May 27, 2007
It’s a shame these 2 events are overlapping in time. Both are encouraging the media meddling mentality. Interesting2007 is encouraging/challenging the emotions of engagement, whilst Hackday is exploring the techniques of engagement.
April 29, 2007
I’ve been wanting to set up a community song lyric site for a few weeks now, in fact I started it during the Easter break. The site is running off wikidot (a superb wiki farm – modules galore, rss friendly and free to use) and is now in what only can be descriped as a ridiculously early alpha build. It works, but you might not understand what to do. You can register and write some lyrics and tag them, but I really need to write some more help texts. The basics are here and some banter about it is here.
The idea behind this is that if we all write the songs under an open licence such as Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike, then musicians can use these songs without permission. This means that fans can write songs for their favourite singers and bands. The bands are free to work with the material.
It also means that songs that get published can’t shouldn’t charge for the songwriting, only the performance of the song. Songwriting makes up the highest portion of royalty charges for labels, but if your fan base is writing the songs the sales figures should go up.
So, I thought I’d get the site under your noses, so that you can watch the development from scratch. Yeah, someone might stream ahead and build a better version before I complete the style sheet. I don’t mind. In fact – I’d just like to see this form of economics in place.
Anyone fancy giving me a hand with this, drop me a line, or post something below in the comments section.
April 29, 2007
I thought I’d post about a system that I’ve been using and evolving, basically, to get some feedback from you lovely readers.
As business requests come thick and fast for online projects I’ve needed to formulate a way to match clients needs with users needs. Too many times I get the request that a client wants x, y and z to appear on their website and had to explain the people using the site (customers and potential customers) are the ones who should be asked what they need from the site. It’s the transferal of image based thinking of the old school marketing minds to the knowledge based economy of the nu wave tinterweb school of communications. (Nod to John Grant.)
It’ll be of value if you look at the Creation Plane too, as the number one rule is putting the user at the centre of the experience, not the project sponsor.
The next step, like any good planner will confess, is that the proposition needs a narrative. Under the terms of interactive media, narratives are non-linear, there for you can use the ‘beginning, middle and end’ scope of a movie. For interactive design, pathways are a better concept than narratives, as we want the user to find their way through the work, using the media as they see fit in order for them to achieve their goal. Remember, folks are coming to your website in their terms, not yours. Consumerscapes and demographics are all very well for editorial tone, but they are friggin’ useless when you have no idea what they want from editorial (The times I’ve ransacked Flickr for visual metaphors stands testament to this point.) And users want to engage; use your media, add to your media, participate in your media. Broadcast media fails here but interactive excels if you get it right.
If the user comes to your website to achieve a goal, and you don’t deliver, don’t expect a return visit. Websites are software, emotional data that must be useful, not just entertaining. Software is for repeatability not a single fleeting exchange.
So, we have, what I call, The 4 Humble Demands (of the Prosumer) . The Buddhists and medically inclined might twitch at this point. The title is ripped from Buddhas teachings: The Four Noble Truths (the eight fold pathways don’t factor here, in fact I think they are a bit of red herring in the teachings, but that’s another story).
The Four Noble Truths are:
1. Identify Suffering
2. Understand the cause of the suffering
3. Identifying the cure to the suffering
4. Applying the cure
Many western medical councils use the same 4 steps in diagnosis, prognosis, cure and treatment.
The Four Humble Demands draws attention to the participation of the audience to the service provider, that is, identifying the physiological stages in a user pathway to achieve their goal – whatever it may be. So, I call the four stages:
Let me explain.
You need to attract the user to your service, and once they have discovered you, how are you making yourself and your message attractive. The user needs to admit, “this is looking like this place can help me.” Which is all very well, but if you are addressing an infinite consumerscape, you need to help them refine their questions/quest so that you can help them achieve their goal. This is where Aspiration comes in.
You need to ask the user what they are looking for. Now, most websites have a navigation system that ‘guides’ the user in the right direction. An information architect will convert business requirements to navigation elements, may they be global, secondary or page local. Which is fine to a point. But what you should be thinking is what functions help the user ask the question. Search is fine, but retrieval is a better way to think about it. If you understand the semantic web, then you’ll understand why tag clouds are so brilliant. Because they get the user to the Insight phase fast. This is ‘editoral as navigation.’
Now, as much as I love Jaffe point about insight, I use the word to identify the stuff the user is after, that is editorial. This could be interactive, this could be text, images video, code. It’s the stuff they came to your site for. The better, more useful it is (and that includes being able to use it – and that means using an open licence.) If they can use it, they have achieved a goal. If your audience at this point has a lovely warm fuzzy feeling, a sensation of achievement, you’ve set yourself up for the payoff, that is Acquisition.
