Monaco: Some More Photos

Monday, October 2, 2006

Monaco-Ville, as seen from the Jardin Exotiques.

A few more photographs for you. I hope to get a chance to write up a few more highlights soon. Yes, I’m back in New York, now.

Grotte Exotique.

Looking down into Fontvieille harbor.

20-foot foosball table at the Nokia Games Summit party.

Mediterranean rock lobster.


Come Out and Play: Sleuth and Quoto

Sunday, September 24, 2006


Coming out all over.

So the Come Out and Play big games festival is happening this weekend. If you’re in New York and into this kind of thing, I’d really recommend coming and checking it out. Looks like it’s going to be a big deal in the big games world (and hopefully the start of a regular thing).

I mention, as well, because I’ve got two big games appearing in the festival that you might consider checking out! (They’re both currently fully booked on the site, but if you just come, you can probably participate.)


Sleuth is a game I developed with Josh Klein with assistance from Steve Bull and Kalin Mintchev. We wanted to design a game that rode on top of our awesome (and nearly-launched) Sugarcandy (Sgrcndy) mobile group chat application that we’ve been developing. So we came up with this idea based on the board game Scotland Yard that I used to own back as a kid. A Master Criminal will be roaming around Chelsea in Manhattan, trying to evade detection. Teams of players use clues and geo-locating tools to hunt the Criminal down! It’s that easy. And then everyone meets up at the Chelsea Brewing Company for beers. (The first group to find the Criminal gets free beer!)

We’ve been having troubles with Dreamhost — the company providing us with hosting — but otherwise, everything’s ready to go and we’re very excited. I’ll write up a brief report about how the experience goes.


And then I’ve got Quoto, the Big Photography game. Developed with Ran Tao, Avani Patel, and Chris Paretti.

Quoto’s quite easy to explain: Each team gets some quotes. They have to go out and photograph those quotes on the streets on Manhattan rebus-style. That’s about it. Read more on the Quoto site, if you’d like.

We’re hoping that people will stick their resulting photos up on Flickr with the tag “quoto” so we can all enjoy the Quoto-joy later. There are already a few shots up from our playtests.

So those are the games. Awesome!

Also: Next week I’m going to Manaco to participate in the Nokia Games Summit in Monte Carlo. (Yeah: Holy shit. I’ll be staying at this dive.) More on that soon.

Oh, and since it’s trendy to say these days: Sorry for the slowness with blogging. Going to try to pick up the pace a bit this year!


SXSW 2006 Panel: Bruce Sterling / The State of the World

Friday, March 17, 2006

SXSW Page about this panel

[Introductions. Talk about the lack of a Bruce Sterling party this year.]

Bruce Sterling: This is the most innovative year since the beginning of the web. There’s blood in the water — Google’s buying. Bubble 2.0. It’s gratifying to see what’s happening now. Commons-based peer production is getting legs. Something I was complaining about for years. Flickr is not a copy of anything else. Wikipedia is not a knock-off of anything else. Without historical president. Websites that turn themselves into platforms rather than site — it’s hard to explain the significance. Major development. Net community is no longer hanging on the coattail of Gates. That monopolistic era — Windows Live. After ten years of trying to build the MSN brand? It amazes me to see the burst of creativity considering the times.

We’re looking at tiny little groups of people trying to wire/unwire the town on their lonesome selves. I encourage you to help them. But why are towns having to do this? Only in the US do dying phone cos lobby the government like Indian casinos.

I’m spending a lot of my time in Europe this year. See America from the outside, now. I look at the spread of wireless and broadband. I’ve got broadband in Serbia for $20/mo. And it works. The people in Washington have forgotten how to build — too busy monetizing. Like the USSR. Turning the USA into a banana republic with rockets. Technically backward.

The reality-based community is polite and easy to push around — but payback’s a bitch. I should know. I’m a sci-fi writer.

Plug some books:

- Visionary in Residence. Audacious and freaky stuff. Not Harry Potter.

I was always very interested in global issues. Now I’m married to a Serbian feminist peacenik dissident I met with computers. In Belgrade. Now I know what went wrong in Yugoslavia. […] You can learn a lot by studying global trends. Serbia has one of the most dysfunctional societies on the planet. Burying Milosevic this week. I have a ringside seat. It’s not a permanent move. I live out of my laptop, now. And so do many of my colleagues. Cory Doctorow, for example. A world of diaspora and globalization. […] Nobody notices I’ve left Austin? I no longer need to be a resident of any particular city. Nothing enters or leaves Belgrade. I don’t even do permanent. National borders are like speed-bumps.

And I can see that it’s depressing here in America. An empire that lacks any base except oil, real estate speculation, and blood. A nation at war. And we even look different physically. Fat. Hugely and scarily fat. Swollen up as if poisoned and about to pop. The dollar is low against the Euro?

Do you really believe that Adam and Eve rode to church on Sunday on the back of dinosaurs? Objective reality? Creationism? […] It’s an intellectual calamity — the shame is hard to bear.

It’s useful to be living in the extreme unique case. “The Balkans have so much future they have to export it to other people.” Slovenia? It’s a dull, conventional place. Like Iowa. Because they’re way into Serbian truthiness there. And forgive them some of that.

We’re seeing frantic collisions of fundamentalist delusion with reality. […]

Where are war criminals of Srbrenitza[sp]? Religious asylum. Writing plays. Put on stage. Like Vaclaw Havel with a machine gun.

This is a culture war. We’ve got the disorder. And when it’s order, you don’t get to say “I proudly served.” Because it’s a war on the pride. On morale. Everybody lives in shadow. Always covert. Fake. Trumped up. No history because it’s been compartmentalized. Official denials. Star chambers. Not accidents. The stuff of the disorder. Secrecy. And no end to it. Even the victor is despised and distrusted.

We’re on a slider bar between the unthinkable and the unimaginable. And there are ways out of this situation. Except we haven’t invented the words for them yet. the smoke is building, but the exit sign is illegible. [Warren Ellis quote.] […]

Unimaginable does not mean catastrophic. China and India are the healthiest success stories — unimaginable by Mao or Ghandi. And those are grim societies in their own ways. Go there. Look around. Barren, strip-mined, polluted messes. And yet they’re booming. It’s the people. Lots of people.

A word I’ve never mentioned in public is Austin in public: Spime. In 2004 I spoke at Siggraph about spime. Then I did a book. A weird and innovative book. Look at it just for the graphic design. It’ll shock and annoy you, which you need to have done to you. Because you’re a philistine and have no taste.

Spime. It’s not a word. It’s a tag! A theory-object.

What does it mean? What the popular consensus says it means. Like “cyberspace.” Gibson’s “cyberspace” is a consensual hallucination. We don’t have any of that. But the word already has a period flavor to it.

The spime elevator pitch: A speculative, imaginary object different from everyday objects.

- Interactive chip on it, labeled with a unique ID. A tag that you can mark and sort, rank and shuffle. - Local positioning systems to sort where things are. Google Maps. - Powerful search engine so you can find out things about it. Auto-Googling object. - Cradle-to-cradle recycling. More sustainable. You can break it down and use the junk. Taggable, sortable garbage. - 3D virtual models of objects. Virtually designed. CAD/CAM. Scanned. Present before it becomes physical. - Rapidly prototyped. Fabject. Blobject. They’re making them out of metal, now, and have it clang right on the ground.

Alex Steffan is about the release a world-changing book.

If objects had these features, then people would truly interact with them. And it’s truly hard to describe. And it’s easier to think about with a name. So. Spime.

Internalizes the previous industrial order.

You look at something on the web, and every once in a while it becomes a physical object.

An internet of things. Not data. Objects. So we can engage with physical objects much better. It’s a civilizational step forward. We do it because of the way it will feel.

Advantage: No longer inventory my possessions inside my own head. Inventory voodoo done by a host of machines. I no longer bother to remember where things are or how to get them. I ask. I’m told. With instant, real-time accuracy. I Google my shoes in the morning. And my relationship to objects seems much simpler, more immediate.

That was my job as visionary-in-residence at the Art Center. And I wrote that. But I’m not a permanent design professor. Small book. Really big topic. Too big for one thinker. Needs distributed intelligence. The people must buy into it.

