petermeme Archives

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past petermemes
March 29, 2001
Usability meets wireless. The Wireless Roundtable is a group of New York user experience types getting together to make strides in developing smart practices for designing for mobility.
March 28, 2001

I like the name. My friend Andrea is working on a wireless thesis project called "Annotate Space".

Annotate Space is a project to develop experiential forms of journalism and nonfiction storytelling for use at specific locations. The stories will be presented in the form of web pages that users can download to their PalmOS PDAs, with some materials available as MP3 audio files. I will author and produce materials for 3 or 4 different guided experiences of public spaces in New York City, and test these materials with individuals and small groups.

The idea, in short, is to go beyond Vindigo, into applications that aren't so purchase-oriented.

One thing I wonder about is the marrying of location-based devices with collaborative filtering. "People who walked down this street also walked down...", "People who ate at this diner also ate at..." Or the idea of leaving virtual notes in locations, things to be picked up by people later. Marry that with Epinions, and you could have someone review anything at a spot, and those who come to that spot read more about it. (Let's set aside the un-likelihood of folks writing reviews as they wander...) I dunno. I'm guess I'm thinking place-aware Third Voice. Um, the original, notes-leaving version of Third Voice, not the current QuickClick copy.

More on Wireless. A couple of people pointed me to Fiona Raby's talk at the Doors of Perception conference.

What makes [wireless] so potentially interesting is that this tiny screen is networked into a much richer and more complex social and cultural infrastructure.

She discusses, much more eloquently than I, many of the issues I addressed previously. A little rooting around turned up Ms. Raby's website, showing design projects from the last 10 years, including a fair amount on FLIRT, which she discussed at Doors. (Unfortunately, her use of frames doesn't read well on Win/IE. I'm guessing she's a Mac type.)

ZeBomb. My favorite Asian Dot Com Millionaire pointed to ZeFrank's collection of web toys. Hoo-eee. Lotsa clicking fun to have here. I <heart> Meine Kleine Draw Toy.

March 24, 2001

Some Thoughts on Design for Mobile/Wireless Devices
At SXSW, among the more invigorating panels was a discussion on designing for wireless technologies. Some notes/ideas from that panel.

Context, not Content
A flaw in the design of many websites is that they do not fit within a user's context--they were designed to replace it. There was a bizarre assumption that users would happily transfer all that activity to the Web. This faulty understanding was a core factor contributing to the ineffectiveness of many sites. In reality, a web site is lucky to get, oh, 15 minutes out of a person's day. A smart designer understands this as a constraint, and builds a system to support it.

Happily, what I saw on the wireless panel was an understanding of this behavior, probably due to the form of wireless devices. Small portable objects. They obviously cannot replace a current experience, but it's clear they can augment one.

Models of Exploiting Proximity in Design
The obvious benefit in using mobile computers is that, by being with you, they can assist you in the context of your other activities. An example is Vindigo--it's 9pm, you've just seen a movie, and you want a bite to eat. But where to go? Vindigo will point you to restaurants (with reviews) located near you.

As GPS become standard in such devices, they'll automatically know where you are. These computers will best be of help by being aware of your surroundings. What I'm wondering is--has anyone developed any models or theories around designing for location-aware technologies? I was hoping MIT's Oxygen project was going to speak to it, but I can't find anything of interest. So far, the emphasis has been on the tech--where are the models of use?

It's not about the screen
There's an unfortunate bias in design towards the visual artifact, such that when people think about "Designing for Wireless" they think about "designing for a teeny-weeny screen." There are two problems with this.

The first is that auditory interfaces make TONS more sense with small wireless devices, particularly (and obviously) cell phones. They all have microphones and speakers built in--why aren't those used more? And why are they never used in tandem with the visual interface?

The second is that designing for wireless shouldn't be about designing for a particular mode of output, anyway--it should be design toward augmenting an experience, the presentation of some little bit of content, of information, in the context of a real-world setting. It's the design of the process of interaction, not of the outcome of those interactions.

And about that screen...
During the talk, there was a fair amount of discussion over having to design for multiple wireless devices. A "write once, view everywhere" sentiment. An assumption that the wide variety of displays we now have will always be here.

