Accessibility Featured Social Classification The Social Web Usability

Everyone is a publisher. So, what’s the problem?

2006 was the year of the people (Time magazine said so) In 2007 the elite joined the discussion, and more outspoken than they had been in the last years. In short, the web is crap! Or at least a lot on the web is crap.

Andrew Keen talked about how everyone has the same voice, we don’t check facts or sources and basically create an environment with so much * useless * information that it could have a negative effect on culture in general.

I don’t believe public / universal access to information and publishing can have a (lasting) negative effect on culture, creativity or anything else. What I do believe is that the discussion is connecting the problem to the wrong cause.

What’s the problem?
The real problem isn’t that everyone has access to information or can publish anything he or she wants. The problem is you can’t find what you want and are confronted with the things you don’t want to see or know.

In an ideal situation the web only gives you the correct answer to what you need or want.

The discussion shouldn’t be about the mass joining and filling the web with everything and photos of their cat. The discussion should be about how do we enhance our filters.

The discussion only emphasizes that filters and thus search engines aren’t yet good enough, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Developing the signal to noise ratio
2007 was about social recommendations and social networks. The social web works with filters by like minded and ‘friends’. Mix this with the power of a search engine like Google and we are closer to the next stage of navigating through information on the web.

Don’t say that what people make or do is not good enough or wrong. Just be happy they tried.

I have updated the original photo in this post with a new one.

Music Projects

Vote for the best dance record of 2007

While I was on holiday Eclectro launched the competition for best dance record of 2007. Last month we asked readers to submit records, made a final shortlist of a hundred songs and ask you to use the voting widget to vote on your favorite song.

We are using our magic voting mechanism.

I think we have a good representation of the best dance records in 2007. And with over 100.000 votes already I’m really, really happy.

Share the votingwidget

If you like dance music and want to help us share the word, you can embed the election on your website as well, just copy the code above and change the width and height if you want to resize it.

Special thanks to the guys at Freshheads who did some technical support and are taking care of bandwith :)


Back from a great holiday

Back from holiday

Back from a great holiday where in one coral reef at a depth of twelve meters I did see Sammy the Salmon’s beatbox swimming deflated. A huge (at least 40cm) porcupine blowfish.

BTW. I think Sammy the Salmon is actually a snapper ;)

Music Projects

Eclectro website redesigned

The new Eclectro website

Yesterday we launched a new design for the Eclectro blog. Eclectro is a Dutch blog about electronic music made by volunteers. It started this year with a default WordPress template. Over the last months the blog grew in visits and different types of content. The diversity of content makes it interesting, but it also shifted ‘exclusive’ articles too fast from the frontpage.

We redesigned the blog into a magazine style website where we have featured content, new content and special content. The result: more articles on the homepage and a better visual identification of the importance of different items.

Next week Eclectro will start the election for best dance track of 2007. We’ve got over 300 suggestions for records and made a shortlists of 100.

With this new design Eclectro is ready for phase two. We’re growing up fast, have a great community and unlimited ideas.

Both redesigns took all my attention and time over the last weeks. Hypernarrative will probably be updated again around Christmas, after my holiday

Projects Usability

Volkskrant website redesigned

Volkskrant website redesigned

Last week we updated the design of Most of the changes came from usability research and the natural change of things at a company. The previous design update was one year before.

The front page of the website is still the major outlet. RSS feeds and widgets are important, but most traffic is still generated on the homepage. With the 2006 update we changed the complete structure, last weeks update is more focussed on the presentation of the front page and article page. We improved on readability.

We have good arguments for everything that changed, some minor details, but I think the visual direction we’re heading is a solid one. What is more interesting is what this is the start of.

Object oriented design
We (users of the web) go to an object based environment. Widgets, feeds and API’s are all made to be transportable. With this new phase of data-transportability we need a design that can work with this. You need a lay-out that can be as exportable as your xml. Simple, clean and understandable.

Different parts of the Volkskrant website are made by different providers. What you want is a design that is extremely extendible like Lego, uniform like Lego and creative, like Lego. You want design to be object oriented as well. Instead of just an overall design philosophy.

