A year or so ago, I was invited by the executives at the company where I worked to participate in a series of soul-searching business strategy meetings. At some point in the second or third session, I dropped a bomb. The core problem of interactive agencies, and indeed of the whole agency model, I argued, was that the work being produced was simply mediocre.
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Essays on the web and tech, rants about media and transportation, and raves about art and the city.
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I rant. Too often. About things that don't work. Things that should work.
July 2014. Hundreds of little broken things, and the lesson of a lifetime.
A meditation on information, time, and the patina of the World Wide Web. Originally a set of notes for a talk given at Paris Web 2013, and prepared in open collaboration with old friend and partner in crime Karl Dubost.
Welcome to 21st century, where travel isn't so much adventure, more like a pesky phase transition.
A few thoughts on how the concept of impermanence applies to digital design. Does the web rust? does information always decay? Is the material of the web wood that gets a beautiful patina with age and use, or only gets ugly and crumbles away?
Helping explain photographic exposure and camera settings. By drawing a bucket.
I could have let it fossilise. stop using it. Leave my content there. Read only. I chose to let it rust.
I shoot expired film. I have a number of weird cameras, some way older than myself, some more recent but equally going against the grain of the unstoppable hyper-sharp-giga-pixel photography trend. I even process my own film, usually flouting the instructions and treating my chemicals in ways that should get Amnesty banging at my door some day.
If the job of a contemporary newsroom is the “curation of now”, are we doing ourselves a disservice by limiting the contribution of the readers (the “crowd”) to comments, the occasional citizen journalism, and a very limited form of curation of interesting news by popularity? Time to explore a new deal between editorial and reader, between interestingness and importance of news.
Notes from the Silicon Valley car culture.
One day, perhaps, Web historians will be arguing vehemently about the term “web site” (circa end of 20th Century, origin unknown). I am afraid my site and its history – if any trace remains, will puzzle them a fair bit.
Innovation means testing a lot of ideas and methods, and unless you are obscenely lucky – failing a lot. The key is to learn, and fail (or succeed) fast. One thing I learned recently through an exercise in rapid, user-driven prototyping workshop: a little suspension of disbelief can help innovation go faster.
Having finally had a chance to unpack some of my books from the cardboarded existence I’ve had to impose on them in the past few months, I have had a chance to do a bit of reading, recently. One of the books I’m almost through is Christopher Alexander’s “Notes on the Synthesis of Form”. An early work of the theorist of architecture and father of “pattern languages” (I seem to recall it was his doctoral thesis), “Notes” is often touted as Maths-meet-Architecture, for its focus on graph theory, systems, subsystems and their dependencies.
Last month, I was in the happy few attending the first London installment of the "Systems/Layers Walkshop" organised by Adam and Nurri of Do Projects.
He's hunched on the counter, coddling his drink, taking short sips between jokes, pouring his heart out. On the other side, the owner nods between orders and on occasion whips out a witty reply to his guest.
On archiving, or deleting, old tweets
First visit at the British Museum: an example of both the best and the worst of exhibition design.
It starts with smell. The smell of rain. The dry smell of rain, as the first drops hit the stone pavement. When you enter the immense hall of the tate modern, this smell the first thing that will hit you, followed shortly by the sound of ghosts raking the field of Ai Weiwei's sunflower seeds as monks would a zen garden full of small pebbles. Ten centimeters deep, and the surface of a couple basketball fields.
It's hard to fall in love when the heart's already taken. I was decided to give London a fair chance. Surely, the costly and exhausting move in the middle of winter, when my typical working day would hardly let me see the light of day and only let me see the new city through a veil of night and rain, surely all this would be handicap enough without me making it even harder.
In exactly one month, I will be hopping on a plane to London (UK, not Ontario) to join a new job, a new city, a new life.
How a blog post got me to talk with the Dalai Lama on the CBC. Sort of…
On getting lost when you first join an Open Source project
The Facebook "like" button, in the wild
In the past weeks, my team has been using a live subject for experiments. Unethical, I know, but how fun! We are basically taking the Pheromone Lab, now almost a venerable blog with a year or so in existence, and seeing how we can push it in a completely different direction: as a blog it was a very nice repository of thoughts and ideas. We knew some people were reading, but it felt like a museum in there.
An article published this morning in the NY Times, titled « To Win Over Users, Gadgets Have to Be Touchable» notes how quickly tactile interfaces have been adopted by consumers, so quickly indeed that they now are frustrated whenever a device does not react, as they would expect, to a swipe or a tap.
At a turning point in the movie, we are shown a room where a dozen people, all hooked to a machine that lets them share a collective dream, come to sleep a few hours every day. Those people are us.
After moving on my own to 4 large cities in the past 15-ish years, and visiting quite a few more, I can start to list a number of behavior patterns which say a lot about myself, obviously, but also about the urban systems. As a puzzled, stressed and curious newcomer, whether I quickly and fully embrace a system, or whether I avoid it for a long time is an interesting measure of how “usable” the system is. Take public transportation for example.