So I wanted my word to be Googleable. You’ll find a company called Spime and Frank Black of the Pixies using the word for something else. It’s a new word. But also a new tag. A word in the semantic web is a theory object — a whole cloud of associated commentary and data. Passed around and linked to. A platform for development. And this is different from language. It’s changing my life as a writer, public speaker, etc. The 20th century could not speak in this way. […] As if the coffeehouse chatter at the surrealist cafe had been frozen into linkage and FAQs. The people who read newspapers and TV and don’t engage in this? Those are legacy people.

So I’m trying to write a novel this year because that’s part of my job description. But what is a novel under these circumstances? Dropping lit matches into the wet bog of language. And most go out because they deserve to go out. And the ones that catch fire become unrecognizable. Because of the trackback. They turn on their creator like Frankenstein’s monster. […]

We’re going to have to become the change we want to see. Make no decision out of fear. The decline does not hold indefinitely. Because the people tire of the fraud, evil, and the negative impact on their lives.

The great American novel is over. We need a regional novel about the planet Earth. And the inspiration will be found in human resilience.

I’m not a sentimentalist. The people are not always blameless when they have bad leaders. Milosevic. Would kidnap the best man at his wedding, kill him, and have him secretly buried. And then talk the guy up. “I miss him every day.” The guy was a serpent. But the people love him. Some of them still love him. The best organized political party consider this guy a martyr. Posters on the street of this guy. He looks like an injured muppet. He was a product of that society that preferred to live on a locked closet and feed on their own illusions. Proud of their own wildness. And they’re holy, too. And this is kind of an upward trend. Churches going up all over Serbia.

Evil has a face today. The person who resents you because you don’t buy into the parochial crap of his ethnic group. And it puts people into a panic stampede that could stop us for decades. The key to it for now: Historical perspective. Time passes. You come to yourself. The voodoo curse? Faith-based bullshit! Coming apart in public! The old anvil laughs at the many broken hammers.

Serbia has a small language, so they still have poets. Like right-wing pundit bloggers.

When you can comprehend poetry, it means your heart is not broken.


They read poetry in public. And people listen. And weep aloud.

They’re not Europe because they don’t deserve it. But they’re not dead. Have a lot of heart. Construction cranes all over the place. Better goods. Graffiti it going away. New, full, good restaurants. Even the pirates of media and sanctions-breaking are in retreat. They’re a basketcase that’s about the break up even more. Montenegro wants to leave with every reason. Belgrade wants to split up. But they’re a people of resilience. And when the comeback comes, they’ll know how to go with it.

1937. Long time ago. Depression. Rising fascism. WWII at the door. People couldn’t get venture capital.

[Carl Sandberg quote.] “The people will live on…” [Long section. Very emotional moment. Standing. Applause.]


SXSW 2006 Panel: “Zero-Advertising” Brands / Threadless

Monday, March 13, 2006

SXSW Page about this panel

[Came in late a few minutes late, but this turned into an excellent presentation. These guys are worth looking at.]

Jake Nickell: It all started off in my apartment and we were there for two years before we quit our jobs and started doing it full time. Right now we’re about 8,000 square feet in Chicago.

Maggie Mason: All a similar model: Users create it and vote on it.

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: Naked and Angry is the only thing that has its own packaging. And it’s the only thing that’s not community-driven. We did a lot of research into the best way to have the packaging for the ties.

Jake Nickell: Started about eight months ago. Take pattern submissions and make things out of them. Ties right now. Soon, wallpaper.

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: People ask if we’re going to expand Threadless to other things. Probably not because we like to keep it simple. So Naked and Angry was a way to do other things.

Jacob DeHart: 15 Megs of Fame uses the same model. More for the unsigned band. They get 15MB of space and different prizes and voting. In the future we’d like to get better prizes and maybe record deals for the bands.

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: It’s one of the projects we’ve had that’s evolved the most from the original idea of making a Hot Or Not for music. A unifying theme is “it would be cool if.” It went from something really simple to something really evolved. The biggest challenge was deciding what not to do with it.

Maggie Mason: So then, Extra-Tasty.

Jacob DeHart: Launched a couple of months ago. Users submit drink recipes. People can enter what they have in their house and it’ll tell you what they can make. And it’s tag-based.

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: What’s fun about it, too. We used to be an agency. [Missed something.] When you have client work, if you are asked to do something just beyond your abilities, you either farm it or learn it. But with Extra Tasty we expanded our skillset. You’ll be able to use it with your cellphone.

Jake Nickell: All of the recipes are generic.

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: Our database tells what the equivalent to a brand-name is. But we could go to a company and pitch including their name.

Jacob DeHart: It’s going to stay ad-free.

Maggie Mason: You have a community site called yay-hoooray. You seem to use it as a test-kitchen. How do they interlink?

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: Yay isn’t a test-kitchen. It’s just a community board. But we learned a lot from it.

Jacob DeHart: Marketing. We didn’t do any ads. All word-of-mouth. No other choice, but it’s really working out for us.

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: There’s a business model defined, but there wasn’t really any planning ahead as to how to do it. Most of it has really just been common sense. Or what made sense to us. So that’s how Threadless has grown. We try to think of things that the community would thing was really cool. Having fun in mind.

Jake Nickell: 90% of people on the site aren’t on there for a t-shirt. They’re submitting designs, talking on forums, voting, etc. If they’re proud of their design, they want to share it.

Maggie Mason: You guys get 20,000 designs per year?

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: We’ve had 80,000 so far — about 150 per day right now. We actually have an easy submission process. And we approve them. But we don’t ever really not put something up for content. Only for copyright problems or hugely offensive, too big, too many colors, and such. Most everything goes up.

Maggie Mason: You mentioned not having many problems with community management.

Jake Nickell: We don’t delete posts or anything like that. But you’re right, most communities turn bad or something like that.

Jacob DeHart: And I think our users are really loyal, too. They would stick up for us.

Maggie Mason: Have you been surprised with the quality of what people submit and choose?

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: As the business grows, we definitely give more back to the designers. We’re paying out close to $30,000/month to do it. At first you would get three shirts and $50. Because that made sense. But we’re just three people in a 300,000 person community. And there are only twenty people in SkinnyCorp. I’ve never won the competition, by the way. Now, our community would murder us if we printed something without them wanting it.

Maggie Mason: Ever done anything to make the community rise up?

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: The what-kind-of-t-shirt thing is a huge hot-button issue. You can’t bring up switching t-shirt manufacturers. We brought it up and it was, like, a 1500-post fight. But that’s because people feel ownership.

Maggie Mason: your average user is a 16-30-yr-old guy.

Jacob DeHart: We’ve started taking more stats on that. Average age is 22. Used to be more male, but it’s balancing out.

Maggie Mason: You mail out 60,000 shirts per month.

Jake Nickell: Yeah, we handle our own fulfillment. We started by shipping during our lunch breaks. We built out entire fulfillment system from scratch.

Maggie Mason: How many members are on your team.

Jake Nickell: We have 20 employees. 5-6 on the front doing websites and stuff. Everyone else does fulfillment.

Maggie Mason: Any special challenges?

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: When we try to do something new, we don’t know what we’re doing. None of us went to business school. You just figure out the best way to get it accomplished.

Jake Nickell: A lot of our challenge has to do with our growth. We have to move every year.

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: We’ve been settled for just over a year and we’re moving already in to a 25,000sqft place.

Jacob DeHart: We redesigned and reprogrammed Threadless every three months or so to add features and such. And as we worked on the site our skillset evolved and we were able to scale. At first we had to dedicate a server to sales, but we did these $10 sales and that would kill the server. Now we’re working on a system of about fifteen servers to host our twenty sites.

Jake Nickell: We kind of had a problem with FedEx. [Explain.]

Maggie Mason: How do you decide what’s not a good idea?

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: I used to think there were no bad ideas, only those that aren’t applicable. We have four themes that we apply projects to so that our sites share a spirit without being identical.

* Allow content to be created by the community.

* Put projects in the hands of the community.

* Let your community grow itself. (This has to do with our zero-advertising thing. If people won’t talk about it, it’s not good enough to do.)

* Reward the community that makes your project possible. (How do you have a company controlled by the community without their participation. Our community could kill Threadless if they wanted to. That’s just the way it goes.)

Maggie Mason: Do you worry about the backlash problems?

Jacob DeHart: We heard that Threadless would get too big. That was three years ago and now we’re four times larger.

