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."