Category: web

We’ll be closing the JuiceTorrent service…

Sadly… we’ll have to do it. We were not able to jump start the service in a meaningful way.

We should have formulated the service and the value proposition in much, much simpler way… starting perhaps with an API only. But we did not have the energy, resources, and perhaps the smarts, to do it.

I already removed the JT widget from this blog. Consider doing the same if you happen to have it on your blog.

I still believe that we’ll see some implementation of the JT basic idea. Google Adsense could do it in a heartbeat. But they don’t seem to listen to me.

Read more about the JuiceTorrent idea here.

What To Do About Contextual Ad Blunders – “Opinion-Based” Advertising

I blog about the elections – meaning my support for Obama – only to get ads from McCain’s campaign right there with my post. Bummer.

The current capability in Google AdSense to block specific domains from serving ads is not practical in so many ways.

Here is an idea – a (self-service) positioning matrix… that could be implemented by contextual ad services like Google Adwords/AdSense. Here is how this might work:

  1. Start a list of hot topics/issues (crowdsource the list)
  2. Let publishers (in AdSense) browse/search the list, look up the topics/issues of concern to them and position themselves along dimensions like “love/hate,” “for/against,” “approve/disapprove,” etc…
  3. Let advertisers (in Adwords) do the same.

The result:

  1. Ads matching the attitudes of publishers and their audiences
  2. Possibility for advertisers to differentiate between “converted” and “non-converted” audiences… and eventually try to selectively engage those who admittedly don’t like their message/product/cause. Something like – “We know many people don’t like {whatever}. But we work hard to change this. Gives us a chance.”

UPDATE (March 2009):

Google introduces “interest-based” advertising… good, but still missing the point of “opinion-based” advertising.

May be I should start a category “free ideas to Google” … here is another one…

Ads On This Blog… And JuiceTorrent

Here is what Fred Wilson says back in June 2006 in a post on his blog titled “Ads on this blog“…

“I don’t like leaving money on the table. This blog does around 2 million page views per year on the web and another million plus views in my feed.

Those page views are worth real money and while I don’t need it, someone does.

[...]

I hope to generate $40,000 this year to charity with this blog. I am certain I’ll generate at least $25,000.

That’s real money that will get a tribeswoman in Africa a cell phone or a underprivileged child a scholarship.

So that’s why I run ads on this blog. I hope you agree that its a good cause…”

Fred is a “star” blogger with a big audience. So he makes a meaningful chunk of money (let’s say $36,000) to donate at the end of the year to charities.

Now… let’s assume that a typical unknown blogger could make an average of $12/year (that’s $1/month) in ad revenue from AdSense.

You’d have to put 3,000 such bloggers together to achieve what Fred does with his blog in terms of ad revenue. And you’d have to wait over 8 years before Google releases the $100 min checks to each of these bloggers… and you’d have to remind these bloggers and their audiences that the money was intended for charity. Not very practical… nobody does it.

Enter JuiceTorrent (see the JT widget in left column of this page)

With JuiceTorrent, 3,000 regular (non-star) bloggers (like me and most of you) can create and maintain a monthly revenue “torrent” of $3,000 flowing directly into the account of a charity… or multiple charities. No waiting for months or years, no writing of checks, no “donation” accounting (who cares about a receipt for a $12 yearly donation anyway). Added benefit – being part of an online community of supporters and actively promoting the causes you care about.

Without JuiceTorrent – we leave money on the table. With JuiceTorrent – we can pay for a scholarship for an underprivileged child. All it takes is embedding a few snippets of code on our blogs.

Personal notes:

  • I really, really can’t care less about the aesthetic implications of having ads on my blog (JuiceTorrent is set for now to serve text ads only though). Looking “sleek,” “clean,” or “non-commercial” (read “anti-commercial”) somehow doesn’t make it even close to the top of my priorities. Finding new ways to make the web meaningfully social does.
  • I don’t want to wait for the “ad-free” web of the future that may come or may not come about any time soon. If NPR and WGBH can put car dealers’ ads on their websites – for a good cause – so can I.

Read more about JuiceTorrent:

JuiceTorrent Is On!!!

Yeah… !!! We (at People Networks) did it!

The points about JuiceTorrent:

  1. Gives organizations and individuals (we call them JT stars) the possibility to start their own self-expanding ad networks through the blogs and websites of their fans and supporters.
  2. Gives people (fans and supporters) an easy way to start and manage micro-streams of ad revenue from their own blogs and websites – and join them into meaningful “torrents” going directly to entities (JT stars) they choose to support.
  3. Gives the JT stars a fast and easy way to plug into and test/compare contextual ad markets (Google AdSense, YPN) without the hassle of changing ad code and micromanaging ad placement.
  4. Makes (ad)sense out of the largely unused micro-pools of ad space controlled by the new class of (personal) media owners and publishers – “the people formerly known as the audience.”
  5. Creates a new category of social vectors across the online identities of people and organizations – adding the moral and material dimension of “supporting” to the existing “linking,” “friending,” “visiting,”and “following.”
  6. Separates “utility” advertising from “high quality” content while keeping the economic link between them. Mortgage ads on my blog where I rant about home prices will support the independent star blogger/journalist/artist I admire and read daily… or the Red Cross… or both. JT “stars” can stay as high minded, ad free, and/or commercially non-viable as they wish – while the ads on my blog can be trivial, pedestrian, useful, and indeed effective.
  7. Gives musicians a possibility to establish ongoing flows of exchange – streaming music for streaming support - as opposed to the discreet consumption/transaction models of the industrial era past.

