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The iPad

I wonder how many blog posts have been written so far about this device only a few people have actually seen and handled.

I kept up with the live blogs during the presentation yesterday. I ooh’ed and ah’ed at the screen shots. I got excited about the price until I found out it was for 16 gigs. I read the Mashable article on what the iPad doesn’t have.

I wrote a status update about the name… but I suppose I will get over it.

The list of things it doesn’t have kind of surprised me, I have to admit. The lack of ports, the need for adapters – it kind of made me wonder what the plans are for the device. I agree with my friend Lou, and probably a lot of other people (but Lou is one of the only people I know personally who went to MIT), that Apple is planning on being a lot more disruptive with this device than it would appear at first glance.

I think the most interesting and incomprehensible move is not opening it up with an SDK for developers. I’m sure/hopeful they will eventually, just as I’m sure they’ll develop a better way for it to sync data with clouds – it will have to, to survive in the market.

There are a handful of other slightly confusing moves, most of them from a hardware perspective — but you know, the iPhone didn’t come with a camera at first either, and now look at it – one of the few devices making augmented reality a reality for us.

All in all, I’m reserving judgment until I get one in my hands.

I wish everyone else would, too.

Lately my friends and I seem to fall into two camps – those who don’t see issues with Facebook’s new privacy policies, and those who do.

I am way more freaked out by the privacy issues linked to always-on location services than I am by Google search results. Surveillance, anyone? (But that could be because I don’t understand the tech all that well.)

Everyone has their own lines, their own boundaries, when it comes to being online.

I learned my lessons on what not to say a long time ago, the hard way.

There is the embracing side of me, that sees the web as a unique place to express myself as well as an expression of the global consciousness. A place to share and be shared with. A place to connect. In all reality I have nothing to hide about my life and I understand that most of what I’ve done with or in my life is really easy to find out about online – that’s where the understanding how the web works thing comes into play.

There is a transparency to our lives we don’t control any more. Our data is owned and spliced every day. Our emails indexed, supposedly for the purposes of delivering relevant ads. That’s… kinda scary. The way I look at it is something like this: it’s a karmic thing. The whole world is communicating about private things, every day, using this medium. It’s a mutually assured destruction scenario on a global personal scale. So the lid will likely remain on pretty tight for the foreseeable future – my lifetime, maybe?

For example, public records. You can easily discover that I was married in 1996. You can find that I have no outstanding liens or a criminal record, and maybe you can find out that I’ve gotten two speeding tickets in my lifetime, but you wouldn’t be able to know – because you weren’t there and it happened in my real life and I reserve the stories for cocktail parties – that I have gotten out of 5 or 6 tickets just by being respectful and nice to the officer in question (though others in the car called it “flirting”). So there it is – I’ve told that story – and now it’s out there, forever. But that’s ok. I’m ok with that story.

My rule of thumb online is this – say my kids are going over my digital records all Bridges of Madison County -like one day. And they find a blog posting. Will they fall over dead about my secret life? Or will they say, mom thought about and did some interesting things before and after we came along?

Information Flow

When I really get to thinking about information and technology, it ends up being visual to me. I can see myself standing in a Tron-like vector-based grid with information flowing around me. I can reach up and select the pieces I want. Magnify them. Consider them. Make them part of my own consciousness, my own flow of information. Share them with others, contribute my perspective. Or reject them and move on – let them slide into the flow of someone else’s grid.

In those moments I view the web and its attendant offshoots as a thing that works much like the human mind. It’s kind of … lovely, in its own way. A system that reflects its creator. A mind map of the universe. A beautiful, multilayered, multicultural, multilingual, multipurpose mind map.

It’s my purist way of viewing technology as something that can help all of us.

Crash into reality, though, and it’s a little different. I don’t interact with it as this pure system. I have to pick and choose, manage my flow.

To that end, I have always been one of those people who is entirely utilitarian in my use of any and all technology. I have to be. I will download just about anything and play with it, but if I can’t use it, sayonara, hasta la vista.

