John Hagel has a terrific post on "The Economics of Attention," a must-read for anyone who's interested in the genesis of this concept. Hagel revisits the seminal thinkers, starting with Nobel prize winner Herbert Simon, who in an 1971 article was the first to grasp the economical implications of "attention," long before "attention economy" became such a buzzword.
All the eating, yelling, and gift giving isÂ officially over in my family. This year, my mother's dog (Oliver)Â received an ipodÂ for Christmas. Why? I'm not really sure. I am still a little stunned. During the holidays, some people like to hide out in the living room to watch football;Â I'm ducking out in the kitchen and checking flickr for dogs with ipods.Â
What do theseÂ dogs listen to anyway?
Adobe has released a graphic showing all of the icons for their new CS3 suite. These icons are nothing like the flowery illustrations that we have gotten used to over the past couple of releases. They simply consist of a gradient background and the application's initials. They obviously are fashioned after the Periodic Table of Elements. The image below shows all of the icons arranged around a color wheel.
Have any of you seen Shaun Inman's recent redesign? How about David Shea's? It's ok if you don't know who these people are, but they are A-listers in the web-design/development world. Both of these gentlemen have recently re-designed their personal sites and both are trying hard to buck convention. The goal is to associate time and context to articles instead of simply applying the latest and greatest look and feel to their archives and erasing the memory of past designs.
Inman refers to his design as "The Heap." The concept is that as the posts age, the stylesheet is slightly altered so that the colors fade over time. You can read more about it in his words. In this manner he is alluding to the physical deterioration of documents over time.
Shea is calling his redesign "The Fountain." Don't ask me whey these guys do this, I've never named a design before (but I've never named a car either). Shea's take is a bit different, with groups of articles being published under unique mastheads and borrowing color schemes from a primary photograph. The assumption is that this makes a group of articles published under a single "theme" more relevant in context with one another and more like a magazine. This experiment is more about information organization, but is undoubtedly unique. Again, check out his much better, more detailed explanation.
Overall, I like the approach. As more and more of our documentation and knowledge is digitized, a sense of time and history will be removed from the record. On the one hand, it is not good that certain documents are rare because it tends to keep them out of the public domain. We can all agree that access to knowledge is good and the more we can hep to disseminate that, the better. However, as with my previous post about RSS, I believe that the medium upon which the words are delivered can tell a story of their own. (I'm purposefully ignoring the fact that I know nothing of the longevity of current printed materials). Are people going to project important digital documents onto giant screens so people can come and see them, touch them, and take in their history?
Take for example, this article on music from NYTimes.com. This article was written ten years ago, but is set in the current NYTimes.com design. Reading this article should be an opportunity to work through the old NYTimes, as though looking at microfilm or flipping through an archive of old papers. Yes, the current design is probably more user-friendly, user-centric, multi-device enabled, semantically correct, valid XHTML, and all that. But it's ten years newer than its content. What are we missing? I have no idea, because it's missing.
It will be interesting to see if Mr. Shea's and Mr. Inman's ideas take hold, but one would be hard pressed to argue they are uninteresting.
For me, RSS is a mixed bag. As a technologist I love being able to work with RSS feeds to enrich the applications that I'm working on. As an individual interested in the goings on of the great interweb, I pretty much ignore RSS. While there are many out there who claim that on the web "CONTENT IS KING," the web is also a medium for design, both visual and architectural. Taking the content out of the context of the design can remove some of its relevance or meaning.
As a design-oriented technologist, I appreciate the work that goes into crafting a site and I want to read the content within the framework put together by the author (this is of course referring to sites that are not built using WordPress templates). Abstracting the advice of a designer into a feed reader is not as fulfulling as reading his words within the frame of his actual work. By reading it there I am given fresh insight into the design chioices that were made on the very page I am looking at. It's all very meta.
There are also some out there who posit that major corporations are moving away from RSS for various reasons. Mostly, the growing consensus is that RSS does not generate the revenue that traditional sites do because advertising within feeds is still a very polarizing topic among the technorati. A quick glance and some major news outlets found the RSS link buried in the footer or near the bottom of the page.
There can be no doubt, that RSS is here to stay. However, it may be hurting the web as a visually creative medium and could be put aside by major corporations if advertising revenue cannot be recognized soon.
When my sister came to visit me in my second year at NYUâs Interactive Telecommunication Program (ITP), she described it as "kind of like Hogwarts, but with computers." I've always thought that was a pretty good description of the place. There's a lot of magic, and now, there seems to be a bit more polish and sophistication to the projects as well. Itâs hard to say whether the development tools are getting better, or humans are just getting smarter. Either way, Iâm not complaining â there were a larger percentage of really engaging projects, fewer video mirrors, and no shortage of things that cause you to have to grab your mind and twist it back into place.
Many of the real standout projects involved cellphones. ITP has set up an server that makes it possible for students to develop the kind of phone trees you run into when you call the bank, except much more interesting. Students are using the phones as a sort of offloaded universal UI device. In many cases, two people can dial in to a central number and can then compete against each other up on a screen using their respective phones as controllers. The best example of this was the Megaphone 3000 by Christopher Kairalla and Jury Hahn- a series of very short, playable, Nintendo-like games that can be played up on a remote screen by two people holding phones. Another project which took a similar tack was Speed Dial by Christopher Paretti, in which users yell into their phones to control the speed of two toy slot-racing cars zooming around a track. What I really liked about all these projects was their intuitive maximization of the phone as an interface: key tones, microphone levels, and text-input all figured in to the interactions.
