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Igniting The Link

With the strike of single match to light a candle in my den, a feeling of warmth and home surrounds me with the sight of it. With the smell and sound of the igniting match, thoughts of camping out in the woods as a kid beside a crackling fire come flooding into my mind. Therefore, with but a single simple action, I have become connected to so many meaningful things relating to my life. This is exacting the feeling and experience I want in linking my thoughts on this site. A single thought or experience should allow me to go back and see all of those meaningful thoughts that relate to it. How to do this is another story though. 🙂

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Finding Meaningful Relationships

SIX APART / MENA’S CORNER / IN DEFENSE OF BIG (RELATIVELY SPEAKING)

While visiting Mena Trott’s weblog yesterday, I stumbled across a picture that showed a Six Apart office scene of people sitting around a table, chatting it up, while behind them, on a wall, was what looked like an assortment of randomly printed pages all grouped together beside one another on the wall. Of course, while these pages may have looked random, they obviously related in some way, which is why there were grouped together. In fact, what this image made me realize is that we are constantly trying to find meaningful relationships in everything we do every day.

You see after seeing that picture above, I immediately thought of FilmLoop which is soon to be released software that will allow you to not only loop (or group) a series of images (possibly into a story) but you can also get other loops from other people using the system as well. Therefore, I could get loops from my various family members and they would be constantly updated over time showing an ongoing story of what is happening with them. Again what is being done here is a loop (or stream) of different images grouped together to show a meaningful relationship and/or story.

Finally I realized where this was all going and the meaning of these seemingly random thoughts that I was trying to put together myself into some sort of meaningful relationship. What I’ve just described above relates to tagging. More specifically, it relates to why tagging just never seemed to work for me and why I couldn’t ever figure this out until today. The reason being is that while tagging does categorize and group related information, a lot of the time I find that the information isn’t meaningful and is therefore often useless to me. Sure I can look at all of my tagged “Web 2.0”, “Technology”, or “Culture” posts, yet when I look at them all, even though they all related, they still look like a series of random posts that don’t connect meaningfully with one another.

You see I want information, that when grouped together, shows a “meaningful” relationship in some way that is like reading a story of my ongoing journey of discovery. I don’t know how to do describe it any better than this, other than to say that when I look at items that have a meaningful relationship with one another, it almost seems as though that grouped information is alive with life, whereas when I look at generically tagged information, it seems sterile, dead, and useless to me.

Just to give you a small example of what I’m talking about here, I went to see a couple of movies at the Hollywood Theatre last night with my wife. They were March of the Penguins and Mad Hot Ballroom which were both excellent movies (and probably the best movies my wife has seen in a long time she said). March of the Penguins was more than just an enjoyable movie for me though because the story told within it connected and had a meaningful relationship with what I’m talking about here on this site about culture and connectedness. So for someone else viewing the movie, it was just an enjoyable movie that they would have tagged with “movie” on their website. For me though, it answered some thoughts I had and raised a bunch of new questions in my pursuit for understanding people, their culture, their communities, and their relationships in interacting with one another. Again, while someone may tag that as “people”, “culture”, “communities”, “relationships”, everything I’m talking about here relates to how people can utilize the Web, with possibly existing and newer technologies such as Web 2.0, to collaborate and communicate with one another on common world goals. Therefore, you could also add on tags such as “Web”, “collaboration”, “communication”, “technology”, “Web 2.0”, “World” and maybe even more that I’m not seeing.

Now if you add up all of those tags to define what I’m talking about in a single post, do you see the absurdity and uselessness of having them all? The more tags you have to add to specifically define what you are talking about, the less useful those tags become. It is like the Zen master telling you the absurdity of trying to describe a beautiful setting sun. You can’t because the more you try to describe it the less justice you do to it. The beauty is in observing it in it’s entirety. Therefore, to relay that beauty and feeling you would need to do it in such a way that it is communicated as quickly and with as few words as possible. This reminds me of another great movie Contact when Jodie Foster’s character glimpses for the first time the amazing and beautiful sights of stellar constellations up close and says, “They should have sent a poet.” Indeed, for only a poet could describe something so amazing and all encompassing in so few words.

