society & technology
November 9, 2004
ETS to measure tech literacy
Today's issue of Edupage has an blurb about a new standardized test to measure technical literacy. Literacy tests aren't new, but this one is particuarly interesting because it is from the folks who do the SAT. Here's the blurb:
Working with representatives of seven universities, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the SAT, has developed a new test to measure how well students apply information technology skills to solve problems. Students taking the ICT Literacy Assessment exam will be asked to perform tasks such as build a spreadsheet, write an e-mail that summarizes a passage, and evaluate the credibility of online information. ... The test will be given starting in January 2005, and for the first year, results will be provided in the aggregate only. After ETS has developed a baseline for scoring, test takers will receive individual scores.
August 30, 2004
Happy Birthday Internet?
CNN is proclaiming this Thursday the anniversary of the Internet at 35. Their start point is Sept 2, 1969, when "computer scientists at UCLA linked two bulky computers using a 15-foot gray cable, testing a new way to exchange data over networks."
Of course, the date of the Internet's "birth" isn't exactly a given, as a quick review of some other histories of the Internet shows. A very nice collection of sites to browse if you're at all into this history.
July 12, 2004
Libraries embrace September project
What if Americans spent the day talking about democracy? What if they had the conversation in their local libraries? What if it all happened on Sept. 11, a date that means so much in the national memory?
Rats...David is now on the West Coast. I'd hoped to run across him one of these days. Anyways, you can see if the project is coming to a library near you via their map or their list of participating libraries.
July 2, 2004
Academic publishing web-style
Here are some links related to the publishing of research and other academic works that I've culled off some lists recently:
May 23, 2004
Historical Event Markup and Linking Project
Hmmm, this one's for the archives--it's the Historical Event Markup and Linking project. It's a bit XML-heavy for me to grok completely, but the concept seems really interesting. Here's Loren Needle's recent description on the InfoD-Cafe list:
A hallmark of the Internet is the opportunity it affords scholars and researchers to present information in novel and interactive ways. One such application that operates in this vein is the Historical Event Markup and Linking Project. The Project allows users to coordinate and navigate through historical materials on the Internet by giving them the ability to create animated maps, interactive timelines or event tables that combine a number of web-based or static resources. The project's homepage contains sample ideas for general perusal, and a developer's guide for interested parties.
Those who are into this history and the Internet phenomenon may be interested in the history dept at George Mason. A PhD that lets you look at new media and IT? How cool is that!
May 19, 2004
Computer as a communications device
Here's how the memex.org site describes these papers:
In two extraordinary papers, Man-Computer Symbiosis (1960) and The Computer as a Communications Device (1968, co-authored with Robert Taylor), Licklider describes his vision of computing (1960), which led to the funding priorities of IPTO and helps explain why the Internet was built, and discusses the future (1968), presciently arguing that by the Year 2000 millions of people would be on-line, connected by a global network.
The site is questionable (green text on a black background...old CRT or what?) and the PDF could use some design help too. But this looks like a must download for anyone interested in communications and/or Internet history.
April 20, 2004
Schriver does the 1040
Rats. The ID-Cafe list, though seemingly using the wonderful mailman list software, has woefully out-of-date archives. If they were current, I would have pointed you to a great post by one of my favorite gurus, Karen Schriver (author of Dynamics in document design).
Karen has recently taken a stab at redesigning the US 1040 tax form. She's now heard back all the reasons why the IRS can't make any of her suggested changes. Sigh.
Check out this expanded detail for a review of the changes and the IRS response. Scary!
Karen is speaking on day 1 of the STC conference (a scary good panel with Steve Krug, Ginny Redish, and Whitney Quesenbery). There's still time to register and STC offers one-day rates :). So if you have a chance, don't miss it!
April 12, 2004
September 11 and libraries
On December 18, 2001, by a vote of 407-0, Congress designated September 11th as Patriot Day. We believe the most patriotic gesture citizens can make on this day is to come together in public places like local libraries. Through talks, roundtables, deliberations, and performances, citizens will participate collectively and think creatively about our country, our government, our community, and encourage and support the well-informed voice of the American citizenry.
The project seems geared more towards those directly involved in libraries themselvs, but I figure it's worth passing along now so that those of us who are friends of libraries too.
March 17, 2004
ID in motion
I'm into convergence. I have a combo TV/VCR, a combo TV/DVD, a phone/answering machine, and a Treo that does phone, WWW, and syncs with my Outlook. So I'm not one of those "convergence is a myth" folks. Thus I'm very interested in seeing what happens as broadband becomes commonplace on the Internet. This was part of the reason that I titled my chapter in Content and Complexity (more links in the bottom right nav) "Information Design in Motion."
