Listing entries tagged with design
sonogram of networked book in embryo (GAM3R 7H30RY part 3) 02.24.2006, 4:42 PM
It probably won't be until mid to late March that we finally roll out McKenzie Wark's GAM3R 7H30RY Version 10.1, but substantial progress is being made. Here's a snapshot:
After debating (part 1) our way to a final design concept (part 2), we're now focused (well, mainly Jesse at this point) on hammering the thing together. We're using all open source software and placing the book under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license. Half the site will consist of a digital edition of the book in Word Press with a custom-built card shuffling interface. As mentioned earlier, Ken has given us an incredibly modular structure to work with (a designer's dream): nine chapters (so far), each consisting of 25 paragraphs. Each chapter will contain five five-paragraph stacks with comments popping up to the side for whichever card is on top. No scrolling is involved except in the comment field, and only then if there is a substantial number of replies.
The graphic above shows the color scale we're thinking of for the different chapters. As they progress, each five-card stack will move from light to dark within the color of its parent chapter. Floating below the color spectrum is the proud parent of the born-digital book: McKenzie Wark, Space Invader (an image that will appear in some fashion throughout the site). Right now he's a fairly mean-looking space invader -- on a bombing run or something. But we're thinking of shuffling a few pixels to give him a friendlier appearance.
You are also welcome to view an interactive mock-up of the card view (click on the image below):
The other half of the site will be a discussion forum set up in PHP Bulletin Board. Actually, it'll be a collection of nine discussion forums: one for each chapter of the book, each focusing (except for the first, which is more of an introduction) on a specific video game. Here's how it breaks down:
* Allegory (on The Sims)
* America (on Civilization III)
* Analog (on Katamari Damarcy)
* Atopia (on Vice City)
* Battle (on Rez)
* Boredom (on State of Emergency)
* Complex (on Deus Ex)
* Conclusions (on SimEarth)
The gateway to each forum will be a two-dimensional topic graph where forum threads float in an x-y matrix. Their position in the graph will be determined by the time they were posted and the number of comments they've accumulated so far. Thus, hot topics will rise toward the top while simultaneously being dragged to the left (and eventually off the chart) by the progression of time. Something like this:
At this point there's no way of knowing for sure which part of the site will be more successful. The book view is designed to gather commentary, and Ken is sincerely interested in reader feedback as he writes and rewrites. There will also be the option of syndicating the book to be digested serially in an RSS reader. We're very curious to see how readers interact with the text and hope we've designed a compelling environment in which to do so.
Excited as we are about the book interface, our hunch is that the discussion forum component has the potential to become the more vital half of the endeavor. The forum will be quite different from the thousands of gaming sites already active on the web in that it will be less utilitarian and more meditative in its focus. This won't be a place for posting cheats and walk-throughs but rather a reflective space for talking about the experience of gaming and what players take games to mean. Our hope is that people will have quite a bit to say about this -- some of which may end up finding its way into the book.
Although there's still a ways to go, the process of developing this site has been incredibly illuminating in our thinking about the role of the book in the network. We're coming to understand how the book might be reinvented as social software while still retaining its cohesion and authorial vision. Stay tuned for further developments.
travel blindness 02.17.2006, 4:52 PM
I went to Paris last weekend. I have a friend there with an apartment, flights are cheap in the off season, and I've never been there before. As might have been expected, I learned absolutely nothing about France. But I did come away with a lot of food for thought about America – specifically, how books work in the United States. Says Gilles Deleuze: "travel does not connect places, but affirms only their difference." He's right: sometimes you needs to get away from a place to think about it.
Three observations, then, on how books work in the United States w/r/t my French observations. This post is perhaps less liberal in its interpretation of books than we usually are around here: bear with me for a bit, there's still plenty of rampant generalizing.
* * * * *
Wandering around the Sorbonne, my friend & I came upon the Librerie Philosophique J. Vrin and went in. It's a good-sized bookshop that's devoted entirely to used and new philosophy books, mostly in French, although the neatly categorized shelves are noticeably peppered with other languages. On the Saturday evening I was there, it was full of browsing customers: it's obviously a working bookstore. We don't have philosophy book stores in the U.S. One finds, of course, no end of religious bookstores, but unless I'm tremendously mistaken, there's none dedicated solely to philosophy. (And as far as I know, there's only one poetry bookstore remaining in the U.S.)
It's a(n admittedly minor) shock to find oneself in a philosophy bookstore. But a deeper question tugs at me: why aren't there philosophy book stores in the United States? I'm certainly not qualified to judge what the existence of J. Vrin says about France, but its lack of an analogue in the U.S. clearly says something (besides the obvious "the market won't support it"). Are we not thinking about big ideas and shipping them about in books? Are the only people who need to read Plato our neocon overlords? Why don't we need books like these?
* * * * *
Another thing you notice at J. Vrin, as well as elsewhere in Paris: how monotone the books are. It's not quite a color-coordinated bookstore but it's close: just about every spine is white, a smaller number being yellow, a smattering of other colors. If you pull a book out, the cover designs are mostly in a classic French style: lots of space, Didot type, some discreet flourishes. These two are typical:
I'm not tremendously interested in French book style of itself, though: I'm more interested in what this minimalist tendency reveals about American book design and the ideas behind it. A trio of comparisons: the French on the left of each pair, the American on the right:
The American covers seem more designed – not necessarily better designed, that goes both ways – but they clearly exist as marketing. The French book covers aren't advertising in the same way that the American book covers are. The implication here seems to be that French books are for reading, rather than for looking at. Nobody's going to pick up one of those because of the way the cover looks. It's presumed that the reader is already interested in the content of the book; what's on the cover won't change that interest. There's a lot more variety in the American books: I might be persuaded to pick up the Deleuze book on Proust (where the quotation above came from) because it looks nice, or dissuaded from picking up the Amélie Nothomb book because it looks so horrible & the title was mangled into something out of Crate & Barrel.