See how JuiceTorrent works…

We are now actively looking for candidates for JT stardom – nonprofits, star-bloggers, musicians – to start them up with JuiceTorrent.

Please, contact me – in comments here… or by email (emil at sotirov dot com).

Big Thoughts from Small Minds

Here is a guy who’s (in his own words) “supposed to be thinking ‘big thoughts’ all day as part of a fellowship program that recruits PhD-level scientists into public service with the federal government.”

And here is one big thought he produced:

“But at a fundamental level, studying complex behavioral and genetic networks in animals is not so different from understanding human social networks.”

Oh yeah… on a fundamental level… we’re all animals. So heartbreakingly true.

But here is the scary part:

“So to some extent, when it comes to explaining social software to military policymakers – I’m the perfect guy for the job.”

Read more… 

JuiceTorrent… Make Your Own Ad Network

First, let me state the obvious: all I do – is co-doing… with my partners, team, my wife and the people I meet, read, and follow. This post was, in fact, suggested by one of my partners. So here it is…

December 1991 – I write (in this paper) that “There is no … author/audience … no text, but always, and only, a con-text.” Seventeen years later (July 2008) – Umair Haque is almost there (with this strategy note)… by telling us “There is No Consumer” and by suggesting UGC should, in fact, mean “User Generated Context.”

April 2005 – I co-found Aidpage Inc (aidpage.com) – with the tag line “People Helping People.” Three years later (July 2008) – a Deloitte study (by Beeline) concludes: “The tribalization of business is all about ‘People Helping People.’”

March 2007 – I co-found People Networks Inc. About a year later (February 2008) – Dave Morgan, founder of Real Media and TACODA (acquired by AOL in July 2007), says – in a post titled “The Future: People Networks” – “To me, it’s all about the growing role of “people networks“… promptly followed by AOL announcing (May 2008) the creation of a new business unit called “People Networks.”

Currently – we work on a web service called JuiceTorrent with a tag line “Create Your Own Ad Network.”

Hours, Days, Months, Years… Are God’s Tags (Google’s Labels)

I hate calendars – never used them effectively. Don’t want to manage time. If I had the power, I’d ignore time. If there was God – he probably would have ignored time (my guess).

I often think of Google with their refusal to manage 20% of their own time. Might this be a “Beta”… precursor of how Google may start non-managing 100% of their time. Now, that would be a God-like behavior.

I use Google Calendar(s)… don’t know of anything better. But still, in most cases - I just cannot realistically assign a duration value to whatever I enter there. So, I use it mostly for the easy way to drag my “To Do” items from day to day.

Now, I am trying to start using Google Notebook(s). You can enter items in notebooks (and sections within them) through an extremely easy interface. You can label each item. There is the easy “suggested” menu of existing labels. So, I have a label “1 Emil” – the “1″ is there to put this label in a easy first alphabetical position in the “Labels” menu. The label pulls a good full screen of all notes across all notebooks labeled “1 Emil”… And, here comes the good part – this screen has an URL. So, I put this in my “home” set of tabs in my browser. Now, I have an instant view of the notes I need – sitting on a tab in my browser. I don’t even mention the “search” and “share” functions – after Google, we think nothing of these.

However, there is no sharing of labels. Why I wonder. I cannot figure out a reason. Shared labels would work as the “days” in the Calendar(s).

Now, for any faithful user of Google Calendar(s), this description of Google Notebook(s) might be simply boring. But for me, Google Notebook(s) is a way out of the tags which I cannot and would not control – the minutes, hours, days, months, and years. They’re sooooo totally pre-set, fixed, written in stone… and most importantly, soooo shared… with soooo many people… that I still wonder why someone would even try to manage them.

The goodness of asynchronicity (being loosely connected in time) – a good subject for another post.

Clay Shirky Talk in Harvard – February 28, 2008

Clay Shirky on his new book, “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations” (6PM on the Harvard Law School campus, location TBA).

In story after story, Clay masterfully makes the connections as to why business, society and our lives continue to be transformed by a world of net-enabled social tools. His pattern-matching skills are second to none.“-Ray Ozzie, Microsoft Chief Software Architect

From the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard:

All events are free and open to the public… Invite your friends, students, colleagues, co-workers, fellow faculty, research assistants, interns, family, and others to celebrate and collaborate with us. Please don’t hesitate to forward and blog this information.

These events will take place on the campus at Harvard Law School unless otherwise noted, with more information on time, venue, and topic posted on the events page. The events page also includes a complete list of luncheons and other events, which we hope you’ll also be able to join us for!”

One More Thing The Internet Could Disrupt – Car Ownership and Sales…

Here we go – I’m back on this blog after a long hiatus.

And it’s Fred again (he’s good at this) – with this post – making me share a “vision” I had a few days ago. The idea is probably in the heads of other people for some time already without me knowing (see Fred’s comment under my comment). Fred’s post was inspired by Seth Godin.

And I should say – I am constantly inspired by Umair Haque.

Here is what I posted as a comment on Fred’s post:

“How about transforming the car ownership into an investment type of thing.

Imagine people being able to lend their own cars for the times they are not using them. Or even making a small business out of owning a few cars. Everybody sets their own prices.

Think of Zipcar – but without the centralized ownership of the cars.

Think of an Internet platform (could be open source… or even at the level of a protocol may be) which supports the data and logic for such a distributed environment.

Imagine the effects of a dynamic price competition for a short term leased transportation… not to speak of the long term disruption of the car sales market… not to speak of all the “green” goodness coming out of it.

