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I really enjoyed Andrew’s book. I thought I knew about the structure (and structures) of the Internet, but this is is a detailed, critical and fun illumination which quickly proved me mistaken. It’s also a travel book, about an unreal place that spans/permeates real places, lives, spaces. And a wonderful one at that. Highly recommended.

(My emboldening below)

Everything you do online travels through a tube. Inside those tubes (by and large) are glass fibers. Inside those fibers is light. Encoded in that light is, increasingly, us. [Location 94]

The Internet is everywhere; the Internet is nowhere. But indubitably, as invisible as the logical might seem, its physical counterpart is always there. [Location 276]

TeleGeography in Washington was asking a computer science department in Denmark to show how it was connected to a university in Poland. It was like a spotlight in Scandinavia shining on twenty-five hundred different places around the world, and reporting back on the unique reflections. [Location 418]

You can demarcate a place on a map, pinpoint its latitude and longitude with global positioning satellites, and kick the very real dirt of its very real ground. But that’s inevitably going to be only half its story. The other half of the story comes from us, from the stories we tell about a place and our experience of it. [Location 485]

“If you brought a sophisticated customer into the data center and they saw how clean and pretty the place looked—and slick and cyberrific and awesome—it closed deals,” said Adelson. [Location 1211]

But it wasn’t the machine’s mystery or power that terrified Adams most. It was how clearly it signified a “break of continuity,” as he puts it. The dynamo declared that his life had now been lived in two different ages, the ancient and the modern. It made the world new. [Location 1826]

He counted off the zeros on the screen. “This point is the millisecond … this point is the microsecond … and this one is usually expressed as nanoseconds, or billionths of a second.” I mulled all the zeros on the screen for a moment. And when I looked up, everything was different. The cars rushing by outside on Highway 87 seemed filled with millions of computational processes per second—their radios, cell phones, watches, and GPSs buzzing inside of them. Everything around me looked alive in a new way: the desktop PCs, the LCD projector, the door locks, the fire alarms, and the desk lamps. [Location 2045]

Nearly universally, they wore black T-shirts and zip-up hooded sweatshirts, handy for spending long hours on the hard floor of the server rooms, facing the dry exhaust blast of an enormous router.[ocation 2378]

The Internet “cloud,” and even each piece of the cloud, was a real, specific place—an obvious reality that was only strange because of the instantaneity with which we constantly communicate with these places. [Location 3159]

The Internet had no master plan, and—aesthetically speaking—no master hand. There wasn’t an Isambard Kingdom Brunel—the Victorian engineer of Paddington Station and the Great Eastern cable ship—thinking grandly about the way all the pieces fit together, and celebrating their technological accomplishment at every opportunity. On the Internet there were only the places in between, places like this, trying to disappear [location 3183]

The emphasis wasn’t on the journey; the journey pretended not to exist. But obviously it did. [location 3186]

“Want to see how this shit really works?” he asked. “This has nothing to do with clouds. If you blew the ‘cloud’ away, you know what would be there?” Patchett asked. “This. This is the cloud. All of those buildings like this around the planet create the cloud. The cloud is a building. It works like a factory. Bits come in, they get massaged and put together in the right way, then packaged up and sent out. But everybody you see on this site has one job, that’s to keep these servers right here alive at all times.” [location 3268]

“If you lose rural America, you lose your infrastructure and your food. It’s incumbent for us to wire everybody, not just urban America. The 20 percent of the people living on 80 percent of the land will be left behind. Without what rural America provides to urban America, urban America couldn’t exist. And vice versa. We have this partnership.” [location 3299]

Back when I was in architecture school, about one million years ago, one of our tutors – I can’t remember but I think it was the brilliant Malcolm Parry – used to delight in taking us on site visits to semi-famous, or at least distinguished buildings; and then guiding us as fast as he could to an example of what he called the “Oh, Shit.”

The “Oh, Shit” was his short-hand for the condition of best-laid plans meeting reality.

When all the drawings, sections, detailed drawings and meticulous sourcing in the world clash with odd corners of the physical world, weather, materials and not least the vagaries of human labour.

It’s what Bryan Boyer calls the “Matter Battle”. He puts it beautifully:

One enters a Matter Battle when there is an attempt to execute the desires of the mind in any medium of physical matter.

