Joho the Blog » design

March 6, 2014

Report from Denmark: Designing the new public library at Aarhus, and the People’s Lab

Knud Schulze, manager of the main library in Aarhus, Denmark and Jne Kunze of the People’s Lab in Denmark are giving talks, hosted by the Harvard Library Innovation Lab. (Here are his slides.)

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Knud begins by reminding us how small Denmark is: 5.5M people. Aarhus has a population of about 330,000. [My account is very choppy. The talk was not.]

Now that the process of digitizing all information is well underway, the focus is on what can only be experienced in the library. Before, the library was a space for media. Now the space is a medium. Seriousness was prized in libraries. Now a sense of humor. We’ve built libraries with books and other media to serve an industrial society. Some are truly beautiful, but they’re under-used. Now we’re moving to libraries for networked society.

Three and a half years ago, the Danes wrote a report on public libraries in the knowledge society, and went looking for partnerships, which is unusual for the Danes, says Knud. The new model of the library intersects four spaces: inspiration, learning, performative, and meeting spaces. But the question is what people are going to do in those spaces. Recognition/experience, empowerment, learning, innovation. Knud shows pictures of those activities currently going on in the library.

Two hundred of Denmark’s 500 public libraries are “open libraries” — open 24 hours a day, with staffing only about 12 hours a week. If you have a library card, you can open the door. You can check media in and out, use the Internet, use a PC, read newspapers, study, arrange study circles. “The point is to let users take control.”

A law in 2007 said there had to be one-stop shopping for govt services. Most libraries offer these services. You go to the library for a passport, drivers license, health insurance, etc. Every citizen needs to have a personal account for communication with banks, from the state (e.g., about taxes). Libraries have helped educate the citizenry about this.

Often libraries are community centers that involve public and private sectors and a wide range of services. Sometimes the other services overwhelm the library services. “People ask me, ‘Where is the public library in this?’, and I say, ‘Think about the library as the glue.’”

There have to be innovation spaces in the local libraries.

The Danish Digital Library (Danskernes Digtale Bibliotek) is an open source infrastructure for digital objects, including a resouce management system for the whole country, and to purchase digital content. All its digital services are accessible anywhere in the world. 86 of the 98 municipal library systems have contributed to a shared contract for a new library system based on Open Source. They share operations and development. “There’s a very good business case.”

So, why Dokk1, the new library?

Libraries are symbols of development and innovation in the society. They drive city development. They add new stories about the town. All public libraries are examples of the citizens’ interest in innovation. E.g., the Opera, Munch museum and library in Oslo have transformed the waterfront and brought a new identity to the city. Helsinki, Birmingham (UK), and others as well. “The same will happen in Aarhus, we hope.”

DOKK1 is being built into the harbor, “transforming it into an open sea front.” There’s 200,000 sq. feet of library, parking for 1,000 cars, two new urban harbor squares, a light rail station. Cost: US$390M . It will open in early 2015.

The front of the current library features new programs every few months, rather than the entrance being a way of controlling the users. They’ve run projects like iFloor (social interaction), a news lab (producing TV), AI robots, displays that capture and freeze images of people interacting with it, and much more. The building needs to interact with its surroundings and adapt to it, says Knud.

DOKK1 is “no building with an advanced roof.

“It’s all about facilitating relations.” “The library of the future is all about people.” It will be a user-driven process: “From tradition to transcendence so users can deconstruct their old knowledge about libraries.” Knud shows a photo of children doing searches by interacting with blocks on the floor. They paid no attention to the info on the screens.

They have partnerships with the Gates Foundation, Chicago Public Libraries, IDEO, and the Aarhus Public Library

Another project: “Intelligent Libraries”: how to “work smart” by improving logistics. The project knows where all the books are in all the nation’s libraries, and how often they’re used. They use “media hotels”: “local or remote storage of overflow, slow moving materials.”

The name “DOKK1″ came from a competition. 1,250 proposals. Seven were considered by a jury. “It’s about branding the library.” 90% of all city inhabitants should know about the new project. In August 2013 75% did. In the existing library, users are invited to engage in the “mental construction” of the new one.

Now Jane Kunze talks about People’s Lab. She begins with a sign: “Shut up and hack.”

They’ve been setting up labs for the past two years to test different ways of interacting with users. Innovation is important to the Danish govt. (Denmark was just rated the most innovative country in Europe.) How can the public library be part of this?

They were inspired by Maker culture. Fab labs and maker spaces have been popping up everywhere. There’s also a trend in Denmark to repair rather than replace. And a focus on hand skills and not just academic knowledge. Also rapid prototyping, with inspiration from design thinking (as per IDEO).

The People’s Lab is a result of a collaboration among the library, community, and partners. Partners include public libraries, Aarhus School of Architecture, Moesgaard Museum, Roskilde festival, Orange Innovation, and more.

