Ming the Mechanic:
Static or dynamic web metaphors

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 Static or dynamic web metaphors2007-10-25 21:47
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Anthony Judge: Transforming Static Websites into Mobile "Wizdomes" - enabling change through intertwining dynamic and configurative metaphors. Always interesting and challenging reading from Tony Judge.

The metaphors we employ to travel the web are extremely pervasive, but almost invisible to most. Same thing with how we use computers in general. I'm sure a lot of folks can't imagine anything different than their computer having a "desktop", even though that's a strangely antiquated metaphor to use. Here we have a mindblowing amount of computational power, and software that can deal with a hundred dimensions just as easily as two, and then we model the whole thing around a copy of our desk, with folders and pieces of paper and a trashcan. With many of the same limitations our desk has, which is exactly what we need to go beyond. Seems silly, but habit is strong, and often we can't see anything other than what we're presented with, and what we're used to seeing.

Here's from Tony's article, about "sites":
There is the interesting possibility that "site" may come to be understood as a static outmoded metaphor for the manner in which people and collectives find it appropriate to engage with the universe of knowledge. Site implies a particular location, especially the location with which the web user has some involvement and which may be deliberately constructed as an articulation of individual or collective identity. From there one can travel to other locations which others have configured to represent their's.

However, whilst the "site" may reflect considerable effort in articulating a static identity -- whether or not it has interactive facilities analogous to those that might be expected in a person's house -- it says nothing about the dynamics of how a person moves and how identity may be associated with that. There may be links to other sites -- like travel books in a home library -- but the dynamics and style of that movement are only partially represented. Even more interesting is the question of "who" moves. There is a sense that an abstract entity, a "visitor", travels to other sites as an observer, a consumer, a tourist -- along the information highway. Possibly some form of link may be brought back -- like a photograph or memento. Arrangements may be made to "keep in touch" through an exchange of addresses. As the person responsible for a site, one may in turn make arrangements to receive such visitors.

The question asked in what follows is whether more fruitful understanding of these processes would emerge from changing metaphor.
Hm, yeah. So, a *site* is kind of like a shrine one leaves behind, while one is out doing other things. It might have a bookcase with your favorite books, a collection of your writings, a picture of you, some of the things you like. Why not the teddybear from your childhood, a jar of your favorite peanutbutter, a wardrobe with your old clothes, and a TV playing your favorite shows?

There are organizations of various kinds that leave an office in their building standing ready for their long dead founder. It has a nice comfortable chair he would have liked, a box of his favorite cigars, or whatever it was he liked. And somebody will come by and clean it once per week, and make sure things look just right.

Is that really the kind of vibe we want in a website?

When we add more dimensions and more tools, people will often just create more of the same. I'm thinking of virtual worlds. One buys a plot of land in Second Life, builds a house, looking just like a house in the regular world, with pictures on the wall, books in the book case, music on the stereo, etc. OK, one has the opportunity of making something one couldn't do in real life, because it is would be either impossible or too expensive. One can have an avatar much more beautiful than one really is, and one can live in a mansion, and own a flying Ferrari. But it is still sort of the same thing. A somewhat static place that will represent what one wants to be thought to be, even while one isn't there most of the time.

Tony offers a bunch of possible alternative paradigms and related models and ideas. A whole bunch. One of the alternatives ways of looking at it:
Rather than constructing a site, and visiting other sites elsewhere in cyberspace, suppose the focus shifted to the "vehicle" in which one travelled. Such a shift in paradigm is evident in the case of people who choose to invest in a mobile home to travel their continent, possibly with little immediate intention to return to a particular physical location. The focus is then on the design of the mobile home (a caravan) and its capacity to move. The "centre of gravity" of identity is then with the vehicle and its enabling capacity rather than with some particular physical space. A similar shift in identity is evident in the desire of people to possess a vehicle that better reflects their sense of identity than the place they are obliged to dwell for socio-economic reasons.