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: We’ve turned down companies that’ve wanted to carry us. Like Target. But you’ll be in Target for six months and then nobody will want you because you’ve sold out. What makes the project special is the community. Throw it in Urban Outfitters and we’re just another t-shirt in a wall of t-shirts. Everything special about it has been taken away. It’s just cloth and ink. And that’s not why we do it. We want to have fun with it.

?: Where’s the I Heart Threadless t-shirt?

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: We printed those as a test to test out a new kind of t-shirt.

Jake Nickell: But I don’t think we’ll sell them.

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: We’ve sold a couple that have included the world Threadless in it, but those were voted up normally.

?: Zero-advertising. Really for-real? No stickers?

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: We put stickers on the orders. We’re just preaching to the choir and giving them tools to get more members. But these things were us sitting in a conference room thinking of how to make more money. We’re like, “we should give them stickers because stickers are awesome.”

?: Where do things stand on the t-shirt wars between Fruit of the Loom and American Apparel.

Jake Nickell: We’re thinking of making our own brand. We’ve wanted to go back to American Apparel. It’s made in the US, but their quality is crappy. Lots of returns. Which we’d have to hire more people to deal with. But we’re working it out. But it won’t stay a split forever. By the end of summer we’ll probably have a new t-shirt. We’re going to send out some free shirts to our top buyers so we’ll make sure it’s the right decision.

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: It’d be easier four years ago. But with 100,000s of people…

Maggie Mason: How would you even get a new t-shirt made?

Jake Nickell: We’re working with a couple of companies. It can be done.

Jacob DeHart: Our printer’s been helping us out.

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: The bigger t-shirt companies will made special changes for you if you go in ordering, say, 1,000,000 shirts.

?: Kid sizes?

Jake Nickell: I’d love to. Maybe.

?: If you cede control of your business to a community, don’t you put your employees at risk?

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: Yes, but that’s the way we choose to do business. We would care if it failed, but I don’t honestly think that the community would kill itself for no reason. And if it did, it would deserve to die.


Jeffrey Kalmikoff: there’s little moderation and we all say dumb crap. but that’s kind of the fun of it. To the people on the site, it doesn’t feel like a business. It doesn’t feel like being in this brand-world’s walls.

?: You seem to use Threadless to fund these other projects. What other projects do you see also having that potential?

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: We have some pretty ridiculous projects like “” We don’t really kill projects ever. So threadless is like our own VC. […] I see 15 Megs being the next thing that works out. We took on some partners for 15 Megs and the new site will be launching by the end of the year and bands will be able to get signed and get exposure and stuff.

?: Would you have taken money to grow Threadless?

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: We’ve never taken on VC money. Our 15 Megs partners aren’t VC, they’re business partners.

Jake Nickell: We’ll just use the resources of the other company.

Jacob DeHart: We wouldn’t have wanted it because we wouldn’t have known what to do with it.

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: We don’t want our company to feel huge.

?: Do you find cross-pollination between your products?

Jacob DeHart: We don’t really cross-promote much. But we did include Extra Tasty in a newsletter.

Maggie Mason: Do you have a lot of user overlap?

Jake Nickell: OMG Clothing, Threadless, and [something] all use the same user database.


?: What’s your typical work-day?

Jacob DeHart: Our lunch breaks go on for way too long. But we get all of our work done.

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: It’s definitely not a 9-5 job. It’s an every second thing. But not in a bad way. You really want to finish what you’re working on. But there is no typical work day.


Jake Nickell: We made five coupon codes that would make the t-shirts $10. And gave them to five websites. Coolhunting won. But it didn’t work as well as we thought it would.

Jacob DeHart: It was just an experiment.

Jake Nickell: It was Coolhunting, BoingBoing, Flickr, and something. But BoingBoing didn’t post it.

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: There’s really no process to designing our ideas. We sometimes brainstorm, but usually someone just has an idea in the shower on the way. We’re really excited about stuff and we have to come back after a week and look at how to make it work. We work really well together. We work at our own paces and then come together to figure out how to make it all work.

?: How important is it that you’re like your community?

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: It’s integral. If you don’t know your community, that’s a problem. We were at MIT and a guy was selling a product and he was freaking out. But he had no idea who the people were and he hated the product. If you’re not anything like your community, then you probably either won’t like it or you’ll be missing the mark.

Jake Nickell: It’s important for me to do my job well to actually enjoy what I’m doing.

Maggie Mason: And you tend to produce things that you think are cool, that you’d like to use.

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: Right now we’re in the dead-center of our demographic. What do I want to use?

?: Had any trouble with copyright infringement?

Jake Nickell: Yes. Both ways. People ripping off our material and people submitting copyrighted materials. We work with those companies when there’s a problem. And we’re not harsh when other companies rip us off, but usually there’s nothing we can do.

Jeffrey Kalmikoff: Copyrights are in our name and in the designer’s name. Internationally, there’s not too much we can do. There’s the flattery thing, but it doesn’t really impact our business. And the community doesn’t really let it fly. If someone rips us off, they’ll get a lot of e-mail.

Maggie Mason: Thanks!


SXSW 2006 Panel: Craig Newmark & Jimmy Wales Keynote

Monday, March 13, 2006

SXSW Page about this panel

Jimmy Wales: The culture of trust. Wikipedia and CL depend on the culture of trust. Talk about that.

Craig Newmark: We built an environment where people expect to trust and be trusted. That’s why we allow them so much control over the site. We don’t run the site — the people who use it do. We handle special circumstances — spamvertising, misbehaving apt. brokers in New York. My title is customer service rep and founder. I lured Jimmy into interviewer to stress the importance of Wikipedia.

Jimmy Wales: Not sure if that’s supposed to mean that Wikipedians are losers… There’s an interesting commonality about the two: all about community and control. I would like to go back to just being customer service. That’s important. Why so involved in customer service?

Craig Newmark: You kind of get detached from reality at the top of a company. People who tell you what’s up may not be totally straight with you. For example, President Bartlett has a team around him that lets him know what’s going on, that’s why he’s so good. A role model: the phone company. I just do the opposite.

Jimmy Wales: Info warfare at Craigslist. Informational attacks.

Craig Newmark: I may over-dramatize, but I’ve read too much sci-fi. The deal: Aside from the usual scams — those are kind of expected. Traditional-style pranks, etc. The real problem starting around October 1st, 2004: People posting political disinformation. “Swift-boating.” People posting usually fetishes about Hilary Clinton and Teresa Heinz-Kerry. That’s a real problem. I take it personally — my name’s on the site. It’s an ongoing problem. Like on product recommendation sites. I’m most concerned about this on emerging news sites and Wikipedia where people can promote false info. Bruce Sterling pointed out that most cops that you deal with online are the good guys. Sometimes they forget you’re on Pacific time and call you at 6:30am.

Jimmy Wales: One of the slogans I’ve heard you say: Crooks are early adopters.

Craig Newmark: We started seeing this crap on our site years ago. Scams. Disinfo. But the amount of crookedness is not increasing all that much. A big lesson: People are overwhelmingly trustworthy and good. The proportion of bad guys grows lower and lower. I prefer to be cynical, but the motivating value system of most people is do unto others. And they’re drowning out the bad guys online. People are OK.

Jimmy Wales: That mirrors our experience on Wikipedia. The difficult people were there from the beginning, but the new people are regular and benevolent. Most people are good. Not saints, but mostly good.

Craig Newmark: This wisdom of crowds thing, it’s for real. It sometimes turns into mob rule. It’s democracy. It works, but you’ve gotta be careful.

Jimmy Wales: We were on the phone a few months ago. I heard you say that you think Tivo is going to save democracy. That’s interesting. I can now get Rocketboom on my Tivo.

Craig Newmark: Well. I’m a fan of Rocketboom. I’ll do my Amanda Comden[?] impression. [Does so.] Tivo saving democracy. Maybe I’ve watched too much West Wing. I hope Josh and Donna get together. [Talks about West Wing for a while.] Tivo saves democracy. I’ve talked to a bunch of politicians, though I’m not interested in politics, per se. When a politician is elected, they have to start fundraising the next day. The miracle of DVRs is that you can skip through commercials pretty easily. So if everyone starting skipping these, it would defeat their purpose, and that would be a good thing. I can’t imagine what product-placement would be for a political ad. So then politicians would have to say more and the nature of news and political advertising would change. So it’s the patriotic duty of everyone to skip commercials. And the patriotic duty for PVR makers to make 30-second skip available to everyone. Regarding politics, I’m not very interested in politics. I don’t tell anyone. What looks like an interest in politics is the notion that we have to fight political scams.

