In the past I’ve never had a say in what was the most appropriate script to use to build something.  This is mainly because other people have been far better qualified than I to make the decision but also because it’s never really been in my interest to know.  So long as it worked and adhered to the ‘experience’, the features and functionality we specced then like, whatever. Recently though I’ve been developing an idea to form the basis of a service and it has been in my interest to know [because I'm carrying the risk] mainly because it’s near impossible to get an ‘agnostic’ view of the most appropriate language in which to develop.  Key factors for me:

  • development time
  • scalability
  • transferability [i.e. is this stable? how easy is it to maintain? is the language well known or is it like Latin and dying out fast? or even worse like some street vernacular that isn't even documented properly and unknown by all but a handful of very well paid scruffs ;) ]

Yet trying to get a straightforward answer around such criteria without actually doing a full blown tech scope and incurring the cost of that, was and is tough.  Developers and technical project managers are steeped in what they know and that can become obsolete or partial very quickly as languages adapt and change.  It’s a big issue.  I know the BBC  had there architecture pinned down early, were heavily dependent on Perl, all for good reasons, but now find it hard to adapt to web2.0 functionality increasingly expected of the younger audiences they covet.

Hence I’ve had my head in lots of primers over the last 4 months.  Trying to get up-to-speed with languages like PHP, Python, Ruby etc.  It’s helped but it’s not the best use of my time and there has to be a market for people like me looking for a good overview of the foundations of web development both client and server side.  Maybe there already is, but I don’t see it. This is one of the first ‘lay’ views of the language of web 2.0 and their ‘facets’:

Brayintrinsics_copy

Dev time seems to be a straightforward trade-off with scalability and transferability which makes languages like Ruby great for start-ups looking at proof of concept and limited scale.  Presuming once they’ve proven the business model they can invest in re-developing the application or service, underpinning the house and putting the scaffolding up.  I do find it kind of ironic though that in the search for ‘purity’ amongst developers [and they all talk about how 'pure', 'clean' etc. and use of such metaphors is in itself really interesting cf. Mary Douglas' work] the architecture of the web is actually pretty messy despite or perhaps because of the search for such ‘purity’.  And to say that much of our future could depend on that architecture I’m surprised there’s so little discussion of it beyond enterprise level as bodies like W3C concern themselves more with accessibility standards than building regs.   

Link: PHP vs Java vs Ruby.


This is one of my favourite ads. ‘Ad’ doesn’t really do it justice.  It’s one minute of film. One of the reasons I think it works is because they’ve actually folded the perceived negative aspects of gaming such as violence and sex into positive virtues of life, experience and learning.  In other words it ain’t the media so much as what we do with it that matters; how we interpret, play, create.  And the other reason is because it’s so moving because it’s about imagination and the power of dreams :) And it reminds me that we have such a janus-faced view of technological culture.  We see it as contrasts, either as liberating or repressive, bad or good, enlightening or ‘shrinking’.  When of course it’s all of these things and none of them depending on  how we relate to it.  A progressive critique wouldn’t talk of morals but of effects which is inherently messier but far more interesting and personal.  This ad kind of embodies that approach for me: dubious virtue.

Lynetter keeps up the good work finding that 3 accounts for 20% of all UK digital music sales, second only behind iTunes.  Considering 3 is one of half a dozen mobile service providers [others being Orange, Vodaphone, O2, T-Mobile, Virgin], I’d say that’s a hell of a lot of 18-24 3 users buying downloads.  Students perhaps without a broadband connection in rented accommodation using mobile to mange their music collection? Odd, Interesting. 

Do people not mind having their music ‘stuck’ [getting tracks off the 3 network phone isn't easy - I've tried]?  How is the experience shared, if at all?  What are the cues for buying if, as she says they’re travelling when most of the downloads are bought at around 10pm: public radio, noise, boredom, communications [txts from mates, referrals]? And it points the way for 3 to design a service that exposes some of this mobile consumption data for friends, buddies etc. to create systems around, or perhaps create an app that ties into lastfm and work with them to create playouts for music trial or ping friends with 30sec promo tunes [30 sec are deemed to be promos and you don;t pay royalties, which in this instance is a nice way to kick of short almost synchronous comms]. 

Moreover, if 18-24 audiences are you audience on public transport, then that offers some great opportunities for the brand to communicate… perhaps by exposing most popular downloads in a given area or in another area – i.e. give it a geographical dimension to push navigation into the 500+ tracks; have a location based system of tracks ["you've just entered ** service area and the recommended tune is **** based on what others have downloaded here"] which would be great if, as we’re led to believe downloads are on public transport routes – nodes of music consumption.  The route to Chelsea vs the route to Holloway?

Dscf2543

Came across this  Thames and Hudson sketchbook  or doodlebook in Foyles.  I like the
tacit  understanding that it’s hard to know where to start  to sketch,
that a blank canvas requires you  think not unlike the paradox of choice
when faced with near unlimited possibilities to consume.  But sometimes
you just want to be given a brief, a task, a defined thing to do [crossword puzzle etc.], a
curated set of things from which to choose or work from. From there creative things can happen. Anyway, a simple way to redefine a practice and a product by simply changing the proposition from a noun to a verb, from a description to an instruction.

