Whoah! Rex writes:
Over Xmas, someone started anonymously updating my blog. It was possible to do this because I had, at various moments over the past decade, given out password credentials to dozens of people.
Although it was very strange to have someone posting under my name — a sort of Gibson-meets-Anonymous death wish — I found myself not caring. Or well, to be honest, I was somewhat thrilled.
I love that response: I think I’d feel the same way if somebody was suddenly posting cool links with brilliant context here on Snarkmarket. (Oh wait, I do feel that way when Matt and Tim post…)
Here’s a valedictory post from the ghost-blogger himself. My favorite part is that his mischief (was it even really mischief?) ends with a warm shout-out to some wonderful blogs. I think that tells you a lot about the part of the internet Rex hangs out on, actually: slick William Gibson sheen on the surface… Midwestern heart underneath.
Here’s Howard Weaver on “modeless innovation”—which I read as innovation deeper than the level of the technology or the device. I like it.
Also, not unrelated: earlier today, Howard tweeted this…
I wonder if the geeks on the Enterprise NCC-1701 hate the fact that just anybody can talk to the computer to get things done?
…which is more than just a quip, I think. It actually made me stop for a second—scroll-finger frozen over my Twitter timeline—and go: oh, right. That’s the vision. That’s the future. I forgot!
WANTED: more/better visions of the future.
This is mostly a pointer to Frank Chimero’s new post that connects jazz and design thinking to web platforms and APIs in a neat way. Frank is, unsurprisingly, actually walking the walk when it comes to designed content; his approach is simple and very effective. Look at a previous post to pick up on the pattern.
The illustrations remind me of some of the best sections of Watchmen—the graphic novel, not the movie—where whole scenes play out “silently” behind the main action. It’s visual counterpoint—the illustrations not simply, er, illustrating the text, but actually riffing on it. Maybe even satirizing it a tiny bit. It’s just great.
Anyway! I say “mostly” because I also want to tag on a question. Frank builds his argument on the great virtues of jazz. I think this graf sums it up best:
You know what I love about jazz and improvisation? It’s all process. One-hundred percent. The essence of it is the process, every time is different, and to truly partake in it, you have to visit a place to see it in progress. Every jazz club or improv comedy theater is a temple to the process of production. It’s a factory, and the art is the assembly, not the product. Jazz is more verb than noun. And in a world riddled with a feeling of inertia, I want to find a verb and hold on to it for dear life.
Here’s the question. Let’s change our time-scale from years or decades to hundreds of years or more. Does process-based work endure? Does pure process endure?
Will people still be riffing on jazz standards in a hundred years?
This is totally not a rhetorical question! I can imagine a whole line of thinking that goes: Oh yeah, actually, this is the secret weapon. Encode your work as pure process, and it will get made and remade over and over. It’s immaterial and therefore indestructible. This is the trick that every religion has figured out.
But I can also imagine the other line: Actually, process is fragile. It doesn’t survive the fallow periods. It depends too much on an unbroken series of practitioners—of champions. To reliably make it between generations, you need a canonical text or a finished canvas. You need to print on paper or etch in stone. Process is fine, but the finished product is the thing. Materiality is the ultimate ark. Hello, Renaissance?
But, this is pretty abstract, so let’s focus on the simpler question:
Jazz is young—really young. But the jazz icons and jazz standards that Frank invokes actually feel quite old to me. It feels like they’re on the wane, and have been for quite a while. Tell me if I’m wrong. And tell me: Do you think jazz—jazz as process, jazz as platform—is around for the long haul?
This just occurred to me, and I’m curious to know if you think it’s even halfway plausible. Let me walk you through my thought process:
- The iPhone and the iPad both have software keyboards. The underlying assumption is that it’s gross and wasteful to dedicate all those atoms to this thing that you only use 10% of the time or less.
- As a bonus, a software keyboard makes internationalization easier. Manufacturing is 100% the same; you just change the code.