But this possibility then raises the question of how exactly the design of a "vehicle" might be expected to be different from the design of a "site". In the design of a site, considerable effort is put into ensuring that it is a reflection of one's personal (or collective) sense of identity. The aim is to fruitfully distinguish its unique qualities from those of others -- notably to render it more attractive. Website designers now have considerable experience in building a site to this end -- respecting the basic needs of visitors -- navigational needs within the site, clarity of content, etc. If the site is a more personal one, holding notes, photographs and the like, less effort may be put into facilitating the experience of visitors and more into its security features -- exactly as with the priorities of a householder for whom the needs of visitors are not of major concern.

How then to think about the design of a "vehicle"? Clearly search engines may be appropriately considered as a form of "public transportation". They may even offer facilities to "personalize" the engagement with such transportation -- configuring colours, layout, language, skins, etc.
OK, so, yes, an avatar would be an example of that. You work on designing the part that's moving around, rather than the part that stays behind.

At the same time we're still stuck to some degree with the same metaphors that limits a mobile home to be as much as possible like one's static home, however much one can manage to stuff it into a box on wheels.

One can get very fancy in designing an avatar for a virtual world, but it is still within the realm of some kind of body, without necessarily getting any new perceptions or access to larger amounts of data or anything.

And I'll argue that more useful interfaces would be more in the direction of extrasensory perceptions and out of body experiences. I mean, instead of duplicating or merely enhancing what we do every day in the meat world, we might make a much bigger jump and imagine what we actually might be able to do if unburdened by the limitations of having to drag stuff through 3 dimensions, which takes time and effort.

In principle, the internet-connected information world would allow you to be anywhere instantly and have access to any amount of information in any way you'd want. Do you really need to "travel" to a "site" and read "documents" in order to get to it? Even if it isn't just that, every site has its own metaphors and paradigms and rules and procedures. You need to sign up, you need to figure out the menus, the different "rooms" of the house that somebody presents you with.

That's of course not all that is going on on the web. A lot of protocols and mechanisms are emerging that potentially allow us to access things in our own way, without having to learn the map of somebody's house. Feeds, APIs, etc. Potentially we have some of the building blocks for creating a drastically different experience.

Back to Tony's article. He proposes some sort of structure that you can take with you, which can replace the metaphor of a site. He calls it the "Wizdome". "Wiz" can be for wisdom, as opposed to knowledge. And "dome" because it maybe could be thought of as being spherical, or maybe geodesic.
Combining these two suggested shifts in metaphor -- to the spherical and to the dynamic -- the question for the individual is whether what is required is to design such a "wizdome" from the elements of knowledge accumulated on any current website. Can such knowledge elements be configured spherically in a fruitful manner for that individual? Can a site be "endomed" or "domified"? What kinds of insights and expertise are required to bring about any such "enwrapping" of knowledge -- beyond what the problematic aspects of cocooning? What is to be "encompassed" and how is this to be distinguished from any "encyclopedic" ambition...?

Additionally however, rather than a static dome, can such a wizdome be designed as a vehicle? Or, more intriguing, is it possible that its viability as a structure is specifically dependent on its movement as a dynamic structure -- as much a "whizdome" as a "wizdome"?

Also intriguing is the possibility that, to sustain its integrity as a dynamic structure, the wizdome may have to move in particular ways or to embody particular kinds of movement. It may indeed be capable of "whizzing" around.
Hm, maybe sort of like a merkeba, an interdimensional vehicle, often considered to be constructed of interlocking tetrahedra.

Some kind of vehicle to travel in on the interwebs might constitute progress.

There's me, and there's a whole lot of information out there, which I might want to interact with. I'd like to get beyond that each separate store house of information will build a house for me to visit to come look at it. And we're already halfway there. I read news in a feed aggregator, I choose my own e-mail programs and instant messenger programs. Although each of those have their own limitations, standing between me and what I'd like to do. I can sort of have these different tools at hand even while I travel around. I can chat in an IM program while looking at different websites, obviously. I can stay connected with a feed of messages from my friends on different computers, or on my mobile phone.

But to get further in terms of a different experience in dealling with the information world, is it still something like that the Semantic Web that is needed? That all available information is thoroughly labeled, measured, categorized, so that I could use some completely universal tools to access it in any way I want, rather than having to put up with a million different interfaces. And, since nobody is going to do it for us, will it emerge as a folksonomy?

