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My Citizen Journalism moment with Brian Haw

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Brian Haw, originally uploaded by matlock.

Brian Haw is the protester who has camped out in Parliament Square, protesting against the occupation in Iraq. On the 23rd May 2006, the Metropolitan Police, under the orders of Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of the Met, confiscated all of the placards and objects from Haw’s demonstration.

Earlier today, I saw Haw outside Channel 4’s offices, as he’d just had a summons commissioned to Sir Ian Blair, asking him to turn up in Horseferry Rd Court before on July 27th to answer accusations of theft. We chatted for a while, and he said “Want an exclusive?” and posed for a photo with the summons letter. Here’s a photo of the letter (click to see larger, more readable version on Flickr). I guess this makes me a citizen journalist now…

Brian Haw's Summons for Sir Ian Blair

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Paul Ford on Digital Lifestyle

Lovely nugget on digital lifestyles hidden in Paul Ford’s ‘Real Empires Ship’ over at Ftrain:

“This is all part of the digital lifestyle, coming at the middle class like a division of Panzer tanks. First they came for the vinyl, and I said nothing. Then for the cassettes, and the CDs, and the VHS tapes. Still I was silent. And now they will come for my books, sad little volumes trembling on their shelves. I look at my friends the books and I think, sorry, fuckers, for the iBrary is only a few dozen failed product launches away. Eventually (waves hands) this will all be stripes on disk.”

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The World’s Slowest PhotoBlog

This is probably the world’s slowest photoblog. On average, it takes me about two months to get films scanned and uploaded, so these one’s are almost instant in comparison. There’s a few selected photos from a couple of sets: my team’s leaving do for the outrageously talented Luciana Baptista; a few pictures of Carsten Holler’s Test Site at the Tate Modern (aka the slides!); and a few pictures of Lucerne taken whilst at the European Futurists Conference. More on Flickr

Luciana Baptista
Luciana Baptista

Andrew Strachan
Andrew Strachan

Tate Modern Large Slides
Carsten Holler’s ‘Test Site’

Tate Modern Small Slide
Carsten Holler’s ‘Test Site’ (small slide)

Lake Lucerne
Lake Lucerne

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The World’s Slowest PhotoBlog

This is probably the world’s slowest photoblog. On average, it takes me about two months to get films scanned and uploaded, so these one’s are almost instant in comparison. There’s a few selected photos from a couple of sets: my team’s leaving do for the outrageously talented Luciana Baptista; a few pictures of Carsten Holler’s Test Site at the Tate Modern (aka the slides!); and a few pictures of Lucerne taken whilst at the European Futurists Conference. More on Flickr

Luciana Baptista
Luciana Baptista

Andrew Strachan
Andrew Strachan

Tate Modern Large Slides
Carsten Holler’s ‘Test Site’

Tate Modern Small Slide
Carsten Holler’s ‘Test Site’ (small slide)

Lake Lucerne
Lake Lucerne

Pictures from Picnic 06

In usual fashion, its taken me months to get around to dropping the films off at the Lab, and then get around to uploading them to Flickr. So here are the pictures I took of some speakers and friends at the fantastic Picnic 06 conference in Amsterdam this September.

The full set is on Flickr – here’s some favourites below.

Ben Hammersley

Ben Hammersley

Gary Carter

Gary Carter

Dan Gillmor

Dan Gillmor

Rob Cooper

Rob Cooper

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Photos from We Love Technology

I took my medium format camera to the We Love Technology conference in Huddersfield this summer, and have finally got round to getting the flim scanned and uploading some of the pics. It was an odd location – on the campus of Huddersfield University – and there wasn’t much good light for portraits, but there was a spot in the area just outside the auditorium, so throughout the day I grabbed various people and dragged them to this little pool of light. I stood on a chair for most of them, but was still shooting upwards at most people, as my Mamiya has a waist-level finder. I’m 6 foot 1, but that’s not tall enough. Especially when shooting Dan Blackburn, who must be about 6 foot 6….

Here’s some of my favourites – the complete set is on Flickr. I’m at a couple more conferences this year, including Picnic06 in Amsterdam, so I should get time to take more pictures and stick them up here.

RegineDebatty
Regine Debatty

SebastienNoel
Sebastien Noel

EvaRucki
Eva Rucki

LisaRoberts
Lisa Roberts

MattWebb>
Matt Webb

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Matt Webb on making things

Matt Webb expands on some of the themes of his We Love Technology presentation, talking about how actually making things provides an expanded field for interaction design innovation, but also how bloody hard it is:

“The grain of a thing is usually hidden, and I use the term in reference to Manuel de Landa at Tate Modern in 2004, on carpenters: not sanding against the grain is not a social construction. you can, but it’ll look terrible. you’re in a partnership with the microstructure of the wood.

What is the grain? We don’t know! How should we respond to it? We don’t even know that we should know!