Anyways, all this is a prequel to a couple of interesting video snippets that came across my inbox today. Not exactly in the traditional ID sense, but both are great examples of how motion on the Internet/WWW is so much more compelling than their broadcast counterparts.
First, there's MoveOn.org's snippet of Donald Rumsfeld who "got caught blatantly contradicting his past statements." You can probably count on one hand the number of people who watched Face the Nation (okay, just a gross exaggeration), thus the ability to actually see Rumsfeld squirm is so much more effective than reading a transcript. And given the blogosphere/email, this snippet is going to be seen a magnitude or more frequently than the original. (Hmmm...it's like Janet Jackson's breast...turnabout is fair play?)
On a completely different note is this slick page from the folks at Lebonze over in the UK. No, it's not exactly a great delivery of any critical information, but c'mon, even if you hate Flash, you have to be just a little bit impressed by the accomplishment. It's seeing this kind of experiment that may help someone else think about new possibilities for interacting with web readers/visitors (a la You Don't Know Jack).
March 8, 2004
I hope that this doesn't really reduce donations to places like Goodwill. Or maybe I hope that there are organizations who can help connect people who might really benefit from Freecycle's goods even if they aren't digerati.
January 9, 2004
How much information?
In response to a question on the ID-Cafe list, Loren Needles has pointed to a really interesting study from UC Berkeley called How much information? 2003. This study is part of an ongoing effort to estimate how much information is created each year.
Here are some highlights from this year's report:
The snippets don't do the report justice, in part because the report itself provides lots of useful ways to put the data in context. For example, "five exabytes of information is equivalent in size to the information contained in half a million new libraries the size of the Library of Congress print collections." Yowsa!
Speaking of which, it seems worthwhile to pull out a link to Roy Williams' data powers of ten. I couldn't find the live version on Roy's site, so am pointing to the UC Berkeley version instead. Keep it in mind when you want to know the difference between a petabyte and a yottabyte :)
January 5, 2004
Marriage of technology and policy
The last twenty years were about technology. The next twenty years are about policy. It's about realizing that all the really hard problems -- free expression, copyright, due process, social networking -- may have technical dimensions, but they aren't technical problems. ... [A]ll the grandiose visions of e-democracy, universal access to human knowledge and (God help us all) the Semantic Web, are dependent on changes in the law, in the policy, in the sticky, non-quantifiable elements of the world. We can't solve them with technology: the best we can hope for is to use technology to enable the human interaction that will solve them.
Kevin Werbach doesn't agree, but I'm sympathetic to Kottke's point that "technology is definitely playing the horse to policy's cart."
December 22, 2003
Al Gore and the Internet
Speaking of things I didn't know, I only recently came across the backstory for "Al Gore invented the Internet" (where Gore was basically raked over the coals for what he didn't say).
Seth Finkelstein has a comprehensive resource page on the matter. Two articles that I spent some time with were Phil Agre's analysis and Richard Wiggins' piece for First Monday. Not a flattering picture of both the media -- and our -- fascination with the quick sound bite, particularly if it is at someone else's expense.
December 19, 2003
Mentor points to an Australian piece about information literacy and notes that tools are not the end-all, be-all. In the article, author Nathan Cochrane takes the position that for many of us, our skill sets may not be equal to the amount of information at our disposal:
Despite having more information at our fingertips than any generation before, there is little evidence that our ability to make good, timely decisions has improved. ... We have computer hardware and software but often ignore "wetware" - the first, most important, cog in the information seeking machine is ourselves.
Here are a few resources I found with a quick Google search that seem interesting re this subject: National Forum on Information Literacy (San Jose State University), Sheila Webber's information literacy weblog, and the ACRL Institute for Information Literacy.
December 15, 2003
A history of the Internet
It's history night. Here's one version of the history of the Internet.
December 10, 2003
More power to the people
The miserable failure Google bomb was an amusing application of grass roots power on the Internet. But one enterprising, and pissed off, consumer has leveraged this power to -- dare I say it? -- the greater good.
Evidence: www.ipoddirtysecret.com by the Neistat brothers (one of whom is the said pissed-off consumer). As they note, it's not obvious that it was their action -- a great QuickTime movie -- that led Apple to change their policy re iPod battery replacement. But the ability for a consumer to get out their complaint in such an amusing way that it becomes fodder for the greater weblog community, and eventually get picked up by tech media is evolutionary if not revolutionary.