When they began, it was about kick-ass technology. But , while tech is fun, it’s really about people and community-building. “Don’t wait to involve people until your grand opening.” People will see your imperfections “but that’s part of what will make them committed to the place.”

The six labs:

  • TechLab: having a maker in residence is powerful. See Valdemar’s hovercraft:

  • Guitar Lab. Use local people and their passions.

  • Dreamcity: A maker space at the Roskilde rock festival. “You have to put yourself into play. You have to be there with your whole personality, and not just your professional side.”

  • WasteLab: Trash from dump “spiced up with specially selected trash.” “Creativity comes from chaos — stop tidying!”

  • Magentic Groove Memories: cut your own vinyl records and fix up old radios

  • The first maker faire in Aarhus will be 2014

They’ve been building a ladder of involvement, so people can come in for something basic and find themselves increasingly engaged — “small steps that make it possible for people to become more and more free in their thinking.”

They’ve learned that when the community already has hacker spaces and maker spaces, maybe the library should just be a gate to this ecosystem, opening them up to a broader public. Maybe the library is a place where people are introduced to making and working more creatively with their hands. “You can work with maker culture without having a makerspace.” You don’t have to have a room dedicated to machinery, especially for the smaller communities.

Q&A [with six of the Danes responding]

Q: Is this like a library plus the SF Exploratorium

A: Yes.

A: We’re looking at how to create relationships among the patrons, staff, the media…

A: We want to make a place where people get involved in different kinds of competencies.

Q: Many of the other libraries you showed are on the edge of the city. Are you trying to make the library a destination? In Boston I wouldn’t let my 14 yr old grandchild go down to the harbor by himself.

A: In Aarhus, children move through the city at 10-12 yrs old. They can get to the new library by public transportation or bike. But we are trying to transform the city so that it is looking out, not in.

Q: We’re seeing more random innovation in library spaces in this city, as opposed to your carefully planned and articulated change. (1) You’re designers, but it’s about designing the interaction. (2) How can you bring unique, local materials into this interactive environment. (3) At archives, people are now curating their own memories, with a community collective approach. (4) We have generations of professionals, so just building new locations may not change things.

A: In Denmark we have a long tradition of tcollecting of local historical materials. E.g., we have lots of photos of cattle and farms, so we crowd-sourced geolocating them and put on Google Maps. We have a lot of materials that could be used.

A: We have a new project. When you get your grandparents’ old documents, you digitize them and load them on a national server. You’re in control of how open they should be. That’s in test now.

A: We have lot of projects that focus on seniors.

A: At the WasteLab, one of the most active participants was a 70 year old woman. She made herself into the welcoming host. One day she came in with a smart phone she had won. People at the WasteLab sat with her and helped her learn how to use it; she’d found a community to ask. Creating a variety of offers — from more traditional to the newer — involves everyone.

A: We see the library as a space for that kind of relationships.

Q: Are you getting any support from the Royal Library?

A: It has no relationship to public libraries.

Q: Design is crucial. It can signal to people that there’s more here than you expect. Modern libraries send a signal that it’s not only a place for research or study. Putting up those popup labs in your lobby is one of the most useful devices; people are in the experience without having to look for it. It’s the best of what Disney is trying to accomplish. The popup libraries are the gateway drug.

Q: How might this fit into an academic library space?

A: We collaborate with a couple of universities, but they’re two different worlds. University libraries generally see users as people to whom they provide services, rather than as people who can contribute to the library. It’s a question of what the academic libraries want students to do in the library. To read? To learn from other students? You might experiment with a common space to bring together these different communities.

A: You have a lifelong relationship with your local library, but only for a few years with your university library.

Q: Ultimately all libraries are shared resources, whatever those resources are. That’s a great argument for sharing access to all the tools we’ve heard about. Not every library needs its own 3D printer, but they could use access to one.

A: In Norway, a particular university library is divided into five areas, but with big shared spaces with tables, chairs, and menus. Then they put in empty shelves. The room was totally over-crowded and totally re-arranged.

Q: At Tisch Library at Tufts they’re renovating and creating group study space for people working alone but in a public space. Also, they’ve installed a media lab. At the Northeastern U Library, it felt like I was at an airport. There were fixed spaces and terminals, but there must have been 500 students in there. It was like a beehive. At the Madison Public Library they have The Bubbler, media lab and performance space. These are blurring the lines.

[Loved these talks. These folks are taking deep principles and embodying them in their spaces.]

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September 22, 2013

The New Yorker’s redesign: A retreat from text?

The New Yorker has done it’s first major redesign since 2000, although it’s so far only been rolled out to the front of the magazine.

Personally, the return to a more highly stylized typeface is welcome. But I am disappointed that they’ve made the magazine look like more like everything else in the racks. It’s not a lack of originality that bothers me. Rather, it is the retreat from text.