Which doesn't ring true. If we've learned anything from the deployment of new technologies, it's that while there might be an explosion of contenders at the beginning, the market tends to settle on one or two after a while (see: operating systems, web browsers). Such that this immediate need to support multiple displays is likely more a hiccup of The Moment than a legitimate design requirement going forward.

Now, there will likely be heightened development of specialized devices, like the Modo (RIP). But it won't be expected that the content on your cell phone is the same as what would have been displayed on the Modo. (And no, I don't think the failure of Modo is significant in determining trends in wireless... It was simply a matter of bad timing.)

Other resources
There's not a lot out there on truly smart design for wireless devices.

HannaHodge focuses on wireless experiences, and their UXBlog and BrainBox often address it (I recommending register, for free, to their talk The User Experience of Mobile Computing).

XBlog's PDA/Wireless links. Nothing new since October 2000!

Cornell: Context Aware Computing, and the Nomad Project.

Keith Cheverst's research interests in mobile context aware systems, and the GUIDE Project.

March 21, 2001

I still plan on posting my thoughts on wireless. It's just that these things take time. Which I don't have. Did I mention I started a company?


Web shopping--All About The Content. Signal V Noise clips a blurb from a UIE newsletter, talking about how content-related issues were the primary obstacles in online shopping (not site-functionality issues). For what it's worth, I've seen exactly this thing. (In fact, I posted a note to CHI-Web that inadvertently addressed this.) User research without real content proved almost worthless. Yet all of the standard product development processes tend to treat content as an afterthought. This needs to change.

March 18, 2001

Fiddling around with color schemes when I should be writing. Of course, once I decide on a color scheme, I have to go back and change the whole site. Bleah.

Guh. Brain full of thoughts. Some stuff from SXSW. And I haven't even written my copious thoughts on wireless.

Scott McCloud interview
Watch excerpts in Quicktime format: high bandwidthlow bandwidth. Scott, as usual, was a delight. I had little to do but wind him up--he'd happily just go and go. He also called me "Pete," many times, much to the amusement of my friends.

The P2P and wireless panels were my favorite at the show. They had the energy that Web panels had a few years ago--wide-eyed enthusiasts excited by the possibilities of a new frontier. And they provided the most interesting thought fodder. P2P featured Brandon Wiley from FreeNet (who loved calling things "beautiful"), Gordon Mohr from Bitzi, Sean Parker, cofounder of Napster (who couldn't say much, due to legal restrictions), and Cory Doctorow from OpenCola (perhaps the smartest person I met at the conference.)

Up to this point, the discussions of P2P I've observed frustrate me because they're largely focused on the tech, or libertarian ideals, or micropayments, and rarely address what people might actually *do* with the technology (and attempts at building compelling applications with the technology, like Groove, are often scoffed at as not-P2P-enough). During the panel, utility was discussed, but only briefly.

The question I posed was, "Is P2P all that interesting in and of itself? Is it some new special sauce, or is it what we've seen before, only moreso?" The answers I got were pretty much the latter (though the panelists, in their heady pioneering, would probably disagree). I walked away feeling that P2P is simply another step in the evolution of the internet, not the terrific buzz-worthy quantum leap that it's been hyped. This doesn't mean it's not interesting--the opportunities made feasible when every computer is a server are potentially thrilling--it just doesn't feel like the New New Thing.

I moderated a panel on emerging trends and cultural implications of interface design, wherein the recurring theme dealt with how the barriers between design and use were coming down--more and more, design processes incorporate user input, and, more and more, the final product is built to be tailored, if not designed, but the communities that use them.

Raoul Rickenberg, of Standard Deviation Studios (no website yet), discussed "users as designers" in the historical context of vernacular architecture. He also mentioned design patterns as guidelines derived from VA. (Interested in vernacular architecture? Of course, there's a website devoted to it.)

Laura Seargeant, from frog, discussed the "passionate producer" -- wherein the device user plays an integral role in its development. She touched on two primary models--participatory design (as practiced by Sonic Rim) and Kansei engineering. Kansei engineering is a process by which designers derive and then incorporate the consumer's emotional connections with the product. The best-known product of such a process is the Mazda Miata. For an insightful take on Kansei in human-computer interaction, read chapter 16 of Bruce Tognazzini's delightful Tog on Software Design. (You do own that book, right? And Tog on Interface, too, right? If not, well, um, do so.)

