i disagree with everything you just said.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

it's a whole new (no, it isn't) essay topic.

so much I want to say on the subject of "the whole new internet," especially given all the hoo-haa, but it will have to wait until later this evening, once I finish one more project proposal. in the meantime, chew on this im conversation:

peter merholz: is there a difference between the whole new internet and web 2.0?
lane becker: umm
lane becker: i would say yes
lane becker: though there is significant overlap
lane becker: web 2.0 is about the technology
lane becker: the whole new internet is more about the people involved and what we're going to do with it

really, folks, it's not all about the money, but it fascinates me that that's what keeps getting read into it. so here's my surprisingly contrarian take: it's not about creators (programmers, web app developers, whomever) operating in isolation, and it's not about technology per se. it's about a series of technologies — their ramifications and their potentials — that are allowing developers, designers, and people who aren't either to co-create and co-adapt new ideas. it's about a new way of thinking about what web applications are and what they can be used for. it's about driving design downward into the hands of people who use the tools. and on top of all of this, it's about a community of practice returning to the fore after a couple of years in seclusion, to make it all happen.

it's about the people involved, and what we're going to do with it.

and, yes, it is also a little about the money and its return to the scene, and despite the concerns, that's not a bad thing, either. more on this shortly; gotta get to work.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

steve jobs, rodent-slayer.

so the new mac os x 10.4: the best operating system upgrade ever, except for one little thing: it makes a very disturbing noise when you empty the trash, like a small creature biting down hard on something crunchy. every time i hear it, it makes me think that i've got little mice running on treadmills inside there, powering the machine, and by tossing out that errant word doc i just killed one.

crashing and burning.

two quick lessons in what-not-to-do at the airport:
  1. this morning, scrambling to get on a plane to philadelphia, my pitstop on the way to delaware: don't pass through security wearing your mountain goats '04 tour t-shirt — the robin's-egg-blue-and-brown one, the one that has "ready for the future" printed in big block sans-serif type underneath a picture of a gradually sloping hill covered in densely packed, unmarked gravestones. a tip of the hat to a song on one of their recent albums and its sad sleepy imagery, but the tsa, they don't care so much for that. they frown on that sort of negativity. and then they frisk you.

  2. couple of months ago, flying back from dc through dulles, after a couple long workdays: somebody i trust to know my tastes (peter, i think, even though he often disagrees with 'em) told me i'd really like the new show "lost", and on the basis of that recommendation i broke my promise to add no new shows to the must-see list this season. owing to the fact that i live in the future, i downloaded the first five or so episodes to my laptop from the safety and comfort of my living room (i'll miss you, tvtorrents!) to watch on the plane.

    having avoided all discussion of this or any other new show — every time i get out, they pull me back in! —i was unaware of the premise: that a plane, in spectacular fashion, goes down on an enchanted desert isle. and the series creator, jj abrams, he of previous network hits "felicity" and "alias," obviously flexed his newfound network muscle to get some serious cash behind the set design and explosive special effects, which he then squeezed every ounce out of, revisiting that crash sequence at least five times in the first twenty minutes of the pilot.

    i know this, because after getting through security (unmolested, this time) and sitting down in the dulles terminal, popping open my g4, and booting up the first ep on vlc, i watched that plane take that dive, all five times in the first twenty minutes. now, i don't really mind that sort of thing — actually kind of used to it [1], and comfortable with my thin grip on the wall separating reality from fiction — so i just let the episode go on. and it's an engrossing show, so i was engrossed, looking up only when i heard the initial boarding call from the back of the room. at which point i couldn't help but notice that, even in a small terminal on a fully packed flight, i'd still managed to clear a ten-seat circumference all around me.

[1] i seem to have quite the knack for catching shows/movies featuring planes going down in flames right before getting onto one myself. just last night it was the latest episode of "medium" (another show i didn't mean to get started on). though i'm guessing this is less ill-fated omen and more unseemly intersection of my overloaded travel schedule with our culture's well-mediated fascination with airborne destruction. and since i'm writing this from my perch on united flight 88, seat 15f, i guess i'm ok with that.

