Category Archives: dead media

How Tag Clouds Suck and struggling for an intelligent design of ‘Aboutness’

technorati suxSome time long ago, back when the last of the compact discs still roamed the earth, when Web 2.0 was first shimmying it’s glassy, bubbly, lime-green flippery toe out out of that primordial soup of long-shattered dotcom dreams, there was, at that time, The Tag Cloud.

And the Geeks saw the tag cloud. And the geeks said it was good.

And boy they were wrong about that. really wrong. And like Chlamydia, it spread.

Somehow this sexy-looking, but, -in reality- sordidly abused miscarriage of functional information design became the standard bearer of Web 2.0. Yep, pump up your form size elements, round those corners, slap tag Tag cloud on ‘er and you got yerself a Web 2.0 app.

So there was a reason. The reason is that tag clouds are supposed to convey a sense of “aboutness”. Oh are you new around here? here, take a glance at this, you can “see” what this place, person, blog, group, whatever is about by checking the tag cloud. Right…

But tag “clouds” suck. You can feel this is true in that pained space in your forebrain as your eyes grapple desperately to make sense of jumbled mess of disconnected semantics.

Tag clouds are like what if I said I was going to write this paragraph -but instead of in the regular order- I would put all of the words in alphabetical order instead. But then I’ll adjust the size of words I think are important in a highly arbitrary way. Wouldn’t that be awesome?!

I’ve not wanted to have to write this post for a long time. But people are *still* coming out with new sites loaded with tag clouds. So if you must have this feature to suggest “aboutness”, here’s what I would suggest (if this reminds you of there’s good reason, maybe the only sane tag using site on the internet)

Let’s take technorati’s data and replot it:

Tag cloud awesome

Hey now we can see not just what tags are more “about” this blog, but also in proper order, and by how much each differ. At a glance. If space is a premium, here’s how you might shave a few pixels and still convey all the data while squeezing it in a sidebar.

awesome cloud 2

Anyway, this is my best efforts. let me know if you have inspirations.

File under “Tag Clouds: the Mullets of Web Design or Ontological Venereal Affliction?”

A Prehistory of Twitter

Every new media retrieves an archetype of a dead one. With the fuss over social presence at the moment, I recalled to how I first tried to achieve twitter. Twitter for me retrieves my very first blog which was nothing more than a log of msn messenger handles. And one point, there was even a semi-functional rss feed of this thanks to Michael Aird. Little personal moments at 80 characters or less (Twitter is generous by comparison).

A life blogged in msn handles, a year ago today

March 31, toronto,
t: home again, between homes, a sad moment packing boxes

March 30 MaRS,
t: at iSummit

March 29 toronto,
t: it’s true, i’m finally a (real) blogger

March 27 toronto,
t: anyone else want to meet me for drinks in tokyo next weekend?

March 26 toronto,
t: being wierd is not enough

March 25 toronto,
t: lips I could spend a day with

March 16, toronto,
t: you’re pretty good looking for a girl

March 16, toronto,
t: she had a mind that would not abide double negatives

March 14, toronto,
t: “Technology is about enabling people. DRM is about disabling people. DRM is the opposite of what technology should do.” IC

March 13, toronto,
t: mashup the mashups

March 12, toronto,
t: oh god this house _not_ lonely now. save me.

March 12, toronto,
t: just me, a pizza and a lonely heart tonight.

March 11, toronto,
t: Night Moves tonight or Shake a Leg? we’re getting ready early

March 11, toronto,
t: damn you should see the madness on queen st today

March 10, toronto,
t: the lingering taste of kimchi

March 10, toronto,
t: hey, anyone want to drive with me to Austin next week? You know for fun. (and SXSW)

March 9, toronto,
t: roasting a fine chicken

March 9, toronto,
t: “bonjour les madame et salut les ‘sieurs, nous sommes Les Dales Hawerchuk!” [much rock&roll ensues]

March 9, toronto,
t: ooh new TV on the radio is good

March 8, toronto,
t: i could weep for how much is exactly like the music app I always wanted (to build)

March 7, toronto,
t: I need less sleep

March 5, toronto,
t: 4th explanation for the lack of women in science — they found better jobs

March 2, Lee’s Palace2006,
t: The Meligrove Band – wow! best show in ages

March 2, 2006, Toronto,
t:Bush on CO2, can’t know exactly what targets r sustainable so “issue not worth discussing” what planet are these guys from?

Feb 28, 2006, feeling homeless,
t: and not one part, of your skyscraper heart, can tell which one is for real

Feb 27, 2006, toronto,
t: he had an intermittent genius that came and went like a bad cell phone connection

Feb 25, 2006, toronto,
t: hey we won TorCampSlamCamp cool

Feb 21, 2006, toronto,
t: this just in, arctic monkeys is teh sux0r. get meligrove band instead.

