Category Archives: Spheres (Industries)

Dear CNN: Please Stop.

CNNshirtsmall.jpgCNN has decided to sell custom, on-demand t-shirts featuring headlines from their website. No, I’m not making this up.

There seems to be very little rhyme or reason behind their choices of which headlines are permissible for t-shirts — not all of the daily gems can be plastered onto an oh-so-esoteric cotton tee.

And, of course, it has to be “Beta,” since that term has lost all meaning.

Sarcasm and condescension aside, Woot has a far more entertaining way to look at this marketing misstep:

PS: I guess I shouldn’t expect too much from a website that still posts such sensitive, journalistic links as:

loseout.jpg

Ah, yes. I suppose sensationalism’s best friend is voyeurism.

Ah. Young Love.

Matt Pestinger, 18, started his group, “Your relationship doesn’t count unless it’s posted on Facebook,” as a commentary on today’s world, he said in an e-mail. …

“Our generation is much more open with these types of things being on the Internet, Facebook and MySpace,” [Ashley] Shinn said. “We don’t have any secrets or anything. We don’t hide anything. We show everything to each other. Since we don’t have any shame in anything, we don’t hide it.” …

“I’m not sure what they did before Facebook,” [Taikein Cooper] said.

Read. Discuss.

Keynote Thoughts/Reactions

Keynote

There has been so much written about the Steve Jobs keynote on Monday that I’ve been too busy reading to make any of my own comments.

Overall, the biggest surprise of the keynote for me was the lack of surprises.

Leopard’s “top secret” features were very slick (new desktop, new Finder), but not as earth-shattering as I had hoped. (Note that I’m still looking forward to Leopard almost as much as the iPhone.)

If the keynote felt a bit disappointing, it is surely the fault of having one year since we first saw some of Leopard’s most impressive features.

Here are some quick notes on the keynote:

  • Stacks: Stacks The long-fabled feature finally debuts as a part of the Dock.

    These icon groupings function a lot like the tabbed Pop-Up Folders from Mac OS 8 (or, for the cynics, like more sophisticated versions of folders in the Dock).

    They store a lot of items together (files, folders, apps) and fan them out (or display them in a grid) when clicked. When you’ve chosen the item you were looking for, the stack snaps back to its compact icon on the Dock.

    This should be especially handy, given the introduction of a new Downloads stack in the Dock to store all downloaded files as they come in. (I love the little hop that the stack makes when a new download arrives!)

    Sadly, stacks seem to work only in the Dock.

    Continue reading

The Code, The Diggs, and The Coming Revolution

digg-attack.jpg It may well be a watershed event for Web 2.0, or at least a significant test. Things have been bubbling for a few days, but today (5/1), it finally boiled over.

In case you haven’t heard — a few days ago the hex code needed to crack HD-DVD encryption was posted to the internet. It probably would have died out after a short, bright flare of blog attention, once the requisite number of geeks capable of actually using the code obtained it (and after the requisite number of geek wannabes posted chuckles about it on digg).

But, “the owners of this intellectual property” (cough, MPAA, cough, cough, AACS, cough) decided to descend with cease and desist orders in an amazing show of hubris. Aside from confirming that the code is legit and will indeed crack HD-DVDs (in and of itself, increasing attention), these desist orders immediately inspired indignant posts of the code on blogs and comments around the net yesterday. (I first saw it in Wil Wheaton’s cleverly oblique post Monday, but Boing Boing, and all of the notable blogs have posted — and some have removed it — it seems.)

And then Web 2.0 truly kicked in — inevitably, those posts were dugg, and soon, many Digg posts repeated the code. Not surprisingly, once “the owners of this intellectual property” saw the growing numbers of posts, Digg itself was sent a cease and desist order.

Here’s where things got interesting. Digg decided that their best course of action was to comply, and they removed the posts and suspended the accounts of the posters, in accordance with their Terms of Service.

Fire, meet fuel. Soon, it became clear that Digg would need to suspend a significant portion of their entire user base and block nearly all new diggs, as angry, DRM-hating diggers championed the cause of their fallen comrades in what has become known around the net as The Great Digg Revolt.