All this said, I'm not sure it was actually a battery problem. Back in the spring, my first-generation iPod wouldn't hold a charge, and my Internet research turned up a design flaw related to some capacitor. There was a great site that showed you ow to pry your iPod apart and disconnect the right connector that allowed this capacitor to discharge. Voila...no more battery charge problems. I apparently didn't bookmark this great resource, or I'd link to it now. (Bummer...I may need it in another 12 months!)
Thanks to Capulet Communications for the pointer.
December 8, 2003
Myth of doomed data
Okay, if you haven't picked up on this before, I'm an old fart. Not eligible for AARP yet (gotta be 50), but still pretty damn old. Like, I remember punch cards, DECtape, 8" floppies (back when they really were floppy), and monster magtapes. In other words, I've seen just a few digital formats in my computer lifetime.
Given that, I was interested to read this piece from MIT's Technology Review on the Myth of Doomed Data, whose sub-title reads "The handwringing about obsolete formats is misguided. The digital files we create today will be around for a very, very long time."
If this isn't one of the most interesting questions about society and technology, I don't know what is. When you realize that we can still look at found documents that are hundreds (or thousands) of years old, it is a bit disconcerting to wonder what generations in the distant future may make of some of our digital artifacts, when we're lucky to convert an 8-track if we want.
Thanks to mgk for the pointer. BTW, he writes:
Ive said it before and Ill say it again: digital preservation represents a significant technical challenge, but its first and foremost a social challenge.
Now there's something I'd like to see more about!
December 5, 2003
The opposite of miserable failure
Now, the weblog community is adding insult to injury. Taking Dick Gephardt's commentary (picked up by The Atlantic), bloggers are taking advantage of Google's search algorithm so that links like this one -- miserable failure -- make the president's official bio the top site returned by a search for 'miserable failure' on Google.
BTW, the first site returned on a search for 'weapons of mass destruction' is still online.
December 2, 2003
First Monday goodies
The December issue of First Monday came out yesterday with a number of articles in the society & technology space. Looks like some good reads! Here are the articles on my list, along with parts of their abstracts.
November 19, 2003
CFP: AoIR 2004
I'd really like to add this one to my conference calendar for 2004! It's Internet Research 5.0: Ubiquity? in Sussex, UK, September 19-22, 2004.
Internet Research 5.0 will feature a variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives on the Internet. Examining and challenging the visibility and prevalence of the Internet and Internet discourses, the conference will bring together a wide range of researchers, practitioners and scholars for the exchange of formal and informal ideas. As with previous AoIR conferences, the aim is to promote a deep, coherent and situated understanding of the Internet and connected networks.
Deadline for submissions is February 2nd.
November 13, 2003
Here's another collection of (I think) interesting links. As they say, your mileage may vary! What struck my fancy:
November 12, 2003
Three cheers for the W3C!
In what could be good news for the Web, the Director of the US Patent and Trademark Office has ordered a re-examination of the '906 patent, which was the subject of a patent infringement lawsuit this summer brought by Eolas against Microsoft.
Here's more on this from the W3C itself. What a shame they don't have individual memberships!
November 8, 2003
Here are a few links that caught my eye recently:
October 30, 2003
Info literacy and the digital divide
The SIGIA and aoir lists had some interesting pointers today for folks interested in the issues of information literacy and the digital divide. On the info literacy side, there's this executive summary of Adult Literacy in America (for free) and this slightly older, and international piece on Literacy in the Information Age (for a fee). The first took an interesting approach in their study, surveying 26,000 adults in order to get a richer picture of the literacy issue rather than simply estimating the number of "illiterates."
The aim of this survey is to profile the English literacy of adults in the United States based on their performance across a wide array of tasks that reflect the types of materials and demands they encounter in their daily lives.
Lack of access to the Internet and related digital technologies is a problem not only in emerging markets but also in advanced countries, a comparative study of eight markets has shown.
This study also touches on the issue of non-use by people who actually have Internet access (something the Pew Internet Project has also reported).
October 28, 2003
The Tipping Point
How about you?
October 21, 2003
E-commerce and the environment
According to the announcement:
Articles in the special issue analyze the environmental consequences of telecommuting and assess the transformation of the wholesale, warehouse and retail sectors of the economy by network technology. The environmental impact of conventional and electronic approaches to grocery shopping, book selling and scholarly journals are compared and the possibility of using product tags to improve recycling is explored. The research ranges from the U.S. to Germany, from Finland to Japan.
A lot of the articles are really about the environment (including one on greenhouse gas emissions and home grocery delivery in Finland! Others are more generically relevant to the whole society and technology conversation, particularly the reviews of books like Castells' Rise of the Network Society and Brown and Daguid's The Social Life of Information. Interesting that their method for making these available is to simply create PDFs of the relevant print pages...so in some cases, you'll need to skip over text in the first column!