There’s no less text and so far the writing style seems to be the same. Rather, the previous design presented a wall of text, broken up with occasional insets of text, with empty spots filled with text. For example, “Tables for Two” used to be a small, two-column insert into the Goings On section. The type size was the same as the directions on a tube of toothpaste. Now it’s a single column that takes up the entire right-hand three-fifths of a page, in a perfectly readable font, with a quarter-page color photograph at the top, as if to say, “Well look at us! We have so much room that we’re filling it up with a merely pleasant photo.”

There are at least two results in how we take that page. First, “Tables for Two” has turned from a lagniappe into a column. Second, the magazine doesn’t feel like it’s so bursting with things to write about that it had to shoulders goodies into whatever nooks it could find or force.

Sections now are headed by a graphical emblem (e.g., a Deco knife and fork on a plate for the Food & Drink section) that signals that the New Yorker thinks the section titles themselves are not enough for us. Really? What part of “Food & Drink” does The New Yorker think we don’t understand? Why does the New Yorker now believe that mere words are not up to the task?

The New Yorker used to be for people unafraid of climbing a sheer wall of text. It demanded we make judgments about what to read based solely on the text itself; this was even more the case before Tina Brown put the authors’ names at the beginning of the article instead of at the end. But now it’s pandering to the graphical-minded among us. The graphical folks have plenty of other magazines to thumb through lazily. The New Yorker was a text-based trek that had to earn our every footstep.

Don’t go soft on us, New Yorker! We’re not afraid of words. Bring ‘em on!


More to read:


June 29, 2012

[aspen][2b2k] Ideo’s Tim Brown

Tim Brown of Ideo is opening his Aspen Ideas Festival talk with a slide presentation called “From Newton to Design”. He says he’s early in thinking it through.

He points to a problem in how we’ve thought about design, trained designers, and have practiced design. The great thing about designing simple products is that you can know almost everything about them: who made them, who they’re for, how they were produced, etc. But as products get more complicated, it gets harder even for a team of designers to really understand what’s going on. They get so complicated that there are lots of places design can fail.

When we go out to urban planning , that becomes even more obvious, he says. He shows Union Sq. when it was designed and how wildly NYC has grown around it. Or, at the Courtyard Marriott chain, every element of the user’s experience has been thought through. He shows a script that specifies every interaction. But you can’t anticipate everything. E.g., JetBlue is one of the best designed customer experiences and even they got it wrong a couple of winters ago.

What’s going on? It’s all about complexity. Henri Poincaré in the 19th century tried to solve the three body problem that had been set by the French govt as an open source competition. HP couldn’t solve it. It sounds like a simple problem, but it’s very hard. [BTW, there's a fascinating history of three French aristocrats hand-computing the movement of Halley's Comet, which depended on calculating the gravitational influences of multiple bodies. Can't find the ref at the moment]

Our basic ideas about design have been based on Newton, says Tim. Design assumes the ability to predict the future based on the present. We need to think more like Darwin: design as an evolutionary process. Design is more about emergence, never finished.

He presents a few principles of Darwinian design that he’s been exploring.

1. Design behaviors, not objects — the behaviors that come from our interactions with objects. If you’ve traveled on the high speed trains in Europe, there are signs urging men to be more accurate when peeing. But at Schiphol Airport, they print a fly at the right spot in the urinal; men became 80% more accurate. That’s designing behavior; the actual object doesn’t matter.

2. Design for information flow. Nicholas Christakis has looked at how networks affect behavior. Tesco uses its loyalty card — which cost them 20% of their margins — to increase sales.

3. Faster iteration = faster evolution. Viruses evolve faster than we do because they iterate faster than we do. E.g., State Farm tried out a new idea how to build relationships with the new generation. They built one storefront for this, and learned from it. “Launch to learn.”

4. Use selective emergence. This intrigues him, alathough he doesn’t know how useful it will be in design. Rather than random mutations, you choose what might be interesting and design things that get us there through many iterations. I.e., genetic algorithms. E.g., the Strandbeest walks along beaches with a hip joint unlike any in nature because the artist used genetic algorithms.

5. Take an experimental approach. I.e., testing hypotheses. Cf. Eric Ries, the Lean Startup (build, measure, learn). E.g., has been working on sanitation in Ghana. Where you can’t dig septic pits, Ideo has been experimenting with low cost receptacle toilets (with bio-digesters). But people didn’t want to pay for the service. So, they gave some to families and went away for three days. All the families changed their minds and said they are willing to pay for the service (which is provided by a local franchise).

6. Focus on simple rules. This comes from emergence theory. E.g., complex bird flocking patterns are based on simple rules. [Canonical example: Termite mounds.] E.g., Bi-Rite stores in SF uses simple rules: If an employee is within 10′ of a customer, you look the customer in the eye. If within 4′, you talk with them. This creates a wonderful service experience.

