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  past petermemes

April 28, 2000
I am going to L.A. this weekend.
Email me if you want to hang out.

April 27, 2000
Late-ish night memetics thoughts. Excuse any logical leaps.

"We had 5000 hits by the time I came in Wednesday, and by 10 a.m. it was 20,000. Before noon it was almost 100,000, and by Wednesday night we had 600,000 hits."

So, you know, there's gotta be something of sociological import in the development, publication, and reception of the Elian Wazzup video. It's such a remarkable crystallization point of the Now of pop culture. The development points to how almost natural satire is becoming in modern discourse as a method of communicating ideas. The publication demonstrates the ease and speed with which fairly normal Joes can create and distribute their ideas. The reception illuminates the awesome capability of the internet to foment a literal overnight phenomenon (I must have received at least 4 links to the page... ). The cease-and-desist letter provides a classic example of how The Old Ways just won't work any more. Most delightfully, this is a story of how two schmucks were able to turn the government (Janet Reno's minions), the press (AP photo), and Big Corporations (Anheuser-Busch) on their heads with a bit of creative splicing. And don't forget, there are dot coms filled with venture capital and dozens of employees that would kill for those hit numbers.
You paying attention, Phil?

Little. Yellow. Puffy. Marshmallow Peeps® are given T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. project-like treatment. New for 2000: Fear response. Goofy kollidge kids with way too much free time on their hands. Strawberry Pop-Tart blow torches anyone?

Iron constitution. I'm sure you're all *fascinated* with my dietary intake. So far today I've had two bowls of Kellogg's® Corn Pops®, three Krispy Kreme® Original Glazed Yeast-Raised doughnuts, and an In-and-Out hamburger "animal style" (dig all those 'special' styles!) with fries and a Dr. Pepper.

April 26, 2000
Bobbing and weaving.
Betsy Martens, my new muse, points to Future Looms, a meditation on women, textiles, and computers, as an example of emotionally resonant information architecture.

April 23, 2000
Hoisted by your own Minard.
Tufte-ites are well-familiar with Charles Minard's famous graphic representation of Napoleon's March. Using new information visualization and manipulation techniques, folks at CMU have developed alternative ways of presenting the data. (Select one of the links under SAGE). Worth a clicksee.

April 22, 2000
Out of my control.
Sitting at the local coffeehouse, I'm surprised and pleased to hear Frank's Wild Years start up on their stereo. I bought that album after hearing "Cold Cold Ground" in the movie Leolo, and it's been a favorite ever since. It's as close to perfect as a record can be.

Humming along while I'm reading, the album progresses to "Innocent When You Dream," a song with an amazing power over me. Listening to it, I inevitably choke up. Tears begin to well. Tom Waits has composed and produced a song that bypasses my rationality and plays directly to my limbic system. The experience defines "melancholy." When I lived in New York, after breaking up with a girlfriend, I had that song stuck in my head for a week. It was an oddly exquisite torture.

April 20, 2000
Oooh, that smarts!
Bicycling to lunch today, I rode over a wooden plank covering a groove in the asphalt. Exactly what happened next is a blur, as my front tire pops off causing my handlebars to tilt down throwing me forward as I land on my stomach the wind knocked out of me and my whole body dully sore. Laying there awhile I slowly regain my composure make sure that I'm not wounded or broken stumble back home with a bike with a broken front wheel.

I came away largely unscathed, just some scratches and abrasions and soreness in my stomach muscles. I suspect I'll pay for this tomorrow.

Whenever I get in such a scrape (as a bicyclist, it happens a few times a year, though rarely this dramatically), I recall the line from Drugstore Cowboy, "There's nothing more life-affirming than getting the shit kicked outta ya'."

April 19, 2000
Genuflect, genuflect, genuflect.
A top-notch feature on the (still alive!) Tom Lehrer.

Spacetime-waster. Jason points us to this fabulous little Java applet.

April 17, 2000
Experience design. Thanks to Jorn, I've been sifting through archived articles on Gamasutra, a remarkably intelligent resource on video game design. I've been particularly taken with "Environmental Storytelling", from a conceptual designer who has worked in both theme park and video game design.

