there are 19 posts from February 2011

February 17, 2011

my voice is my passport. verify me.

April 2010: Apple buys Siri.  February 2011, the New York Times reports:  "As part of its effort to find new customers for the iPhone, Apple plans to make it easier to operate the device through voice commands, removing an obstacle for people who do not like using a virtual keyboard, said another person with knowledge of Apple’s plans." Ayup.

February 16, 2011

elementary, my dear watson

IBM's Watson sizes up Ken Jennings: "How do you feel about death? Does the inevitable termination of your existence loom upon you as a dark cloud, eclipsing the value of your minute accomplishments and rendering you, in some small unexposed part of your soul, dumb with terror?"

February 16, 2011

achatz profile pieces

Two massive profiles of Alinea's Grant Achatz, one in the Chicago Tribune that (finally) passes the torch to Achatz from Charlie Trotter, and one in the New York Times that compares Achatz to Michelangelo and his business partner Nick Kokonas to Medici. Sure, both pieces are full of hyperbole. But go eat at Alinea and tell me it isn't earned.

February 15, 2011

the hazards of love

The day after Valentine's, this thought occurs to me: has the data provided by OK Cupid's blog impacted the dating market?

February 14, 2011

on archiving digital products

Khoi Vinh’s post on An Archive for Interaction Design is worth reading. Vinh argues that…

Every time a site or an application gets a major upgrade, every time an interface is overhauled, it represents something learned, knowledge accrued to advance the craft. But we won’t benefit easily from these revelations if we don’t do the hard work of archiving these steps forward.

It’s hard to argue with that. The business and craft of digial interface design should be learning from its past, even when that past is as recent as last year or last month. The Internet Archive, god bless it, is necessary but not sufficient. It was built for a page-centric web, which makes it useful for nostalgic geezers like me, but it doesn’t archive embedded media, and it wasn’t designed to replicate the rich, hashbanging applications of today’s web.

Some archiving approaches have touted virtualization as a savior — we can archive more complete software experiences by snapshotting the environments they run in, and then running them inside today’s (and tomorrow’s) machines. Which is theoretically interesting, but today’s digital products don’t live in a hermetically sealed virtualizable bubble.

Take an article from The Huffington Post, for example. Regardless of whether you think that it’s an example of good interaction design, there would be no practical way to recreate the experience of that page ten years, ten months or even ten days from now. That page is part of an interlinked set of systems — real time article recommendations, social tools, ad servers dynamically targeting flights of campaigns, etc. — all of which would be impossible to capture, virtualize and maintain. Are you going to keep an entire copy of Facebook running? Twitter? Ad servers? Article recommendation and commenting engines? No.

In his post, Vinh compares the challenge archiving a digital experience to archiving a conversation: you can record and transcribe the words, but it’s nigh impossible to recreate the entire context of the location, environment, body language, location, etc. But the metaphor that I think we should using when thinking about digital archiving is architecture.

Three reasons why.

  1. Like architecture, digital products are things people use and experience. They’re designed for a purpose, and have an impact on the inhabitants / user’s emotional well-being, productivity, relationships with others, etc.

  2. Like architecture, digital products are highly dependent on their context. A building lives in relationship to its inhabitants, the land it sits on, the city it lives in, the street its on, the surrounding buildings, traffic patterns, zoning laws, noise regulations, tax laws, etc.

  3. Like architecture, digital products evolve over time, because of their users. Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn has been potentially overused (and abused) by digital product designers as a source of metaphor, but the fact remains that buildings and digital products are shaped for and by their users to become a better fit to actual needs over their lifecycle.

So what does this mean? I’m nowhere near the digital archiving community, but as an outsider I’d argue that the we should be thinking about archiving digital experiences in the same way that we think about “archiving” architecture. You can’t archive a building and its context, but you can archive documentation about the building, artifacts of its construction and use over time, and the stories and experiences of the people that used those buildings.[1]

Similarly with digital products, we shouldn’t focus so much on placing a product in a hermetically sealed virtualized box, but instead document the experience of using that product (through screencasts, videos, etc.), the rationale behind the product (requirements docs, design docs and other development artifacts), information about the context the product lived in (technical context, market/competitive context, social context, etc.) and the impact the product had on its users and the world at large.

