Noted with minimal comment. This
was found in my referers. I honestly don't know why.
Not just a bunch of pixel-pushers. Kaizo
Labs, the folks what create Captain Low-Rez, have started a slashdot-like
which pointed me to an
article on Stephen Wolfram and his research in cellular automata
(an interest to those studying complexity.) To read later. No time
page from the enarrative
conference has a bunch of tasty books and websites to peruse
on topics of hypertexts, narrative, design, etc. Among them is a
link to Captain
Low-Rez, who has a second pixelated-and-speech-synthesizered
adventure for you!.
design, design. Jay
Cross has put together an impressive
and thoughtful page on various forms and principles of design
(instruction, UI, graphic, information architecture, software, industrial),
with lots of good quotes and links to worthwhile material.
There's nothing wrong with Epinions.
So, in my naivete, I didn't realize that when I announced that I
was leaving Epinions.com, many, if not most, assumed that the company
must be having problems, because of 'the market' and all that. Well,
rest assured, Epinions is doing just fine. In fact, in the next
couple of months Epinions will be on the soundest footing it's had
since I began. I've been extremely pleased to see how Epinions has
weathered the 'tough times' in the market. I credit that to the
fact that the essential vision has never wavered, and that the people
in charge actually know what they're doing.
for simple reasons--I seek more freedom in my personal life. I want
more than 2 weeks vacation a year. I don't want to feel obligated
to sit in an office 40 hours a week. Etc. It's nothing about the
company. I wish I could continue vesting! But these are the decisions
little buggers. So I'm thoroughly enjoying The
Best American Science Writing 2000, edited by James Gleick
(which I bought because it features essays from Timothy Ferris and
The Onion, among others), and I've just finished an article by entomologist
M. Gordon on ant colonies, which she has found to exhibit principles
of decentralized self-organization in their operation. Nifty stuff.
Unfortunately, she doesn't seem to have published anything on the
Web. However, asearch on Google
turned up a number of results: The members of the Gordon
Lab (who knew entomologist chicks could be so cute!
Next thing you know, I'll discover that librarians are sexy!); an
interview with Gordon
on FEED; an article
on her research, and differences with others in the field.
I'm leaving Epinions. November
30 is my last day. I will return to independent pastures, reclaiming
my status as a 'free agent' in the 'new economy.' Actually, I'm
thinking of calling myself an 'interaction ronin.'
email me if you got work!
My dad posted a thoughtful note in the QuickTopic
discussion on the county-by-county vote counts.
An interesting aspect of this discussion is the seemingly clear
emergence of another two Americas: the crowded America with stressed
out citizens looking for Big Daddy solutions for their problems,
and the less crowded Americans who like the feel of a more local,
hands-ons control of their situation.
I guess the real challenge for effective political leadership
would lie in helping these two Americas understand each other
a little better in an effort to unite their respective needs and
goals towards the reformation of one great America. Is there anyone
currently trying to do that?
This statement is particularly
trenchant given articles like
this, which colors the red "Us" and the blue "Them".
Sweet, sweet justice. Back in March, presidential candidate
Gore defied the Clinton Administration by supporting legislation
to grant resident status to Elian Gonzalez' father. This oily
wrong-headed maneuver was designed to curry favor in Florida, already
recognized as an electoral crux. It also demonstrated Gore's unprincipled
politically mercenary behavior.
out, it additionally showed his utter idiocy in calculating political
paper reports Cuban-Americans protesting Gore's request for recounts:
"We're getting even," said Angelo Gonzalez, 59, a Cuban immigrant
carrying the famous photo of Elian being seized by an armed FBI
agent, but with Clinton's image superimposed over the agent's
face. "We are giving the Democrats their medicine now. They are
suffering for it."
So not only did Gore's
March statement cause him to lose favor with level-headed Americans
sick of his political posturing. It did nothing to gain him support
among the community he courted, whose collective memory is limited
to "Democrats = Bad." And people call Gore intelligent?
it, information foraging style. "Surf
Like a Bushman", gives a good overview of information foraging,
a theory in development at Xerox PARC on how people find information.
information foraging page at PARC comes this definition:
Information foraging theory is an approach to the analysis of
human activities involving information access technologies. It
aims to provide an understanding of how strategies and technologies
for information seeking, gathering, and consumption are adapted
to the flux of information in the environment. Much of the work
is inspired by optimal foraging theory in biology and anthropology,
which analyzes the adaptive value of food-foraging strategies.
