The soft city

Dan on “The Knowledge”: a test that London taxicab drivers have to take:

“You do it once, that’s it – it covers an insanely large area of London, from Stretford in the east to Acton in the west, way north to way south – all the main roads, and main locations. From then on, it’s all practice, reinforcing your knowledge of the city by driving it, reinforcing certain routes just as neural networks do.”

» Cityofsound: Buses and taxis

More on the BBC Creative-Archive

Danny fires an anti-FUD missile in the direction of my bosses:

“The BBC, in theory, shouldn’t care how many times you share a copy of, say, Dixon of Dock Green. On the contrary, it should thank you. You’re taking the hard work – and cost – out of distributing the works you have already paid for with your licence fee. So not only does the BBC not need to care about Napster and other file-sharing systems – it can actively take advantage of them. Distributing content in this way does not reduce the BBC’s income, but it can reduce its costs. Copy protection devices and clampdowns on internet copying just get in the way of the BBC’s mission.”

» Guardian Online: Auntie’s digital revelation

Shirky on HistoryFlow / Wattenburg / reinventing email / Microsoft Longhorn

Clay has a commentary on HistoryFlow, an IBM research piece that visualises change in collaboratively-authored content, mentioned (in a rather shallow fashion) here previously.

I hadn’t realised that data-visualisation-diety Martin Wattenberg was involved.

More Wattenburg:

The IBM profile lists a couple of things I didn’t know – that he is a doctor of mathematics, rather than having a training in interaction design or art; and that project of his there is “reinventing email”: a recurring mental note of mine at the moment. Judging [harshly] by what seem to be none-too-recently published screenshots on the IBM site, nothing particularly revolutionary there yet.

Over at the Guardian Onlineblog, they trail some new screenshots of Microsoft’s XP-replacement, codenamed Longhorn.

Longhorn-watching is an enthusiasm of mine, and some of the mocked-up/leaked screenshots have featured novel interfaces for email and personal information management… but as Jack Schofield says it’ll be 3 years till it sees daylight.

3 years to reinvent email…

I’d love to see a HistoryFlow type approach to my inbox, or even Ben Fry’s Valence. Maybe not as a primary task interface, but perhaps as an attract/nag mode, with some Bayesian magic bubbling up the topics and people I most need to get back to, as well as defending me from the offers of masculine enhancement.

That might be cool for my desktop / studyscreen – however, I get the feeling that interfaces which rely on visualisation-fireworks won’t work so well on the mobile devices that we’ll get more used to wanting to fetch our email from in coming years.

Any other contenders you know about / want to speculate on?

Mike Lee on patterns and politicking

Mike Lee is another convert-to-typepad, and over at his new digs he has a nice little post of pattern language, familiar to architects and software designers; for dealing with project politics and introducing new ideas, such as using pattern languages!

Some examples:

  • Adopt a Skeptic – Pair those who have accepted your new idea with those who have not.
  • Big Jolt – To provide more visibility for the change effort, invite a well-known person to do a presentation about the new idea.
  • Corridor Politics – Informally work on decision makers and key influencers before an important vote, to make sure they fully understand the consequences of the decision.

» CuriousLee: Patterns help introduce patterns (or any new idea)

You don’t want to do it like that!

“The biggest problem is that if you’re the user, for the most part the technology doesn’t know anything about you. The onus is on the user to learn and understand how the technology works. What we would like to do is reverse that equation so that it becomes the responsibility of the computer to learn about the user.

The computer would have to learn what the user knows, what the user doesn’t know, how the user performs everyday, common functions. It would also recognize when the user makes a mistake or doesn’t understand something.”

This could either be really good, or the birth of an evil , all-powerful Uber-Clippy. Shudder.

&#187 BusinessWeek: The Ghost in Your Machine
[via slashdot]

The interesting things you find in your own backyard

…so to speak. The BBC has published it’s report on it’s own performance in online media, prior to a governmental review.

These two points stood out for me:

“In looking forward we will be conscious not just of the ways in which online resembles the BBC’s traditional media of television and radio ( free provision of content, broad mix of genres, core editorial values, shared brands) , but also the ways in which it is likely to remain profoundly different ( no spectrum scarcity, low barriers to entry, largely on demand, many-to-many rather than one-to-many).”

“many-to-many” eh? And…

“Going forward, our aim will be to continue, where appropriate, to share code which we develop with others in the new media industry in order to ensure that the intellectual capital built through the licence fee is available to all. We will make this available free of charge in open source form for others to use and develop as they wish. In future, we would expect this to include code or other intellectual property which helps to improve the quality of video and audio online, and small software packages we have developed to improve the efficiency of web production systems.”

Wonder if anyone preparing this read Azeem’s Open-Source-BBC proposal.

» BBC – About the BBC – DCMS review of the BBC’s online services

“Early adopters never switch”

Matt Webb is at the Hypertext’03 conference in Nottingham, and presents his rough notes here.

Amongst them are his seemingly hydra-compiled notes of “Uncle” Ted Nelson’s keynote. It seems to be about the problems of the dominant paradigms in personal computing and the web:

“broken promises of personal computing:

* easy record-keeping
* nothing lost
* simplify life
* easy programming

broken promises of hypertext:

* permanent availability
* deep connnections
* profuse link overlays
* frictionless reuse (with copyright management, transquotation)”

It’s also punctuated with gems like this:

“trying to fix html is like trying to graft arms and legs onto a hamburger. And that’s exactly what they’ve done”

Matt’s asides refer to the things that Nelson claims are failing us in current software, and how in actual fact people get by just fine. We have of course taught ourselves to get by just fine, “early adopters never switch” as Ted says, and subsequent generations of users haven’t even questioned the UI regimes we live within. How do you get to the next paradigm from within the tyrannical bounds of the one you’re operating in?

From the one before?

2004 O’Reilly Etcon has dedicated interface stream

“As the devices people spend more time staring at and interacting with–the laptop, palmtop, and hiptop–tend more and more toward mobility, the ways we interact with data and services are changing dramatically. We are taking a leap back from the heavy GUI of the past to lighter-weight, componentized, flexible interfaces such as Sherlock, Watson, and Dashboard. We’re reconsidering the browser interface, and discovering what happens when you turn Web pages back into their underlying applications and data.”

» O’Reilly ET2004: call for participation

Orange Cone

is the name of Mike Kuniavsky’s blog. Mike was the first person I ever met who did user-testing, and invited me to my first user-test. I was visiting San Francisco and he was working at HotWired, where Pouneh (an ex-colleague at Delphi) worked.

It was the first time I saw designers squirm on a (threadbare) sofa when confronted with a live feed of real people using their designs; and even though it was nothing to do with me, I empathised: with them, and the subject. A scenario repeated far too often for me since!

So MikeK. has a blog – I’m sure it’ll be as instructive as that first meeting with him!

» Orangecone: Mike Kuniavsky’s blog