."

As with the best games, there is always meaning behind the fun, and Color Wars is "an idiom that can be used to create rapid affiliation and action models in the future." (ZF)

Thank you Ze Frank. Thank you thousands of bored, creative people.

P.S. There is a youtube video about it, there is a comic. It is officially in the zeitgeist. Rock on Colors.

MeM Twitter Addiction Part II

I've gotten many emails from people regarding my post below. One of the most interesting gave me a head's up about libraries using Twitter as an events/marketing tool. Ann Arbor District Library's Twitter feed is a perfect example. Next step? Take a risk and use Color Wars as a model.

The "MeM" Twitter Addiction

I call Twitter "MeM", and the general act of tweeting or posting "MeMing" (me-eming) because of its tendency toward obsessive narcissism.

In the past day, I received a string of Tweets that were as follows: "at work, early", "grading & then on 2 podcasting", "doing errands. woot!", "lunching", "eating sandwich", "breathing". Etc, ad nauseam.

The tag line is "what are you doing?" and Twitter delivers by exposing the minutiae of our lives. The simple sharing of day-to-day activity of people you know. But is it really sharing if you are simply advertising yourself and your activities? When everything is a headline, a media event, doesn't it lose meaning? Can we be conscious while constantly being on exhibit? And there is a cycle of exhibition vs. paranoia (look at me/are you looking) that displaying the spectacle of the self creates. Twitter is a manifestation of either Jean Baudrillard's dreams or worst nightmare.

I am not anti-Twitter. I appreciate its asynchronicity. It connects disparate people and communicates snapshot information very well. And it merges movements in social software usage, such as personal blogging, LPIs, and IM status messages, and creates a fascinating, contradictory vortex of Me. Is it ephemeral or permanent? Important or vacuous? Public or private?

Twitter evolves constantly. In the past few weeks alone, you can now use Skitch to twitter an image, there are Tweviews (mini Twitter reviews), and 17 ways to visualize Twitter.

But does this make our lives better? Richer? Deeper? What value does it add? There is an extreme loneliness to shouting out "me" statements into the great void. And little purpose that I can detect. But I am happy to be proven wrong.

Mar 29, 2008

Mistakes and Innovation

"Mistakes are the portals of discovery." ~ James Joyce

Thinking about this idea (beyond the teen motivational realm) is enlightening. But can we still make mistakes or do we live in a society, a world cushioned to failure?

Innovation happens through creativity. Risk, exploration, diving with mysterious purpose into the unknown.

We invent new things--artifacts, objects, ideas--and technologies because existing ones have failed us and we can imagine better. Nature comes to us as perfect, and yet we invent because we want tools that improve upon what is and make it into what can be. We want to navigate the impossible. This is why design (of buildings, objects, etc) is so exciting, because it flirts between the real and the fantastical.

I think the greatest designs find the paradisiac balance between.

The field of design is all about anticipating failure. Donald Norman talks about this in The Design of Everyday Things. Henry Petroski talks about this in Success through Failure:The Paradox of Design. History is filled with quaint examples: 3M Post-It-Notes, Penicillin.

Do machines have our backs, preventing the ideal failure? Is it both easier and more impossible to risk in an age of ubiquity and ubiety? Ambient environments cushion us from failure. Social networks demand our attention, turning us away from true invention. We live in dangerous and exciting times.

Mar 28, 2008

Visual Culture and the Offense of Bad Signage

From Jan Chipchase's Future Perfect, visual based signage at a Bangkok library.

The more we embed ourselves in a visual culture through example, the more we become visually literate. In our attention fatigued society, the less text the more we can really read.

Contrary to the above, these library signs in an (anonymous) urban New York City library are offensive. I want to instantly disobey their rules. It is insulting to be told to do something by such visually revolting and badly created signs.

Mar 27, 2008

Revenge of the Slow

Bruce Sterling writes about the cultural network of Slow Food in Metropolis this month. Brilliant as always in his analysis of this cultural "revolution" of food and life. There is beauty and kitsch in the fetishism of foods such as Cornish Pilchards, Chilean Blue Egg Hens, and Bosnian Sack Cheese.

The Dawning Age of Ubiety: the Future of "Whereness" Computing

Ubiety is the experience of existing and being localized in a particular space or place.