The theory focuses analysis on how the user gains value from
interaction and the cost of that interaction. Adaptive behaviors
and technologies are ones that have superior value in relation
to cost (e.g. time). We use the theory to understand human-computer
interaction, and to develop new design and engieering models.
One of the things I most
love is the degree of ethnography which has gone into developing
the theory. One of the things I least love is that the theory's
developers seem to suffer from the "Social sciences are real
sciences, too!" syndrome, wherein they load their otherwise
informative articles with charts, graphs, and equations that don't
really elucidate the concepts; seemingly, it's there just to make
the research more 'solid.' Anyway, this 84-page
report on information foraging (PDF) is probably the single
best document on the subject.
I'm interested in information
foraging because it addresses the problems I've had in understanding
how people use sites like Epinions. Typical user testing and
are fine for document-creation interfaces, but are insufficient
when the interface is super simple (as it is for most Web sites),
and where people's impetus for action is the content. Information
foraging attempts to address this. The theory is still quite raw,
and I'm not sold on its efficacy, but at least these folks are asking
the right questions.
The paper, "The
Scent of a Site: A System for Analyzing and Predicting Information
Scent, Usage, and Usability of a Web Site," (PDF) provides
a thoughtful discussion on applying the theory to the Web.
History-Rich Tools for Information Foraging," (PDF)discusses
how time can be factored into the life of digital artifacts, and
used to enhance finding quality information.
I found the previous
a page on ResearchIndex,
a library that utilizes a number of interesting features, including
'similar documents', 'active bibliography', and 'users who viewed
this document also viewed.', as well as a linked list of the works
cited in the paper (wherein, when you click on a cited link, you
can find other papers that cite that work). Lots of delightful wandering.
Oh, and you'll see references
to "the scent of information" all throughout information
foraging discussions. This notion has been popularized
by Jared Spool.
However, it seems that Jared has so drastically oversimplified the
notion that he's bastardized it into meaninglessness. And since
he's the one that's made it popular, he's harmed the utility of
the phrase. All for the sake of selling presentations with catchy
titles about Smelly Web Sites. Sigh.
My apologies. For subjecting you to that photo above the fold
all weekend long. Anyway, we now present a little True Life Interlude:
mind if I read?"
not at all. I think Reading is Fundamental!"
know, you put the 'fun' in 'fundamental.'"
I put the 'mental' in 'fundamental.'"
well I put the 'duh' in 'fundamental.'"
stolen from the NYTimes.
Data viz. Tpodd
went one step further and combined visualizations
of black and "hispanic" (census term, sorry) distributions
with the county-by-county electoral map. It makes the case bloody
obvious about voting along race lines. Interesting how African-Americans
have collected along those highway swaths in the south.
is closing down. Long-time petermeme
readers know I've been a fan of the store's design--one of the few
retail establishments that really 'got it' from the end-user perspective.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said for how they operated the
business. As you continue to hear tales of site closings and numerous
layoffs, you start to think, "What happened?"
From my perspective in
this industry, it seems quite clear--companies hired too many people.
A year ago this time, every startup was obsessed with ramping up
and swelling their staff numbers. This lead to an extremely tight
market, inflated salaries, and, frankly, a lack of focus. (It's
hard to get your job done when you're recruiting all day.) But the
companies hadn't figured out what to do with all these people. I
mean, what on earth was Evite
doing with 69 employees? Evite should be 5 folks with some PHP and
a MySQL database. Evite is a glorified web page maker. It's a useful
one, but not 69-employees useful.
The same thing seemed
to happen all over. It was as if the goal of the new economy were
simply to hire as many people as possible--through sheer mass your
company would dominate. (Dominate what? If companies had spent half
the energy in defining a vision they spent in ramping up, this might
have been averted.)
Lucky companies have
been able to shed their staff and survive. Unlucky companies have
been sunk by the ballast of deadweight. Who to blame? Well, there
was definitely a simple market hysteria--everyone else was doing
it, so you should, too.