So your site visitor has got what they came for. It was quick, easy and fulfilling. Congrats to you pal. But before they go and all you have is some site stats of their visit (w00t!) and possibly some free marketing when they use an image of yours (which has been offered under an open licence), I’d guess you’ll either be a little smug (erm, myopic) or underwhelmed because you have’t sold them your best thingy. What you have to achieve is this transaction. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon.
At the very least you need to get the user to work with you in spreading the idea of your service. If they’re ones listening, then they are the ones who will spread the word. Social bookmarking, ‘send 2 a friend’, subscribe to updates. All these functions can be introduced at this point.
Either way – if you have helped them find what they are after, in their terms of engagement, then they are more likely to come back and purchase your ‘wonder product’.
Further, you can make the Acquisition phase become the driving force behind the project’s ecosystem. If your website users are in a mode of co-creation, or at least rating and promoting editorial, this can influence the navigational elements (remember, your editorial is their navigation). Work with your audience, understand their outputs and make them your inputs. Together, your media becomes more relevant to their network.
The Eightfold pathways, if you felt I’m being a little dismissive about Buddha’s elaboration of ‘treatment’ is aligned to functions of Acquisition. The various emotive frameworks of functions dont seem to fit his original manifesto, mainly because of the ‘righteousness’ of the declaration. I think dictating what righteousness is a little overbearing. In principle, yes, ‘be nice’, but I don’t want to be told what is nice and what isn’t. One man’s niceness is another man’s nagging.
So when you’re planning your interactive work, cross reference your content verticals (about us, what we do, who we do it for, why we do it yadda yadda) with these four stages. Then you’ll see where to drop in functions to pages and when not to. You’ll also see the range of functions you need across the site, thus optimising your production schedule.
If you haven’t read TIGS’ Transmedia planning, you might want to after this. The Four Humble Demands is not restrained to online digital communications. If you want to play nicely with the audience, you need them to feel they can take from you.
Happy to elaborate on any of the above, just let me know in the comments section below.
October 22, 2006
A few years ago I was mangaing a Nesta Project called Muzantiks. During this time I booked a developer who was just out of his MA course at Middlesex, the unfortunately name DIM (Design for Interactive Multimedia). Thor had been working with Enrike developing interactive musical instruments and were about to go their own ways back to their native countries. I suggested they formed themselves as a artists group and carry on with the projects- and so ixi-software was born.
Since then they lectured, toured, performed around the world, demonstrating the possibilities of screen based interaction for music.
Originally, the applications were sampled based tools;’ now they produce interfaces for high powered Open Source audio engines such as MAXMSP, PureData and Supercollider, so incorporating a vast array of synthesis and sampling. The interfaces they design and produce are perhaps best described as non linear composition tools (as seen here with SpinDrum), lending themselves to live performances more than studio based tools. The genius of them, aside from the design of the GUI’s that step away from traditional modes of address when producing music, is that their applications are loosely coupled with the audio engine through a protocol called OSC. Open Sound Control is a way to transfer information, rather much like MIDI, but with the ability to transmit abstracts not literal information. Less about telling a system to play D#, rather play harmonies around D#…
Thor has been talking a lot about affordance recently; Affordance is how something is identified as useful in a certain situation, sometimes outside the expected or designed use of the object. He’s now released a paper as part of his Phd and is a fantastic accumulation of thinking and doing in the realm of interactive media. The paper, titled Affordances and Constraints in Screen-Based Musical Instruments, is available here. Here’s a quick insight on the nature of the paper:-
“As opposed to acoustic instruments, the screen-based digital instruments are not of physical material so all mappings from a GUI element to the sound can be arbitrarily designed. This arbitrariness is even more apparent as there is hardly a tradition for creating such instruments. The metaphors we use in ixi software are new in a musical context and deliberately have no musical reference. (such as depicting keyboards, strings, notes, etc) The decision to exclude metaphors from the world of music comes from the aim to get away from the cultural constraints that are connected to the historical instruments or their parts.”
Faris from Naked Communications has also been talking about Affordance his blog – in relationship to marketing consumer propositions.
I think there is something very potent here that has yet to be factored into the communications industry. Messages are usual so refined so that there is no ambiguity and thus very little affordance. Imagine producing messages that allow a vast array of communications thus extending the value of the work. Brands, when polyphonic, allow such affordance.
