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mScape: Building Narrative Spaces for Locative Media

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Volunteering for Waag Society’s Come Out And Play 2007 during the Picnic festival in Amsterdam was a great experience. Although I haven’t had the time to write about it yet, mostly because of my work nowadays at Virtueel Platform, it is very relevant for my MA Thesis which I’m finishing as we speak.

In my thesis, as you might have read in some of my previous posts, I examine narrative spaces created by existing locative media, more specifically the navigation system and its deterministic algorithms causing havoc to environments without the users really knowing the consequences. In another strand, shaping narrative instead of algorithm, I recently stumbled upon mScape, the new Hewlett Packard software, which allows you to create generative locative media experience. It really allows you to tailor a virtual space to the territory and give new meaning to it. A toolkit for the locative future? This YouTube presentation video gives you a sense of what the tool can do.

The website offers users the ability to share and discuss their mediascapes. The software however does require an HP iPaq. If anyone has experience with this software, just drop me a line because I’m very interested in the narrative capabilities this can offer to locative media. Super Mario GPS anyone?

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Written by newmw

December 27, 2007 at 3:10 pm

Warming up for Picnic ’07

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Picnic ’07, Amsterdam’s annual event organized by the Cross Media Week Foundation focusing on creativity in cross media content and technology, is only a month away and the list of speakers is nearly finished. Between the 25th and 29th of September, Amsterdam’s Westergastfabriek will once again host the event after the succes of last year’s edition. But with such a diverse and wide-ranging programme, where will you go? In order to get into the mood and warm up for the event, it is worthwhile to highlight some of the fascinating speakers and take a more in-depth look at what they are all about.

Reuben Steiger (Former Linden Labs Evangelist and founder/CEO Millions of Us)
scion2ndlifeAt Picnic ’06 Philip Rosedale of Linden Labs / Second Life presented his take on ‘the empowerment offered by Second Life of the average citizen to not only create but monetize their own content and design’. This year former Linden Labs Evangelist Reuben Steiger will take the stage at Picnic’s Virtual Worlds, which is all about virtual worlds becoming central to the future of marketing, technology, entertainment and brand-building. After his work at Linden Labs, Steiger founded and became CEO of Millions of Us, a company dedicated to helping businesses understand and harness the power of virtual worlds. An example is the Toyota Scion car in Second Life.

Being an evangelist and clearly someone who believes in the power of virtual worlds, Steiger fights of recent criticism of Second Life as a branding tool at influxinsights.com by saying that ‘some of the criticism is partially warranted, but a lot of it is poorly contextualized and opportunistic, in the sense that pundits love to tear down technologies that have ridden a wave of hype. IT analyst firm Gartner calls this the hype cycle – new technologies spark a wave of initial excitement, expectations inflate, the technology is found to be imperfect in some ways, and there is a backlash – but in the long term, a good technology will overcome the hype cycle and enjoy long-term adoption.’ Are virtual worlds all that Steiger says they are, or just a big bubble? Are you a skeptic or an enthusiast? Not sure? You can find out at Virtual Worlds. In the video below Steiger answers questions on his personal interest in Second Life and if virtual worlds are a response to alienation in real-life.

When? 27th September 14.00 – 17.00
Where? WesterUnie
What? Virtual Worlds at Picnic ’07

Cory Doctorow (SF novelist, blogger, technology activist)
doctorow overclocked Cory Doctorow, co-editor of popular weblog BoingBoing and contributor to the likes of New York Times and Wired, explores the benefits and consequences of online systems in his latest (fictional) book Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present (free download). This provocative collection of six previously released stories shows Doctorow extrapolating todays user experiences towards a futuristic vision and creating fascinating stories in doing so. An extensive review can be found at The Uberreview. For his writings, Doctorow has already been compaired to ‘Cyberspace’ godfather William Gibson by Entertainment Weekly. In the Authors@Google series Cory Doctorow himself presents and discusses the book, if any questions remain be sure to go see Doctorow at Fab, or the personal fabrication revolution.