The hardware could be developed and sold by any vendor.

Please, whoever starts doind this – give me a credit… :)”

In fact, Zipcar could open up their platform – and become the Goggle/AdSense of cars. Scott Griffith, do you read my blog.

New Tagging Service from Google

I want such a service. Google should offer such a service.

Give me a feed of keywords from your search index corresponding to the page I serve… so I can display them as a cloud of “search tags” … working as predefined automated searches.

A few days ago I was reading/commenting a post on A VC’s blog – where Fred Wilson talks about his “learning from Flickr.” The last of his ten points caught my attention: “Machine tagging (autotagging) is the next big thing in web 2.0.”

My first reaction was – what’s the big deal about machine tagging – thinking about some sort of automated tag extraction at the moment of inputting a piece of content into a system – how would that be much different from semantic search engine indexing?

Only later did I realize that Fred had in mind – mostly, it seems – the behavioral tagging occurring when a site records and displays user gestures in context – ala Amazon’s “customers who viewed this… also viewed…”

But misunderstanding being often the way of creative thinking – the idea came to me about a new type of web service from the likes of Google.

Why not have Google’s index out in the open, on my web pages – as a contextualized self-updating interface to related content – perfectly in synch with our common AdSense based interests. A simple click on a “related” keyword (close to the main content) is 10 times (my educated guess) easier than having to come up with good search words (too much thinking) and typing them into a search box (too much work) somewhere else on the page.

Web links are THE web interface… not search boxes.

We had “aidjumps” (my partner Ivan coined the term) on Aidpage since the very beginning in 2004. We would take user created tags and offer them also as preset Google searches. (We had to take these “aidjumps” down because of a conflict with the AdSense terms of service. For another unrelated reason, you won’t even see tags now on Aidpage… we’re working on a major upgrade.)

The idea is that Google may offer such a free web service to anybody quite easily – as an additional discovery interface. In a way, it sounds fair – I allow Google to index my pages but I want Google to give me back the results of the indexing – as tags that I can put back on my pages.

The whole Google index returned back to the periphery… exposed in the original contexts from which it was extracted… feeding back traffic to Google. Each such tag is an immediate Google search… much easier than using a search box… sending people to Google search results – what could be better for Google, or for any search engine for that matter.

People tend to forget that Google’s engine is not some sort of a super smart AI based meaning extraction machine. The smart thing about Google’s search engine was always the relatively simple recording and computing of the original human social gestures on the web (a.k.a. web links). Web links are the original social bookmarks too. It is this early social Web2.0 thing inside Google that made Google great… and hugely profitable.

Add to this the personal bookmarks Google now collects through their toolbar…

So, if Google’s greatness relies mostly on the social and personal bookmarks collected from my web pages and my browser, why wouldn’t Google give me back free RSS feeds of my tag clouds – on my web pages, my browser, my RSS reader…

I want to know what Google knows – immediately – without the cumbersome search box between us.

The exploration/discovery experience would gain much if we combine user generated tags (author self-tagging + social bookmarking), local behavioral tags (footprints, etc), and search tags from the likes of Google with their machine power and global view of the web.

UPDATE (October 2009):

Well… Google just did what I suggested here almost three years ago – see Google Related Pages and Search Words.

Thank you Google… :)

"The Giant Zero" At The Berkman Center At Harvard

Doc Searls (blog) gave an interesting talk today at the Berkman Center at Harvard. The talk was called “The Giant Zero” – pointing to the image of the Internet as a hollow sphere enabling all periphery (end) points to connect.

Doc talked a lot about the importance of the metaphors we use when thinking about the Internet. He referred to Lakoff’s books about the language as something that largely operates our thinking (the language “speaking” us) as opposed to the everyday understanding of language as something we merely use as a tool to communicate our thoughts (we “speaking” the language). Without having read Lakoff, my impression is that he is mostly re-telling European post-structuralist theories from 20-30 years ago to American audiences nowadays reluctant to read French authors (for whatever reason).

Update: It seems I was completely wrong about George Lakoff in my last sentence above… Tom Maddox’ comment on Doc Searls blog sent me read about Lakoff. It is clear that Lakoff has his own intellectual path independent and different from the post-structuralists I had in mind.

Beyond Broadcast, May 12-13 2006

Beyond Broadcast: Reinventing Public Media in a Participatory Culture

“… an open convening at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School… to explore the thesis that traditional public media – public broadcasting, cable access television, etc – face a unique opportunity to embrace new social media models – podcasting, blogs, social software, etc – and create a stronger and more vital public service.”

I’ll be there… happily “browsing” interesting people.

Zayko just completed a large site for NEAVS…

My wife’s Zayko just completed a large web site for the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS). The site is probably the most comprehensive online source documenting the fate of the chimpanzees used in US scientific research laboratories. The main purpose of the site though is to be the online support center for NEAVS’ major campaign called “Project R&R: Release and Restitution for Chimpanzees in U.S. Laboratories.” Here is a thing you can do right now: sign Project R&R’s online petition! (takes 20 seconds with the reading of the petition).

CORANTE Symposium on Social Architecture at Harvard University

Yes, I was there… and I am definitely a smarter person now.

Here is a thing David Weinberger said about hierarchies in general (and that would be my modest blogging of the symposium):

“The pyramid brings out the worse in people.”

Since I am not a real blogger (I write and type slowly)… here are some links:

Thomas Kriese: http://www.omidyar.net/user/u720884578/news/30/
David Weinberger: http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/
Network World: http://www.networkworld.com/news/2005/111505-social-software.html

Listenomics…?