Feb 20, 2006, toronto,
t: Torcamp. you should go

Feb 20, 2006, toronto,
t: Why does every computer i own feel like it needs to crash today?

Feb 19, 2006, toronto,
t: “I stand alone against your mad deadly communist world ganster frankenstein controls”

Feb 18, 2006, toronto,
t: diableros tonight

Feb 17, 2006, toronto,
t: Done!

Feb 17, 2006, toronto,
t: A bigger man

Feb 16, 2006, toronto,
t: “Let chnia sleep, for when she awakes, she will shake the world” Napoleon Bonaparte

Feb 15, 2006, toronto,
t: hmmm, all i can find to wear is underwear, but hey, what could they do, fire me?

Feb 12, 2006, toronto,
t: Shirky’s Law– “Equality. Fairness. Opportunity. Pick Two.” [choose the world you want to live in]

Feb 11, 2006, toronto,
t: leader of the new dance revolution

Feb 11, 2006, toronto,
t: you’ve been searching for sins since you were young

Feb 9, 2006, toronto,
t: can I squeeze you in to an empty page of my diary?

Feb 8, 2006, toronto,
t: “l’ll testify. That i did not do those drugs – or steal those underpants no…”

Feb 7, 2006, toronto,
t: “[in the future] i’ll no longer have to search for my shoes in the morning, I’ll just google them” -bruce sterling lift06

Feb 7, 2006, toronto,
t:i wish my cell phone *charger* would ring when i called it…

Feb 6, 2006, Toronto,
t:home again, time to catch up

Feb 5, 2006, Frankfurt,
t:long lonely weary journey home

Feb 5, 2006, Geneva,
t:its 4:30 a successful pub crawl in geneva… [and oh god up again at 7:30, this schedule really makes it’s own jet lag]

Feb 5, 2006, Geneva,
t:its 4:30 a successful pub crawl in geneva…

Feb 4, 2006, Geneva,
t:JP godfather of the geneva liquid scene

Feb 3, 2006, Geneva,
t:the bbc intranet rules

Feb 3, 2006, Geneva,
t:”europe has been more united by Easyjet than by the european union” Thomas Mygdal, lift06

Feb 2, 2006, Geneva,
t:bruce sterling: blogjects, every-ware, the infocloud, data shadows, internet of things, spimes and the wands to control them

Feb 2, 2006, Geneva,
t:how much do I love mustard in a tube

Feb 1, 2006, Geneva,
t:first night Alist bloggers and supermodels. cool!

Jan 31, 2006, Frankfurt,
t:in Frankfurt they like 747s, the cell phones here make me cry

Jan 31, 2006, Toronto,
t:1.Freak out 2.Get shit together really fast 3.Replace passport with less than 4.5 hrs 4. Wow cool, ok next problem?

Jan 30, 2006, Toronto,
t:I quit!

Twittering the whispering revolution


Twitter is a massive signal. It’s still at least half kludgy, it’s nowhere near end-state but – the idea is going to be big. I’ve been thinking of this signal since in came across strongly in my Dead Media workshop at Lift07. But in just the last few weeks Twitter has so exploded that we really have to start talking about it. Now, Twitter Inc. could just be the first signpost, but the signal itself is a monster.

I don’t know what to call this phenomenon that encompasses “status-casting” the facebook status, twitter, jaiku, what we used to used to the msn messenger handle for (poor msn messenger, once huge in Canada, now all but a dead media…)

When we were talking back at the Dead Media workshop we asked, twitter – what will it kill?

consider this: Will Twitter kill blogging the way sms messages “killed” voice conversations?

And what’s so great about being pervasively bombarded with short cryptic blurblettes from everyone you know what the most random intervals? The reason why, is that twitter is an incredibly lightweight way to suck in the momentary “context” of everyone you know (scratch that, of every geek you know) with only a slight distraction cost. hint: the key is to get twitter onto your gtalk and/or mobile device.

It’s like socially, your field of awareness just grew by 3 sizes.

It’s funny how, while everyone assumes that the killer app is always a richer medium that, oftentimes , it is the lowest bandwidth new media that end up killing. Just as sms, “kills” voice calls and hell, how we’re all still wondering why we don’t have videophones for 30 years now?

Even rss is like this, it’s a medium designed to filter out all nonessential (mostly visual) input down to the essence of the desired signal itself. The river of news. Please, just the facts ‘mam.