I was also impressed by Urban Sonar by Kati London, Sai Sriskandarajah, and Kate Hartman. This is essentially the kind of proximity sensors that higher-end cars have attached to a human. All the data is fed over a cellphone via bluetooth to a central computer. I'd love to check back and see what kind of data they come back with in a few months.
It was hard not to be charmed by Ben Brown's Network Topology Twister. Ben had put a number of sensors on the ground and built a central unit to specify a hidden connection pattern between them. Users had to step on the sensors and in many cases hold hands to reveal the hidden network topology. If I ever teach kids about how networks work, I want Ben's toy.
I also liked Zach Eveland and Kati London's Spooky Action, a client which permits shared control of the mouse between two networked computers. It's projects like this that just by shaking up a UI convention slightly make you realize how wedded you are to the way you expect computers to work. As you are navigating away, a force pulls the cursor away from you, and you have to fight a bit (or negotiate with the person at the other terminal) to get your mouse back.
frog's own, Dmetrie Tyler, had one of the quietest pieces in the show, but also one of the most striking. Dmetrie's Hypothetical Drawings About the End of the World presented panoramic towers of algorithmic drawings. The scrolls have a very hand-done quality and complexity that reminds me a lot of Mark Lombardi's work. These in particular displayed the results of web queries concerning the apocalypse.
If you missed out, definitely put the Spring show on your calendar. A lot of New York frogs are ITP graduates, and it's always a good place to catch a raw glimpse of the brightly flashing future.
In Wired Magazine's "My Final Prediction" Bruce Sterling tolls the bell for futurism, but predicts blue skies for what we currently call the Internet: "Futurism itself has no future. The very word futurism is old-fashioned, way too 1960s. Today's Internet-savvy futurist is more likely to describe himself as a strategy consultant or venture capital researcher. That development doesn't surprise me. Frankly, I saw it coming.
In an essay about "fear and loathing in a wired world" in Herman Miller's splendid SEE magazine, I was intrigued by a quote from Kenneth J. Gergen, the author of Perpetual Contact: Mobile Communication, Private Talk, and Public Performance: "How often do we enter a room to find family, friends or colleagues absorbed by their computer screen, television, CDs, telephone, newspaper, or even a book?
When a company as large and well-known as Microsoft re-designs their homepage, the reactions are bound to be mixed. Haven't seen it yet? Go check it out.
At first glance it appears to be a very simplistic, blog-like page with little-to-no character. It is only when you click on the secondary navigation that you are presented with some DHTML trickery. Instead of being taken to a secondary landing page, Microsoft loads what can only be described as an OS-like folder window on top of the primary page.
Within this window, you can select from a few different views such as list or thumbnail and you are presented with unique information in each view (for instance, in the thumbnail view you are given a preview of the pending page). It is an interesting idea, to be sure.
But does it work?
First of all, they didn't completely extend the metaphor. I keep wanting to drag the window around because they give me such a big, juicy title bar. But I can't. If you're going to make something look so explicitly like an OS, it's bound to fall flat when people try to apply their various habits to the interface and find it lacking. Also, the interface is completely unique, looking nothing like the native Windows...windows. Why create an entirely new, OS-like interface on the web? It's the only one of its kind and doesn't seem to inherit any of the principles promised in Vista or in the new Ribbon system being introduced in the next generation of MS Office.
Granted, it is an excellent technical achievement, but it feels clunky and out of place, as if it's some attempt at a web OS that hasn't quite been realized. It is a daring move and does have some flashy DHTML transitions, but I do not think they have improved the user experience and doesn't seem to do much to strengthen their brand.
Two interestingly critical articles on the long-term sustainability of Second life, from very different perspectives.
In "A story too good to check" Clay Shirky turns a critical eye on the current buzz surrounding SL:
" I suspect Second Life is largely a 'Try Me' virus, where reports of a strange and wonderful new thing draw the masses to log in and
try it, but whose ability to retain anything but a fraction of those users is limited.
The pattern of a Try Me virus is a rapid spread of first time users, most of whom drop out quickly, with most of the dropouts becoming immune to later use.
So what accounts for the current press interest in Second Life? I have a few ideas, though none is concrete enough to call an answer yet.
First, the tech beat is an intake valve for the young.
Second, virtual reality is conceptually simple ... you are a person, in a space. It's like real life.
Third, the press has a congenital weakness for the Content Is King story.
There's nothing wrong with a service that appeals to tens of thousands of people, but in a billion-person internet, that population is also a rounding error. If most of the people who try Second Life bail (and they do), we should adopt a considerably more skeptical attitude about proclamations that the oft-delayed Virtual Worlds revolution has now arrived."
In "Avatars consume as much electricity as Brazilians" Nicholas Carr tries to gauge the amount of energy required to keep avatars happy. Results are stunning to say the least:
"Is Second Life sustainable ecologically?
If there are on average between 10,000 and 15,000 avatars 'living' in Second Life at any point, that means the world has a population of about 12,500. Supporting those 12,500 avatars requires 4,000 servers as well as the 12,500 PCs the avatars' physical alter egos are using.
Conservatively, a PC consumes 120 watts and a server consumes 200 watts. Throw in another 50 watts per server for data-center air
So an avatar consumes 1,752 kWh per year. By comparison, the average human, on a worldwide basis, consumes 2,436 kWh per year.
If we look at developing countries, where per-capita consumption is 1,015 kWh, we find that avatars burn through considerably more electricity than people do.
More narrowly still, the average citizen of Brazil consumes 1,884 kWh, which, given the fact that my avatar estimate was rough and conservative, means that your average Second Life avatar consumes about as much electricity as your average Brazilian.
Which means, in turn, that avatars aren't quite as intangible as they seem.
They don't have bodies, but they do leave footprints."