- I’ve gotten good at typing on the iPhone, and I expect I’ll adapt to the iPad, too… but something about that wide flat expanse, and the angle at which it sits—you’ll have to rest it on your lap to type, right?—does seem inherently fungly.
- Wait a minute. It’s a software keyboard. And if you can load up a different language, couldn’t you load up a different keyboard entirely? A different way to type?
- I’m not talking Dvorak. I’m talking something wacky like chording. I’m talking some serious Minority Report business here.
- The failure of alternative typing scheme is well-chronicled. But doesn’t the iPad change the equation entirely? You could seamlessly experiment and fall back to a standard keyboard if you got too frustrated, or if you were in a hurry. Other users could switch over to a standard keyboard instead of being stuck with your chorded monster. You could even—this is the cool part—design a chorded keyboard that coached you along the way! The keyboard could be on your team.
Put all those things together, and you’ve finally got an environment where other typing systems could make inroads. I don’t know about you, but the elegance of the iPad’s interface make QWERTY typing seem especially clunky to me. Imagine, instead, a system that actually took advantage of the multi-touch screen. And imagine a system that put tons of intelligence in the keyboard itself.
So all Apple has to do is make the iPad keyboard a modular, customizable element. What do you think? What are the odds?
I’ve been sniffling in bed watching anime all day and now it’s time to write a post about the future of designed content on the web.
A couple of assumptions going in:
- The era of random content shrapnel has gone on long enough. We can do better.
- We’ve suddenly got a pretty bad-ass toolkit! Standards like HTML5 and CSS3; extensions like Typekit and jQuery; browsers like Firefox, Chrome and Safari. (And as an add-on to that last one: the sophistication and homogeneity of Safari on the iPhone and, one presumes, the Imminent Apple Product.)
- We’ve got some starting points, both real and speculative. People are thinking about this stuff. Gannett huddled with IDEO for a whole year and the big idea they emerged with was… designed content.
At the Hacks and Hackers meetup here in SF a few weeks ago, we kept using the words “artisanal” and “bespoke” to talk about designed content. I like these words a lot, but I’m also wary of them:
- I like them because they imply a real care for craft, and they imply that form matches function. They also imply, you know, skill: smart people doing their best work.
- I’m wary of them because they can serve as an excuse: “Oh, yeah, we only post one new story every two months because… it’s artisanal.” Designed content shouldn’t try to compete head-on with Demand Media for page-views and placement in Google results, but it can’t ignore the reality of the web, either. It can’t be all stock and no flow.
So what I’m anxious to see is a synthesis that matches bespoke design to web scale. But what would that look like?
The crew that comes closest right now is the NYT graphics and multimedia team: they work fast, their work is beautiful, and it’s often quite story-specific. But it’s also more “web interactive” than truly “designed content,” and there’s only so much they can do with NYT-style stories. Those are both pretty subtle distinctions; you’ll see what I mean in a moment.
Here’s my pitch for who could hit this synthesis, if they wanted to:
- They’re web-native. They know headlines; they know linkbait; they know SEO. They have trained with the Dark Lords of the Sith. This is the right foundation.
- They’ve got voice. You could flip a switch to turn Gawker blogs into magazines, and they would make perfect sense. That’s not true for any other blog network, and it’s a real achievement. At the moment, those voices are transmitted through text and the occasional spectacle—but voice can drive design, too.
- They’ve got scale. Gawker Media isn’t three guys in a garage scrambling to keep the feed flowing. They’ve got corporate infrastructure, and they could plausibly invest in what I’m about to suggest.
Here’s the plan:
You build a small Gawker Media design desk. It’s just a handful of young, hungry, multi-talented web designers—designers who dig editorial, not user experience or information architecture. Then, every day—maybe once in the morning and once in the afternoon—each blog gets to pitch a handful of ideas to the design desk. There’s a fast, ruthless triage, and they go to work. The goal is to make stuff fast—on the scale of hours, sometimes days. Never weeks.
The idea is not to make interactive apps and draggy-zoomy data viz! That stuff is too complicated. Rather, the design desk’s mandate is simply to present words and images in a way that makes you go: Uh. Wow. Just the way this does, or this does. (Actually, yeah, jeez: Hire Jason Santa Maria to set this up why don’t you?)