Dscf2544

Went to the games exhibition at the Science Museum yesterday.  Tremendous stuff.  Aside from making me nostalgic for the nascent gameplay of Pong and Space Invaders I discovered the art of Ocean Quigley, designer of The Sims aesthetic who had some really moving pieces that reminded me of some of the artwork around existentialism and the novels influenced by that movement, where the bodies were often ‘blank’, bodies as vessels and yet more moving and affecting because there was nothing else to the form.  Freaky.  Odd.

Dscf2521

The other was the work of  Koichi Sugiyama who unbeknown to me introduced classical music into gameplay.  Listening to some of his work was wonderful and you can see how some of the more ambient soundscapes in new games is influenced by this work.  Compare that to Roy Hubbard’s Warhawk for the N64, a brilliant early piece of new wave in games [see this top ten games tunes from the time].  I’d never thought much about the importance of audio in gameplay but hearing the history and then playing some of the games on display made me realise how utterly central it is to the experience, it sets the whole tone for how you interact, your mood. So, well worth going for these two things alone. 

But then tucked away at the end of the exhibition is a great piece on the making of GTA IV, complete with Post-Its representing different narrative threads interspersed with sketches of pimps and their cars.  Wonderful stuff.  Didn’t have time to see what the different colours represented and how the post-its mapped out to my knowledge of the game which would have been good.  Haven’t seen anything like this since the Pixar exhibition, again at the Science Museum, and the making of amongst other things, Toy Story and the characterisation and storyboarding behind that which was so full of insight around the way in which the toys themselves would ‘behave’, how their materiality affected their character.  No such character craft in GTA where the  effort and thought seems to reside in the ‘environmental’ factors and geography where the action is played out.

Dscf2525

The geography is just fab… so envious.  I’d love to try and create some sort of psychogeography of GTA, mapping our navigation, movement, the cues we use from abstracted navigational signifiers [roads, signposts, the 'map' in game itself!] etc. loosely based as they are around Miami, San Fransisco or New York and our experience of navigating the space through our senses.  Someone must have tried to do that already… or at the very least done work on the geography of gaming ‘environments’?

Gtamap

Nice piece in the guardian yesterday about "repair culture" dying out.  The desire for high end premium goods worth repairing has been stripped by the huge market in cheap white goods that have become almost as disposable as bic razors, albeit with a slightly longer life span and trickier to dispose of which in itself opens up markets for ‘waste management’ services when councils and contractors refuse to take certain rubbish from your door. 

Repair

Repair Shop by yboxochoc’s

According to the article Dyson has more-or-less singlehandedly kept the repair industry alive as it’s the only product that people bother to repair now [and i suspect Dualit too] because of their high replacement value, though computers and related peripherals don’t seem to obey the same economic principles probably because the diagnostics and repair work requires a laboratory environment!  But on the whole for white goods the disparity between labour costs and replacement costs has declined, whereas of course in the developing world [hate that term] you have cheaper labour re-making, recycling, breathing life into broken stuff; the disparity between product and labour costs is still wide enough for repair to be cost effective.  What struck me about this article though is how ironic it is that in an age where waste and environmental concerns are so critical and so mainstream, that we’re still chucking old stuff away; no business models have come around to cater for ‘repair’ and we’re still being seduced by ‘the upgrade’, new technology when more often than not existing stuff works just fine for the task at hand.  And nowhere is this more evident than in computing and computing peripherals inc. mobile telephony.  Nerds are responsible for perpetuating a waste culture that should now be an anachronism.  Marketers are of course talented in creating perceived needs and must-haves – witness the evangelical response to Apple’s iPhone.  So how could repair be re-invented?  How could it point the way to a culture of innovation and creativity?

  • What happened to designing for a products death?  Life cycle management doesn’t seem to exist in consumables and white goods.  Disassembling goods should be something we could all do.  Make the organs of the product re-usable.
  • Why not then have the repairman as the technical re-maker, a high end craftsman creating original pieces of industrial consumables to compete with the dualits and dysons. How great would that be? Personalised, unique maker-style stuff with its own story! 
  • Or the repairshop as a retail end of a warranty service.  Generic labour-only ‘warranty’ and covering x branded goods could be the basis for a service.  You get stuff fixed, and advice on how to fix stuff in return for an annual fee and all you do is pick up the tab for the replacement parts and such a business could itself stimulate a business in making generic, copied parts.
  • DIY fix-it sheds with trained mechanics and electricians to help you fix your stuff and in the process learn how to hack stuff anew.

Only in Shoreditch or Crouch End or Stoke Newington of course, but then most Springwise style Business 2.0 ideas seem to have this geographically bounded cohort as their target audience. 


Skimming Block, originally uploaded by superlocal.

