Today’s word of the day comes from Adam Greenfield in an excellent post on Apple’s interface design choices. Specifically, Greenfield decries Apple for their cheesy faux-analog Calendar, Notes and the cringe-worthy page turn within iBooks. As you might now imagine, a skeuomorph is “a derivative object which retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original.” Seems like a word that might come in handy.
What Apple has to do now is find the visual language that explains the difference between a networked text and a book, a networked calendar entry and a page leaf, or a networked locational fix and a compass heading, and does so for a mass audience of tens or hundreds of millions of non-science-fiction-reading, non-interface-geek human users. The current direction is inexplicable, even cowardly, and the task sketched here is by no means easy. But if anybody can do this, it’s the organization that made generations of otherwise arcane propositions comprehensible to ordinary people, that got out far enough ahead of the technology that their offerings Just Worked.
[Via Daring Fireball]
Over at his Reuters blog Felix Salmon points to today’s New York Times story on a waiver AIG signed giving up its right to sue the banks it paid off. While the story is interesting in and of itself, for the purposes of this post I’m going to focus on the source materials (the actual waiver), which the Times posted in a special browsing interface.
Funny enough just two weeks earlier Salmon had written a piece calling the paper out for not posting this sort of stuff, so it’s a nice about face. But it also is a really interesting way to tell a story differently. As I see it most of what journalists are doing these days is not a lot different that what they were doing when we weren’t all staring at screens for eight hours a day. Of course there are exceptions, whether it’s liveblogging Wimbledon or, well, I can’t really think of another example right this minute but I’m sure there are more. Journalism, for better or worse, is still mostly the same journalism it always was and we still engage with publications in the same sort of ways (albeit with more lists and slideshows now that they’re on the web).
Source materials seems like an incredibly interesting and untapped area of innovation for news organizations. While I understand that posting this sort of stuff is often out of the question, it can’t always be and I have to believe there’s much fun to be had in telling stories through the documents collected instead of just the paragraphs that boil them all down. I guess some might see this as diminishing the role of the journalist, who has traditionally been tasked with finding the story, I’m not sure I agree. I dont think that there’s any less of a need to find the story in a sea of documents, I just think this is a different (and hopefully more compelling) way to tell it.
In a lot of ways it feels like I’m talking about media invention, which Robin Sloan was kind enough to define last week:
Fundamentally, I think, a media inventor is someone who isn’t satisfied with the suite of formats that have been handed down to him by his culture (and economy). Novel, novella, short story; album, EP, single; RPG, RTS, FPS–a media inventor doesn’t like those choices. It turns out a media inventor feels compelled to make the content and the container.
I think maybe we’ve all become a little too comfortable with our CMSes (whether they be some big enterprise job or WordPress or even Tumblr and Twitter). While these do an amazing job getting content out into the world, they also dictate how we present that content. Most CMSes want words, in paragraphs, in stories. Even Tumblr, for it’s different approach, now just spawns content that can be scooped up and turned into a 150-page book with pictures.
So as not to end on a down note, though, the whole point of writing this is that I’m pretty excited with the stuff the New York Times is trying in this realm. They’re playing with ways to tell stories and lots of others are as well (though most of them are outside the big news organizations). Even MSNBC’s new page design seems like a step in a new direction. So please don’t take this as some sort of whine about the state of things, but rather as excitement for what’s coming.
Update (6/30/10): I should have mentioned the Guardian is doing some really cool stuff as well.
Just in case you were starting to believe all those articles about how performance in the world cup is representative of some deeper national psyche, here’s what Gideon Rachman at the FT has to say:
In fact, the nice thing about international football is that it actually does not track political or economic trends. Instead it provides a sort of parallel universe with its own world order. Brazil is the “sole superpower”. The Security Council of countries that have won the World Cup more than once is completed by Argentina, Germany, Italy and Uruguay. The US is a middle-ranking power, much admired for its sense of fair play. Japan is not in decline, but flourishing. China and India – the rising powers in the real world – are nowhere to be seen, since they have not qualified for this World Cup. On Planet Football, the rising powers are largely from Africa, such as the “Black Stars” of Ghana who saw off the Americans on Saturday.
