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December 27, 2002

Past. Present. Future.

This is the time of the year usually associated with assessments and predictions, but having no desire to wrap anything up I will joyfully leave that to Google Zeitgeist.

freegorifero's greatest gift so far has been to allow me to get in touch with fantastic people and to make new friends.
I hope it will keep enabling that to happen in the near and far future.

To all of you visiting these pages I'd simply like to say thank you for your kind words and encouragement and for the time you have decided to spend on these pages.
This is an amazing space. It's nice to share it with you.
I wish you all peaceful days with your loved ones.
See you in 2003.

Posted by fabio sergio | 1:38 PM | permalink


December 23, 2002

Creativity and limits.

As you might know lately I've been tinkering with the whole concept of "embracing the limits".
A great example has come my way through Andrew Torrez, whose site sports one of the nicest taglines around: " Friend of the friendless."

Recently Andrew posted about OneWord, a site that faces the user with one (random) word and 60 seconds to write about it.
Simplicity, a gift.
The interesting thing is that the apparently straightforward exercise can be quite anxiety-inducing. There you are, trying to convey your feelings and emotions as the clock ticks soullessly.

As I started typing away the initial discomfort at having to think while pressing plastic buttons gave way to a strange pleasure.
I found myself experiencing the "focus or else" state I've come to associate with activities like mountain climbing, the zone in which action and thought blur into something that has the qualities of both, where body and mind just flow.
The end result was that even though the words left on the screen were not really what I'd refer to as "significant", the experience itself was quite revealing.

I discovered that, at least for me, the site ended up not really being about words and what they might evoke, but about time and our perception of it.
If you wish the value was not to be found in the accomplished goal, which I later discovered can be edited, but in the path that led to it.
The act itself had superseded the result, not unlike many Japanese art forms.
Embracing the inherent limits of the exercise opened up the possibility for the unexpected to reveal itself.
Designed simplicity, a gift.

Incidentally this might also be what Anne Galloway has referred to when talking about "...the beauty of the machine (being) in its breaking down".

Posted by fabio sergio | 11:55 AM | permalink


December 19, 2002

From information architects to information helmsmen.

The latest articles on Digital Web Magazine would make Popeye happy.

Navigation Complex. Persuasive Navigation. The Psychology of Navigation.

I enjoyed Jesse James Garrett’s article (The Psychology of Navigation) the best, maybe simply because I can relate.

"A rich understanding of the process of mental extrapolation users go through every time they decide to click a link is critical.
In a very real sense, information architects have to try to get inside users’ heads to predict what they’ll be thinking.
Maybe I’ll adopt that as my new job description: mind reader.

Knowing the all-star-team over at Adaptive Path I am sure Jesse and the rest of the group actively research users' mental models before they try to "predict what they'll be thinking".
At the same time my experience has more than once showed that some IAs can (wrongly) assume they just know how people will think, regardless of the fact that they might have never worked with users in a specific domain. A recipe for trouble.
This also brings back memories of product designers telling usability experts there's no need to test, as they already know what is intuitive and what's not.
In the end it comes down to egoless-ness I think.

A side note: mind reading can come really handy with clients too. ;)

Posted by fabio sergio | 7:20 PM | permalink


December 18, 2002

Interaction Anxiety, evidences.

Please forgive me if on every other line of this weblog you see a reference to Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs, but this time I will quote it for a selfish reason. To back up my own ideas.
In chapter 8 (Always-on Panopticon…or Cooperation Amplifier) Howard quotes Lagdon Winner on the Silicon Valley Cultures Project:

Winner observed that a "gnawing dilemma" in the lives of hyper-informated Silicon Valleyites was constant negotiation of communication access, seeking to maximize access to others while controlling the access others have to them.

A gnawing dilemma.
Constant negotiation of communication access.
Seeking to maximize access to others while controlling access others have to them.
Hmmm. If you ask me that’s exactly what I had in mind when referring to Interaction Anxiety.

In this case the “information” side of the equation has faded to the background.
The focal issue is not anymore what or who I can access through The Network, the focal issue is the ability to have and control access to My Network, and that ends up driving anxiety.
The choice of words here is also important.
Cognitive boundaries between the Social and the Technical Network are getting more and more blurred.
The communication layer, the software, wires and waves that keep people beeping on the maps of DataSpace, disappear to leave only the presence of human counterparts.

Texting teens around the world have been observed sending seemingly useless messages such as “I am here”, or “Bored”, or even just ringing to each other.
Something that can be referred to as Social Network Pinging.
They just want to let loved ones know they exist, and that they are thinking about them.