Thinking through making is about revealing the unknown unknowns.

Sometimes revealing the unknown unknowns points to opportunities, and that’s where innovation comes in.”

Amen to all that. It feels like we’ve been talking about interaction design for ages, without realising that we’re only using a tiny fraction of the letters of the alphabet. Interaction design so far has been one long Oulipo experiment – interesting, occassionally beautiful, but deliberately constrained.

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We Love Technology

I chaired/spoke at the rather excellent We Love Technology conference in Huddersfield the other week. Apart from being an opportunity to see old friends, it was a fantastically well programmed conference, with a wide range of things and ideas that seemed to gel into a coherent arc, without seeming over-curated. Congratulations to Lisa and Abby for organising such a great day, and to the inspiring speakers (Matt, Troika, Regine, Dan&Tuomo, Stuart, etc)

The conference helped me pull together some strands of recent thinking about a number of things, such as vernacular media, new forms of craft and the role of artists in technology research. Anyone who has read some of the (rare) posts on this blog will appreciate that these are recurring passions of mine, and so the conference was like a personal wish-list of speakers and topics.

I gave a very loose introduction, with my top ten favourite reasons why I love technology (which I’ll try and write up here later) and then summarised the day at the end. After discussing with Matt Webb the various really cool ways to sum up conferences that we’d seen over the years, I did nothing cool at all, and just pulled out four themes that I thought had developed in the various presentations. Here they are, in all their hand-waving glory:

Getting away from the screen
I’ve always thought ambient or Tangible interfaces have been one of the asymptotic futures of tech research, always promised, but never delivered. But we’re in the middle of an exciting bubble of activity in this area, from tiletoys to nabaztags. Information overload is the usual driver for this kind of research, but the real market driver seems to be presence – Matt Webb showed a lovely interface for IM that used a pop-up toy to quickly indicate whether someone on your network was available or away. I think this is linked to the adoption of mobile phones, which has introduced subtle kinds of haptic or tangible interface (vibrations, etc) into the mass market. Tangible presence interfaces might really tip over into the mass-market in the next few years, driven through mobiles and broadband games consoles.

Transferring interaction vocabularies across contexts
Tangible interfaces offer opportunities for untapping lots of learned experiences in users from other contexts. So much of the experience of digital interaction is limited by the WIMP metaphor, or the even more opaque UIs of one-off consumer devices like video recorders. Matt Webb used a term – body thinking – to describe the learned behaviours we have from our experiences with the tangible world (I think Roland Barthes wrote about this as well, but can’t remember in what book).

For me, the opportunity with tangible media is not to try and find perfect physical metaphors for digital interactions, but to think about the learned behaviours people have, and how they might be useful in other contexts. Just as WIMP is a desk-bound metaphor that has been stretched to encompass all sorts of tasks that are not normally associated with desks, tangible interfaces can unlock a new vocabulary of interaction behaviours that aren’t limited to waving vaguely in front of screens – for example – Matt showed his hack of the iBook’s accelerometer so that he could ‘bump’ his laptop to scroll through files hierarchies. My dad’s a carpenter, and has over 40 years of experience in how to hang a door, and the subtle interation of materials and tools. Yet programming a VCR makes him feel like an idiot. Why can’t interaction design tap into his areas of expertise, rather than making him feel stupid? It reminds me a bit of a Steve Job’s quote that Matt Jones linked to:

” There are no plans to make a tablet. It turns out people want keyboards. When Apple first started out, People couldn’t type. We realized: Death would eventually take care of this.”

Well, that’s one approach to interaction design, I guess. But I think there are whole libraries of experiences that we could use out there, and I’d rather they didn’t die out before interaction designers started using them.

Not trying to be *really* useful
This is a slightly more vague insight, but a lot of the products shown were very playful in their design. Not useless, but playful. The difference is between an interaction design that is ruthless in its efficiency, and therefore tries to second guess you all the time to prove its intelligence (eg Microsoft Clippy) and one that provides clear, simple functions, yet has an openess that encourages further play and discovery. Flickr is the poster child here – its advanced features reveal themselves to you through you interaction with the interface and its social features. You might notices the notes feature on other people pictures, then find out how to use them yourself. Sociability is key to this kind of design – letting users social play unveil new actions and incorporating them into features.

Dan & Tuomo are really keen on this approach with Tile Toy, which is immensly playful, and have open-sourced the hardware and software to let users find what they want to do with it. There is something more sustainable and ‘thing-ness’ about this approach to design – the resulting tools feel like they have been worn-in through use, rather than being hard-wired out of the factory. Its also worth reading Bijker and Pinch’s Social Construction of Technology for a more theoretical understanding of how user’s create and adapt tools – their analysis of how the common chain-driven bicycle design developed through interaction with user-groups is very illuminating. But the key thing here is the balance between playfulness and functionality – purely playful interfaces are fun, but the appeal tails off, but tools that are playful *and* useful will become core parts of the user’s tool-sets.