My life is too busy to sit and play with Twitter all day. If it were my job to play with Twitter all day, if I had a strategic, beneficial-to-my-life reason to use it, that would be one thing.

But right now, that technology would be mostly personal in its use, and I can’t live in this overly communicative space, this place where I tell people what I’m doing all day long instead of doing it. I like having a life, not talking about having a life, not telling the same ten people all day long about what I’m thinking.

Same thing with LinkedIn. In a phone conversation I had yesterday I was questioned – why do I only have 43 contacts? Why am I not more active in network building? Well, because frankly, LinkedIn is kind of… anachronistic, because it’s all about “only” professional interaction and that’s a myth in the social media world (she says, knowing this post will go to the LinkedIn flow). I’m there because I have to be, but most of the action for me happens on Facebook. Professionally and personally. It also does not escape my notice that some of my best friends from before I became a professional anything are very into the same tech I am.

It may be the way people who work in technology interact with it and each other. We truly connect — we share content, thoughts, emails, status updates, photos, and we are comfortable using technology to do it. In the background, even as we use it, we are thinking about the tech itself — it runs like a subroutine through my consciousness. So technology, in its way, is part of all the threads that make me, me. As a result, when I’m there, I know that I genuinely connect with others on Facebook.

In connecting with your own network you connect with the whole collective, and Facebook is brilliant for contributing to the collective. The flow is so fast that people have to choose what to pay attention to, and I am always watching the flow pretty closely. I notice what people pay attention to, what they comment on, how they use the information I add to the flow. My mother is on there, and probably ignores my posts about augmented reality while my former boss thanks me for the link. My former boss is also a friend, and she probably ignores my posts about my kids’ last report card. But my mom picks that thread up and runs with it. An old colleague posts something about her baby teething – and I help out with a tip or remark of my own. Yesterday I posted something simple about a facial I was about to get, and people from across the spectrum of my network had things to say — 10 things, as it turned out. All I did was put it out there, into the stream. A tiny blip.

It’s beautiful, really. And while it does blur the lines between the professional and the personal, social media does that whether we acknowledge it or not.

Facebook is where my information flows. That’s where I select what I want to add to my consciousness, how I communicate with people in the online space. It’s where my network is. It’s where I invest time in growing that network. It’s my grid.

My friend Sarah and I, we have a lot of information flowing between us on Facebook and elsewhere. She inspired this post with one of her own.

Last night I went to the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago to see Caravan of Thieves and Works Progress Administration.

First, a bit about the venue. The School’s theater is cozy and intimate. It allows performers to see the audience. The ambiance is relaxed. The bands were relaxed and the whole show had the feel of hanging out with friends and jamming. Some really excellent musician friends who outstrip me in skill by miles and miles, but still.

I hadn’t heard of Caravan until seeing them perform and they were amazing – the musical style is called “acoustic swing” — this music is complex and unpredictable, the lyrics are dark and wonderful. Two acoustic guitars, one upright bass and a violin performed Bohemian Rhapsody – no joke, and they did it really well. They have a theatrical bent to their performance that makes the music feel even more adventurous – to really appreciate the music’s twists and turns, see them live as I did.

The stories told in the songs have a little twist to them. One song, Bar Isole, is about a bar and a wife and a bartender. It starts out with French cafe music, you know, when the guys come up to your table and start playing so you can’t even hear yourself think, but with a twist – it was in a minor key. They called the song a “modern love story” because it’s about a wife who flirts with a bartender, only to find that the bartender and her husband are sleeping together.

If I had to recommend one or two songs that simply must be downloaded, I’d say Bouquet and Bar Isole. If you like those, definitely finish the album.

Works Progress Administration is made up of guys from other bands. Glen Phillips from Toad the Wet Sprocket is easily recognized by most of us – he sings on many of the tracks. Luke Bulla from Lyle Lovett’s band and Sean Watkins from Nickel Creek play too, but the band itself flexes in its members based on the song being played. The first and second tracks of of their August release, Always Have My Love and Good As Ever, are being played on the radio station I listen to (Sirius XM’s The Loft, channels 29 and 50).