Laura ended her talk with a quote from Clement Mok:

"We're moving beyond the idea of easy-to-use into a more rigorous period of thinking about usability—user-centeredness [leading to a clearer understanding of what users desire]. We've had exchanges of information with users, but very little bidirectional conversation. Interaction has meant getting someone to click the buttons and buy something. That's great, but it's not conversation. Conversation gives you context and the emotional bond and relevance to sustain a relationship over time."
(from "Creative Tension," an article on Web design)

"Conversation" is one of those concepts you can't get away from right now. Most famously promoted by the Cluetrain clique ("markets are conversations"), it's popping up all over.

Alice May Clark, of Monkey Media, approached the subject from a sociological perspective--how people 'design' their identities online, and the nature of online community spaces. She provided the best URLs for the talk, from the infamous Peter Pan guy to

Joey Anuff, editor at Plastic, finished off by discussing the deliberations he and Steven Johnson made when choosing the base technology for the site. Originally enamored of the deep self-organization of, they realized its unwieldy interface made using it too difficult. They settled on Slashcode, the source for Slashdot, which they subsequently modified.

This panel proved both compelling and frustrating. Participants David Galbraith (very smart guy from, Lance Arthur, Bryan Boyer, and moderator Jason Kottke had difficulty defining the topic, and the discussion occurred in fits and starts, never finding its groove.

The place to start thinking about microcontent is Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox where he coined the term, stating that microcontent is information that refers to macrocontent; headlines, page titles, etc. Paul Meagher expanded the meaning to include any content that can be produced with relatively little effort at regular intervals.

I find the referential definition of microcontent uninteresting, in large part because it's nothing new--we've had headlines, abstracts, bestseller lists, and any number of other kinds of 'referring' microcontent for a while.

What excites me, though, is microcontent qua microcontent. Some worthwhile ideas simply don't need more than, oh, 500 words, and before the net, the economies of publishing meant that such content would not get distributed. (Exceptions existed in magazines and newspapers, but such microcontent would be published only alongside longer content that warranted such costs.)

Now, the atomic unit of feasibly publishable text is no longer the "page," but the "post," which could be as small as one word. The growing popularity of weblogs demonstrates what happens as the barrier to entry lowers. Though largely dreck, there's a wealth of ideas being brought forth that before would never have seen the light of day.

Starting A Web Business From Scratch
This panel featured my company partners Lane Becker and Janice Fraser, as well as Meg Hourihan and Rudy Rouhana. It was a content-rich discussion on starting web businesses. The most memorable comment came from Lane, where he addressed the psychic dichotomy necessary to run a company. On one hand, you must delude yourself into thinking that your business is utterly necessary, that of course people want your product, that you will change the world. It's such notions of greatness that inspire you and your colleagues to keep going. On the other hand, you must firmly ground yourself in reality, watching the balance sheet, listening to what people are saying about your product, making sure you can adapt to fit the market environment. This balance needed to operate on both sides of this duality is tough to maintain, and separates the successful from unsuccessful business founder.

March 14, 2001

What an up-and-down day. For the past few days, I've been in Austin, attending SXSW Interactive. It's been great--met some interesting new people, sat in on some invigorating panels causing neuron rearchitecture, been stuffing myself with tasty Tex-Mex.

Yesterday, March 13, was planned as a day of celebration. Adaptive Path had put together a launch party for the closing night of SXSW Interactive--it was at SXSW that many of our friendships solidified, so it was fitting to acknowledge the formation of our new enterprise among what consider our tribe.

Yesterday morning, though, I received sad news. Argus Associates shuttered its consulting business. The entire staff was laid off. The market downturn proved too costly.

The news felt like an emotional sucker punch. I feel winded, and a little choked up, when I think about it. Mostly, I empathize with the frustration that Lou and Peter and their amazingly talented consultants must feel--knowing that they were doing smart, good, and important work, work that was having an impact beyond their company and their clients, but to a burgeoning community of like-minded souls, folks dedicated to improving the experience we have of navigating the rough seas of information overload.

I met first got in touch with Peter and Lou in 1996. I had recently returned to San Francisco, and found myself researching navigation design for an article titled "Approaching the Perfect Interface" to be published by the Net magazine. Their "Web Architect" column was among the only writing around on the subject, and so I picked up the phone and interviewed them.

