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September 30, 2000
Some thoughts to end the month.
So I'm reading Forward Through the Rearview Mirror: Reflections on and By Marshall McLuhan. It's perfect for folks like me, who haven't actually read the man's scholarly work, but want to understand what he said and the contexts in which he said it. It's also delightfully designed, juxtaposing bold thoughts with bold graphics to better bring points home.

I've just landed in the chapter titled "Medium is the Message," discussing McLuhan's thoughts on the forms of communication and the effects they have. The editor's notes point out that McLuhan was influenced by Harold Innis, whose books Empire and Communications and The Bias of Communication discuss how empires are shaped by their predominant media. Media that emphasize time (stone tablets, pre-literate speech) lead to organizations characterized by conservatism, hierarchy, and a devotion to the sacred. Space-based media (writing on paper, electronic media) foment highly secular organizations concerned with legal and political issues.

Clearly, the internet and Web take space-based media to what is perhaps its extreme. Newer readers of petermemes might not know of my fondness for David Weinberger's Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization, a newsletter predicated on the notion that:

The Web is doing to business organizations what it has done to documents.

Documents traditionally have a hierarchical structure (also known as an "outline") created by an author. Readers move through the hierarchy in the way the author intended. The outline may be quite complex and intricate.

The Web changes all that. The Web pounds documents into many small pieces, loosely joined. Now the reader decides the order in which she'll read the pages. The pages lose their context in the hierarchy. The author loses her position of central authority.

Now, take an outline, rotate it 90 degrees, and you have an organizational chart...another hierarchical structure that the Web -- in the form of intranets -- is pounding into many small pieces, loosely joined. (From here)

The potentially darker side of this equation is well-presented by Denise Caruso in her speech, Of Bonding and Bondage: Cult, Culture, and the Internet.

What does it all mean? Clearly, we're still figuring it out. McLuhan was very clear that, in media and communication, what's most important is not the content of the message, but the impact and affect the message has on its receivers. It recalls Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things--we develop categories not based on some inherent quality of the things categorized, but on how we interact with those things (obviously, the two are often related. but where they're not, the interaction, the use, is more important than the thing qua thing.)

This underlies my frustration with common information architecture practice, where the qualities of the thing are considered most important, and used to determine the structure of an information space. And why I'm particularly interested in social navigation and other methods and practices for understanding how people actually use the information offered them, and ways information spaces can adapt to such use.

September 29, 2000
Odd way to end my birthday week, but I'm in a bit of a foul and lethargic mood. Low motivation. Little black cloud over my head. Don't know why. Maybe not exercising enough. Or a biorhythm thing.

September 25, 2000
Oooh! Bonus!
For those who liked Being Mark Hurst (below), there's this. From Már Örlygsson, my most interestingly-named petermeme reader of which I know.

Ahem. Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday dear self-obsessed weenie, happy birthday to meeeee! (c)1963, Warner Communications.

I'm 28. A football score year.

September 24, 2000
Being Mark Hurst.

Customer experience. Customer experience! Customer experience customer experience customer experience. Customer experience customer. Experience. Customer!
Experience customer experience. Customer experience. Customer experience! Customer experience customer experience customer experience. Customer experience customer. Experience. Customer! Experience customer experience.

Spindly lines-n-labels navigation.
Fans of Thinkmap-like interfaces will dig ReferralWeb, a Java applet that visualizes the connections between people. The database is of researchers in aritificial intelligence and cognitive science. If you don't know any names to put in, start off with Donald Norman, George Lakoff, Rodney Brooks, and Marvin Minsky. I love how it finds and graphs the connections between any two researchers.

September 20, 2000
It turns out Mark Bernstein, mucky-muck at hypertext tool firm Eastgate, has a homepage. Some good leads to good thoughts there.

And XBlog points to the notes from the Social Navigation workshop at CHI 2000. Lots of tasty information on leveraging the use of spaces to help define their navigation--yummy self-organizing stuff. Some poking around lead to the Social Computing Program at some Swedish university. More yummy info. Too much yummy info. Getting bloated on yummy info.

And Kevin is letting us peek into his academic life. He links to the Web sites for all his courses, including User Interface Design, Prototyping, and Evaluation CS 160 - Fall 2000. Professor Landay has been good enough to post lecture plans and notes for the world to see. I <heart> the Web!