I love the Far East.  I love the way they just get on and make stuff and then make more stuff to solve the problems of the initial stuff.  There’s no prevaricating, they just keep making instead of legislating, which is what we’re so good at in Europe.  Here we have a skimming block for RFID [which is embedded in credit cards over there and probably soon to be here].   
Makes me think of Matt Webb’s recent post on the excellent Pulse Laser blog about the rise of distributed manufacture in Japan and the use of interchangeable parts to make a complete product, rather than it being manufactured by one organisation.  This skimming block works the same way but for situations or experiences of the individual person -  in that rather than solving the problem for all in the ‘host’ technology [so working with all RFID chip users] you have interchangeable solutions for the range of technologies employed by the user.
In some scenario planning work I did whilst at the BBC one of the stories had the rise of technical ‘plumbers’ to solve problems you had with interoperability, or rebellious technology.  Workarounds necessary for the myriad of different socio-technical relations that emerged in the digital age.  That service and the sorts of products as this,above, seem increasingly plausible  cf. the discourse of the future which had all our ‘technology’ as pure, whole and inter-operable. But is the UK economy set up for that or are those products and services going to be imported or offshored?

Neighbourgoods
Went to the Neighbourgoods Market in Woodstock, a rather run down area to the North East of  Cape Town today.  The market is a curated food and design market, which runs every Saturday and whilst it’s a bit stereotypically ‘organic’ [white, wealthy, educated, urban, lefty liberal, crocs wearing...], it’s such a vibrant interesting environment that it works incredibly well. And I say ‘curated’ because the stall holders are vetted for their community and artisan credentials; this isn’t Huddersfield.  The two blokes behind "What if the World" gallery in Cape Town started the Market earlier this year. Their gallery hosts local artists and nothing costs more than R1000 [about 80 quid] and it’s proved to be popular.  The market follows a similar philosophy of supporting emergent talent but food and design talent rather than ‘art’.  It was packed. Markets are just so social. You get to see the provenance [because generally the person who made it sells it] and the variety of goods on offer make it a real sensual, rummage type of experience [as opposed to the goal orientated supermarket shop] and a very viscereal kind of retail. It’s involving both in what it puports to offer [organic, designed, 'unique', community spirited, bloody righteous, whatever..] and the experience you have which is ‘hands on’ and social, both in the way you relate to the products and how you relate to other people in the communal eating / drinking areas.

I’ve been researching craft markets for a while now and the thing that I notice when I’m listening in on conversations is how fantastic people find the experience.  The experience.  Not really the products so much, good and full of stories as they are, and yet it’s nothing spectacular, there’s no entertainment or special effects. You’re just mingling, socialising with strangers and creativity and in that sense markets are an antidote to the very functional retail experience that shopping has largely become.  They’re also a source of cultural capital a means to find new produce, new things to talk about and recommend in much the same way that we rely on peers or experts or recommendation systems to help us manage choice and find new books or music or video. So markets seem support a similar function, here the market itself acts as an arbiter of choice and not just the individual and their peers who are browsing.

I’m sure markets will continue to thrive as food miles, local produce [and identity and provenance] become more of an issue, though I suspect they’ll remain distinctive in their cultural capital [this is after all  about 'creativity' and the best markets will be those that manage to foster the most creative telents] and will remain out of the mainstream, a bit part in the repertoire shopping behaviour of the swollen middle classes, but a more influential bit part.

Anyway, top notch cupcakes and fab tees by local artists :)

And whilst on the subject of Craft I need help to think of another term to describe handmade goods, because Craft signifies staid, old  fashioned and  well, a bit  cardigans and  Auntie’s woolly jumpers. The Japanese have Zakka, which I like.  Others?  I’ll find something at my next market visit to give away  to the best term, as decided by me :)

Other crafty links I’ve marked can be found via http://del.icio.us/mashedpotatoe/craft

Softscoop
Happy New Year… from the Republic of Hout Bay.

Simon has linked to a couple of papers on materiality in social research that he has written [in partnership with Simon Blyth of Unilever] that are well worth reading.  Most stuff around Actor Network Theory [ANT] doesn’t seem that helpful to the average researcher doing research, in fact most Social Science ‘theory’ seems elitist and irrelevant to me.  But whilst ANT and particularly Bruno Latour’s  work is [in my opinion] probably the best thing to happen to Social Science in the last fifty years it hasn’t made a huge impact in terms of telling stories about the world to inform better design.  Simon’s papers’ are of the few I’ve seen that try to make materiality matter to a wider audience.  Why? 

Well, I think we tend to anthropomorphisise materiality and / or consign non-human things to the status of second class citizens.  This is mostly as a result of the belief in ‘agency’ residing only with ‘us’ when actually the ability to have effects resides in everything, but only as a result of a coming together with other ‘things’, what ANT is all about; networks of association.  And being drilled in a humanist reading of life that’s hard to take.  We like to think of ourselves as special :)  

That said many of the people writing around design and experience design in particular seem to be influenced by "materiality".  Terms like ‘affordance’ seem to spring up in conversations I have with people in design, so there seems to be a tacit acknowledgement that it’s important.   But in terms of doing the background to inform design it’s tough to know where to start.  My old superviser once said to me – when I was struggling to get to grips with how to research materiality – that ANT was basically about being as granular in ethnographic work as possible and not taking anything as a given.  That helped.