Stories, moments, people and ideas of interest from within the worlds of innovation and design, spotted and written about by Helen Walters, design writer, editor, and ideas editor at TED. Attitude, errors and opinions obviously all the writer's own.
Ask me anything
December 4, 2012
"That most existing iPad magazine apps are slow, badly-designed, can’t search, etc. does not mean iPad magazine apps cannot be fast, well-designed, and searchable."
The post mortems and “I told you so”s are in full swing for the late Murdoch iPad publication, The Daily, with commenters split on the reasons for its fail. John Gruber (above) has a good piece which does not fall for Felix Salmon’s take that it wasn’t The Daily’s fault it was bulky, slow, and difficult to navigate. Gruber writes: “He’s 180 degrees wrong. All of these problems were entirely The Daily’s fault.” And, he concludes, this is really one more example of the fragmentation of big business as we used to know it: after all, a lean publishing team should be able to thrive on a budget of $5 million a year (though how many of those outfits, employing how many people, would be able to make a living from this, is another question altogether.)
Meanwhile, Twitter’s Michael Sippey flagged a post he wrote after one issue of The Daily, which turns out to have been awfully prescient. “The product doesn’t deliver on two fundamental features of today’s web — community and real-time,” he wrote, which if you ask me neatly nails the issues on the head. I follow the news pretty carefully, and can’t remember a time in which anyone flagged a story from The Daily. However painstakingly written, carefully edited, lovingly designed and beautifully produced, The Daily stories lived in a bubble. And that bubble just burst. iPad publishing will continue, of course, and hopefully those at the head of large organizations with an alleged appetite for innovation will be able to avoid the obvious mistakes next time around.
1. Space Weather. Writes Eagleman: “A major solar event could theoretically melt down the whole Internet. What earthquakes, bombs, and terrorism cannot do might be accomplished in moments by a solar corona.”
2. Cyberwarfare. Writes Eagleman: “If you want to take down your enemy, start by shredding his Net.”
3. Political Mandate. Here Eagleman writes of the proposed Internet Kill Switch that would have given the President authority to “shut down private sector or government networks in the event of a cyber attack capable of causing massive damage or loss of life.” (This feels a little out of place given that this provision was removed from the bill that’s currently in front of Congress, but I suppose it could always be reinstated. Forewarned and forearmed and all that.)
4. Cable Cutting. Writes Eagleman: “More than 99 percent of global Web traffic is dependent on deep-sea networks of fiber-optic cables that blanket the ocean floor like a nervous system.” He then tells of undersea sabotage that should belong in a James Bond film but apparently belongs in real life.
It’s fascinating and provocative, and Eagleman’s conclusion, that as the generation lucky enough to witness the inception of the Internet and the web, we should darned well be responsible for its protection, is hard to argue with.
Imagine, it’s not the Olympic Games that has me hankering after a trip to London, but this groovy new exhibition at the city’s Science Museum. A collaboration between the museum and Google, the Web Lab is “a groundbreaking, year-long exhibition, featuring a series of interactive Chrome Experiments that bring the extraordinary workings of the internet to life.” I absolutely love the look of the physical installations glimpsed in the video above, while I logged in online to play around with the Universal Orchestra, for which you can contribute sounds from both within the museum and virtually. It’s a concept I find positively delightful, though I confess I couldn’t make much sense of how to interact with it, which was a shame (and also doesn’t necessarily say much.) Still, if anyone gets to visit the real thing, please do let me know how it is. Design credits, meanwhile, go to the likes of Tellart, Universal Design Studio, MAP, b-reel, Karsten Schmidt and Fraser Randall.
"Personally, I’m a minimalist: I value content more highly than aesthetics."