Either way, some old structures will have to die out before all this inter-connectivity really can live up to its potential. The internet is still a little too much like a thousand channels with nothing on. Oh, there's a lot on, an there are interesting channels, but it is hard to find what you really want, and do with it what you'd really want to do. Because the metaphors are getting in the way.


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10 comments

27 Oct 2007 @ 08:54 by Michael Arnoldus @213.173.244.74 : Context
Maybe - just maybe - there's a good reason for actually limiting the amount of information available in an instant. In this piece you consider 'dragging stuff' through 3 dimensions a burden it would be so nice to be freed from - and yes, the internet seems to be the platform that could deliver the promised land of having everything present right here and now - an ideal i myself as an 'information worker' (IT bum) have been idealizing. But lately another thought has arrived. Why do I so often find myself paralyzed and not able to the things I want to do? And why is it never like that if I'm doing something physical with myself - running - taking a walk, painting the house etc? Maybe - and I really do mean maybe 'cause I don't know - I've been thinking if Bateson's ideas of context markers is the difference. In a purely virtual space with no limitations I find myself unsure of what to do - too many choices and no clear context pointing me in a direction, but in a 'physical space' (or at least a physical metaphor) I find certain markers that make the next action natural - even actions about moving from this space/context onto another. It feels natural, blissful, free! So I'm thinking that we as humans might actually need contexts and spaces to guide ourselves to put some structure into the world, and the fact that it actually do take some tine and effort to move to another context/space is exactly the thing that makes it so easy for me to know what to do right now - It requires energy to move so I might as well finish what I could do here - until my other needs and wants are excerting a pressure larger then the energy it requires to move to a new context/place. So maybe the 'limitation' of having to move (in some sense) is providing the world with some kind of structure - a landscape - that allows me to see the paths I want to walk. Just a thougt!  


28 Oct 2007 @ 00:29 by ming : Markers
The natural world has a lot of aspects to it, which impose a certain order. Real things are not just information, but they have weight, they're located in different places in space, they cost money, etc. All of which influences, limits and guides the way we interact with them. Which we're very used to, and which creates a certain stability and a certain flow. One can only be in one place at a time. If one has several possible places to go, one will weigh the time, effort and cost involved in going to them into one's decision making process. And in some ways it is good that the physical aspects of things is a limiting factor. It provides a certain grounding.

So, transferring it to a virtual environment provides us with something we're familiar with, and a certain natural flow is likely. We'll know what to do with documents and folders on a desktop without too much explanation. The limitation of that metaphor imposes a certain type of order.

But that still doesn't mean that it in any way is the most efficient way of organizing large amounts of information. It isn't really. So I think the thing to do is to better understand what it is that works about environments that work. As you point out, markers and contexts. Also simply that there's a sufficient number of channels of information that we can assign meaning to. In the real world a huge amount of information would take up a lot of space, and weigh a whole lot, so we're not likely to miss the difference between a little and a lot of information. But if, in the virtual world, both are represented by simply a link, which looks about the same, and which doesn't give much indication about what's found behind it, we're obviously missing something.

The challenge is to find out how we can have sufficiently meaningful information, markers that actually tell us something, and markers that indicate context, without simply being stuck with artificial limitations that came about from the way people invented the desk, and paper, and file folders.  



29 Oct 2007 @ 13:21 by swanny : Communication
The current definition of a computer according to the gurus
is "not a computational device (old) but a "communication device" (new)
so has communication changed so that now communication requires a computer do be accomplished?
I can thusly communicate in a much more complex manner or am I? Not simply with words but images and sounds and such but the meanings? Are the meanings thus shifting... too then?
or are they becoming transformed somehow....
what does it mean to communicate thus? What is being communicated with all this computational power....? So maybe we have to rethink communication.

swanny  



30 Oct 2007 @ 00:01 by ming : Communication
A computer on the net is a communication amplifier, I suppose. It allows you to communicate over wider distances with many more people. And it allows different kinds of communications, sometimes with more dimensions, sometimes sliced differently. Whereas with a telephone you need to pick somebody to call, and you have a conversation of a certain duration, on the net you might exchange little bits of information with a great many people.  