There's an essay by Jan Tschichold, the doyen of modern book design, advising the reader that the jacket of a hardcover book should be taken off and thrown away as soon as you get the book home. This seems heretical to a book collector (or designer), but I think his point ultimately makes sense: books shouldn't exist as art objects, they exist to be read. Design should focus attention on, not deflect attention from, the ideas in the book. American book design has drifted away from that precept. (Tschichold, were he still alive, might argue that it's failed entirely: that essay appears in a book titled The Form of the Book: Essays on the Morality of Good Design which has hardened into an art object: get a used copy for $102.50.)
Probably I didn't need to go to France to figure this out: scrutinizing the Spanish and Bangla bookshops and bookcarts in my neighborhood reveals book covers that are closer to French than American design.
* * * * *
Back to advertising: in the windows of wine bars, one sees volumes of Deleuze and Julia Kristeva, not exactly what we usually construe as light café reading. These books are cultural signifiers: presumably the right sort of passersby see them and understand that the winebar is the right sort of place for people like them. Could you do this in the U.S.? You could; by putting Stanley Cavell and Peter Singer in the window, I suspect that you'd attract a lot of confusion and maybe, if you were lucky, some shabby grad students. In Paris: pretty people. (Are they actually interested in Kristeva and Deleuze, or are they just interested in the wine? Again: no idea.)
It's worth pointing out that Paris didn't seem technologically reactionary to me: books haven't succeeded at the expense of newer media. Paris is full of wireless, for example, and URLs are splattered all over advertisements. If anything, books seem to have succeeded with new media: a casual flip through the enormous number of channels on my friend's television yielded a couple of book review programs. Again: books are part of the cultural discourse there in a way that isn't the case here.
* * * * *
I haven't mentioned snobbery yet, though that's obviously an essential part of this discourse. No one imagines that the majority of the French care that much about Derrida, and it's clear the French have their own problems which don't need my interpretations. And more importantly: it would be foolish to jump to the conclusion that America is anti-literary. I'm reminded of the bit in Proust's Time Regained where the Baron de Charlus, equally drawn to both sides in WWI, declares himself pro-German because he's surrounded by people parroting pro-French platitudes and he can't stand them. I won't deny that there's a little bit of Charlus in my stance. But I do think that the lens of snobbery can be a useful way to scrutinize how cultural capital works, and this analysis can be broadened to look at the sort of big-picture questions we're interested in at the Institute. Nor am I the only one who's noticed this: a better analysis than my own can be found in Pascale Casanova's The World Republic of Letters (depicted above in both French and American editions), a book from a few years ago:
. . . New York and London cannot be said to have replaced Paris in the structure of literary power: one can only note that, as a result of the generalization of the Anglo-American model and the growing influence of financial considerations, these two capitals tend to acquire more and more power in the literary world. But one must not oversimplify the situation by applying a political analysis that opposes Paris to New York and London, or France to the United States."
(p. 168.) Casanova's book is a nice (and readable) study of how literature functions globally as cultural capital; this review by William Deresiewicz in The Nation is a serviceable introduction. It's a useful text for thinking about how big ideas have historically been "legitimated" (her term) and disseminated. Along the way, she can't help but make a strong case for Paris being the historic arbiter of much of the world's taste: Joyce, Faulkner, Borges, Wiesel (a list which could be extended at length) all first came to global prominence through French interest.
Another reminder that things are different in different countries: earlier this week, Pedro Meyer, the Mexican photographer who runs ZoneZero had a long lunch with the Institute, where he reiterated that the way books function in the U.S. is not necessarily the way they function in Latin America, where books are much scarcer and bookshops generally nonexistent. Meyer's concerns echo those of Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe who blisters at American critics arguing that African novels are universal, only with different names:
"Does it ever occur to these [academics] to try out their game of changing names of characters and places in an American novel, say, a Philip Roth or an Updike, and slotting in African names just to see how it works? But of course it would not occur to them. It would never occur to them to doubt the universality of their own literature. In the nature of things the work of a Western writer is automatically informed by universality. It is only others who must strain to achieve it . . . I should like to see the word 'universal' banned altogether from discussions of African literature until such time as people cease to use it as a synonym for the narrow, self-serving parochialism of Europe, until their horizon extends to include all the world."
(p. 156 in Casanova.) Culture cuts both ways. It's important to remember that the ways books (and, by extension, their electronic analogues) function in American society isn't the only way they can or should function. We tend to fall into the assumption that there is no alternative to the way we live. This is myopia, a myopia we need to continually recognize.
Posted by dan visel at 04:52 PM
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tags: Publishing, Broadcast, and the Press , achebe , america , book , casanova , culture , deleuze , design , design_curmudgeonry , generalization , legitimation , nothomb , paris , tschichold , universals , usa
yahoo! ui design library 02.16.2006, 7:08 PM
There are several reasons that Yahoo! released some of their core UI code for free. A callous read of this would suggest that they did it to steal back some goodwill from Google (still riding the successful Goolge API release from 2002). A more charitable soul could suggest that Yahoo! is interested in making the web a better place, not just in their market-share. Two things suggest this—the code is available under an open BSD license, and their release of design patterns. The code is for playing with; the design patterns for learning from.
The design patterns library is a collection of best practice instructions for dealing with common web UI problems, providing both a solution and a rationale, with a detailed explanation of the interaction/interface feedback. This is something that is more familiar to me, but still stands as a valuable resource. It is a well-documented alternate viewpoint and reminder from a site that serves more users in one day than I’m likely to serve in a year.