7. Design is never done. E.g., World of Warcraft is constantly being designed by its players.

8. The power of purpose. This creates the self-governance these complex environments succeed. Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street are examples. Companies are experimenting with new ways of thinking about their business and products. E.g., Patagonia tells you not to buy its products because it also wants to preserve the environment.

The prototypical design artefact is a blue print. Once you created the blue print, the design was done. It was the instruction set for someone to make it. That’s how we think about design: finish and done. What replaces it: Code. It might be DNA (and Tim has people researching this), but more often it’s programming code. It’s an instruction set that can continue to evolve.

Now James Fallows [swoon] interviews him.

JF: You embody your principles. The rules are differen from a prior version. [ACK! Crash. Missed about 2 minutes]

TB: We’ve just finished designing the prototype experience for the new health care exchanges. It will affect how people choose which health care insurance to choose. Today it’s done with paper. Under the new health care laws, lots of people will get to make these choices. We worked with the CA Healthcare Foundation to prototype the user experience. What are the key pieces are parts? How can we keep the choices reasonably simple? Then each state will use this a platform to develop their own.

JF: And the govt had the wit to come to you to do this?

TB: The CA Health Care Foundation…

JF: What are the barriers? Does it cost more to do it your way?

TB: It’s often less costly. Most often they don’t have a good understanding of what their customers go through. When a health care org comes to us, relatively frequently we find out that a senior exec had to go through the health care experience. It’s true of all organizations. We don’t ask the right questions. The urgency to change is not there, and the resistance to change is always huge.

JF: Has the TSA come to you?

TB: Yes, but … well, we learned a lot. In the previous admin, we worked with them to find areas of change. Although going through the scanners has to improve, a lot of it has to do with the behavior of the people. They looked at a training program that was intended to take away some of the rule-based system they used. The more rules you apply, the less sensitive the system is. You need to give the people in that system much more independence to make judgments.

JF: Who do you hire?

TB: We look for a wide range of people. Many disciplines. We look for deep skills, and for empathy. It’s hard to solve problems for others without that. Also, most of what we do is too complex for individuals, so we work in teams, and thus people need an enthusiasm for empathy.

JF: Any unusual interview techniques?

TB: We put people into a situation in which they’re practicing design. E.g., intern program. Also, competitions. And we use Open Ideo as a way of seeing how people work.

JF: Beyond the toilet, what else are you doing for “design for poverty.”

TB: I got excited when I saw the opportunities for design in some social design work. At Open Ideo we’re working on clean water, early ed programs, etc. is a non-profit org. We want it to be sustainable and scalable so we look for external funding for it.

JF: How do you approach environmental sustainability?

TB: We try to build that into every project. Every project affects the environment. We try to bring sustainable thinking around systems, materials, energy flows, etc.

JF: What projects are you proudest of?

TB: The work we do in health care, including with Kaiser Permanente. Also, consumer-facing, post-crash financial services. PNC digital wallet. “Keep the change.” Etc. This is not an area where design has had much to do.


TB: For physical objects, it peaked maybe 20-30 years ago (with Apple as an exception). But we’re in ascendance for behavior-based designed. We get 25,000 apps a year for 100 openings. We’re a 600-person company. Etsy, Kickstarter, sw designed better than ever before…great things are happening. Soon if not already the number of digital designers will be greater than all other designers combined.

Q & A

Q: Your principles are so close to Buckminister Fuller’s [says the guy from the Fuller institute]. But the boundary between social and evolutionary systems is illusory.

TB: Yes, Fuller figured this out a long time ago. We’re perhaps resurrecting ideas, as every generation does. Design has operated as a priesthood for too long. When I started, I was only interested in how beautiful something is. That’s so much simpler. Opening design up to many more will convince us all that we’re all part of this big design ecosystem and have a responsibility to be thoughtful about the contributions we’re making to the world around us. I hope professional designers learn to enable that, more than controlling it. The B School at Stanford is introducing non-designers to design, which is great.

Q: What can we do to simplify the rules?

TB: The unstated bit of my thesis is that you still have to stop and design something. We develop an idea, perhaps more through iteration. That process doesn’t change. For rebuilding a complex system, maybe big data will help us to see patterns that allow us to understand what we’re designing’s complex effects…but I don’t think we’re there yet. We should be thinking about the hooks we’re building in. I’m big into APIs that allow other people to build with what you’ve built.

Q: Is it training or DNA that determines a good employee for you?

TB: Both. We hire people straight out of grad school because they’re moldable. We hire older people, but it’s harder for them to adapt. I don’t have much control as CEO. The future of all businesses is to have cultures that are a s self-governing as possible. That’s much more resilient and agile than cultures built on inflexible rule sets.

Q: I chair a land conservancy. We create parks in urban areas. Does Ideo have much experience in designing to create behaviors that will get people to use parks? What’s your view of the state of park design?