Future generations of digital product people would benefit from this approach to digital archiving; to understand the decisions we made, the tradeoffs we had to live with, and the context in which we operated. It’s why reading Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine is still useful to us today, while spending time with the Data General Eclipse MV/8000 (if you could even get your hands on one) isn’t. In 20 years, even if you could get a page of the Huffington Post to render faithfully, it wouldn’t do much for you. But if you had archival footage of the HuffPo user experience, combined with insight into the decision making process of the design team, combined with background information on the economics of content and online advertising in 2011, along with an understanding of how Twitter and Facebook worked — that would be much more useful, and would give you a richer understanding of both the product and its context.

[1] I deliberately stayed away from the word “preserve” here. I’m talking about making reproductions of the architecture and its productive media, not entombing structures themselves. Entombing structures feels to me to be about as useful as entombing digital prouducts.

Thanks to Bryan Boyer and Matt Jacobs, both of whom reviewed drafts of this post and gave me invaluable feedback.

February 10, 2011


Miscellaneous links, some of which may have been previously shared on Twitter.  I love this suitcase, but can't imagine anyone carrying this on to a flight. / Holy crap there's a True Grit iPad app with widelux photos from Jeff Bridges.  (Why am I still sitting with my laptop right now?) / Rich Juzwiak on The Only Britney Spears Video That Matters.  / Twitter's stats from the Superbowl (spoiler:  lots of tweets), but who wouldn't love to see Facebook's from the same time period? / How to pour milk, from The Content Farm. / Malcolm Browne Dash will one day rule the earth, and we'll all say "we knew his mom & dad." / David on Marco on The Daily:  "If you are asking your audience to consume something they don't want to, you better stop or they won't be your audience anymore." / And, finally, Brian Wilson on Twitter

February 10, 2011

+1 to @felixsalmon

Felix Salmon is a voice of reason. His post today on Twitter's valuation is unlike anyone else's on the topic, because it actually employs a rhetorical device known as logic. Take, for example, this bit on why Andreessen Horowitz might buy $80mm of Twitter on the seconday market:  "The idea here, I think, is that it’s hard to pick individual winners in this space, even if you’re convinced that the space itself is going to be extremely valuable. The last thing that Andreessen Horowitz wants, after making an enormous bet on social media, is to find that it isn’t invested in one of the handful of companies which will generate massive returns. And so it’s spreading its money around all the possible winners, trying to buy every ticket in the lottery."

Also, he has my new favorite blog tagline.  "A slice of lime in the soda."

February 09, 2011

the julian assange coloring book

The best part about the Julian Assange Coloring Book (aside from the fact that the Julian Assange Coloring Book even exists, of course), is the gallery, where Assange colorists can share their work. I particularly enjoyed Assangin Sane.

February 09, 2011

mcsweeney's on books

McSweeney's is publishing some great research on the health of books. Physical books. "Book sales are up, way up, from twenty years ago. Young adult readership is far wider and deeper than ever before. Library membership and circulation is at all-time high. The good news goes on and on."

February 08, 2011

the lovers and their black hole

Fantastic documentation of what looks like an amazing project from Dash Marshall in New York: An Apartment for Space Age Lovers. It features a Black Hole.  "The Black Hole is a flexible zone which can be annexed to the living room or bedroom, or optionally kept closed as a large walk-through closet space depending on the needs of The Lovers. It's big enough to gobble up anything The Lovers need to hide." I'd like to hire them just to describe my house.

February 07, 2011

mmmm, circles.

All those overlapping circles were just calling out for one more circle. (To be clear, it's not that doing it alone isn't fun, it's just not as fun as the real thing. And yes, I recognize that the act of adding even one more circle to the circle, um, fest could be considered more than a little bit onanistic.)

February 04, 2011

some steve reich for friday

This is incredible: Angela Dickinson and Lee Marvin "performing" Steve Reich's Clapping Music. Created in 2005 by George Manak and Peter van der Ham. Compare and contrast with Grand Valley State University's performance of the piece. (Via Art Fag City.)

February 04, 2011

poniewozik on friday night lights

James Poniewozik's ode to Friday Night Lights. I didn't connect with his Woody Guthrie comparison, but I like this closer: "Just as HBO's crime-drama masterpiece The Wire was a searing vision of what is wrong with America, Friday Night Lights has been a clear-eyed, full-hearted tribute to what is right with it." I haven't been watching Season 5 (don't have DirecTV, and haven't been pirating it), so am very much looking forward to feeling emotionally devastated on a weekly basis when it runs on NBC.