So, Digg, with a melodramatic post to end all posts, proclaimed that it was (finally) making a stand in favor of Web 2.0 values in the face of overbearing corporate interests (DRM), and that if that caused them to be shut down, at least they will have gone down swinging.

The same activities have transpired around the net at Web 2.0 sites (Wikipedia has gone on Protect mode for HD-DVD, etc. – Wired Story »).

Like a whack-a-mole game, “the owners of this intellectual property” order sites to take down the code as soon as they see it, and web denizens continue to repost it even more quickly. Google and other hosters/providers seem to be complying with requests to remove or issue take-down notices to users. So far, Digg seems to stand alone, testing the waters.

Will Digg die? No. It will be interesting to see if “the owners of this intellectual property” (I refuse to call them by their proper acronym) actually do sue, though. A court battle would inevitably outlast the urge to post and repost the code, but even if “the owners of this intellectual property” were to prevail, how code the code be removed from every nook and cranny that it now occupies? It can’t be stripped out of our memories and imaginations.

This is the first step. With any luck, The Great Digg Revolt and the wide posting of the code will draw enough attention to this subject that a national debate ensues.

DRM is, and always has been, a ridiculous construct. The idea of protecting authors’ rights is important. Doing it with a code that restricts audience members from using the works they have rightfully purchased from “the authors” is silly, though — it is often fraught with compatibility problems, makes implementation more difficult, makes customers mad because of unnecessary restrictions, and, in the end, can never remain secure for very long. As Steve Jobs pointed out in his “Thoughts on Music,” a great deal of time and resources must be devoted to protecting and changing that code.

What is the solution? I don’t pretend to know at this stage. There must be a way for authors and artists to receive fair compensation for their work and protection from exploitation without so severely restricting the rights of end users. For now, I plan to sit back and watch the fallout from the coming clash between average users and the omnipotent-seeming forces of “the owners of this intellectual property.” It’s sure to get more interesting from here.

(Thanks, Wil, Chris, Joel, and Sion; photo parts by Steve Woods)

“Sometimes Knowledge Is More Important Than Truth”

Subway MapIt may seem a bit contradictory at first, but Signal vs. Noise (37signals) points out an excellent case study of an instance where the essence is more important than the truth itself: mapping the New York City subway system (nothing says complexity like the largest number of subway stations in the world — 468).

Current official maps are geographically accurate, but the maze of different lines makes understanding the map and figuring out how best to navigate through the system becomes a struggle.

Enter Kick Design. Eddie Jabbour, Creative Director at Kick, apparently grew frustrated at the deficiencies of the standard maps of the New York subway system. At least five years of research (finding maps on eBay, among other things) and design work led to Jabbour’s new map, a widely-praised work that eschews the geographic reality of NYC for a cleaner, easier to read representation:

Comparison of Maps

As you can see, the map uses simplified notations, straightens the lines nearly into a grid and simplifies the color usage into more restricted, abstract spaces. Text is now cleaned up, non-diagonal, and less overlapping, and the legend and symbols have been dramatically clarified and improved. (It’s not as dramatic as Massimo Vignelli’s 1972 abstraction, and that may be a good thing.)

As 37signals and the New York Times point out, the map bears a similarity to London’s classic logic-oriented map of the tube system. The Signal vs. Noise blog calls it “helpful distortion,” eloquently and elegantly asserting that “sometimes knowledge is more important than truth.”

Indeed, often, the best way to explain a concept, tell a story, or even interface with a complex device is through trustworthy simplification. Though there are numerous examples, an easy one can be seen in the qualities of a successful interface to a computer or other consumer electronics device.

Often, criticisms of the iPod revolve around the fact that it doesn’t offer this feature or that feature (it doesn’t have built-in radio, it doesn’t have wi-fi — it doesn’t even have an off switch). But, that type of argument misses a critical point and significant appeal of the iPod — it does what it does simply, cleanly and efficiently. That simplicity gives it elegance and attractiveness that has certainly helped it to become the best-selling music player in history (and one of the best selling electronic devices in history).

