February 2007

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Just a few days ago, I posted about how somebody needs to make something that aggregates an individual’s myriad social networks. And it looks like, around that time, something launched that is aiming to do just that … it’s called Explode.

From their site: How do I Explode?

Explode lets you have a widget which contains your friends on any network or site. This is a great way to share your network with others regardless of where your friends have their site.
You can also comment and view comments made by anyone across any network.
The widget will update to show which of your friends have most recently been online.

I haven’t messed with it yet, and it’s still new and fairly scaled down, but they have the idea right, it seems.

I wasn’t aware there was such debate over what makes a blog a blog, and a wiki a wiki. But Jordan Frank over at Traction Software makes a sensible distinction, one that I could’ve sworn everybody took for granted?

What is a Blog? A Wiki?

And that, finally, brings me to a baseline definition for both blogs and wikis:
A system for posting, editing, and managing a collection of hypertext pages (generally pertaining to a certain topic or purpose)…
Blog: …displayed as a set of pages in time order…
Wiki: …displayed by page as a set of linked pages…
…and optionally including comments, tags or categories or labels, permalinks, and RSS (or other notification mechanisms) among other features.
Both “blog” and “wiki” style presentations can make pages editable by a single individual or editable by a group (where group can include the general public, people who register, or a selected group). In the enterprise context, more advanced version control, audit trail, display flexibility, search, permission controls, and IT integration hooks may also be present.

He goes into the history of various debates over the terms, which I found enlightening. Mainly because they show that people invest the idea of “blog” or “wiki” with lots of philosophical and political baggage and emotional resonance.

Evidently some folks believed “A BLOG is what it is because it allows comments and conversation!” But that seems silly to me, since to some degree the grandfather of blogs was “Robot Wisdom” where a slightly obsessive polymath simply posted quick links (a “log” — like a ship captain’s log — of his travels on the web, hence “web log”) and little one-line comments on them. I’m happy to see that, as of this moment, he’s still at it. And it doesn’t have any comment capability whatsoever.

In fact, it’s very lean on opinion or exposition of any kind! But it is, in essence, what Jordan defines above — a system for posting a collection of pages (or, I would actually say, ‘entries’) in time order. Quintessential “weblogness.”

Now, I suppose some could argue that somewhere between “weblog” and the truncated nickname “blog” things shift, and blogs are properly understood as something more discursive? But I don’t think so. I think the DNA of a blog means it’s essentially a series of posts giving snapshots of what is on the mind of the blog’s writer, both posted and presented in chronological order. That might be a ‘collective’ writer — a group blog. But it’s what it is, nonetheless.

But that doesn’t mean the emotional attachment, philosophical significance and political impact aren’t just as important — they’re just not part of the definition. :-)

[Edited to add: while it’s true that a wiki & blog *can* both make pages editable by one author or a group, in *practice* a blog tends to be about individual voices writing “posts” identified with author bylines, while a wiki tends to be about multiple authors writing each “article” through aggregated effort. Blogs & wikis started with these uses in their DNA, and the vast majority of them follow this pattern. Fore example, most blog platforms display the name of a post’s author by default, while most wikis don’t bother displaying author names on articles, because there’s an assumption the articles will be written & refined over time by multiple users.]

The Wright Stuff – Popular Science

This is an excellent interview with Will Wright, creator of SimCity, The Sims, Spore, and other games.

It touches on a lot of key ideas about game design; the nature of education, play and socializing, the richness of game design, how to engage users of different types, and so forth. I kept wanting to quote parts of it here, but then it turned into quoting half the article. So just go read it.

I really loved the idea of glass being a liquid that was just moving ‘super slow.’ I first heard it from a tour guide or two in an old building somewhere, and I could swear my chemistry teacher once mentioned it. But, alas, it is not the case:

Science & Technology at Scientific American.com: Fact or Fiction?: Glass Is a (Supercooled) Liquid — Are medieval windows melting?

Why old European glass is thicker at one end probably depends on how the glass was made. At that time, glassblowers created glass cylinders that were then flattened to make panes of glass. The resulting pieces may never have been uniformly flat and workers installing the windows preferred, for one reason or another, to put the thicker sides of the pane at the bottom. This gives them a melted look, but does not mean glass is a true liquid.

Chalk this up to the same disappointment I had about lemmings, and all the Eskimo words for snow.

When I posted my missive about mashups last week, I should’ve known others were saying much of the same stuff at least a week earlier.

Adam Greenfield has a great post explaining how you have to design with the assumption that your creation will be remixed and retrofitted into a larger context:
Two things product designers and manufacturers need to know « Speedbird

You can no longer safely assume that your product will stand alone. One way or another, it will be subsumed into an ecosystem, an information ecology.