And Gawker content is a great match for this—almost perfect, actually—precisely because it’s not NYT content. It’s not, you know, Very Useful Information. It’s punchy, sassy, funny and snarky. It’s chunky, and it should stay chunky. This isn’t about expanding blog posts into magazine article wannabes; it’s about presenting 200–800 words of pure bloggy voice in an original, uh-wow way every time. Actually, no, not every time: instead, only when it really counts. The Gawker Media design desk would develop a sharp, subtle sense for design opportunity.
(It would have been pretty bad-ass to like, design this post in exactly the way I’m proposing, huh? Ohhh well.)
But let me expand on that a little bit more, because it’s important. The idea is not to wrap meaty, thoughtful posts like this io9 insta-classic in fancy design. Those are the posts that need it least! It’s like, “yo, get out of my way, let me read.” Rather, the idea is to come up with a new class of content entirely. Again: design opportunity.
Now, it’s not immediately obvious what this new class of content gets you (besides, you know, approving links from Snarkmarket) because… Google doesn’t index design! I mean, stop and think about that for a minute: Google doesn’t index design. Even though it has informational content of its own, and even though it contributes to clarity and utility: Google doesn’t index design. It doesn’t know how. When I search for “how to tie my shoes,” Demand Media’s semi-literate blob of instructions is probably going to show up above your lovingly-designed diagram. Ugh.
But Gawker Media is already past this. They’re not just playing the Google game anymore; they’re playing the uh-wow game. And that is what this class of content gets you. It gets you more uh-wows and more daily impact. It gets you content that screams to be shared. (Not unimportantly, it probably gets you some interesting advertising opportunities, too.)
Okay—the point of this articulation is not to convince Gawker Media to hire a bunch of designers. Rather, it’s get you to imagine what blogs like those would look like if they bothered with bespoke design every day. I think it’s a super-interesting vision.
And it would be even more interesting if RSS aggregators could preserve that design and display it inline. No more random content shrapnel! Instead, Google Reader starts to look like some crazy scrapbook, with pages pulled from hundreds of different magazines and pasted together into a seamless scroll.
Okay, until Gawker gets wise, go read Pictory. And let me know if this makes any sense. Can you imagine the designed content at Lifehacker and io9 the way I can? Crisp, coherent chunks of rich imagery and clever typography—like rocks in the stream?
Semi-related: trying to understand how people navigate rich, designed content… with graphs!
This is basically a direct follow-up to my Snarkmarket post from the middle of 2009 titled The Post-Orwellian Future of Connected Books and Everything Else: I made a connected book! Well, sort of. In the most minimal way imaginable.
But I got the data, I plotted it, and… hmm. This instrumented reading thing might not be all its cracked up to be.
In all seriousness, it was an important step for me—from long-trumpeted theory to practical implementation. I’m still excited about the idea… but it’s going to take a more sophisticated (or more creative) implementation to actually deliver on, like, the premise.
But, if nothing else: the graphs are pretty!
This year’s EDGE question was: “How has the internet changed the way you think?” As always, the dynamic range of responses is astonishing: from the glib and angstrom-shallow to the super-smart and ultra-deep.
My favorite so far is Kevin Kelly’s—in part because it’s more observational than argumentative. He does such a nice job simply describing what it’s like to use the internet today:
This waking dream we call the Internet also blurs the difference between my serious thoughts and my playful thoughts, or to put it more simply: I no longer can tell when I am working and when I am playing online. For some people the disintegration between these two realms marks all that is wrong with the Internet: It is the high-priced waster of time. It breeds trifles. On the contrary, I cherish a good wasting of time as a necessary precondition for creativity, but more importantly I believe the conflation of play and work, of thinking hard and thinking playfully, is one the greatest things the Internet has done.