Read about it in AdAge… I saw it via Jeff Jarvis… Here is a “free” version

Here is a snippet:

“Hear that?

In the distance? It’s a crowd forming — a crowd of what you used to call your “audience.” They’re still an audience, but they aren’t necessarily listening to you. They’re listening to each other talk about you. And they’re using your products, your brand names, your iconography, your slogans, your trademarks, your designs, your goodwill, all of it as if it belonged to them — which, in a way, it all does, because, after all, haven’t you spent decades, and trillions, to convince them of just that?”

And one more…

“If the conversation is dominated by consumers themselves, and they’re paying scant attention to the self-interested blather of the marketer, who needs ads — offline, online or otherwise? This raises the question of what agencies are left to do. “

See related:
Battelle on Disintermediation in AdAge… and My Comments

From the Alertbox of You Know Who… Read It!

I always read Jacob Nielsen’s alerts… But this one is really important. It’s about the next step in the democratization of software interfaces. To put it shortly… using an analogy… if given a choice, most people wouldn’t cook their meals… they’d rather select them from a restaurant menu… with pictures… Sorry geeks… yeah… dumb users, what can you say… :)

Tales From The Web 2.0 Frontier… The Platform Thing

Richard McManus from ZDNet asks the question “What is a platform?“… under the general topic of “Tales From The Web 2.0 Frontier“… and finds good answers from Amazon’s Jeff Besos and Aidpage‘s Emil Sotirov (taken from a comment I made on Jeff Jarvis’ blog)… I like seeing Amazon and Aidpage in one paragraph.

Richard’s own blog is Read/WriteWeb.

Give a Platform to Your Customers and Let Them Talk

Consumer-generated media exceeds traditional advertising for influencing consumer behavior, finds Intelliseek study (via Emergence Marketing). Consumers are 50 percent more likely to be influenced by word-of-mouth recommendations from their peers than by radio/TV ads… see press release from Intelliseek.

Advertisers of the world… stop spending on “pushing” image and message… it doesn’t really work well anymore… in the near future it won’t work at all.

Invest in Aidpage instead… :) … or in similar projects… Give a platform to your customers and let them write, talk, sing, make pictures. You don’t even have to be “creative”… let them be creative. Do not judge or mediate. Now, just imagine how will they think of you.

Collaborative Tagging Systems – A New White Paper From HP Labs

Don’t have the time now to comment on the paper… will do later… eventually. In the meantime, here is a link to the abstract – “The Structure of Collaborative Tagging Systems“… and here to the full text PDF file.

Very much related to… and explaining some of the stuff we already do at AidPage. The paper’s main example is of course the very popular Del.icio.us.

My Wife – One Cool "Boston Area Creative Type" – Says CREATE Magazine

My wife Virginia (dba Zayko) was selected to be featured in the main story (Branding Your Creative Business) of the Fall 2005 Boston edition of CREATE Magazine – along with only three other “creatives” from the Boston area.

“We unravel the mystery behind cutting-edge branding by revealing what creative types in Boston are doing to brand their own businesses” – says CREATE Magazine.

Linda K. Pilgrim (the writer) explains the strength of the Zayko brand as coming from a mixed “professional/personal touch.”

Gina is given almost a page of precious “professional press” space – in a story about the holy grail of marketing and design – branding. Not just any branding – but branding of the creative business itself.

I feel a mounting pressure inside me – to stop bragging. Ok… that’s it.

Technorati For Sale?… Well, I Told Ya So!

Yeah… I told ya… on July 9, 2005 in a comment on BusinessWeek’s blog.

Here is what I said:

“I just don’t see how Technorati could keep a hold on blog search. What they do is purely technical… and easy to replicate by Google and Yahoo. What’s more… the effects of G/Y’s entry into blog search would be felt literally overnight. I am not aware of anything in the business model of Technorati that may offer any kind of resistance. May be I don’t know something that the venture capital folks backing Technorati know… But, as I see it, if they haven’t already arranged the sale of Technorati to ???… it might be too late now.”

Filling in for my question marks… anyone?

My guess: IAC.

Here is where the rumor started.

Update (August 30, 2005):
For now, it seems that this may have been really a rumor only… But… in the meantime… nothing good is happening with Technorati. On the contrary, some people (starting with Kottke, and then a VC in NYC) have already declared Technorati useless. May be, my “told ya so” bragging should have concentrated on the “it might be too late now” part of my July 9, 2005 statement.

Update (August 31, 2005): Here goes Jason Calacanis too: Technorati Worthless

Battelle on Disintermediation in AdAge… and My Comments

Here are the self-explanatory title and subtitle: “ARE YOU BECOMING IRRELEVANT TO YOUR CUSTOMERS? Why Marketers, Agencies and Media Execs Need to Understand Disintermediation“. Here is a link to the full article (AdAge requires registration). Here is a link to John’s posting on his own SearchBlog.

Among the many good points by John or as he calls them “ground rules for media in a Web-dominated world“:

  • join the ‘point-to’ economy,
  • make your living in the long tail,
  • creative no longer driver,
  • writers go directly to readers,
  • rise of the new middlemen – meaning Yahoo, Google, IAC, etc.

I would like to comment though on something John says:

    “Publishers are born connectors, they bring like-minded people together. They are also conversationalists of the first order. They foster the interaction between the three key parties in commercial media: the audience, the author/creator and the marketer. This facilitation is still very much needed. And as much as the folks at Google would beg to differ, when it comes to true value, nothing beats human communication. Figure out a way to be part of the conversation, and you will always prosper.”