Monday, April 25, 2005

it's an honor just to be nominated.

matt haughey, the latest recipient of one of mike monteiro's notorious flickrbombs.

it's what he gets for riding a recumbant bike, i suppose.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

whereas i can't even draw a straight line.

courtney's latest piece-in-progress is a wholly curvy cabinet that's been screenprinted with topographic maps, contrasted against the wood grain.

she's been documenting her process on flickr as she works on it, which has been fun to watch. and she built that huge jig entirely to get the curves just so. it's like a piece of furniture in its own right.

should be done in a week or two. stay tuned!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

i hear what you're saying, but you're wrong.

of the many offhand comments ana marie cox made during her sprawling keynote presentation @ sxsw, the one that most struck me concerned gawker media's required update frequency. "it's in my contract. nick will fire me if i post fewer than 12 times a day," followed by something about how this was a result of advertiser demand.

sure, nick's apparently the only guy making real wallet off weblog advertising (often to the reader's detriment), but between ana's comment and my own skewed take on the weblog universe, i'm pretty sure this approach is long-term wrong.

in most cases, posting 12 times a day is site suicide. when i look at the reasons that i abandon reading sites — primarily via rss, the ones that i've subscribed to but learn to ignore as their bloglines count quickly rises to 200 and chokes [1] — over-frequency of posting is number one for why i stop checking in. all the gawker sites suffer from this. doc searls (sadly, because i like what he has to say.) talking points memo. boing boing, the worst culpit of all. each confined to the rsscrap heap, because they move too quickly for me to see them.

now, i'm not wonkette's target audience, living here as i do on the other side of the country, and maybe 12 works for them in a quantity over quality kind of way. it's possible, but who can say for certain? who knows what the right number of posts is? not me, and not gawker media, but that's not stopping them from drawing lines and making demands that alienate at least some part of their potential audience.

demand outside of proof on the part of advertisers reminds me of the tv and magazine world, where they toss the big bills at ad space and time, cross their fingers, and hope it works out. no real evaluation in place; not tracked against anything of note. but then there's the web, where we can actually do just that, at least theoretically: measure.

true, the tools aren't quite up to the task yet, as anyone who has fumbled with the joke that is webtrends well knows, but they'll get there. and then, questions: how many times a day should ana be posting to maximize advertiser value to gawker's subscribers? value — not pageviews, not impressions, not click-throughs, but value. how do you measure value to advertisers via weblogs, anyway? or value of a weblog in general? i'm not certain just yet, but the answer (or answers) is out there, and it ain't 12.

jeff has a lot of stories about the tensions he experienced back at hotwired, constantly fending for his sites against the rapacious demands of advertisers; the war between what they wanted and what he felt was best for his site's visitors. something similar tanked dejanews/deja.com [2]. if ever there was a false dichotomy: making your customers choose between what they want (your content) and what you want them to want (your ads). then google started moving off in the right direction, towards ads that were contextually relevant, tying what you want and what your advertisers want ever closer together. but now there's a whole new set of challenges, around quality, frequency, regularity, appropriateness, individuality, categorization, the long tail and whatnot. and there's definitely more work to be done in this arena, if gawker media is anything to go by.

[1] why oh why have none of the rss aggregator sites/apps yet done the thing which is most obvious, which is to order and/or categorize your feeds based on your actual usage patterns? i vote for my favorites sites every time i use bloglines, and i'd be overjoyed if bloglines would start listing feeds from most-read to least-read, top to bottom. instead, i'm forced to dump everything into meaningless buckets and spend a lot of time scrolling. i put sites into my rss list in order to try them out, not to buy them, and when they don't work out having to check a bunch of boxes to delete them is a huge pain in the ass.

[2] also, bad management, horrible ideas, and a collapsing economy.

on the edge of the flyover zone.

G: mornin!
L: how was the space party?
G: didn't go, went to mighty instead
L: after all that?
G: which shows we will fly to N.Y.C. for a party, but driving to oakland is still too much trouble

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

yea though i walk.

hell outta dodge — i spent the weekend with some folks camping in furnace creek, smack in the middle of death valley (it's that little green spot in the middle, where, for some god unknown reason, they have located a golf course; ah, roughing it.)

here's the nutshell: death valley is basically nature's theme park — drive 20 minutes and there's some crazy new geologic wonder that's beautiful, awe-inspiring, and more than a little intimidating in a people-don't-belong-here, i-might-die kind of way. also, abandoned gold mines and con artists a-plenty. what's not to love?

some pictures: sand dunes. salt flats. playa. canyon. ghost town. crater. wildflowers, everywhere. and, also, can't talk now; i'm on vacation.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

similar in ways that are very different. different in ways that are very similar.

the best way to get me to listen to a new band, apparently, is to describe them as "the next franz ferdinand/bloc party/kaiser chiefs/whatever," the latter having been weighing heavy on the ipod over the last couple weeks. word on the street is that maximo park is next up on the list, whenever i get around to downloading their album.