This thought ties back to my theory on all media. Media is what we use to leverage our scarce time, physicality and immediate context. Our time, place and capacity for sensory input is finite, but our attention has plasticity. Through media, the more we can compress each signal coming at us (in the traditional definition of the word signal) the more capacity for aggregate attention that we gain.

Now go learn to stop worrying about the fuzziness or the inadequacy of any media to capture all meaning – and learn to appreciate this as media’s greatest enabler.

Significance for the Enterprise? Is just beginning.

Vista’s DRM mistake, and the decline of Microsoft Windows

vistaMicrosoft introduces Vista to area bloggers, Nov. 2006

“Microsoft Corp. shares fell as much as 2.7 percent on Friday, their biggest drop in nine months, after Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said analysts’ forecasts for fiscal 2008 revenue for Windows Vista were “overly aggressive.” Microsoft shares tumble on CEO comments -CNNMoney

“A new study by Jupiter Research shows that European music executives are becoming increasingly disenchanted with DRM. According to the report… Nearly two-thirds—62 percent—feel that eliminating DRM would boost the popularity of online music sales.” European music execs no fans of DRM either – Ars Technica

“Windows Vista includes an array of “features” that you don’t want. These features will make your computer less reliable and less secure. They’ll make your computer less stable and run slower. They will cause technical support problems. They may even require you to upgrade some of your peripheral hardware and existing software. And these features won’t do anything useful. In fact, they’re working against you. They’re digital rights management (DRM) features built into Vista at the behest of the entertainment industry.

And you don’t get to refuse them.” – DRM in Windows Vista Bruce Schneier

You have to feel sorry for Microsoft. At the time, those dark days of 2002, it really looked like it would go the other way. And by this I mean DRM, and “trusted” computing.

Five years ago Microsoft made a big bet on DRM. Billions were invested in a new OS built from the ground up around DRM.

This bet has turned out to be wrong.

But back then, the content industry could put the toothpaste back in the tube. Napster had been shut down, kazaa was on the run, the DMCA was ascendant, and the new promise of Trusted Computing (a misnomer if there ever was one) seemed to be promising a heavily-managed future of grinding inevitability. This future promised that that the desktop and every edge device would finally be locked down. Media companies would be able to finally, “rightfully” charge for even thinking about consuming their media.

Big It would love Trusted Computing, finally a way to reliably and thoroughly lock down the corporate desktop and properly “manage” the computing activities of all those troublesome “users” they are forced to put up with.

Meanwhile we have Vista, a platform that is designed at it’s very core to be anti-user. With Vista, users are the enemy. A locked down driver model, content “protection” features you can’t turn off, and a philosophy of questioning the user’s actions at every turn. (these features have been hidden for your protection, are you sure you want to do that? are you really really sure?)

But it didn’t turn out that way. Microsoft in lagging so long to introduce Vista, completely missed the boat on the Youtube/Wikinomics revolution. The users won. The open and peer-production model won. It turns out users want to use their computers. Sometimes in fantastic ways you could never have predicted.

2007 will be the year the music industry turns away from failed experiment that was DRM. It will take a few years longer I imagine but the movie industry (still new at digital distribution) will follow as well. Leaving vista high and dry.

In the corporate space the same is happening. Enterprise2.0 and software as a service are putting Big IT back in it’s place. All along Microsoft has been listening to the wrong customer the Big IT departments and not to USERS.

The next big change in corporate productivity is not coming from locking down users. The future of IT is not about preventing what applications users can choose to run and when or what devices they are and aren’t “trusted” to plug into their machine.

Microsoft: If a business can’t trust it’s own people, who can they trust?

I’ll answer the question this far, if a business can’t trust it’s own people, their old operating system isn’t their biggest problem.

No, the next revolution in business productivity comes from empowering *people*, and not Big IT. The next revolution comes from embracing emergent uses of tools and a default status of “openness” not the other way around. Port 80 has set us free [port 80 is used by webbrowsers to access the greater internet and the one loophole left necessarily, grudgingly, open in every corporate firewall].

What will keep Microsoft’s OS division going for now is simply it’s enormous market inertia and an unfortunate lack of breadth in other choices (leading candidates: WinXP, MacOS, Linux). But another 5 years is a long time for Microsoft to try and coast.

Meanwhile those who know, and those who are tied to corporate IT have switched to Mac already. It was the MacBookPro and Apple’s switch to powerful (and finally equivalent/better) x86 hardware that did it. Try going to a tech or blogger conference and every single person sitting comfortably ensconced behind the glowing Apple logo of their MacBooks.

Apple is too a closed platform (more closed on the hardware level than even Vista), but at least it’s a closed platform that puts it’s users needs (for the most part) ahead of the needs of the record industry or any other third parties.

