• "Let’s say the computers I was working with had been powerful enough for me to do my experiments in real time. I’m not at all sure that I would have made the discovery! Because the condition under which I was working, on a time-share machine, a few seconds of sound might take me nearly two hours. So the time it took, perhaps specifically the time between experiments, I had to think. These were discrete times: I would generate a sample of a sound that was 20 Hz, with a modulating frequency of 20 Hz and a deviation of 100 Hz. Then I would wait. Then I would listen. Then I would increase to another. If I’d had continuous control, I think I probably would have missed it. I could have let the carrier sweep through frequencies that were way too high, and I would have missed the points where they converged to harmonic spectra. That being the case, the fact that I had to sit and wait and think, and listen, and then think about what I heard, “what will be the next step?” greatly enhanced my ability in realizing the discovery." John Chowning on how not having realtime feedback was an asset, rather than a problem.
  • "This course is an advanced seminar in the anthropology of attention. What makes the
    anthropology of attention different from other ways of studying attention (e.g.
    psychology) is that we study it as a social and cultural phenomenon: attention is not just a matter of individual minds selecting objects from environments. Rather, attention is collectively organized and valued. We learn how to pay attention and what to pay
    attention to from other people; other people make technological and media systems to
    intentionally organize collective attention. We learn to value certain kinds of attention
    (e.g. intense focus on work, mindfulness, or multi-tasking) and to criticize others (e.g.
    absent-mindedness, distraction, intense focus on entertainment) in cultural contexts. So, while we will be experimenting with our own attentions throughout this course, we will remember that our attentions are not really our own. No one pays attention alone." This paper sounds brilliant.
  • "Drawings are not just end products: they are part of the thought process of architectural design. Drawings express the interaction of our minds, eyes and hands. This last statement is absolutely crucial to the difference between those who draw to conceptualize architecture and those who use the computer." Not just true of architecture, either.
    (tags: drawing thinking )
  • "We made no attempt to check the accuracy of the story before publication and did not contact Rockstar Games prior to publishing the story. We also did not question why a best selling and critically acclaimed fictional games series would choose to base one of their most popular games on this horrifying real crime event… It is now accepted that there were never any plans by Rockstar Games to publish such a game and that the story was false. We apologise for publishing the story using a mock-up of the game cover, our own comments on the matter and soliciting critical comments from a grieving family member. " The combination of "no attempt to check the accuracy" and "soliciting critical comments from a grieving family member" is really quite astonishing. Idiots.
  • "I suspect a lot of people aren't sure what's the top idea in their mind at any given time. I'm often mistaken about it. I tend to think it's the idea I'd want to be the top one, rather than the one that is. But it's easy to figure this out: just take a shower. What topic do your thoughts keep returning to? If it's not what you want to be thinking about, you may want to change something."

Second Order Effects

15 January 2009

Seth Godin recently wrote about the end of newsprint, and how he frankly didn’t care. I think he’s correct about some aspects of journalism, but to talk about newspapers without talking about actual physical newspapers is crazy.

What will we miss?

All the second-order effects. We’ll miss the daily conversation with the guy on the newstand. We’ll miss the cuttings that our parents and grandparents send us in the post. We’ll miss seeing other articles in our peripheral vision as we read – complete articles with photographs and boxouts, not just headlines – as opposed to the ads that surround the online edition. We’ll miss scrawling notes in the margin. We’ll miss leaving them lying around the flat for our flatmates to read. We’ll not have anything to wipe our shoes on.

I say this as someone who’s happy reading from a computer screen, if not from an e-reader. The second-order effects of newspaper journalism being transmitted in physical newspapers are just as compelling a reason for their existence as the intended outcome.

This reminded me of something else that’s been on my mind, relating to another newspaper; this time, one my friends made.

Russell and Ben’s lovely paper is receiving a slowly escalating amount of attention. I’m glad, because it’s really good, and because there’s a (passable) piece of writing by me and lots of (very good) writing by many of my friends in there.