When? 28th September
Where? WesterLiefde
What? FAB, or the personal fabrication revolution

Pablos/Paul Holman (Futurist, IT security expert, notorious hacker)
From an interview with Pablos “Paul” Holman at DLD ’07, shown in video below, comes the following provocative quote on creativity in companies: ‘Especially large companies tend to be poor at doing new things. They have lots of resources, lots of people and a lot of infrastructure . But all that gets in the way of when you’re trying to be creative. […] Ideally for me, I’d be able to wake up in the morning and dream up something I’ve been dreaming about. Then go build it by lunchtime, launch it in the afternoon and see if people like it. And then maybe fix some bugs by dinner.’

hackerbotpablosContrary to Doctorow, Holman does not read science fiction because he doesn’t want to be accused of plagiarism. His views however are, as the Picnic website also mentions, unique. With his design studio Komposite he ‘consults on bizarre invention and design projects that assimilate new technologies’. To give you an idea: Among his projects is the Hackerbot, a WiFi seeking robot that can find you when you’re using a wireless network – and drive up to show you your password on its screen. According to the Hackerbot website, the robot is really quite friendly and tries not to show your passwords to anyone else. Interested? Be sure to check out Holman at Picnic ’07, also if you’re interested in salsa dancing!

When? TBA
Where? TBA
What? Pablos Holman

Stefan Sagmeister (Graphic designer and typographer)
sagmeisterYou might have seen Stefan Sagmeister‘s design in your local record shop on the covers of Rolling Stones, Lou Reed and Talking Heads recordings. The Picnic website mentions that just as film, art, music and literature have the power to move people, Stefan Sagmeister’s innovative work shows that graphic design, too, can cut to the emotional core. An in-depth interview with Sagmeister can found at designboom.com. The image is courtesy of Grafik-freunde Stuttgart.

In 2004 Sagmeister spoke in Monterey, California about how design can make us happy and more specifically design that made him happy on a personal level. Telling stories ranging from billboards and museum exhibitions to pictorial language, Sagmeister is able to show how design can touch a nerve. Design never felt more personal while listening to Sagmeister’s presentation and his words seem far removed from corporate thought. Anyone intested in the emotional side of creativity, and creative industries in general, should see Sagmeister at Creative Genius: Things I Have Learned So Far at Picnic ’07.

When? 27th September 16.50 – 17.20
Where? Zuivering West
What? Creative Genius: Things I Have Learned So Far – Stefan Sagmeister

Various Meetings and (Un)Common Ground
Like last year, Picnic also hosts various meetings such as Virtueel Platform’s (Un)common Ground II: An expert meeting that brings together all the top thinkers in the industry. This year the sub-title is Scale and Intimacy. At the meeting experts will take a close look at the complex issues arising when practices and models of collaboration move across different scales. Like Stefan Sagmeister in his presentation, questions such as ‘how to maintain the emotional connection that people make to the ideas that are promoted or the services or products that it delivered’, are asked. Although the meeting is ‘invitation only’, be sure to check out Virtueel Platform’s publication (Un)common ground. Creative encounters across sectors and disciplines for more information.

For information on all Picnic ’07 events (25th – 29th of September) go to the Picnic network website. Oh… and did I mention Andrew Keen (see my previous post) will also be there?

The Cult of the Amateur: Everybody is Gutenberg in Web 2.0!

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Web 2.0 City by eBoy.comWhile browsing through the Virtueel Platform website, I came across the Anti Web 2.0 Manifesto (Adorno for Idiots) by Andrew Keen. The manifesto pinpoints in a very accurate way my sceptical, pessimistic thoughts on the whole Web 2.0 affair we’ve been living in for quite some years now (and perhaps also the up and coming semantic web). Like Andrew Keen’s book The Cult of the Amateur (a phrase he borrowed from fellow Web 2.0 criticist Nick Carr), as he admits himself, this blogpost is biased. Very much so.

If anyone can create a puddle of mud in a swamp, it is still amateuristic. You might say to me: ‘Hey, but you’re a blogger! Blogging is web 2.0!’ Sure, guilty as charged! But therefore this post is about awareness and not about creating fear. With that being said, does Web 2.0 provide us only with amateurs or do we still have time to foster real talent? One might think that Esmee Denters, a recent YouTube phenomenon from the Netherlands, might be such an example. But there are probably quite some vocalists out there who can do the same trick (although I do admit that she has a beautiful voice). Her marketing trick however is that the fans, who followed her from the beginning, share the idea that ‘they’ve know her from when she wasn’t famous’. It is no surprise that the slogan that goes with the product is ‘You Made It Happen’. To be precise, it was famous record producer and musical entrepeneur pur sang Billy Mann who made ‘It Happen’. It’s a variation of a classical egocentric quality of humans: Who didn’t brag about that guy or girl in highschool who is now a famous politician, musician, etc.? I know him/her! (…but I wish it was me)

In the Anti Web 2.0 Manifesto, Keen places himself as the opposite of Chris Anderson by stating that: ‘Digital utopian economists Chris Anderson have invented a theoretically flattened market that they have christened the “Long Tail”. It is a Hayekian cottage market of small media producers industriously trading with one another.’ Once again, one might not have to agree, one is perhaps not keen on agreeing instantly with Keen but it can’t hurt to think about it. Keen also mentions ‘a particularly unfashionable thought’ by saying that ‘big media is not bad media’ which put forth the likes of Hitchcock and Bono (I’d prefer to say U2 as a whole). They were supported and fostered by big record labels and the Hollywood studios. It is a small step to return to the example of Esmee Denters, who is fostered by major record label Interscope. Denters, a product of the Cult of the Amateur, was made into a ‘professional’ by the record industry.