Funding from the NSF (where I would love to work some day) has enabled them to make this issue available for free. However, you do have to register to download articles.
October 12, 2003
Kids and design
Sugata ... Mitra's passion is computer-based education, specifically for India's poor. He believes that children, even terribly poor kids with little education, can quickly teach themselves the rudiments of computer literacy. The key, he contends, is for teachers and other adults to give them free rein, so their natural curiosity takes over and they teach themselves. He calls the concept "minimally invasive education."
Too bad this effect doesn't carry over as one ages!
October 6, 2003
October's First Monday
October 5, 2003
Internet research blogs
September 25, 2003
The people vs the judiciary
I have no idea why I was listening to Bill O'Reilly on his radio show last week. But one of his topics was what he called a Judicial Coup d'Etat, where the "ACLU is hooking up with a number of liberal judges to declare things that they don't like as unconstitutional." I found it a bit hard to get worked up, particularly as I tend to agree with the ACLU and liberal judges more often than not. But Bill goes on to say:
It is obvious, ladies and gentlemen, that we the people are being directly attacked by secularists who want to change this country. They know they can't do it in the voting booth, so they are going to do it using the courts.
What bizarre timing that this issue re the no-call lists should hit the US national press less than a week later:
A federal judge in Denver late today ruled that the government's plan to curb unsolicited telemarketing calls was unconstitutional, another blow to plans to implement a national do-not-call list next week. ... News of today's court decision came after the Senate voted 95 to 0 for legislation that would overturn a decision by U.S. District Judge Lee R. West in Oklahoma City blocking the government's do-not-call plan.
Boy, every time I think I'm going to be able to do something design-related for my degree project, things get really "interesting" regarding technology and policy. On the one hand, I've not bothered to sign up for the do-not-call list. For me, caller ID works perfectly fine. On the other, this may be a harbinger of things to come re Internet policy. If history is any clue, this is a pretty darn critical time for the Internet, and even if there are some Chicken Littles out there, it certainly seems that now is the time to determine whether the Internet or WWW will go the way of radio (and be subject to the whims of commercial interest) or retain most of its anarchical features. Some think we may have already lost.
September 17, 2003
Microsoft and plug-ins
I'm not sure what to think about Microsoft's losing their case re plug-ins (best summarized by Zeldman). But per Zeldman, there's some "coming for the gypsies" foreshadowing here which is very plausible given the whole Microsoft IE situation.
I liked David Berlind's suggestion on ZDNet:
Rather than allow the litigation and deliberations to drag out for years, dragging the Web and every user who's on it through the mud, this is a chance for Microsoft to do something that no one would expect.
Note to self: see what the folks on Slashdot have to say.
September 16, 2003
Usability and voting
This morning on the AIGA Experience Design list, Whitney pointed to a great resource on the UPA website. It's their voting and usability project. Fans of recent events (or California residents) may want to check out their section on the California recall election.
September 12, 2003
Early social marketing
I'm not really up on my social marketing history, but these are certainly examples of this field. The one shown here from 1918 (click the image for a larger version) is particularly interesting. The caption reads "Is your mind diseased?" and the (blindfolded) man's brain is illustrated with images of naked women and men and women in apparently "compromising" positions.
A hundred years later, and we have Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on network television. Civilization gone to hell in a handbasket!
BTW, according to this quiz, Kyan is my "type" (he is my fave for sure :).
BBC Creative Archive
Speaking of a great resource, the BBC has announced it will make the BBC Creative Archive available to the public for non-commercial use. This archive will include Internet access to all of the BBC's radio and television programs.
On the other side of the Atlantic there is little evidence of similarly creative thought. Instead, the US government remains captured by the extremists. The very same week that the Creative Archive was born in Britain, it was exercising its power to kill a planned meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo), the United Nations' intellectual property agency, to consider "open and collaborative projects to create public goods."
Check out the latter if you're into the various arguments about copyright, open source, and intellectual property.
August 17, 2003
Conrad on literacy
Conrad Taylor has made available what looks to be an interesting read on "new" kinds of literacy: visual, media, and information. He wrote this as the backdrop for a forthcoming workshop in London called "Explanatory & Instructional Graphics and Visual Information Literacy." His 22-page paper, "New kinds of literacy, and the world of visual information" (PDF; 400K),
explains the history of these terms and asks whether these metaphorical extensions of ‘literacy’ are just a rhetorical device to inflate the importance of these fields of study, or if there really are literacy-like aspects to them. He concludes that there is at least a case for the concept of Visual Literacy when it applies to information graphics: we could call this Visual Information Literacy.
