A palimpsest for a place: TheIncidental at Salone Di Mobile 2009

THE INCIDENTAL 01, originally uploaded by dcharny.

The year of the papernet continues a-pace!

Very exciting this morning to see the first edition of The Incidental, a project done for the British Council by Schulze&Webb, Fromnowon, Åbäke and others, for the Salone Di Mobile furniture and design event in Milan, which is about the biggest event in the product design world

I was lucky enough to get contacted by Daniel of Fromnowon early on in the genesis of the project, when they were moving the traditional thinking of staging an exhibition of British product design to a service/media ‘infrastructure intervention’ in the space and time of the event itself.

Something that was more alive and distributed and connected to the people visiting Salone from Britain, and also connecting those around the world who couldn’t be there.

From the early brainstorms we came up with idea of a system for collecting the thoughts, recommendations, pirate maps and sketches of the attendees to republish and redistribute the next day in a printed, pocketable pamphlet, which, would build up over the four days of the event to be a unique palimpsest of the place and people’s interactions with it, in it.

One thing that’s very interesting to me is using this rapidly-produced thing then becomes a ‘social object’: creating conversations, collecting scribbles, instigating adventures – which then get collected and redistributed. A feedback loop made out of paper, in a place.

We were clearly riffing on the work done by our friends at the RIG with their “Things our friends have written on the internet” and the thoughts of Chris Heathcote, Aaron and others who participated in Papercamp back in January. In many ways this may be the first commercial post-papercamp product? Or is it an unproduct?

Anyway – very pleased to see this in the world. The team in Milan is working hard to put it together live every night from things twittered and flickered and sketched and kvetched in the galleries and bars. It seems they turned it around in good time, with the distributors going out with their customer-designed delivery bags and bikes at 8am this morning…

Can’t wait to see how the palimpsest builds through the week, and also how ideas like this might build through events throughout the year.

Remember, if you have quests or questions for the roving reporters of The Incidental, then you can get hold of them @theincidental on Twitter.


I asked the roving reporters via @theincidental to track down Random International with Chris O’Shea‘s installation at Milan ’09, and they did!

Action-at-a-distance = Magic!

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My outboard brain = my walking city

WALKING CITY, originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

Jonathan Feinberg emailed me and said “Inspired by your typographically sophisticated “hand-tooled” cloud, I came up with a novel way of cramming a bunch of words together.” which is underserved praise for me, and dramatically underselling what he’s acheived with Wordle.
It does the simple and much-abused thing of creating a tag-cloud, and executes it playfully and beautifully. There are loads of options for type and layout, and it’s enormous fun to fiddle with.
As I said back when Kevan Davies did his delicious phrenology visualiser, there is some apophenic pleasure in scrying your tag could and seeing the patterns there – so I was very pleased when my playing with Wordle returned me an Archigram-esque walking city of things I’ve found interesting.
Congrats to Jonathan on building and finally releasing Wordle!


Unknown Pleasures Album Cover

“Context-Handback” is something I find that I want nearly everything – or my everyware, at least – to do.

What do I mean?

An inverse-concrete example: something that can’t perform context-handback is my new little iPod shuffle.

I bought it last weekend after a longish break from the Jobs/Ive Hegemon, in order to play some of the iTunes purchased DRM’d gear I’m stuck with, and also because it’s just gorgeous as an object.

More perfect than the perfect thing it seems in both build quality and simplicity.

Foe had owned an original shuffle before but I’d never tried it – I’m finding thought that I really love the surrender to the flow of your own music – music that you perhaps didn’t realise you owned or had neglected, surfaced by the pseudo-stochastic, inscrutable selectah inside the tiny metal extrusion.

Perhaps I’m prepped to enjoy this semi-surprising personal radio station by my other semi-surprising personal radios – last.fm and pandora.

I listen to a lot of last.fm at work, and I find its recommendations only more and more rewarding over time.

But I find I obsess now on feeding it more and more – I want to handback to it from all of my musical consumption – my shuffle, the radio on my N95, shazam-tags from something playing in the pub – everything.

I want to bring it offerings.

And there’s the rub – so little of that musical consumption, in fact the bulk of it done on the go – can be offered back to last.fm.

It’s so frustrating that my musical discoveries and rediscoveries can’t feed back into creating more, or even that I can’t see what I enjoyed in iTunes when I synchronise with
the shuffle.

Faltering steps towards remedying this trivial problem can be seen in something like this hacked-up scrobbler for mobile in S60 python.

More context-handback hopefully in the next few years, until then – unknown pleasures.

What put the “architecture” into “information architecture”?