There is a simple reason for it. There is just too much. The future of website development is one where not a programmer, but the designer could be the limiting factor. We can use widgets, script libraries, export and import content over databases, but we have to ask a designer to provide style elements.

Templates and CSS worked great in centralizing design, but what if your content starts drifting away? How will you stay consistent over all those widgets and interfaces? It’s a designers nightmare.

Everyone will be designing
Sure it’s great to have full control over all aspects and use of a design, but this could eventually slow down progress. We have to think around it. Style guides are a classic solution for this problem, but those are often made for other designers. Not for programmers, editors or users.

I think this new lay-out will give more freedom to develop object oriented design, small common objects that make it easy to combine and present great content. It’s like designing Lego blocks instead of the castle. And I’m quite happy with it.

Interactive Storytelling Interactive Video Online Identity Photography

Flick Radio, experimental radio drama with Flickr visuals

Flick Radio Screenshot RVU
Flick Radio is a Dutch (English subtitled) Radio drama about storytelling and about Flickr. Flick Radio is about a lot of things, but mostly it’s about Flickr. How we perceive identities on Flickr or in virtual worlds in general, we think to know people by the photos or items they post. And we fill in what we don’t know.

It’s a very interesting experiment and visual documentary made with ‘found footage’. It deserves your attention if you like documentaries, storytelling or photography.

Watch it in full screen DivX or in lower quality on YouTube.

Accessibility Featured Notes Online Identity

What happens to websites when your information is free to move?

Hypernarrative end of the website

Social websites are getting better, more used, more open and more complete. Why should you start a website or blog if you can also write on your Facebook. Or why wouldn’t you transfer or duplicate all your data from your Facebook to any other social network or widget.

Do we need custom coded websites?
We need interfaces that show the information, but do we still need custom coded websites? We’re transfering data via xml, rss and api’s from one website to another. We import contacts from one service into another. We’re trying to work to a universal/sigle sign-on and to standards in open social techniques. Technology (widgets) and design (templates) are available to everyone, you just take what you need.

The field is rapidly shifting, we are clustering information around people not around services anymore. Information gets easily transportable and because of this, free of the website it is presented on. There are already many communities and I’m sure the amount of smaller communities will grow fast within the next years.

Why start a website, if you actually would like to start a community? Communities are about engagement and engagement is the ultimate goal for most websites and the base for a long term relationship between provider and user.

I’m writing these articles on my hypernarrative blog, but why should I? It’s a closed environment (except full article RSS). I could as well start writing this on my Facebook, Flickr or Ning. As long as you all move with me :)

I don’t need a special website to express myself. I need an outlet to publish my thoughts, a community and readers that sometimes give me valuable feedback, ispire or correct me. And the funny thing is that my chances finding these readers in social networks are growing.

My options are changing. First I made a blog because it gave me freedom of publishing. I could stop using Dreamweaver for updates, change the lay-out or control the information anytime I wanted.

We’re getting into a situation where I don’t need to run my own blogsoftware or website to be in full control of my information. With the direction social networks are moving I can easily move my information everywhere I want, when I want.

The barrier of technology had its peak, for now. Everyone can make what he or she likes. We just need to find the tools we need. The real challenge in launching a successful website is in building a great community.

Accessibility Game culture Interactive Storytelling Music

How editing video became another form of self expression

Assassin's Creed screenshot

Last week the new game Assissin’s Creed was launched. It is a game developed by the makers of Prince of Persia and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell. Two very popular game series, with extraordinary gameplay.

From “The setting is 1191 AD. The Third Crusade is tearing the Holy Land apart. You, Altair, intend to stop the hostilities by suppressing both sides of the conflict. You are an Assassin, a warrior shrouded in secrecy and feared for your ruthlessness. Your actions can throw your immediate environment into chaos, and your existence will shape events during this pivotal moment in history.”

Yesterday there was a music video for the game on Dutch television. It’s is always interesting when Dutch artists make music for major game releases so I searched YouTube for the videoclip. I didn’t find the videoclip I had seen on television, what I found was an enormous collection video clips made from the same trailer footage and edited on different music.

This isn’t machinima where you take a game engine and compose your own story with the game characters. The video clips don’t add anything new or extra to the game or the trailer, the clips are just forms of expression.