More on TiVo and marketing. Word is that ReplayTV's ad campaign features a scenario similar to the one I suggested previously, though with baseball instead of football. Replay's site is smart not to stress anything about programming your own "personal tv network" and instead focus on the simple thrills of pausing live TV.

September 18, 2000
Reality Distortion.
Both the National Organization of Women and a coalition of organizations representing minorities are dogging Nader as being oblivious to their concerns. From what I can gather, they're upset that Nader doesn't pay enough lip service to women's and race issues. Never mind that Women's Issues and Racism are addressed in his platform. Never mind that most of Nader's candidacy issues touch these concerns. Never mind that the Democratic Party will basically sell women and minorities down the river in the interest of corporate greed. What matters is that Nader isn't pandering to their desire to be pandered to. Sigh.

TiVo's misguided ad campaign. Everyone I know who owns TiVo loves it. If I had cable television, I'd buy it in a second. I mean, it's super-cool--it's easy to record programs, you can "pause" live television, you can eradicate TV ads, and, perhaps niftiest of all, the box begins learning your TeeVee tastes, and automatically records shows and movies that it thinks might be of interest.

TiVo has blitzed the Bay Area (and probably a number of other markets) with TV ads about their service. There are currently two in rotation, Network Execs, and Cops. The latter ad is simply kinda dumb, and I'll ignore it here. The former ad's premise, that ordinary viewers at home can program their own TV network, is a tellingly misguided attempt at selling the service.

Normally, I wouldn't bother critiquing ads in depth. But the off-the-mark qualities of the TiVo campaign reveal a lack of understanding that permeates the internet industry. Namely, that people want to do work. That people will invest significant effort in a thing if the payoff is significant enough.

That's simply not true. People HATE work. I hazard to guess that the notion of "programming your own TV network" frightens off more potential viewers than it seduces. It offers no obvious benefits over the VCR. It's a symptom of that product-killing syndrome, Being Too Clever For Your Own Good. The folks who run TiVo are smart. They're ad agency is probably also smart. They're clever people who love the cleverness of their device, and think others will, too.

They're wrong. If TiVo wanted to watch their sales increase tenfold, they'd have a TV ad, shown during football games, of guys watching a football game, and some incident interrupts an amazing Hail Mary pass, and the guys pause the game, deal with the incident, and then continue as if nothing happened. Couch potatoes across the country would spit up their beer, and Circuit City wouldn't be able to keep it in stock.

There's an analogy here in a technology many petermeme readers are familiar with: Blogger. Blogger began as an afterthought of the Pyra collaborative workspace engine. (Sippey's got a great review of Pyra, the technology). But Pyra is Work. It's Clever, probably Too Damned Clever For It's Own Good. Blogger is god-awful simple. Dumb as dirt. And quite popular. As Meg put it in an email to me, discussing Pyra's (the company) history:

"We stubbornly stuck with Pyra App on and off until about May of this year. We kept wanting to build that. The market kept clamoring for Blogger. The users saw what they wanted and we finally decided to listen....

Young visionary web kids who get it come up with visionary plans for how the web should/could work. Unfortunately, explaining that to the rest of the world is nigh on impossible. And scaling back the vision so that it becomes something a VC in Texas can comprehend results in a boring product no one wants to build.

It's why we shied away from Blogger for so long. It's too simple, we said. It's so obvious, we said. People could do this on their own, why do they need us, we said. But we forget that we're months (perhaps years) ahead of the market, of the average consumer, of the type of thing most VCs still want to fund..."

The market taught Pyra something TiVo (and anyone in this space) should learn.

September 14, 2000
Picture of me.
Dancing. Dig that crazy shirt! (Which I blame on an "island" theme. Ahem.). Oh, and picture taken by ginzu.

3-D drawing for the masses! Stink pointed me to Teddy, a Java applet where you sketch in 2-D, and it fairly intelligently turns that sketch into a 3-D render. Simple and powerful. Also supports a number of gestures for altering the sketch.

Chatting about narrative. An email found in my inbox alerted me to the forthcoming Hypertext, Narrative, Image, Flash roundtable/workshop (not a conference!) occurring Veteran's Day weekend in Boston. It sounds right up the alley of peterme readers. From the announcement:

The role of narrative in the Web experience is a pressing concern throughout the Web world, from entertainment to ecommerce. How can we manage the narrative experience in the presence of both interaction and animation?