Here’s a prime example of an “Oh, Shit” – on 10 Hills Place by Amanda Levete (which I wrote a little bit about here).

10 Hills Place

Malcolm held that the mark of a great architect or designer was not that there were no “Oh Shits” – he saw it as fundamental natural law that there would be – but how the designer resolved it.

How tasty the lemonade made when the team are handed lemons.

This came to mind when I read the recent article on The Register about the launch of BBC News Online, 15 years ago (!) last month.

I have a bit-part in the article:

Matt Jones’ design team had come up with a set of HTML layouts that followed best practice guidelines, but nobody was wedded to the styling, which made use of putty-like beiges and greys.

The BBC at the time was going through a corporate rebranding exercise, which involved commissioning a new logo from design agency Lambie Nairn. The BBC had used sloping letters for its logo, with few variations, since 1962. Lambie Nairn straightened the characters, and changed the font to Gill Sans, and the letters looked better on computer screens. The new logo had yet to be unveiled to the public, and only be made public on 4 October in 1997. Everyone was ordered to work with the WPP-owned branding agency. So rather reluctantly, the News Online team sent their templates to Lambie Nairn with the invitation to “reimagine” them.

Almost overnight, a junior working at the agency, who had no web layout experience, sent back a new set of designs. “Mike, Bob and I looked at them and thought these were so much better,” said Karas.

Without kicking up a fuss, Jones set to work rewriting the news website’s HTML, even though this meant revising every template in the system. Jones would become creative director after the site’s launch, giving News Online a clean, simple and consistent look, and some clever and subtle touches. Even today, the first News Online pages look clean and modern – one of the few websites from 1997 that hasn’t dated – and look better than their contemporary versions.

A few inaccuracies in this – the chap described as “a junior at the agency” who came up with the Lambie-Nairn proposals was an excellent fellow Welshman called Gareth Mapp, who was in fact a senior designer there at the time, but he came from a print and moving image design background, with no experience of the web. This wasn’t unusual back in 1997.

Also, we’d been working on layout/visual proposals with a small design agency called Sunbather that I’d worked at previously, who were soon to be acquired by Razorfish . Mike Bennett (now of Oil Studios) continued to work with me in the aftermath of the Lambie-Nairn U-Turn to resolve the designs a little more. The brilliant Pete Lane, Sam Urqhart and Jude Robinson really then made the miracle happen turning them into HTML and other front-end code.

Anyway.

This was the “Oh, Shit”.

bbc_demo

Matt Karas remembers me and him sitting in the BBC Canteen, overlooking the fabled Blue Peter Garden – the statue of Petra the dog staring at us judgmentally, while we re-drew every template of every page of the site by hand to figure out how we could make it work.

We had 48 hours from the time the designs from Lambie Nairn came in and Bob Eggington/Mike Smartt approving them, and the deadline for getting the html ready to keep the site on track for launch.

Committing to the new designs, and throwing away the months of work we had done was hard.

But we all felt the “Oh Shit.”

We all felt that the new direction was the right direction.

I think recognising this – when there is a path from a crisis that involves risk but rewards you hugely – with something you wouldn’t have imagined, is at the very heart of design. It’s certainly an incredible feeling when it works, when the judo-flip flows just so, and you end up somewhere brilliant.

That’s something the team at BBC News did 15 years ago – a team I’m really proud to have been a part of.

I’ve been using last.fm for a long time, and I’m a fan.

However, there’s one thing I find annoying, which is sometimes it seems to ‘fixate’ on a particular track by a particular artist and heavily-rotate it until it drives me crazy.

While I probably like the artist, and originally liked the track before I got sick of it – I have one option – to ban it.

Instead, I’d like to propose a ‘Snooze’ button for last.fm radio streams, that allows me to ‘rest’ the track or artist for an appropriate amount of time. (Illustration below with sincere apologies to the excellent last.fm design team)

Perhaps the amount of time the track ‘rests’ for based on my usage stats – but that could be presumptuous and annoying.

Better then to use a pattern that’s pretty well understood – a quick pop-up showing a few different ‘snooze’ options exactly like you get in PIM and calendaring software.

It wouldn’t negatively impact my rating of that artist necessarily, just give me a chance to come to the track with fresh appreciative ears a little (or a lot) later.

