What is “Communication”?

In the New York times article on the internet and socializing, we’re told that “57 percent of Internet use was devoted to communications like e-mail, instant messaging and chat rooms, and 43 percent for other activities including Web browsing, shopping and game playing.”

And it made me think that a fairly arbitrary distinction is being made here in the use of the word “communication.” If I post to my blog or Flickr, or view other people’s posts or photos, am I not engaged in “communication”?

When Data Makes You Say, “So What?”

The New York Times reports on a study about the internet and socializing. Guess what? The more time you spend online, the less face-to-face contact you have!

Um, so what? The tone of the piece suggests this is a bad thing. You get statements like: “According to the study, an hour of time spent using the Internet reduces face-to-face contact with friends, co-workers and family by 23.5 minutes, lowers the amount of time spent watching television by 10 minutes and shortens sleep by 8.5 minutes.”

Um. Okay. Could you distinguish between friends, coworkers, and family for me? Because I purposefully *use* the internet to have less face-to-face time with coworkers. It’s called telecommuting. It allows me to have more control over other parts of my life. Like socializing. With friends. And family.

Without reading the original research (it’s not yet published online), I can only assume the Times reporter, John Markoff, isn’t a very deep thinker, if he can’t distinguish between types of face-to-face interaction.

The Review Emphatic with Peter Merholz

Couple nights ago we saw The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. I’d gone in with low expectations — I enjoyed The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore, but early notices suggested that Wes Anderson had gotten a little too precious for his own good, drifted a little too far away from people and emotions toward a world of quirks.

Life Aquatic may be Anderson’s best film yet. It doesn’t have the deep emotional center of Rushmore, but it’s simply funnier and a lot more fun to watch. Yes, it’s weird, quirky, and bizarre. But it’s soooo delightful. Like the old MAD comics drawn by Will Elder, every scene is crammed with details you want to follow. And, unlike what reviewers suggested, it’s in no way condescending. Wes draws you into his masterfully created dollhouse/trainset/whathaveyou.

One thing that’s clear about many filmgoers is that they simply don’t deal well with weird. And Life Aquatic has weird in spades — David Bowie sung in Portuguese, brightly colored faux sea creatures, stupid dolphins with cameras on their heads, an intricate boat replete with spa, a deep water submarine that holds 15, a character seen eating in every shot he’s in. Perhaps the daffiest scenes involve pirates and gunfire that is shot in a way reminiscent of a junior high play — lots of pops, people shouting, goofy costumes, and utterly, utterly non-threatening.

Anyway, ignore the naysayers, turn off your cynicism, sit back, and enjoy the ride.

Movie Review: In the Realms of the Unreal

To witness Henry Darger’s art is to get immersed in his fantastical story of the Vivian Girls, spunky pre-adolescents fundamental to a war being fought between Christian Good and the Secular Bad. I first saw Darger’s work at SFMOMA about 5 or 6 years ago, and his vivid, candy-colored depiction of “The Realms of the Unreal” sticks with me.

Darger is firmly ensconced in the canon of American outsider artists. With no formal training, he devised his own approach, liberally borrowing from found sources to piece together his bizarre tale. A recluse, Darger lived alone in a small apartment in Chicago, toiled as a janitor by day, and produced his haunting narrative at night.

He also put penises on his drawings of naked little girls. No one knows why.

For me, perhaps the most resonant aspect of Darger’s work is its size — drawings could be as much as 10 feet wide, vast panoramas filled with obsessive detail.

It’s this aspect of Darger’s work that gets lost in the documentary film In The Realms of the Unreal. Through interviews and Darger’s autobiography, filmmaker Jessica Wu pieces together Henry’s lonely life, weaving it with his life’s work, the fantastic story “In the Realms of the Unreal,” with over 15,000 pages of textual material, and 300 large format drawings.

I can’t recommend this doc to people who haven’t seen Darger’s art, because I don’t think it does his artwork justice. It can’t capture the bigness and detail of Darger’s work… I was left feeling that people who’d never seen his work wouldn’t have any real idea what the fuss of the film is about.

Also, Wu decided to animate Darger’s art in order to aid in telling the story… A bold decision that leaves me uneasy, as it tampers with the vision that is being held in such high esteem. It also makes an imprecise introduction to Darger.

If you *are* familiar with Darger’s art, then by all means, you should see the doc — Wu’s presentation of his life and work is thorough and compelling. The interviews with those who know them offer insight into the recluse, though it’s clear that no one will really know what was going on with Henry.

Flickr Wondring

Lane and Nadav have been posting thoughts about Flickr, and I couldn’t help but throw my voice into that echo chamber.

