Category personal

Keep it Chunky, Sticky in 1996

Fred Wilson’s keynote this week at the Web 2.0 conference will be interesting. He is doing a review of the history of the internet business in New York, the slides are posted here. History is something we don’t do a lot of in our business we tend to run forward so fast that we barely look back. I shared some pictures with Fred and I am posting a few more things here.   I also found a random missive I scribed I think in 1996, its pasted below. I was running what we called a web studio back then — we produced a group of web sites, including äda ’web , Total New York and Spanker.


äda ’web’s first project created in the fall of 1994 — Jenny Holzer’s, Please Change Beliefs. This project is still up and available at adaweb. The project was a collaboration between Jenny, ada and John F. Simon, Jnr. I learnt so much from that one piece of work. I am not putting up more ada pieces since unlike the other sites it is still up and running thanks to the Walker Arts Center.

Total NY sends Greg Elin across country for the Silicon Alley to Silicon Valley tour. Greg and this project taught me the fundamentals of what would become blogging


Man meets bike meets cam … Greg Elin prepares for Silicon Alley to Silicon Valley. Don’t miss the connextix “eye” camera on the handle bar!?!

1995, Total NY’s Cosmic Cavern, my first forway into 2d+ virtual worlds, a collaboration with Kenny Scharf. This was a weird and interesting project. We created a virtual world with Scharf based on the cosmic cavern the artist had created at the tunnel night club. Then within the actual Cosmic Cavern we placed PC’s for people to interact with the virtual cavern. Trying to explain it was like a Borges novel. He is a picture of Scharf in the “real” cavern, feels like the 90’s were a long time ago.


Some other random pictures i found from that era:




Keep it Chunky, Sticky and Open:

As the director of a studio dedicated to creating online content, a question I spend a lot of time thinking about is: what are the salient properties of this medium? Online isn’t print, it isn’t television, isn’t radio, nor telephony–and yet we consistently apply properties of all these mediums to online with varied result. But digging deeper, what are the unique properties of online that make the experience interesting and distinct? Well, there are three that we have worked with here the Studio, and we like to call them: chunky, sticky and open.

What is chunky content? It is bite sized, it is discrete and modular, it is quick to understand because it has borders. Suck is chunky, CNET and Spanker (one of our productions) are chunky. Arrive at these sites and within seconds you understand what is going on–the content is simple, its bite sized. Chunkiness is especially relevant in large database-driven sites. Yesterday, my girlfriend and I were looking for hardware on the ZD Net sites (PC Magazine, Net Buyer etc.). She had found a hardware review a day earlier and wanted to show them to me. She typed in the URL for PC Magazine but the whole site had changed. When she looked at the page she had no anchors, she had no bearings to find the review that was featured a day earlier. The experience would have been far less frustrating if the site had been designed with persistent, recursive, chunks. Chunky media offers you a defined pool of content, not a boundless sea. It has clear borders and the parameters are persistent. Bounded content is important; I want to know the borders of the media experience, where it begins and where it ends. What is more, given the distributed, packet-based nature of this medium, both its form and function evokes modularity. Discreet servings of data. Chunks.

Some, but not all, content should stick. Stickiness is about creating an immersive experience. It’s content that dives deep into associations and relationships. The opposite of sticky is slippery, take basic online chat rooms: most of them aren’t sticky. You move from one room to another, chatting about this and that, switching costs are low, they are slippery. Contrast this to MUDS and MOO’s which are very sticky: in MUDS the learning curve is steep (view this as a rite of entry into the community), and context is high (they give a very real sense of place). What you get out of these environments is proportional to your participation and involvement, relationship between characters is deep and associative. When content sticks time slows down and the experience becomes immersive– you look up and what you thought was ten minutes was actually half an hour. Stickiness is evoked through association, participation, and involvement. Personalized information gets sticky as does most content that demands participation. Peer to peer communication is sticky. Community and games are sticky. People (especially when they are not filtered) are sticky. My home page is both chunky and sticky.

I want to find space for me in this medium. Content that is open, or unfinished permits association and participation (see Eno’s article in Wired 3.05, where he talks about unfinished media). There is space for me. I often describe building content in this medium as drawing a 260 degrees circle. The arc is sufficient to describe the circle (e.g.: provide the context) but is open to let the member fill in the remainder. We laugh and cry at movies, we associate with characters in books, they move us. We develop and frame our identity with them and through them–to varying degrees they are all open. Cartoons, comedy, and most forms of humor, theatre, especially improvisational theater, are all open. A joke isn’t really finished till someone laughs, this is the closing of the circle, they got it. Abstraction, generalities and stereotypes, all these forms are open, they leave room for association, room for me and for you.

