Algorithms rather than editors decide my morning reading

Some years ago the computer intruded on my early morning routine. No longer did I open the door for the morning paper. My breakfast accompaniment went from newsprint to digital pixels. E-mail tugged my attention, followed by a sweep of favorite Web sites, though I often forgot which sites I favored. My disorganized nature overwhelmed any attempts at bookmarking as I added hundreds of scattered resources to the list. A casual mention by a friend in 2005, “I’ll add it to my Bloglines”, changed the way I used the Internet.

Sure, a few years later I changed to Google Reader but it worked the same, but only more reliably. And nothing changed until well after I got an iPad. I had been slow to take up Facebook and Twitter, which help me share my life online and learn about others. For myself, social networking didn’t transform my use of the digital world. Neither did the iPad until I explored more apps.

Once again, the way I used the Internet changed as I opened up Flipboard and Zite. Google Reader dropped from my daily regimen though, like Facebook and Twitter, those RSS feeds play a large role in the articles that these more visually appealing aggregators offer up to me. Algorithms rather than editors decide my morning reading.

Software as a collaborative art

As computer usage shifts from desktop to smartphones and tablets the role of software is resurfacing through apps that are a stark contrast to web sites encased in a browser. Apps offer a broad range of interface options limited mainly by the capabilities of the developer. Of course, that same flexibility gives developers enough rope to hang themselves in a mesh of confusing buttons, swipes, and taps. How to avoid that trap? Appreciate that creating software is a collaboration formed through the judicious thought of individuals. While there are sole-developer shops, most apps are crafted by many voices:programmers immersed in code, graphic designs pinpointing visual details, UX specialists fine tuning interaction, and entrepreneurs passionate about ideas and concepts.

Apps are not only about chasing sales and maximizing revenue. For users apps are not about that at all. We experience apps. The excitement of apps rests in the tactile and visual elements.

While apps will become simpler to produce there always will exist a leading set of apps implementing the latest functionality found in devices. Innovation requires coding. Generally, that requires a team.

In design there’s an adage that good design is invisible. The same goes for software. An app needs to work but, at the same time, should provide a sense of joy and satisfaction in its use. The possibilities within app development will only be brought out through creativity. Dialog among a team caring about the same product and users is always better than one guy working alone in a room. App development is a collaborative art. But as such, the process must be carefully nurtured.

The next big thing is Internet TV, but what does that mean?

The potential impact of Internet  has grown stronger over the last year. But what does Internet TV even mean? And TV 2.0 certainly isn’t any clearer. Even the word television is difficult. What do people mean when they say television? Are they referring to the huge screen in their living rooms or the shows offered by networks?

Television signifies both dimensions: device and content. Likewise, Internet TV carries forward both definitions.

   * Internet TV is a display device that connects to the net either directly via built-in components or indirectly via an intermediate set-top box, e.g., Apple TV, Google TV.
   * Internet TV are traditional TV shows supplemented with on-demand viewing and access to the broad range of Internet resources.

Without a doubt access to the Internet via TV sets is already here. Even in Buenos Aires, where new tech gadgets are not easily purchased due to high tariffs and import restrictions, electronic retailers are selling TV sets with WiFi.

Internet TV is not so much about hardware. The access & content-based definitions will have the greatest impact. I’ll extend that definition:

   * Internet TV disrupts traditional network programming with new content channels based on apps.

That disruption phase will not be fulfilled completely in 2012, but it’s coming. Is that hype or is the genie out of the bottle? The prediction has been cast every year for a long time now. But in this decade TV and cable networks will face tumultuous challenges similar to those shaking the publishing, newspaper, and music industries.

Internet TV is the next big thing and an entirely new breed of companies will emerge offering services and content for what is the most dominant screen in almost every home. The topic intrigues me and most of my blogging efforts here this year will be tracking and analyzing the shifting reality of television.

20 years back, 20 years forward

When I was thirty a friend named Alice told me, “You know you’re getting older when you can say, ‘I remember twenty years ago.’”

Twenty years ago I was the twenty-something eagerly telling everybody in the room about the exciting thing called the Internet (capital “I”, please). Except for fellow library school students, eyes glazed over at mention of telneting to library catalogs and downloading weather reports via FTP.

I regret not possessing a sense of entrepreneurship in my youth, but the knowledge did equip me for a very good career in academic librarianship for fifteen years before I quit the library world in frustration.

We all know the digital story of the last decades: the Web took off in the mid-90s and almost twenty years later here we are in this post-PC age. Somewhere not long ago was the brief period termed Web 2.0.

For startups time moves very quickly: months, a few years for most before it’s on to the next opportunity. The institutional nature of libraries force a much longer perspective. Every decent manager knows you can’t project forward more than two or three years. But there are large-scale movements shaped by technological shifts that take a decade or more to play out.