5 years later, I've had the fortune of getting to know them both personally and professionally. Through the IA2000 conference and visits to Ann Arbor, I've also met many others on the Argus team. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more friendly, talented, and enthusiastic bunch of folks.

And it is to them I am writing now. At this moment, you're likely in a state of shock, anger, depression. The worst feeling is that all that work has gone for naught. Well, fight that feeling. Argus and its employees have left an amazing legacy. There are the obvious examples of the polar bear book and the web architect columns, and the efforts of the ACIA in publishing and conferences. But less tangible are the discussions had on mailing lists, in hallways at conferences, over lunch at various companies. How you educated a bunch of self-important Web geeks that the rich history of library and information science has tons to offer. And the impact you had on your clients--through your efforts you demonstrated to many the importance of a thoughtful information architecture. Those folks now know that "IA" isn't a line item that can be simply crossed out on a spreadsheet. They understand it's an essential element of success in developing a robust system. And they're telling their colleagues the same.

So while during this market hiccup (or maybe it's a belch), it might seem that you stood behind a lost cause, let me tell you that it's not true. That the work you did, both tangible and ephemeral, lives on. And that you will reap the benefits of your efforts.

If I hear of Argonauts visiting the Bay Area, and they don't let me buy them a drink, I'll be most upset. You know where to find me.

March 8, 2001
Too straightforward. I was interviewed for this article on the mental state of Silicon Valley, but none of what I said made it into the piece. Mark talked to me to get perspective on his discussions with Nirav from Epinions (who is quoted). I guess what I had to say wasn't damning or ironic enough to fit the spin he had planned. Oh well. (Not the The Spin isn't justified, but I don't think it's particularly well-suited to Epinions... He tried to get me to talk about how we were all in it for the money, and, well, I wouldn't. Not that we weren't in it for a pay day, but I was always in it because I believed in the concept. I could have worked in any number of places for even higher pay, had that been my sole driver. But I guess such viewpoints don't make good copy.)
March 7, 2001
Bring your bandwidth. I don't know what this site is called ("Conclave obscvrvm?"), but it's a tasty treat of Flash design goodies, with somewhat a macabre and haunting sensibility. Worth clicking around.
March 4, 2001

Beautiful. I'm poking around some online comics, doing a little research before the interview, and while most of what's out there simply sucks, David Gaddis' Piercing is beautiful and engaging. Do read it.

Speaking of the interview--Any questions you ever wanted to ask Scott McCloud? Let me know. If I use a question of yours, you'll get full credit and pointers and all that.

Get the content to where the readers are. Sip discusses "site-non-specific publishing" in the context of his "Next USENET" piece, which echoes (more precisely) a thought I had back when I first joined Epinions. Shortly after I joined, David Hudson interviewed me. From the article:

A movie fanatic, he used to post reviews on his Web site. Not anymore. "Why simply give away the work of writing a review when I can maybe earn some cash, maybe even recoup the cost of the ticket or rental?" There are other reasons. "If I want my thoughts on movies to be read by as many people as possible, it makes more sense to put it in a place devoted to movie information, such as the Movies area of Epinions, than on my personal site."

This dovetails into Sip's thoughts. What's interesting is that the folks at Epinions, with their delightful fundamental understanding of the networked nature of the Web, realized this, too, and recognized that Epinions was likely not that optimal "destination." From the beginning they had a content partner program, where Epinions feeds could be placed on your site (though the implementation did leave a bit to be desired). User research showed rather conclusively that for Epinions content to succeed, it had to go to where the buyers are (typically etailers, also shopping bots and other places that have been able to attract people researching products), and Epinions is aggressively pursuing the distribution of its datafeeds to suitable partners (the Canon S10 reviews at MSN's eShop are an example).

I guess this all begs the question, in Sip's next USENET, how are the differences between content published for money and content published for love handled? Epinions wants its feeds out there, but wants to be able to capture the value of those who read it. Sippey wants to write about DeLillo and simply get the widest and most appropriate audience to read it, remuneration be damned. Should Sip simply publish via Epinions, and let the service handle the rest? Is that sufficient? Is a model like Epinions anathema to the underpinnings of The Next USENET? Could Epinions simply publish into that global RSS feed, and attach a "check latest prices" button, so as to capture value if the review spurs a purchase?