From Peterme’s closing plenary at the IASummit:

“…I think that web 2.0 puts the “architecture” in information architecture. Think of an architect. They design the space. People flow through it, meet in it, contribute to it.! With that model, the bulk of information architecture currently on the web isn’t really architecture — it’s some form of hyperdimensional document organizing. We’re not creating a space that people move through, and engage with. We’re classifying material to be retrieved. But with web 2.0, we are providing an architecture — a space, a platform through which and upon which people move, contribute, and change…

…If information is a substrate running through an increasing amount of our “real-world” lives, and we believe that these web 2.0 principles are important for the future of information architecture, how do we merge the two?”


“as digital networked media pervades more and more of our lives, the idea of a discreet region called “cyberspace” starts to feel like an anachronism. Who here has a mobile phone on them? One that can send photos by email, for example? Well, you’re all carrying “cyberspace” in your pocket. And once that happens, distinguishing that from the “real world” becomes impossible.”

“In our wiki”

I had a  random friday afternoon thoughtfart while listening to Paul Morley/Strictly Kev’s 1hr remix of ‘raiding the 20th century’.

Listening to Morley‘s* cultural history of the cut-up on top of Kev’s sonic critique made me think how cool it would be to hear Melvyn Bragg and the "In our time" gang’s thursday morning ruminations on, for instance, Machiavelli – cut-and-pasted over mashed-up madrigals.

Putting this fancy to one side for one minute… it made me think of other superlayered participatory critique and knowledge construction – the Wikipedia.

If there were a transcript of "In our time" (is there?) why couldn’t that be munged with wikipedia like Stefan did with BBC news… and what if then new nodes were being formed by Melvyn, his guests and his audience – together, for everyone, every week, and cross-referenced to a unique culutral contextual product – the audio broadcast.

The mp3 of "In our time"  sliding into the public domain and onto the internet archive’s servers, every thursday rippling through the nöösphere reinvigorating the debate in the wikipedia, renewing collective knowledge.

"In Our Time" is great ‘campfire’ stuff – you have The Melv as the semi-naive interlocutor and trusted guide, the experts as authority to be understood and questioned… but it’s only 30 minutes and 4 people… what about scaling it way out into the wikinow?

How good would that be??!!!!

Of course a first step, a sheltered cove, would be to set up "In Our time" with their own wiki for Neal Stephenson Baroque Cycle / Pepys diary style annotations of the transcript and mp3..

The Melv’s own multimedia mash’d up many-to-many mp3 meme machine.

Update: over the weekend, Matt Biddulph showed another example of how powerful mixing BBC web content with web-wide systems might be: with del.icio.us tags extending BBC Radio3’s content. Fantastic stuff.

p.s. from a Bio of Morley found at pulp.net:
earns a farthing every time Charlie’s Angels, Full Throttle is shown or
trailed, owing to his contribution as a member of the Art of Noise to
Firestarter by the Prodigy, which features a sample of the Art of
Noise’s Beat Box, used in the film. The pennies are mounting up."

Del.icio.us phrenology continued

Kevan has knocked up an awesome visualisation tool for a user’s del.icio.us tags.

Here’s what mine looks like:


As compared to my hand-tooled version.

Here’s what Chris looks like:


Here’s what Clay looks like:


Here’s what Warren looks like:


And here’s what Foe looks like:


Kevan has named it:

extispicious, a. [L. extispicium an inspection of the innards for divination; extra the entrails + specer to look at.] Relating to the inspection of entrails for prognostication.

and it does feel a little bit mystical, but not guts, more tea-leaves. Or even phrenological, seeing the bumps in peoples outboard-brains…

» kevan.org: extisp.icio.us – charting the tags of del.icio.us users

Superfantastique! Keyword RSS of BBC News

This is great – someone has hacked a service that generates a custom RSS feed based on a keyword search of BBC News.

So, for example, if I wanted to track the UK Labour government’s idiotic plans for ID cards, I just type in “ID Cards” and get a RSS feed to put in my news reader of choice.

It also works for the rest of the BBC website, so if I wanted to track any content on the band “Franz Ferdinand”, I just type it in and get a feed, which will return content the BBC have got on the hip scottish artrock combo.

UPDATE: Someone from the BBC has asked me to take this entry down, so as a compromise I have removed the links to the site outlined above.
David who posted from the BBC to ask to remove the reference has replied more fully to the comments below, and raised some good practical challenges to doing RSS and connecting to web-services on huge content sites like the BBC News. Many thanks to him for taking the time to clarify and explain some of the issues.

“By hook or by crook, we’ll get it!”

Which is of course, about getting information, from The Prisoner, being shown again this summer on BBC Four.

Pat Kane quotes Wilson/Bey:

“…the more of this information you take in, the darker things get. I call it the “lite age” as opposed to the dark ages. A situation where you have all the information all the time — completely accessible — where in other words there are no secrets, or there’s a perception that there are no secrets, that there’s no information that we can’t get. This kind of false omnipotence, this superman of information.”

Victor steps outside to see if the shape of all this information makes more sense than the substance.

Which is always an alternative if you’re allowed.

“Be seeing you!”