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Monthly Archives: July 2002

You have to love it.

Got turned onto NetNewsWire by Coates and Webb (sounds like a firm that manufactures fine walking sticks for country squires). I’m now feeling positively pained by going to a webpage and having to decipher their design, grok the semiotics – instead of slidiing smoothly through RSS feeds of writing, info, and other good, good stuff…

One very natty thing NetNewsWire does is let you import and export your subscription lists to effect blogrolling on steroids. Moreover, it seems to ‘merge’ the subscriptions of others with your own. So you then in turn might maybe export your subscriptions list, to be merged, mutated and passed on…

Fabulous.

So, FWIW here is:

NetNewsWire is a another glimpse of the pageless, siteless, webflux of the near future. These glimpses are becoming more and more frequent. Recent, other timeslips into this possible future worldline of the WWW include AmazonLite and Paul Ford’s essay on Google and the Semantic Web.

So – these nodal points bring me back to an old favourite: whither web design as we know it?

Brother Jakob has been preachin’ this one for a while. We tried to look at it at the BOF session at O’Reilly ETCON, and only really scratched the very wide surface. Victor, Alex, Eric and Michael have been examining it to name but a few. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff at work which is about designing social networks and their topologies, and peterme seems similarly preoccupied.

I think those who have extended themselves from working on sites and pages into information architecture or the wider field of practice described as experience design will be in good shape to tackle this. I hope more do over time, and start experiementing and thinking in this new paradigm.

Ironically, Flash designers maybe adept at handling these ideas too, as they have been working without the page/site metaphor; and new generations of the app are linking into the important structural advantages of the web.

One last link – a great presentation by Doc Searls (apart from some appearances by dodgy looking characters with pieces of chalk), which urges businessmen and technologists to look at the ‘layers’ of civilisation and where they can work together within them. Lou has been thinking along these lines with his notions ‘Enterprise IA’, but with more reference to how organisations rather than civilisations behave.

Where can designers work to link fashion, commerce and richness of the deeper layers of infrastructure these technologies expose?

UPDATE: 12:49am
Dan Gillmor is on it…

Got very annoyed at the Design Council the other night. They were pitching their series of talks on ‘Humanising Technology”. Strikes me as a very odd phrase: ‘humanise technology’…

To separate and demonise ‘technology’ seems false. It’s what makes us human. It’s our evolutionary distinctiveness.

And anyway what’s so bad about technologising humans?

Would the cro-magnon Design Council be complaining about the distinctly un-apelike flint axes that the crazy stonehacker kids were coming up with, and staging talks on ‘simianising technology’???

I’m reminded of both Maeda‘s desire to explore honestly the ‘materiality’ of the digital in design, and once again, Neal Stephenson’s excellent ‘In the beginning was the command-line’ – where the he casts the ‘humanisation’ of technology via graphical user interfaces as the creation of a schizm between the technologically-adept and conversent Morlock elite and a growing group of Eloi in thrall to the GUI, living in a dreamworld they have no control or agency within over that allowed by their unseen and incomprehensible Morlock captors.

What’s the middle ground? Can we make technology, and computers easy to use while maintaining the transparancy, freedom and agency of command-line culture?

Simon sends game design theory and game theory links a-plenty. Simon is v.smart (he beat us at the Idler/NTK videogames pub-quiz last week, after all… if only I hadn’t confused Sinistar with Gravitar! I’m such a lam3r! Curses!), but he’s apparently allergic to blogs… so many thanks to him for permission to blog this excellent link-base alpha, and to Celia for prodding him.

Over to Simon:

“Subject: game design and game theory

… both related but very different.

Game Theory is more about psychology : things like the Coventry Problem
- do we let the Germans drop bombs on Coventry even though it will kill
thousands but may save hundred of thousands in the future because they
still won’t know that we’ve broken Enigma?, Prisoners Dilemma – if you
all keep quiet then we’ll let you go but (or only keep you for
$small_time) but if one of you speaks up he’ll go free and the rest of
you will be killed, and the Hawks and Hares – any system with Hawks
(consumers) and Hares (producers) will necessarily return to
equilibrium.

Good books for that are :
Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (Vintage) by Robert Wright
Game Theory: Analysis of Conflict by Roger B. Myerson
Game Theory: A Nontechnical Introduction by Morton D. Davis
Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture by Johan Huizinga
Game Theory and the Social Contract – Vol. 1 by K. G. Binmore
A Course in Game Theory by Martin J. Osborne and Ariel Rubinstein
The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod

and I think
Man, Play and Games by Roger Caillois
is supposed to be good.

It’s a very broad subject and those books cover a big swathe. Most of
what I know is mostly about tactics and not about games (weirdly
enough) so I can’t vouch for everything. I always found ‘Il Principe’
and ‘the Art of War’ to be quite good things to read along with Game Theory books.

