Tag! We’re It! Part II

A few months back, I stepped out of my dead-bolted existence within the walls of Ameritrade and began to digest the current state of this Web 2.0 explosion; the Semantic Web seems so much closer to fruition than it did just a few years back. Much of the renewed push and entrepreneurial spirit that has driven this industry-wide rebirth of shared data has been driven by our economic recovery from the dot-com crash. That’s a fact, but it’s not a sufficient answer to the focus behind 2.0—something deeper feels at play.

I decided to dig in and head down a rabbit hole of sociological context on a journey for clarity, and what I’ve come to realize isn’t particularly shocking.

dictatorial-democracy

We live in tumultuous times.

The air we breathe is being compromised more and more every day. Poverty around the world is increasing exponentially. Our country is knee deep in another Vietnam, another occupation, another struggle for gaining natural resources at any cost. People are becoming polarized by important and moral, personal and social issues, seemingly on a daily basis.

All of this is occurring during the reign of an administration that has even the staunchest of conservatives questioning whether we, the people, are living within the midst of a dictatorial democracy, rather than a thriving Republic, built on the principles of political discourse, government checks and balances, fiscal responsibility, the separation of church and state and the power of the individual voter.

So where does this leave us as a people?

Personally speaking, I’ve decided to refocus my effort to publish my views, opinions, perspectives, experiences, etc., in an effort to make even the slightest dent in the discourse surrounding our roles as American citizens.

What motivates me? Pick your poison: the War on Terror; the Rove/Plame/Wilson scandal; the Bolton push-through appointment; the Cindy Sheehan vigil. It seems that every day a new flow of bullshit only fuels the righteous indignation I’ve come to hold regarding this administration.

Is it even possible to imagine a more visceral description of an Aristocracy at play?

For me, the complete disregard of the intelligence and voice of the American citizen begins to explain the groundswell of blogging that has occurred over the past four years, specifically the political blogs and mainstream media watchdog sites.

Sure, the potential for capital gains plays a large role in the motivation to advance technology or any other industry. The web, though, is a bit different due to it’s low cost of entry, so I believe that moral conviction plays a role in both driving the evolution of technology and the passion to leverage it to it’s fullest degree.

So what’s the connection between geo-political events, blogging and the tactical fervor of Web 2.0? (social bookmarking, tagging, open source, open content, etc.)

In a nutshell: everything.

Without a true social democracy in the real, we’ve evolved to create one on-line — where boundaries can be broken down, hierarchies can be dissolved, control can be minimized, etc.

I blog in order to get my voice out into the ether of this new social construct; I tag my blog posts to provide context and semantic relationships on numerous levels, yet with a similar purpose:

  1. On the base object level to provide a succinct description of how I perceive this content from a conceptual perspective, perhaps creating a) a greater connection with the reader on a discernible level and b) connections on associative & relational levels with other objects (within my domain and elsewhere)
  2. On the categorization level to establish context within a particularly defined category or across a faceted classification scheme. If I were an actual brand, this would be how I’d ensure my position was reflected within my editorial construct and navigation scheme.
  3. On the retrievable object level to allow for more avenues of findability (four, well-thought descriptive tags exponentially increase the odds of object retrieval rather than none or even one, either in straight queries or in contextual presentation on the base object level)

These are tactical strategies in the information revolution.

The same principles apply to tagging even more granular object such as photographs, video and sound files, as well as the macro-level social bookmarking of URLs. The effort, I believe, is based on the desire of individual voices to be heard amidst the shelling of the mainstream media. While technically speaking, Web 2.0 is about the creation of richly defined object models and attributes — the more good data we entrench within our objects (be it content, files or URLs themselves), the better the chance for a semantic web experience — the movement behind it is much more compelling, much more philosophical in nature.

After leaving Ameritrade in April, I spent a month digesting Noam Chomsky‘s Understanding Power, which introduced me to the specifics of his propaganda model thesis, which I fully digested by watching the documentary Manufacturing Consent. Recently, Dave Sifry (CEO, Technorati) posted a graph on the Technorati Blog displaying the impact that blogs are making within the once dominated realm of entrenched, funded, mainstream media.