His ‘second’ thing product designers need to know is that your product has to make clear what it is and how to use it — and he delves into the subtleties of affordance vs. ‘perceived‘ affordance. And that’s a great point as well — as I said in my post, each bit you create needs to somehow bring some context and meaning along with it, and I suppose that also includes an acknowledgment that it will be used by people in ways you didn’t perhaps intend, but that perhaps you can at least forecast.

But in addition to this idea that the product needs to lend itself to the systems into which it is released, there is the idea that we should be designing ‘systems’ rather than merely products. In fact, Peter Merholz goes so far as to say “Stop designing products!

That’s a fun, provocative way to get people to come see your presentation! But the idea is actually less radical than it sounds. (Which is fine.) Basically, they’re saying that when you have the capability you should design for as much of the context as you can. His examples range from Kodak’s early approach of designing everything: the film, paper and camera, as well as the “Photo Spots” and a whole culture of consumer photography. In recent times, there’s the perpetual poster-boy, the iPod and iTunes.

Frog Design’s Adam Richardson is part of this meme as well, and writes about Why Designing Systems is Difficult. One of his best points is that systems cross over organizational boundaries, which are very hard to breach in most organizations. They have more silos than Lancaster County, PA (and if you’ve never drive on the turnpike through Lancaster, just imagine seeing more farm silos than road signs for about 50 miles straight). Organizations are congenitally adverse to having their membranes crossed; managers have their fiefdoms and have made their careers on what they’ve accomplished there, and it’s very hard to get them to share and play well with others. Much less the cultures and processes of each of those silos.

In a sense, though, I think a lot of this is ‘object-oriented‘ (OO) thinking writ large as design philosophy. Essentially, OO thinking follows the premise that designed objects (chunks of code, usually, but imagine this as ‘products’) should lend themselves to whole systems, and not be created so as to be proprietary and self-limiting. They should be pluggable and easily recontextualized. Even in software development shops, this is still a somewhat new concept; most people, organizations or departments want to put their stamp on something, and they want to make it so their product keeps the customer or user coming back for more rather than being able to take it away and plug it into something else.

I understand the idea that, if you’re a corporation with a website and services to many sets of constituents, you shouldn’t just design one widget after another, but think of your whole ‘system’ and what that means to your customers. That just seems common sense at this point: that ‘brand’ is about all the touchpoints with your customers and partners, not just your logo, and not just the latest RIA gewgaw on your homepage.

But beyond that, the tools you provide your customers need to be created with an inherent awareness of the larger world, and the ways in which people might rather use what you’ve delivered to them.

As for creating whole soup-to-nuts systems like Kodak or Apple: If you can get so far on top of something and control the market in a way that you don’t much have to worry about interoperability with other systems, then creating a whole, walled-garden system is probably fine. At least for a while, until the inexorable entropy of ‘openness’ forces you to start breaking down your walls and being a part of the rest of the world (see AOL and Internet Explorer…which is only starting to show signs of learning this lesson).

I think the opportunity to actually design a whole system is becoming more and more rare these days. The better lesson may be: stop designing products, start designing objects *for* systems, the more open, the better.

Business 2.0 makes an observation I find painfully obvious, but that evidently more people need to hear:

Why commercial outfits can’t get Wikis to work – Feb. 21, 2007

By tirelessly nurturing their specific communities, not by randomly “crowdsourcing,” Wales, Butterfield, Fake and their ilk encourage responsible gardening. Wiki novels, Wiki op-eds, a Wiki Amazon: these are concepts too large, too uncontrolled, too wilderness-like – too unwalled – to be gardens. Either nothing grows at all there, or the good ideas get strangled by weeds.

The future of Web 2.0 belongs to sites that give its users directions and goals as well as total control. People need a common focus, a shared obsession, to be productive as a crowd. (My favorite recent example: the Lostpedia, a Wikipedia-like site created by fans of the ABC series Lost who are all trying to figure out what the heck is going on, and sharing their notes).

I’ve always thought web sites were more like gardens than buildings, at least in how their ‘creators’ should approach them. But Web 2.0 makes this triply so.

The technology doesn’t have an inherent value, and a wiki isn’t a handful of magic beans that you just toss onto a web server and watch them grow. It takes planning, cultivation, direction. “Tireless” is right … and “nurturing” is essential.