As an aside, I sure wish that more proceedings papers were as nicely designed as this one!
Brands and culture
Andrew Zolli has an interesting read about brands, commercialism, and culture in his weblog called No Logo vs. Pro Logo: How Both Sides Get It Wrong (sorry, you gotta scroll...no permalinks). He makes a fairly good case for why the "anti-corporate activist and corporate leader" need to meet in the middle:
For starters, brands aren't invading the culture, for many they are the culture. The marketplace has trumped other 'meaning making' institutions in people's lives, from political parties to religious institutions. Ask an average citizen to name their elected representatives and you'll get a disinterested stare, but everybody has a passionately held opinion about Walmart.
There's more good stuff there. But I must admit that every once in a while, I just get a kick out of checking out the activist stuff (like these spoof ads from the folks at Adbusters).
August 3, 2003
Interesting call re universal design
From the PHD-DESIGN list, a call for proposals for the National Endowment for the Arts:
Program Solicitation: Universal Design Leadership Project
Hmmm, perhaps this is the silver lining to the dark cloud that is the right-wing bashing of the NEA.
July 29, 2003
Educating the Citizen Designer
Local bud Thom Haller emailed me this one from the most recent issue of Metropolis: Educating the Citizen Designer, the mag's Aug/Sep editorial. In this curious parallel universe, Editor In Chief Susan S. Szenasy writes:
If interior designers and architects continue to engage in their ongoing turf war, the rest of the world will pass them by. This thought was voiced, often and in many ways, at a discussion on a recent Sunday. We were a small group of interior design and architecture educators, plus one editor, called to the University of Cincinnati by Hank Hildebrandt, associate director for undergraduate studies in architecture and interior design at the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP). Hank asked us to discuss the often heated relationship between the two professions, what this legacy of conflict is passing on to our future space/place makers and form-givers, and where the possible escape routes from this quagmire might be located. He prodded us with questions like: What is it that interior designers do better than architects? Should the next generation learn to be interior architects rather than interior designers? Are interior designers trying to grab architecture's sex appeal, just as "information architects" are doing?
While such queries proliferated throughout that day, one throwaway comment captured it all for me. Someone mentioned that among the interior design and architecture firms bidding for a recent corporate job, there was an unexpected entrant, a major accounting firm. The accountants sold themselves on the merits of their financial analysis, plus their ability to put teams together, and sure, they would hire interior designers and architects. Did the world just pass by the design professions, again, in favor of more easily understood skills? The accountants seem to be winning.
If you skimmed, be sure to re-read the end of that first paragraph...ouch! She closed the editorial with a familiar refrain:
What if fledgling designers of every discipline were given more time in school and given the same solid foundation of humanities and sciences, in addition to an understanding of structure, materials, ergonomics, space, and technology? Armed with these fundamentals, students could choose to be technicians, colorists, decorators, interior designers, architects, product or communications designers, or even invent their own focus, each and every one an essential contributor to a complex society. Why quibble over titles when there's so much to learn and so much to do?
I don't know. Where have I heard this before? Still not sure I'm buying it.
Eventually we may end up with a situation like the one in fig. 4 (at right). The digital hardware and the network behind it will form a platform for a seamless digital dimension. The various devices form the interface to the objects of our interest, the digital environment formed by software and information content, which can appear to us through any of our devices. This development will be driven by the simple fact that the software and the digital information are so much more important to us than the hardware. We change mobile telephones and computers, but we want to move the old information to the new machine.
He loses me a bit with the "features" at the same level as the "gadgets" but it's an interesting read (no matter what your perspective of the c-word) and the illustrations are nicely done.
Funding challenge for US e-gov
Yesterday's Edupage had the news that the US House Appropriations Committee has slashed the Electronic Government (E-Gov) Act budget for 2004 from $45M to just $1M. I realize this is a Republican administration (read: smaller government), but it was after all, the White House that had requested this funding. According to the quoted article, "the Bush Administration had not justified the $45 million funding request."
The article reports that the E-Gov Act:
proposes to make it easier for citizens and businesses to interact with the government, save taxpayer dollars, and streamline citizen-to-government transactions [and] establishes an Office of Electronic Government, headed by a Bush-appointed administrator within the Office of Management and Budget.
Another interesting tidbit from the article is that the legislation also:
Authorizes funding for improvement of the federal Internet portal, Firstgov.gov, so that on-line government information and services are organized "according to citizen needs, not agency jurisdiction."