Can I offer solutions here? No, because it’s an ongoing debate that will linger for a long time. Perhaps it is important to foster talent at the roots, and not let talent foster in the amateuristic puddles of mud. How long will users keep creating content for the Cult of the Amateur, will they lose their enthusiasm when they don’t get positive comments? When will they stop trying and what are the stories of users who stopped trying. The users who got tired of contributing their hard work to the Cult of the Amateur?

My thoughts are that we should foster talent. The professionals in the business are only fostering ‘talent’ at the top of the chain. A participatory culture, wherein the secrets of the industries are laid out in the open usable for the Cult of the Amateur, sounds like a utopia. But deep inside I believe, or hope, it not to be. In my personal utopia, I’d suggest we create places where people can firstly learn and secondly can contribute and are not stuck in their own puddles of mud of the great Web 2.0 swamp which encompasses a fixation on contribution. Let’s discuss new ideas, like Keen suggests in the video below. Below you can see a presentation from Andrew Keen at (what Keen proclaims to be) the ‘belly of the beast’, being Google HQ in Mountain View.

Man and Computer: An exhibition from 1979

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Another history oriented post following my Google Video recommendation on the History of Hacking. Today, while strolling through the digital remains of the Dutch National networks at Beeld en Geluid, I came across this ‘Polygoon Journaal’ news item from 1979. It mentions the early debates around the computer and there is a focus on the microchip as being responsible for future unemployment. Although this modernist view of machines replacing humans sounds very outdated in the postmodern/posthuman age, isn’t it still valid today? You be the judge.

English Translation of ‘Mens en Computer’
(1979 – Beeld en Geluid Hilversum)

The development from tangram to ruler to calculator all the way to the computer can be seen at the exhibition ‘Man and Computer’ in the Museum for Education in The Hague. Students of schools are familiarized with the workings of the electronic machinery which has become an essential part of modern life. The ‘chip’, an object that is getting a lot of attention lately, is also on display. The microcomputer can be built in a variety of machines and is able to significantly increase the the automatization of the industry. It is said that the chip will drastically change our lives and will cause unemployment to rise. In spite of this, the little device has as much possibilities as a room full of machinery.

At the exhibition children, aided by a large console, learn how the computer processes a program. On a small computer a spellchecker is demonstrated. The computer recalls every entered letter and lets the user know if the word has been spelled correctly. The young visitors can also practice with real computers. This way they learn the significance of input, processing and output of data. The output is often done with the use of a ‘regeldrukker’ (i.e. a printer, ed.). In a playful manner the use of computer in aeronautics is made clear. The children can reenact their own lunar landing. An erronous landing is noticed directly on the screen. The composite parts of a computer are shown systematically and the children are anxious to see the magnetic memory. Of course so-called printed circuit boards, on which the various computer components are put, are also on exhibition. And it is such a printed circuit board that can be seen in the classroom of this interesting ‘Man and Computer’ exhibition.

The History of Hacking: Stories from the outlaws of network culture

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phone hackThe History of Hacking is an interesting documentary by Discovery Channel which shows interviews and stories of some of the early hackers. It features the must-see story of John Draper, aka Captain Crunch after a whistle found in the cereal box to hack into telephone networks, who is one of the pioneers of hacking.

As Michel Foucault mentioned: “We are subjected to the production of truth through power and we cannot exercise power except through the production of truth.” (See: Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings) The counter-discourse of hacking provides the ability to use the existing networks in ways they were not supposed to by the reigning power. Nowadays phone tapping, a way of hacking someones phone line, is legal for the only institution that also has the monopoly of violence, namely the government. Besides the monopoly of violence, there is thus also the monopoly of surveillance through networks.

androidsThe cyberpunk movement of the 80s shows a glorification of the hacker as an outlaw: A modern day cowboy who challenges the system and is always one step ahead of it. Swift and uncatchable, almost like a liquid substance seeping through the cracks of the networks. The stories of Philip K. Dick often feature characters that have abilities to unravel mysteries of computer networks. Rick Deckard in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is one such outlaw. A grim person who has an extraordinary ability to recognize humanoid cyborgs.