So how do I describe or tag a collection of meaningful and related posts in as few words as possible? Instead of giving it a generic tag, do I give it a story title instead? I mean we’re not talking about just generically categorizing a group of thoughts but threading them together in an ongoing story of exploration and discovery. I’ll definitely have to think about this some more but one more interesting thing to note though. Is it just a coincidence that when you talk about something meaningful to you, it is more often than not something that is very emotional for you as well? Again, this relates to my statement before of wanting to “feel” connected to the world. More importantly though, maybe we just want to “feel” more connected to those even around us in our daily lives (i.e. friends, family, and lovers).

Hehe, wait a minute. I just noticed something both funny and interesting. Go back up and look at that Six Apart office picture once again. Noticed how I’ve highlighted the sheets of paper on the wall and dimmed out everything else in the room? Well reverse it now so that the people in the room become highlighted and are the focal point. What do you see? I see a group of seemingly random and diverse people all grouped together in a meaningful relationship working on something of emotional importance to them.

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Trying To Find A Balance

I mentioned before that I wanted to start talking a little bit more about myself because by talking about my past I think you’ll understand where I’m trying to get to in the future with this site and some of my endeavors. However, I obviously want to avoid going into long winded stories that might bore you because I’m sure no one wants to hear about how I was raised by wolves in the remote northern tundra of Manitoba, Canada. Hehe, honest!

Actually it’s partially true because I was born in Manitoba and I do love animals and nature. I think it is because throughout most of my life I’ve always lived primarily in rural or natural settings. As I kid I used to walk my dog through the wheat fields north of Edmonton, Alberta, where my family owned an acreage overlooking a river valley. It was an incredible and memorable place to grow up as a kid. But even today, living in the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, I still have the benefit of walking not even 15 minutes from my home in Kitsilano to get into the woods surrounding the University of British Columbia.

Now this leads to this site and where I’m at today. You see while I’m fascinated with the imaginative possibilities of technology and the Web, I can’t spend all of my waking time online, immersed in technology, talking about it constantly. Believe me back in the late 90’s I did a pretty good job of trying to do just that but I just can’t do it anymore. Why? Well, as I mentioned before, for some reason when I’m offline I feel as though I’m more connected to the world then when I’m online supposedly connected to millions of others on the Web. Yes, I’m connected to other people and to tons of information but something still feels like it is missing. What I’m not fully sure, yet somehow “feelings” have something to do with it. I realized this when I analyzed the question that I kept asking myself. “Why don’t I ‘feel’ connected when I’m online?”

You see when I’m online, it definitely can be an exciting experience especially with all of the newer technologies appearing on the horizon relating to Web 2.0. However, no matter how exciting these experiences are, I still don’t “feel alive” when I’m online. The only time I feel this way is when I’m disconnected from it. Kind of ironic in the sense that for me to truly connect to the world I would do so by disconnecting from millons of people online.

Anyways the whole point of this post is more of an affirmation for myself because not only is this site a place for me to voice my ideas and thoughts towards my goals but I want it to be a place that will continually remind me of the real world and what wonders lay within it. Yes, the Web is definitely a pretty amazing place to explore. However, just by stepping out the front door of your home, you’ll find the real world an even more amazing place to explore as well.

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Companies Still Aren’t Catching The Clue Train

Just spent a bit of time helping my wife buy some tickets online through Ticketmaster.ca. Let me just say that this is one of the worst companies I have ever had to deal with in my entire life. If you want to partake in any event in or around Vancouver, you pretty much have to use them, unless it is an extremely small event, because they have a monopoly on ticket sales.