While I’m on the subject… And I’ve got photoshop open… Perhaps there’s room for an extra feature in upcoming.org too…

From the Seedcamp about pages:

“There will be a diverse mentor network of serial entrepreneurs, corporates, venture capitalists, recruiters, marketing specialists, lawyers and accountants that will help the selected teams put together the foundations of a viable business.”

How about designers?

Technology plays alone are starting to lose their distinctiveness in many of the more-crowded areas of the marketplace.

Great service and interaction design are on the rise as strategic differentiators for products as diverse as the iPhone and Facebook.

Bruce Nussbaum in BusinessWeek:

“Innovation is no longer just about new technology per se. It is about new models of organization. Design is no longer just about form anymore but is a method of thinking that can let you to see around corners. And the high tech breakthroughs that do count today are not about speed and performance but about collaboration, conversation and co-creation. That’s what Web 2.0 is all about.”

The article that’s taken from is entitled: “CEOs Must Be Designers, Not Just Hire Them”.

Not sure I agree about CEOs breaking out OmniGraffle, but what about entrepreneurs?

I wonder how many Seedcamp teams will have a interaction designer on board, as part of the core – or even a designer as the lead entrepreneur?

Are they going to bake great design in from the get-go, or put lipstick on their baby gorillas?

I think it will be the former.

If there’s one Brit caricature of the entrepreneur, it’s the inventor – the engineer/designer/impressario: Baylis, Dyson, Roope!

Nussbaum’s article, in bulk is a speech he gave at the RCA, which traditionally has grown quite a few of those designer/engineer/inventor/entrepreneurs in the world of atoms.

Prof Tom Barker‘s crew springs to mind, as do some of the graduates of the Design Interactions course.

The line between hackers and interaction designers is blurring as they start small businesses that are starting to make waves in the big business press.

As I mentioned, my experience of HackDay Europe was that

“It really does seem that the hacker crowd in London/Europe at least is crossing over more and more with the interaction design crowd, and a new school of developers is coming through who are starting to become excellent interaction designers – who really know their medium and have empathy with users.”

So I have high-hopes.

I’m also glad to say that the Seedcamp team are going to have user-researchers, usability experts and interaction designers in their mentor network, including me for some reason…

Looking forward to it.

I’ve started playing with Radar.net from Tiny Pictures.

Nothing much to report yet, but there is one little design detail that I’ll be stashing away for my own stuff (as long as Mr. Poisson et al don’t mind) which is not only going for a URL that is t9/predictive-text friendly, but also issuing identity elements (an auto-generated unique posting address to MMS pictures to, in this case) that are t9-compliant.

This makes it far, far easier and more pleasurable to set-up the service and integrate it with your mobile, which with these sorts of things is 75% of the battle won. Makes the thing feel very polished and considered from the start, which gives me the confidence to trust radar.net with a little bit more of my digital life perhaps.

My feeling is that despite all the hoo-haa about uglydesign/undesign’s success in Web2.0, it just won’t carry in the Mobile Web 2.0 world.

BBC News Video in RSS!!

Just found this in the BBC News site’s video player… You can now subscribe to the video via RSS.

A quick bit of copying and pasting from the little orange buttons gives this list of A/V feeds:

Just subscribed to the Sci/Tech feed to check it out, and it works nicely in Bloglines: clicking a headline pops you to an individual pagelet for the video – which is another subtle advance, IMHO.

BBC News Video in RSS!!

One thing they could do is add the duration of the clip to the headline or description so it shows up in your RSS viewer.

Very nice stuff – I imagine this will mean a few interesting ‘mashups’ and alternative interfaces might be showing up on http://backstage.bbc.co.uk in the near future. Look forward to that…

Now, if only they were Quicktimes… or PSP formatted…

In response to an essay on why console gaming does not bode well for raising future generations of hackers, Mike Sugarbaker hits upon an idea of pure molten genius: a pokemon-style collecting game, where what is collected traded and battled with is code:

“Instead of blocks, cards. Instead of Pokemon or collectible monsters and magic items on the cards, commands. Or types of loops, or even objects with multiple slots for properties and other commands. That’s right, I said collectible programming commands. Make the powerful, difficult-to-grasp ones rare, have some server-mediated market for getting them, and provide an anime-like story shell about being the greatest hacker. Then just let the kids loose and let ‘em fight each other with code.”