The music industry is an obvious example, though it has found ways to survive in a form other than the sale of albums in stores. Newspapers and publishers are battling other pressures. And that next big shift?

It’s bound to be those big screens sitting so prominently in our homes, with some houses equipped with two, three, or more screens. And it’s not just the TV sets but those desktop monitors, too. The change will come gradually, but it will arrive. We can sit back and watch it happen or play a role in the future of home entertainment.

Twenty years from now we’ll still have large screens in our homes, but they’ll function a lot differently than today’s passive box. More exciting will be the emerging industry that provides content for all those TVs. The seed of that future is in the apps of today.

What are Endless Hybrids?

From The Language of New Media Lev Manovich presents the compelling argument that the “database becomes the center of the creative process in the computer age”. Databases and narratives are “two competing imaginations, two basic creative impulses, two essential responses to the world. Competing to make meaning out of the world, databases and narrative produce endless hybrids.”

Starting with Manovich

From a post titled Starting with Manovich, February 2, 2005:

In the landmark work The Language of New Media Lev Manovich presents the compelling argument that the “[D]atabase becomes the center of the creative process in the computer age”.

The focus of digital library development is primarily the digitization of material into discrete digital objects that can be represented and retrieved through databases utilizing standardized metadata. The library community has made enormous strides in digital library developments. The results are a wide range of databases that support academic research in a variety of disciplines. For libraries, the database has certainly become the primary mode through which digital information is presented to users.

While databases of digital objects are essential to scholarship, the database paradigm should not be viewed as the ultimate end result of library experimentation with digital technologies. Databases alone are merely containers that allow people to access information; in a sense, a database functions in the same way as a library building in that the library building is a container that allows users to access information in print. Of course, all librarians know that libraries are much more than buildings containing books. In the same way, digital libraries need to be viewed as much more than databases containing digital objects. Physical libraries are often defined as much by their services as by their collections. An area of digital library development that is under examined is the ways in which researchers can re-purpose digital objects into new works of scholarship.

Scholarship, whether in the form of a printed article, monograph or digital media, can be described as the gathering, analysis, and re-purposing of information into a new context of understanding through scholarly insight by a researcher. Historically, archives and libraries generally are not involved in the interpretation or publication of printed research by scholars. However, the techniques for presenting the findings of research through digital media are just now evolving. Academic units such as libraries need to work closely with faculty to understand and support how the story of a scholarly research can be expressed through digital media.

In examining print scholarship as a literary genre, one finds that it is essentially driven by a strong narrative supported by references (i.e., footnotes) to primary and secondary sources. This type of narrative-based scholarship is most obvious in the humanities, especially history, but is also very relevant to the social sciences and even the sciences. Narrative is one of the oldest ways of contextualizing information and making it understandable.

The current products of digital libraries most closely resemble reference materials and archival finding aids; indeed, monographic indexes and encyclopedias are essentially databases in printed format. Yet, narrative will surely play a strong role in the future of digital scholarship. The digital culture is in the early stages of utilizing narrative in new media, analogous to the early days of filmmaking when the techniques for effectively telling a story through the new media of that age was just being developed. Indeed, it may be the documentary film rather than the monograph that serves as a better model for the future of digital scholarship.

Narrative in digital scholarship does not supplant the role of databases in digital libraries. Rather, databases should serve as the foundation on which to build narrative-based digital scholarship. Manovich contrasts the database paradigm with that of narrative and describes databases and narratives as “two competing imaginations, two basic creative impulses, two essential responses to the world. Competing to make meaning out of the world, databases and narrative produce endless hybrids.”

Librarians and scholars need to understand more about the capabilities of new media to produce online narratives that are enriched with scholarly digital content that is aurally, textually, and visually stimulating. The growth of digital scholarship is inextricably tied to the means through which digital library databases can be manipulated in order to support the creation of rich and engaging narratives that foster learning.

The original mission behind this blog

From Jan 28, 2005: Endless Hybrids explores the intersection of digital libraries, new media, narratology, and game studies in the context of scholarly communications in the humanities.

I’m still interested in all those things…but have broadened my thoughts beyond scholarly communications…that was the former academic librarian within me. Now I’m interested more interested in mobile computing.

Time to reboot this blog

In 2005 I started a blog on this domain titled Endless Hybrids, focusing largely on libraries and the emerging remix culture. I kept at it for about a year but shifted my attention to my Buenos Aires blog and other writings. For the last couple of years I’ve not blogged much at all anywhere, but I’m resurrecting Endless Hybrids since there’s a tremendous amount of material that I want to reflect on regarding this post-PC world, which I think is also rapidly becoming a post-TV as well as a post-book work.