January 2006

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Good luck to Lou Rosenfeld’s new enterprise: Rosenfeld Media – Publisher of user experience design books. If anybody can make this kind of thing happen, Lou can.

There’s also an excellent interview with Lou about his venture over at Boxes & Arrows.

Evidently, my proposal to this year’s IA Summit has been accepted. Now comes the tough part of actually having a presentation.

I have plenty of stuff to present on … that’s just the problem. The challenge is getting it all winnowed down into something coherent and useful.

The conference organizers say I need to have my presentation materials to them by 2/1 so they can go onto the CD-ROM. But my PP decks usually have a lot of filler that only makes sense with the verbal narrative — so it may make more sense to provide an abstract, an outline, bibliography/links to research, and a link to a page here where people can download the latest-greatest if they so please.

Here’s the final version of the proposal/description (which I’m not sure if I got in on time, so this may not be identical to the actual conference info):

Clues to the Future: What the users of tomorrow are teaching us today.

What might Wikipedia have in common with World of Warcraft? And how might that affect design and business strategy today?

According recent academic and business research, there is an enormous wave of people on its way to adulthood that may very well take us by surprise. And while many designers may be aware of this, we still face the challenge of making it clear to our clients and stake-holders.

Beyond the hype and more obvious implications of the “net generation” are key questions that affect how business and design plan for the future. For example: the shift from hierarchical to nodal paradigms; the rise of new kinds of literacy (and authority); the blurring boundaries between ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ economies; the splintering of identity; and users who, frankly, expect your web environment to be as well designed as the best games on their X-Boxes.

It’s important not to focus on the surface gadgetry, but to understand what is different about how these users think, how they solve problems and manage resources, how they socialize and organize, and how vastly different it may be from the assumed conventions of most business and design decision-makers (i.e. people born before 1985).

This presentation will:

1. Survey some of the current research and insights on the issue;
2. Explore some of the more challenging theoretical questions raised;
3. Discuss the practical business and design implications of those questions; and
4. Suggest how those implications might help make stronger cases for innovative design.

Hopefully this won’t just be a retread of stuff people already know. The basic theme is that by studying how the net generation uses things like social networks and multiplayer game environments, we can see what their mental models are going to be like when they’re full-fledged adult users.

This theme may sound obvious to many… but I haven’t heard much of a call for looking to these sources for planning business and design strategy for the near term.

If it takes most coporations about five years to get any truly ambitious technology shift into a mature state (and that’s if they’re in the quick crowd), why not go ahead and think about what that mature state should be once seventeen-year-olds are starting their careers? There’s amazing research and theory-making going on about online games, especially. They seem to me to be perfect laboratories, e-petri dishes, for seeing how an electronically mediated community (and that specialized community — the market economy) functions.

Here’s a separate page where I’ll be keeping info about it, links to related articles and research, and the final version of the presentation (eventually).

In an article from the February 2006 issue of Esquire (that’s unfortunately not online), David Childs, the architect for the “Freedom Tower” to be built on the old WTC site, has this to say about the role of the architect:

“The client’s role, whether it’s a museum board or an individual who wants to create something and gets involved, is a critical factor in the ultimate result of what we do. Unlike a painter or a sculptor … we do it through all sorts of strange smoke and mirrors and all that other stuff. You have to be persuasive to get your way. And the best way to do that is not a head-on fight, but to develop your arguments, and any way you can get there is ok.
… People want to have the architect seen as an individual artist doing his sculptural form. I’m much more pragmatic … I believe that the fascination of the program, and solving the problem, is part of architecture. First of all, you’ve got to do that — and then you’ve got to make it beautiful, rather than making the sculpture and then cramming stuff into it.”

Evidently there was also a Frontline episode about Childs, his firm, and the WTC project.

Benjamin Franklin
I almost missed the chance to wish Benjamin Franklin happy birthday. 300 years young.
I had no idea how important the guy was, or how influential and famous he was in his own day, until I recently read several books about the revolutionary generation (Founding Brothers, etc.). Or, I should say, I knew he was very important, of course — but he turned out to be a much bigger deal than I realized. He was one of the most famous men in Europe in his time, and was almost solely responsible for lending intellectual and cultural credibility to the new US.
When I pass his grave in Philadelphia, I always smile. There he is, the great man, lying right there. What’s cool is that people toss pennies onto his grave (homage to “a penny saved is a penny earned”) and it’s right across the road from the US Mint, where they make pennies.
Ben… I would tell you to rest well. But we need your ghost kicking some people in the pants right now. So get to it.

