I remember the very instant that I learned to be creative, to 'invent' things, to do things in an interesting and unusual way, and it happened by accident, literally.
I created mess around myself, the kind of chaos that would be very dangerous in an operating theater but which is synonymous with artists' studios, and in that mess I edited the accidents. By increasing the amount of mess I had freed things up and increased the possibilities, I had maximised the adjacent possible and was able to create the appearance of inventing new things by editing the mistakes which appeared novel and interesting.
The adjacent possible is one of those ideas that, once you hear it, you want to apply to everything around you.
In a pair of articles at GigaOM, David Galbraith shares some lessons from building Wists, a visual bookmarking site that was a precursor to Pinterest. In part one, he describes how the site came about:
I get too much credit for RSS and for Yelp, but the one thing that I can unashamedly claim to have invented is visual bookmarking, and more specifically the "choose images to thumbnail via a bookmarklet" method that Pinterest is based on. It's not much of an "invention" per se. It's a moronically simple thing, but it's the right moronically simple thing. And given that more than one billion dollars rests on the idea, maybe it's worth looking back at its history.
In part two, he talks about the rise of grid sites:
Although a seemingly trivial distinction, grid sites have their distinct advantages and disadvantages over linear ones. They look pretty, but require scanning in two directions. This is not good for news, where you need to understand the timeline at a glance. However, for scanning thumbnails, a grid is particularly efficient. But even then, the success of such image-rich sites as Tumblr made people think that the river worked for everything. I suspect the key UX component of Tumblr's success is the ease of sharing or reblogging. Also, in such a heterogeneous text/image environment, you can't just have a grid.
I disagree strenuously with David about the importance and utility of grids for visual sites...using Pinterest for more than a few seconds makes me want to smash things.
I'll bet if you asked every French politician where the web was invented not a single one would know this. The Franco-Swiss border runs through the CERN campus and building 31 is literally just a few feet into France. However, there is no explicit border within CERN and the main entrance is in Switzerland, so the situation of which country it was invented in is actually quite a tricky one. The current commemorative plaque, which is outside a row of offices where people other than Tim Berners-Lee worked on the web, is in Switzerland. To add to the confusion, in case Tim thought of the web at home, his home was in France but he temporarily moved to rented accommodation in Switzerland, just around the time the web was developed. So although, strictly speaking, France is the birthplace of the web it would be fair to say that it happened in building 31 at CERN but not in any particular country! How delightfully appropriate for an invention which breaks down physical borders.
There's been a lot written about Steve Jobs in the past week, a lot of it worthy of reading, but one piece you probably didn't see is David Galbraith's piece on Jobs' similarity to architect Norman Foster. The essay is a bit all over the place, which replicates the experience of talking to David in person, but it's littered with insight and goodness (ditto).
The answer is what might be called the sand pile model and it operated at Apple and Fosters, the boss sits independently from the structural hierarchy, to some extent, and can descend at random on a specific element at will. The boss maintains control of the overall house style by cleaning up the edges at the same time as having a vision for the whole, like trying to maintain a sand pile by scooping up the bits that fall off as it erodes in the wind. This is the hidden secret of design firms or prolific artists, the ones where journalists or historians agonize whether a change in design means some new direction when it just means that there was a slip up in maintaining the sand pile.
And I love this paragraph, which integrates Foster, Jobs, the Soviet Union, Porsche, Andy Warhol, Lady Gaga, and even an unspoken Coca-Cola into an extended analogy:
Perfecting the model of selling design that is compatible with big business, Foster simultaneously grew one of the largest architecture practices in the world while still winning awards for design excellence. The secret was to design buildings like the limited edition, invite only Porsches that Foster drove and fellow Porsche drivers would commission them. Jobs went further, however, he managed to create products that were designed like Porsches and made them available to everyone, via High Tech that transcended stylistic elements. An Apple product really was high technology and its form followed function, it went beyond the Porsche analogy by being truly fit for purpose in a way that a Porsche couldn't, being a car designed for a speed that you weren't allowed to drive. Silicon Valley capitalism had arguably delivered what the Soviets had dreamed of and failed, modernism for the masses. An iPhone really is the best phone you can buy at any price. To paraphrase Andy Warhol: Lady Gaga uses an iPhone, and just think, you can have an iPhone too. An iPhone is an iPhone and no amount of money can get you a better phone. This was what American modernism was about.
My rough estimate: Lady Gaga has cost Google 10 petabytes in bandwidth same as 10,000 text messages for everyone on earth. If Lady Gaga's Google bandwidth was charged at what ATT charges for SMS, it would have cost: 10.5 trillion dollars.