I’m only guessing that if Chomsky has studied the progression of the web, he’s smiling up in Cambridge right about now.

The legitimization of the individual (creative and political) perspective is being sustained in the 21st century by the conviction of the blogosphere, passionate focus on the possibilities of 2.0 revenue models and domains, such as Technorati, taking a leadership position. The concept of social dialog, networking and organization and the elemental foundation of capitalism are beginning to shift in exciting ways.

Imagine a near future where:

  • Individual perspectives can be made more readily sustainable through a common revenue model, reversing the big money/power structure of publication and media saturation? How would that impact the politics of our nation? Our wage labor practices?
  • Algorithms and interfaces allow for rich, precise retrievals of topical queries, with just as precisely retrieved contextual objects presented within a usable format, based on better clustering techniques and taking richer and more valuable attributes into account? How would this impact the way we learn and connect to one another?
  • Information domains allow topically defined objects to be rolled up into navigable concepts by users instead of predefined categories by information architects? How could this seamlessly raise the bar for common folk in their efforts to research online? To manage information across numerous domains?
  • Mainstream media articles and blog posts are presented on the same level (query or article), ensuring checks and balances of mis/disinformation, without a partisan bias? How important is it for check and balances to be rooted within the last bastion of traditional governmental checks and balances—the media?

And the great thing is that we’re not too far away from this revolutionary existence.

Blogs are beginning to bridge the social and communication gaps between nations. My peers are thinking differently when developing this medium, even in traditional business development circumstances. The tactical approach to producing, managing, sharing, finding and using information objects — defined from the bottom up — is finally getting it’s due.

Yes, these are tumultuous times, but they’re exciting as well.

Even Jackson Pollock Had A Method

pollock

Designers are held to a double standard, especially those of us who design for the interactive medium.

The stereotype of a designer is that he or she is self-referential with their design approach. Businesses cringe when faced with the prospect of bringing in a new designer to a team. I mean, come on, all designers are “shiny-shiny” types, looking for that Golden Pencil or Webby Award, right?

Management talks about wanting designers who have a rationale before suggesting a change to existing design patterns, which is understandable. We’re designers, not artists. Designers should have a process that substantiates their output; a smart, talented, non self-referential designer, able to take both the domain and its particular users into account when designing interfaces.

Fair enough.

So designers expose their craft and processes to businesses and product teams in order to show that they get it. Seasoned designers are able to have a conversation about a business model; they can talk shop with engineers; they can subjugate their own preferences in order to understand the needs of the end user and the possibilities that lie beyond the present user experience.

The aforementioned approaches aren’t optional to practice the craft; these are the multi-disciplinary skill-sets required for the role.

“Innovation comes from rapid iterations of features” they say. “Okay” the designer adds, “Let’s just make sure we’re focusing on the right features, useful to actual people.”

Product management doubles down on their roadmap, project managers steel up, developers get frustrated, cats sleep with dogs, etc.

The intent behind crafting an interface is to create a representational model that reflects, as close as possible, the end user’s mental model regarding their goals, desires, and ability to use technology; successful interface design and ux isn’t about deploying an implementation model.

– Me

So why is the method of getting to the interface so disconcerting?

Designers research and create user archetype(s) and scenarios to represent the potential user base and their needs and desires in a product. If the synthesized findings confirm the company’s vision—from c-level to product owners—they can then be translated by the design team into interactions in the interface to either support or change user behavior.

This is how refined, holistic user interfaces are created across a single product, an entire domain, and even into external product and brand communication. Design a cross-functional, collaborative process which may or may not impact the core hypothesis behind a product’s position, but definitely will improve the user experience of the product itself.

If my non-designer colleagues in this field believe that experience design begins and ends at the interface level, where it gets pretty, then I guess I understand the hesitation to leverage our methods.

Maybe us designers should “just get drunk and throw paint on the canvas.”

Art Prophesying Reality?

three-days-of-condor

It was around 1989 when I read Six Days of the Condor; a perfect story for an 18 year-old male, chock full of deceit, murder, paranoia, sex, intrigue and spies. For some reason—possibly my attention span at the time—the end of the book threw me for a loop. So tonight, I kicked back with my Netflix choice of the week and watched the film adaptation: Three Days of the Condor.