TB: We don’t have a lot of expertise in designing anything because we like designing everything. The High Line and the West Side park in NYC are remarkable examples. Projects like that show that parks can be remarkable assets to the city. We’re working with High Line on the third phase of that project. NYC’s life expectancy has gone up 3 yrs. Two explanations: People are closer to health facilities, and people walk more.

Q: What are the logistics of running a decentralized org? Mentoring? Sharing a vision?

TB: Purpose creates a sense of direction, so we talk about why the heck we’re doing what we’re doing. We think we should measure everything we do based on the impact it has on the word. We’ve done an occasionally decent job of mentoring; that can be a problem with a decentralized org. It’s a tension. Most of our employees probably want more mentoring, but we also want autonomy. We are not big believers in warehousing knowledge. Designers hate reusing other people’s ideas. It’s much better to have knowledge systems that inspire people to think in new ways. So we’re a storytelling culture. It’s a bit of an obsession of ours. If you do a piece of work, your job is to have some stories to tell about it. That’s more effective than big reports that live in a database somewhere.

(JF calls for all remaining questions)

Q: My group works with at-risk youth. Education is increasingly standards based, but your work is collaborative.

Q: How do you look at chaos? People in open markets are open and affectionate. In corporate controlled spaces, people shut down.

Q: Does form drive function or vice versa?

Q: Apple is a closed system. Google wants more control. Open vs. controlled systems?

TB: 1. University ed is not always the best way to teach entrepreneurship. Apprenticeships are interesting. 2. Great markets are vibrant, but not chaotic. I take clients to the Ferry building to point out all the interrelated pieces that make that such a great experience. It’s not top down, but you can see the patterns and use them as inspiration. 3. Form follow function? Hard to kick that notion because I believe in beautiful engineering, but most things we’re designing today have hundreds of functions, so you can’t get a single form for it. 4. I love closed systems but I think they’re inevitably part of an open system. IOS is part of an open system of everything else that I do with it. We need both. [At last! Something I disagree with! Sort of! :)]

[Fantastic. I've been a huge fan of Ideo's work, and Ideo's organizational ethos, and Tim Brown, for a long time. So I felt particularly narcissistic as I heard this talk through Cluetrain and Too Big to Know lenses. Substitute "knowledge" for "design" and you get a lot of the ideas in 2b2k. To hear them coming from Tim Brown, who is a personal idol of mine, was a self-centered thrill.]


October 8, 2011

The font game

Mark MacKay has created a kerning game that is simplicity itself. Actually, it’s more like a quiz. You’re shown a word in a chosen font and are asked to slide the characters so that it is properly kerned.

It turns out that this is a more complex aesthetic decision than it seems, since it depends on properties such as the weight of the characters and the peculiarities of each face’s design. But you font people knew that already!


June 10, 2011

[hyperpublic] Herbert Burkert

Herbert of Burkert of U ofSt. Gallen is giving a talk. He claims to be ill at ease because he’s a lawyer talking about art, but I’m betting his unease is misplaced :) [Note after the talk: Yup, it was totally misplaced. Delightful talk.]

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

He will structure his comments around two people. 1. John Peter Willebrand (1719-1786). He wrote “the outline of a beautiful city,” rules for “enhancing social happiness in cities.” He tried to coerce people into beauty. Design talk and architecture talk are dangerous, says Herbert. E.g., Le Courbousier designed how people should live. Idealists and Totalitarians do this. Contemporary designers have a more benevolent tone. So, Herbert’s first criterion: Are you actually designing for people? For example, are you imposing your idea of privacy or theirs? And are yo sure that their privacy is everybody’s privacy? How much space opportunities for people to develop and live their own lives to you give to others.

The second person: Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992). She was an Italian architect once charged with turning a factory ground into a recreational area in Sao Paolo. What she built challenged ideas about the relation of work and recreation. The windows look like holes blown into a prison wall. From this Herbert infers that designers should be giving opportunities for social gathering, for cross-generational communication, cross-cultural communication, for variety, and for protected openness. The relation between private and public is a continuum. Is the low wall between seating areas a metaphor for scaled privacy, or should we just give up on the metaphors, at least not from architecture, because we fail to grasp the essence of electronic communication.

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[hyperpublic] Panel 2 :Experience and re-creation

Jeffrey Schnapp introduces the second panel.