What we’re seeing, really, is that wikis work best when there is a shared context of need — a “Community of Practice” — which makes sense, because that’s why the first wiki was created. (Ward Cunningham whipped it up so his team could collaborate on a pattern repository.) It’s in the DNA of “wikiness” that it best serves focused effort by similarly obsessed people. While Wikipedia might cover every subject under the sun, the shared obsession is to *document* everything under the sun. And that requires a highly structured, designed environment, and lots of attention for tending and cultivation.

I’ve been kvetching for a year or more now about how crazy it is trying to keep up with various social networks online.

The truth is, many of us have stuff we do at MySpace or Yahoo, some we might do on our own blog (either self-hosted or at TypePad or Blogspot, etc), and maybe another more personal journal at Xanga or LiveJournal. Then there are dating sites, as well as professional sites like LinkedIn. Plus the bookmarks you keep up with on Ma.gnolia or del.icio.us, and your pics on Flickr and Videos on YouTube. (Or any of the other competing services.)

But what about when you want to keep up with all of it together? And what about when you make a friend in one, but you want to share something with that friend on another?

Sure there are RSS feeds for a lot of it, for keeping up with one-way content traffic. But the *interaction* which is so vital and valuable for this new Web2.0 world can only be had when you login to each one separately.

If I had more of a code/development background, I’d just jump in and try to make something. But, barring that, I’ll just keep complaining until someone either 1) partners with me on the idea and we make a few million selling it to somebody (ha!) or 2) somebody just makes it happen regardless.

I wonder if these guys at Broadband Mechanics are onto something like this?

Broadband Mechanics: Our strategies

By establishing the notion of an ‘open social network’, millions of end-users will be able to move their personal contacts, groups and ‘social capital’ wherever they wish. They’ll be able to create relationships with anybody on any network, to send these new friends messages, create or join groups or post content – anywhere. This is the way the ‘social web’ needs to evolve – not locked up in old fashioned data silos – with vendors monetizing these captured end-users.

I know I’ll be keeping an eye out. But in the meantime, why aren’t there more startups trying to do this? If somebody can make an offline client for MySpace by scraping the site under your login and reconstituting it into a better desktop interface, why can’t a website do it, and do the same with everywhere else your identity lives?

theobromine molecule (courtesy of wikipedia)
Theobromine, often confused with caffeine, is the molecule responsible for the mild mood-elevating effects of fine, high-concentration (dark) chocolate.

Theo = “god” & Broma = “food” — truly the food of the gods.

This is the version I eventually ended up with after a couple of iterations. See the original post about the talk & my plans for it down below the presentation box.
This was made before Slideshare got better with PDF slides that included notes, so you may need to bring it up in full screen or download the original.

Original (outdated) announcement post with some links to research and stuff below:
iasummit2007 badge

I haven’t officially posted about this yet, so I may as well. At this year’s IA Summit, I’m going to be giving a presentation called
Architectures of Participation: What Communities of Practice Can Mean for IA

Here’s the description:

“Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.” – Cory Doctorow

How can Information Architecture address the increasing demand for collaborative work, meaningful conversation and social connection? We’ll explore how “Community of Practice” is more than just a 90s knowledge-management buzz-phrase. It’s an important model for understanding group behavior – and one that’s becoming crucial to designing in the age of Wikipedia, MySpace and YouTube.

Understanding communities of practice as a phenomenon can lend a great deal of clarity to designing frameworks for participation: creating the right conditions for particular kinds of collective effort.

We’ll gain an essential understanding of “communities of practice,” looking at “IA” as a handy example. We’ll then examine how the concept helps us design for a variety of collaborative environments – from intranets and medical forums to multiplayer games.

Any new information, notes, files, etc, I’ll be keeping in this post, using it as the presentation’s “home” on my blog.

Lots of goodies below the fold …
Read the rest of this entry »

Tag Love

I’m in the stone age when it comes to the tagging all the cool kids are doing these days. I just hadn’t taken the time to figure out how to integrate it into WordPress. That is, until I dug in and discovered the marvelous

Simple Tagging Plugin!

I set it up last night, but forgot to turn it on… doh. Now that it’s running, I feel like a new man.


… the Violent Femmes song “Blister in the Sun” is being used to advertise a sandwich from Wendy’s.
Big hands. I know you’re the one.

This video is amazing. I’m not sure how to describe it. Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing said this about it:

“Web 2.0… the Machine is Us/ing Us,” is deeply moving and incredibly smart. The creator is Michael Wesch, an assistant Cultural Anthropology Prof at Kansas State U, and he has strung together a bunch of animations, text, and screenshots in order to tell the story of “Web 2.0” — and why it matters, and how it’s changing the world. This is as starry-eyed as techno-optimism gets, and it might just choke you up a little, if you care about this stuff.

YouTube – Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us

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