Now not only are their charges highway robbery especially now that it’s almost impossible to talk to a real person on their phone system but their phone system itself, like most, is an utterly frustrating experience. So you’re probably thinking, no problem I’ll just go online to avoid the frustration right? Wrong! It even gets worse! When choosing your seats you only get two minutes to read everything before it times out and you have to start over again. But wait the madness doesn’t end there! When it comes to actually purchasing the tickets you only have three minutes to enter in and verify all your address and credit card information. My wife is not a great typist but she also isn’t that bad either. She actually started cursing because she couldn’t enter it in time and had to restart the ENTIRE process over again from the very start! Are these companies utterly brain dead and disconnected from their customers? Hello?!

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Usability, aka common sense, is one of the most important things that websites require today, yet it is the last thing that companies seem to think about, if they even think about it at all!  All I can say is that I’m extremely happy that I’m not developing sites for brain dead companies like this who haven’t been able to catch the clue train for years. Ok, disabling rant mode now.

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Six Apart Announces Project Comet

Hey hey! Looks like I’m not the only one interested in creating “connected communities” and “streams” of thoughts and interests. Six Apart has just announced Project Comet which looks like an evolution of their blogging software to include community aggregation, multiple content streams, and personalized privacy. This is EXACTLY what I’ve been talking about! Apparently this relates to their latest announcement of TypePad 2.0.

Now the only difference that I see with their approach compared to mine is openness. From what I can tell, I think all members of the aggregated connected communities all need to be using some piece of Six Apart software for it to work. Why? Because it would allow someone to log in only once to the entire system and then be able to view private information on other friends or families sites without having to log in again for each site. That is one of the greatest problems I’m having in an open approach. How do you create levels of privacy to the community (i.e. from totally open to totally secure) when RSS aggregation tools don’t include login features to grab an RSS feed within a secure area of a site.

Oh and course the next step in this evolution would be to get your actual desktop applications to update these different content streams AUTOMATICALLY for you as I mentioned in my post about sharing-enabled software. I mean what if everything you did on your computer had a separate RSS feed for it so that your website could aggregate the content and relay it there for you (i.e. daily links, recent movies watched, latest music listened to, latest games played, etc).

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Mapping The Flow Of Information


FLICKR / PHITAR / GATE TO UPPER MUSTANG, VIEW FROM KAGBENI

In blogging off and on over the years, I would have to say that the one thing that I have still not been able to achieve is a good structure for my blog (compared to standard product sites which have always seemed easy for me to structure). With a good site structure everything just falls into place and seems well connected. With a bad site structure everything seems disconnected and out of place. That disconnection is my greatest problem that I would like to overcome because without that structure I feel like I’m travelling down a river without a map to guide me.

One reason I have stopped blogging repeatedly in the past (but then started up again) is because I have yet to find a good structure that can sustain me. As I’ve indicated before, I dislike the standard layout and structure of weblogs (i.e. content in the middle with a sidebar holding the latest posts, archives, and categories on the side) because of the lack of reference it gives to the content on the entire site. In effect, when you visit most blogs, all you see is the content they are talking about right now (i.e. the last 5 or 10 posts). Well, often that is quite inadequate because it doesn’t capture the entire persons thoughts and interests. Therefore, what I’m looking for is some way to show my current thoughts visually connected to my overall interests and goals.

The best example I can give again is using my river vision whereby the river is your flow of thoughts or conversations about something in particular. Well with the default setup of blogs, when you visit someone’s site all you see is a closeup of them on one point in the river. That’s it. It doesn’t give a reference as to where that person has been on the river or where they are headed. What I would like to see is that closeup still exist for the person, showing what they are involved with now on the “river” but I’d also like to see a sidemap that shows there previous journey path and their destination (or goal) of where they are headed.

Now what complicates things even more is that each river that a person travels upon is really a collection of different thought streams. Each stream may focus on a different subject but they all form together to create the encompassing river. Looking at my history, I was fascinated with fantasy stories and artwork as a kid. This interest and imagination exploded with the introduction of the personal computer which allowed me to enter these imaginary worlds and interact within them. With the advances in computing, this exploration moved online to allow exploring and interaction with other people with me eventually starting to explore communities and their cultures not only in gaming but on the Web itself (utilizing web development to do this). Over time, I found the boundaries of gaming to be limiting to my interest in culture and I started looking at how culture affects the entire world, especially with regards to how the Web itself is changing our culture. This has now pushed me to seeing how we can utilize the Web to help connect communities and to foster a better culture within them to make the entire world a better place.