Video is the hot subject of internet commerce, yet still it’s a linear model of communications. The use of tagging does open up it’s use and ability to shift context and this model is exemplified in the Chris Andersons book: The LongTail.
As media producers comprehend there is no singular destination for their work: the pda, the laptop, the television, the ipod are all nodes in the communication framework – and so by making not only the portability of the communication part of the production affordance, but also the meaning of the communication to be as affording as possible too.
One way the media industries are looking to expand the affordance of their productions and that is to extract meaning from video streams. This is a buggy workaround to a problem that is best solved through design of the media and not through trying to hack media objects to acquire their affordance. Here’s a short video interview with Suranga Chandratillake of Blinkx. Blinkx as he says in the video was set up to solve the in video search problem, and interestingly he acknowledge this is not a technical solution, but a creative one.
Context advertising thrives on the ‘refindability’ of media – thus the value of the media is squared to the retrieval-ness. If the retrieval-ness was actually driven by downstream usability, that is, the ability to incorporate the communication with other media to expand the value of both communications, the audiences ability to construct relevant narratives latches their desire to engage in dialogue with the publisher.
This is affordance via licence – if media objects have an open licencing or reuse, the value of the message persists.
This brings the attention back to the HCI; the way the audience interacts with media objects such as audio and video. Much of the success of the relentless bombardment of web2.0 applications is based around doing something very simply which in turn give buckets of affordance when you mix these services. I’m referring to web API’s, where by the extraction of data from various sources can be ‘mixed’ to produce new meaning and use of the various data sources. Dapper and SalesForce are examples at either end of the enterprise spectrum. Here’s a trilogy of video clips featuring Jeff Hunter of Electronic Arts talking about their use of SalesForce’s services. Considering, it’s been said to me, that Electronic Arts put the EA in sweatshop (ahem), this is one company that a) understands interactive media b) expects a lot of affordance from the user experience. c) understands talent affords the company it’s ability to develop better products.
In terms of the use within the communications businesses, lets turn the model around; think less about what you want to say, but what you dont want to say. This is about building in restrictions of the use of the media – some form of protection about who the media cant be missused, missuntersood. This is aligned to the thinking about the role of Digital Rights Management (DRM). This annoys the heck out of most people who want portablity and freedom to use media.
So, how do the web2.0 services deal with this affordance. Well, there is the XML-RPC protocol. This enables one service to access meaning from another service without accessing private data. It’s a gateway, not an open door. Rob has done a lovely little write up on this recently.
Consider iTunes|iPod combo – it’s a gateway to the Longtail of music, but it’s not the source of expression as their campaigns may lead you to believe. The itunes|ipod service, indeed the Apple business model is to attach you to their gateway, not for you to be a value added network to their network. By all means promote their services (the ubiqitous white headphones being key), but don’t interfere with the source of expression, namely, sharing their clients copyrighted material. Remain an individual and rock on…
[iPod — Silhouette (Love Train theme by Wolfmother)]
As we see with SalesForce, the concept of the mashable web is about to saturate the enterprise media platforms, under the heading of Service-Oriented Business Applications (SOBAs). Jason Bloomberg, who was to present at this, describes the role of the enterprise mashup as:-
“For a mashup to be an enterprise mashup in that it addresses a particular business problem, tight coupling between provider and consumer software would be a serious concern. Most of today’s mashups, however, care little about loose coupling. Mashups that meet business needs, therefore, will require SOA, and the SOA infrastructure necessary to guarantee loose coupling. Without that loose coupling, mashups are little more than toys from the enterprise perspective. “
So lets think about Service Oriented Media Applications – software solutions that generate media propositions, that afford the user experience to be expressive. If you’re thinking this is User Generated Content, then you’re not imagining hard enough. A SOMA should inherently have a licence to create, and any such creations should be reused, reworked and help other users to experiment and be expressive. A brand that develops SOMA’s, becomes the ‘source of expression’, not the framework of expression – and if you manage the source of a SOMA, you’ll have a loyal user base which starts a whole range of traceable dialogues. These dialogues are markets and the brand becomes a maker of instruments not melodies.
Affordance implies a freedom to experiment, to find expression where none was expected. Where services and communication defer the audience to participate in expression, we can expect to lose their attention – and that’s something you cant afford.
August 29, 2006
The previous post about Chumby reminded me about 2 other Human Interface controllers that have never broken through to the mainstream. First, Lemur, (shown here on the right) which is a multi-touch screen with customisable interface design. The other is monome (below), which is ‘a reconfigurable grid of sixty-four backlit buttons’.