RIP, Edward Gorey. My parents owned Amphigorey and Amphigorey Too, and as an inquisitive child riffling through our bookshelves, I was inevitably drawn to the books--they had pictures! I read and re-read such favorites as The Beastly Baby, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, The Chinese Obelisks, The Pious Infant, The Hapless Child. I didn't know from 'perverse,' then, and simply thought the stories were fun (well, except The Unstrung Harp, which I didn't 'get' until I was an adult). If I were ever to get a tattoo, it would likely be of the Doubtful Guest, his red-and-white scarf blowing behind him, his sneakered-feet pointing in opposite directions. Gorey's delicately macabre tales (well, I suppose Kate's death wasn't so delicate) proved an essential element in the formation of my sensibilities--a treasure I'll happily pass along to my children.

April 14, 2000
My point, exactly.
Um, what's the 'information architecture' of Napster?

April 13, 2000
An epiphany.
So, (I wonder how many of these things I start with "So,") I presented at the mentally invigorating Defining Information Architecture conference. In an attempt to tie together some thoughts triggered by previous speakers, I eschewed my prepared talk in favor of an extemporaneous thoughtwander on the dynamism of information. To whit:

You have to be careful to about too closely associating information architecture with its namesake, architecture. By and large, an architect's product is a fixed entity. This means the architect can design and develop it in a studio and simply pass it on to the owner.

[Side note: To be more specific, I should say that architect's design their products as fixed entities, though, as Stewart Brand's brilliant How Buildings Learn points out, the owners of the buildings continue to tailor them to meet their needs.]

Unfortunately, agencies that practice information architecture take this approach, desiging "the best" information architecture and handing it off to clients. Given the always-changing nature of the Web, the information architect's product cannot be fixed--the IA can try to develop a stable structure in which content is poured, but even that needs to be highly flexible.

In his conference keynote, Lou Rosenfeld made a brief mention of how information architecture is far from being automated, because "you can't crack the IA nut until you've cracked the AI [artificial intelligence] nut." If information truly is dynamic, that makes the AI approach all the more difficult.

However, the Web provides access to another, and potentially more powerful, intelligence--social intelligence. [A search on "social intelligence" at Google turns up all kinds of interesting links, some of which suggests I'm improperly using an established term. Oh well. It also led me to Bruce Edmond's home page, which I'll want to revisit--tasty thoughts on 'socially situated intelligence.'] The information architecture of my current favorite site, Launch.com, is most relevant when based on the relationships between information as devised by the community of users. I don't need a classification scheme to find music I like--I simply need to find a few people whose tastes are similar.

[Granted, Launch.com's model won't help me perform directed research. But a social intelligence still bears on such tasks. Amazon's "People who bought ... also bought ..." makes meaningful relationships between information points, relationships likely not addressed in typical classifications.]

The dynamism of our information spaces are what makes megalithic hierarchies so fundamentally limiting. Not only does information change, but my relationship to that information changes, and trying to catalog it typically forces it into a lowest-common-denominator structure that serves no one by trying to serve everyone. This is why I go on about basic-level categories and heaps of metadata--by reducing information to its most basic level, we can build it back up on-the-fly depending on the user's context.

After I blathered about this stuff, there was a line of folks at the microphone, most of them wanting to cart me off for labeling librarians as fans of restrictive hierarchies (which I didn't do, but I think my ramble got misinterpreted). Then Betsy Martens came up to the mic, and in addressing my thoughts, uttered a phrase that caused me to see light break through the auditorium ceiling and illuminate her:

The calculus of information

At which point I stopped thinking.

Well, I stopped thinking in the moment. Look at that phrase. It's very powerful. And it so beautifully crystallizes what I was rambling about.

The calculus was developed because we live in a dynamic world, and the tools of the time, Cartesian coordinates and Euclidean geometry, were limited to describing static phenomena. Iin order to successfully model, monitor, and predict dynamism, new methods were required, methods to track the rate of change over time.

I think we're crossing that point with information spaces. We need to move away from the Cartesian-like models of information classification, and toward systems that allow us to better deal address this new hyper-fluidity.