Now what I’ve just explained above is many separate streams of interests such as fantasy, artwork, computers, technology, gaming, communities, culture, the Web, and finally the world. And yet what I’ve also done is show how each separate stream of thought is actually connected to one another and supports my overall interest in trying to better the world through culture and community (with the help of technology). That is exactly the same thing I would like to achieve within my site with regards to my structure. I want to not only be able to see where I’m going and where I’ve been with each separate stream of thoughts but also where I’ve been and where I’m going with the entire collection of thoughts (forming the river that I flow within). Showing the relationship and reference of my thoughts to one another and creating that structure to support them is what I am currently trying to achieve. Without that structure right now though, I feel like I’m lost on a river, not knowing where I’ve been and where I’m going.

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Flickr Layout Test


FLICKR / PHITAR / TUSCAN LANDSCAPE COLOR

Just doing a test layout to see what an inserted Flickr photo looks like on my site.

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Client Information Gathering in the Discovery Phase

I noticed on Whitespace a link to Clear:left, a new collaborative company effort by Andy Budd, Jeremy Keith and Richard Rutter. What I found interesting on their site was their Client Worksheet (near the bottom left) which they ask their potential clients to download, fill out, and return so that they can respond with a proposal for them.

First off, kudos to the guys for the attention to detail in the worksheet. You don’t see too many companies putting something like this up front and center (center left actually!) on their websites, informing their potential clients up front that they need to fill this out before they can assist them. Of course what this immediately does as well is weed out those clients who aren’t serious and committed about working with them. As I’ve said in the past, you can’t help someone who doesn’t truly want your help. They have to want your help before you can give it. I think the quote by Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire is quite appropriate here. "Help me, help you."

As a related side note, I’m actually surprised that someone hasn’t specialized in offering these services yet. What I am talking about? The discovery phase of a website. In the work that I did in the past for large firms (i.e. Vivendi, Activision, Konami, etc), it was critical that the client fully understand the scope and direction of the project. If they didn’t then we implemented a discovery phase before even beginning to work on their site so that both of us (the client and ourselves) could fully understand the project scope and details. For small projects and sites, this discovery phase was often included in the development cost because it was completed quite quickly. For larger projects and sites though, it was charged separatedly from the site development because of the work involved. I mean sometimes the discovery phase could be as detailed and as intensive as the site development itself. Anyways, my point being is why hasn’t someone created a consulting service specifically for clients to help them determine their project scope. It would be quite interesting if the entire design community got together and collaborated on this (maybe with a wiki) to gather the best questions and then simplifying them so that this discovery phase was as effortless as possible for the client.

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The Natural Flow and Collection of Information

Cool! My visions of forests and streams come to life! Check out this little program entitled For All Seasons by Andreas Müller I found over at Kaliber10000 which shows a textual representation of memories that are also interactive to the user’s mouse movements.

For All Seasons is about using interactive elements to help communicate more of the memories transcribed than a purely textual representation could do on its own.

Words and text are traditional conveyors of information however, in the same way interactive environments can be used to represent emotions and experiences.

Hmmm, this sounds very close to what Saheli just said in a comment.

And then from that we somehow thought of a movie where somebody was talking about something, and as the words were coming out of his mouth, they would be continually visually sketched out in the air around him. Makes present-day TV seem kind of weak, no? I like the idea of standing by the flow of conversation and every now and then sticking your hand in to pluck some particularly exciting flow.

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Recovery 1.5 vs Hurricane Rita

Hmmm, well so much for people being proactive about getting information online before Hurricane Rita hits this weekend. Haven’t seen one person talk about standardizing tags to use for Technorati or creating emergency banners for websites that link to missing persons databases and what not. Sure evacuations are underway and most people will be able to get out but who the hell knows what’s going to happen with a Category 5 Category 4 hurricane. I mean let’s put some of our thoughts into action this time.