Interesting! As an aside, I attended FedWeb this spring, where Jared Spool did one of their keynotes. During some Q&A, he suggested that portals in general (and Firstgov in particular) were going to have a really tough time of it if their primary activity was pointing to interfaces they had no control over.
Apparently the House and Senate will come up with some compromise that will increase the funding somewhat. I'm certainly supportive of the premise (better access for citizens), just a tad skeptical about the implementation!
July 28, 2003
The economics of wi-fi
Here's the irony in Wi-Fi public access pricing: retailers can be profitable by offering free Wi-Fi as a customer acquisition tool. But when they charge for Wi-Fi access, these retailers, and the WISPs serving them, almost certainly lose money. ... The fully loaded cost of offering free Wi-Fi access is less than $6/day. Operating a billable hotspot costs over $30/day.
July 25, 2003
Teens do more web than TV
Teens and young adults now spend more time online than watching television, according to a new study released by Yahoo Inc. and Carat North America. According to the report, in an average week, teens and young adults ages 13-24 spend 16.7 hours online (excluding e-mail); 13.6 hours watching television; 12 hours listening to the radio; 7.7 hours talking on the phone; and six hours reading non-school related books and magazines.
July 24, 2003
This 'n that
In the spirit of Kottke's remaindered links, here are a few that struck my fancy recently.
July 21, 2003
Search engine for global poor
How cool. From the July 16 Edupage:
MIT DEVELOPING SEARCH ENGINE FOR GLOBAL POOR
July 18, 2003
Reissue of Orality & Literacy
I've been working like a bunny on a project that goes live Monday, so I've gotten a bit behind on IDblog. I hope to catch up on a few tonight. For example, Roy Johnson of Mantex Information Design just sent out his July newsletter, and in it, he mentioned that Walter Ong's classic, Orality & Literacy, has been reissued. Looks like it was really reissued nearly a year ago, but that is some 4 years after I read it for my masters program. I definitely recommend it; here's a review from Roy that may help you decide if it's for you.
July 12, 2003
Information anxiety or data addiction?
Earlier this week, Doc Searls had a pointer to a NYTimes article titled The Lure of Data: Is It Addictive? (free, but registration required). The article essentially talked about how new tech products, particularly wireless ones, enables folks to be "on" all the time, and how for some, this can lead to something bordering on a 12-step problem.
Doc's initial reaction was to call it a "red herring issue" as he interpreted the piece to be about "our need to know ... trivialized and dismissed as yet another addiction."
Well, I wasn't the only one to wonder where he was coming from, as Doc shared later. One of the comments he had received really struck my fancy. It was:
And, although [NYTimes author Richtel] doesn't explicitly make the distinction, I personally find it interesting that he refers to "The Lure of Data" rather than, say, "The Lure of Information." I suspect that he realizes and distinguishes, whether analytically or intuitively, that "information" is the net result of effective processing of "data," and that the rush of collecting increasing amounts of data (I'm reminded of the little robot, Number Five, in the movie "Short Circuit" imploring, "more input... need more input...!!") may ironically decrease the real information one obtains from an onslaught of data, like trying to fill a bucket with a fire hose.
This is so similar to a quote I've held onto since 1996, when I did the proposal to form the STC Information Design SIG. The quote was by Paul Sagan, an editor of Time, who said:
No one wants to sit at the bottom of Niagara Falls with a bucket, saying "I can't keep up with all this."
This whole concept of data overload--and the compelling solutions that some designers have come up with to deal with it--has been what has kept me interested in information design since the mid-80s.
But is it real? I certainly don't claim to have all the answers, but I do have a bias, as evidenced in a brief little position paper (Information overload: Myth or menace?) I did for my digital economy class last semester.
At this point, I believe that information overload is real, which is one of the reasons I feel optimistic about the prospects of doing information design (or document design or whatever) as a career. But I must admit that I hadn't thought of the addiction to data issue (Richtel hints at a new OCD--online compulsive disorder) as another variable for the equation.
However, I don't see data addiction as a problem that information designers are well-equipped to handle, so I may leave that one for others to handle!
July 2, 2003
Please, G*d, let it be true!
Microsoft may have unwittingly started a revolt against its Internet Explorer (IE) browser by discontinuing it as a standalone product and blurring the future of the current version, IE 6.
How great would it be that after dealing with the feds and AOL that M$ shot themselves in the foot? Given this decision of theirs, it's nice to continue hearing great things about Safari, Opera (who are "committed to Mac" -- yay!), and Firebird.
