Pearls in the mud.

Tom Steinberg at iWire on the brou-ha-ha about blogs, power-laws and Clay‘s part in it all:

“the blogosphere environment actually conspires against the successful evolution of difficult ideas, unless they get programmed into a form of application. This is a flip side to the creativity of the blog world, where the same constraints (i.e. noise and miscommunication) can often lead to serendipity and innovation.”

Not sure I buy everything Tom says there, but it’s a thought-provoker to be sure. Once we’re up-and-running with a decent, active population, we’ve definitely got our own ‘pearls-in-the-mud’ problem on our project. We’ve got a couple of things we think might help.

One is that we will have a strong geographical focus – so that the big national power-law curve of what people are working on becomes many smaller domains. These will have their own zipf curves I’m sure, but more comprehensible and accessible. Themes within these smaller local domains can, and will go TransLocal, which is when things get interesting.

Secondly, these smaller domains will have access to human editors: acting in sherpa-not-censor mode; who can cluster quicker, smarter and cheaper than an algorithm; at least while we are in start-up mode – also giving feedback and encouragement to those building and sailing their ships.

Thirdly – the ‘t’ word. Taxonomy. We have a large, but discrete problem domain, which gives us a large, but discrete taxonomy we can generate. Done well, it will give people structure to build their own ideas around, go translocal and ultimately the ability to improve that structure based on their experience.

We’re trying to get just the right amount of mud for good stuff to happen, but some killer pearl-detection officers and equipment on hand for everyone to enjoy.

Can we have our cake and eat it? The next couple of months will show us.

» iSociety: Scaling Clay Shirky

A gift

of a word given by a friend to me today:

Ultracrepidate ul-tre-krep’i-date, v (Latin, from ultra, beyond, and crepida, sandal)

To criticize beyond sphere of one’s knowledge. This very interesting-sounding and useful word for a common practice has a very interesting etymology. In a Roman story, a cobbler criticised the sandals in a painting by the painter Apelles, and then complained about further parts of the work, to which Apelles is said to have replied, “Ne sutor ultra crepidam”, or, roughly, “The cobbler must not go beyond the sandal”. As true today as it was then.

And with that, back to the wireframes for this cobbler.

» Forthright’s Favo[u]rite Words

News evolves

BBC News Online is going to get a new look in the next few days. Editor-in-Chief Mike Smartt makes the >ahem< smart move of explaining to the existing user-base what’s going to be happening. Maybe some more screenshots/illustrations would have been better than a portrait of Mike, but the new design is a real evolutionary continuation and shouldn’t take that much getting used to.

“Our story pages have a new look too and we’re providing more effective links to our wealth of in-depth, analysis and feature material, along with our archive of more than two million items.

The redesign and technical improvements should also mean material downloads much more quickly.

But we’ve made sure the overall character of the site has not been lost and the navigational structure so many of you tell us you value so highly remains pretty much the same.”

Congratulations to Paul Sissons, Maire Flynn, Max Gadney and the rest of the team involved.

» BBC News: “News Online to get a new look”

The deity’s in the details.

Title freely adapted from Mies’ : “God is in the details”; the goal of holonic selfconsistency of the architect’s parti though all scales, all points of the experience. See also Adam’s invocation of Aalto today:

“Always consider a thing in terms of its next larger context”

I love this post at Rogue Librarian, about using good typography as the starting point to a greater design journey.

“Start with the typography, and use it to define your style, simplify your color scheme, and clean up the visual lines in your site.”

» Roguelibrarian.com: “Looking good with less”

BBC News moves to harness smartmobs.

Less than a year from Dan Gillmor’s “the former audience” Japanese camera phones moblogging-the-news scenario, the team at BBC News Interactive have made it reality:

“if you think you have a picture worth looking at, if you found yourself in the right place at the right time, send it to BBC News Online.

If you want to send your picture from your mobile phone, dial 07970 885089. You can send them from any network or phone.”

Also – check out the copyright notice at the bottom of the page….

» BBC News: Talking Point: Send us your pictures


Update: Nice mention/analysis on Dan Gillmor’s blog.

Fight the power[law], part #438

Clay‘s latest piece on power law distributions in personal publishing has had plenty of commentary and criticism over the weekend, but there’s some very interesting commentary over at the top of the zipf-curve on a post of Kottke’s on the same subject. Eric‘s been plotting the stats on interlinking within the iaWiki, and found the power law staring back at him. Matt Haughey speculates thusly:

“I wonder stats from a very large, dispersed wiki (like wikipedia) would follow the same curve. If so, that’d be really interesting, since it would seem with the content at wikipedia, it should be equally important stuff (if you assume the authors on all subjects were a similar level of experts).”

» Kottke.org: Weblogs and power-laws: comments

Numbers by painting.

The Doors of perception website has posted a transcript of Neil Gershenfeld’s presentation on the work of MIT’s centre for Bits and Atoms.

“a paintable computer, a viscous medium with tiny silicon fragments that makes a pour-out computer, and if it’s not fast enough or doesn’t store enough, you put another few pounds or paint out another few square inches of computing.”

» Doors7: Neil Gershenfeld: “This is the revolution for us”
[via Andrew Otwell]

Zero bubble.

snippetSurfaced here for a bit today, and for the foreseeable future I’m probably going to limit posts to ‘progress reports’ and calls-for-mental-participation around the project I’m working on.

The ethnography came back mid-Jan, and inspired the guys on the design team to come up with some new ideas which have suceeded to glue things together nicely. As well as the primary research, the analysis and synthesis the ethnographers did should stand us in good stead for a couple of release cycles yet. A good investment.

We’ve had a preliminary concept sign-off/review which went well. End of our concept stage is Monday. Lots of stuff to work out before then, as our product manager said, we’ve shone the torch around the room pretty well, but we need to striplight the place.

However, I’m at last comfortable that that we’ve got the “parti”: the driving, organising idea behind the thing.

Of course, this might all be proved to be complete rubbish once we put the paper-prototypes in front of people, but it’s great to have an idea that resonates with everyone on the team, that they ‘get’, and that they can generate their own stuff based upon.

I’m always happier on a project if we get to a good, grokkable parti, because even if it’s not the panacea you think it might be when you come up with it, then it will still drive the work along nicely, and lets you examine user research/testing critically, just as it should itself be revisited critically in the light of that feedback.

Other great thing about the work right now as a result of the research and the concept becoming more solid is the way in which it lets you view previous work in computer-mediated commmunication by academia or the commercial world with a more critical eye. Nico, our product manager brought our attention in the design team to “The Coordinator”, and its authors’ notions of ‘conversations for possibility’ and ‘conversations for action’.

Reading around and about this 15 year old design was revealing.

“In 1986, a six month study was done with Pacific Bell. The study was not successful – no one used the system.  Many subjects claimed that the system was fine, but that there was too much structure, and not enough flexibility.”
– Josh Introne, Brandeis University

Arrrgh! The Procrustean Bed of social software! I think the framework and models we’ve gotten too based on the ethnography balances flexiblity and ‘conversations for possibilty’, or maybe “spaces for half-formed thoughts” with the more teleological tools and processes.

The challenge of the project now is to marry this to a user-experience that lowers the barriers to participation sufficiently.

More soon

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Oh… and I’m sure I’m using the term wrongly but, anyway: zero bubble.