There is a whole genre and field of ubiquitous computing, an ubiquitous dialectic that argues that human-computer interaction and information processing has been thoroughly integrated into everyday objects and activities. Many computational devices and systems are used simultaneously, anywhere and everywhere. Read Adam Greenfield's book Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing.

I argue that while we have certainly entered the age of ubiquitous computing as Adam states, we have simultaneously entered into the opposite, the age of ubiety, or whereness.

Social networking is now mobile (Twitter) and becoming aware of its location, its ubiety, with mobile services such as GyPSii, a mobile social network that is being touted to become a bigger phenomenon than Facebook. Mobile social networks care about where you are and seek to capitalize on location information. Ubiety Entrepreneurs.

More and more, geospatial technologies allow us to identify a general sense of whereness.

Live video streaming from anywhere/everywhere reveals both ubiquity and ubiety. Qik is software that provides a video streaming service, but is designed specifically for mobile phones. This technology combined with whereness locative technologies provides interesting opportunities in recording and sharing experiences through a visual, mobile medium. Their tag line is "be an eyewitness."

We can exist both here (ubiety) and everywhere (ubiquity), but as we switch between these two modes of being, our consciousness will be forced to adhere. Our attention will once again be in demand. And we will either adapt and find the harmony in being here, there and everywhere, or be mugged of our time.

Attention in the Social Web

A beautiful chart by Andrew Shuttleworth, who decided to try and map his social media usage. Josh Catone wrote an excellent post on it called Visualizing Social Media Fatigue. Just looking at this chart is exhausting and shows the fatigue and attention that is required in our socially mediated lives. Can we successfully bring our disparate online social lives under one blanket? There are services out there, but it remains to be seen how (not if) they catch on and become useful, not just another distraction.

I highly recommend Andrew's website if you are interested in visualizing data.

Mar 26, 2008

The Power of One

On Tuesday, WNYC's Brian Lehrer show addressed libraries and information with two different interviews. Scott Douglas, librarian at the Anaheim Public Library, McSweeney's contributor and the author of Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian (Da Capo Press, 2008), talked about the library life today. And following that was The Power of One, in which Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, discussed the power of the internet to organize from the bottom up instead of from the top down.

Scott Douglas, author of the McSweeney's column
Dispatches from a Public Librarian, dryly spoke about being a hipster librarian. This is nothing new if you read his column, in which he flirts with the shallower library zeitgeist (See Corny Library Pickup Lines, and How Librarians Effectively Shoot Them Down). Mr. Douglas is comfortable with the clich├ęd and pessimistic, leaving little room for inspiration or future-thinking.

Tags are those little nuggets of truth that we all crave and Shirky is a believer. He is critical of top-down classification schemes, and rightly so. But bottom-up classification schemes are not necessarily the solution. There is the desire in the Shirky cult to deify bottom-up organization, without critically assessing the structured, traditional literacy culture that surrounds us. When the majority of people apply a certain tag to a work, they are still harnessed to the same inherent language system (English in this case) that limits us in its structure. As the Playful Librarian notes, classification systems are all built on structured and labeled database systems. With these limitations, can we--the powers of one and many--really make Shirky(ies) happy? How do we shake this up and look at it differently? Luis von Ahn is an example.

The work of Luis von Ahn seeks to understand the crucial component of play in organizing knowledge. He makes human generated games based on tags that teach computers to understand beauty. Games pair random players to solve a computing problem. Because the two players get points when their answers (tags) match, the accuracy, fun quotient, and stakes of tagging increase. Freed from familiar structures, we can really ask what is beautiful? What has meaning to us as both one and a collective many?

Conscious Space

As I initiate this blog--the panoply of many seemingly disparate ideas--I will start with our consciousness of public space.

Above is an image from German filmmaker Anke Haarmann's documentary 'Public Blue'. It shows homeless people's tents beside a train station in Osaka. There is an interview on Ping.
"The facts are vague: there seem to be about 25 000 homeless people in Japan. Some of them describe themselves as ‘no jyuku sha’ or ‘field campers’ - as they manage to settle in parks and other public spaces on a more permanent basis, easily distinguishable by their tent houses made of stark blue plastic covers. Especially in Osaka, these ‘campers’ not only organize themselves increasingly over the internet. They also engage in political activities to stand up for their rights and protest against the increasing park clearings by the municipiality."