They just want to let others know they are, indeed, here. And bored.
Right by your side, a thousand miles away.
In Connectedland.

Posted by fabio sergio | 8:44 AM | permalink


December 17, 2002

Moblogging tools.

The sleek and translucent Neonode N1 is a rave-generation-oriented answer to the more traditional HipTop.
Check out the site for a good laugh on the way they compare the minuscule size of the touch-screen device to competing Swedish and Finnish “bricks”.

What is even more interesting is that the people behind Neonode claim to have embraced the values of the mob.
Or, I am cynically tempted to say, they just realized there’s money to be made.

"The mobile phone as we know it is dead.
Neonode represents a new way of thinking in the communication business.
By the use of advanced mobile entertainment devices we help people develop their personal networks.
Your network is a lot more than the temporary connection between people, it is the whole communication structure.

For another one of those Jakob was right, not really the way he meant it, moments.

Posted by fabio sergio | 1:14 PM | permalink


December 16, 2002

Adaptation. Thinklogs.

Dan Hill has posted the presentation on Designing for Adaptation he gave at London's AIGA Experience Design forum.
It’s a compelling introduction to the concept, with a thought provoking "manifesto" strategically placed at the very end.
I wish I could have attended the talk in person, but the presentation itself and Dan's comments were more than enough to stimulate neuron growth.
So much so that what had originally started as a weblog entry about it resulted in one of my long rambles.
Thus it gets the dubious honor of its own page, inaugurating the "thinklog" label on freegorifero.

You can find it here: Adaptation, personalization. Possibility, limits.
Click at your own risk.

Almost forgot.
I’ve also finally added the de-rigueur links and resources page to freegorifero.
No earth-shaking discoveries, just great people you probably know already.

Posted by fabio sergio | 7:10 PM | permalink


December 10, 2002

Verba volant. Scripta manent.

This Latin proverb about the relationship between the written word and oral tradition literally translates into: "Spoken words fly away. Written words remain.".
Italians still use it today to say that due to the nature of printed media the written word is able to survive over time, while oral tradition gets lost.
Interestingly enough the original sense of the saying was actually the opposite.

At the time of the Romans writing-apt materials were expensive and scarce, scribes were few and even fewer were those who could read.
That made written thoughts usually "remain" where they were produced, preventing them from circulating.
Oral tradition, on the other hand, allowed ideas "to fly", to move around, get distributed and known by people.
The positive value was thus originally associated with the spoken word, not with the written one.

I was chatting with Valeria (my partner and reason why even this site ends up making sense) about weblogs the other day and soon realized I was thinking about them in true Clue Train-like fashion. Voices. Oral history of DataSpace.
Weblogs might be pushing the Latin proverb to a dynamic balance between its interpretations over time.
Digitally "spoken" words fly away and circulate, printed words remain with longer-lasting impact and relevance over time.
If you consider moblogs and recent examples of their potential to enable life-streaming for the masses, words are flying, quite literally, over the air.

Take the ubiquitously-linked Smart Mobs book for example, which I finally received a few days ago.
While reading through it I often couldn't help but feel a sense of deja-vu, the reason being that most of what the book addresses has already been discussed, sometimes in detail, on weblogs of friends and fellow t(h)inkerers.
The atom-based embodiment of the book was still well worth the nights spent reading it, but its bit-based soul had been flying across hyperlinked skies for quite a while.
Which one of its incarnations will be the reference over time? If the recent past is any indication I'd still bet on the analog version, and not just because of the sheer resilience of physical artifacts.
Recent considerations about the dangers of digital distribution formats simply reminded me once more that obsolescence and forgetfulness have shown to be inherent qualities of digital media.
Most of what you read here, in this form, is likely to be unintelligible by any software in years to come. It might leave no trace.

The proverb finally resonates with an image about weblogs that's been coming into focus in my head lately.
Fields where crops keep growing only if they get cross-pollinated by those grown somewhere else.
As Anne Galloway would probably say, staccato conversations that start somewhere and end somewhere else.
In other words, the poor man's interpretation of the old koan still applies.
"What is the sound of the one hand?"

I realize most of you will read all of the above and think: so what?
Just another one of those totally useless moments of enlightenment.

Posted by fabio sergio | 9:04 AM | permalink


December 06, 2002

Metropolis Magazine.

Thanks to Stefania Marcoli I stumbled onto two interesting articles on Metropolis.