Beatriz Colomina gives a brief talk called “Blurred Vision: Architectures of Surveillance.” [I continue to have difficult hearing due to the room's poor acoustics and my own age-appropriate hearing loss. Also, Beatriz talks very fast.] She begins with a photo of a scene framed by windows. Comm is about bringing the outside in. So is glass; glass has taken over more of the building. She points to skyscrapers made of out of glass that have an x-ray aesthetic. It is no coincidence that glass houses and X-rays occur at the same time, she says. X-rays exposed the inside of the body to public eye, while architecture was disclosing the inside of the house to the public eye. X-rays acclimatized us to living in glass houses, including the glass house of blogging. Beatriz talks about architecture that looks further inward, through more and more layers, beyond transparency [I lack acoustic confidence that I'm getting this right. sorry.] With our surveillance equipment, x-ray vision is becoming pervasive, changing the definition of the private.

danah boyd gives a talk: “Teen privacy strategies in networked publics.” She begins by explaining she’s an ethnographer. How do young people think about privacy? The myth is that they don’t care about it, but they do. They care about it but they also participate in very public places. Just because they want to participate in a public doesn’t meant they want to be public. Being active in a public does not mean they want everything to be public to everyone.

Networked publics are publics that are enabled by network technologies, and that are simultaneously spaces constructed through tech and an imagined communities. We are becoming public by default, and private by default. danah quotes at 17yr-old who explains that rather than negotiating publics to make things available one by one, she posts in a public space so it’s available all of them.

New strategies are emerging. Privacy = ability to control a social situation, and to have agency to assert control over those situations. A 14yr old danah interviewed thinks that he’s signalling the social norms in his communications, but people comment inappropriately, so he’s started using some explicit social structures. Another young person deletes comments to her posts after she’s read them, and deletes her own comments on other people’s posts the next day. She’s trying to make the structure work for her.

A 17yr-old likes her mother but feels her mother over-reacts to FB posts. So, when the teen broke up with her boyfriend, she posted the lyrics from “Always look on the bright side of life.” This is social stenography, i.e., hiding in plain sight, for that song is from the crucifixion scene in The Life of Brian.

danah points to an online discussion of a social fight. The kids knew the details. The adults did not know if they were allowed to ask. The kids’ careful use of pronouns controlled access to meaning.

Sometimes we can use the tech, and sometimes we have to adopt social norms. In all of our discussion of privacy about the role of law, tech, and the market, we ought to pay careful attention to the social norms they’re trying to overrule. (She hat tips Lessig for these four.)

Ethan Zuckerman talks about the role of cute cats. Web 1.0 was about sharing info. Web 2.0 is about sharing photos of kittens. This has important implications for activists. The tools for kitten sharing are effective for activists. They’re easy to use, they’re pervasively viral, and there’s tremendous cost to a totalitarian regime trying to censor them because they have to throw out the cute cats with the revolutionary fervor. It raises the cost of censorship.

Ethan says that cute cats have a deep connection to activism. What happened in a dusty little town of 40,000 spread throughout Tunisia, spread because of cute-cat social media. Protests happen, they get filmed and posted on Facebook. FB is pervasive, but makes it extremely find to the content, make sense of it, and translate it. So, local people find it and make sense of it, and feed it to Al Jazeera. Now people can see the events and decide if they want to join in.

Why FB? Because Tunisia has blocked just about everything except FB. They tried to block it in 2008, which resulted in a 3x increase, because Tunisians inferred there was something good about FB. The day before stepping down, Tunisia’s leader offered three concessions: It won’t fire on crowds, it will lower the tax on bread, and it will allow Net freedom.

Tunisia confirms Ethan’s theory, but Egypt is counter-evidence. The Egypt government shut off the Internet. China is manufacturing its own cute cats: you can post all the kitten vids you want on Chinese sites. “This is a much more effective way of combating the cute cat theory.” But it’s expensive and requires a huge amount of human labor to review.

What worries Ethan most is that we’re moving our public discourse into private spaces, e.g. FB and Google. “We’re leaving it up to the owners of these spaces whether we’ll be allowed to use these spaces for political purposes.” It’s not that these spaces are evil. Rather, these digital spaces have been designed for other purposes. They have an incentive to shut down profiles in response to complaints, especially when it’s in a different language. Also, the terms of service are often violated by activist content. And real name identity is often dangerous for activists.

Organizations are slowly but surely figuring out how to deal with this. But it’s slow and very difficult. E.g., video of the army deliberately killing unarmed civilians. These videos violate YouTube’s terms of service ;. But YouTube made an exception, putting up a warning that it’s disturbing video. This is great, but it holds out some basic tensions. For example, it’s not good for advertisers and thus runs against YouTube’s business model.

The challenge is that we have invented these tools to have a certain set of behaviors. We wanted friends to be able to exchange info, and we create terms of service for that. Now we’ve allowed those privately held spaces to become our networked public spheres. But the lines between private and public are not well suited for political and activist discourse. Do we ask corporations to continue hosting these, or do we try to come up with alternatives. We didn’t drive people to YouTube because they were good for activists , but for the other cute cat reasons. Now we have to figure out the right tools.