Of course Yahoo! is hoping to reclaim some mind-space from Google with developer community goodwill. But since the code is general release, and not brandable in any particular way (it’s all under-the-hood kind of stuff), it’s a little difficult to see the release as a directly marketable item. It really just seems like a gift to the network, and hopefully one that will bear lovely fruit. It’s always heartening to see large corporations opening their products to the public as a way to grease the wheels of innovation.
Posted by jesse wilbur at 07:08 PM
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who really needs to turn the pages? 02.15.2006, 6:16 PM
The following post comes from my friend Sally Northmore, a writer and designer based in New York who lately has been interested in things like animation, video game theory, and (right up our alley) the materiality of books and their transition to a virtual environment. A couple of weeks ago we were talking about the British Library's rare manuscript digitization project, "Turning the Pages" -- something I'd been meaning to discuss here but never gotten around to doing. It turns out Sally had some interesting thoughts about this so I persuaded her to do a brief write-up of the project for if:book. Which is what follows below. Come to think of it, this is especially interesting when juxtaposed with Bob's post earlier this week on Jefferson Han's amazing gestural interface design. Here's Sally... - Ben
The British Library's collaboration with multimedia impresarios at Armadillo Systems has led to an impressive publishing enterprise, making available electronic 3-D facsimiles of their rare manuscript collection.
"Turning the Pages", available in CD-ROM, online, and kiosk format, presents the digital incarnation of these treasured texts, allowing the reader to virtually "turn" the pages with a touch and drag function, "pore over" texts with a magnification function, and in some cases, access extras such as supplementary notes, textual secrets, and audio accompaniment.
Pages from Mozart's thematic catalogue -- a composition notebook from the last seven years of his life. Allows the reader to listen to works being discussed.
The designers ambitiously mimicked various characteristics of each work in their 3-D computer models. For instance, the shape of a page of velum turning differs from the shape of a page of paper. It falls at a unique speed according to its weight; it casts a unique shadow. The simulation even allows for a discrepancy in how a page would turn depending on what corner of the page you decide to peel from.
Online visitors can download a library of manuscripts in Shockwave although these versions are a bit clunkier and don't provide the flashier thrills of the enormous touch screen kiosks the British Library now houses.
Mercator's first atlas of Europe - 1570s
Online, the "Turning the Pages" application forces you to adapt to the nature of its embodiment—to physically re-learn how to use a book. A hand cursor invites the reader to turn each page with a click-and-drag maneuver of the mouse. Sounds simple enough, but I struggled to get the momentum of the drag just right so that the page actually turned. In a few failed attempts, the page lifted just so... only to fall back into place again. Apparently, if you can master the Carpal Tunnel-inducing rhythm, you can learn to manipulate the page-turning function even further, grabbing multiple of pages at once for a faster, abridged read.
The value of providing high resolution scans of rare editions of texts for the general public to experience, a public that otherwise wouldn't necessarily ever "touch" say, the Lindisfarne Gospels, doesn’t go without kudos. Hey, democratic right? Armadillo Systems provides a list of compelling raisons d'être on their site to this effect. But the content of these texts is already available in reprintable (democratic!) form. Is the virtual page-turning function really necessary for greater understanding of these works, or a game of academic scratch-n-sniff?
The "enlarge" function even allows readers to reverse the famous mirror writing in Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks
At the MLA conference in D.C. this past December, where the British Library had set up a demonstration of "Turning the Pages", this was the question most frequently asked of the BL's representative. Who really needs to turn the pages? I learned from the rep's response that, well, nobody does! Scholars are typically more interested studying the page, and the turning function hasn't proven to enhance or revive scholarly exploration. And surely, the Library enjoyed plenty of biblio-clout and tourist traffic before this program?
But the lure of new, sexy technology can't be underestimated. From what I understood, the techno-factor is an excellent beacon for attracting investors and funding in multimedia technology. Armadillo's web site provides an interesting sales pitch:
By converting your manuscripts to "Turning the Pages" applications you can attract visitors, increase website traffic and add a revenue stream - at the same time as broadening access to your collection and informing and entertaining your audience.
The program reveals itself to be a peculiar exercise, tangled in its insistence on fetishizing aspects of the material body of the text—the weight of velum, the karat of gold used to illuminate, the shape of the binding. Such detail and love for each material manuscript went into this project to recreate, as best possible, the "feel" of handling these manuscripts.
Under ideal circumstances, what would the minds behind "Turning the Pages" prefer to create? The original form of the text—the "alpha" manuscript—or the virtual incarnation? Does technological advancement seduce us into valuing the near-perfect simulation over the original? Are we more impressed by the clone, the "Dolly" of hoary manuscripts? And, would one argue that "Turning the Pages" is the best proxy for the real thing, or, another “thing” entirely?
Posted by sally northmore at 06:16 PM
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tags: Libraries, Search and the Web , book_craft , books , design , design_curmudgeonry , digitization , interface , library , manuscript , museum , preservation , reading , turning_the_pages , user_interface
GAM3R 7H30RY: part 2 02.03.2006, 7:00 PM
We had a highly productive face to face meeting with Ken this afternoon to review the prior designs and to try and develop, collaboratively, a solution based on the questions that arose from those designs. We were aiming for a solution that provides a compelling interface for Ken's book and also encourages open-ended discussion of the themes and specific games treated in the book.
What we came up with was a prototype of a blog/book page that presents the entire text of GAM3R 7H30RY, and a discussion board based around the games covered in the book, each corresponding with a specific chapter. These are:
- Allegory (on The Sims)
- America (on Civilization III)
- Analog (on Katamari Damarcy)
- Atopia (on Vice City)
- Battle (on Rez)
- Boredom (on State of Emergency)
- Complex (on Deus Ex)
- Conclusions (on SimEarth)
Unlike the thousand of gaming forums that already exist throughout the web, this discussion space will invite personal and social points of view, rather than just walkthroughs and leveling up cheats.