As for Game Design – as in ‘I want to sit down and plan out a
game which I well sell to unwashed people with poor social skills
and too many consoles’ – there aren’t that many good books since it
tends to be more of a black art. The best suggestion is to read as much
as possible about the games industry and play a shed load of games. May
be hang around arcades and just people watch.

Game Design: Secret of the Sages by Marc Saltzman
- gets mixed reviews. Some people swear by it and it doesn’t contain any
code so it’s nice an non scary.

Game Design: The Art & Business of Creating Games by Bob Bates
- is good on how a game gets made.

Game Design: Theory and Practice by Richard Rouse
- gets reccomended by Amazon. Have no idea, never read it.

The Art of Computer Game Design by Chris Crawford (I think)
- out of print but seminal early 80s work

Apart from them read books like …

Trigger Happy by Steven Poole
Joystick Nation by JC Herz
Game Over – How Nintendo Conquered the World by David Sheff
Revolutionaries at Sony by Reiji Asakura
Opening the Xbox by Dean Takahashi
The Ultimate History of Video Games by Steve L. Kent

As for web sites

http://www.gamasutra.com/ # especially the lectures at GDC, the Post mortems and the articles
http://www.ludology.org/
http://www.scit.wlv.ac.uk/~cm1822/ijigs11.htm
http://www.gamestudies.org/ # not that it’s ever updated
http://www.joystick101.org/
http://www.knowledge.hut.fi/projects/games/gamelinks.html
http://www.game-research.com/

Hope that’s enough :)”

Erm… yeah… I reckon that’ll keep me occupied for a while…

Matt Webb had three weetabix this morning. He’s just posted a summation of stuff on ‘semantic/social substrate’ that’s been bubbling away inside him for a while.

Tying-in old Webb hits such as the isomorphic nature of interfaces, with some new material like the loam-thing, and the now-popular pub-riff: ‘how to make blogchalking actually work’:

“I’d like to see a grand conversation between the authors of publishing tools pinning down the properties weblogs need to fulfil their potential, and then building these in invisibly for the user. Because weblogs have yet to expand as much as they will, and when they do their course will be hard to change. The future has to be built now, in this microcosm, in this monobloc.”

» Interconnected: The Semantic Web via RDF, The Dublin Core, Friend of a Friend Networks and Blogchalking/rolling

“This is the next century
Where the universal’s free”

Blur: “The Universal”

Read this entry over at Kottke.org, which started me trying to sublimate my thoughts around a recent mental obsession: the universal machine. So bear with me while I try and stick ‘em here in the outboard brain.

Universal machines are the idea at the centre of what is being defended or railed against lately, whether it’s copyright protection, Palladium,
Broadband-doesn’t-need-content, or OpenSource.

For instance, Jon Udell’s take on Palladium (which in turn quotes from a salon article):

“Society must either give up on copy protection or the general-purpose PC and the Net.” And no matter how hard Hollywood tries, Felten argues, society will eventually choose the latter because “the sheer value of the Net and computers is so much greater than any value that copy protection can provide.”

Here is the use of an innocuous but super-important phrase, refering to computers, the net, and digital devices as a whole: “general-purpose”

The fabulous (and British-invented!) concept of the ‘general-purpose universal machine’ is under attack in all these arguements.

The subtext is if Palladium, or something similar succeeds, then values will be hardwired into that which was formally Turing’s “universal machine”. The personal computer, will be bounded by a set of values, set-up to tip the balance against the edge, the individual and towards the centre, the corporate.

As the picture is consistently painted, these vested interests are looking to preserve a market hegemony over data and intellectual property. They would rather that the heterarchy of the web looked more like a tree structure, or a river delta where all the tributraries of attention (and value) flowed to them.

Alan Turing’s legacy is at the centre of all these issues… I think it should come out in the open and be debated of itself. It’s value should be promoted and understood by all.

The Felten quote assumes that “the sheer value” of this big and tricky concept is self-evident. Just look at the comments on Jason’s piece about explaining the damn thing. It’s not.

The best I’ve seen is Mr. Scott McCloud’s explanation in Reinventing Comics. There is about a 5-6 page diversion where he stops to explain where computers and the internet evolved from, and why they are strange, different and powerful additions to the canon of human invention.

I photocopied (ahem.. fair-use?? ach… sorry Scott) this section and put it in the pigeonholes of everyone in Sapient London. Stimulated a lot of great discussion, and more importantly understanding of why we (the design team) loved the web. As a base-line, a glossary for understanding, it was great.

And finally:

“An environment which is ordered in precise and final detail may inhibit new patterns of activity. A landscape whose every rock tells a story may make difficult the creation of fresh stories. Although this may not seem to be a critical issue in our present urban chaos, yet it indicates that what we seek is not a final but an open-ended order, capable of continuous further development”
Kevin Lynch – The Image of the City, 1963

The universal machine is damn important. Selling it’s importance right now in ways which real people get is imperative. The connected fate of cities, software and minds… may depend on it?

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