February 04, 2011

on the wishlist: my first dictionary

Just added to the Amazon wishlist (ahem):  My First Dictionary: Corrupting Young Minds One Word at a Time.  "A burden is a source of worry or stress. Old people are usually burdens. Father is nostalgic. He is remembering the happier times before you were born. A zigzag is a jagged line. We can tell that Mother has been drinking when she drives in a zigzag pattern." (Via Cool Hunting.)

(On the flipside, via Matt Haughey comes this list of John Perry Barlow's adult principles. Example: "Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that." Gee, THANKS Dad.)

February 04, 2011

now if it were 'sippey' that would be something special

Via Ze Frank:  Every Line of Dialogue in The Lost Boys is "Michael".  "Seriously, go back and watch The Lost Boys. The only word in that whole movie was 'Michael.' All 114 of them."

February 04, 2011

i'm sure they'll fix this

John Gruber on how long it takes to load a new issue of The Daily: "Imagine a paper newspaper that was wrapped in an envelope, and the envelope was so difficult to open that it took over a minute before you could see the front page of the issue. Who would buy that newspaper? No one, that’s who." I agree, but this is one of those things that I'm sure they'll fix, hopefully quickly. But when they do make the launch experience better they'll still have more fundamental issues to address...

February 03, 2011

maybe i'm just old, and that's why i'm suffering cognitive dissonance after one day of the daily

It's patently unfair to judge it after just one issue, but the conceptual hangup I have with The Daily is the overall package. I don't have issues with the details -- those will get fixed over time. (The carousel, the nav issue, speed, etc.) I just can't figure out the thing as a whole. I tweeted late last night: "The first issue of #thedaily feels like a daily issue of Time...on the iPad! A glossy look back at what happened just yesterday."

Longer version: The Daily looks and feels and navigates and wants to be a magazine. The kind of thing that we used to read once a week on the couch or in the dentist's office or on a plane to get a big picture view of the world. There is a magazine packaging "style" that screams EDITORS. As in "we chose these photos and these 500 words and this layout and this overall slate of content for a reason, because we think this is what you need to know about what happened last week while you were working and shuttling the kids to and from soccer practice.

So, two areas of cognitive dissonance for me.

First, I've grown up with these newsmagazines being on a weekly publication schedule...not a daily one. The Daily is a very (very) highly produced slug of digital media. Contrast that with the expectation I have about daily content tending more towards the quick and dirty, less edited, less "produced." Like what we get in newspapers or on most blogs. So seeing The Daily's level of production on daily content -- and thinking ahead to how I'm going to consume that type of content every day -- creates a disconnect for me. Maybe it's an age thing. Maybe I'm now old enough where I'm finally the demographic that just needs to die off, 'cause the younger kids either "get" and want this type of content on a every day, or don't have enough history with newsweeklies to create that periodic dissonance. (Either way, get the hell off my lawn.)

Second, while I choose to believe that the web is a very large tent and can be more than a customer service medium (with all due respect, Paul, you should have consulted me on that piece), there are two things that the web excels at that are missing in v1 of The Daily: community and "nowness." Much has been made of the fact that The Daily didn't do much to cover the ongoing story coming out of Cairo on day one; they missed a pretty big opportunity to demonstrate that at its most basic level. And on the community front, the lack of tools to really engage with their (mostly excellent!) writers and other smart and attractive readers is a shame. (So, instead, I took my reaction to Heather Havrilesky's piece outside the app, where she could talk back.)

So while I think a lot of the writing is top notch, the production values are high and have faith that the bugs will get worked out, I'm having issues with the overall product. The daily publishing schedule doesn't feel matched to the way the content's being packaged and presented. And the whiz bang production quality (lots of touching and swiping and motion and video) screams I AM DIGITAL, but the product doesn't deliver on two fundamental features of today's web -- community and real-time.

I want The Daily to work. And, less importantly, I want The Daily to work for me. As I said up front, it's patently unfair to judge a daily product after just one day of use. But I want to note all of these things now, mostly as a milestone to note later how the product grows...and how it grows on me.

Sign me up.

February 02, 2011

the force

Leave it to Souris to turn me on to one of the best ads I've seen in a long time. I choose to believe that Vader is a girl.

February 02, 2011

james blake, the wilhelm scream

Go listen to / watch The Wilhelm Scream, another track from James Blake's upcoming album. (If you recall, Blake's cover of Feist's Limit to Your Love made my list of top 9 tracks of 2010.) Found via Pieter at Today and Tomorrow, who accurately notes that "it’s been a while since I’ve seen such a hyped album, but it’s probably worth it."