We also discussed the fact that discussion boards tend towards opacity as they grow, and ways to alleviate that situation. Growth is good; it reflects a rich back and forth between board participants. Opacity is bad; it makes it harder for new voices to join the discussion. To make it easier for people to join the discussion, Ken envisioned an innovative gateway into the boards based on a shifting graph of topics ranked by post date (x-axis) and number of responses (y-axis). This solution was inspired in part by "The Pool" -- "a collaborative online environment for creating art, code, and texts" developed by Jon Ippolito at the University of Maine -- in which ideas and project proposals float in different regions of a two-dimensional graph depending on quantity and tenor of feedback from the collective.
Returning to the book view, to push the boundaries of the blog form, we introduced a presentation format that uniquely fits around McKenzie's book form—twenty-five regularly sized paragraphs in nine different chapters. Yes, each chapter has exactly 25 paragraphs, making mathematically consistent presentation possible (as an information designer I am elated at this systematic neatness). We decided on showing a cascade of five paragraphs, with one paragraph visible at a time, letting you navigate through chapters and then sets of five paragraphs within a chapter.
As a delightful aside, we started prototyping with a sheet of paper and index cards, but by some sideways luck we pulled out a deck of Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt's Oblique Strategies cards, which suited our needs perfectly. The resulting paper prototype (photo w/ wireframe cues photoshop'd in):
This project has already provided us with a rich discussion regarding authorship and feedback. As we develop the prototypes we will undoubtedly have more questions, but also, hopefully, more solutions that help us redefine the edges and forms of digital discourse.
Ben Vershbow contributed to this post.
Posted by jesse wilbur at 07:00 PM
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tags: GAM3R_7H30RY , Ken_Wark , authorship , blogs , book-blog_experiments , design , discussion_boards , feedback , gamer_theory , prototype , wireframe
GAM3R 7H30RY: a work in progress... in progress 02.02.2006, 12:35 PM
I'm pleased to report that the institute is gearing up for another book-blog experiment to run alongside Mitchell Stephens' ongoing endeavor at Without Gods -- this one a collaboration with McKenzie Wark, professor of cultural and media studies at the New School and author most recently of A Hacker Manifesto. Ken's next book, Gamer Theory, is an examination of single-player video games that comes out of the analytic tradition of the Frankfurt School (among other influences). Unlike Mitch's project (a history of atheism), Ken's book is already written -- or a draft of it anyway -- so in putting together a public portal, we are faced with a very different set of challenges.
As with Hacker Manifesto, Ken has written Gamer Theory in numbered paragraphs, a modular structure that makes the text highly adaptable to different formats and distribution schemes -- be it RSS syndication, ebook, or print copy. We thought the obvious thing to do, then, would be to release the book serially, chunk by chunk, and to gather commentary and feedback from readers as it progressed. The trouble is that if you do only this -- that is, syndicate the book and gather feedback -- you forfeit the possibility of a more free-flowing discussion, which could end up being just as valuable (or more) as the direct critique of the book. After all, the point of this experiment is to expose the book to the collective knowledge, experience and multiple viewpoints of the network. If new ideas are to be brought to light, then there ought to be ways for readers to contribute, not just in direct response to material the author has put forth, but in their own terms (this returns us to the tricky proprietary nature of blogs that Dan discussed on Monday).
So for the past couple of weeks, we've been hashing out a fairly ambitious design for a web site -- a blog, but a little more complicated -- that attempts to solve (or at least begin to solve) some of the problems outlined above. Our first aim was to infuse the single-author book/blog with the democratic, free-fire discussion of list servers -- a feat, of course, that is far easier said than done. Another concern, simply from an interface standpoint, was to find ways of organizing the real estate of the screen that are more intuitive for reading.
Another thing we've lamented about blogs, and web sites in general, is their overwhelming verticality. Vertical scrolling fields -- an artifact of supercomputer terminals and the long spools of code they spit out -- are taken for granted as the standard way to read online. But nowhere was this ordained as the ideal interface -- in fact it is designed more for machines than for humans, yet humans are the users on the front end. Text does admittedly flow down, but we read left to right, and its easier to move your eye across a text that is fixed than one that is constantly moving. A site we've often admired is The International Herald Tribune, which arranges its articles in elegant, fixed plates that flip horizontally from one to the next. With these things in mind, we set it as a challenge for ourselves to try for some kind of horizontally oriented design for Ken's blog.
There's been a fairly rigorous back and forth on email over the past two weeks in which we've wrestled with these questions, and in the interest of working in the open, we've posted the exchange below (most of it anyway) with the thought that it might actually shed some light on what happens -- from design and conceptual standpoints -- when you try to mash up two inherently different forms, the blog and the book. Jesse has been the main creative force behind the design, and he's put together a lovely annotated page explaining the various mockups we've developed over the past week. If you read the emails (which are can be found directly below this paragraph) you will see that we are still very much in the midst of figuring this out. Feedback would be much appreciated. (See also GAM3R 7H30RY: part 2).
This exchange began after a week of sketching and discussion following an initial brainstorm session with Ken in mid-January...
Thu, Jan 26, 2006 at 3:45 PM
To: Ken Wark
Cc: Bob Stein, Jesse Wilbur
Subject: a start
So here's the challenge as we see it.
We need to create a single site that:
- combines the best of blogs with the best of list-servers
- is structured to progressively reveal the draft of a book and gather commentary
I'm pleased to report that we've cooked up something that comes pretty close -- a Word Press blog re-jiggered to solve all the world's ills. You can view an html mock-up here:
Rather than explain how it works, why don't you just take a look and see how clearly things come across. Not quite everything is there yet, and obviously, it hasn't been tied in to Word Press yet, which will be a bit tricky. But we're pretty confident we can get it to work (when I say we, I mean Jesse, who is the one responsible for building this and who put together the lovely mock-up).