So, chunky, sticky and open. Try them out and tell me what you think ( Lets keep this open, in the first paragraph I said I wanted to discuss the characteristics that make a piece of online content interesting, I did not use the words great or compelling. I don’t think that anything online that has been created to date is great. These are still early days and we still have a lot to learn and a lot to unlearn. No one has produced the Great Train Robbery of online–yet. But when they do, I would bet that pieces of it will be chunky, sticky and open.

Ok enough reminiscing, closing with Jenny Holzer.

Developmental Dad

My old friend Don Burton has started blogging. His focus is early stage child development — specifically as it relates to his third child, Whitney. Week by week Raising Whit is becoming a wonderful resource for parents who think about applying some of the more advanced areas of developmental psychology to raising their child — he catalogues development stages and types of play with video’s. Don has spent 20 years thinking and working in this area — he is smart as can be and very passionate about his work/play. Great to see theory in application — up close, very real and personal.

Parting is hell

Weep if you must
Parting is hell.
But life goes on.
So sing as well.

Joyce Grenfell

I struggle sometimes to define what I consider to be appropriate personal boundaries re: personal publishing online. As I type, I am flying back from a short trip to London where I went to the memorial service of my 36 year old nephew. What follows is a somewhat rambling post about these boundaries and some memories from the service.

Only connect
After the service yesterday other than sadness all that I could feel was a desire to connect. I called my wife and other family members, I just wanted to share the experience I had had with people I care about. Forester’s words come back and back to me over the years of working with online. As humans we have a deep need for connection — but what are the boundaries of those connections, what tools online serve to effectively share and connect with other human beings?

Online so many of the tools we are building are about public connections, public sharing, public publishing. Friends in the media world often wonder or don’t wonder they just state that people who today are sharing their lives openly on facebook, myspace, beebo, fotolog or any of the long list of other social publishing platforms will stop doing this when they grow up. I don’t believe they will — we are on path to greater and greater public disclosure. This is different to privacy and its certainly different to what people in studies say they want — but usage data is pretty clear, pointing in the direction of ever decreasing concerns about public/private boundaries.

Take Facebook. There has been an incredible explosion of activity on Facebook this year. Much of it is the arrival of the digerati, and many of those people are active bloggers so they fell right into the grove of publishing, posting pictures publicly and updating their newsfeed etc. But many of these new users have never blogged and in discussions with them I have heard them talk about how Facebook is giving them a new platform for sharing in public. But the platform is not new — the internet has offered this kind of sharing for a long time — what is new is they are accepting a new compact in terms of the public / private boundary under which they organize and share their lives using real identity (vs. fantasy which is most of what we see on Myspace, Fotolog etc.). As such Facebook is becoming a platform for identity on the web. New Facebook users are changing behavior, the technology and social context may be easing that change but its the user behavior that is shifting. Slowly, haltingly, people are opening up their lives and participating in virtual communites. It’s a similar but more extreme story over at Twitter.

I regard Twitter through the prism of presence management. Yes, it is a tool for communication and personal publishing, but so many of the posts and the activity on Twitter relate to presence. “I am here right now and its kind of interesting, here is a bit of here”. The shift the designers of Twitter made a few weeks ago — clarifying that friends are named as “followers” only serves to re-inforce this aspect of Twitter. The public / private boundary in Twitter has a couple dimensions to it. Foremost is location. People post and tell you where they are at random points in time. Its not random for the poster, its just somewhat random for the follower. Event happens and are posted when people want them to know something about the place. Its similar to a service in Japan launched years ago called Ima-hima, they did opt in location based posting from mobile devices. I think they are still around, hard to tell from the web site.

Personally, I have few concerns about posting location, heck, last year I played around with publicly posting my location for weeks, hour by hour, via GPS. Its the type of location posting on Twitter that I struggle to navigate. I have no interest in what I call observational broadcasting or egocasting — using Twitter to essentially say “here check my life”. There is a subtle point here I will try to unpack. Egocasting for me feeds two aspects of my relationship to the network that I don’t want to feed — both of these aspects are related let me try to distinguish them clearly. First it serves to increase my awareness of the network about my physical space, encouraging me to observe an experience vs. engage and hope to understand an experience. Second it serves to feed my ego’s need to push or publish that awareness to the public network. I personally, don’t want to develop either of these traits. When I am somewhere I want to try experience where I am, not the experience of what sharing the experience of where I am will be. This might be personal, I know its personally important to me — its somewhat I feel strongly about to ramble on about it here.