The subway maps are a great object lesson in this appealing accessibility, and rather than continue to rehash the excellent coverage from 37signals, I’ll simply direct you over there with my hearty agreement, and two last thoughts:

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
—Albert Einstein 

…and, consider this: Eddie Jabbour finally met with the MTA about his map and the possibilities for improving the official map, and they rejected it. What do you think about that?

I’d love to read your thoughts and any other examples of “helpful distortion” in the comments!

(Thanks, Daring Fireball)

A New Look at the World

Photosynth Imagine if your digital photos could be arranged in a collage and merged into a panoramic shot of a place. Cool, right?

Now, imagine if your pictures could be arranged in a collage and merged into a 3D representation of the pictured place, that you could take a virtual stroll through. Amazing, right?

Now, imagine the possibilities if all of your pictures, and all of my pictures, and all of everyone’s pictures could merge into a constantly improving and evolving 3D virtual Earth. (Who needs a satellite map?)

Well, it’s not quite that far along yet, but a crew of coders in Microsoft’s Live Labs are developing an amazing project called Photosynth that could one day do all of that, and more. The technology, developed in collaboration with the University of Washington and now rolling in visualization from Seadragon (a company acquired by Microsoft), can already do most of the above.

Photosynth works by analyzing each photo in a collection fed to it, determining features of interest in the photo and drawing a map of these points. The points act as a signature for the objects in the photo, and when compared with the feature points of the same objects in other pictures, allows the computer to map the photos in a three-dimensional space, in a similar way to how two images provided by our two eyes allow us to perceive depth.

As the team points out, the analysis of the photos also has the added benefit of establishing a ‘fingerprint’ for the photo that computer systems could use to identify the subject of the photo. This could lead to some really usesful applications, like the ability to photograph a landmark with your cell phone and have Photosynth technology match it and provide identification or other desired information about the landmark from the web.

Imagine a massive web-based Photosynth virtual world, where submitted photos are put together in a walkthrough globe. Google Earth is already taking steps in this direction, with 3D models that approximate buildings, and community-built markers, overlays, animations, and 3D models. Technology like Photosynth have the potential to take the idea to a whole new level of realism and utility.

(I’m a little late to the party, but a hat tip to Scobleizer for pointing this out!)

…quick clicks…

Socially-constructed News

tickr2 A ‘proposal’ from veteran web designers Hop Studios asks “What if news sites were built for sharing instead of for telling?” and then answers the question with tickr — a proposed mashup between flickr‘s celebrated Web 2.0 community interface and traditional news outlet content.

While they allude to sites like Wikipedia, they focus on flickr‘s model, because they feel it is highly influential and has innate loyalty-building properties. To me, though, it looks like there’s a heavy wiki influence here.

The observations about the most useful (and popular) UI elements of flickr are interesting to consider, though. Sites like Wikipedia could certainly be improved by some of their logical suggestions, and it would indeed be interesting to see a working news wiki community site like the proposed tickr.

(Thanks, Magnetbox — a blog with one of the most creative looks I’ve seen!)

Loose Lips

Rubel It seems fairly common today to see the media examining the phenomenon of people (especially high school and college students) posting information — to Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, or just personal blogs — that may one day haunt them in a job interview.

So, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that someone has gotten into hot water (career-risking hot water) over a carelessly personal, ill-thought posting to the newest 2.0 phenom, Twitter. Except that in this case, it was a seasoned professional and well-known blogger who works in PR.

If anyone should know better, it should have been Steve Rubel. He posted to Twitter on Friday that he receives PC Magazine (for free), but that — despite working for a firm that represents and pitches stories on behalf of many high-powered tech clients (Palm, Microsoft, etc.) that court PC Magazine and its readership — he throws the magazine away (presumably without looking at it).

It might have gone unnoticed in the swirl of tweets, but the Editor in Chief of PC Magazine, Jim Louderback, did notice. And clearly, it had an effect. His guest editorial on the PR blog Strumpette is definitely worth reading and considering (second link below).

A little thought can go a long way. It’s a small web after all. (Thanks, Daring Fireball)

Update Apr 19 Link to original Twitter post corrected.