Keep in mind that this is only a sketch and that everything is negotiable. But I think this is a good start.
Let us know how this strikes you fire away with questions.
Ben et al.
Thu, Jan 26, 2006 at 3:51 PM
To: Ben Vershbow
Cc: Jesse Wilbur, Bob Stein
Subject: Re: a start
a really impressive start. I kinda imagined it going left to right,
rather than right to left. I think it should also have a sort of free
fire zone where people can comment and discuss without it being tied to particular parts of the book.
In place of the proprietary Mario image, may be a space invader.
Thu, Jan 26, 2006 at 3:52 PM
To: Ben Vershbow
Cc: Jesse Wilbur, Bob Stein
Subject: Re: a start
-- and if the columns could be a bit wider or the text a bit more
compressed (less leading, maybe) to try and get the whole paragraph on
the screen. The longest are 250 words (or if they're not, i'm cutting
... if i wanted to update the text, how could that work?
Thu, Jan 26, 2006 at 4:22 PM
To: Ken Wark
Cc: Jesse Wilbur, Bob Stein
Subject: Re: a start
>I kinda imagined it going left to right, rather than right to left.
We debated the left-right right-left thing. The problem with left to right is that the more of the book you release, the further down (or over, I should say) the new paragraphs are. Our thought was that it's better to have the most recent first, as in a normal blog, in the interest of keeping the thing as a living exchange. You don't want readers to have to do tons of scrolling to get to the latest installment. It's reverse linear, I realize, but the book hieararchy to the side will allow readers to see an archive view of the book that goes 1-200 in the proper order. There are ways we could make that clearer, like inviting visitors to "read from the beginning" or something.
>I think it should also have a sort of free fire zone where people can comment and discuss without it being tied to particular parts of the book.
This is certainly something we should consider. You'll notice that the "binary thinking for humans" post was made by another user. This is our gesture toward the democracy of list-serves. We figure that there are three ways a user can interact with this site:
1. They simply read it (and later are moved to buy your book, or change the world)
2. They read it and sometimes post comments
3. They read it, sometimes post comments, and even sometimes post top-level threads (like the "binary thinking" one).
1 and 2 are obviously open and unrestricted (though we might need some moderation once the spammers find us). Number 3, however, would require a guest account, so we're working out a way to allow users to create logins. In the spirit of the game, they would be allowed to choose an icon from classic game culture (that's just something we're toying with, let us know what you think). Mario for you was a purely arbitrary choice. You can be a space invader, Metroid, Yoshi or whoever.
Anyway, this allows people to start threads of their own, though they are, as you point out, interspersed within the set structure of the book according to the time they were posted. If you want something that is freer of the book's structure, we would need something like a free fire zone.
Regarding your second comments:
>-- and if the columns could be a bit wider or the text a bit more
>compressed (less leading, maybe) to try and get the whole paragraph
>on the screen. The longest are 250 words (or if they're not, i'm
>cutting them down).
>... if i wanted to update the text, how could that work?
We can certainly tweak the formatting. Our goal is to have two full sections visible and a third cut off, giving the visual clue that there is more content to the side.
As for updating text, that's a very good question. Jesse, any ideas?
We could color code additions and deletions - like a track changes function. We could also work revised paragraphs into the main stream, though this could quickly get confusing. If you see 84, 83, some dude's post, 82, then 41 with all kinds of markings on it, then 81, it might be a little disorienting.
Anyway, let's keep talking this through. Remember to copy everyone so we're all part of the discussion.
Thu, Jan 26, 2006 at 5:08 PM
To: Ben Vershbow
Cc: Ken Wark, Bob Stein
Subject: Re: a start
I think coded additions and deletions are probably the best way to
handle, for the reasons that ben noted. Getting that info into the
stream of the posts does pose a little bit of a problem. My first
reaction is to have some area of the screen dedicated to the "latest
updates" which would be unrestricted to the flow of the chapters.
Possibly in the upper right corner, as a list of small text links.
To help get all of a paragraph on the screen, I can 1) reduce the
leading, 2) move the icon to the left hand side, return address style.
It will still serve the purpose of visually marking a post as belonging to a particular author, but reduce some of the stacking.
Thu, Jan 26, 2006 at 5:28 PM
To: Jesse Wilbur
Cc: Ken Wark, Bob Stein
Subject: Re: a start
The question of revisions is important and very tricky. Tracking changes would have to be done by hand, which could get burdensome. Ideally, each entry would have a revision history. But that's simply not something Word Press is built to do. We'll look into ways that we can mess with it, but we're pushing it nearly to breaking point as it is.
There's also the question of how soon we want to get this thing up. I say the sooner the better (initially I was thinking in the next two weeks), but if we want to get revisions right, it might take longer.
We're going to confer on this and weigh our options.
We'll be at a conference tomorrow so may have less time to work on this. But let's keep talking about anything and everything we want to add/remove/change on the current design.
Thu, Jan 26, 2006 at 7:32 PM
To: Ben Vershbow, Jesse Wilbur
Cc: Bob Stein
Subject: Re: a start
revisions need not be a big deal. It would be useful to be able to take a chunk of text out and put another one in. That the pars are numbered makes that easy.
We then hunkered down for the next few days and came up with some new mockups.
Wed, Feb 1, 2006 at 2:02 PM
To: Ken Wark, Jesse Wilbur, Bob Stein
Subject: Site Draft(s) 2
So we've made a second stab at a design. Several stabs, actually, which leaves us a little more confused than before, but I think productively confused. I do believe we're getting somewhere.
