Interconnected

All posts made the week commencing Sunday 18 Aug., 2002:

The www is an oral medium (actually, an oral medium hybrid, but I'll come back to that): The fastest you can hear about a page on the www is the fastest people can carry the message by telling each other.

This is even more true of email, before spam, and more evident too. The fastest information can travel is the fastest you can receive the email and forward it or a version of it to someone else.

There are two large hybrid parts in the nature of the www.

  • The message has been split into the message itself (the webpage) and a reference to the message (its address). The importance of this addressability abstraction should not be underestimated -- it means that the message itself is mutable in transit, that the webpage can change according to feedback, even while the reference to the page (the address) is being communicated through the oral part of the medium. The message, the webpage, is therefore unique, and this means the www is more like geography. In the physical world, there are directions (the address) and the place (the webpage). Since there's only one unique place, it changes according to who has followed the directions. Just like a webpage.
  • The message itself (the webpage) can carry more message references (addresses). Whereas in speech making this kind of explicit reference is hard, footnotes and references are common in the written word (implicit references, that is, hints and allegations, are easy in speech but comparatively hard in writing if, as on the www, you don't know your audience and have to rely on the implicit references being understood). The written character of the medium also means there is time-binding: the message can alter over time, gather more wisdom (and addresses), take feedback and so on.

There's a different abstraction point in email. The message and message reference are once more combined so that when you forward a message you take a copy of it and send it on. This is oral. However, the break is between the person and the reference to the person (you, and your email address). Because of this break, people-references can be gathered in a way people themselves can't -- the relationship is similar between your television and you. Your television is a reference for you, the viewer. That these addresses are independent of you gives email the aspect of a broadcast medium, hence spam.

I've deliberately not mentioned anything about webpage being person-proxies because I think that's an abstraction point too far. The nature of the www is independent of the means the webpage addresses are communicated.

A few further throw-away points:

  • The www is like a world-enveloping library crowded with people. A book is a webpage, and when you open it you step inside it, through a wormhole to another aisle somewhere else in the library. You can only talk to the people in the same aisle as yourself. There are ghosts of previous visitors. You can write in the books, and write your own books.
  • Email is like a rich oral society with people chattering and gossiping. Towering overhead are giant megaphones which shout messages that may or may not be applicable to you. Incidentally, his is much how I imagine China.
  • What sort of medium is IM, currently, in this way of thinking?
  • What kind of medium might 3G be, in this way of thinking, and what kind of applications does that make you think of?

(Yes, I'm currently reading Understanding Media (Marshall McLuhan, 1964), so apologies to all the media studies students out there for getting everything wrong as I undoubtedly have. Any pointers towards understanding the various media on the internet would be very welcome.)

Apologies in advance for the sudden dive in taste, but I have to pass on the fad mentioned in Maria McErlane's column in The Sunday Times: "My favourite gossip of the evening, though, was speculation about celebrity anal bleaching. (Apparently one can now have the skin around the rectum bleached to make it, er, more socially acceptable.) I just love the idea of a Hollywood husband saying: 'Oh darling, you need your roots doing'".

Coming soon in Hello magazine, a do-it-yourself celebrity glamour guide involving a bottle of Domestos and one of: a hand-mirror, or a very trusted friend with steady hands.

Awesome, unwitting, portraits of pedestrians at Marble Arch, London: "None of the photographs have been set up but are all snapshots of pedestrians who happened to walk into the frame of the camera" [via Frownland].

Another 3G application: Collaborative filtering of locations. Your handset relays your location to a central server, which: runs your location through a Geographic Information System to find the properties you've been in; matches the properties against a business directory to see which commercial places (pubs, shops, cinemas, museums, tourist attractions) you've visited. Using the following pieces of information:

  • what public places you visited
  • the frequency and times of your visits to that town (to find out whether it's your home town, work town, or weekend visit)
  • your previous behaviour, visits and frequency of visits
  • a business directory joining together pub and shop chains and demographic details

...then you can compare that information against the same set of information for everybody else using the same service, and in particular against people who have the same kind of visits/interests as you, and use it to suggest: People like you also visited....

Imagine. You visit a new town for the first time, stop in at a cafe that looks nice, and hang around in a couple of little bookshops. Based on your behaviour so far, and the kind of places people like you enjoyed when they went to that town for a weekend, your phone recommends a small photography exhibition down a sidestreet you would otherwise have missed. Refine the suggestions by reporting back whether you had fun.

Ah, and I completely missed the one year birthday of Upsideclone. As Above does the 'clone anniversary hightlights.

Kevan points out (by email) that with your 3G handset acting as a Conversational TiVo there'd be a lot of uncomfortable "Is that thing on?" going on. Okay, so: you're in a group of people, all with your handsets out. The handsets talk via Bluetooth to register interest in a conversation. A group is determined by looking at the various phone addressbooks, and comparing volumes of components of the conversation. To listen to something that happened on your own recording, you need approval from other members of the group.

Or another solution. A gizmo strapped to your neck over your voicebox has three modes of vibration which subtly alter your voice: one mode for public, one for private, one for this group only. You can alter which mode with a simple switch. The recording device extracts and understands this vibration mode before allowing playback and uses it for Digital Rights Management, ie a device will refuse to play speech that has a "private" voice watermark imprinted.

There are more 3G applications in the Interconnected archives.

3G mobile killer app: Conversational TiVo. Taking advantage of the always-on and high-bandwidth nature of the 3G network, the cellphone keeps a rolling recording of the last 24 hours of audio. At any moment you can jump back in and listen to that name you were told ten minutes ago; archive a speech and email it as an mp3; do voice-to-text on that taxi phone number somebody mentioned earlier this evening; find out exactly what you were talking about in the pub at 10.30 last night.

In the www architecture corner, this email from Roy Fielding to Tim Berners-Lee on URIs and resources is view-changing. Fielding's position is that a URI is an opaque reference to a resource and a web page is just one representation of that resource. It's a shift away from Berners-Lee's position that a URI is an identifier for a document, and that document comprises the resource itself. This small change in metaphor gives quite a good lever for understanding and building things on the www, and leads almost directly to the REST architecture.

Teledyne Water Pik Family Oral Irrigator WP-30, a review [via Memepool]. My sides very nearly split.