On my way to Lisbon tomorrow…

SHiFT - Social and Human Ideas For Technology

That little map over on the right hand side of the blog should place (or, rather, “plaze”) me in Lisbon, Portugal, late tomorrow (well, I’ll be arriving the morning of the 26th Lisbon time). I’m speaking at the Shift conference, and thrilled by the opportunity to visit Lisbon for my first time, and get a better sense of the European perspective on matters of design and technology.

Interview with Jake Barton

Over on the IDEA blog, I’ve begun a conversation with Jake Barton, the principal of Local Projects, a leading-edge environment and museum design firm, known for incorporating user-generated content into public spaces. Some comments from our discussion so far:

“…Because they occur in public spaces, our projects differ from similar web-based projects, creating a very rich and complicated interaction sequence that leverages the density of urban experience on top of storytelling…”

“…“More is different” is the phrase used by Steven Johnson in Emergence for how scale changes everything, and it fits here too: What happens to an interface when ten people can work on it simultaneously? How can you create a film experience that immerses you from every interior surface of a building?…”

“…Museums don’t tend to lend themselves to persistence, like a community-based site or bulletin board relies on, because people generally visit a site once a year. There is a constant flow of strangers, much more a group of passersby, then a community of people beholden to each other and their reputations. I haven’t seen good examples of digital interfaces for commuters, but they would be an interesting hybrid of these two models…”

Libraries and Museums in the vanguard

Libraries and museums are typically thought of as outdated, staid, stodgy, dusty institutions; places your forced to go as a school child and often don’t bother returning to as an adult. So one of the things that surprised me as I programmed the IDEA conference is how many of the best examples of institutions that are truly embracing cross-channel and cross-media information architecture come from museums and libraries. In fact, I couldn’t find a corporate world entity that engages as well with the kinds of information complexity that these institutions do.

Though non-profit community institutions famously have less money than their corporate brethren, they (perhaps paradoxically) seem less risk-averse. Corporations have to do everything to protect the bottom line, and, as such, don’t mess with stuff that works. Libraries and museums have higher aspirations, which allow the more visionary ones the opportunity to take new approaches to engage with their audiences. The Museums and the Web conference is approaching its 11th year; Seattle and Minneapolis have new central libraries that do more to relate information with their communities; the Getty Center in L.A. hired Cooper to design kiosks and audio players that support the visitor experience; I’m sure you can think of others.

Business = Technology?

I subscribe to an daily email from the New York Times on their top news items from certain categories, including Business and Technology. Here is the section of those two categories from today’s email:


Everyday, there’s seems to be least one story that overlaps the two sections, and many days, two stories. I find it weird that NYT’s coverage of business is so constrained that technology is so dominant. Or is this just the reality of American business?

IDEA: Discounted Registration Ends September 15, 2006

Up to Friday, September 15, you can register for the IDEA Conference for the discounted rates.

To tantalize you, we’ve just posted the National Park Service’s planned presentation on the conference blog. With tasty morsels such as:

The Challenges for Media Professionals

» NPS Innovations in Park Media— Harpers Ferry Center
The Center was established in 1970 to bring media specialists together in one place to share talents and resources. What have we learned from this experiment?

» Centralization (HFC, regions) vs. local control (parks)
In the mid-1990s the NPS shifted power from central offices to parks, making it more challenging to effect develop and enforce national standards in media. Who should set the media standards?

» Government model vs. business model
NPS media professionals are asked to work more like contractors in the private sector, but remain under the constraints of a bureaucracy. How can media planners, designers, and producers thrive in this sometimes contradictory environment?

» Insular model vs. partnership model
NPS sites have always been islands of government real estate within a secure boundary. Now we are more and more dependent on partners and volunteers to greet visitors and develop media. Are park rangers and NPS designers on the way out?

» Information (facts) vs. interpretation (minds & hearts)
Facts have lost favor in the NPS, with more energy going toward relevance and making emotional connections. What is the proper balance between information and inspiration?

» The virtual vs. the real
There have been reports that visitation to parks is declining, perhaps because many people, especially the young, are preoccupied with computers and digital media. Should the NPS be offering lots more digital and virtual experiences, or should we be focusing on providing opportunities to see and appreciate the real things that make up our natural and historical heritage?

Information visualization conversation with Mike Migurski and Fernanda Viegas

Over on the IDEA Conference blog, I’ve posted the beginning of a discussion on information visualization, giving us all a peek into what Mike and Fernanda will be presenting at the conference.

Some choice quotes:

“At the conference, I’m hoping to talk about how to “democratize” visualization use (following successful deployments such as the NameVoyager vis)”

“I was super cautious about privacy and made a point of always explaining to my users (the owners of the email archives being visualized) that they would be the only ones looking at those visualizations. I explained to them that I would never show those images to anyone else without their consent. Well, as soon as people started playing with the visualizations, they wanted to share the images with others!!”

“If you look at the academic information visualization community, researchers aren’t focusing on the social side of their applications. Infovis folks love to explore techniques that allow them to scale the data they are showing. But what happens when you scale the audience that’s looking at a visualization? This is the question we are currently exploring.”

“I think a key success of the NameVoyager is to keep the data visualized *super simple*. It’s almost like there’s an inverse relationship between the complexity of the data, and the complexity of the conversation around the data.”

“I like the idea of visualization as an alert system for social information rather than a contemplative one, and we’ve made efforts to spur projects with this characteristic.”

“Fun fact: the original drafts of our Digg work were called “The Ultimate Stoner Tool”, because author & blogger Om Malik said during some panel that his favorite activity was smoking dope and watching Digg Spy scroll by.”

A great way to spend 8 minutes 12 seconds

I listen to around 60 minutes of podcasts everyday (yay commuting), and while much of it is fine, rarely does it elevate to something special.

That happened recently, when I listened to the Kitchen Sisters’ “Hidden Kitchens” segment on Georgia Gilmore who cooked for the Civil Rights leaders in Montgomery, AL, including the Rev. Dr. King. The story elevates because of a combination of two factors — the amazing story of this simple kitchen as a hub of the civil rights movement, and the power of the voices sharing their reminisces.

You can listen to the podcast either directly from the Hidden Kitchens site, or through the iTunes music store.