Jimmy Wales: In this day there seems to be a lot of political stuff that needs attention. When you talk about info warfare and transparency WRT democracy, I think everyone can agree that being bombarded with mindless political ads instead of something substantive… we can all agree.

Craig Newmark: We have a lot more in common, left and right, than people like to think. People talk about culture wars, but I do think there are some values that we all agree with. I’m a uniter, not a divider. And we should push that kind of thing hard. I’m a part of OneVoice, a Mideast peace group. Everyone in Israel and Palestine, they want the same thing. But the media hasn’t presented that view. Only the extremists. We share more than we know. Culture war? Well, we can look at erotic services stats on our site — people everywhere have a lot of the same interests. In San Francisco we talk about stuff more, but that’s the principal difference.

Jimmy Wales: In a community, people find ways to get along. Whereas traditional media likes the clash. Most people assume that the Wikipedia fights are left vs. rights. But it’s really the reasonable people vs the jerks.

Craig Newmark: But people are normally a tremendous voice for moderation. They don’t want to argue. Reasoning with people works most of the time. Sometimes I have to block them or contact their ISP. I do work with a lot of people in ISPs. Most people in corporations want to listen and do right, but their corporate culture is counter to that. And I want to help change that. I’m working with an understaffed ISP and their public spokesman is embarrassing the organization. I’ll be vague about that.

Jimmy Wales: Journalism.

Craig Newmark: My role has been overblown somewhat. I’m doing a few things. But I’m an amateur and a dilettante. But people will listen to what I say and I like the sound of my own voice. But. In order to run a democratic society, you need good sources of news. People to tell you what’s going on. That’s how life is. But Craigslist is affecting journalism. We are draining some of their ad revenue. But a much bigger effect as a citizen is that we need better info about what’s going on within our country. The Guardian in Britain is telling us stuff that’s really important. Better info. Better investigative journalism. Newspapers have been firing expensive investigative journalists. So the stuff I’m doing — I’m working in a modest way with some people on a collaborative filtering venture. Using ordinary people, commenting on the news. Driving traffic to newspaper sites and to citizen journalists that will publish stuff normal newspapers won’t publish. And I’m working with Dan Gilmour whose big effort is putting together a think-tank on citizen journalism. You can’t find a specific report about what’s going on with citizen journalism. And I don’t have time to deal with that. I’m dealing with people bickering in the pets forum. They’re much worse than the people bickering in the political forum. There are always other news efforts going on. And what’s exciting is the Center for Public Integrity. They write a book every few years called “The Selling of the President.” But a year after the fact, that doesn’t help. So they’re thinking of blogging it. And that could make a difference in 2006. And they’re also thinking of putting up DBs from the Federal Elections Commission so we can see who’s paying which politicians for what reasons. So this opens up opportunities for citizen journalists. This could be significant. How much trouble will I get into for propagating it? I don’t know. “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh. Otherwise they’ll kill you.” — Oscar Wilde. The most trusted sources of news I have and the Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and the Onion.

Jimmy Wales: Interesting about the dogs. We have huge brawls over anything having to do with dogs. Worse than Israel-Palestine.

Craig Newmark: Fascinating in the abstract. But I have to deal with it hands on and there’s no right or wrong.

Jimmy Wales: Questions.

?: I’m an investigative journalist. What the hell should we do?

Craig Newmark: I’m an amateur. Talk to Jeff Jarvis. Jay Rosen. And Dan Gilmour. In brief, I know about engaging the community and getting people involved with working with reporters on stories, writing them, posting them themselves. Paper is expensive. Portable electronic media are coming. Investigative journalism is a really big deal and maybe newspaper chains could [something].

?: Newspapers have made themselves more irrelevant by missing out on things and when we have to go to blogs to figure out what’s going on.

Craig Newmark: I’ve spoken to analysts who’ve said that newspapers have lost more to niche pubs like Auto Trader. Newspapers should be community services. The return to that will bring circulation back up. Talk to the people who really do know what’s going on. […] An internet site can be local or global — you decide.

?: Can you talk about cultural differences in Craigslist overseas?

Craig Newmark: We haven’t seen much because we haven’t looked much. Right now our sites are pretty much English-only. It’s remiss, but there’s usually something bigger in the way like keeping the site fast. One overseas thing I have seen involved the use by women of our casual encounters section… Well, it involved the word “randy.” People everywhere have the same needs and values for real. A place to live. A job. Sell something. Get a date. In LA, people are more into getting TV jobs. And in NY real estate is a blood-sport. The guy who’s responsible for the expansion is Jim [missed last name — Butler?]. He discusses Valleywag where he was voted 2nd sexiest man in Silicon Valley.

?: A concern is that citizen investigative journalism is not supported by the knowledge of how to put together a good story and resource problems (time, etc.)?

Craig Newmark: You’re right. Any journalist, the notion is that you should put something out that’s reasonably accurate. And newspapers fact-check. And this is good. But the pressures of a fast news cycle is that sometimes misinfo gets out there. Recently there was the coal mine disaster where people were reported alive erroneously. The mainstream models fact-check in theory, but in citizen media, it’s publish first and then hope that people fact-check. This doesn’t happen much and it’s a problem. People should remember that it needs to be checked and needs skepticism. It’s a given in all media that not everything is well fact-checked. Two really good models:, endorsed by Dick Cheney. They’re really, really good at looking around a story and seeing what’s real. We could see fact-checkers being trained to address these issue. Good fact-checking? The Daily Show.

Jimmy Wales: Everyone tells jokes, but we still have professional comedians.

Craig Newmark: Yes. We speak of pro journalists and citizen journalists as if they’re different. But there’s a spectrum. But sometimes there’s no substitute for someone who’s a professional writer. Writing is hard. I’m not that good at it. You do need professionalism in news.

Jimmy Wales: And the work they do can be amplified by working with the community.

?: Congrats for making the cover of the Costco Connection. That means a lot to me. And my mom. And people I helped on a Katrina blog connected with Craigslist. The design makes me really happy — it hasn’t gotten sexy or flashy or anything, it’s just been a bulletin board.

Craig Newmark: The Costco Connection. That’s the big time. We’ve gotten more mail on that than pretty much anything. My mom likes the hot dogs there. The Katrina thing. Thank you, but the biggest thing we did was get out of the way. People repurposed our site as they needed it and a lot of people connected with their loved ones or whatever through our site. We got out of the way, and that’s important. About the look-feel: Fortunately I don’t know any better, so I did something as simple as possible. Jim has maintained that tradition. We’ll stay philosophically the same way. We’re not interested in changing the design except making the front page much less about San Francisco. But there’s a session today about redesigning our site, I hear.

?: What’s the future of Craigslist?

Craig Newmark: Most of the answer is more of the same. More cities. I like the idea of using Google Maps to locate things. But we’re not sure. We try to avoid FUD because we don’t want to screw around with other people’s plans to do things. We’ll start changing for more things like job listings in Washington DC and Boston. And for apartment listing in New York. Apartment brokers in NY have asked us to charge them to improve quality and eliminate some of the outright scammers. Other minor tech stuff is going on. We just keep plugging away.

?: Craigslist seems to be the only open, public, immediate-entry website that has people helping the victims of Katrina. Also, we’re still waiting for permission from your site to get the text from the Katrina discussions so we can analyze them.

Craig Newmark: E-mail Jim for the latter. As for the first, I don’t know if that’s true. But I haven’t paid that much attention. People came in and used our site for what they needed to. Some of our people did things like make a Baton Rouge site and put up a help page and added resources. Don’t give us too much credit for that. Remember that people who use our site are the people who run it. We handle infrastructure and special circumstances and then get out of the way.

Jimmy Wales: It emphasizes to me how important the community around craigslist is. It’s user-generated content, though we do some heavy-lifting. The EFF helps us out, as well, by people who might sue us.

?: What’s been the impact of eBays acquisition of part o craigslist?

Craig Newmark: This happened a couple of years ago. They bought it from a former employee. There’s no news. Sometimes we’ll chat or have a dinner. The only effect I can think of is that we ask favors from their trust and safety group. Sometimes when you’re dealing with a bad guy, sometimes an effective strategy is to talk to their ISP. And an ISP contact usually gets the job done.