Back to London and the memorial service. I wanted to share my experience but I wanted to share it in a direct and personal way with a small group. The tools to do this dont really exist today beyond email. Years ago bullentin boards and communities like the Well or Panix served this need. But today the scope of Facebook or Myspace is insanely broad and as a consequence it lacks the dynamic evolution of human relationships. The designation of friends on many social sites is clumsy and broad — on Facebook I get to shoehorn the type of relationship I have with you into one of 14 categories. And then there is the issue of missing prana that I remember reading about in a piece by Barlow over a decade ago. Friends are not the 150 friends I have on Facebook, friendship is a dynamic human experience and shoehorning it into a set of categories is dehumanizing. The network needs to serve us, not us the network. To the extent possible, I seek to be very intentional about how i interact with the network.

One aspect of the network and the internet that I do want to feed is its capacity to enhance and help us remember. So let me close with the address that was given at the service.

The priests who gave the address at the service was the priest who had married my nephew eight years ago, he was also his god father. His address was very frank and ungarnished with religious dogma. He couldn’t avoid it — he wasn’t just the representative of a religion here he was the god father — he was someone who actually had to resolve how this kind of loss can sustain his belief not undermine it. He spoke very directly about how he resolves belief in God with the loss of someone in their mid-thirties, a husband, a father, who has spent fifteen years struggling with cancer. How do you square that circle? Here I am going to tread with clumsy steps on heaps of theological thinking, but I have asked this question myself, here and before and I haven’t heard many answers, he offered one.

He focussed in on the question of whether he views God as a personal, active God or a passive observer of life. He said that one time that God actively participated was when he gave his son to mankind. That one act aside he said God isn’t an active God. That one act was an act of giving, an act that ended with his son dying at age 33 screaming, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. That act, that intervention in our lives, he said, only served to illustrate that our lives our lived by us, but against a backdrop, of something greater than us.

In closing a piece by S Hall Young, from the service:

Let me die working,
Still tackling plans unfinished, tasks undone!
Clean to its end, swift may my race be run.
No laggard steps, no faltering, no shirking;
Let me die working.

Let me die thinking,
Let me fare forth still with an open mind,
Fresh secrets to unfold, new truths to find,
My soul undimmed, alert, no question blinking;
Let me die thinking.

Let me die giving,
The substance of life, for life’s enriching;
Time, things and self on heaven converging,
No selfish thought, love redeeming, living;
Let me die giving.


I went to see Ted Leonsis’s film Nanking this week. It is a hard movie to write about, let alone see. The film documents the rape of Nanking, an event that I thought was named as a metaphor for a city that was pillaged. Pillaged it was but the people were also indiscriminately raped. It’s an awful, gut wrenching documentary of human nature and war. It is also a story of eight or so people who managed to save hundreds of thousands of lives — but there is little to no glorification of their roles, its told upfront, in your face, the words are taken directly from the diaries of survivors. Disasters of this kind are usually told from a distant, sanitized, and historical perspective. This movie does none of the above — similar to Spielberg’s Shoah documentary. Amazingly one of the people who saved so many was the head of Siemens — a Nazi. I also didn’t realize the dates of the massacre — this was 1937/38 — a full year before the start of WW2. Seemingly we leant nothing, would things have turned out differently if this history had been documented and telegraphed around the world?

A few people asked me — should I see it? I think its a personal decision that warrants a few minutes of thought. We are at war today and almost everything we see if filtered through the sanitized lens of our media — this film is about war and the depths of human depravity, its not nice and the loose ends aren’t tied up in a way that gives you any closure. The bravery of a few people is a small measure compared to the depth of evil that is documented. I never understood the degree of attention that rested on Koizumi’s decision to visit the Tokyo War Shrine. I now understand what an historical affront that was.

Finally, documenting the tools of war propaganda — so literally — was something I had never seen before. It’s clear why this history was never clearly documented or told in Japanese history books. Why the soldiers wanted the westerners out of the city before the military arrived. Seeing clips of Japanese journalist filming children getting candy from soldiers as the people of Nanking were been “liberated” — while nothing could have been closer to the truth. Even if you insist on discussing the many subjective truths that make up history — there needs to be some averaging, and history here has been seemingly devoid of any perspective. Nanking is a reminder to chew carefully before consuming any news media today. For that reason alone I think its worth seeing the film.

Seasons and vegetables

Broccoli season is over. Its strange and wonderful to be living in a country where vegetables are truly tied to the seasons. I am so accustomed to boundless choice available in NYC. No more broccoli for a while — asparagus it is. Spring is really here, almost 70 today.

A torch

The other day I was taking one of my children into Como. We came across some traffic, a police escort starting coming towards us in the opposite lane. I thought it must be a local dignitary or maybe the local soccer team — but after a while we figured out that the Olympic torch was coming our way. A young school aged girl was holding the torch. I took a snap with my motorola phone, not great quality but here it is.


This could become a rant about phones and how hard it is to move personal media off them, to save, share or publish but for now leaving this as a picture of a wonderful moment of happenstance.