And, not to give away the ending or anything, but:
We are developing an intense, sustained conversation with this large thing. The fact that it is made up of a million loosely connected pieces is distracting us. The producers of Websites, and the hordes of commenters online, and the movie moguls reluctantly letting us stream their movies, don’t believe they are mere pixels in a big global show, but they are. It is one thing now, an intermedia with 2 billion screens peering into it. The whole ball of connections—including all its books, all its pages, all its tweets, all its movies, all its games, all its posts, all its streams—is like one vast global book (or movie, etc.), and we are only beginning to learn how to read it.
This seems incontrovertible to me. Hmm. I thought about it some more, and in fact it seems both right and wrong to me. Right because—well, it’s obviously just descriptively correct. But wrong in the sense that I actually find myself searching out, and responding to, holistic works with human intention behind them. That is to say: stuff that’s not made up of a million autonomous parts. Stuff that you can draw a line around—a book, a movie, an argument. Hmm. I think it’s “mere pixels in a big global show” that’s throwing me off, because I’m not sure it really is all part of the same show.
In any case, I still really want to be Kevin Kelly when I grow up. Given the assignment of answering this year’s EDGE question, I wouldn’t have bothered to observe myself so closely; I wouldn’t have crafted such great language to describe what I saw.
Another answer that I liked: Stewart Brand’s. But of course you saw that coming. Hey, guys: I think the Snarkmatrix is a guild.
What to call the ten years we’re now closing down? I am unmoved by “the Naughts” and even by “the Naughties,” which is clever but (it seems to me) wishful. I mean, come on. They weren’t that naughty.
Over in the St. Petersburg Times, Michael Kruse suggests the Search Decade. It might not grab you immediately, but go read his pitch. Even if you walk away still calling it the Naughties, it’ll help you appreciate just how long a decade is:
Back in May 2000, which wasn’t that long ago, which was forever ago, the New Yorker’s Michael Specter wrote a piece partly about Google in which he felt it necessary to define search engines: “programs that hunt for Web pages in response to specific words or phrases.”
I like the style and pacing of Kruse’s piece. I also like, of course, the fact that he uses EPIC 2014 as a hook!
I do not like dreamy fashion spreads in magazines even a little bit, but I liked this thing—what to call it?—a lot. It has a soundtrack and fun, motion-graphics-y transitions between photos. Both elements are deployed thoughtfully; if the music was wrong, or the transitions too slow, the whole thing would collapse. As it is, I think it’s moody and really, uh, clickable.
I want to view content like this on my unicorn!
Now here you go! Take the best bits of that Sports Illustrated interactive magazine demo and Pictory, mash them up, add attractive depth-of-field and you get BERG’s vision for the future of the magazine:
I actually feel like it’s hard to judge, because there are two very significant confounding variables in the mix:
- the warm, cinematic production, and
- the device! I mean, look at that e-reader. I don’t care what kind of magazine you put on that thing—I’ll take it.
However, I’ve done the regression, and even when those elements are factored out, it’s still excellent. In particular, I love the concept of “heating” content. When content is cold, it sits on the page, crystalline and beautiful. When it’s warm, it bubbles and steams and you can pull it apart and push it around. Wonderful!
The strength of the video is really that it speaks—well I mean, specifically that Jack Schulze speaks. Compare it to this, the Microsoft equivalent, which is all mute gloss. What are the animating ideas? What can I extract from it, lacking wall-size screens and paper-thin LCDs here and now in 2010? Not much.
I do disagree with one premise of BERG’s, which seems to be that magazine-style content is generally Quite Good and just needs to be presented in a useful, modern way. I do think there’s demand for depth and design, of course. But increasingly, when I shift from screen-reading to magazine-reading it’s more than just the interface that stops me cold. It’s the voice. There’s a tone and distance to non-fiction magazine writing—even very good non-fiction magazine writing—that seems increasingly old-fashioned in 2010. If I was advising a magazine on strategy, I’d tell them to crack open the black box of content, of writing, and redesign that, too. (More to say about that at some point, but for now, scope out the BERG video.)
But really: this is all a side-show, because the star of the video is that table, isn’t it? I want one.