March 3, 2001

And it begins. Presenting Adaptive Crap. (The original file is here, but if you click to it, you won't see it. If you cut and paste the URL into your browser, you will. I have no idea why it's working this way.) Maybe we should change our names to We Have Big Heads Consulting?

Mmm, tasty. Malcolm Gladwell on "The Trouble with Fries." Who doesn't love french fries? Mmmm. Ah, the potato. Anyway, good follow-up of Fast Food Nation. Gladwell always asks the interesting questions.

March 2, 2001




03/02/01.... we have liftoff!





March 1, 2001

To click into further. "Multimedia from Wagner to Virtual Reality". Via email from Jeff Gates.

Design-oriented blog to watch out for. Erin Malone has posted her initial DesignWritings, which are some meandering notes from attending the AIGA conference on Design Criticism and History. Erin is a friend (and a sharp cookie), so I'd be on the watch as her musings develop.

In her inaugural post, she asks a series of questions on the design history of interactive media. For some reason I'm compelled to respond (my comments are very off-the-cuff, though the subject definitely warrants considered response):

What is the design history of interactive media?
There's very little, from what I know. Most books and essays address the "now" of interactive media... Considering there's a developing body of such work, they provide something of a 'history,' though the works are rarely deliberately historic.

Who stands out of the crowd and why?
I don't know which "crowd" Erin speaks of--the crowd of designs/designers or historians?
From a historical perspective, the stand-outs would be folks who have proven themselves smart interactive media critics--Steven Johnson and Janet Abrams come to mind. Oh, Carl Goodman, curator of interactive media for the American Museum of the Moving Image, deserves credit for his trendspotting and preservation efforts.

Do interaction/experience designers have a history yet and can it be chronicled before everything disappears?
I think it's pretty clear that "experience designers" have a history, and a pretty rich one at that (particularly if you lump, say, architects and filmmakers into the world of Experience Design).

What is worthy of recording?
All of it! I suppose that's facetious. Though I don't know if this is what Erin intended, there are definitely some Great Works worthy of preservation:
- Ivar Sutherland's SketchPad
- The Xerox Star
- The Lisa
- The Macintosh Finder
- Douglas Engelbart's NLS
- HyperCard
- Voyager's Beethoven's 9th CD Companion (perhaps the first general-audience content-driven "multimedia" work)
- Oh, lots more, but I could spend all day writing it out

How do museums save or collect work that is dynamically driven and highly interactive or relies on lots of complex backend stuff?
I dunno. I do know that AMMI, the Walker Art Center, and SFMOMA are all devoted to preserving worthy interactive works.

Do the artifacts that we as IAs and Interaction designers make need to be kept as well to provide a cohesive sense of the process and effectiveness of our work?
Definitely. In fact, I think the most interesting products of current practice are our process artifacts. Considering how the delivery media are so unstable, the sketches, notes, diagrams, print-outs, etc. etc. of how we got to the end product have a chance for greater relevance as time marches on.

Even in a more stable delivery environment, the process is fascinating. I love going to MOMA exhibitions on the documents detailing what happens "behind the scenes" on movies--cast lists, memos from producers to directors, storyboards (mmmm storyboards), marked shooting scripts, etc. etc.

A true pleasure of the traveling exhibit on the Eames' was seeing the artifacts that showed how they got to those endproducts.

Mmmm, food. Searching for information on Fast Food Nation (a book which I recently finished and found extremely compelling and important), I came across, a site for foodies. Of particular interest are the Chowhound message boards, an active online community devoted to the pleasures of eating throughout the United States.

An interview with Eric Schlosser, author of FFN:

"If we continue to allow the growth of a low-wage service economy, one in which unions are weak and workers have little say about their working conditions—well, then the fast-food chains will have a bright future. On the other hand, if we bring the minimum wage up to the level it was thirty years ago, in real terms, and we enforce the rules about overtime, and make it easier to organize service workers, the fast-food chains will have to change their business model. Or go out of business."

"The McDonald's Corporation, at the moment, in many ways reminds me of the Soviet-era Kremlin. I was unable to get a single question answered after weeks of calling them, e-mailing them, and faxing them."

A discussion of FFN on Slate