But word is a lot of
blame falls on VC's shoulders. VC's, in a desire to take companies
public as quickly as possible, encouraged swelling staff numbers
to suggest serious business. When the IPO thing soured, companies
were filled with hundreds of people who really didn't have a whole
lot to do. VC's, then, seem to have shrugged their shoulders and
moved on. For all their talk of 'partnering' with their investments,
there's a lot to suggest
that's a load of hooey.
November 14, 2000
Little update. I'd hoped to post about some research I'd done,
but I'm feeling way out of it today. For those following this county-by-county
map stuff, tpodd added to the
a revealing post concerning ethnic/minority distribution and how
it maps to the polling results. And there's a thread
on Metafilter concerning results maps that references the infamous
Southern 'swath.' Heather's 'solution' made me laugh out loud.
November 13, 2000
Highways, the new rivers. In the discussion
of what lead to the voting patterns mentioned in the previous post,
it's come up that those swaths are likely along interstate highway
lines. So, I've updated the map
notes (new URL) mentioning the interstates that seem to be in
play. I suppose it's obvious, but I'd never thought before how interstate
highways are the new rivers, the means by which commerce flows,
leading to encampments developing on their banks. Did the architects
of the interstate system get this in the 50s? Was it factored into
Simply having highways
in those areas doesn't explain why they voted Democratic... There
are many interstate swaths that are decidedly Republican. But, clearly,
like people have found one another gathered along these corridors.
My favorite quote from
the discussion comes from the irrepressible, incorrigible, Mike
Monteiro: "Overlay it with a Starbucks map. It's all becomes
clear." Oh, and if you're into design, and funny stuff, and
stuff, you should check out his
November 12, 2000
Voting patterns. This map
shows the presidential polling results, county-by-county. A lot
is being made of Gore=urban, Bush=everything else. The map reveals
some telling geographic patterns, though what causes those patterns
isn't always clear. I've marked
up the map (with E-Quill) and I'd love your take on what's going
on. The Mississippi River voting bloc is obvious (higher population
density --> Democrat), but I can't tell if the other two swaths
I circled have any geographic coherence, or are simply random. If
you have thoughts, please
share them here.
November 10, 2000
Election thoughts, natch. Though not about that damn ballot. It
amuses me that Democrats are angry with Nader. As a Democrat who
voted for Nader, I'm not angry. It puzzles me that people thought
that if the election were close, Nader would withdraw, throwing
his votes to Gore (and many have reported Nader said he'd do that,
though, of course, there's no direct evidence that he ever said
such a thing.) If Nader were to have withdrawn, then *I'd* be angry.
Because Nader stood for my beliefs--Gore sure didn't.
It saddens me that people
are so distracted by the small issues to not get the bigger picture.
It perplexes me that they don't get the bigger picture, because
the bigger picture, at heart, is so simple.
should not rule government.
That's all that Nader
was campaigning on. Does it make any sense that Bill Gates has more
power than you or I simply because he's been able to sell
more products? What kind of mandate is that? Money should let you
buy nice things, sure. But it ought not let you sway politics, especially
to the degree it does now.
Yes, politics have always
been entwined with money. But, at least 40-60 years ago, there was
a recognition that the 'will of the people' was a valid concern,
and often at odds with the will of the monied. That understanding
seems to have vanished. To the point, I suspect, where people are
so used to the system we're in, they can't see it's flaws--it just
That, simply, is Nader's
message, and all of his platforms flow from there. It's not about
the single issues. It's about the heart of the matter.
In other news.
One of the silly things about all this presidential hoo-hah is that
it's overshadowing the elections that do matter--city, county, and
state politics. We are all far more affected by local government
than we ever will be by the White House. And, happily, in San Francisco
and California we voted remarkably sensibly. In SF, we told King
Willie and money-grubbing developers to go fuck themselves over
K, we told the taxi lobbyists to go fuck themselves as they
tried to grab
more power, and our supervisor elections favored people not
in King Willie's pockets. And never let them tell your vote doesn't
count: remarkably, we have a proposition
where the difference is 7 votes, or .002% of those who voted.
In the state of California,
we've voted to treat, not prosecute, drug users, and shot
down the evil that is school vouchers.
So, yeah, my guy might
not have gotten his 5%, but I can't really be upset about this election.