Go to http://www.futureofthebook.org/mckenziewark and you will see a menu of three new mockups (just graphics, not interactive). Three and a half, to be precise (one of them has two views). These are rough, and are missing some important elements, but we wanted to keep you in on the discussion. So here they are, warts and all.
But before you look at these sketches, I'll briefly summarize how we got from what we had the other day to what we have today. So. The initial design had two major problems. One you pointed out, namely that the interspersing of visitor posts among book paragraphs (a bloggish gesture toward the democracy of list servers) did not meaningfully subtract from the primacy of the author in the flow of discussion. This was problem number one, and it led us to give up on trying to fully integrate free-fire discussion with the syndicated book. After all, this project is inescapably about the primacy of the author. Sure, we're poking at it, gently undermining it -- suggesting that a book is as much about process as product -- but it's still your book, your name. We decided that the design should embrace this fact, while also providing alternative venues for more equitable exchange.
The second problem was one we realized only after getting over the "oh, how cool this looks" stage of analysis, namely that horizontal scrolling, lovely as it is, runs into difficulties when you are working with such a large amount of content, much of it coming in at inpredictable intervals and in varying amounts (i.e. comments). It's a question of real estate. We have only so much space on the screen (keeping in mind the smallest standard browser window) and since we want comments to be visible in the main view, we've got an awful lot of material to get organized. If you look at the original mockup, you'll see how this necessitates a combination of vertical and horizontal scrolling. The result is that when you come to the page, instead of a clearly defined website, you see something that looks more like the upper-left corner of a map -- not well formatted for a browser. Seeing as the browser is the reading tool of choice, this won't do at all.
Having both horizontal and vertical scrolling emphasizes the disadvantages of both and the advantages of neither. The Herald Tribune site works nicely because it is dealing with set amounts of text that it can flow cleanly into successive horizontal plates. If we were dealing only with the book, sans comments or discussion, we could do something similarly elegant. But there are more variables in play here, and like it or not, a dynamic work such as this, given the tools currently available, strongly tends toward a vertical display.
Still, as you'll see in our first new mockup, we've still struggled to make the horizontal work. In this one, the paragraphs flow vertically, but the comments flow horizontally. In this case, the horizontal is more intuitive, since we naturally read left to right and the comments are ordered chronologically in the same way. But we still run into the real estate problem described earlier and the reader ends up having to scroll in multiple directions. You'll notice also a menu on the sidebar pointing to discussion topics in a free-fire forum. This is not at all the way this would look, it's just a crude marker. It would lead to a page of topics that anyone could post. We're also thinking of a way to allow readers to post a comment simultaneously under a paragraph and as its own forum thread.
The second mockup keeps the comments to the right, but arranges them vertically. This isn't so bad, except that when you have a lot of comments, and you open them up, it starts to seriously push the next post down, which looks awkward. But maybe this is not such a problem.
The third reflects our attempt to keep the free-fire discussion on the main page next to the book flow. The problem with this is that, though the two streams are clearly related, there is no mechanism provided with which to draw specific connection points. In other words, this design implicitly promises something it cannot deliver, and will come off seeming arbitrary and not well thought out.
The other big thing to throw into the mix, but which is not yet reflected in these sketches, is the question of versioning. We've figured out some reasonably simple ways to incorporate versioning into the design and feel that, given the goals of the project, this is one of the most important ingredients to include. The kind of versioning we're imagining would include a sort of "track changes" function and would automatically archive all past incarnations of a paragraph.
So to sum up, I think what we're moving toward is something that combines elements of all three sketches and throws in the element of versioning. We may have to let go of the idea of horizontal scrolling, but we're confident that we'll still be presenting comments in an interesting way. The free-fire discussion element will be there, but in a different space, yet we will advertise it prominently on the front page and try to find a simple but effective way to connect it to the book-centered comments.
And having said all that (sorry it was so long-winded), we'd like to hear from you which, among the elements we've laid out, you think are most important to include in the final design, and in what proportions. What works and what doesn't work? What are things we are obsessing about that need not be obsessed about? What are things we're still missing?
With a little more work, I think we can have something ready to go in the next week or two.
Wed, Feb 1, 2006 at 2:19 PM
To: Bob Stein, Ben Vershbow, Jesse Wilbur
Subject: Re: Site Draft(s) 2
wow, that's a lot to think about, but its an interesting set of
problems. I'll have a think about it, but maybe it would be best to meet
and kick it around. How's Friday?
Wed, Feb 1, 2006 at 2:48 PM
To: Ken Wark, Jesse Wilbur, Bob Stein
Subject: Re: Site Draft(s) 2
Meeting face to face is a good idea and Friday works well.
Wed, Feb 1, 2006 at 3:26 PM
Subject: Re: Site Draft(s) 2
To: Ken Wark
Cc: Jesse Wilbur, Bob Stein
One other thing...
Here at the institute we're generally trying to find ways we can do our work more in the open, and thinking about it, our email exchange about the site design have actually turned out to be pretty interesting, maybe even interesting enough for people to want to read them on our blog.
This project poses some big questions about the work of ideas in the network of ideas, and our little back-and-forth is turning into an intriguing little document at the intersection of theory and practice.
How would you feel about us posting it?
Wed, Feb 1, 2006 at 4:16 PM
To: Ben Vershbow
Cc: Jesse Wilbur, Bob Stein
Subject: Re: Site Draft(s) 2
sure, let's start a public thread on it
i'm starting to wonder if it ought not to feature the book too centrally at all. What if the front of the site was about the games that the book is about? (I've pasted in the contents below). The architecture for commenting on the book could be a layer, but in front of that could be a more conventional set of forums about particular games.