?: Comment on the economics behind your businesses that are community-driven. I’m sure there’s money temptation for both of you.

Jimmy Wales: I should talk about two projects I’m involved with Wikipedia and Wikimedia. These are both non-profits. So no big pay-offs for me. Dumb because it’s worth a lot of money now. Smart because that’s what makes Wikipedia work. But then there’s Wipedia(?). That’s ad-supported and for-profit. You can’t abuse your community or your loose it. You have to be fairly respectful of their needs or it’ll blow up.

Craig Newmark: We realized we needed to may the bills. I mentioned the philosophy of how we decided what to charge for. Most of our site is free. So we’re contributing potentially hundreds of millions of dollars back to the community. In 1997 I chose not to run banner ads. I reflected on nerd values. And I really am a nerd. But I figured people will pay me too much to program, so it’s cool to work to change the world a bit. And we’re doing well financially. We don’t talk about it because it is personally. I only have a vague idea of how much we’re making right now.

?: Comment briefly on Google’s rise to global dominance and their role in community and sharing info, esp. WRT China.

Jimmy Wales: I love Google and I use it all of the time, though I’m uncomfortable with what they’re doing, now, in China. Wikipedia is currently blocked in China. Blocked for 6 months. We discussed it and we’ll never compromise, so we’re stuck. But Google has taken an unfair amount of heat because we love them and their motto is Do No Evil. So they’re taking heat for things other companies have been doing for a long time. But part of my role is to be the person that says, “there’s a better way than to capitulate.”

Craig Newmark: Maybe they thought Google would do more good using the slow, gradual approach. I don’t know. But I’m willing to trust them because I see how they behave pretty consistently. On the other hand, we have much scarier free speech issues here, and in my head that’s the higher priority. We see info being fooled around with by our statesmen. Info gets deleted. Scarier stuff going on. We need to stay the shining light of free speech and get our own house in order before we make judgments elsewhere.

Jimmy Wales: That gradual argument is plausible, but we need to watch-dog them on that. Because it’s easy to throw that out as an excuse.

Craig Newmark: We’re both in the position where we can make unintended consequence. But we don’t know. Sometimes you do screw up, but I don’t have any answers. But we have bigger concerns within this country.

Jimmy Wales: Thanks everyone for coming!


SXSW 2006 Panel: Does Your Blog Have a Business?

Monday, March 13, 2006

SXSW Page about this panel

[Phoebe Espiritu is an ITP graduate, by the way.]

Byron: This is a segue from what Coudal said last year. Your business should have a blog, obviously. But should your blog have a business? So what we have in common is that we wanted a better thing.

Zeldman: I started in 1995. I did my first client site in 1995. Pretended I knew what I was doing. I realized I can do work and not have a client, so I started a personal site. So I decided to write a thing about how I was doing it. Started doing Dr. Web, which is now offline, and started a kind of community thing going. Edutainment. From, I got two businesses. My own, Happy Cog. At one point in 1999 I decided to walk out on my client and do my own thing. I felt free. And the client I walked away from was really good money, so that was even better. So the first business I got out of this was a magazine, A List Apart. Now it has 14,000,000 pageviews / month. I didn’t believe in advertising, but I think we found a way to do it respectfully and intelligently. Another business is a conference called Event Apart. And a book business that’ll roll out. So by putting content out there for a long time I found an audience.

Inman: That’s pretty much how my story goes. I started a site in 2000. And I’ve been kind of following the design portals like k10k and finding my own voice and eventually fell into the web standards and the CSS Zen Garden and people started to come to my website and I built a community around it. So I was more and more interested in who was coming to the site. I played with webalizer and So I started finding my own needs and started to build an app called ShortStat. Free. Some problems. This evolved into what is now Mint. I was scratching my own itch, but there were a number of like-minded individuals. So I did a poll and got, like, 100 comments in a few days so I began to make this app. And as necessary people could add features. It was that back-and-forth that decided what I product was.

Byron: And that’s what we have in common. Accidental entrepreneurship. Was was interesting… I just started talking about what I was doing and this new market came to us that we didn’t know existed. Clip’n’Seal is now being used by NASA. We get all kinds of feedback all of the time. It’s now being used to study global warming in Antarctica. It’s reinvigorating.

Rice: I like the term “accidental entrepreneurship.” I fell into the web fairly early on, 1995-1996. I was a cheese sandwich blogger. It’s interesting to live in this environment where we’re building in the petri dish. It’s still evolving. Our show started about four years ago. I can’t answer, “Why do you podcast?” Nothing can stop me because the tools are there. So I have this dual life of working and being nerdy and then that personal celebrity thing that I don’t stress about. It’s interesting to live this process in real-time. Blog is a weird pop-culture/tech thing that turned itself accidentally into this business thing. It’s amusing to see “Find Eric Rice” ads on I write things and people think they’re cool so people give me things and invite me to speak and write books and things. Then there’s all these rules. I disagree with all of them. I’m not afraid to sometimes be an asshole and break the rules. It’s important to teach people about the process along the way, creating all of this how-to content. It’s eating your own dogfood. And this evolves into all of these different avenues. The blog is the portal for me the human being as the brand. “What’ve you been doing the past 15 years?” The blog lets me tease about what’s going on in the future and people begin communicating. Nothing pisses me off more than people who don’t engage the community. The more your blog gets traffic, it’s hard. When you get on PR lists, it’s non-stop. And mySpace. Tons and tons want to be my friend.

Byron: I was on a panel where people were like, “How to I submit to the blogs?” Well, you don’t. You enter the community.

Rice: We actually met because we were a part of a paid blogging thing that generated a lot of static. I’m not a journalist. That’s where Byron and I met and connected. Our conversations evolved. We have similar methodologies and things. So I have a lot of luxury not afforded to a typical corporation.

Espiritu: I want to touch on “accidental entrepreneurship.” Clay Shirky blogged about this — “situated software.” When people realize there’s a problem, they often have the resources and know-how to solve it on their own, but not the entire solution. But when you’re a part of the blogger community, it’s kind of natural for you to kind of extend the kind of beta testing to your community. And you start asking them what they think and you get feedback. And what’s interesting, not that long ago — 6-10 year — it would’ve required a pro marketing focus-group to arrive at these conclusions. Longer. More expensive. But blogs let you do that. Subversive blogging was my introduction to blogging. Look at blogs as a powerful set of tools that you can take apart and use the modules as you see fit. Another thing, I don’t necessarily try to create a celebrity identity. But I do facilitate other people with their ideas. When I was still a grad student, I accidentally met Seth Godin. He had this project called Change This and I was working on it as an intern. And the idea was to measure the viral potential of blogs in a different way: He wanted to publish ideas as PDFs. And to track how far ideas would spread through this new format. So we took apart components of blogs and custom-created some new technologies to measure the spread of ideas. What happened. The project changed hands two years ago. But other media companies have seen what we’ve done and they’ve taken the idea and managed to extend their own businesses. Such as Before and After magazine. They realized they could extend their subscriber base by publishing into a PDF format. And they did extend their business that was by charging $5 per issue. One interesting aspect of this: It’s not necessarily your personal blog. But it also extended other people’s businesses in way I certainly didn’t imagine.

Byron: I also wanted to talk about the passion and hard work. And this less thing, “lessiness.” How much of this passion is driving it for you? It’s a lot of work. Three years and we’re finally getting the kind of sales to make a difference.

Zeldman: I didn’t try to become a web celeb and I wasn’t trying to make money. I was trying to express myself. That was such a high after not having that and watching that grow because I enjoyed it. I don’t know why that was such a motivator, but some people are motivated to communicate or get respect or something. 1995-1998 for me wasn’t a good way to make money, but it was a good way to meet people all over the world and put ideas out there and watch them come back to you. It’s like, I saw a crashed car on the road and no one else was pulling over. You couldn’t just drive by and not do anything about it. And it was such an uphill battle. Nobody was interested. So that kind of challenge. Contrariness. And another thing that worked for me: Just pick someone you want to kill, someone whose position you want to have or who you think you can do better than. I picked people I thought were successful in influence and I tried to do better than them. Then the commitment part is easy. It’s only in the past year that I realize that I have a family and I’m self-employed, so no one’s looking out for my retirement, trust fund of the kids, etc. So I try to monetize it.