Lane is right when he says it’s about the pictures. He’s wrong that the network is simply the plumbing. That is, depending on his meaning of “network.” Those sites that truly succeed on the web do so because of a fundamental appreciation of what “the network” brings. Amazon, eBay, and Google being the biggest, shiniest examples. They get that the network, with its constituent elements of people doing things, and through those activities, somehow connecting to each other (whether it’s direct, as in items on eBay, or indirect, as in different people buying the same product on Amazon, linking to the same page in Google), they get that that connection is meaningful, exceedingly meaningful, and if you can leverage that behavior, you can provide an experience orders of magnitude more interesting than when you ignore that connectedness.

Nadav is onto something when he compares Flickr to a massively-multiplayer online role-playing game. And for identifying the importance of play in Flickr. (This is the point at which it might be helpful to explain that the name of Flickr’s developer, Ludicorp, comes from the word “ludic”.)

But the comparison doesn’t strike me as wholly apt. MMPORGs are about the players. Flickr, as Lane pointed out, is about the pictures. More than the people. No, really. Obviously, the pictures are taken by people, and the primary connection that a member of Flickr has is with other people.

But Flickr starts and ends with the picture. My most viewed photo is of my color-organized bookshelf. People viewed it because of what it is, not because of who I am.

Also, an MMPORG must have some kind of economy. Some system to measure risk and reward, to incent people to achieve more, do better, etc. Such an economy would run contrary to the Flickr ethos… If people tried to, I don’t know, game the system by filling it with photos whose only point was to engender popularity, well, it would make the system much less interesting.

Also, I think, an MMPORG must be escapist. Allow for leaving this world and entering a place of fantasy. Flickr, being about the photos, being about the snapshots, really, is firmly grounded in our world. It provides joy through it’s multiple perspectives on reality.

Anyway, this isn’t to detract from Nadav’s post. His points are insightful, and valuable. It simply is to push and poke at this thing we all love, to better understand it. Though, I wonder: is this analysis of Flickr like dissecting a pet? Yes, you know how it works, but, well, you kill this thing that you love?

House of the Snoring Filmgoers

I liked Hero (though it went on about 30 minutes too long). I think Zhang Ziyi is beautiful. The reviews have been favorable, so I got a group of folks together yesterday to head out to see House of the Flying Daggers.

It was terrible. It was unremittingly dull. It’s about 20 minutes worth of movie stretched out over two hours. We nearly considered leaving mid-way.

I mean, if you like extended shots of people on horses, this is the movie for you. The director makes very clear that these people are on horses, and are riding them for a very very long time.

But if you want emotion that has any feeling of truth behind it, forget it. And, no, I’m not seeking complexity in this film… But even the simplicity of the plot has no emotional logic, so you end up caught up in a love story that makes no sense.

Anyway, this is a deep deep disappointment of a film. And it’s pathetic that otherwise seasoned filmgoers (i.e., The Critics) would get snowed over by the cinematography to the point that they seem to forget they’re watching a movie, not staring at a painting. Carla Meyer is an exception, summing it up as “Beautiful but hollow.”

Content Management Workshop – January 25

On January 25th, Jeff and I will be presenting a workshop on getting the most out of your current (or planned) content management system.

We’ll be doing it here in San Francisco, at the new Adaptive Path office.

It should be a great event, and I can guarantee it will be chock full of useful information about handling the organizational politics of content management, how get people to think of content in a structured, and thus manageable way, the futility of much of what the big CMS vendors sell, etc.

In many ways, this is as much of an information architecture workshop as it is a content management workshop. (We believe that content management is, in large part, an information architecture issue). We’ll be addressing content models, taxonomies, facets, metadata of various sorts, etc.

This is a hands-on workshop, so there will be many activities to ensure that what you hear sinks in.

We have early registration that ends December 27th – save $50!

Hotel Room User Testing

A current project requires lab user testing in four cities in California. We knew that for the Bay Area, we could use our client’s office, but for L.A., Fresno, and Sacramento, what would we do?

Our first impulse was to get a formal user testing lab — totally pro set up, one-way glass, lots and lots of M&Ms. So we priced out a couple of labs in L.A., and the cheapest we could find was $1500 for a day. Which struck me as obscene.

And considering I hate testing facilities as it is. It’s sooooo corporate/conference-y. So foreign and weird.

So, instead, we booked adjoining hotel rooms. One serves as the testing room, the other as the observation room. Bring down a cheap, small, digital camera, and wire that to a TV in the observation room. Hotels are all about the high-speed internet access now, and Courtyard and Residence Inns by Marriott offer it for free.

Have the testing room be a suite, so that there’s a desk set-up in a room with no bed. (Otherwise, it feels a little too… porn-y.)

And hey, since you’re traveling, you need a hotel room for the night before (and possibly night of), so the rooms serve double duty.

Two adjoining hotel rooms run for around $300 for a day, depending on location. Even if it gets up to, oh, $500, that’s still a huge discount over a testing facility.

Why would I use a testing facility, again?