Allegory (on The Sims) 25
America (on Civilization III) 47
Analog (on Katamari Damarcy) 66
Atopia (on Vice City) 83
Battle (on Rez) 104
Boredom (on State of Emergency) 124
Complex (on Deus Ex) 147
Conclusions (on SimEarth) 162
see you fri
...which just about brings us up to the present moment. If you have any thoughts/questions/comments, we're all ears.
Posted by ben vershbow at 12:35 PM
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tags: Games , blogging , blogs , book-blog_experiments , books , design , frankfurt_school , gaming , hacker , interface , marx , mckenzie_wark , philosophy , reading , video_games , writing
two newspapers 01.04.2006, 11:21 AM
I picked up The New York Times from outside my door this morning knowing that the lead headline was going to be wrong. I still read the print paper every morning – I do read the electronic version, but I find that my reading there tends to be more self-selecting than I'd like it to be – but lately I find myself checking the Web before settling down to the paper and a cup of coffee. On the Web, I'd already seen the predictable gloating and hand-wringing in evidence there. Because of some communication mixup, the papers went to press with the information that the trapped West Virginia coal miners were mostly alive; a few hours later it turned out that they were, in fact, mostly dead. A scrutiny of the front pages of the New York dailies at the bodega this morning revealed that just about all had the wrong news – only Hoy, a Spanish-language daily didn't have the story, presumably because it went to press a bit earlier. At right is the front page of today's USA Today, the nation's most popular newspaper; click on the thumbnail for a more legible version. See also the gallery at their "newseum". (Note that this link won't show today's papers tomorrow – my apologies, readers of the future, there doesn't seem to be anything that can be done for you, copyright and all that.)
At left is another front page of a newspaper, The New York Times from April 20, 1950 (again, click to see a legible version). I found it last night at the start of Marshall McLuhan's The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man. Published in 1951, The Mechanical Bride is one of McLuhan's earliest works; in it, he primarily looks at the then-current world of print advertising, starting with the front page shown here. To my jaundiced eye, most of the book hasn't stood up that well; while it was undoubtedly very interesting at the time – being one of the first attempts to seriously deal with how people interact with advertisements from a critical perspective – fifty years, and billions and billions of advertisements later, it doesn't stand up as well as, say, Judith Williamson's Decoding Advertisements manages to. But bits of it are still interesting: McLuhan presents this front page to talk about how Stephane Mallarmé and the Symbolists found the newspaper to be the modern symbol of their day, with the different stories all jostling each other for prominence on the page.
But you don't – at least, I don't – immediately see that when you look at the front page that McLuhan exhibits. This was presumably an extremely ordinary front page when he was exhibiting it, just as the USA Today up top might be representative today. Looked at today, though, it's something else entirely, especially when you what newspapers look like now. You can notice this even in my thumbnails: when both papers are normalized to 200 pixels wide, you can't read anything in the old one, besides that it says "The New York Times" as the top, whereas you can make out the headlines to four stories in the USA Today. Newspapers have changed, not just from black & white to color, but in the way the present text and images. In the old paper there are only two photos, headshots of white men in the news – one a politician who's just given a speech, the other a doctor who's had his license revoked. The USA Today has perhaps an analogue to that photo in Jack Abramoff's perp walk; it also has five other photos, one of the miners' deluded family members (along with Abramoff, the only news photos), two sports-related photos – one of which seems to be stock footage of the Rose Bowl sign, a photo advertising television coverage inside, and a photo of two students for a human interest story. This being the USA Today, there's also a silly graph in the bottom left; the green strip across the bottom is an ad. Photos and graphics take up more than a third of the front page of today's paper.
What's overwhelming to me about the old Times cover is how much text there is. This was not a newspaper that was meant to be read at a glance – as you can do with the thumbnail of the USA Today. If you look at the Times more closely it looks like everything on the front page is serious news. You could make an argument here about the decline of journalism, but I'm not that interested in that. More interesting is how visual print culture has become. Technology has enabled this – a reasonably intelligent high-schooler could, I think, create a layout like the USA Today. But having this possibility available would also seem to have had an impact on the content – and whether McLuhan would have predicted that, I can't say.
premature burial, or, the electronic word in time and space 10.06.2005, 2:09 PM
We were talking yesterday (and Bob earlier) about how to better organize content on if:book - how to highlight active discussion threads, or draw attention to our various categories. Something more dynamic than a list of links on the sidebar, or a bunch of hot threads advertised at the top. A significant problem with blogs is the tyranny of the vertical column, where new entries call out for attention on a stack of rapidly forgotten material, much of which might still be worth reading even though it was posted back in the dark ages (i.e. three days ago). Some of the posts that get buried still have active discussions stemming from them. Just today, "ways of seeing, ways of writing" - posted nearly two weeks ago - received another comment. The conversation is still going. (See also Dan's "blog reading: what's left behind".)
This points to another thorny problem, still unsolved nearly 15 years into the world wide web, and several years into the blogging craze: how to visualize asynchronous conversations - that is, conversations in which time lapses between remarks. If the conversation is between only two people, a simple chronological column works fine - it's a basic back-and-forth. But consider the place where some of the most dynamic multi-person asynchronous conversations are going on: in the comment streams of blog entries. Here you have multiple forking paths, hopping back and forth between earlier and later remarks, people sticking close to the thread, people dropping in and out. But again, you have the tyranny of the vertical column.
We're using an open source platform called Drupal for our Next\Text project, which has a blog as its central element but can be expanded with modular units to do much more than we're able to do here. The way Drupal handles comments is nice. You have the usual column arranged chronologically, with comments streaming downward, but readers have the option of replying to specific comments, not just to the parent post. Replies to specific comments are indented slightly, creating a sort of sub-stream, and the the fork can keep on going indefinitely, indenting rightward.