Byron: One reason I became a pundit was because the other guys weren’t running a business — they didn’t know what they were talking about! With my business, there’s no way to deal with comments on my blog so we never ran live comments. Now has the tools have matured we’ve turned those on. So it’s just a practical thing. The reality of the business was, how much time can I commit to this.

Inman: ShortStat started as a personal thing that I decided to share. Influenced by Josh Davis who shared his code. It comes back ten-fold. And as it progressed into Mint, as it launched. I came last year and every time you turn around there are three people from your blog roll. It was amazing. So we became friends. And they were willing to challenge my ideas, and that pushed the product forward. So these people all decided to write about their favorite feature. I knew there was a little bit of buzz. [About the buzz-building of Mint.] So when I decided to release Mint, it’s been such a huge success that I’ve had to turn down client work. And it was the blog that determined the product and built the buzz and everything. They’re personal things. You want to know how people are reacting to you.

Byron: How did you arrive at your pricing?

Inman: Mostly a recoup your cost. A business-guy friend and my fiance helped me work through it. I was working full time, as well, and it was just deciding what its value was. There was a bit of backlash when it launched, but I think that backlash actually created more publicity and people responded that you pay for value. But I exceeded my expectations the first month.

Rice: I like when Jeff brought up the issue of competition. We live in this weird landscape of VCs doing weird stuff and going under the radar, etc. But at its core, it’s the passion of it. I love criticism more than anything. And people talking back. But you do things with this passion, even if you don’t know what it is. So in 2001 I had no job, it was a dark period. People would look at you like, “what are you doing?” Now people look at you, like, “oh, that’s what you were doing.” Whether you have a big master plan or not. It’s this fact that, can I do all these things? Well, I’m doing on thing. Some things are intentional. Some things are totally accidental. MY wife calls me calculating, but some things are just a shot in the dark.

Espiritu: There was an interesting panel on Saturday on passionate users. One of the things you described was this state of flow. I’m really just the facilitator for other people’s ideas. But even after the engagement is over I can’t release myself from having an involvement in their projects. There is a lot of passion and there are days you really can’t sleep. And there’s much built into the DNA of developer types: you just naturally want to fix something that seems to be broken. So I have dinner with my friends who aren’t those types. So the first question is, how do you make money off of it? Does it need to? Sometimes I just do something because I can. But maybe there is some business in that idea of yours that you didn’t see.

Byron: I still have clients, businesses, and they still want to know how this blogging thing works. The hardest client ever has been myself. Have you quit your day job, is the question.

Rice: We need to make money. But not everything plays money. Who plays video games? How do you make money at that? Not everything needs a pay-off. But start blogging about it, and you get acquired by Nick Denton or something like that.

Inman: With Mint, the goal wasn’t to get rich. ShortStat took a lot of time. So the idea was to provide support for those people who used it.

?: People don’t see the money that you don’t have to spend for marketing and such by having a blog.

Byron: Sure.

?: Should you blog be a separate site from your business or the same. Opinions?

Zeldman: Coudal Partners works where it’s the same thing. But it depends. I might say something political that I feel would be inappropriate on a business site. So I separate the two.

Byron: There’s such a blend of bloggers amongst us. Boeing decided to separate it out because they have such a huge site even though it uses their standards. Same with Fastlane. We also have different topics, so I started different sites about that. Clip’n’Seal is just Clip’n’Seal.

?: Did you find the audience or did they find you?

Byron: For me, we just started blogging and an audience found us.

Zeldman: Accidental audiencepreneurship. We have 213 issues of A List Apart. Put content out there and keep putting content out there. And people will find you. If you lean semantic mark-up, your content will be easier to find. Then pretty soon people will find it. This Techcrunch site came out of nowhere and I became very curious about it. I don’t even know how I found it. So if you have a very focus and consistent content area, people will find you.

Byron: I joke about starting a company called No-SEO. I started pug-blog. Within five days I was at the top of Google. Google loves blogs. Link around. That’ll raise you up. Findability is targeting your post-headings. Sounds like SEO, but it still has to have that natural emotion or passion in it. So you don’t want to get into that trap of, “how do I target my audience?” But you do want to use keywords in your title.

Rice: Also, how-to content Those articles go off the charts and I can apply that to other things. But it’s a soft sell. But I want to help people make movies with video game engines.

Byron: Posts on standards suck and you’ll get a pretty big audience coming at you.

?: How did you deal with patent issues and your product?

Byron: I wrote about that. There’s so much information and misinfo about that. We had to put a date when we first started talking about the process. We’re still patent-pending. We’re not that technical, but we were very specific about what we could and couldn’t say and we didn’t start showing pictures until we were at the patent office. Executing on the good ideas is what it comes down to. Once the lawyers said “you’re in” we started putting those pictures all over the place. The main thing that happens is that investors or buyers will not talk to you unless you’re patent pending. They get inundated all day long with products. It’s just a checklist thing.

?: How are you dealing with piracy of your software?

Inman: Mint is open-source and it’s easy to go into the source code and remove the authentication. I don’t even try to hide that code. One thing I came up with, though, was a Firefox extension that would check if Mint was on a site. If so? It would ping me! It created like a neighborhood watch. So once I get that I can figure out who is using the pirated software. Another option is just a public shaming list. My only problem with that is that it creates a central repository of who to go to if you want to pirate Mint.

Byron: A really good point. Reblogging. Zombie blogging. Splogs. Sites that suck in your RSS feed and run ads against it. Maddening. We have some paid lifestyle blogs. And that content gets ripped off. It really pisses me off and I’m waiting for someone to come up with a brilliant idea to counter-zombie them.

?: I put ads into my RSS feed and now I’m getting, like, a third of my income through that.

Byron: I’m jamming CC logo and disclaimer after every article. And that one zombie blog went away.

Rice: Or you could just blog about it: These people are ripping off my content!

?: What about celebrities that are starting blogs in an effort to drum up some business?

Byron: The celebrity whore blogs? My favorite blog is The C-Lister. But that’s trying to game the blogosphere.

Rice: There are bloggers out there willing to get pitched relevant stuff. If you’re willing, say so. And it’s okay to tell a friend about your thing if it’s cool.

[See also:]

[ITP references: 2. Phoebe Espiritu and Clay Shirky.]


SXSW 2006 Panel: Serious Games for Learning

Monday, March 13, 2006

SXSW Page about this panel

[Jim Bower came off great during the panel, so Tikva, Gilad, and I arranged to meet him later in the evening. He came by the Iron Cactus and we sat around for several hours talking about Whyville, ITP, our Design Expo class, etc. Jim might even come speak at ITP the next time he’s in New York. Very cool. Very smart, easy-going guy.]

Brazell: [Introductions.] The Fifth World. The teraflop challenge of 1995. Produce a computer capable of operating at one teraflop. Cost at the time? $100,000,000. Today? $300 (Xbox 360). By 2011? $1? 2021? Free?

4th generation computing: Ubiquitous computing. A system on a chip, on one platform. Very small. Could be used in a tooth that could control the amount of saliva in your mouth. Why? Certain drugs cause dry-mouth, which can be a serious problem. So, a 4th generation computer allows control of biological and neurological problems.

Coopers law: The capability of wireless communications has doubled every 2 1/2 years since Marconi’s wireless in 1885.

What’s driving this? Science and technology convergence. Bits. Genes. Neurons. Atoms. That’s the 21st century architecture. Nanobionics: interfacing neurons with chips.

Why is this important in the context of serious games? “A renaissance learning evolution is required…”

BioSim 1.0. A serious game. The simulation is the human genome. They stuck that data into a video game for learning. Kids act as a macrophage running around the human body. And. They look for new real features within the genome. The most serious game is constructing the game designed to teach.

A study of the video game industry was done by IC^2. Modders. What’s the new stuff that stands out? Create your own content. This is happening in the video game world, as well. Self-organized innovation networks. Take tech from one domain — gaming and entertainment — and move it into other domains. Games for learning. Games for health. All sorts of stuff. VSTEP. A game that includes a full model of Rotterdam, used for security training. Game made by the UN World Food Program.

