May 2007

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My obsession with what I call the “game layer” aside, it’s interesting that the mainstream press are now reporting on how using “game mechanics” in business software can create more engaging & useful ways of working with data, collaborating, and getting work done.

Why Work Is Looking More Like a Video Game – New York Times

Rave adapts a variety of gaming techniques. For instance, you can build a dossier of your clients and sales prospects that includes photographs and lists of their likes, dislikes and buying interests, much like the character descriptions in many video games. Prospects are given ratings, not by how new they are — common in C.R.M. programs — but by how likely they are to buy something. All prospects are also tracked on a timeline, another gamelike feature.

(Thanks, Casey, for the link!)

Wow! Evidently Architectures of Conversation is (at the moment of this posting) is SlideShare’s 17th Most Favorited this month.

Yes… 17th… it’s a nice, prime number.

I just want to thank the little people. And point out that it took the Web to turn “Favorite” into a verb.

glider emblem

This is delightful. A sort of logo for hacker culture. Not hackers as in criminals (hacker culture calls those people ‘crackers’ among other things) but hackers as in lateral-thinking technology heads.

The graphic … is called a glider. It’s a pattern from a mathematical simulation called the Game of Life. In this simulation, very simple rules about the behavior of dots on a grid give rise to wonderfully complex emergent phenomena. The glider is the simplest Life pattern that moves, and the most instantly recognizable of all Life patterns.

I love this emblem because it really does reference so many things I adore about the internet, what’s happening on it, and the culture that I believe to be the beating heart of it.

Here’s some of the explanation from Frequently Asked Questions about the Glider Emblem

The glider is an appropriate emblem on many levels. Start with history: the Game of Life was first publicly described in Scientific American in 1970. It was born at almost the same time as the Internet and Unix. It has fascinated hackers ever since.
In the Game of Life, simple rules of cooperation with what’s nearby lead to unexpected, even startling complexities that you could not have predicted from the rules (emergent phenomena). This is a neat parallel to the way that startling and unexpected phenomena like open-source development emerge in the hacker community… The glider fulfils the criteria for a good logo. It’s simple, bold, hard to mistake for anything else, and easy to print on a mug or T-shirt. It could be varied, combined with other emblems, or modified and infinitely repeated for use as a background

I’ve been going on and on about how the internet has given rise to a “game layer” to the world we live in: a sort of subcutaenous skin of data that connects everything, and mirrors the logic of our world. (Hence the number of friends you have on MySpace; the location you’re twittering from in Twitter; which songs you listen to the most on your iPod; the ability to track a UPS package at every turn; and on and on). Everything we attach to the network becomes more data, and if it’s data, it’s game-able.

Hacking itself is a kind of game, and the culture is very playful. I can’t get enough of this idea that “play” and “game,” once expanded some in their meaning and context, show us entirely new frames of reference that help explain what’s happening in the world.

Austin Govella puts a question to me in his post here: Does Comcast have the DNA to compete in a 2.0 world? at Thinking and Making

Context of the post: Austin is wondering about this story from WSJ, “Cable Giant Comcast Tries to Channel Web TV” — specifically Jeremy Allaire’s comments doubting Comcast’s ability to compete in a “Web 2.0” environment.

At the end of his post, Austin says:

And the more important question, for every organization, how do you best change your DNA to adapt to new ages? Is it as simple as adjusting your organization’s architecture to enable more participation from good DNA? What happens if your internal conversations propagate bad DNA?
This is my question for Andrew: how do you architect community spaces to engender good DNA and fight infections of bad DNA?

My answer: I don’t know. I think this is something everybody is trying to figure out at once. It’s why Clay Shirky is obsessing over it. It’s why Tim O’Reilly and others are talking about Codes of Conduct.

So, when it comes to specifics, I don’t know that we have a lot of templates that we can say work most of the time… it’s so dependent on the kind of community, culture, etc.

However, in general, I think moderation tools that allow the organism to tend to itself are the best way to go. By that I mean “karma” functions that allow users to rate, comment, and police one another to a degree.

That, plus giving users the opportunity to create rich profiles that they come to identify with. Any geeks out there like me know what it’s like to create a quickie D&D character just to play with for the day — you can do whatever you want with it and it doesn’t matter. But one that you’ve invested time in, and developed over many sessions of gaming, is much more important to you. I think people invest themselves in their online ‘avatars’ (if you consider, for example, a MySpace profile to be an avatar — I do), and they’re generally careful about them, if they can be tied to the identity in a real way (i.e. it isn’t just an anonymous ‘alt’).

In short, a few simple rules can create the right structure for healthy complexity.

As for Comcast, I suspect that the company’s image is generally perceived to be a lumbering last-century-media leviathan. So it’s easy for people like Allaire to make these assumptions. I think I might have made similar assumptions, if I didn’t personally know some of the talented people who work at Comcast now!

What Allaire doesn’t come right out and say (maybe he doesn’t understand it?) is that the Web 2.0 video space isn’t so much about delivering video as about providing the social platform for people to engage one another around the content. Like Cory Doctorow said (and yes, I’m quoting it for like the 100th time), content isn’t king, “conversation is king; content is just something to talk about.”

Having the content isn’t good enough. Having the pipes and the captive audience isn’t good enough either. From what I’ve seen, of Ziddio and the like, Comcast is aware of this.

But it’s weird that the story in WSJ only mentions the social web as a kind of afterthought: “Competitors also are adding social networking and other features to their sites to distinguish them from traditional television.” As if social networking is just an added feature, like cup holders in cars. Obviously, WSJ isn’t quite clued in to where the generative power of Web 2.0 really lives. Maybe it’s because they’re stuck in an old-media mindset? Talk about DNA!

Boing Boing has a lovely paean saying Happy birthday, Carl Linnaeus, to the one responsible for bringing a common vocabulary (and, maybe most importantly, a system of naming) to natural science — one of the cornerstones that has helped human beings (*ahem* … “homo sapiens”) to share and codify scientific learning.

He’s, of course, a kind of patron saint of Information Architecture, where we’re all about classifying and organizing things.

But, alas, even Linneas’ dream of pristinely organized information is suffering from the realities of the post-modern world. From the Boing Boing post:

But how much longer will the Linnaean system last? Recently it has come under attack from some taxonomists who believe its structure is too inflexible to cope with the explosion of knowledge unleashed by DNA analysis. Today’s young Turks of taxonomy want to abolish the strict ranked hierarchy of family, order, class, etc. In its place they advocate “clades,” groupings that are based on genetic relationships and can be expanded, contracted or redefined as new kinships are discovered. For now, the traditionalists outnumber the iconoclasts, and Linnaean-style classification remains the gold standard.

Fascinating, that even in the seminal uber-taxonomy, there’s a kind of “tagging relativism” going on…

Maybe they need a pattern language?