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  past petermemes

May 23, 2000
The Mojave Desert Phone Booth has been removed.

May 22, 2000
Attack of the Goatees.
And in this photo, I listen intently as Danny O'Brien explains plans for world dominion.

May 21, 2000
The past 4-5 days have been a blur of sleeplessness, sociability, eating, sightseeing, and head colds. What follows is, for the sake of my memory, a chronicle of my trip to Copenhagen to attend the Reboot conference. Let me start out by saying that I loved it, and owe heaping scads of gratitude to our exceedingly gracious hosts. I'll post a chronicle of my journey in the next couple of days.

Weaving patterns. Some thoughtful UI patterns to consider. Often a bit too broad for my tastes.

Take a dip. Frank points us to Serendip, an interesting treasure trove of stuff related to complexity, biology, science and nature, brain and behavior, etc. I'm too tired now to root around it much, but it has potential.

May 16, 2000
Outta town.
So now I have an excuse for updating infrequently.

May 15, 2000
You must remember this.
Nick replies to yesterday's petermeme:


Yoz may have mentioned this to you before, but some of my research deals with the Lakoffian concept of mental spaces, and the use of spatial analogies to describe mental processes. What I find interesting is that there's a specific point of origin for this model (or at least I think that there is): it emerges at the point where "modern society" begins, at the start of the eighteenth century, and with the advent of a social and political culture which regarded the self as individuated, and societies as *networks*.

John Locke, I think, should be thought of the original architect of information architecture, because he wanted to think of the individual as if he were a Palladian building, and to regard the memory as a kind of internal picture collection. (Julian Dibbell's Feed article on Jorn Barger has a point here.)

My point is that the Lockean view of memory is kind of like a camera obscura: light forms shapes on a mental table (and I think this is the proper way to think of a "tabula rasa", judging from contemporary sources), and the tracings that the active memory makes can then be stored and displayed, thematically, like a museum exhibit, or stored in boxes like photographs and prints.

But yeah, if you're interested in origins of information architecture, have a look at eighteenth-century picture collections, or at something like the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford, one of those old cabinets of curiosity.

"Types", not regions.


What goes around... An urban design studies program that takes cues from information architecture.

Tasty! Pure Design, an online store featuring scrumptious modern industrial and furniture design.

May 14, 2000
Thanks for the memories.
In Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House, a collection of Bill Viola's writings (from his notebooks and essays for magazines and exhibits--brilliant stuff), there's a lot of discussion about memory, and some rather Lakoff-ian approaches on how "concepts and terms for the manipulation of solid objects are constantly used to describe thoughts, as in 'the back of my mind,' 'grasp an idea,' 'over my head,' 'cling to beliefs,' 'a mental block,' and so on."(Pg. 154) This spurred me to research the classical notion of 'memory palaces,' and other such architectural metaphors.

What I've been wondering is how memory spaces relation to information architecture. I'm not interested in notions of a 3D cyberspace where you fly through information. What tickles my brain is how information has no 'space' until it's been consumed. Unlike a physical space, which exists before you traverse it, the structure of an information space is built on-the-fly in the mind's eye by the individual. For each and every person, information exists only in memory.

May 12, 2000
What I saw at the Webbys.
I feel obligated to write something up about attending the Webby Awards. Piggy-backing on the nomination of Metababy.com for best personal site (!) allowed me entree to the event. Interviewed by Courtney Pulitzer before the awards, I neglected to mention the name of my employer, much to my colleagues chagrin. Merriam-Webster Word Central provided the funniest acceptance speech, slowly relaying 5 sesquipedalianisms. Google co-founder Sergey Brin boogied to DJ Spooky's beats, wearing a hockey uniform and roller blades. Bill Viola (BILL VIOLA!) presented the SFMOMA Webby Award, and standing near him at the after-party I was reduced to a giddy schoolgirl, like, totally wanting to talk to him, but, like, afraid I'd sound like such a DORK.