November 9, 2000
Blah blah ballot blah blah. Is it okay if I don't chime in with
my take on the Palm Beach ballot? Thanks.
November 8, 2000
Sometimes a blog is just a blog. In the latest issue of The
New Yorker is "You've Got Blog," Rebecca Mead's piece
on Meg and Jason
and the cult of blogging. Apart from the repeated shock brought
on by seeing a
word I coined gain cachet in America's leading literate magazine
(I don't mean to be immodest... it really is just weird), I was
happy that Mead captured the story well. Whenever I've read an article
on something about which I know well, the journalist usually screws
up royally. This wasn't the case here.
In explaining to the
uninformed what a blog is, Mead writes, "Having a blog is rather
like publishing your own, on-line version of Reader's Digest, with
daily updates: you troll the Internet, and, when you find an article
or a Website that grabs you, you link to it..." Though, she
later acknowledges that "most of the new blogs are, like Megnut,
intimate narratives rather than digests of links and commentary..."
And, in so doing, points up the issue of defining blogs by way of
analogy, or metaphor.
Still, I've become increasingly
of the mindset that blogs are an important new phenomenon.
I think there is a new form of communication/publishing taking place.
It's not necessarily about annotated links, or diary entries, or
whatnot. It's simply about putting form to thought and getting it
out there. The omnipresence of the internet allows for the publishing
of thought pretty much *as it occurs*. This is new. This is exciting.
People all over the world, going about their business, have something
occur to them. In moments they can simply *put it out there*. Whatever
"it" is. This is a notion that seems obvious when you look at it,
but I don't think the blogging phenomenon has ever been discussed
in this way.
Many will grouse at this
notion. "Oh great. The Web is a morass of unfiltered crap."
True. But. It also allows for a delightfully raw dissemination of
ideas, some of which could prove powerful. As always, readers need
to figure out the landscape for themselves.
Oh, and this week's The
New Yorker, is another stellar issue. Apart from the blog piece,
there's an informative look at fibromyalgia, and a revealing feature
on George Kennan, the 'architect' of Cold War containment. I'm in
the middle of a report on teaching Shakespeare to Chinese students,
and there are many pages left to go. This magazine floors me.
November 6, 2000
IA2000 aftermath. Peter Morville's written up his
notes on IA2000, which include links to all the presentations
given. IA2000 was a content-rich conference, and all the information
is worth checking out.
Of particular note to
folks in SF and NY (or those willing to travel there for work):
Y'all should register for the fantabulous
"Synonyms and Taxonomies" one-day seminar. It's surprising
how little those of us who call ourselves information architects
actually know about very basic methods for structuring information.
Pump up the volume!
The Nov 1 petermeme on volume controls spurred
a few emails. (God, I need to switch to Blogger so I can have people
make comments...) Jesse made an
argument in support of horizontal sliders--the anatomy of a human
wrist means it's physically easier to move a mouse left-to-right
than up-and-down. He wonders if our linguistic and visual metaphors
are necessarily linked. Stephen Judd wrote in to say, "Possibly
another benefit to physical volume knobs is that they evoke taps
(or faucets, if you're American :). Gushing flow = loud volume."
In thinking about this
further, I remembered what is perhaps the most important volume-control
interface--the mixing board. Unlike a stereo, there's no limit to
the space devoted to manipulating the interface for optimal effect.
And, lo and behold, we've got vertical sliders, which, on a mixing
board, can be as precisely set as a volume knob on a stereo. And
which, I argue, map better to how we think about loudness.
Stop and listen. So,
thanks to Napster, I've discovered the song "I'll Come Running,"
off of Brian Eno's Another Green World. It's an amazing track.
I can't stop singing it. I'm listening to it endlessly. It's compositionally
lush, lyrically oblique, and the refrain ("I'll come running
to tie your shoes") makes me smile. And now it's peterme.com's
first MP3 offering. "I'll
Come Running" (3.6 MB)
Dude, I see trails!
Scott McCloud's latest "I
Can't Stop Thinking" column discusses the use of 'trails,'
the graphic elements he uses to connect panels in the new ZOT!
comic. It's perhaps the best piece so far in his series.
Double Dutch. DeLijst
is a nifty collection of UI and IA resources. Though in Dutch, it's
not too hard to make one's way around.