Kaplan: Two years ago I listened to that speech. I represent the Army. Retired. Mission: To train soldiers and people. And the Army is going down this road of games. So we can’t always bring soldiers to the US to train them. We sometimes have to send civilians to the battlefield. What’s the best way to communicate with those soldiers? The age is changing. Our kids today are wired. Grew up on Nintendo and Xbox and things like that. The Army is transforming. Built during the Cold War. Not like that anymore. Broad range of soldiers, 21-45. What’s the best way to train them? The requirement was to redesign existing courseware from level 1 to level 3, a more interactive, immersive environment. SCORM conformant. Had to be web-based and stand-alone. Students were squad leaders and had to coordinate an evacuation to a brigade hospital. And other scenarios. [He’s using a PowerPoint presentation that’s hard to transcribe.] We have a digital gap. It’s age. We use cellphones and wired devices on the battlefield, now. Very hard to do, especially when you’re 45. The Army today is blogs, RSS, podcasting, cellphones, IMing, podcasting, wikis, etc. Social construct today: Blogger, Skype, Gmail, Xanga, Yahoo! Messenger, etc. How can we accommodate the Army, incorporating these things? On the battlefield, wherever they may be?

We developed the Medical Leadership Trainer in conjunction with UT and SMU. A video game for learning using AI, machinima, and such. Cutting edge combat sims. Cost millions. We need to train thousands of people constantly. And new recruits are generally gamers.

What is MLT? Unreal engine. [And various other things.] We can make it look like any environment. They plan, execute, and learn. Youth are leading the transition to a fully wired and mobile nation. Communication is the key to learning.

Bower: This is all being invented by 8-14 year olds. I watch that through I’m superid. How do we engage kids? [Shows a video about Whyville.] Numedeon spends no money on marketing. 1,000,000 users by 2004. Whyville is dominated by females. [Showing his own PowerPoint presentation that’s hard to transcribe.] Whyville kids stick around. [Shows a slide about a kids who’s been using it consistently since 2000 and was just elected to the Whyville Senate.] Whyville gets 400 monthly pageviews per user — more than Disney. More people than Denver. Has a newspaper that’s quite good. Girls enjoy games with communication and interaction more. Whyville works through sponsorships from various places.

Introducing Carvatars!

Advertising. Girls 9-14 spend more time on the internet than watching television. Advertising is catching up.

Carvatars. Scion / Toyota is a sponsor. And they want to know how to do marketing on the internet. Banner ads are not the way to market on the internet. The internet is interactive. It’s not a CNN poll, either. It’s humans engaging themselves creatively. That’s interactive.

Marketing will depend on the degree of engagement. Depends on people being challenged and being engaged in play and education. So McDonald’s has to set up advertising in such a way that kids get engaged by the product. They’ve declined to participate in the Whyville nutrition area. So how does your product stand up in this kind of an environment? And how does it change when someone is engaging in and learning about your product? Kids will find out if something you advertise is bad for you. Getting kids into the Scion plant. Getting them into designing a Scion. Right now you can pick from 54 different colors. A year from now, you’ll be able to send a .jpg and design it yourself. God help us, it’s coming. And it’s going to fundamentally transform how marketing, sponsorship, and education is done.

Whalen: I work for Ignite Learning. We do: Science. Social studies. Math is on the horizon. Mostly interactive videos — things you click and watch. Somethings go more in-depth. And that’s what I’m going to talk about now.

We create a whole environment for the students. We call it “Reality, Inc.” The student is an employee-in-training. Reality, Inc. is like a consulting firm. Mortimer Gravitas, the CEO, tells kids their goals and updates them on their progress. [Shows an example of the science game — “When Monkeys Fly: Mechanical Advantage.”] There’s offline material that supports the immersive environment. All of the audio is repeated in visual text. Ignite is in agreement with multiple intelligences theory: people learn in different ways and repetition is important. It’s important to understand that it’s important to make mistakes. You haven’t failed,, you’ve learned something. So we want to get the monkeys to get the bananas. So… [He plays with it.] Because of the grade level, it appeals to humor and entertainment. So it’s fun enough to capture the student’s imagination and attention.

Brazell: Questions.

?: Why do people learn so well in games?

Bower: I have a three hours lecture here, which I can bring up called “The Brain and Learning.” So. When I grew up I played chess. Video games are called games, but there’s something fundamentally different than chess. In chess, there are rules, but no predictable path to success. In games, there are rules, but you’re trying to suss out what the designer wants you to do. So the question is not, why are they more effective. It is: Why do they reflect the way we really learn? The more they involve play, the more they create engagement, and the more you tie into a profound way in which our species learns. About Whyville: The rules that apply to our designs are the rules of physics. The structures are based on physics. The solutions are people working together to figure out the solutions.

?: With Whyville and advertising. What age range are you targeting and what’s your ethical stance.

Bower: I’m okay advertising to someone who can’t buy it. The justification PBS originally gave to allowing sponsors to have slots was that advertising could be educational. But this convergence between marketing and advertising and really engaging people really changes the rules. More legit: A sugar-cereal commercial during cartoons? Or having kids understand something about the manufacturing of cereal. All are rules right now allow advertisers to trick people. We have built in control over the ethics because unethical companies realize they don’t want to work with us. So the school nutrition group is very interested in working with us.

Kaplan: America’s Army has millions of users online. 9 million. It’s a recruiting tool, I want you to realize that. Teaching kids about 10%-20% of what the Army learns through this game. Now we’re looking at recruiting and advertising to a lower age group.

?: Can liberal arts be taught in this same way?

Bower: Well, writing is a liberal art and we have 500 articles a week sent to the Whyville Times. Kids can do just a good a job as our artists. They’ve made 1,500,000 face parts. The Getty is concerned because the kids show up knowing more than the docents. The separating in universities between science and liberal arts and whatever is artificial. Most people work in all of these fields. And in good schools these mix up all of the time because that’s how we naturally are.

Whalen: [Hard to transcribe.] The focus in social studies is not just dates and people: it’s making connections.

Kaplan: Kids are hardwired. They can pick things up quickly and multitask constantly. They do 15-20 things at a time. And if we want to keep them in education, we have to build these constructs for them to communicate and figure things out. Help them figure things out. Coach them down that lane to bring together all of those tools and let them figure it out. They love to discover and build and they do it with social construct.

Bower: This is not easy, the design of this stuff. It’s much easier to just say, “this is what you should know.” That’s why most universities are based on this model. It’s much more challenging to design the structure and it’s hard to evaluate and explain what’s happening.

?: Most of these are PC-based. Do you have plans to make place-based games actually at the supermarket or McDonald’s or wherever?

Bower: our engine is Java. Anything that runs Java can run this.

Kaplan: We’re Java-based, also. we’ve tested our model on a PDA and cellphone. Haven’t even told the Army yet.


SXSW 2006 Panel: Demystifying the Mobile Web

Monday, March 13, 2006

SXSW Page about this panel

Fling: [Ask who has used mobile web devices and developed for them. And who’s overwhelmed by them.]


Fling: There’s a lot of buzz about mobile the past few years. Does it make sense to talk about it now?

Shea: Is the web on mobile practical? If you’re building standards-based websites, they’re already compatible with mobile devices. But if you’re going to focus on the mobile space, you have focus on other things like will people actually use it? Is repurposing your content worth it? I know if I’m on the road and want some info, I go to Google. If you put your content out there and assume people will get to it, maybe that’s good enough.

Goto: Who remembers the “broadband’s coming!” thing a decade ago? We’ve been looking at trends (because we’re the laggards, though we have spending power). So, Asia. Japan. South Korea. Small infrastructure but past tech adoption. Example: In the UK, they get about 0.75c per content per person. Mostly SMS. Japan? $17.00. It’s definitely on its way. Finally.

Fling: Could you talk a little bit about the “walled garden” vs “open systems?”

Moll: “Walled garden:” Very controlled and defined user experience. Think AOL. The reverse: Access is not restricted. Open network. Doesn’t matter your carrier. The crucial question: What’s happening with innovation? Does a walled garden help or prohibit innovation? I think it does both, honestly. Is the carrier model the right way forward? Do we need to replace it with the open model?

Fling: Can you explain the differences between some of these buzzwords?

Goto: What do you tell clients as consultants? We’ve been partnering with different organizations around the world and taking a look at the studies to answer what is happening with mobile services. Where we’re concentrating is western Europe and the Americas. Trying to understand what is going to make or break the difference in adoption. [Shows slide with differences between 2G, 2.5G, 3G, and 4G (the future).] Developing countries will carry a lot of weight with regard to 4G in the future — going straight into 4G. Japan is launching a 4G network in about five years.