Car manufacturers were already dealing with User Experience-like themes when the term itself hadn't even appeared on digital channels.
The pre-purchase experience is currently the most delusional for most customers.
You spend lots of time deciding and planning which car to buy and when you finally sign the contract your desire, excitement and expectations are sky-high.
As Jim would have said, I want the car and I want it now, .
But then you start waiting. And waiting. Sometimes 3 to 4 months (in Europe at least) for trendy models.
Bye bye excitement, hello irritation.
The Metropolis article, "Auto Show", describes how Volkswagen has decided to address this issue with its last luxury model, the Phaeton, and in a fairly radical way: by building a 190-million-dollar plant that enables customers to enjoy a multi-channel experience of the process involved with actually building their car.
Industrial voyeurism meets architecture porn.
Now compare that with building an on-line "experience".

The other article, "Living for tomorrow", reports on a fascinating MIT research project that deals with the old dream of providing modular, easy to assemble and personalize housing solutions, with connectivity added to it.

"Change is accelerating, but the places we create are largely static and unresponsive.
Changing Places ... explores how new technologies, materials, and strategies for design can make possible dynamic, evolving places that respond to the complexities of life.
The home as it exists today cannot meet these demands or take advantage of new opportunities created by social and technological changes.
Most people live in spaces poorly tailored to their needs, and technologies for the home are too often irrelevant gadgets, meeting no fundamental need and developed out of context.
House_n research is focused on how the home and its related technologies, products, and services should evolve to better meet the opportunities and challenges of the future.

In both cases Le Corbusier would be proud.

Posted by fabio sergio | 2:44 PM | permalink


December 05, 2002

Climbing Jakob's ladder.

(Blame Dan Hill for starting the punning headline thing).

To my utter surprise today I found myself way at the very bottom of the Userati page.
Just between you and me I know I am there just because Mr.Greenfield mentioned my name (thanks Adam), but what an ego-boosting company.
Still trying to figure out ranking criteria though...

And who started this -rati thing anyway?

Posted by fabio sergio | 7:17 PM | permalink


December 04, 2002

Humane social computing.

As you might have read I've been wandering lately about what I would like connectedness to enable if I was offered the driver's seat for a while.
A first answer is that I'd like it to help re-define the social in social computing.

Enable human beings to show their most humane side in social contexts where technology mediates relationships.

Collectives like Headmap have been looking at how mobile connectivity will soon change the way we'll relate to each other.
Among other interesting considerations they've foreseen the resurgence of barter practices, with a few twists.
As you'll be walking down the street you might one day use your digital tools to inquiry if anyone in close proximity could be interested to give you a sandwich in exchange for a service you can provide.
Say that you are a teacher and that you'll give a lesson for free, or you'll tell a story, or you'll clean the dishes.
A way to define this concept could be just-in-time barter.
In other words you will work for food, quite literally.
The idea is in itself pretty cool, I believe, but it doesn't change the fact that in the end there's still a mutual exchange process at work. TIT for TAT.
Mopping someone's floor has little to do with generosity if in the end I am doing it to fulfill a need.
I'd like to take the concept a bit further here.
To stretch it, actually.

What I am going to be saying now will probably cast a light of foolishness on yours truly, but I admit I believe, sometimes against (loads of) good judgment, that human beings are inherently good.
That is, given the freedom to follow our inclinations we tend, sometimes miraculously, to stick to what average morality considers to be virtuous.
There’s even a fascinating anthropological theory that suggests the potential reasons why this might indeed be true.
Please bear with my nonsense as I digress.

Humans have always been pack animals, relying on aggregated individual intelligence and mutual collaboration to counterbalance the lack of jaws and claws that made us easy preys to any carnivore roaming the prairies of prehistoric Africa.
Somewhen during our slow evolution from furry primates to Homo Sapiens, though, an element of differentiation started to separate our species from other social animals.
Our sexual habits.
Animal reproduction follows the rhythm of the female estrus cycle. When males perceive through unmistakable sensorial stimuli that a female is fertile they start a sometimes deadly "stronger than thou" game to gain their chance to reproduce.
From a certain point onwards instead, the human race started displaying what is referred to as "hidden estrus", which means it wasn't (and it still isn't) possible to tell anymore when a woman is fertile.
Couple that with the fact that human babies need constant attention for a long period of time and that they become independent after an even longer period and you quickly see that the strategy for men had to change accordingly.
It became more efficient to establish a long-lasting bond with a woman and to mate as often as possible, to overcome the "hidden estrus"-related difficulty to tell when the partner was fertile.
A stable relationship also guaranteed for babies to have not one but two (somewhat) dedicated parents focused on assuring their survival.
The selfish gene had found a way around the obstacle.