April 10, 2000
The talk I didn't give.
So, I was slated to give a presentation at the ASIS conference last weekend. However, I couldn't let go a couple of statements from previous speakers, so I did an off-the-cuff riff on the dynamism of information and the utility of a social intelligence to classify and make relationships between different bits of information (subjects which I promise to address here soon). And I never got around to my presentation. So, here it is. Some of this will be familiar to regular readers.

Scattered Blast of Thoughts on Designing with Information

Blast One: Four Methods of Designing with Information

1. Data-Centered Design

  • Let the data ‘speak’
  • Tufte-esque design


Taken from: http://www.ddg.com/LIS/InfoDesignF96/Kelvin/Napoleon/map.html

    2. Editorial Design

    • Lead people through a process
    • Get them to a level of understanding


I was the IA on this project when I worked at Phoenix-Pop. Going to college is a fairly well-understood process. We modeled the information architecture after those discrete steps.

    3. Information Space Design

    • Supports search and retrieval
    • Creates an environment to wander, explore
    • Requires an understanding of how people understand data
    • Supports browsing

    4. User-Centered Design

    • Focus on users’ tasks, goals
    • Used for creating tools, applications Productivity

Blast Two: Classification Schemes

Overcome the tyranny of hierarchy

  • Megalithic top-down classification
  • As taxonomy expands, becomes unwieldy to traverse
  • Different people classify the world differently
  • Top-down: “This is how things are.”

Is there a bottom-up solution?

  • Basic-level categories – most immediately understandable to human perception
  • Assign attributes (metadata) and use that to create relationships
  • Allow people to personalize the information so it’s relevant to them

Blast Three: A model for development

I came up with this in my consultant days. It demonstrates how the agency model needs to change to encourage a two-way discussion from client to user (as opposed to older models (from advertising or graphic design), where the client simply sent messages to the user.

Here, an agency mediates the communication between the client and the user. The point was to emphasize the need for two advocates

The Client Advocate, aka the project manager, is a well-understood role. They translate the client's needs to the team.

The User Advocate, aka the information architect, is a new role. They translate the user's needs to the team and to the client advocate.

Naturally, there's a tension between the client's needs and user's needs, which is handled by the project manager and the information architect. This model developed somewhat organically, in that it came out of my realization that both PMs and IAs are both process junkies, and are often the two roles most in contact anyway.

April 6, 2000
Oh dear god.
I just listened to a voicemail from a recruiter. Looking for a creative art director. For an exciting company called "Broadvision."

April 5, 2000
Funny how it doesn't take much to highlight the meaninglessness of that over which we obsess.

All over the map. This weekend I'm attending a conference titled "Defining Information Architecture," where folks from the traditional library science world are beginning a dialogue with Web design types, trying to figure out what we can all learn from each other. Per usual, my thoughts are scattered. Trying to cohere notions of user-centered design vs. information-centered design. The single task of 'research' that librarians support, versus the multiple tasks that information architects address. The strengths and weaknesses of classification schemes. Etc.

April 3, 2000
What the heck *is* information architecture?
As increasing numbers attempt to define the discipline, Jesse throws his hat in the ring with this thoughtful one-pager on the discipline. [PDF document, Acrobat required]

A good place to start from, I'm looking forward to the dialogue it instigates. In order for information architecture (or whatever) on the Web to succeed, it must bridge the duality Jesse identifies--Web as software interface and Web as hypertext system. This isn't as easy as it might at first seem. Software tends to be far more task-driven--folks have goals they want to accomplish. Hypertext (and, more generally, publishing) is less focused. Even if you're doing research, hypertext isn't meant to drive you to a particular point--it's designed for exploration and discovery.

One site that bridges well is Launch.com. Their software interface is obvious--lots of clicking and rating and choosing going on. The thing is, it's an interface that causes the relationship of content--it essentially helps build meaningful hypertext. This is not unlike what we're attempting at Epinions. (A main drawback of both Launch and Epinions being neither allows users to make direct hyperlinks themselves. Oh <A HREF>, where art thou?)

A website that does what it should! Launch.com, and it's Launchcast application in particular, does not suck. It serves up some interesting musical selections I hadn't heard, based on things I've told it. The interface is fairly simple. There's a bit of a curve at the beginning. And it tends to crash too frequently. But it's what I've been listening to at work all day. Delightfully wide range of music available, too. No idea if it's worthwhile at 56k.