Q: (zenep) Value of real name policies?
Ethan: It may be that we need public interest regulation of some of the policies of these corporations.
danah: Our tech will make real names no longer the best and only way to identify you. Systems of power will be able to identify people, and no amount of individual hiding within a collective will work. We need to rethink our relation to power as individuals and collectives.

Paul: We shouldn’t forget that it’s not just corporations. It’s American corporations. to shut down WikiLeaks you just need Visa and Mastercard.
Ethan: WikiLeaks is vulnerable to credit card platforms because DDoS attacks made it move off its own platform to Amazon’s, and Amazon is vulnerable to such pressure. The Amazons have special responsibilities. Also, we’re now advising activists to always make sure there’s an English-language description of your material when you put it up on YouTube, etc., so that the YouTube admins can evaluate the take-down claims that arise.

Jeff Jarvis: Regulation is the wrong way. The question what is the def of a public space for public speech. Other than lobbying private corps, what’s the right way?
Ethan: Rebecca MacKinnon’s upcoming book, Consent of the Networked, argues that we need to have a revolutionary moment in which the users of these spaces rise up these spaces and use the companies that are open to supporting them. Ultimately though, we don’t have a way to do a FB in a decentralized fashion. We can’t have a networked conversation without having some degree of centrality.
danah: Corporations have incentives that sometimes align with users’. There’s a lot of power when users think about alignment. Sometimes it’s about finding common interests, or social norms at a legal or social. It’s good to find those points of alignment.

Q: danah, have you seen designs that are more conducive to people following social norms?
danah: The design question can miss the way in which the tech is used in various contexts. E.g., you can design in tons of privacy, but nothing stops a parent from looking over the shoulder of a child. People will adjust if they understand the design. Design becomes essentially important when there are changes. It’s important for designers to figure out how to tango with users as the design evolves.

Q: [tim from facebook] Every design for any networked system has consequences. The choice that has always bedevilled me: the same system that finds fake accounts for activists also identifies fake accounts from secret police. How do we avoid building systems that create a pseudo sense of privacy?
ethan: People do things with social platforms that we never intended. Admirable or dangerous. How to figure out? It’s got to be an ongoing process. But, as danah says, changing those decisions can be dangerous and disruptive. We need to have some way of opening up that process. The activist community should be involved in evolving the terms of service so that it doesn’t recognize just the legitimate law enforcement, but also recognizes the needs of activists and citizens. It should not just be a process for lawyers but also for citizens.
danah: What is the moral environment in which we want to live. What outs activists can also out human traffickers. Some of the hardest questions are ahead of us.

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June 25, 2009

[reboot] Matt Webb

Matt Webb is part of a small design company. He’s not a designer.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

He collects definitions of design: “Design is the conscious and intuitive effort to impost meaningful order” – Victor Papanek. One of his colleagues, Jack Schulze, says “Some people (they are wrong) are about solving problems. Obviously designers do solve problems, but then so do dentists. Design is about cultural invention.” Problem solving is hard but isn’t enough, says Matt. But what is culture? Culture is “the things that make life interesting” (Bruno Munari). “The designer of today reestablishes the long lost contact between art and the public,” said Munari. Art often began as functional objects — drapes, urns — so why shouldn’t our own objects be art?

Matt is going to be a chain of consciousness talk about what makes his life interesting. [My live blogging will magnify whatever choppiness there is.]

He shows faces drawn using an algorithm that bases feature size on baseball stats. (Chernoff faces?) These are macroscopes (John Thackara’s term) . Designers have macroscopes. Macroscopes shows where you are in the big context, human-scale. He shows a Here & There projection of NYC that shows where you are and where you culd be simultaneously. “It’s a kind of superpower.”

In 1959, Sen. Fulton supposed that a tomato in space might be 2D and a million mile square. In 1972, NASA finally released a photo of the entire earth. That’s a macroscope. “We need macroscope ideas.” Even the cleverest people in the world can’t tell us a coherent story of the economic collapse. The scale difference is too huge: If you can see the whole thing, the happenings are invisible, whereas if you can see the happenings, you can’t see the whole thing. People in this room might be able to create macroscopes that could help us understand it.

Now Matt talks about superpowers. In Kalarippayattu “the body becomes all eyes” and you are ready for anything. In a reverse power, your eyes become hands: Anything you can see, you can touch. Among the yoga super powers: To become mute, unheavy, large, levitate, telekineses, self-hypnosis, “the ability to touch the moon with one’s fingertip.” Matt then quotes JFK’s commitment to putting a person on the moon. JFK was a “yogic master with the supernatural power to touch the moon with this fingertip.” It took a million man-hours of technical study, 300,000 Americans and 20,000 corporations. What’s our generation’s equivalent of the moon landing? Might be Wikipedia. Where do we spend our next 100 million hours?