I would question a basic assumption underlying the discussion – the “author-audience” relationship – as a given… as something that still needs facilitation by marketers – even in a conversational framework.

I would argue that – on a deeper cultural level – we live through (for quite some time already) a crisis of the idea of “creation” itself as a mode sustaining its terms: “author” and “audience“. Our culture is steadily re-telling the hierarchical “one-to-many” structures through “many-to-many” network models. In a conversation, we don’t really have a “teller” and an “audience.” Everybody is both “talking” and “listening” in a peer to peer environment.

So, what kind of mediation such a conversation needs. “Moderating” comes to mind… which may be as good as Ted Koppel’s televised town square meetings, but is that the conversation John is having in mind? Ted will be retiring soon.

Then, there is the “creative” in the “mediation” business itself. Once you are “creative”, you stop being “part of the conversation” – you try to take “the center” of it. And this, again, reminds me somewhat of Ted sitting pretty on a high chair.

My point being… I am not sure that “authorship” and “mediation” are sustainable values in the context of a real non-moderated conversation.

Comments on Stephen Baker’s "How to appeal to non-bloggers? Think virus wikis"

In a recent blog post, Stephen Baker writes:

    I’ve tried to interest my wife, for example, in our local Montclair, NJ, blog, baristanet. She’ll use it for movie schedules but has no interest in reading or writing comments (and has trouble understanding why anyone would).

So true… Yes, most people seemingly are not inclined to be active media producers or actors. Most of us prefer the “one-click” media engagement. Click – your TV is on; click – look at your new picture; click – go from this web page to that web page.

Most people will not learn the “blog speak”. How about “trackbacks”… Oh, yes… these are links to somewhere on the Web where somebody already said something about what you read here. And this is supposedly happening automatically. For example, I am writing this post hoping for a “trackback” to appear on Stephen Baker’s blog linking back to this post right here – automatically – because I’m linking my post here – back to his original post there. How about easy to imagine… Not to mention “rss”, “pings”, “tagging”, and other similar nerd niceties. Not enticing for most normal people.

And what’s all the fuss about “blog this”, “blog that”… I still cannot get it. How in the world bloggers see each other on the web. It’s not obvious at all. There are the links in the side bar… and in the text itself… true. But how do you easily put these links there. As obscure as any old-fashioned DHTML/Javascript coding. My guess is – bloggers see each other on CNN, may be on Google, locally everywhere in SF, and on Web 2.0 conferences.

And… where is the information? As Stephen Baker points out:

    …it will take new types of blogs to broaden the appeal. They’ll function as tools, and will feed less from comments to other types of input. One example is this new virus wiki (from Ross Mayfield). Here users create the value by contributing data. It’s promises clear value, even for the comment averse.

Yes, most blog posts are comments about other blog posts that are comments on something already produced on old fashioned web sites, TV, or newspapers. There is no much hard data on blogs. But this is to be expected from a publishing format that thrives on quick “real time” typing done by people with other day-time jobs.

And yet… and yet… people can be surprisingly prolific in writing and reacting when faced with serious issues – like personal physical or financial survival, choosing between Kerry and Bush, or more recently – the incredible wave of Internet activity for the tsunami disaster. So, here is a point I want to emphasize – the issues. And then again… the large amounts of useful information.

And here comes the plug – AidPage. How is AidPage relevant? Read my recent posts about AidPage.

Update (July 8, 2005): Turns out Blogger does not support trackbacking yet. No hope for an automatic trackback appearing on Steve Baker’s original post. I did an old fashioned comment there referring back to here… :)

Have Syke and Bod – Will Compute. The Near Future of Personal Computing.

About the wanna-be-buzz words

“Syke” I derived from “psyche” and is pronounced the same way. “Bod” is simply an obscure (at least for those of us non-natives) English word for “body”. You be the judge of my marketing lingo creativity.

Syke

My syke is my digital “soul.” My syke is everything digital I own – identity, profiles, operating system, applications, configurations, preferences, and data.

Bod

A bod is a digital “body” – a computer with processing and storage capabilities. Bods are as small as to be easily portable in bags and even pockets, interchangeable, cheap, and retailed as widely as batteries. I need a bod to run my syke.

Periphery (display, input devices, etc) is like furniture. I expect to find periphery everywhere (including in cars, planes) – the same way I expect to find chairs when I enter a room. I just “plug” (wirelessly, of course) my bod and start using my syke.

All I have to carry is my bod. Not that I couldn’t use another one, but at least for the foreseeable future it will still be somewhat inconvenient to download a whole syke. A syke could be many, many gigabytes.

Security

Instances of my syke are stored in (1) my bod and in (2) a secure digital bank. Whenever I connect to the Net, my syke is synchronized.

I am the only person that can start and run my syke – the bod recognizes me via some bio stuff (finger, eye, dna, etc…). Forget passwords… don’t need them. Criminals need my bio body to crack my syke – nothing new about this. There’s a long tradition in bio body protection – it’s not a computer problem.

That’s it.

Ah… one last thing. For those of you who pretend doing something with a computer outdoors… just wait for the cool periphery coming: clothes with keyboards “painted” on them, sunglasses with microdisplays, and other such stuff.

Disclaimer
I’m not a computer scientist. I’m simply a knowledgeable present day computer user (“user” here is very close to being a euphemism for “slave”).

Update January 2010… five years later:

Just saw a good anti-Apple essay by Paul Graham from November 2009 in which he writes:

“Could anyone make a device that you’d carry around in your pocket like a phone, and yet would also work as a development machine? It’s hard to imagine what it would look like.”

