Monthly Archives: December 2007

A Speechification player you can embed

Hey. Look over there! In the right-hand nav. Yes, it’s a Speechification player. You can now listen to top speech radio picks from the Speechification crew right here at Bowblog.com. The player is a clever blend of RSS and Yahoo Pipes or something. We got the idea from Giles who did it first and Roo made ours. The player is a thing of beauty (that’s Yahoo’s handiwork) and you can just click on that little ‘Y’ icon and copy the code to paste into your own blog (you might need to adjust the width of the embed but that’s easy and the player is very forgiving: it’ll squeeze into really narrow places). Of course, you can also listen by subscribing to the podcast or just visit the web site.

Mapping the Obsolescence Space

Apple 40SC HDD

This weekend I threw away (I mean really threw away, like into a skip): three Apple inkjet printers (obsolete interface, Appletalk), an Apple 40MB (that’s MB, not GB) hard disk drive (obsolete interface, SCSI), five modems, from 9.6K to 56K (obsolete interface and totally obsolete, pre-broadband model of cyberspace, obviously).

Dozens of SCSI leads and terminators (see above), two old Apple keyboards (obsolete interface, ADB), dozens of ethernet drop leads (not obsolete I suppose, just not used in our house any more), a 100Mb Zip drive (obsolete hardware format), a 40Mb Syquest drive (obsolete on so many levels), five old Powerbook batteries, two old Powerbook power supplies (one from a 180c, the awesome colour Powerbook from 1993!)

I didn’t throw away: two Apple Newtons, one Apple eMate (which is actually a Newton in a clamshell case), Newton chargers, docks, modems, styli and a really dopey Newton keyboard, an Apple Imagewriter II dot matrix printer (obsolete interface, obsolete print method, just can’t bear to part with my first printer!)

I felt obliged to record this lot but I think what I really ought to do is put them onto a timeline or something, maybe a big floaty map thing. An ‘obsolescence map’, a visual way of tracking the arrival and the departure of media and computing technologies. Once adopted they feel so solid and permanent but they’re really so ephemeral and we’re losing them fast. Should we be preserving these second-order technologies? Peripherals, buses, storage, printing, input, output? Will we miss them in forty or fifty years time if we don’t?

I heart shopfronts

Got a little project going over at flickr. It’s called The Global Shopfront Library (grand, huh?). I love shopfronts, you see. Good ones are like vivid, friendly paintings. Walking down an interesting street with a real variety of shops on either side (current favourite: St Albans Road, Watford) is like watching a movie about the community you’re in.

Of course, that’s why you need the variety. A string of just-like-all-the-others chainstores is paralysingly boring (although the efforts made by chainstore managers to make their shopfronts stand out are often a treat in themselves).

So, what I want to do is build a huge kind of worldwide guidebook to the imagination and invention of shopkeepers everywhere. In fact, in my imagination it’s a kind of colourful flickbook of shopfronts. The Flickr group is here and I’ve put up a simple web page at shopfrontlibrary.com. You can also keep up with new additions by following the group on Twitter (imagine! shopfronts on your phone!).

So, obviously, I’d like you to add your own photos to the pool (you need to join the group first) and encourage others to do so. If you’re going to add pics, you could geotag them and then they’ll show up on the map, which already looks pretty cool and global. If you’d like to help (who wouldn’t?), drop me a line and you could be an admin for the group.

Welcome to the Darwinian Disco

I was down among the hairies and the smooths in Brighton today, at Ivan’s Widgety Goodness. I was test marketing my new catchphrase: ‘the Darwinian disco’. It went over large and I expect a book deal within the month. Anyway, a few people (well, two), asked for the words I read out, so here they are, more or less.

The term ‘widget’ stands for the output of the industrial-era manufacturing economy. It’s about uniformity and flawless repetition: Ford and Sloan and mass production. It comes in any colour so long as it’s black.

‘Widget’ in the networked era stands for something different.

I’m going to characterise the first wave of the web – the first ten years or so – as the Newtonian period. Let’s call it the ‘Newtonian Nexus’. An era of massive software entities: web sites and applications, floating in a space uniform in all directions, doing their predictable gravitational thing.

Widgets usher in a new era and a new kind of web. It’s not Newtonian: it’s Darwinian. Let’s call the post-widget web the ‘Darwinian Disco’, a more chaotic, less predictable environment: more like a forest ecology than the vacuum of space. Hot, not cold. Lumpy, not uniform. Frenetic, not static (look: it’s a long time since I went to a disco, OK?).

Web sites (those Newtonian objects) are pretty easy to understand because they usually reproduce the structures and processes of their parents: the businesses that built them. Home pages map neatly onto brands and business units: tabs to departments, pages to products.

Widgets are harder to interpret. They don’t helpfully duplicate the businesses that built them. They’re creatures of the undergrowth and the canopy. Species of widget will probably bloom (like bacteria or algae) and then crash spectacularly.

At the Darwinian Disco (catchy isn’t it?), we’ll see clouds of these things, dumped into the environment like chaff: shiny and temporary. Helpful or playful. We’ll see some businesses whose only visible expression is an shimmering mesh of widgets.

Widgets will be optimised to return value to their owners from wherever they run. They’re just code, after all, so if you can think it, you can build it and it will find its home at the Darwinian Disco.

Also, here’s a story I wrote for Marketing Week back in the Summer on a similar topic: a bit more about the contrast between the industrial-era and network-era definitions of ‘widget’.