The changing nature of Play
Linked to the above was the changing nature of play, and what this meant for the role of art in technological development. When I used to be a digital art curator, there were productive collaborations between artists and technology labs, best illustrated by the work Char Davies did with SoftImage. In the late 80’s/early 90’s, when technology was still prohibitively expensive and access was limited, these kind of collaborations allowed tech companies to imagine other uses for their products, and for artists to develop new kinds of aesthetic practise. In Regine’s talk, she showed a lot of tangible and wearable media projects that are examples of this kind of ‘imagineering’.

But things have changed now. Technology is hell of a lot cheaper, much of the core infrastructure has commodified, and digital media users are in the majority, not a tiny artistic elite. There are still projects that are commissioning this kind of purely artistic ‘play’, but I think the research needs of the sector have moved on. Artists no longer need to ‘rehearse’ possible technological futures, because you can now launch your idea into a real market at relatively low cost. Flickr came out of a publicly-funded project that was originally a purposeless game, but quickly found its niche as a mass-market product.

Play has now crossed the line from R&D, and become an integral part of a mass-design process – the cliched ‘perpetual beta’ of all web 2.0 companies. Rather than a single artist imagining a future and delivering it as a purely aesthetic experience, playful interaction designs are launched onto a market with the understanding than users will invent their own futures for them. Again, TileToy is a good example of this.

This is quite refreshing for those of us who have been dabbling in the borders between art, technology and innovation over the last decade or so. For most of that time, we were happy to spend our time rehearsing potential futures, playing behind the scenes, but not expecting the curtain to ever rise. Well, there’s an audience out there now, and they love technology. We’re not playing anymore – a scary, but liberating, thought. The challenge now is for artists and designers to capitalise on this.

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Content is *still* not King

One of the nuggets of Murdoch wisdom at the end of Wired.com’s current interview is very interesting:

CONTENT VS. DISTRIBUTION
Distribution was nearly king – you couldn’t get a cable channel going in this country without John Malone. But when real broadband arrives, owning distribution will be less and less important.

There’s a lot of signs that Murdoch really gets the new media space at the moment, but content vs distribution is an old battle, and this perhaps demonstrates how much his strategic instincts are still honed to fight old wars.

Content vs Distribution was the imaginary battleground of a war called ‘convergence’ that, like so many wannabee generals playing Risk or Age of Empires, occupied the executives and strategic thinkers of blue-chip media/comms companies for the last 10 years or so. Large bets were placed on whether it was more important to be at the centre of a huge content network, or a huge communication infrastructure. The riskiest gamblers (*cough* Aol *cough* TimeWarner) tried both, betting that this illusory convergence would create a new battlefield, and they would be the centre of it.

There were a couple of problems with this. The glamour of content hid the fact that its actually (in its hit-driven, pre Long Tail version) incredibly economically inefficient. Andrew Odlyzko’s excellent essay ‘Content is not King’ exposes this reality, landing a couple of really important facts, as well as some prescient predictions.

One of the facts is about the economics of content consumption. Odlyzko points out that the content sector is actually dwarfed by the communications sector in terms of average US consumer spend. He goes further, to point out that nearly all forms of content are subsidised for the user – ie, the user does not bear the full cost at the point of consumption, as costs are ameliorated by advertising, concessionaries, or indirect taxation (eg – the license fee). Conversely, consumers seem happy to pay way over the odds for some forms of communication, such as SMS.

In other words, we value gossip highly, and content rarely.

Of course, in our media 2.0 world, content can be conversation, and vice-versa. Murdoch might understand this, but it looks like he’s still placing his chips on the Head, not the Long Tail. Elsewhere in the Wired article he talks about building MySpace profiles for NewsCorp films and other content as a way to start to derive attention and revenue from MySpace into his Big Content properties.

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how content operates in conversational spaces. In a recent post on his Long Tail blog, Chris Anderson challenges Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion that “Without the New York Times, there is no blog community. They’d have nothing to blog about.” Using Technorati to find out how many posts actually index Big Content brands, Chris concludes that the blogosphere is actually writing about almost anything *but* the New York Times. in fact, the top big media brand reference in blog posts (the BBC) is still only referenced in *0.3%* of blog posts.

Imagine a party with 1000 people in it. Murdoch would like to think that by walking into the party, people will start to talk about *his* movies. In fact, at best only three people will bother… That’s quite a cold, hard statistic if you’ve just spent half a billion dollars hosting the party.

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Number One in a Field of One*

You know you’re writing about esoteric stuff that nobody else is interested in when – you’re googling for an image about, say, elizabethan writing rings (used to etch illicit messages on windows as a form of early graffiti) and the top entry is your own essay

maybe i should write more about kittens or web 2.0…

*MAD magazine used to have the title of this post as their masthead. Seemingly ignoring the inferior CRACKED

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