30 Oct 2007 @ 09:04 by swanny : OSI
Yes amplification but communication occurring perhaps on several levels or layers somewhat simultaneously. According to the OSI 7 layer model it starts at the physical and proceeds upwards to networks and applications. Plus there is the bits and bytes in machine language being assembled into various things so youre also communicating to various listening machines that might be disecting your words or communication for other purposes and the communication maybe even being broadcast into space via satellites and wifi . So this isn't simple tin can and string communication going on. There is amplification, and dissection and assembling and translation etc. These days though it seems theres is a lot of communication but very little listening being done. or ? well the listening seems to be being drown out by ????? Yet without real listening then is it really communication or ? just noise ?

anyway
new tune or movie
the parade of life movie...
it communicates what?

link = [link]

when I listen to what me and my friends came up with
its seems compelling I said this is movie music or I guess its called
soundtrack music yet we had the music first and then made and added the
movie or images after thats odd.... to the norm...
yet it works or worked and communicates something transcendent of words.
A snap shot of history and perhaps a wonder lust of "whats next?"

ed  



30 Oct 2007 @ 09:25 by swanny : Jamming
I guess though music and movies don't really communicate in the true sense of communication ie "interaction" . As they more or less dictate or express rather than exchange a dialouge unless of course you are "jamming". The premise of jamming being that you start with a riff or progression or theme and everyone joins in and adds to the basic premise or structure taking it to heaven knows where but built upon a usually a very simple structure. The new Kaltura site [link] being the extension or principle or tool to accomplish this.

Okay but does jamming have rules...??? or standards or ????

and is that what communication is then Jamming built on some very basic syntax
and grammar and "jammed" into what it is today...

hmm communication as "jamming"....
interesting...

swanny  



31 Oct 2007 @ 00:10 by Matt @85.148.104.53 : Good lord, I am só happy to be bound!
I had exactly the same feeling as Michael Arnoldus reading this article.. Being behind a computer about 10 hours every day, I find peace in all physical things around me, in me.

And a computer or cellphone, whatever they call it. It still are tools, like the good old axe. Tools to do calculations with, or to communicate with. It extends your voice, extends your brain, extends your cutting power. That's all.

Of course, being 'extended humans' will have huge impact on the way we live as a group. And being able to obtain information/knowledge more efficiently then ever before in our history has huge impact. But creating an avatar will never be exactly the same as being born. Because an avatar is a representation of a physical 'you'. It gets fed by what goes on automatically in your brain. Of course being able to have multiple you's floating through the world will make the chances for connections with others larger. And will make the human collective smarter and smarter, just like a big brain. And different people/neurons will react differently on incoming information of certain types.

And in the end we might meet another 'brain' somewhere on a distant planet. And we might connect. And found another, even larger 'brain'. The process will never stop. And the building blocks might get fed more efficiently over time by the collective.

But the basic building blocks of life will probably stay the same forever: we need energy. And wherever we go, we will never disconnect from being physical beings. That will always be our constraint. At some point we might live forever. But we still are physically bound. It's what makes us us. It's our identity. No identity, no individuals, no progress = death.

Good lord, I am só happy to be bound!  



31 Oct 2007 @ 00:20 by Matt @85.148.104.53 : Efficient communication
Efficient communication is deduction, is focus. Our body receives millions of impulses every second. Still, our brain deducts exactly what is important.

That is exactly what developments like web 2.0 are doing. A large croud will deduct the important information from millions of sources. By selectively pushing things forward or ignoring things.

If 100 people do one simple 1 dimensional thing, you automatically get multiple dimensions. The fun is in the mass. Not in how efficient one person can handle information.  



1 Nov 2007 @ 16:38 by Ben Tremblay @74.210.8.176 : Gratified, I am
Very good to find this, and nice to know you are always activie on such as this.

FWIW: my years of fascination with Hesse's _glasperlenspiel_ spun me in a different direction, a way of ordering loosely coupled information through something like the Socratic method / propositional logic ... maybe not touchy/feely/warm and fuzzy but, well, rational and respectful.

wishing you always well
--bentrem  



6 Nov 2007 @ 23:46 by ming : Glasperlenspiel
Which reminds me that the book is still lying in a stack next to my bed, and I didn't get very far. It seems to have been very significant for a whole bunch of people.

Well, I'm reading Rudy Rucker's SF "Post-singular" right now, which certainly also speaks to some of this.  



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