And then Paul goes on by putting out an RFS (Request for Solution) on Y Combinator:

“There seems a reasonable chance that handheld devices will displace laptops as development machines in the same way that laptops displaced desktops… Maybe you’d have to make significant innovations in input and display devices. The real test is whether you can create an acceptable development environment on something small enough that you’d be willing to use it as a phone. Whatever the solution turned out to be, the result would end up being useful to more than just developers.”

Discipline vs. “Field” Discourse

The original rather pretentious title (I was young then) was:
Towards An Old/New Way of Thinking, Writing, Designing…
(written in 1991 for one of my Ph.D. courses at the University of Michigan)

…the validity, usefulness, adequacy of popular standards can be tested by research that violates them…
(Paul Feyerabend)

illustration by E.S.

Discipline

Stumbling. However, quite revealing as experience – in Professor Senkevitch’s class on “Thresholds of Architectural Thought…” students have to read the original writings of “well-known” theoreticians – Vitruvius, Alberti, Laugier, Sullivan.

Original writings turn out to be long, complex, unclear, and sinuous – compared to the “well-known, clear, concise, and straightforward” ideas-principles ascribed to these authors by the architectural discipline.

Let us consider Vitruvius. Here are some of my notes/questions/readings of/on/about him:

  • What we term “architectural order” seems to be only the external appearance of what Vitruvius contemplates as “proportions”. Here is what he writes: “Since the external appearance of the Corinthian, Doric, and Ionic proportions has now been described, it is necessary to explain the arrangements of the cella and the pronaos…” (Vitruvius, “The Ten Books…”).
  • Corinthian, Doric, and Ionic proportions (orders) are measurement systems embracing the whole temple – cella and ptera.
  • The ptera is only an “external appearance” (articulation) of the cella (body).
  • There is a chapter titled “Proportions of the Base, Capitals, and Entablature in the Ionic Order” (In Book III of “The Ten Books…”). It is about the ptera as a whole – and not about a separate column and its vertical articulation.
  • The measurements of columns and intercolumniations are, according to Vitruvius, work on the “high relief” of the temple… seen obviously as a sculptural whole.
  • For Vitruvius, the colonnade seems to be a sculptural form-articulation of the cella-body.
  • The columns are NOT structural elements for Vitruvius.
  • Through them, an “external appearance” is presented – uncovering the truth of the temple – its character.
  • Here is what George Hersey (1986) says: “When Vitruvius’ myths are analyzed, the origins of the Doric and Ionic orders impart gruesome lessons. They are tales of betrayal, enslavement, invasion, colonialism… Finally, practically all classical moldings are called after things used in catching and eating victims – human, animal, or vegetable – or after bits and pieces of the victims themselves… Moreover, he (Vitruvius) uses the word ‘entasis’ to describe the slight outward curvature in the silhouette of the Doric shaft, which means ‘tension, straining, exertion’ of the human body…
  • The Caryatides are “placed so as to carry a load” (Vitruvius). The “carrying of a load” in the position of a column is a metaphor only. Metaphor of sin, punishment, and sacrifice.

So, there is “content” in the architectural orders, largely unfamiliar to those trained in the discipline of architecture.

Still, the metaphor of “tension, straining, exertion” seems to be recovered as “mastery of structural forces”. The metaphor of “pro-portioning” (articulating a body in pieces according to sacred rules) is recovered as “mastery of formal order”, and the metaphor of “the entablature as a table of offerings” (Hersey) – recovered as “mastery of function”. Forms of a myth are resemanticized (in a sense and logic suggested by Olga Freidenberg, 1978) as structures of what we call discipline of architecture. Repeatedly recovered through the history of architecture as discipline, this cluster of mythical forms-themes is established as axiomatic structure of the architectural discourse.

In this way, the “origin” of architecture is re-covered/lost in principle for a thinking based on the discipline itself. And “origin”, in a historicist tradition like ours, means explanation and validation. This is why, paradoxically, disciplinary thinking in architecture is obsessed with an ever disappointing search for “primitive huts”, “origins”, “primary needs”, or “reasons”.

In fact, by writing his treatise, Vitruvius fixed the first (known to us) broad referring of the architectural practice to a set of “historical”, “socio-logical”, “psycho-logical”, and “techno-logical” “origins” and “reasons”. In this way, a disciplinary self-consciousness was defined by positing an “otherness”. Stanley Tigerman (1991):

    Otherness: From generation to generation, it seems as though architects have been determined to define their craft through the examination of issues extrinsic to architecture. They seek definition in the consideration of function, structure, and stylistic referentiality rather than looking within architecture’s own precinct to discover what, if anything, constitutes its essence.

So, Tigerman is sup-posing an “essence” of architecture as opposed to its disciplinary “otherness”.

Now, it seems to me that, instead of opposing “essence” to “otherness”, we could see them both as “other”. I think that the architectural discipline cannot not look for the non-architectural “other” (Tigerman’s “otherness”) – as a substitute for an always re-covered/lost pre-architectural “other” (Hersey’s “content”).

The non-architectural is what the discipline is thinking, speaking, writing, and designing about. It is the “object” of the discipline as “seen” by the discipline. On the other hand, the pre-architectural is what the discipline cannot “see” (even less speak about) because of its own de-finition (conceptual closure). The disciplinary discourse was formed as to look “outward”. All the disciplinary metaphysics (theory) of architecture was “gathered” through looking at and interpreting of the “outside” – because of this inherent/inherited directedness of the discourse. Directedness “outward” paradoxically stemming out of continuing efforts to recover “essences”, “origins”, “disciplinary cores”.

