1. Benedict Evans: the cut-down version of the internet is on the PC

    Posted May 15, 2015 in links  |  No Comments so far

    Benedict Evans writes that we should stop thinking of mobile devices offering a constrained, semi-functional version of the internet experience available on PCs:

    We’ve always thought about the mobile internet as a limited thing compared to the desktop internet, because of the constraints of hardware and network. Today, obviously, those constraints are a lot less than they were in the featurephone world, but it can still feel natural to talk of the PC as the most fully-featured version of the internet, and mobile as the place where you have to make lots of allowances for limitations of various kinds, just as for a smart watch…

    I’d suggest that we should think about inverting this – it’s actually the PC that has the limited, basic, cut-down version of the internet.

    I get where Evans is coming from. I felt that way after buying my first proper smartphone—not the Windows Mobile monstrosities that I used to wrestle with in the pre-iPhone days, but my first recognisably modern smartphone, an HTC Hero back in 2009.

    It was clear right away that the device was designed and built to be on the internet, while desktop operating systems and first-gen smartphones still felt like machines from another age which had had internettiness retrofitted on to them. Up until then I’d always had to sync new phones with horrible software (Microsoft ActiveSync for example) but this was the first phone I’d had that just did all that over the internet without making a big deal of it. Thinking about the potential of the thing was overwhelming and nearly gave me a panic attack.

    What wasn’t clear to me then, though, was just how much these devices would redefine the internet by breaking it out of the browser’s sandbox, by disconnecting it from the desktop PC’s power socket. Desktop & laptop PCs still do a lot of things that mobile devices don’t and I don’t see them becoming obsolete any time soon. But their relationship with the internet is, and always will be, far less direct, far less intimate, than that enjoyed by mobile devices.


  2. I’d like to watch this play in which a post-apocalyptic society tries to remember The Simpsons

    Posted September 22, 2013 in Culture, links  |  No Comments so far

    If you’re writing a book and you want me to give you my money, here’s a simple tip: set it in the apocalyptic aftermath of a nuclear war and I’ll send my money your way, no questions asked. You see, I’m a complete sucker for post-apocalyptic stories and have been ever since I first read Children Of The Dust and When The Wind Blows as a kid.

    But despite my enthusiasm for that genre I can’t help but feel that it needs an update so it can move on from its golden era in the 1980s, when the scenario of nuclear war between Nato and the Warsaw Pact powers formed the backdrop of pretty much every post-apocalyptic novel or screenplay. In most of these stories human civilisation in its current form ends at some point in the mid-1980s and for decades afterwards the survivors cling to remnants of that age, as exemplified by the scene in Threads where a group of children watch Words and Pictures on a faded and warped VHS tape.

    Post-apocalyptic fiction of the 1980s was so vivid, realistic and compelling that it can be hard to imagine a scenario where survivors of global cataclysm are doing anything but picking through the ruins of 1980s culture. Yet this is the kind of thing we need to get away from. It’s the 2000s now, so for a post-apocalyptic story to be believable it has to have some relationship to the contemporary world.

    That’s why I was excited to hear about “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play“, in which a post-nuclear society clings to its recollections of classic Simpsons episodes and eventually builds a new culture around them and the other memories they help to dredge up. From the official blurb:

    What will endure when the cataclysm arrives, when the grid fails, society crumbles, and we’re faced with the task of rebuilding? Anne Washburn’s imaginative dark comedy propels us forward nearly a century, following a new civilization stumbling into its future. A paean to live theater, and to the resilience of Bart Simpson through the ages, Mr. Burns is an animated exploration of how the pop culture of one era might evolve into the mythology of another.

    And from this glowing review in the New York Times:

    [A] single Simpsons episode [Cape Feare] becomes a treasure-laden bridge, both to the past and into the future. And in tracing a story’s hold on the imaginations of different generations, the play is likely to make you think back – way back – to narratives that survive today from millenniums ago. Every age, it seems, has its Homers.