This handles forks and leaps fairly well, but offers at best only a partial solution. We're still working with a print paradigm: the outline. Headers, sub-headers, bullet points. These distinguish areas in a linear stream, but they don't handle the non-linear character of complex conversations. There is always the linear element of time, but this is extremely limiting as an organizing principle. Interesting conversations make loops. They tangle. They soar. They sag. They connect to other conversations.
But the web has so far been dominated by time as an organizing principle, new at the top and old at the bottom (or vice versa), and this is one the most-repeated complaints people have about it. The web favors the new, the hot, the immediate. But we're dealing with a medium than can also handle space, or at least the perception of space. We need not be bound to lists and outlines, we need not plod along in chronological order. We could be looking at conversations as terrains, as topographies.
The electronic word finds itself in an increasingly social context. We need to design a better way to capture this - something that gives the sense of the whole (the big picture), but allows one to dive directly into the details. This would be a great challenge to drop into a design class. Warren Sack developed a "conversation map" for news groups in the late 90s. From what I can tell, it's a little overwhelming. I'm talking about something that draws people right in and gets them talking. Let's look around.
Posted by ben vershbow at 02:09 PM
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tags: Online , blog , blogging , blogs , comment , comments , content , conversation , design , design_curmudgeonry , dialogue , display , drupal , flow , graphical , graphics , infoviz , internet , layout , metadata , movable_type , platform , publishing , software , space , time , visualization , viz , web
the big picture 10.05.2005, 7:26 PM
Though a substantial portion of our reading now takes place online, we still chafe against the electronic page, in part because today's screens are hostile to the eye, but also, I think, because we are waiting for something new - something beyond a shallow mimicry of print. Occasionally, however, you come across something that suggests a new possibility for what a page, or series of pages, can be when words move to the screen.
I came across such a thing today on CNET's new site, which has a feature called "The Big Picture," a dynamic graphical display that places articles at the center of a constellation, drawing connections to related pieces, themes, and company profiles.
Click on another document in the cluster and the items re-arrange around a new center, and so on - ontologies are traced. But CNET's feature does not go terribly far in illuminating the connections, or rather the different kinds of connections, between articles and ideas. They should consider degrees of relevance, proximity in time, or overlaps in classification. Combined with a tagging system, this could get interesting. As it stands, it doesn't do much that a simple bullet list of related articles can't already do admirably, albeit with fewer bells and whistles.
But this is pushing in an interesting direction, testing ways in which a web publication can organize and weave together content, shedding certain holdovers from print that are no longer useful in digital space. CNET should keep playing with this idea of an article ontology viewer - it could be refined into a legitimately useful tool.
Posted by ben vershbow at 07:26 PM
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tags: CNET , Online , browser , cluster , constellation , design , folksonomy , infoviz , internet , layout , magazine , news , newspaper , ontology , page , print , publishing , tagging , tags , visualization , viz , web
blogs -- trying to fit round pegs into square holes 10.04.2005, 9:56 AM
i've been without an internet connection for a few days. was catching up on if:book posts and finding myself delighted by the wonderful range of interesting posts my colleagues had managed in just a few days. which made me want to send a note to lots of friends and acquaintances urging them to check out our blog. but then my more nervous, modest side took over and convinced me that urging people to sample a blog as wide-ranging as if:book is a dicey proposition since sampling one day's posts doesn't necessarily indicate the extent of our interests. the structure of blogs favors the chronology of entry; thematic categories are listed on the side but without much fanfare. wonder if we could re-arrange the "front page" to be more magazine like, where for example "recent posts" would be one feature among many.
fertile pages 09.08.2005, 11:50 AM
the emerging plant appears to use the colors similar to those found in the website HTML, CSS or images, while its size & branches depend on the site structure, content or number of pages. without any readily provided explanation or legend, one keeps trying to feed it URLs to derive the most beautiful flower (while avoiding the sometimes appearing flies)
Plug in a URL and try it out (be warned: it might crash your browser). if:book is apparently an inky species of blog (see above). I'll add this to our garden. I wonder why there aren't more sprouts of orange? The New York Times comes out more floral.
Something interesting I found, take a look at these two plants. One is Google, the other Yahoo! Can you guess which is which? (The larger plant has been scaled down.)
NYPL ebook collection leaves much to be desired 12.10.2004, 1:51 PM
I just checked out two titles from the New York Public Library's ebook catalog, only to learn, to my great astonishment, that those books are now effectively "checked out," and cannot be downloaded again by anyone else until my copies time out.
It boggles the mind that NYPL would go to the trouble of establishing a collection of electronic titles, only to wipe out every advantage offered by digital texts. In fact, they do more than simply keep the ebooks on the level of print, they limit them further than that, since there are generally multiple copies of most print titles in the NYPL system.
The people responsible for this catalog have either entirely failed to grasp the concept of infinitely accessible, screen-based books, or they grasp it all too well and are trying to stunt it at its inception, perhaps out of fear of extinction of the print librarian. More likely, they are under heavy pressure by a paranoid copyright regime. Whatever the reason, the new ebook catalog shows a total lack of imagination and offers nearly no tangible benefit for the reader.
Beyond that, the books themselves are poorly designed and unpleasant to read. My downloaded copy of Conrad's Heart of Darkness (which, by the way, I found in the "Romance" section) evidences no more than ten minutes worth of design work, and appears to be simply a cut-and-pasted ASCII file from Gutenberg with a garish graphic slapped on the cover. My copy of Chain of Command by Seymour Hersh was a bit more respectable – more or less a pdf facsimile of the print edition.
On an amusing note, the "literary criticism" section is populated almost entirely by Cliff's Notes.
Posted by ben vershbow at 01:51 PM
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tags: DRM , Libraries, Search and the Web , books , copyright , design , e-publishing , ebook , ebooks , internet , libraries , library , manhattan , new_york , publishing