July 1, 2003
Shirky on groups
Well, this one's destined to be the blog post of the week (I saw it as an email entry by Peter Morville on an IA list). It's a slightly revised keynote by Clay Shirky, titled A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy . It's an extremely interesting read, particularly if you're interested in "social software that supports large and long-lived groups." My apologies for pulling a quote that may be somewhat out of context, but I found it interesting and amusing:
I can't tell you why it took as long for weblogs to happen as it did, except to say it had absolutely nothing to do with technology. We had every bit of technology we needed to do weblogs the day Mosaic launched the first forms-capable browser. Every single piece of it was right there. Instead, we got Geocities. Why did we get Geocities and not weblogs? We didn't know what we were doing.
In the article, Shirky notes that it is impossible in these situations to separate technical and social issues, that 'members' are different from 'users,' and that sometimes the group rights need priority over individual rights. He also describes four factors that contribute to successful groups, including useful 'handles' that aren't too lightweight, ways of having members of good standing, barriers to participation (this isn't unrelated to the previous factor), and a way to handle scale.
Shirky suggests that the lack of barriers killed Usenet. I'm not sure I agree. It is certainly the case that as the masses poured in (FidoNet was a huge problem), previously manageable groups became much less useful. But the other thing that "killed" Usenet (which isn't really dead anyways) was that the popularity of the WWW took off at nearly the same time. Lots of folks who spent all their time in foo.bar now were experimenting with this new toy. But what Shirky doesn't really mention is that web-based discussion groups still suffer greatly in comparison to client-server Usenet groups. Usenet readers are still preferable in terms of their user experience (in part because they can maintain state between sessions; cookies buy you some, but not all of the functionality in newsreaders).
Or to state the point a different way, who isn't depressed about the state of spam? Yet most folks I know aren't dumping email because they are getting bushels of crap in their inboxes...they are learning to cope because there is no useful alternative to email...nor is there another type of software (even IM) which is causing folks to keep email in the back burner.
My subscription list on Usenet is much smaller than it was in the mid-80s. But I still have 8 subscriptions. I might have had more, but email lists (if which I'm subscribed to a scary number) have supplemented this. When you add the web-based archive capability and the ease of setup (a la Yahoo Groups) to the direct in-your-inbox interaction, email lists are great applications of social software. But Shirky's right...they can be their own worst enemy!
June 4, 2003
Reclaiming the public domain
I just signed Lessig's petition to Reclaim the Public Domain. Here's a bit about it:
We have launched a petition to build support for the Public Domain Enhancement Act. That act would require American copyright holders to pay $1 fifty years after a work was published. If they pay the $1, the copyright continues. If they don’t, the work passes into the public domain. Historical estimates would suggest 98% of works would pass into the pubilc domain after 50 years. The Act would do a great deal to reclaim a public domain.
If this resonates with you, please consider signing and/or passing the word.
May 6, 2003
We just wish that T-Mobile would hurry up and enable the device to sync with Microsoft Outlook and other PIMs.I went with the Treo because I didn't want to have to go to the pain of regular exporting and importing of calendar and contact info. But boy, I am enjoying it! Although I didn't catch up with Lou and friends at the DC happy hour last week (I arrived after the festivities were over), it was really cool to be sitting on Connecticut Ave. and looking up the address for the bar on bloug :).
Speaking of which, Lou's got an interesting entry there now titled UX Bumpage. (Maybe I'm listening to too much Howard Stern, but when I first read that title, I parsed that as Bum-page, not Bump-age!). The comments are already flying...check it out.
April 28, 2003
Access and access
I'm fond of telling people that I have two interests related to communication and technology. One is access and the other is access :).
One access is related to issues of design that make information products usable. The other access is the one that is more political and social. There are obviously interesting ways to tie them together, but on the other hand, it seems impossible to become as facile in both as I'd like.
Anyways, all this is a prequel to say that the reading assignment I mentioned yesterday has finally compelled me to get off my butt and give some funds to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
I have some issues with Lessig's arguments, but there's one that I'm particularly interested in--his call for open spectrum (or the wireless commons). I find the implications wrt the Digital Divide very compelling. I'm intrigued by the story of Dewayne Hendricks and his experiment to provide broadband via wireless to less-than-enfranchised populations...in areas (Tonga and Native American tribal lands) where the FCC's jurisdiction isn't (apparently) an issue.
Now I should probably go give Richard Stallman some money too!
April 25, 2003
A quick log on blogs
I've got some stuff to log later once I'm home, but just had to get a quick lunch-time blog in. While doing some weblog surfing, I came across Megnut's From the Margins of the Writable Web powerpoint for her presentation at ETCon. These handouts obviously pale in comparison to the presentation (look like they were more speaker aids than audience), but there were a few meaty bits in there.