Stephen Baker, former BusinessWeek editor and author of the book The Numerati, has an interesting post about what LinkedIn has in store:
The company has some 70 million members. That’s data on 70 million careers. Conceivably, the company could provide a service showing each one of us the paths that others took when they were in the same position we’re in now. It could diagram where those choices led. … “Maybe he ends up deciding to be a high school math teacher,…” Nishar [Vice President of Products and Services at LinkedIn] says. In that case, he could find current math teachers who have followed that path and debrief them.
The information in and of itself is not that valuable probably, but when combined with the ability to connect with folks that have followed a path that seems interesting sounds exciting. Of course, you’d need those people to respond to your request for advice, though, in my experience, that’s actually easier than most folks think it is.
There is something fun about people taking the opportunity of a big sports tournament to ask serious questions about the human psyche. Such is that case in this pair of articles on cheating in soccer from Foreign Policy and Project Syndicate. Beautifully, they argue opposite sides with Foreign Policy suggesting cheating is part of the game (“Strange as it might seem, rule bending is an integral part of international soccer. Everyone cheats, and there’s a lot to be learned and enjoyed from how each team does it.”) and Project Syndicate suggesting we should not accept ethical lapses on the field any more than we do anywhere else (“Players should not be exempt from ethical criticism for what they do on the field, any more than they are exempt from ethical criticism for cheating off the field, for example by taking performance-enhancing drugs.”).
Not sure where I fall on this one. Probably somewhere in the middle. It does seem that some bit of acting is a part of the game forever, if for no other reason that you can’t reliably judge how hard someone was bumped. However, in instances where there is nothing subjective (such as whether a ball went over a line) it’s hard to understand why players like German keeper Manuel Neuer shouldn’t be disciplined for admitting that he knew the ball was in the goal and just pretended it wasn’t (at the very least tell the world you didn’t know it crossed the line).
I broke my iPhone before I left for my honeymoon and a friend was kind enough to lend me an old unlocked Nokia. The phone worked out fine and not having access to all the iPhone holds was probably a bit of a blessing (though I’m pretty seriously missing it now that I’m back home and can’t get my hands on a 4G).
Anyway, as part of having a phone with a keypad (not even keyboard) I went back to T9 (you remember it, predictive type for SMS messages).1 The struggle to send a simple message made me think about how we are likely going to need to start add elements to our interfaces that actually make tasks harder, not easier. Imagine how many fewer emails you’d write on your iPhone if you were forced to use T9 for instance.
While it’s not the perfect parallel, something like WriteRoom lets you block out everything else when you’re trying to write (Pages now has a full screen option as well, actually) and I remember hearing about an application from a few years ago that turned off your WiFi until you restarted the computer so you could get something done. It’s funny to think that we’ve reached a point where things are so easy that we need to start making them hard again.
[PS: I'm married, honeymooned, done with Cannes and back in NYC.]
1 As a side note, the guy who invented T9 has a new text input method for touchscreens called Swype. ↩
Right. So I’m now married and honeymooned and almost back to reality. Before that, though, are a few days in Cannes for the big advertising festival. (If you’re around drop me a line.)
That’s pretty much it for now I think. Expect blogging to resume sporadically at first and then back to normal next week. Thanks everyone.
Oh, and sorry about the no guest blogging, apparently there was some technical difficulty.
I mentioned last week I was getting married and now that that part is complete it’s time for the honeymoon. I leave tomorrow and will be away for a couple weeks doing the best I can to not go on the computer.
Luckily for you I’ve had three very smart guys agree to take over the site while I’m gone: Rick Webb, Joe Liebman and Colin Nagy.
I trust they’ll keep things interesting around here until I’m back. See you in July.