The back-alley of my Montreal appartment has been, for the past month, an observation deck to the work of three different crews adding an extra floor to buildings on the other side of the alley – going from two storeys to the more Montreal-usual three.
in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence
Three children play in a field, not far from some ruins. The place is beautiful, eerily quiet.
Stereotypes in work-roles and groupthink within company subcultures.
The Web as an information ecosystem is not in danger. On the other hand, the paradigm of the web "site" as a space you travel to is, I believe, moribund. It is a major shift that finds its origin, among other things, in the development of mobiles.
I don't care where you are right now. I really don't.
On the iPhone/Flash hooha.
How can a company remain innovative through its growth? Most simply fail – with a bureaucratic management style that thinks that innovation can be achieved by having bosses yell “be creative” at their staff; other use turnover as an innovation tool: hire creative minds, squeeze out whatever can be squeezed in, then throw away the burnt out zombie and hire new people. But what about companies that seem to succeed in being – and remaining – innovation centers?
Mashups were all the rage but a few years ago! Fast forward a few years, and the world mashup is hardly ever uttered - or at least, very seldom without a hint of sarcasm. What happened?
Years ago, when I was part of an improv theatre group, we had to abide strictly by one rule: never say "no", but rather, always say "yes, and". The rule was meant to ensure that no-one would kill the flow of improvisation and that everyone's effort would serve to push the skit further and further forward. The "yes, and" rule has been wonderful guidance for my communication style ever since: whenever I stuck to it, I found that I would resolve conflicts and get teams moving forward much easier.
Starting the year with a (virtual) change of address
As the landscape of web-ready devices become less segregated between “Desktop”, “Smartphones” and “Mobile”, and as we advance towards a more continuous ecosystem, we need to learn to design flexible interfaces that can adapt to a wide range of size, resolution, capabilities and modes of use.
A movie review I was recently reading stated, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, thatAction movies are basically children's movies for adults. That is to say that they are expressly designed to hit very specific pleasure centers to generate a predictable and uniform reaction.
Walking is man's own, unique in the animal kingdom. Michel Serres, the charming thinker, rambles on in a gorgeous short podcast episode (in French) about how the walking pace, like the rhythm of the beating heart, is one of the most effective stimulants for thought.
No changing of place at a hundred miles an hour will make us one whit stronger, happier, or wiser. There was always more in the world than men could see, walked they ever so slowly; they will see it no better for going fast. The really precious things are thought and sight, not pace.
I'm too lazy to build a real iphone app over the week-end, but I wanted to prove that it doesn't cost tens of thousands of dollars to provide bixi users mobile access to the status of the stations. 30 minutes and about as many lines of python later…
For the first decade I spent working in Technology and the Web, I never really had a Job title. My roles and responsibilities varied from project to project, and I never felt like a single title would do my work justice. So it is with a certain feeling of excitement that, in 2009, I signed for a job with a clear title: “Web Architect”.In hindsight and with a little honesty, I had very little idea what that meant.
One of my favorite recent pastimes has been the listening of TED talks. I can't express how much I admire this conference, the themes it tackles, the great speakers it secures, and the smart, smart move of making all the talks available for free on the web, booming its exposure to the world and making it a conference more people want to attend, not fewer. Chew on that, RIAA, MPAA and your ilk. If anything, TED should be renamed along the lines of “1000 ways to make the world a better place”, which would be much more fitting than “Technology, Entertainment and Design”.
On the occasion of the first “Ada Lovelace Day”, which aims to highlight remarkable women in technology as potential role models for present and future generations of women, I started looking for the epitome of the “Renaissance Woman”.
I like the people working at my usual supermarkets. Nice, friendly, helpful people. I have a special fondness for the people, often kids, working on packing the customers' purchases into bags. That's a fairly dull job, quite likely awfully paid, and yet they do the job, and they do it well.
Before the 20th century, travel was slow: months on a boat or on roads. Travel was the hardships of migration for most, formative fun for the well off, and adventure for novel heroes. Then came a century of wars and population displacement. But between those wars, a few strange things happened. The 1930s saw the invention of paid vacation, and thus, mass tourism.
Bus stops are far more interesting and useful places to have art than in museums. (Says Banksy)
For the past few years, I have been extremely lucky to work on some really wonderful projects, with millions of customers, a healthy user community, and a very good karma for the service they provide to the world. I've been paid to spend up to half of my time working on those projects. And yet, these projects never made a penny. I've been working in the strange world of open source / free software.
With a generation scattered around the globe, with friends from Oslo to Buenos Aires, from New York to Shanghai, I share a recurring dream. Not a month passes without hearing about that dream, or having it myself: living in one big house with all my friends, my family, all my loved ones.
I can't remember when was the last time I went to see a performance of contemporary dance. Probably never did. Theatre, sure, opera too – although I clearly spent more time in the last decade at museums or rock concerts than opera houses, I am equally comfortable banging my head in a muddy radiohead concert or swoon in the “poulailler” of Paris' opera for Le Nozze de Figaro.
A stroll among rice fields in Chiba, and an escapade in the Nagano mountains as an excuse for noodling on “urban exodus”
How a photo project along Tokyo's Yamanote train line became a visual haiku, and later, a book.