The moon landing came out of a command culture. 300,000 people worked and 12 people went to the moon. Wikipedia came out of a collaborative, participatory culture. E.g., , (house reports status), (uses excess capacity for producing papers). He reads an extended quote from Ze Frank. “When people start something new, they perceive the world around them differently.” We become aware of how the media manipulate us.

Matt’s challenge: Put aside 100 hours to work on someting. ” When you participate in culture —not solving problems but inventing culture — that’s when life gets interesting.” [Great talk. Posted without being proofread.]

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June 16, 2009

[berkman] Beth Kolko: Form, Function and Fiction

Beth Kolko is giving a Berkman lunchtime talk on what her group, Deiagn for Digital Inclusion, has been doing. It’s an interdisciplinary group.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

[Beth talks quickly. Hard to keep up.] The questions driving her group’s work: What ICTs are adopted in diverse communities and why. What do they do with ICTs? The aim is to design better technologies and policies.

When we name a technology, she says, we assume technologies have consistent meanings across cultural contexts. But that’s not true. There’s a whole lot of slippage. If you study diversity across disciplines, there’s a lot of research that says that diversity lends robustness. Without diversity, systems are fragile. He groups wants to make design more aware of diversity.

How do you have a conversation that brings in the hardware and software folks, and the social science folks? She says that in her talk, the division between form and function will get smudgy.

Beth says that if you say you study the developing world, they get sleepy because they don’t see how it relates to what they’re doing. So, she and others have reframed this as “resource constraint.” This removes the geographic focus. It also makes it dynamic, not static. Resources can be anything from economic and educational to screen size. The question is: How do you design to accommodate this complexity.

She goes through the methods for the Central Asia portion of her work. It’s quantitative and qualitative. Surveys every year, four countries, 1000 people in each. Interviews with different populations, usabilities tests, ethnography.

Form of tech in resource-constrained environments

1. Internet as weather-dependent technology. In Cambodia in a small village, the Net goes down after it rains because it interrupts the satellite access. The Net is neither ubiquitous nor constant. In Central Asia, access is far more sporadic and they are on for far less time in each session than is typical in, say, Cambridge, MA.

2. Internet as a public resource. Beth’s Central Asian research use the Net about equally at a home, at a friend’s home, and at school/work.

3. Mobile phone as bank. The use of phones for banking has design implications, e.g., how visible is your password?

Function of tech in resource-constrained environments

1. ICTs as strengthener of social neworks. With demographics taken off the table, people who use conventional social networks are more likely to use technology. And people who use technology are more likely to trust others. [I think I got that wrong.] Most people in Beth’s studies use their mobile phones at least once a day.

2. Mobiles as a platform for fraud. Beth got a 419 Nigerian scam SMS msg when in Kenya. “What we use mobiles for is complex.”

3. SMS as a weapon. The role of SMS in revolution. She points to Iran.

4. Games as tech training. Games provide the first touch of ICT for many people. It’s cheaper in Cental Asia to play LAN games than access the Net. About 64% of game players are urban, and 63% are men.

From understanding to building

In one project, they studied how people used mobiles, they’re use of social networks, and the pain points of everyday life. (This is “design ethnography.”) They decided to look at mobile social software (MoSoSo), and a public transporation project (Starbus). They tried to adopt the notion of “personas” based on their surveys and interviews. (Personas are models of typical users.) MoSoSo allows recommendations filtered through one’s social network. Starbus addresses the problem that intercity buses don’t depart until they’re filled. Starbus puts a GPS box on the buses so they can send SMS msgs about where the bus is. You can text it to find out when it will come to the stop near you.

MoSoSo and Starbus both arise from the research that drills down into what it means to be an Internet user.

Q: When do porn and gambling enter the equation?
A: Not gambling because of banking issues. Plenty of porn.

Q: Why do people who use the Net report higher levels of trust?
A: Don’t know.

Q: Correlation between quality of life and Internet use?
A: Hard to know what that means.

Q: Are the public access centers set up by gov’t agencies or entrepreneurial people?
A: The latter.

Q: [me] If I were a businessperson designing for a market…
A: Avoid generalizations about that people X do Y. Get real data about how people are actually using the tech. E.g., if people don’t have GPS in their phones, Starbus opens up the GPS on the bus as a community resource.

Q: [lokman] You have longitudinal studies. Does the slower adoption rate come because of a lack of local content.
A: We’ve done captures of web sites from ’03 or ’04. We’ve looked at the change over time. Until ’07 or ’08, the government site at Uzbekistan said the purpose of the site was to restrict info. I suspect the variance in adoption rate has to do with the split between communication and information tech. Abstract info doesn’t resonate in resource-constrained environments.

Q [colin]: Also, the lack of new media literacy. How does trust and social networks feed into that?
A: The issue of info literacy gets complicated in a post-Soviet context. What looks like media illiteracy may be a different type of media literacy. People sometimes mimeograph materials off the Net and distribute them, which is a different type of media literacy. [Tags: ]


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