File under 'places to check out when I have time.' Scott McCloud offers up his list of 10 top comics web sites. [By way of Taylor, whose blogs I really ought to read more often.]

Scott argues that stories like Stan Lee's The 7th Portal and Taylor's Star Wars features are mislabelled as comics--while they feature comic conventions such as panels and word balloons, they're animated endeavors, and thus cartoons. Scott falls back on his precise definition of comics as "Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer."

Which makes me wonder how Scott considers a feature like Fuckertown, which mostly fits his definition of comics (though with some cinematic flairs, like dissolves and pans, and the occasional moving bit), but forces its own pace of reading on the user. Scott doesn't explicitly mention user-control in Understanding Comics--though, I'd consider that a key element of the comics experience is that the user determines what they're reading, how they flip back and forth, and the time they spend doing so. (This is particularly important in visually dense titles like the original MAD comics, or The Watchmen or Transmetropolitan, where you're always going back to remember details, etc.) I'd argue that comics, in any form, must allow the reader to control every aspect of moving through the story.

May 11, 2000
Smart readers!
In support of my ongoing effort to not have to write anything, Faisal has sent in some interesting thoughts about dynamic information architecture:

Regarding your post about dynamic information architecture and the analogies to spreadsheets and what they did for numerical modelling:

I've been thinking about this a lot, particularly in the area of "concept exploration" (manipulating and working through variations on a concept to find the best answer).

Most exploration interfaces are incredibly rigid: they give the user a set of "axes" along which to move within information, allowing the user to move along those and only those axes. This approach is useful if the user wants the same axes as the interface uses, but it is worse than useless if the user needs a different set of axes.

One solution is to attempt to allow access to *all* possible axes. This leads to different "types" of axes, depending on the kind of information you're looking at. For instance, numerical values are always on a scalar axis (cost goes from 0 to $x) whereas other kinds of data fit into taxonomy heirarchies (species), relationship graphs (network connections), etc.

In a past life I created an interface along these lines. It categorized every piece of information we could find about an object and tagged the information in a way that the end user could manipulate it and move around within it:

e.g., for a car we would track size, color, speed, style of car (within the style heirarchy), manufacturer (within the manufacturer heirarchy), and several hundred other bits of information.

The key was to list every possible variable that would distinguish a given object (concept/idea/etc) from any other object (obviously all the concepts had to be at least similar enough within taxonomic groupings that comparisons were meaningful). The tagging allowed arbitrary queries ("show me all cars that are blue, are within the 'minivan' heirarchy, go 0-60 in less than 8 seconds, and are german"), but the real power comes in the ability to "browse similar" by similarities of the user's choosing (e.g. looking at a toyota land cruiser, decide to move down the "size" scale, move up the "speed" scale, or look at other cars made by toyota, etc.)

The upside to this approach is that users are often able to find what they want by exploring in a direction that suits them. The downside is that information overload is a problem: it's hard to convey restraints on browsing and searching when there are more than a small number of variables in play at once. It is also a challange to identify all the "axes" (etc.) that people will want to move around in and to present those axes in a usable fashion.


That all aside, I've been thinking more about how to apply this all to discussions and group exploration. Most threaded mail/news systems these days tend to fall down miserably when it comes to breaking out concepts and threads. I'd like to see an idea discussion board that had some way of adaptively tracking when threads had split off, and showing them as such. The problem is that I have no idea how to computationally notice that, and I suspect that the "split" is going to be in the eye of the beholder (what you may find to be a relevant new thread may be an integral issue to me).

May 10, 2000
Dig those electronic beats.
Care of S. Monkey, Esq. comes a pointer to the video for 14 Zero Zero by Console. Pleasing streaming for the masses.

May 09, 2000
Truly understanding the user.
Choop points us to Word Perhect, and all I can say is go *right now* and play with this fabulous word-processor art thingy that is very clever and ends up illuminating some interesting issues in how we approach interfaces.