All of the songs they played last night are pretty different but a dominating factor is what I will call the warmth of the music. Yeah. Warmth. Like a fire you want to sit by. You’d expect a bluegrass domination thing to be happening but it doesn’t, which is nice. There’s an indie rock feel to some of the stuff, but there’s some nice blues stuff happening mixed in with the bluegrass, and you can tell that these guys are all buddies having a great time. That’s how the band came together – they were just playing together for fun and decided to work on some songs they had written… decided the songs sounded pretty good… so they formed WPA.

On their site they say: “We are an independent band. We have no label, no corporate pockets to pick, no millions to splatter our name across the mediascape.” You can decide how much you want to pay to download their album. They want me to embed their player to spread the word. So here it is in, totally worth playing during a workday:

Google Wave Input

I’ve been using Google Wave for a few weeks now as a beta user.

I read an article about a survey Google put out to gather user feedback. The questions seemed… very … milk-toasty. As in, one of the reasons for liking Wave was that it is a shiny new toy? Er?

Having released the survey to a bunch of developers, I would think that the questions and therefore the feedback would be… more specific, maybe? Maybe they got tons of feedback in the free-form text field at the end of the survey.

So here’s my specific feedback for Google. I submitted a lot of these in the form of “ideas” in Google’s Product Idea area, which is a Twitter-like space where you can contribute or vote on other people’s ideas.

Widgets
The widgets are really, really important – as important as the App Store is to the iPhone. It makes Wave customizable, personalized. With so much going on, personalization is important.

Widgets need to be run like the App Store, installable to a toolbox/ribbon view, maybe, within the specific wave’s interface or the user’s consistent interface.

Widgets need to be interest-area-specific. As in, gamers need their own set of widgets; weather freaks need theirs. I need project planning widgets like mind maps and wireframes. People need to have collapsible toolboxes of widgets for the kind of waves they work in most often, and recommendations need to pop up every now and then for new widgets to keep them flowing into users’ toolboxes.

Update Rate
Thus far I’ve joined public waves for various topic areas just to get a feel for how a wave will work. One for project management dorks like me, one for that Getting Things Done guy, one for Kindles. They flex in how much people use them, but when traffic is high, and the update rate is immediate — I am able to see what someone is typing as they type it — those waves can seem like they’re on some kind of time-lapse. I get that it’s an international, open thread and people are playing with it, but I can see having a conference wave in which the conversation moves really, really fast; and waves in which I don’t really want people to see what I’m typing until I’m really done typing it (editing and checking for typos).

To that end, Google needs to make refresh rates a customizable option, by wave types (public vs. private, professional vs. personal) and by individual wave – this is another aspect of personalization. Some users will want to set them by wave type and be done with it; dorks like me will want to get more granular. I should be able to do both at any time.

The Interface
I get that there are lots of ways to communicate and that’s part of the beauty here. For the most part, the interface has been well thought-out to accommodate what’s going on. That said, there are an awful lot of little red, green and yellow lights, plus signs and X’s in this interface. As a user goes from the general to the specific, left to right, the interface should streamline, get more simple and be more customizable. Right now, in the left column is your contacts and chat list; in the center are current waves, sortable and searchable; and then on the far right is your actual wave. So by the time I get to the right panel (and I should have the option to collapse those left windows whenever I want), things need to get easier to see and do. Instead, my widgets and style buttons are sitting up there in a very text-heavy set of options for my current wave. Move the ribbons! Make them a popup control panel, or something.

Integration
People are talking about how it will need to integrate with apps like Outlook, that people in tech will be early adopters but to bring more people into the fold it needs to plug into current software.