Fling: Here they’re calling it “3G and Beyond.” In Japan they call it “4G.”

Goto: If you think about voice and carrier as being about 88% of revenue. The other 12% is data. That’s worth about $14 billion of revenue. [Shows slide.] In the US, tweens (12-18) have $4,900 to spend where they want. In China? $0.79. And they spend a chunk of that on mobile. China’s a big market, but each American has 20x the spending-power.

Fling: Can you share some thoughts on the mobile web vs. the one web?

Moll: One web: Device independence. The idea is noble. Practical? Remains to be scene. Device independence: Think beyond the desktop. Screenreaders. TVs. Cars. Watches. Vending machines. Etc. Can the internet be accessed from those devices? I guess, yes — down the road. The W3C defines it: “Access to the web from any device by anyone, anywhere.” It ignores the “three Cs” (content, content, and [something]). The device independence largely ignores this. Is the experience of accessing Google on a mobile device the same as that on a desktop machine? No.

Fling: [Oops — missed it.]

Moll: On your average cellphone, when you visit a website, you’re not seeing everything. A server between you and the site does things like stripping out large images, removing Flash files, etc. Altering the page. The content creator has no control over this. And never will. And it’s hard to predict what will happen because every carrier does things differently. As a web developer, you already have to worry about your browser, your screen resolution, etc. And there are ever more factors at play in mobile. Is that good thing? It helps because it makes the download quicker and reduces overhead. So for the user? Yeah. It’s a great thing. For the content creator? It gives me another headache. So I have to come to terms with that, accept that. And the only real work-around is testing in as many browsers as you possibly can.

Fling: The number of the devices goes up every year. What can you share about how this impacts our lifestyles?

Goto: I’ve been talking a lot about lifestyle research. It’s thinking about the way people actually live and breathe. And how services and content are integrated into our lifestyle. Using ethnography. “De-pinging out.” Understanding motivation, behavior. In NZ it shocked me that it cost $0.75/minute to make any cellphone call. Because they only have one carrier. So people don’t make many phone calls. They use SMS. […] [Shows a slide about understanding your audience.] So, if you think about SMS and WAP and everything at the top layer, that’s drawing your audience in. then there’s the thin client. Then the thick client, which you can use even if your phone doesn’t have a signal — all on the phone. Then there’s “smart client.” That’s where the target should be. It draws on updates from the web and the solidity of something integrates as an app on your phone. Designed mobile devices. Wikipedia’s mobile version. And it’s not a bad experience. Dodgeball. It’s interesting how the 2.0 experience is being integrated into our lives.

Fling: WAP. Explain the differences.

Shea: WAP is partially protocol and partially mark-up. WAPCSS, as well. WAP 1.0 we just left behind. Had its own mark-up, WML, which you had to use. WAP 2.0 — out for 3-4 years, now — backwards compatible with WAP 1.0. But it expanded to include XHTML-MP (mobile profile), a simplified XHMTL for mobile devices. WAP-CSS is CSS 2.0 condensed down a bit. Taken out a few things, added a few things. They exist together. And the skills from the desktop translate very easily.

Fling: WAP 2.0 is a requirement of all carriers, as well. So if you’re talking about doing something serious on mobile, WAP 2.0 is an important thing to remember. And almost every device today is WAP 2.0. Very few WAP 1.0 devices left.

Moll: Setting aside mobile browsers, it seems like that’s where things get exciting. WAP 2.0. A-ha — I can take my desktop experience and port it to mobile devices. Get my foot in the door. Develop for this mystifying thing.

Shea: Easy to get in, but it’s a big, deep door.

Fling: There are about 200 kinds of devices in America out in the world. Demystify screen sizes, developing for different devices.

Moll: User-agents and browsers. This device: 128x128. This, 320x320. Very different experience on these two devices. How do you fit something on this tiny screen? The issue becomes, what is the lowest common denominator? What’s the lowest cut-off denominator? What are users demanding to do? And what’s the lowest cut-off you can survive to practically develop something? You can’t say, “everyone develop for this device.” So you have to listen to your users.

Shea: When you say that you’re targeting devices, that’s assuming you have a site or a layout or something that requires that kind of targeting. Otherwise, just serve unstyled XHTML. That’s another solution.

Moll: And mark-up weight. Very valid point. Develop the way you develop for the desktop — under standards — and chances it will work okay.

?: Are we in a browser war like in the 90s? Will we go towards a standard in mobile devices?

Fling: There are currently about 40-50 different browsers on different devices. The dominant on is OpenWave. They do about 20-30 of those. That seems daunting. But. Standards have been a part from the very beginning. The carriers never let any of the stay cats into the room, so WAP 1.0 and 2.0 actually work very well on different devices.

?: What is the impact of Flash Light on mobile? [From a woman who works at Smashing Ideas.]

Fling: Samsung has released Flash Light as the UI for their devices.

Goto: What are you doing with SVGT? Why Flash Light? […] Flash people have an understanding of how to create with the tools. SVGT doesn’t have the tools. We’re experimenting with both. But we’re looking at both SVGT and Flash Light. I don’t have an exact answer.


Goto: Right now it’s leaning towards SVGT in a weird way, but right now it’s a balance war and the carriers will call the shots.

?: You talked about XHTML-MP. Should we use that or XHTML Basic?

Fling: XHTML Basic is for portable devices. Difficult question. XHTML-MP was developed by OpenWave. XHTML Basic is very close. It’ll most likely work, but typically I recommend people start with XHTML-MP.

?: What’s the future of SVGTiny?

Goto: Lots of infighting. Since it’s more open source with more ubiquity, we have to see what the carriers will do. Flash Light will cost, like, $1 per unit to carry. So carriers may not use it. In the US, they subsidize the $200-$300 per-unit cost of the devices with service plans. They’re bringing the costs down because they want to bring people in to buying their content and services. SVGT needs to get its act together and GoLive has been working towards it, but I don’t know. There’s a lot of discussion, but it’s still being worked out.

Fling: I heard that the majority of SVGT development was happening at Adobe.

?: How do you compensate for the lack of interface control on mobile?

Moll: Gorgeous design just doesn’t happen on mobile devices. How to deal with that? How to make something usable and attractive? That’s a challenge. Two year from now, Opera Mini may be the standard. And at that point we’ll be able to develop just for three browsers and make it work on a hundred devices.

Shea: Today it’s hard to even show your branding. Sending images is probably the only way to get something above-and-beyond text right now. Aesthetically pleasing? Not happening right now.

Fling: Brew. J2ME. You can actually create a very rich interface with these. And Flash Light, too. Check out ESPN Mobile. It’s memory-intensive, but a very nice interface. Big challenge, though. J2ME is device-specific, though.

Goto: We also have to think of IA. Moll wrote an amazing piece about when we should create a custom design. There’s not much room for custom navigation. When we create a single mobile experience, it’s more than look-feel. Also architecture.

Fling: One more thing. From my experience, mobile has to do with the context. You can do great things with a simple interface.

?: Do wifi-enabled phones speed up that lag? WiMax? What leaders are happening in the MVNO space?

Fling: WiMax is having a difficult time with hand-off between towers. Making roaming difficult. MVNO. Disney has announced one. Mobile Virtual Network Operator. ESPN is not a network. They borrow one. Disney. MTV. Virgin. 7-11 Mobile. [Laughter.] The leader is Disney, who also runs ESPN Mobile.

Goto: History. Virgin in Europe took airtime off of Vodaphone and became one of the top three. We’re getting into lifestyle. What’s remaining is customization, emotional attachment to devices. It’s coming to fruitition. Ampdmobile. $150/month for unlimited services. Kind of a lot.

[Missed a question, here.]

Fling: It could be some years out before we see a consistent mobile platform.

?: What about wifi? It’s sitting right here and we’ll be getting faster speeds.

Fling: There’s a lot of info in wifi, like using Skype on mobile phones. From the carrier perspective, there’s more interest in WiMax. They’re putting a WiMax antenna on the Space Needle in Seattle, for example.

Goto: And the carriers are protecting themselves by opening themselves up to VOIP and wifi because they know the customers will want it. But cost of calls are going down, so they’re trying to figure out what to do.