Denmark, anyone? So, next week I'll be travelling to Copenhagen for the Reboot conference. I've never been to Denmark. Any petermereaders out there? Anyone else have suggestions for what to do? Email me! Thanks.

Frivolous work. Michael Schrage wrote great columns for Packet (R.I.P. Packet, one of the best original content publications in the Web's short history), so I purchased Serious Play, his book on the importance of lots of prototyping in design processes. I suppose the gushing foreward by The Circle Of Tom Peters ought to have warned me off, as the book proved to be little more than a series of strung together quotes from Experts blathering on and on. Schrage's thesis could have been sufficiently presented in a 15-page-pamphlet, but I suppose you can't get a book deal that way.

Still and all, there are occasional insights to glean, and there's a whole chapter on "The Spreadsheet Way of Life" that discusses how the world of business got turned on its head by the invention of spreadsheet technology--no longer spreadsheets merely kept track of what was or is--folks could tinker with tons of different possibilities for what could be. The impact of spreadsheet software simply cannot be understated. Schrage sums up his thesis with

Paper spreadsheets could statically track cash flows; software spreadsheets could dynamically manage them. (Pg. 45)

And that, of course, caused all kinds of bells to go off in my head. You good readers know I've been ranting about the calculus of information, the need to treat information as a changing, dynamic entity. Current information architecture 'statically tracks' information. What we need are tools, devices, architectures that allow for dynamic management--it leads me to wonder if such a thing will cause as much of an upheaval as spreadsheets did. Napster, its piss-poor interface notwithstanding, suggests a direction for this notion. As, of course, does Launch.

I honestly don't know if what I'm saying truly makes any sense, if it can actually be implemented in any usable form. But it's fun to think about!

May 07, 2000
That might have been the best episode of the X-Files all season.

Wheels in wheels. I recently finished reading Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, a brain-tingling collection of stories that borrow conventions from detective tales, but take the genre to a new metaphysical plane. Frankly, I was unprepared for the first two works--I ripped through them as I would fiction, but upon coming to the end, realized I ought to have savored them as good literature. Auster's stories are puzzles with no solutions, but while reading I found that simply tinkering with the ideas presented provided plenty of enjoyment. Poking around, I found this master's thesis on the trilogy, which does a good (if belabored job), of discussing various motifs (Doppelgangers, 19th century allusions, detective stories, etc.).

Thinking systemically. I don't care what the topic, I love it when subjects are discussed systemically. Such as these theories of why shopping carts are so big. If I were to return to school, I'd study either cognitive science, or complexity theory. At its essence, complexity theory states that all complex systems are ruled by the same phenomena. And a recent finding from complexity theory suggests that Dawkins' "selfish gene" theory is wrong.

As mentioned here before, The Tipping Point provides some interesting models for systemic thinking, but does a poor job of tying them together. The best critique I've found asks,

"After his entertaining and in part enlightening and educational foray through all kinds of phenomena, one wonders what Gladwell has added to the idea of the tipping point in its original realm, race. What do Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen have to do with transformations in the racial composition of schools and neighborhoods? Very little."

May 03, 2000
I fucking hate the media.
So I found out that television stations aren't carrying the Epinions Minivan TV ad (one of our best yet, though my favorite shot, where she throws the keys, is hard to make out in RealVideo) because, well, the reviewer in the ad details what a lemon her Plymouth Grand Voyager is, and the stations are afraid of Chrysler's wrath. I guess Epinions' money isn't good enough. And, of course, they didn't even bother to air the ads and see if Chrysler reacted--they're simply too chickenshit, and the economics of broadcast media engender a remarkable chilling effect. Gah.

Annoy people! I've just signed up with imbot.com, a service that will take your typewritten message and speak it to someone, over the phone, in a charming robot voice. Feel free to send me stuff: 415-516-6838. And, of course, since it's on the Web, it's FREE!

May 02, 2000
Doing it with Style. CNET provides excellent standards for how to ensure the integrity of their style. This is probably meant for internal use only, but it's nice that others can benefit from their model. .