Both devices are aimed at the music and visual performance sector, though there is no reason why their application is not more wide spread. The price points are high for the casual purchaser, but the opportunities for media interaction are incredibly diverse. These are devices designed to be reinvented by the user.
The unholy trinity of mouse, keyboard and screen are modes of interaction that have been ushered into the mainstream use of communications, using office mechanics (namely, Word processing) to engage home audiences to participate in media collaboration and co-production, mainly around Text (blogs), Video (Vlogs) and Audio (Podcasting).
As data is made more and more available, the ability to use data will rise, and the way the audience will make use of data has yet to be realised. Already, through the use of RSS, we are seeing Mashup web projects, numerous web2.o concepts that make good use of available commercial and public domain data. Yet, these services, which are now being to look like each other (how many individual Google Map projects need branding?).
Data is there to be used as the life blood to systems, systems that make our lives more ‘enjoyable’.
For example, have a look at the Lego alarm clock (below right) by Greg Mccarroll. Greg is genius. Built from code, data and lego, his alarm clock knows when his train will be late, adjust the alarm time acordinly so that he doesn’t hang around the railway station in the cold, and emails his boss if the train is really late – leaving him to sleep on, if required. Full details (and it’s a brilliant read, like the rest of his blog) here.
Ideo have had a fair run at inventing gadgets over the past 20 years, many have failed due to pursuing proprietary code lock-outs/lock-ins. Apple succeed with the Ipod because they know how to sell ‘lifestyle’. The Ipod/iTunes offering is closed off and thus doesn’t offer possibilities for the audience to integrate their (iTune) music collection with the rest of their lifestyle – it just acts like a 70’s disco chest medallion. Even with the newly announced Sony Mylo these ‘mistakes’ are still being played out.
What is required is flexible hardware to work with the flexibility of software and the reuse value of code. Manufactures who offer this will begin to have a larger influence over the communication and network industries because the sum effort of the ‘audience as community’ is the driver for the telcom and information sectors. This raises the question about the current relationship that the manufacturing industries has with the audience. Perhaps the over reliance of User Focus Groups (run traditionally by marketing departments) is the problem. If focus groups do bring value to ‘product design’, where is it? A focus group will not see/think of the other possibilities for an invention, they are there to provide feedback on the quality of the object in front of them. Why not have the audience involved with product development instead of concept testing? Why cant marketing be the facilitators of a value-adding process BEFORE the release of a product?
Design, at it’s best, is evolutionary, and if that factor is not embodied into the product – as a feature – then you should expect a product to face extinction.
August 11, 2006
For a more detailed explaination on how (again as a video) Photosynth works is here.
The obvious link with mobile, and surprising considering this is a Microsoft showcase, seeing Wikipedia referenced. The brochure says:
Photosynth begins by processing an image and creating a point cloud that gives the image a unique identifier, a DNA-like profile that describes the features that have been recognized in the image.
Once you have this ‘Image DNA’ things can get really interesting: Photosynth could show you other photos that have similar features to the one you ’re currently viewing.
Annotations, tags, or even URLs could one day be applied to an image and transferred to similar images.
Photosynth could connect your photographs into a seamless web of images and information, allowing you to browse a virtual universe of interconnected scenes that constantly evolves and changes over time.
Pure indexing fodder! So will this create new spaces; inter-personal, shared or defined by the software?
Nings API services are insanely vast, but they need to make it supa-simple for anyone to add functionality. I’m talking drag and drop, not code-hacking. Once consumers, erm, ‘prosumers’ have the ability to produce web services as simply as programming their TIVO, we’ll see interaction playing a base role in peoples lives, not an extension to the way we live now.
I sense this is the future Ning.com want to service – and they’ve been nudged by the ever-critical over-sponsored Mike Arlington (TechCrunch) in the past about this. How they achieve this will be through stunning User Interface design. Too much emphasis is placed on the current User Experience (UX) and how AJAX can deliver real-time interaction and response. They really need a hefty paradigm shift…
Native Instruments, the audio software development house, have spent the past decade exploring this exact issue. Music production has always involved many interfaces: the guitar, the mixing desk, recording devices and translating these to the digital platforms has been a troublesome process. Recently, they delivered Kore to enable the variety of devices they offer to be used through a uniform user interface whilst maintaining integration with the host software systems such as Steinberg’s Cubase and Apple’s Logic. The effort and pride of their interface design is evident in their (over the top) promo vids:-
If I get more time this week – I’ll build an RSS feed to keep track of the most favourite brands. You know you want it.