People are making their own video clips because they can and love it. Everyone with access can edit, like everyone with access can write. You need basic knowledge, but that’s about it. This is how people show what kind of music and games they like. It’s a tribute to a game that isn’t released yet. This is a culture that only exists around the collective waiting for a game release.

This is how we entertain ourselves, by telling stories with and about the things we like. I don’t know how to call this, it’s a mix between game culture, video clip culture, and waiting. But above all it’s cultural expression. Unfortunately still illegal (due to music copyrights), but a great phenomena.

Brainpower & Intwine (the music video)

The original game trailer

The YouTube remixes

Interactive Storytelling Journalism Projects

The Volkskrant JK Rowling Interview animated

Website de Volkskrant Harry Potter JK Rowling Interview Flash

This saturday the Dutch translation of the last Harry Potter book is released. The Volkskrant has an exclusive (newspaper) interview with Harry Potter creator, J.K. Rowling. To create an online extension for this interview we have a downloadable 14 pages A4 pdf version and a Flash animation. In this animation you can read the interview, a column, watch a movie review and interview with the Dutch Potter books Illustrator.

What is fun about a project like this is that you can experiment with interactive storytelling. Although the website just displays the interview and we didn’t have time for ‘real’ interactive storytelling, the Harry Potter theme gives great mise en scène possibilities. You can experiment with Flash and Photoshop and create a special atmosphere.

For a while Volkskrant graphics editors (instead of web editors) are making animations for the website, which is how I think it should be done. They know everything about graphics, maps and where to get the right visual information. They can create one graphic and port it to different media.

I don’t often make animations anymore. So the JK Rowling interview which I mostly did with Marijn was fun. A long day, but fun. The animation works with full browser Flash and starts like a movie. Unfortunately there was no time left for sound design.

This project isn’t about breaking news. It’s about presenting the same interview in a different format. It’s transporting something from one media (paper) to the other (web), do extra visual design and make it a little interactive. It’s a start in interactive storytelling.

These are the kind of projects that connect all parts in a news organization to create multiple productions about a similar subject in different media. These are the projects that learn an organization about interactive storytelling and about the possibilities. What’s next?

de Volkskrant Harry Potter Interview Flash Intro

Last year I experimented with something more news related, a reconstruction of a mysterious project involving suitcases with money.

Experiments Notes Projects

How to organize the best online election

Screenshot election module best of 2006
The last two years Inge and I have organized lists to present the best dance record of the year.

In 2005 we asked experts about their favorite dance record. In 2006 we upgraded the concept, asked experts about their favorite songs and added a second part where everyone could vote on the records.

This year we will ask everyone about their favorite records of 2007 and let everyone vote.

The voting system
Last year I had been reading Critical Mass, how one thing leads to another (a great book if you like statistics). Somewhere in this book there was the notion that the best scientific choice is one out of two. I love simplicity and wanted to do something with this. The dance election looked like the best opportunity to experiment with it. How can you create an advanced voting system that relies on the simplest choice. Right or left, yes or no?

What we build was a voting machine that had over 70 items in its database. Every time you open the website it generates a random playlist of random pairs. Every time you click one item it will update both items in the database in views and give a point to the winning item. The result is a list generated on percentages (views/votes) and as far I know even reasonably scientific correct.

You can listen to previews of the songs and once you make a choice it will show two new songs to make a new choice. To continue, you always have to choose your favorite song out of a random pair.

It sounds really simple, and it is. So far I have found no other system that beats this way of measuring what people like. The list of songs can be indefinite and the number of contributers can be indefinite. Lobby parties are more than welcome, but they should know that every other vote they make counts. You can vote on four records or 600.

Last year we’ve got over 70.000 votes, great media coverage, heavy use of bandwidth and a final list that is a very good representation of what was interesting in electronic music in 2006.

For this years election we connect the election to the Eclectro blog. A Dutch weblog that has a substantial, growing and very smart group of visitors interested in electronic music.

How to improve
This week I am building the system for this years election, how do you think we can make this better? Is there something we forgot? Or do you know a dance song that should be on the list? Let me know.