But I’m curious – and perhaps a bit concerned – as to what others might take away from it.

The most important thing about this isn’t “hey, they printed stuff off the internet“. The most important stuff is all the craft, all the second-order effects it has; the details Ben writes about in his excellent post on designing and making the thing; the tangibility it gives to work we’ve done that our non-technical friends (and especially relatives) might never see; the ease of distribution amongst small, hand-to-hand circles it affords; the way you design for (small) mass production rather than one-offs; the reminder that small-scale print is affordable and doable.

Let’s not forget the importance of the immediate first-order effect: this is a beautiful thing, lovely to hold, great to read, fun to show others. In and of itself, it’s delightful (in every sense of the word).

Russell and Ben are, I think, somewhat correct in their closing comment, that “2009 feels like a year for printing and making real stuff in the real world. Its going to be exciting“, but that’s something to consider with caution: making real stuff, printing real things alone, isn’t going to be enough; you’ve got to have the thought, the details, the affordance of second-order effects as well.

I’m excited, for many reasons, as to what 2009 might hold; I hope there’ll be, for me at least, a sizeable amount of making spread across all manner of media – words, things, screens. And, especially, the things that can’t make up their mind which they are. I’m not fussy, and I still think there are lots of interesting problems on screens to solve.

Whatever I’m doing, though, I’m going to try and remember that it’s not just about the idea, not just about the hey-look-a-thing-ness of it all; it’s about the execution, and the detail, and the thought – and embodying that thought in the final product.

To go back to Seth Godin: that’s what newspapers, real, physical, printed newspapers always did. They had affordance out their earholes, and that’s what we loved them for.

I think I’ve found my (slightly corrupted) mantra for 2009:

think twice, cut once.

Feedback loops

08 March 2006

(this may change at some point in the future; I’m still revising this stuff but thought I may as well put it out there).

Etech06 is going really, really well for me (so far): lots of things emerging in my head, at the least. One thing that’s coming out of quite a bit is a discussion of feedback loops.

Feedback loops are really, really important. Amy Jo Kim touched on feedback as an essential part of ludic design – without feedback, play isn’t satisfying (and play is what all early adopters are doing all the time). Feeedback is what generates challenge/reward structures in games. Feedback loops are how communities emerge – I do something, you do something back; it’s the implicit social structures Amy Jo mentioned. Derek Powazek is currently talking about the “new community” – and mentions MeasureMap.

And, of course, MeasureMap is all about feedback – I can see when I made posts, and when comments came; I can track popularity. I’m no longer sending blindly into the ether; I’m sending and tracking response.

And once you track response, you can write so much better; you can design so much better; you can act on the feedback and you get a loop. And that loop’s really important – it’s what keep things going. If there’s not a feedback loop, things tail off, fall away.

That’s why Google bought MeasureMap: they had Blogger already. People can post to the web; they can broadcast into the ether. Once you give them MeasureMap, they become successful, effective publishers. When people say “what’s the point of blogging?”, they say it as an outsider – they just think it’s publishing. They don’t know about the stat-tracking, the refining. Once you have a feedback loop – once you can see the influence (or lack of it) that you have… that’s when it all clicks. That’s when you get placed into a significance grid – your posts get located in space, time, relevance, authority, etcetera.

Play is about feedback; games are about feedback; publishing is about feedback. A lot of the stuff this morning about attention: it’s all about invisible, natural feedback – tracking eyes-on-screens. We can track hits; now we need to track attention. And when we can measure it, we can value it, and we can price it.

That’s the attention economy. Placing everything into this feedback loop of value.

If you’re a business guy, you see how you can price, monetize, and securitize that feedback. If you’re a player or a hacker, you see what loops you can join together in a mash-up, or where you can generate new feedback, what new variables you can track. And that’s the “connective tissue” that Derek’s talking about.