Consequences over time?
Stable social practices and the birth of civilization on one side.
The increasing relevance of affection on the other.
Call me an idealist but I find myself thinking and hoping that human civilization has sprung out of our ability to establish long-lasting, affection-based bonds with other members of our species.

Now, anthropo-biological theories and idealism aside, I think it is evident that we still distinguish ourselves because of our willingness to sacrifice our own time and resources for the benefit of others. For the good of the community.
Why? Because it just feels right. Because it makes us feel good about ourselves.
Because of our physio-cultural kernel.
The World Wide Web itself is a good example.
The people who actually built it did it not because they wanted to sell stuff on it (that came later) but because they wanted to create a place where ideas could be shared more efficiently.
The same can be said today about what's happening with many WI-FI networks.

Wandering yet how all of the above has anything to do with mobile connectedness, positioning technology and just-in-time barter?
Here we go.

The original inspiration came, of all sources, from the Italian government.
Some regions have been recently using SMS text messages to inform people in specific geographical areas about weather-related dangers.
Italy has been under a month-long shower and the last message was sent to all the phones around Milano to warn about flooding rivers and roads it was best to avoid.
That got me thinking.
Reading Howard Rheingold's (seemingly ubiquitous) Smart Mobs closed the circle.

What if the message had asked for help rather than simply advising to steer clear of danger?
"You are close-by. If you have nothing to do right now come and help."
To fill sandbags, whatever.
To feel good about yourself.
More along these lines coming, be warned.

How many times have you heard about people donating their free time to help other human beings or animals for that matter?
Feeding the poor, keeping company to people in hospitals, taking care of stray dogs.
Being good. Humane.
How many times have you felt the desire to join them, to only see it quickly fade under the ever increasing-burden of pressured schedules and busy life-styles?
I know I have, quite a few times.
What if connected-ness could enable us to use our interstitial time not to surf more web sites or to play Java games but to help other less fortunate human beings?

Imagine walking out of the office with a few minutes to spare.
A couple of steps and you'll be ready to change your Personal Digital Tool profile from At work to Willing to help, and you'll set the amount time you want to donate.
Your device will let Connectedland know about your availability.
People in need of help closest to you will be filtered based on the time you have available, who you are and what you can (and want to) provide.
You have five minutes: help me move my couch up the stairs.
You have twenty minutes: come help serve free meals to homeless people.
Off you go, pick one, do your best, disappear back into your daily routine.

I am envisioning a world where connectivity will empower just-in-time Samaritans.

An even more extreme example.
What if walking down the street a message from a nearby hospital would inform you that your blood was badly needed to save a person's life.
Not any person, a specific person. A face. A name. A blood type. Yours.
Not sometime, somewhere. Right here. Right now.
How would you feel? How motivated to help could you be?

All right. Enough.

A few trailing thoughts.
Just like any other Connectedland scenario the ideas above raise important questions about the rich potential for big-brother-like mis-uses of technology.
Unsurprisingly friends like Adam Greenfield have recently advocated for moments of amnesty from the ever-present eyes of The Network.
But why not trying to give the whole concept of "you'll never be alone again" a positive meaning?
If you want, or need, you might never be alone again.
There will be good-hearted people to help you out.
They'll be walking your way.

The other evident issue in this scenario is that trust will obviously rise to be the only currency that will allow a stranger to walk into a person's life and then out of it again, possibly never to be seen again.
New twists on Reputation Systems will be at heart of such a use of connectivity.
The good intentions of connected Samaritans will be constantly evaluated by the people they helped and vice versa, weeding out those who will try to take advantage of the situation on both sides (and there will be plenty).

Who knows, in the end maybe Karma will re-acquire its pre-SlashDot meaning, but with a bit of connectedness still attached to it.

Posted by fabio sergio | 2:12 PM | permalink


December 03, 2002

Luxury Slaves.

For all you new-luxury slaves out there.

If you've won the lottery, inherited a fortune from a long-lost aunt or you've simply got wads of cash to waste on uselessly expensive objects, you might want to get yourself a Vertu mobile phone. Sorry, mobile instrument.
I thought that by now the real luxury was not to have to carry one of these things around all the time. Silly me.

If your generosity has also hit Vegas-jackpot levels today, I'd really appreciate the 24.000 Euros + platinum model, thank you.
Just what I needed to go with my Puma Suitcase.

Posted by fabio sergio | 2:51 PM | permalink


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