— In Graphic Designers Are Ruining The Web, Observer writer John Naughton outlines his dismay that so many webpages have turned into so much bloat (over the last decade, the size of web pages has more than septupled.) He has a point, and designers and developers certainly need to work together to create streamlined pages that work whether you have broadband or dial-up. But don’t you find the quote above peculiar? It’s like he has no idea that minimalism is itself a design choice. The pages he professes to adore all accord with a set of design principles, even if those principles are to include a whole boatload of information (and, as it happens, have nothing whatsoever to do with minimalism.) Craigslist may be designed according to “un-design” principles, but it’s designed nonetheless. It’s a shame that more people don’t understand this, and it’s somewhat infuriating to hear designers equated, as here, with dumb maniacs who gleefully refuse to understand how the web works. Some of them are, of course. But it’s an unhelpful generalization, and makes for an irritating read. Don’t know about you, but I value content and I value aesthetics, and I firmly believe that the two can co-exist. </rant>
"One morning last week, Christopher J. Dodd, the former senator from Connecticut who is now the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, and John Fithian, the head of the National Association of Theater Owners, both spent time on a panel bemoaning the fact that the Web had enabled piracy of filmed content. But elsewhere in Sundance, it was obvious that Web-enabled fund-raising was helping to produce a fair amount of original films."
— Love this piece by David Carr: At Sundance, Kickstarter Resembled a Movie Studio, But Without The Egos. Carr looks at the success of the crowdfunding site, Kickstarter, which helped finance 17 films on view at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival—a whopping ten percent of the entire festival’s slate. He has some good comments from Kickstarter co-founder, Yancey Strickler, who describes the “agnostic” platform he and his team have created: “The people are the curators — they decide what is going to get made.” And that is exactly what has Hollywood executives quaking in their boots.
"Innovation is a pretty regular process." This is a great example of the iteration that’s so vital to the discipline. Burt Herman explains the process that led to the birth of Storify, a site designed to “create engaging social stories.”
We pay some people to be Big Thinkers for us, but mostly they just say things that please people with money. It pleases the money folk to think that the wild and crazy and unregulated world of the web is no longer threatening them. That users are happy to live in a highly regulated, Disneyfied app space, without all that messy freedom.
I’ll stay with the web.
Tech world evangelist, Dave Winer writes a smart post about Why Apps Are Not The Future. Publishers are gaga about the potential of apps to control their users, and as Winer writes, that’s fine, only:
The great thing about the web is linking. I don’t care how ugly it looks and how pretty your app is, if I can’t link in and out of your world, it’s not even close to a replacement for the web. It would be as silly as saying that you don’t need oceans because you have a bathtub. How nice your bathtub is. Try building a continent around it if you want to get my point.
Winer certainly strikes a chord, and the question for me is: who is really being served here? With apps, the publishers get to control the experience and make some money. Neither of these are inherently evil, but if the app ends up being more focused on serving the publisher’s needs than on providing an enjoyable experience for readers/users/viewers, they will simply tune out. A lose-lose.
Meanwhile, Winer’s cynicism about “big thinkers” in the quote at top is alarming. It’d be great to write this off as overblown but, given how many stories we’ve read recently about the corruption at the heart of our culture, it would be naive to dismiss him out of hand. Sigh. Read, too, his more detailed follow-up post on this topic: Enough With the Apps Already.
Lots of breathless excitement and hoopla around Amazon’s introduction of a new series of Kindles. Here’s an interesting take that gets past the fact that there’s a new competitor to the iPad in town. Longtime Apple employee, Chris Espinosa, writes:
In essence the Fire user base is Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, scraping the Web for free and providing Amazon with the most valuable cache of user behavior in existence.
Eat your hearts out, Facebook and Google.
Espinosa also has warnings for the giant search engine, on whom he says Amazon is performing “astonishing jujitsu”:
Fire isn’t a noun, it’s a verb, and it’s what Amazon has done in the targeted direction of Google. This is the first shot in the new war for replacing the Internet with a privatized merchant data-aggregation network.
Is that a phrase to bring a tear to the eye of Tim Berners-Lee, or what?
At the PSFK conference in New York, Allison Mooney of Google came out with a peculiar comment:
Curation will be prized a lot more over creation in the future.
You get where she’s coming from, of course. Google is curation. And Google loves to demonstrate its prowess at surfacing needles of meaning from the haystack of imbecility that now comprises so much of the web. But let’s not forget one important point: there can be no curation without creation. The former cannot exist without the latter. So while curation is a skilled and important task, the suggestion we should elevate its value over the act of creating something in the first place is a fallacy.