i'm sure this will be my early 80s in a couple of years, but for now it's fun to rock along in the car on the drive home.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

we are what we are willing to put up with.

spent a painful and ultimately fruitless morning banging my head and hands against the train wreck of an implementation of drupal that is ourmedia.org. an otherwise wonderful gift to the world brought down hard by an incredibly user-unfriendly system that had me on the verge of tears before i had even completed the registration process. based on this and several other encounters with drupal, i'm going to have to say that it is a generous open-source effort that ultimately causes more harm than good — a well-intentioned disaster.

ourmedia did an ok job customizing the look but blew chunks all over the feel — it's the first time i've ever spent a full hour trying just to register with a system, not because the network was slow but because the registration and login interface was so mind-bogglingly unclear and unintuitable, so completely lacking in any sense of flow, so unwilling to teach me how it worked, and so overloaded with trite interactive web cliches like incomprehensible system-based error messages that i had actually succeeded in signing up for the service under three separate usernames before ever even realizing that i had successfully signed up once. and then only because i happened to check my email after finally throwing up my hands in despair, since the system had completely failed to inform me a) that i had succeeded or b) that it was going to send me that email.

however, my purpose here is not to harangue the open source pseudo-cms [1] community (i leave that to taller pathers than i), but suffice to say, if i were anybody else, i certainly would have given up. which begs the question: why didn't i? i have at this point successfully registered for the site [2] and so evidently i put up with the pain, but only because ourmedia has something i rilly rilly want: unlimited bandwidth, forever and ever, for really big files. that sort of thing is usually pretty damn expensive, see, and right now i can't afford to host this 107mb streaming media file i've got here on my desktop on my own site because my isp has the usual bandwidth limitations we all dwell beneath. i need those fat ourmedia pipes, and if i lose an hour of my life trying to get it, well, that's the way it's gotta be.

still, it makes me sad. people shouldn't have to put up with the lowest crappiest denominator just because it gives them something they need. that sort of thinking leads to wal-mart; exurbs; low-income projects; economy class seating; cheap wooden coffins; houston, texas; almost every cell phone out there; cash advances; straight-to-video disney cartoons; the list goes on and on. people deserve a little more beauty in their lives, and i don't just mean michael graves toasters from target &mdash i mean things that look right and work well, things that are fully integrated into our lives and into the world.

it's more than just beauty, even — it's caring. people deserve to be considered, and they deserve products built by people who have considered this. this is what i mean when i call drupal a well-intentioned disaster — they look to put something better into the world, to aid, but the frustration that their software brings because it wasn't really made for people (or at least, not all the right people) utimately notches our quality of life down a peg or three, on balance. [3]

inside ap, i'm one of the people who advocates loudest for spreading better design methods outward — what might be called design thinking, though i'm not sure how much i buy into that particular movement yet — getting the philosophy behind the work we do baked into more of the companies and organizations we work with. teaching them how to care about the people they should care about, to see that decisions should be made not by "choosing between multiple options, [but by] creating those options." but it's difficult, to understand let alone justify, and i'm just one person at one company. still, we're working on it.

moral of this story? this design shit is hard work, people. but it's important. find room for it. make it part of every decision that you make. we need to craft a better place in place of this one, in every sense of the world.

[1] by "pseudo-cms," i don't mean that the open source community doesn't make "real" cmses — i mean that cmses as a class of software simply don't exist. the term is so broad as to be meaningless. i agree that we have content we need to manage, and that we develop systems to manage that content, and that's cool — but some of those systems don't involve technology at all, and a class of software that claims to "manage content" in a generic and sweeping fashion is pure snake-oil. don't buy it.

[2] sort of — turns out you have to register twice, for complicated and badly argued reasons, and then and only then can you upload media to the system. though in all honesty i haven't managed to do that either, since the app keeps timing out before my quicktime file upload completes. alas.

[3] open source advocates, please please: i know all the arguments, i know you say that designers don't participate and it's their own damn fault, and i'm here to say that your systems and techniques, marvelously developed and honed for the craft of distributed open source code creation, don't allow for this design thinking, much less design participation. not to mention that you should also care about the design part of it, and not just rely on "designers" to step in and fix stuff. it ain't like repainting a house. and, no, i don't have a solution to this problem yet, but acknowledging it as an actual problem, and a systemic one, would be a good first step.