This is just fantastic.

Instead of Fred Harris and Ian McNaught-Davis in cosy, chunky jumpers, I imagine the next generation would want a hyperkinetic saturday morning show full of begelled young turks and turkesses in directional topshop clothing gunging youngsters who have careless with their memory handling.

Alice, Tom and the other BBC skunkworks-types should be on the phone to Mike today to ask where they should throw the money to make this happen.

A long and interesting critique at Abstract Dynamics of the changing nature of privilege, control and access to the web that “web 2.0″ seems to be creating.

What really separates the “Web 2.0″ from the “web” is the professionalism, the striation between the insiders and the users. When the web first started any motivated individual with an internet connection could join in the building. HTML took an hour or two to learn, and anyone could build. In the Web 2.0 they don’t talk about anyone building sites, they talk about anyone publishing content. What’s left unsaid is that when doing so they’ll probably be using someone else’s software. Blogger, TypePad, or if they are bit more technical maybe WordPress or Movable Type. It might be getting easier to publish, but its getting harder and harder to build the publishing tools. What’s emerging is a power relationship, the insiders who build the technology and the outsiders who just use it.

He’s also tired of the Web2.0 monicker:

Are the internet hypelords getting a bit tired? There’s this funny whiff of déjà vu that comes along with the latest and greatest buzzword: Web 2.0. Web 2.0? Wasn’t that like 1995? Don’t they remember that Business 2.0 magazine? Or remember how all the big companies have stopped using version numbers for software and instead hired professional marketers to make even blander and more confusing names? I hear “Web 2.0″ and immediately smell yet another hit off the dotcom crackpipe…

Personally, I’m now just going to be refering to Web5.5

It has a whiff of the crufty, featuritis midlife of mainstream applications (Quark, Wordperfect, etc) which renders it pleasingly mundane and irrevocably intertwined with the work-a-day world.

Web 5.5 comes with a couple of giant manuals in binders and a little plastic overlay to put abouve your function keys.

It’s been 10 years between Web1.0 and Web2.0 – so expect Web5.5 sometime around 2035.

Along with space elevators.

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Update: a response to the AD essay by Michal Migurski

I had a  random friday afternoon thoughtfart while listening to Paul Morley/Strictly Kev’s 1hr remix of ‘raiding the 20th century’.

Listening to Morley‘s* cultural history of the cut-up on top of Kev’s sonic critique made me think how cool it would be to hear Melvyn Bragg and the "In our time" gang’s thursday morning ruminations on, for instance, Machiavelli – cut-and-pasted over mashed-up madrigals.

Putting this fancy to one side for one minute… it made me think of other superlayered participatory critique and knowledge construction – the Wikipedia.

If there were a transcript of "In our time" (is there?) why couldn’t that be munged with wikipedia like Stefan did with BBC news… and what if then new nodes were being formed by Melvyn, his guests and his audience – together, for everyone, every week, and cross-referenced to a unique culutral contextual product – the audio broadcast.

The mp3 of "In our time"  sliding into the public domain and onto the internet archive’s servers, every thursday rippling through the nöösphere reinvigorating the debate in the wikipedia, renewing collective knowledge.

"In Our Time" is great ‘campfire’ stuff – you have The Melv as the semi-naive interlocutor and trusted guide, the experts as authority to be understood and questioned… but it’s only 30 minutes and 4 people… what about scaling it way out into the wikinow?

How good would that be??!!!!

Of course a first step, a sheltered cove, would be to set up "In Our time" with their own wiki for Neal Stephenson Baroque Cycle / Pepys diary style annotations of the transcript and mp3..

The Melv’s own multimedia mash’d up many-to-many mp3 meme machine.

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Update: over the weekend, Matt Biddulph showed another example of how powerful mixing BBC web content with web-wide systems might be: with del.icio.us tags extending BBC Radio3′s content. Fantastic stuff.
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p.s. from a Bio of Morley found at pulp.net:
"Morley
earns a farthing every time Charlie’s Angels, Full Throttle is shown or
trailed, owing to his contribution as a member of the Art of Noise to
Firestarter by the Prodigy, which features a sample of the Art of
Noise’s Beat Box, used in the film. The pennies are mounting up."

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