Why is Internet Explorer unsafe? § Browse Happy

This Browse Happy site is sort of like the Apple Switchers mashed with a hippy version of “Just Say No.” But it’s effective, I guess.

I know so many people whose computers have become swamped by spyware, adware, and other system-crippling detritus, that I now tell as many people as possible to get a different browser. Firefox is now so robust, there’s no reason not to use it. Keep in mind, it’s not perfect and won’t stop *everything* but it’s so much better than IE it’s not even funny. Really. No laughing.

A house online

If you get as much of a kick out of “map vs. landscape” conundra as I do, take a look at mc.clintock.com, where someone has created an illustrated virtual directory of all of his possessions, mapped throughout his home, down to the postcares in the second bureau drawer in the second floor study.

There’s a movement afoot to create an open-source personal-information-management application (PIM) called Chandler. Much like Firefox was developed from an open source effort, some smart people are workingon making something that we can use to organize our crazy info-heavy lives.

I haven’t really found anything that fits (or interfaces well with) the organic, messy nature of how human beings really work, and figured this thing would be similar.

Much to my pleasant surprise, there is a lot of very smart thinking going on about it. There’s an excellent page, written by the articulate Lisa Dusseault all about the “Vision” for the application, and it sounds like the kind of thing I wish we could write for every new development idea we have where I work. It actually reads like a combination of Design Spec and Conceptual Manifesto for personal information management applications in general.

Here is a taste:

Greater Productivity through Procrastination
So much of incoming information can’t be dealt with now. Sometimes we just can’t take action yet. Sometimes we need a different environment to read carefully. Sometimes we could take action but shouldn’t due to higher-priority work. Many items can and should be dealt with later. It should be easy for the user to defer action on email and have the client ensure that it doesn’t get lost. In Chandler the user gives the item a tickler, a trigger that will return the item to their attention later. When an item has a tickler it has been stamped as a task — this shows how stamping permeates the design. The word tickler comes from the David Allen task management system which suggests a manual technique for maintaining a set of reminders and a habit of looking at them to see which are due.

I think I’m going to print this thing out and make everybody dealing with any kind of internal “desktop” interface at work read it.

Shortcut to: Drewspace Archive ==>

Or see the list of all months on it here.

For several years (starting in 2000!), I kept an old-school Blogger blog where I used to work. Because I haven’t had an ftp login for that account for a long time, I wasn’t able to import the entries into WordPress properly.

But I finally took a little time to suck down the whole site using a cool little app called SiteSucker.

The results are clunky, but at least I now have my whole blog history under one URL. So, drop on by the newly uploaded Drewspace Archive to see what I was blabbing about circa 2000-2002. I’m sure you’re all dying to.

Virtual worlds can have a deep emotional impact on people. This is as true of an old-fashioned BBS or discussion forum like The Well, as well as for MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games) like the recently deceased Asheron’s Call 2.

Unfortunately, the more resources it takes to run a particular world, the more money it has to make. If it doesn’t keep in the black, it dies. Someone posted a sad little log of the last moments with their friends in this world here.

Things like this intrigue me to no end. I realize that this wasn’t a truly real world that disappeared. That is, the people behind the avatars/characters they played are still alive, sitting at their screens. They had plenty of time to contact one another and make sure they could all meet again in some other game, so it wasn’t necessarily like a tragic sudden diaspora (though some people do go through such an experience if the world they’ve counted on has suddenly had the plug pulled).

Still, the human mind (and heart?) only needs a few things to make a virtual place feel emotionally significant, if not ‘real.’ Reading the log linked above, you see that the participants do have perspective on their reality, even if you think their pining is a little ren-faire cheesy. But they can’t help being attached to the places they formed friendships in, played and talked in, for so long. It seems a little like leaving college — if you made meaningful friendships there, you can never really go back to that context again, even if you keep up with friends afterward. Except instead of graduation, you stand in the quad and part of you “dies” along with the whole campus.

I think the discussion linked above about the Well articulates pretty well just what these kinds of communities can mean to people. Further discussion and inquiry goes on all over the ‘net, including a site called “Project Daedalus” about the “psychology of mmorpgs”. (Edited to add: I also found a new publication called “Games & Culture” with at least one article specific to serious academic study of MMOGs. And I’m sure there are plenty more at places like Academic Gamers and Gamasutra.)