A real-life outlaw story was experienced by Kevin Mitnick, who was wanted by the FBI from 1992-1995, however shows the criminalization of the art of hacking into networks. He was sent to prison in 1995 for five years and was released in January 2000. The story told in this documentary shows the duality of hacking. It is a kind of voyeurism, but it is also a heroic way to challenge networks and lay bare their vulnerabilities. No wonder many hackers also work as security advisers, Kevin Mitnick is no exception.

Hacking remains popular nowadays, but is no longer restricted to the outlaws. Simple tools to hack Hotmail or Myspace are provided by organized hacking troupes. This poses the question if hacking has lost its romance and has been degraded to a horrible nuisance, or even a nightmare for the everyday user of a network.

The documentary provides a really good basis for everyone interested in the early days of hacking. To see the whole documentary, which also includes an interesting interview with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak on hacking and the early Apple days, check out the embedded video below.

So… what did you do today in the virtual?

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zeldaAs I was playing Zelda: A Link to the Past today on my SNES emulator, something struck me: I had an in-game deja-vu. A feeling as if I had been there before. My mind quickly tried to scan all the options and I found out that I have really vivid memories of various computer games. These experiences are basically stories I could tell to my friends and family at a party. As cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner mentioned in his interesting essay Life as Narrative: all our experiences are in some way structured as narratives, and we remember and learn from these narratives in the future.

What would be an interesting idea is to gather stories from people who have been playing games. How do people tell about games? Often when we hear stories -or when I hear myself talking to others about in game events- I almost feel alienated from the world around me. The surreal words echoing in my head and making me realize the sometimes bizarre situations as I’m telling the story. Let me give it a try here about an experience I had in playing Zelda. This is not a walkthrough or anything like that. It’s just what I’ve been doing this morning from the top of my head.

‘Some old guy I finally found told me to get a pendant in a region east from the big lake. I came across many green and blue soldiers, especially the guys with the arrows were pretty difficult to defeat. I had a lot of trouble finding the entrance, but after roaming around Kakariko village and the mountains in the south, I found out by accident that I had to go through a very narrow, almost hidden, path. Then I came to a desert with some creepy crawlers, appearing and disappearing. I almost died there, but luckily I found a fairy that healed my just in time. After that I went to the desert castle to find the first of the three amulets.’

zldEtcetera. I could probably go on for hours and the memories are quite clear and vivid. I clearly remember some gameworlds like my own neighbourhood: Gothic I & II, Zelda, Splinter Cell, Chrono Trigger, Diablo, Baldur’s Gate and of course Morrowind. Because what got my thoughts started on this topic is a forum thread on stories from Morrowind. Although I don’t know any of these people, I know what experiences they are talking about. Their goals were the same but their memories are so different. What would a psychogeographic approach to computergames look like? Just pointlessly wandering around in Morrowind, not to reach any goals but to create stories of wandering around.

I know there are already quite some theories on game experiences, but what really caught my attention and interest were the stories told about games as if they are a part of the gamers’ daily life. So, what did you do today in the virtual?

Written by newmw

June 7, 2007 at 8:49 pm

Vers Geperst: Fresh juice for the brains

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Last week I attended the Vers Geperst meeting at Club 11 to tell the audience about the Masters of Media weblog project. Based on the Pecha Kucha presentation idea, all the presenters had only 11 slides of 12 seconds each to propagate their views.

fidel twan

Besides the Masters of Media blog, some other interesting ideas were pitched. What about the already famous ‘Whatever’ button? Are you tired of all the times you have to agree to useless legal information? Just install the Whatever button Firefox extension and you don’t have to worry about all the nonsense anymore! Although I had already installed it before the presentation, Michael Stevenson’s talk and imagery still gave me stomach cramps from laughing.

Another idea came from the guys from ToxTox TV. According to the creators ‘ToxTox is the next generation internet television platform. It allows you to watch video content from your couch, on your tv, using only open software.’ An ambitious idea with lots of opportunities and I’m anxious to see how this works on my television.

The Open-Search project, presented by Erik Borra, focusses on the role of privacy and search engines. The Open-Search project steers away from the centralized powers of the corporate search engine and provides ‘an exemplary peer to peer, collaborative event, whereby people mutually form a search engine without the intervention of central servers or a central actor.’ Definitely worth checking out.

The last presenter I want to mention is Anne Helmond, who is responsible for the lovely Fidel Castroian picture of myself in this post. She presented her photography and also a project she did on drapes and windows. More photographs of the meeting are available on Anne’s Flickr account.