We hope to bring together a small group of leading writers, designers, and theoreticians to define (and extend) the state of the art in an intense weekend roundtable and workshop.

Actual data? God forbid! Prompted by a rather puerile discussion on the effect of download times on the user experience (prompted in turn by a puerile column on Infoworld on this topic, which was in turn prompted by a puerile "study" conducted by Zona Research--never trust a "study" that doesn't actually tell you how they get their data), a CHI-Web listmember pointed to some actual worthwhile research, a study titled Quality is in the Eye of the Beholder: Meeting Users' Requirements for Internet Quality of Service [Word .doc]. It suggests that users are willing to tolerate a long time of page-load latency, as long as the page is loading incrementally. Interesting stuff.

Campers and Bloggers. So, tpodd is discovering that Camper shoes are quite popular among the blog kids. I love my pair. SO COMFY. If you blog and wear Campers, let him know.

September 12, 2000
Psssst. Buddy--wanna model?
Jodi Forlizzi presents a number of theories of experience in product design. Lots of pretty colored drawings. A must-have for the XBlog, eh, Bill?

Get back to work! Instead of toiling in my info-mines, tpodd (designer on my team here at Epinions) has been, you know, thinking. Most recently, he's been having trouble finding a grad school that satisfies his desires. Previously, he ruminated on interaction design, and how frustrating the Web is for interaction designers, but how promising the world of wireless is.

September 10, 2000
Dave Winer has posted yet another graphic from a site not his own and doesn't mention the source. I love it when people appropriate imagery, but I hate when they don't give credit. Thanks for listening.
[Note: Dave wrote to me that he credited the graphic the following day. Which he did. With a little link totally unrelated to the graphic. And, really, I'm just annoyed at his comment about Rebecca's fab weblog history.]
[Later note: At 4pm on Sep 11, two days after he first posted the graphic, I received this email:

From: Dave Winer
Subject: It's even worse than it appears
If you click on the graphic it takes you to the site.

I guess HE SHOWED ME! Not that I have a clue about what's "even worse than it appears."]

Packaged thoughts. I've written up my research on the etymology of the word "poontang." Of particular interest is that it features the complete lyrics to the song that started it all--lyrics that undoubtedly point to its dessert-ness.

Shilling for others. eFriend™ Todd Levin (perhaps best known to peterme readers as the coiner of the "shut-the-fuck-up bullets" meme), asks us for some support for his new super secret project. Todd needs your high school photographs. You should do what Todd asks. He sold a Cool Site of the Year award on eBay. Then you should read his No Exit, Part II. A must for existentialists everywhere.

September 6, 2000
So maybe I overreacted a bit...
in my snarky comment on September 3. But it really bugs me when people trivialize rape by associating it with that with which it has nothing to do. She qualified the statement, but you can't even breathe the word 'rape' without it having some effect. I mean, yes, of course the whole help-me-get-laid stunt was dumb, but that's really all it was.

Anyway, gosh and golly, but I've been a busy bee. This isn't a real update, and there probably won't be one for a bit.

I've read The Humane Interface and recommend it highly. It could turn out to be a very important text for interaction designers. Lots (and lots) more thoughts later, when I'm out of this work hole.

I'm reading Down and Out in Paris and London and recommend it highly. I was pointed to it after expressing my enjoyment of Kitchen Confidential, as Orwell describes the seedy underbelly of restaurant/hotel work in Paris quite vividly.

I'm volunteering for Ralph Nader. I'll be on 18th Street in Potrero Hill this Sunday. Stop by. I've never campaigned for anyone or anything before.

I'm working. Work work work.

September 3, 2000
Thank goodness for eternal vigilance.
What would we do if smart right-thinking people didn't tell us how to react?

Good new month.

peterme through the hole of a Krispy Kreme donut.
Taken by Ryan Sims.

Guess what--comics! The best of the recent spate of Scott McCloud interviews is this lengthy one at PopImage. I first became familiar with one of the interviewers, Albert Boime, through his amazing lecture/presentation/explanation of Van Gogh's Starry Night on a Voyager CD-ROM.

San Franciscans (and those visiting) might be excited to know that comics geniuses Dan Clowes and Chris Ware will be interviewed by book jacket designer extraordinaire Chip Kidd at the Cartoon Art Museum on September 16. The event is free, but seating is limited and there are no advance reservations--looks like it's camping out time. Anybody else interested in joining me?