More patterns. Jeff addresses patterns in Web design in his
The Future Web presentation. (Powerpoint only). His interest
in patterns is toward building a componentized/modular interface
everywhere. Nadav has a post
about his frustration with multiple pattern languages for UIs.
is my fave link for UI pattern languages: )
It made me wonder if a lot of people share Nadav's frustration.
See, the thing is, the point of pattern languages isn't to come
up with The Pattern Language. Christopher Alexander is explicit
about this--that's why the book is titled A Pattern Language.
The point of pattern languages is more about the form of pattern
languages--it's a useful tool for constructing your own language
to suit whatever needs you have.
At a roundtable he gave at Web98 West, Nick
Ragouzis wisely called into question the utility of pattern
languages for UI. His main concern was that we not codify solutions
so early in the development of this discipline. Architectural patterns
evolved over hundreds of years, and it's not as if even Alexander's
language is 'the solution.'
November 3, 2000
Hip Hop Air. So, circumstances of late have lead me to research
flights on Northwest Airlines. Not knowing any better, I typed in
"northwest.com", which isn't the right site. I then typed
"northwestairlines.com", which redirected me to "nwa.com".
Which made me laugh, because this
is the first thing I think of when I think of "NWA."
November 1, 2000
Conceptual metaphors in interface design. So, I've decided to
excerpt from my What Makes an Interface
Communicate talk the bit about volume knobs.
Volume knobs have obsessed
me since I learned about conceptual metaphor in reading Metaphors
We Live By. A common conceptual metaphor is that the Future
is Ahead and the Past is Behind. We "look ahead" to tomorrow
and we "put behind" what happened yesterday. It seems
so natural to say so, it's not obvious that it doesn't have to be
that way. These conceptual metaphors can play a powerful role in
interface design, where we're often trying to give form to the abstract.
Following are four volume-setting
interfaces. Which is most appropriate?
||WinAmp (It's the
slider with yellow behind it)
Quicktime has that delightful
thumbwheel. WinAmp and MediaPlayer feature left to right sliders.
The Windows control panel offers a vertical slider.
Which makes the most
"Crank it up!"
"Turn that down!"
Volume is Up or Down.
Only one of the widgets allows you to interact with volume in that
fashion. The Media Player is clever with the inset triangle being
higher to the right, suggesting louder. WinAmp's slider changes
color (from green (soft) to red (loud), I think), but those colors
are pretty meaningless outside the system. And let's not even bother
going on about the Quicktime debacle, shall we?
An interesting point
raised in the talk is how we think of *interacting* with volume
as crank or turn. This is a legacy with volume knobs. Why do stereos
have knobs? Not because knobs make sense in a metaphorical way--why
does clockwise mean 'loud'? Knobs make sense in an ergonomic way--it's
the input device that allows for the highest degree of precision.
I've used stereos with vertical slider controls, and you spend a
lot of time lightly tap-tapping them up and down to get them just
Maybe that's an excuse
for the Quicktime thumbwheel?
The interaction with
the thumbwheel is so awkward (click and hold and drag up a bit and
let go and roll back down to the buttom and click and hold and drag
up a bit again, etc. etc.) that the designer responsible should
be put in stocks and have RSI-preventive devices tossed at him/her.
Verrry scarrry stuff!
So, a search on Google for "scare quotes" turned up
this delightful link: About
Scare Quotes, from The Dialectics of Scare Quotes and Hyperlinks.
Lots on philosophy, philosophers (Hegel, Derrida, Wittgenstein),
and, of course, "scare quotes."
So, I was asked to give a talk on "What
Makes an Interface Communicate?" for Web2000. At first
I didn't think I was going to do anything particularly interesting,
but somehow (lots of coffee and the benefit of good books on interface
design lying around the house) I put something together that doesn't
suck. Like the previous presentation I posted, there's a Powerpoint
and HTML version, but the HTML is no doubt IE-specific.
Anyway, since I was taking
someone else's title (I was subbing for another presenter), the
talk ended up being more of a riff on what makes an interface communicate
(as opposed to some thought out, reasoned discourse on the topic).
Lots of sources cited, and a nifty slide comparing volume knobs.
Really. Volume knobs are fascinating. Maybe I'll talk about them