In particular, I'm intrigued by the World as a Blog, which provides a nearly real-time display of geo-coded weblogs. Wow! I've got IDblog geourl-enabled, so I'm going to submit this and see how long it take me to pop up :).
BTW, this other entry from Meg, Searching the BlogSphere, looks pretty interesting too.
April 8, 2003
London does information literacy
Conrad Taylor just let ID-Cafe list members know about a report he's published related to a discussion of information literacy. The participants included a dozen or so of interesting folks, many from the British Computer Society, who were interested in the forthcoming World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva in December.
Conrad is my go-to ID guy in the UK. He was very helpful in late 1996 when I was trying to get the ID SIG off the ground. He also gave me invaluable feedback back in when I was drafting my chapter for our book. Having seen Conrad in action at the Vision Plus 4 conference (with recording equipment), I have no doubt that this report will be a great read. And since he's a hard-core information designer, it will also be a nice read.
In his email to the list, he noted that:
One of the interesting tensions in the meeting was between the people (such as librarians and "information scientists") whose major concern is how "users" can be better trained to access and use sources of information, and those other folks (such as information designers and publishers) who are concerned with trying to make information products as easy to understand as possible.
IA versus ID? Where have I heard that before :).
Gee, if it wasn't hard enough to choose from the many great conferences (see right column, below the fold), now there's the option of summer school. The three I've come across recently are Oxford Internet Institute's Summer Doctoral Programme, UMaryland's Graduate Webshop, and the IIID's Information Design Summer Academies (one in Austria, one in Japan).
March 29, 2003
Trends in information formats
A work colleague sent the pointer to this one: Five-Year Information Format Trends , a report from the Online Computer Learning Center. At nearly a meg, it's a hefty PDF download, and it's also geared towards libraries, but I suspect that many IAs, IDs, etc., might find some of their stats and analysis interesting. The report is chunked into four sections: popular materials, scholarly materials, digitization projects, and web resources.
BTW, kudos to OCLC for giving visitors the option to register or not. Nice choice!
March 13, 2003
Mike brings new meaning to "I surf as much as I eat."
February 17, 2003
Tilting at power laws
(Three entries in an hour? Gee, someone's getting tired of being snow-bound.)
Over on the AIfIA list, Christina asked if anyone has tried to change the curve inherent in a power law and/or whether it was worth doing. In response, Eric Scheid (host of the fabulous IAwiki) submitted some useful links on the wiki, along with this one from Nature on language and power laws.
I suspect that most efforts to "change" the power law (e.g., this one) are really only effective at moving individual objects up or down the curve...they don't really change the shape of the curve itself. But if I make my brain hurt (and dust off the old college math), I'll study this and see if I can understand it better.
One thing I do think is that the effort, unless futile, is valuable. This may be true for weblogs, but I think it is even more true for wealth. The latest issue of UUWorld (alas, is not online yet) has an interesting story about Chuck Collins and his United for a Fair Economy. Collins is a grandson of Oscar Meyer, and he practices what he preaches; he donated a $500K trust fund to charity in his mid-twenties. He is working with Bill Gates' father on an effort to stop the repeal of the estate tax. Interesting stuff.
February 11, 2003
Inequality and the Internet
Ooh, how weird is that? Just as I finished the first half of Barabási's Linked: The New Science of Networks for class, the fine folks at WebWord post this succinct summary about power laws, networks, and weblogs.
Barabási's book is quite the interesting read if you're at all into math, science, or the Internet. Barabási is a physics professor at Notre Dame, and his findings relating to how networks lead to these power laws (with few hubs with many links and many nodes with few links) are very interesting. The book describes all this in a very user-friendly way, with lots of discussion related to phenomenon such as the six degrees of Kevin Bacon.
I've got to finish the second half for next week's class, but at this point, there is certainly the hint that this understanding of networks, hubs, and power laws may provide some clues for how to deal with terrorist networks like Al Qaeda (I'm guessing it is by interfering with the hubs and not worrying about the less-connected nodes). Heavy-duty stuff.
IDblog is Beth Mazur tilting at power law windmills. A little bit Internet, a little bit technology, a little bit society, and a lot about designing useful information products. Send your cards and letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
blogs and wikis
business and design
content and writing
marketing and brands
multimedia & broadband
society & technology
words can't describe
STC Information Design SIG
boxes and arrows
information design journal
aiga experience design
asilomar institute for information architecture
society for technical communication
usability professionals association
gratuitous right-nav promos