The non-architectural consists of all traditional “objects” of the architectural discourse – structure, function, form, history, theory, practice, use, façade, plan, section, etc. The pre-architectural is analogous of what Julia Kristeva (1989) means by “semiotic imprints of an interchange with the other”. The pre-architectural is the “affective” experience of the profession – felt by architects and transmitted as the un-speakable and the un-thinkable of the discipline – the undefined “other” of the profession. Julia Kristeva (1989):

    Westerners… are convinced they can convey the mother – they believe in her, to be sure, but in order to convey her, that is, to betray her, transpose her, be free of her. Such melancholy persons triumph over the sadness of being separated from the loved object through an unbelievable effort to master signs in order to have them correspond to (re-cover, E.S.) primal, unnameable, traumatic experiences…The initial belief in conveyance (recovery, E.S.) becomes changed into a belief in stylistic performance for which the near side of the text (the pre-architectural, E.S.), its other, primal as it might be, is less important than the success of the text itself…At the boundaries of emotion and action, writing (architecture, E.S.) comes into being only through the moment of the negation of the affect so that the effectiveness of the signs might be born. Writing (architecture, E.S.) causes the affect to slip into the effect – actus purus as Aquinas might say… From that moment on, the world of signs lays down its own logic. The jubilation it affords, that of performance as well as reception, intermittently erases the ideal as well as any possibility of external justice. Immoralism is the fate of that process…”

The architectural discipline is “locked” in a dramatic opposition whose terms are “re-covery” (repression) of the “inner” complexities and contradictions (semiotic imprints, Kristeva) and “mastery” (symbolic order, Kristeva) over the “outer” complexities and contradictions. The traditional directedness “outward” of the architectural discourse (having a hidden root “inward”) sanctions the axis of opposition – inward/outward. “Sacred”, serviced is only the closing, blinding, dividing, conflictual potential of the discourse.

Still, the pre-architectural somehow “shakes” and “nurtures” the disciplinary discourse from inside – making possible the architectural practice as well – as a continuing and necessary transcendence of the discipline. But how does this work?

Field Discourse

Here is an interesting parallel. A Russian author (Porshnev, 1974), writing on the origins of culture, speaks of the “absurd” as being the very foundation of our language, thinking, and social history. On that base, he elaborates: (the translation from Russian is mine, E.S.)

    Normally, the absurd is presented as a non-fulfillment of logic’s conditions. What would be to reverse: logic – as a non-fulfillment of the conditions of the absurd… As conditions of the absurd, we could posit the opposites of the three basic laws of logic: (1) necessary polysemy of terms (ambiguity as minimum), (2) necessary contradiction, and (3) instead of “either-or” – “both-and”. Accordingly, we will have to see everything logical as a violation of these rules.

So… the parallel is with Robert Venturi – who, it turns out, also was speaking in “Complexity and Contradiction…” (1966) about rules of the absurd exactly in Porshnev’s sense – and about the need to respect them. Venturi contemplates the “complex” and “contradictory” ways architecture relates to people, cultural contexts, and its own history. But the idea is even older:

    The Sophists… proposed a theory claiming that the world itself was in full motion and contradiction, and that consequently the motion of la langue was only corresponding to real mobility … language could not express anything fixed or stable, since it was in full motion itself.” (Kristeva, 1981)

Recent work of Venturi, Rauch, and Scott Brown is characterized by Alan Plattus (1990) as post-analytical, conversational:

    …the Sainsbury Wing, for all its thoughtful consideration of the program and the site, is neither predicated upon nor predicted by any single model or method in the architectural arsenal unless it be that distinctly non-theoretical model of a conversation… the VRSB scheme does not hold up to a rigorously analytical interrogation. Indeed, I think anyone would agree that something else is going on in VRSB’s project – something largely incomprehensible, and certainly indigestible, from a strictly analytic point of view.

Frank Gehry’s architecture is discussed by Carol Burns (1990) as an example of topical (rhetorical) thinking and design. Burns takes the notion of topical thinking from David Leatherbarrow’s review (1988) of Donald Kunze’s book “Thought and Place: The Architecture of Eternal Places in the Philosophy of Giambattista Vico” (1987). In his review of Kunze’s book, Leatherbarrow discusses the liminality of topical thinking:

    Liminality in Kunze’s book is the topic that directly links philosophical and architectural subjects; it is a sort of seam, joint, or knot. Architectural educators and practitioners know that these days this seam is torn. Students, not faculty, move between the departments of a school and the different subjects of a curriculum, and no one teaches both technology and theory! Likewise projects, not lectures, mediate between what can be envisaged and what can be built. The challenging difficulty of Kunze’s book is a result of its preoccupation with the ground between the separate territories of architectural knowledge, the space between “eidos and polis”, and “type and locus”, “discourse and nature”, “subjects and objects”, “transcendence and immanence”. At worst this is a space between, a gap, or a divide. Seen at its best, however, it is a figure between, a seam as I have said, a joint, or a knot. Understood in experience, such a figure exists in tension, it is a knowledge being pulled or stretched as taut cable. So are Vico’s rhetorical topics… topics are sited at boundaries. In fact, they are boundaries. Topics are limits which articulate points of connection. A rhetorical topic is a Janus in space and January in time, a true coincidence of opposites. The liminality of the middle will be difficult always because it illuminates the greatest differences by inventing points of agreement, which makes it aggressive to the status quo, but also productive.

