As with most recent scaled protests, Occupy Wall Street has a virtual presence. The simple wearethe99percent tumblr highlights and aggregates stories of individuals in the movement. Moving beyond story sharing, some are also leveraging web-based networks to organize direct actions. Applying grassroots mapping and adapting an online balloon mapping kit, a few folks recently organized a collaborative aerial mapping of downtown occupy wall street. Reflecting a more distributed form of organizing, on youtube this guy is asking folks to keep wall street occupied, and to continue communicating with wall street when not protesting on site, by sending back junk mail. His youtube call for action has a healthy thread of comments, perhaps similar to the face-to-face comraderie created on the streets.
A few months ago, I tried a snail mail to email experiment. It stemmed from a backyard bbq conversation on how with cell phone texts, email was becoming snail mail, which quickly tangented to how amazing it is that letters addressed only to "Santa Claus" can get to the right designated spot. Out of curiosity I mailed a letter to a friend with only his email as the address and only my email as the return address to see if the letter could get to him. Given the company has only one office and one person with his name/email, theoretically it would be really easy to deliver the letter to the correct location. The only obstacle is automation and a human caring enough to intercept and solve the easy mystery of the wayward note. So far it's still in the land of lost letters.
Would getting a letter have made my friend happy, more happy than getting the same sentiment in an email from me? On that thought, have noticed a few recent projects that hint at a nostalgia for snail mail, and traces of the human touch. Ironically, in these projects you first use the internet to send digital directions that's then passed to a complete stranger to create snail mail for your friend. Somehow the interluding human creates a magic touch that pixels, likewise generated from you, still don't provide. The lovely Snail Mail My Email project let people email letters to be handwritten and mailed to the recipient. The month long project attracted so many people that the founder ended up recruiting 200+ volunteers who eventually handwrote and mailed over 10K letters. At another new site, people can digitally send themselves snail mail care packages. The happiness-creating site Quarterly Co lets you sign up to receive physical items in the mail every 3 months curated by a personality of your choice; a twist on following a tastemaker's twitter/blog/interweb post of favorite things.
After a long posting hiatus, semi-back. To paraphrase Bre Pattis, "You need to have more than one parent for your digital designs." I was happily surprised when a series of individuals on Flickr created derivative art from one of my photos. It was rather amazing to see the creative diversity stimulated from a basic image. But moreso, there was something special about the social nature of seeing a thread of peoples' derivatives from the same source, and something special about the personal acknowledgements of inspiration.
Similarly, in a fun talk about the future of digital things, Bre shared some anecdotes about the digital to physical mashups (and memes) that he's been noticing on Thingiverse, a place where people can submit and share their 3D designs. A simple gangsta spawned the Thingiverse community to create rabbitsta, yodasta, ColbertSta, bobbleheadsta, chessta -- basically any head imaginable stuck on top the gangsta body to create new sta's.
Jumping a bit to a slightly different translation of digital meets physical. Along the theme of thoughts about how we are evolving our culture of sharing, it was interesting to see the story of Jonathan's Card unfold. It was an experiment in collective sharing of physical goods and virtual currency. Jonathan made his Starbucks card available for anyone to use or add to for coffee. Like all things digital and shared on the Internet, unpredictable mashups happened. There was general evidence of generousity as people kept the balance positive, adding and spending $8K within a month. Then came an unexpected mashup, as one individual wrote a script that took and transfered money off Jonathan's card onto his own card (with the intent for the funds to then be donated to a charity, Save the Children). Unfortunately, the end result was Jonathan's card got shut down, but I suspect experiments in sharing across digital to physical will continue to crop up.
With custom software developed using openKinect and openFrameworks, Be Your Own Souvenir by Blablablab let people pose and generate action-figures of themselves. Three kinect sensors captured 360 degree scans of each person. Meshlab used the combined input pointclouds to create a Poisson reconstruction (cleaned via Blender and Skeinforge) before sent to print.
With the price point of 3D printers going down, imagine we'll be seeing more varients on these tangible representations of self. To my friends designing that mega candy store, I think 3D printing of visitors into candy statues would be a hit.