The rate for SMS messaging is obscene but the real money is in ink cartridges, right? Apparently not. HP's basic black inkjet cartridge is available at Amazon for the astounding price of $29 and will print 495 pages. Assuming 250 words per page and six characters per word (five char/word + one space), 10 petabytes of text messages would cost only $503 billion to print out (excluding paper costs, which would add ~$89 billion to the total). Who knew that texting was more expensive than inkjet printing by a factor of 20?
The reason I'm interested in this is that recognizing the exact places involved in the birth of the web is a celebration of knowledge itself rather than belief, opinion or allegiance, both politically and spiritually neutral and something that everyone can potentially enjoy and feel a part of.
Secondly, many places of lesser importance are very carefully preserved. The place where the web was invented is arguably the most important place in 2 millennia of Swiss history and of global historical importance.
The population [of Rome] during the Renaissance was miniscule (yet it was still a global center), when Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel it was considerably smaller than a town like Palo Alto is today (60K); Rome at its nadir was about the size of Google (20K employees); the growth of Rome during the Industrial era is much greater than the rise of Ancient Rome.
David, you should check out The Inheritance of Rome; I'm about 100 pages in and pretty interesting so far. Also, it would be instructive to do the same graph but Rome's population as a percentage of world population.
The top floor of Corbusier's Villa Stein (one of perhaps the top 500 most important houses of the late 19th/early 20th centuries - i.e. a Van Gogh of houses) is for sale for the same price per sq.ft. (approx $1400) as buildings in the same area of suburban Paris, designed by nobody in particular. Meanwhile, Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for an inflation adjusted price of $136 million yet a poster of similar square footage and style costs around $10.
In terms of signaling, it's difficult to hang a house on one's parlor wall...buying a Corbusier means living in it wherever it happens to be located, at least part of the year.
Short of opening a Radio Shack in an Amish town, Dubai is the world's worst business idea, and there isn't even any oil. Imagine proposing to build Vegas in a place where sex and drugs and rock and roll are an anathema. This is effectively the proposition that created Dubai - it was a stupid idea before the crash, and now it is dangerous.
What's the biggest problem with Dubai? It doesn't have the cultural bedrock needed to support a destination city.
It looks like Manhattan except that it isn't the place that made Mingus or Van Allen or Kerouac or Wolf or Warhol or Reed or Bernstein or any one of the 1001 other cultural icons from Bob Dylan to Dylan Thomas that form the core spirit of what is needed, in the absence of extreme toleration of vice, to infuse such edifices with purpose and create a self-sustaining culture that will prevent them crumbling into the empty desert that surrounds them.
The experimenters used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of Harvard and other Boston-area students while showing them pictures of other college-age people whom the researchers randomly described as either liberal northeastern students or conservative Midwest fundamentalist Christian students.
The study concludes that the secret to getting along with someone that you perceive as an outsider is to find some common ground so that your brain will accept them as someone with similar circumstances.
This is not new advice. Yet it is heartening to see that it is firmly grounded in distinct patterns of neural activity. There may be a brain basis for reacting with prejudices for those that seem different. But there's also a brain basis for overriding those differences and seeing outsiders as more like us.
In other words, a civilized society depends not on the people who are currently the most civilized, but those who are most willing to accept change, as social or cultural groupings change, split or coalesce. Inevitably this means reasonable people rather than faithful people.
FEBL media usually means nothing and is patently false but incredibly seductive. It is the perfect scaffold to hang propaganda and acts like a bit-borne, pernicious narcotic. Although films like Zeitgeist are mildly entertaining, due to their unbelievable popularity (more than 5 Million people have watched it on YouTube), they must be taken seriously. I suspect they might actually be dangerous, and therefore, as someone who does not believe in censorship it is important to make fun of Zeitgeist as the tired piece of po-faced, visually illiterate, polemically challenged, pornographic bullshit that it is.
My friend David Galbraith just launched a gadget site called Oobject. The gadgets are organized into hierarchically ordered collections and you can vote on the position of a particular gadget within the collection. Two of my favorite collections are the iPod knock-offs and revolting gold gadgets (it's interesting that gold makes technology look vulgar and therefore cheap).
Oh, and David's Smashing Telly is still cranking along nicely. I wish I had time to watch all the shows featured recently.
David Galbraith notes that several of the top sites on the web don't validate: Yahoo, Ebay, Amazon, Google, and even "Web 2.0" newcomers Flickr, Digg, and Del.icio.us. "Are all these companies wrong, or is there something wrong with current accessibility standards?"