The conversational discourse produced in Professor Senkevitch’s class on “Thresholds of Architectural Thought…” is liminal. Erudition (authority) meets ignorance (respect), clarity meets unintelligibility, enthusiasm meets (sometimes) lack of interest. Speech meets silence, answers meet other answers, questions meet questions. Of course, sometimes questions meet answers and vice versa. This is not exactly knowledge. This is more like an ongoing (mis)understanding. At its best provocative and productive, at its “worst” – a chat between friends. This discourse is not necessarily “elegant” or “effective”. It could be “ordinary” in a Venturian way; it could be playful and poetic in Gehry’s sense.

This conversational thinking, I believe, should be “allowed” in theoretical writing, and should be professed in design. I see leaving the directedness of the disciplinary discourse for a kind of a “field” discourse – a meandering, “sewing” movement that does not oppose sides, but links them, engages them in a “polylogue”. And I am certainly not seeking a new, “liminal” essence.

Here are a few notes on this “field” discourse, in no particular order:

  • It is a balancing (not planned balance) between symbolic order and semiotic experience (in Julia Kristeva’s sense).
  • It is a discourse produced as existential need, not as instrument. In a recent interview, Venturi says that he found himself in “Complexity and Contradiction…” There are no clearly articulated intentions, plan, strategies, purpose, conclusions. The discourse is not produced as “useful”. This does not mean that it could not eventually turn out to be very useful.
  • The “field” discourse does not convey a totalizing “idea”. Professor Senkevitch does not necessarily try to summarize the discussion – it is rather open ended. Every student is left with his/her own (mis)understanding of what was said. So, we have a dis-course conveying by de-finition many interpretations – and re-interpretations – conversations after class.
  • This rhetorical discourse necessarily produces confusion – it con-fuses experience and knowledge (semiotic and symbolic). It does not “translate” experience into knowledge.
  • This rhetoric is suspicious. Because it reveals a fundamental undecidability. It can be seen as a resurgence of a suppressed “feminine” side of our phalocratic tradition. By “feminine” I rather mean the pre-male (male’s non-defined otherness), and not the fe-male (male’s defined otherness). Jeffrey Kipnis (1989) says that we should perhaps take seriously Nietzsche’s question: “What if truth were a woman”. I would rather say: culture seems to be a wo-man – there is always that semiotic “chora” that bears the symbolic “chorus”. For a discussion of the Platonic “chora” as analogical to the semiotic experience – see Graafland (1989) and Kipnis (1989).
  • This poly-logical rhetoric is not an evolution of author’s ideas, nor is it a revolution against ideas of other authors. It is a co-evolution and ongoing mutual displacements between a personal stand and cultural context. There is no author in the traditional sense (author/audience). The thinker/speaker/writer/designer is a mediator between cultural realities (semiotic and symbolic) – facilitating tendencies for self-organization which are always pre-existing in any context (for the terms “co-evolution” and “self-organization” – see Jantsch, 1980). There is no text, but always, and only, a con-text.

See related:
The Anti-Architecture Manifesto

R E F E R E N C E S

  1. Burns, Carol. “The Gehry Phenomenon” in: Thinking the Present: Recent American Architecture, ed. K. Michael Hays and Carol Burns, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 1990.
  2. Freidenberg, Olga. Mif i literatura drevnosti, Nauka, Moskva, 1978. For English translation, see: Image and Concept: Mythopoetic Roots of Literature (Sign/Text/Culture), Harwood Academic Publishers, Amsterdam, 1997.
  3. Graafland, Arie. “Peter Eisenman: Architecture in Absentia” in: Recente projecten Peter Eisenman Recent Projects, ed. Arie Graafland, SUN, Amsterdam, 1989.
  4. Hersey, George L. “Vitruvius and the Origins of the Orders: Sacrifice and Taboo in Greek Architectural Myth”, Perspecta no23, 1987, pp 66-67, Yale Architectural Journal.
  5. Jantsch, Erich. Self-Organizing Universe: Scientific and Human Implications of the Emerging Paradigm of Evolution, Oxford, New York, Pergamon Press, 1980.
  6. Kipnis, Jeffrey. “The Law of Ana-. On Choral Works” in: Recente projecten Peter Eisenman Recent Projects, ed. Arie Graafland, SUN, Amsterdam, 1989.
  7. Kristeva, Julia. Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, Columbia University Press, New York, 1989.
  8. Kristeva, Julia. Le langage, cet inconnu, Seuil, Paris, 1981.
  9. Leatherbarrow, David. “Review of Donald Kunze’s Thought and Place: The Architecture of Eternal Places in the Philosophy of Giambattista Vico”, Journal of Architectural Education, Spring 1988, vol.41, no3, pp 52-56.
  10. Plattus, Alan. “Toward a Post-Analytic Architecture: Recent Work of Venturi, Rauch, and Scott Brown” in: Thinking the Present: Recent American Architecture, ed. K. Michael Hays and Carol Burns, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 1990.
  11. Porshnev, B. F. O nachale chelovecheskoi istorii (problemi paleopsihologii), Misl, Moskva, 1974.
  12. Tigerman, Stanley. “Other Architectural Problems and Recent Projects”, Architectural Design (AD), Vol.61, 3-4, 1991, pp 38-45.
  13. Venturi, Robert. Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1966.
  14. Venturi and Scott Brown. “Entre imagination sociale et architecture”, (interview by Philippe Barrière and Sylvia Lavin) L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui, Fevrier 1991, no273, pp 92-104.
  15. Vitruvius. The Ten Books on Architecture, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1960.