Walkers, subway riders, and drivers often listen to songs as the soundtrack to their journey. Wonder what it would sound like if my commute actually made music for me -- if my paths formed notes and beats, would i like the song?
While not music-fying real journeys, Isle of Tune's visual interface makes music from street layouts (placement of roads, lights, trees, houses as the sound elements and movement of cars as the needle). This is the one I made (should have added one more car). Closer to reality, mta.me turns NYC's subway (1972 version) into a "real-time" instrument. Each train line generates a string (length determines pitch). Using data from MTA's public API, the trains head towards the end of their line at a speed estimated according to trip schedules (more detail). The subway's song is actually quite lovely. I especially love the strumming effect.
Haven't tried it, but those looking to quickly prototype music apps for the iPhone or iPad might want to check out iRTcmix, port of older RTcmix music/DSP language to iOS and a Max/MSP environment.
Delayed hearting of this time lapse video of Twitter data visualizations. The dynamic "pulse of the nation" was generated from mood coding over 300 million tweets collected over three years, using an ANEW word list. Patterns revealed included highest level of happy tweets in early morning and late evening; and geographic variations with the west coast showing happier tweets consistently three hours behind the east coast.
A different type of animation below, collaboratively created in three days by three animators using nothing but Google Docs. From skydiving with Google Earth to controlling World of Warcraft with Kinect's sensor, this past year's pulse of creativity has been pretty amazing and encouraged by the hackability of low cost tools.
Tableau is a nightstand that bridges the physical and digital. It drops photos it sees from its Twitter feed into its drawer for its owner. Similarly, images placed in its drawer are posted to its Twitter (scanner/printer discreetly inside).
Tableau's maker, John Krestner, calls it an anti-computer experience. Seems like many people and projects are craving rustic wood and the physical charm of pre-internet days. (Not so oddly mirroring the vintage aesthetic currently trendy in brooklyn bars). Phtopl.us is another tangible interface project that favors physical photos and wooden devices. The Photo Plus machine plays back digital audio stories about physical photos (simply tagged using unique QR codes to recognize each photo).
Jumping back to Krestner, he may have a market when he commercializes some of his supermachanical projects. Made of leather rather than wood, check out his beautiful Proverbial Wallets that provide tactile feedback on our electronic money transaction and balances.
What would a census based on online dating profiles reveal? Love the maps Luke Dubois created for his soon to be exhibited "A More Perfect Union" project -- born of post-breakup openness to any kind of mate, willingness to sign up for every major data site, and nerdy info computation curiousity. Text frequency visualized on U.S. maps uncover amusing geographic variations in characteristics -- how shades of shyness vary across states and how some towns should be renamed "Skeptical", "Hammered", "Compulsive", "Strapless"...
I've started collecting quotes (originals potentially accepted). One by Ze Frank has stuck in my head recently, “We have a lot of 1:1 design, which is essentially the way we communicate. We have a lot of 1:M design, which is most of the design industry. We’re starting to see M:M design, which is a lot of the collaboratively creative projects. What I’d like to see more of is M:1 design where a lot of us come together and we try to solve one particular problem in a single person’s life, like: Make Mike less lonely! ...many of us have similar problems - so says The Google - but the devil’s in the details and I think it would be inspiring to see a whole bunch of talented designers try to deal with the minutia of a single person’s interest - not designing for the middle but one very particular point… it would be inspiring to see all those lenses focus their attention on a single thing that at first glance might seem ordinary…" In the realm of advertising and entertainment, a few reality tv-esque projects have broadcasted and put individuals' life decisions at the whim of crowd twitter suggestions (Dating Brian, David on Demand). Closer to many-to-one design that aims for thoughtful answers is LifeEdited. TreeHugger founder Graham Hill is challenging the public to help him radically reduce his footprint and live happily with less space (420 sf apartment) and less stuff. So far, I like this transformer tablebed, which runs up and down on four pipes spending the day up at the ceiling.