    I’ve not had a chance to see this play yet as it’s only running in New York, but I hope it comes to the UK at some point. If it does, I will most certainly be giving it my money.

    (via CartoonBrew)


  3. Using money to carve up the United States

    Posted May 8, 2013 in links, visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    Fast Company has a piece about a research project which redraws the map of the United States based on the movement of paper currency.

    Dirk Brockmann, a theoretical physicist, is the person responsible for it. He thinks that state lines are arbitrary boundaries with no relation to how people actually live and move around, and that we should rethink our representations of how human societies arrange themselves across geographic space.

    In one such effort he’s taken data from a website called Where’s George which tracks the movements of dollar bills, and used it to draw a new map of the US whose borders indicate the regions where money tends to circulate. The thicker a blue line, the less likely it is that paper currency will cross it.

    Brockmann's US map

    Dirk Brockmann’s US map based on the movements of dollar bills

    One thing that leaps out at me is the circular region with Chicago at its centre. This region’s boundary starts in the north-east and follows the Appalatians southwards for a bit, flattening out westwards when it meets the Kentucky-Tennessee border, then curving back up to the north as it crosses St Louis. If you used its borders to create a new state – let’s call it “Chicago State” it would eat up parts of nine existing states, including all of Michigan, all of Ohio, and the western half of Pennsylvania.

    I like this kind of analysis as it recognises the fluidity of human societies and takes advantage of information that would have been nigh on impossible to obtain a couple of decades ago. Projects like this help us learn more about the real ‘shapes’ of the countries and areas we live in.


  4. Some more background reading on the Apple Store

    Posted February 3, 2011 in links  |  No Comments so far

    A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the design strategy of Apple’s store on Regent Street. I was interested in how, by stripping out money and its visual signifiers, Apple were deliberately creating a space where a direct and emotional connection could form between visitors and the products.

    Anyway, here are a few links about the Apple Store that I thought I’d post up here, in case anyone’s interested.

    • Bohlin Cywinski Jackson is the firm of architects that has designed Apple stores across the globe. Their approach to the Regent Street store was to “edit distracting elements from the visual field” to create a serene environment in which “Apple’s products gracefully assume center stage”.
    • The Atlantic reported in October last year that more than 74.5 million people had visited one of the 317 Apple stores across the world in the preceding quarter, setting a new record for footfall in retail.
    • Back in 2009, Social Episodes wrote about the Apple Store customer experience far more extensively than I did, relating it to six “laws” of customer service. I like the story of the Apple staff keeping their cool when, after spending lots of time with a customer complaining about iTunes syncing, they discovered that he didn’t even have it installed on his PC.
    • So whatever Apple is doing with its retail stores, it’s obviously doing it well.


  5. links for 2009-11-06

    Posted November 6, 2009 in links  |  No Comments so far


  6. links for 2009-10-30

    Posted October 30, 2009 in links  |  No Comments so far

    • Visual timeline of internet meme history, to before the creation of the first emoticon. If you ask me, though, the fun doesn't really begin until 1990 when the term Godwin's Law was first coined. Of course everything went haywire in 1993 once Eternal September began.


  7. links for 2009-10-27

    Posted October 27, 2009 in links  |  No Comments so far

    • Since 1998 Rolf Molich's work has indicated that usability experts rarely form consensus views. His Comparative Usability Evaluations show that different teams will identify different issues, and their findings rarely overlap. Does this reflect flaw in methodology, or something more basic?


  8. links for 2009-10-26

    Posted October 26, 2009 in links  |  No Comments so far


  9. links for 2009-08-17

    Posted August 17, 2009 in links  |  No Comments so far

    • "It is said that an economist is someone who sees something that works in practice and wonders whether it works in theory. Twitter clearly works in practice…" – but how does it work in theory? In this articulate and erudite post, Kevin Marks explains the theoretical framework he uses to understand Twitter's undoubted appeal.


  10. links for 2009-08-13

    Posted August 13, 2009 in links  |  No Comments so far