Three words: Rent. it. now.

It was made 28 years ago, yet the plot line has come to life in eerie fashion over the last few years. I don’t want to ruin the movie for you, so if you are going to rent it, don’t read on.

Condor (played by Robert Redford) is a spy, and per chance, misses a hit on his office that leaves the all seven of his colleagues executed. After some brilliant screenwriting, we come to find out that one of his previous reports sent off to Langley hit a nerve within a secret faction of the CIA that just happened to be playing war games concerning the overthrow of an unstable regime in the Middle East in order to gain control of oil reserves.

Sure, the US has been meddling with numerous foreign spots in the Middle East over the past 50 years to keep a stranglehold on power, but shivers the size of nine inch nails traveled down my spine just the same.

The rogue CIA unit ordered the execution of the entire office after reading Condor’s spot-on investigative report, so he does the only thing he can and goes off the grid to plan his next steps. After outwitting numerous suits over the course of the film, he ends up confronting the CIA Director directly in front of the New York Times office in Manhattan.

After a quick verbal sparring over the morality of what our government was doing, Condor tells the Director that the story is out and the Times will be publishing it all. The film ends with the CIA Director asking Condor,

“What if they don’t print it, then where will you go?”

Redford’s face drops a bit as the last frame freezes on him.

Does Our Press Get Squeezed?

Forget the uncanny plot line that syncs up with the recent activity in Iraq and the coincidence of the NYC CIA office being found within the WTC. It’s eerie to experience this 70s flick being so prescient, but I’m more interested with the final jab.

I often wonder how free the press is in our capitalistic society, where over the years the fourth branch has moved away from reporting and more toward media. Our government has indoctrinated us to speak harshly against news practices around the world, especially during the eighties during the heart of the Cold War (when I was an impressionable teenager); the old “look, over there!” trick has build a sycophantic capitalist society of productive worker bees at home, much less apt to question authority or the authenticity of “news” when delivered.

Here’s something to ponder: Did you know that congress is on the verge of passing unprecedented legislation that allows media entities to merge with minimal to no limitations? Can you imagine what this could mean in an Orwellian novel? Or in this actual capitalist society where one individual, such as a Bill Gates, has more wealth than the bottom 45 percent of American households combined?

A less competitive press = a singular perspective.

  • Advertising revenue begins to drive the editorial premise and impedes journalistic objectivity
  • Agendas are deployed and met
  • A top down, targeted media push (via news, marketing, advertising, programming, etc.) becomes the mainstay of communication operations

Our society has evolved from watching the news on TV at 6 and 11 (1970’s) to digesting news 24 hours a day on TV, radio, and the internet (1990’s) to having access to hundreds of thousands of individual perspectives of news events blasting on blogs (present). With all this newfound decentralized access we should feel both informed and empowered, right?

That’s what they want us to think.

For even the most invested netizen, information technology is still a hindrance when trying to decipher noise from news, and fiction from fact. Simple to use, individually operated publishing channels are now available to the masses through blogging, but actual reach to the mainstream, less tech savvy, older audiences is minimal at best as information is still presented in a hard-to-access online ecosystem.

I can imagine the power elite in media and government thinking something along the lines of:

Let the bottom feeders play with their toys—be it bloggers publishing opinions based on theory or fact—no one will be able to tell the difference. It’ll be our facts that they base their opinion upon. And the noise in the sheer amount of opinions projected outwards will make all opinions null and void.

Our organized, top-down messaging is so strong via advertising, marketing, media, etc., that the bottom-up representation of the people will become lost in the noise of the the mainstream media, as well as in it’s own scattered presentation.

We’ll then use their information as data to feed our strategic messaging and market right back to them.

Americans have turned into thought veal over the past twenty-years. We’ve been tenderized perfectly to be devoured oh-so-nicely in a propaganda system that is set up to succeed only if the masses over-consume everything from food to entertainment to material goods to political punditry.

This is the boogie man that lives under my bed.