During a moment of eye-wandering on the subway, noticed an ad for Agent Anything offering any errand, anytime, anywhere (in new york). Despite the ad and useful matchmaking between busy people with $ and flexible college students without $, Agent Anything's current mission list is rather scant. Perhaps Craigslist already made that market simple enough. Or perhaps the site needs more personal profiles and ratings like the many services popping up to facilitate selling bits and pieces of one's life. From Fiverr marketing things you can do for 5 bucks, to Snapgoods renting your stuff, and Airbnb renting your home, will we soon be able to easily contract out every under-used piece of us? Similar to Kickstarter, Etsy, and Kiva, there is also a refreshingly human feel to some of these 1:1 life marketplaces. Given its easy to overcook for one, a friend of mine is even building a service, "Kitchen Surfing", where people can find and share home-cooked meals and dinner tables. E.g. I'm cooking fancy pasta in my east village apartment at 7pm and have room/extras for 2 more.
Two recent books You Are Not A Gadget and Program or Be Programmed raise a common call to action: we must not be complacent about who designs and how they design technology experiences. Lanier (among other points) cautions about lock-in and encourages designers to create novel alternatives, not just mash-ups or pulls from Facebook, Twitter, etc. Rushkoff points to the few who can actually respond to Lanier's challenge, drawing a contrast to spoken and written languages like English -- for the first time the majority does not know how to write programming, they can only read/listen.
Agreeing with many of those ideas, I'm also optimistic after attending events like last night's NYTech Meetup. Curated by Evan Korth, the theme was about building an inventive tech community, and specifically how to deepen ties to academia (something I've recently been working towards), where there is some pure space for experimentation. Some projects that caught my eye (coming from both young hackers as well as professors) offer different interfaces and ways of architecting information:
Zooburst! (NYU): augmented reality pop-up books
The Ghost (NYU): dynamic user-programmable MIDI controller in guitar form
Touch Tone Tanks (Brown): multi-player game projected onto walls that uses conference number and mobile phones as controllers to move and shoot
WordsEye (Columbia): text to 3D image storytelling tool
SMS AppStore for the developing world (NYU): creating 140 byte constrained apps, for medical records and other needs, servicing low-end mobile devices
Squidball (NYU): motion capture games for crowds
Not showcased last night, but circling back to the topic of technological progress, codecomputerlove made this "pong game" awhile back, half in html5 and half in Flash, which visualizes that debate in a very literal way.
My word of the week is gameful. “Gameful means to have the spirit, or mindset, of a gamer: someone who is optimistic, curious, motivated, and always up for a tough challenge. It’s like the word “playful”—but gamier."(Jane McGonigal) It's also the name of a Secret Headquarters for worldchanging games. I've been among the early backdoor members checking out the loose boards before the public launch yesterday.
The Secret HQ has various social network features like profiles, groups, activity feeds, a messaging system, community blog, wiki, and classifieds to support collaboration. What may set it apart is the Game of Gameful. Its intentional about productive fun and is a case example of using games-based achievement and incentive systems to build a community. Starting with well-designed rewards for early backers (with titles like Mega Brain Meld, Hero’s 12-Pack, Awesome Circle, Secret Fiero Monster and Gameful Fairy), its Kickstarter page generated over 3000% of its ask. On the site, everyone gets a virtual pet, a Fiero monster. Participating in the Gameful community and completing challenges breaks Fiero monsters out of their shells and level up. A Mayor's Office helps newbies get started with challenges. Two secret missions are already at play (individual puzzle pieces sent to Kickstarter backers to reconnect in the real world). With the public launch comes the first official Challenge, enter a "Make Lord Kelvin Proud" game design contest with a $1000 reward (make a game to improve something good that can be measured). Of course (and potentially most interestingly), Fiero monsters are welcome to create and invite folks to play their own or group-sourced challenges too.
The meta challenge (how to harness an idealistic community's potential and tap into the 3 billion hours/week we spend playing digital games) is the main storyline I'll be following. ARGs like EVOKE were a start; let new games begin!
The folks at BERG and Dentsu are exploring screening surfaces and playing with the popular 'glowing rectangles' that inhabit our world. They invented a new photographic/stop-animation technique for making media. Software models of 3-dimensional typography, objects and animations are created and cross sections of the models are rendered like a virtual CAT scan to create a series of sliced outlines. Those are played back as movies on the surface of an iPad and extrude 3-d light forms as the iPad moves through space. That movement is recorded through long exposures (multiple exposures in composite to create a film like the one above). More on the method here.