To be honest, I don’t know how that can possibly work — it seems to me that it will end up looking like early Outlook/smart phone integration looked, which was just excruciating to view, much less use. The way Outlook is designed to work, with every discrete content type so specific and separate in its own silo of data, and the contact record being the primary key for all activity, I have a hard time seeing how it might work (then again, I’m no Google developer). Outlook is really a contact management system with task management layered on top of it. Entourage is the closest Microsoft product I know of to how Wave groups and organizes content and users — in Entourage, the project is the organizing principle and everything flows from that. Well, I’m sure they will figure it out. If it extends the platform to more users, they’ll figure it out.

“Readers don’t know what they need or what they want. I’m here to give them what I know they need,” the editor said.

“Actually, in the reader survey, they told us exactly what they want in the newsletter,” the marketing guy said.

I was not only watching two stubborn egos in a death match neither could win, but  two different approaches to b2b publishing — two views of authority — duke it out in that conference room in 1996. I remember walking away thinking in my 23-year-old Webmaster brain, so what does this mean for the website? Now, I know it should have meant a lot for the site’s strategy. (I think I even went behind the editor’s back and asked for the survey results.)

The question was — and arguably, still is — who has the authority? Does an editor, who knows the subject area inside and out, know better than the people paying for her publication what the steady diet should be for the reader?

Does a web developer know what a modular publishing tool should start out looking like if she’s never spoken to the end users? Does a GUI developer know what a new web user needs to guide them through a shopping cart if they’ve been shopping online since Amazon launched?

You can kinda tell where I fall, right? On the side of gathering intelligence from your collective and using that data, intelligently spliced and interpreted, to drive your strategy. I believe in small launches, gathering feedback, more launches. Perfect the product on a continuous basis.

It all used to be very much the other way around. Spend a ton of money, work toward a huge launch, and then sit and wait for the data to come to you. Then, with a rather feeble toolset, try to figure out if phase two is still viable at all. Not a whole lot of listening going on with that approach, it’s more of a traditional software development way of doing things.

With a toolset (I used to dream about) to look at user behavior, all of the current websites out there to use almost as tools themselves, and all of the savvy users we now have, we have an opportunity to use the knowledge of the collective to build a better product and continue building it as we go. Google has brought this process mainstream, taking open source to a whole new level. It’s very cool to have input into their new product, Wave, as a beta user.

Even Apple has gotten on board with the iPhone, allowing the development community to build apps and then distribute them through the App Store. As much as I love Apple products, it must be said that Apple used to be even more of a proprietary black box than Microsoft.

We have opportunities and tools to start simple with community building, getting feedback, and launches that can happen in more rapid, adaptive phases. It’s pretty cool, actually. To be able to put a product out there and welcome your users’ feedback and data you need to alter and improve it. Takes out so much guesswork, but leaves room for great ideas and surprises along the way.

A brave new world, not without drawbacks, but for those that have the stomach, a lot of fun – kind of like the crazy, wild west days of Netscape 1.0.

I Only Need One Percent

Genius: one percent inspiration and 99 percent inspiration.
-Thomas Edison

The Great Fingernail Incident of 1981:

My friend Amber asked me to hold her 10-speed bike by the back wheel so that she could put the chain back on. As she went to do so the front wheel turned, the bike twisted, and my fingernail – my left ring finger – got caught in the spokes of the wheel.

For the rest of the summer, I watched a new fingernail grow underneath the old one – the old one had black, flaking dry blood between it and the new one that hurt to shave off with a nail file — which I religiously scraped for months until all I could see was fresh new fingernail, with pink underneath it. To this day, that fingernail grows faster than the other nine.

There are several novels that could float from my fingertips fully formed.  Easily made, their stories would be familiar, and therefore either stand the test of time or … float away like so much of the flotsam and jetsam we have today.

Those novels could look like regular fingernails. Since they might turn out something like a woman’s version of Run, Rabbit Run… grow like them, act like them, eventually be clipped right off of the end of a reader’s mind like them.

Or… they could, with their black blood between the old and the new, apply pressure. Pressure for growth, change, expansion. One percent. Just one percent.