This shift to apple by the world’s bloggers is a signal. Unless Microsoft recovers, big changes are coming.

People once said that AMD chips would never be accepted in the enterprise or accepted to be sold a stalwart Intel-only shop like Dell. They said Apple would never abandon their distinction PowerPC architecture but they did, they went Intel (with a vengeance). Now on x86, apple is just a word away from blowing the OS market wide-open.

What will happen next, and this will be the downfall that DRM started, is that with a word, Mr. Jobs and Mr. Dell will sign one piece of paper. And license Mac OS to Dell. I don’t know when, but it will happen.

And this will be the downfall of the Microsoft hegemony. And if that alone doesn’t do it, are you ready for the GoogleOS?

for the meantime though, you can get started on Mac OS right here.

# Thomas Purves is a software entrepreneur, and long-time Windows users living in Toronto. He, honestly, harbors Microsoft no ill-will and hopes the Vista debacle is only a wake-up call, and that they come roaring back with a truly great and pro-user revision in short order (the Windows2000 to Vista’s WindowsMe). The author would also like to personally thank the Vista team for fixing search and killing off the XP search dog. For this at least, they have his undying gratitude.

# The comments section welcomes your flames here:

LIFTconference day 0: Dead Media Workshop




“McLuhan believed that all media forms are extensions of our senses, bodies, and psyches, in the way that a hammer is an extension of our hand and a book is an extension of our memory and ideas. As such, they intensify one thing in culture while obsolescing something else.” – The Imagination Challenge, pg 130

Today thanks to social media, other new innovations and 2.0 everything, we are at the point of explosion of new media in society. In the spirit of “the medium is the message”, how are/will these new media be transforming the structure of society itself, both in our social sphere as well as change to the nature and environment of work? But instead of just looking at the new media we examine these media through he lens of what they displace. What plethora of old/current media should we now consider “dead”. What are the historical precedents? This is the subject of a workshop I had the fortune to lead for a very bright crew of people on this first day zero of LIFT.

Questions of discussion:
Does Media really die? Some argue that media never dies it just adapts. Or that media just sleeps and waits to be revived later in another form. And I say yes, this is often true, but surely you can think of examples of media that failed to adapt enough and faded away?

And also an intentional aspect of this discussion is to be provocative by intentionally exaggerating what we mean by “dead” and even what we mean by “media”.

Step one, brainstorming “dead” media. inintial list

sheet music
the fax machine
8 tracks
town criers
overhead projectors
letter writing

Cds dvds (optical media)
Usb key
Local storage
Paper money
Gold standard
Stock exchange?
Authority of power
Authority of opinion
Dress codes – more tribal
Places of media theatre
Places of meeting
Geographic locality
Local(?) content
Paper memos
traditional Conferences

Specific media’s considered by the workshop: 1) blogs, bloglines and information overload? 2) e-paper and rollable connected displays in mobile devices 3) IM and twitter and status broadcasting


Taking a mcluhanistic view of media disruption and it’s impact on society and economy:

A tetrad is a means of examining the effects of any technology on society by dividing its effects into four categories and displaying them simultaneously. Visually, a tetrad can be depicted as four diamonds forming an X, with the name of a medium in the center. The two diamonds on the left of a tetrad are the Enhancement and Retrieval qualities of the medium, both Figure qualities. The two diamonds on the right of a tetrad are the Obsolescence and Reversal qualities, both Ground qualities.

* Enhancement (figure): What the medium amplifies or intensifies. For example, radio amplifies news and music via sound.
* Obsolescence (ground): What the medium drives out of prominence. Radio reduces the importance of print and the visual.
* Retrieval (figure): What the medium recovers which was previously lost. Radio returns the spoken word to the forefront.
* Reversal (ground): What the medium does when pushed to its limits. Acoustic radio flips into audio-visual tv.


Our McLuhan inspired “Tetra-pack” format for analyzing new media:


New Media Example: Instant Messaging and Status Broadcasting (ala, msn header, twitter, facebook status. One example developed from the workshop:

Voice and conversation
Mood expression
Personal context casting
Social Network
Proximity awareness
Distractions, white spam?
Smart objects

Full environmental context
Personal bookmarking
Social Presence ubiquity
More detailated/realistic avatars

Retrieves (media revived)
Post it notes
Walkie talky
Passing notes
Short hand
Sign language (codes, emoticons)
Post cards (rather than letters)

Obsolesces (Dead media, what does it kill?)
Blogs to an extent (esp, twitter, status broadcasting)
Water cooler conversation
Physical meeting

Final additions to the list of dead media:

Organization and predictable outcomes
Staying on objectives?
The line between work and private life (for good and bad)
The office
The home
The school
Regulation (oh not?)
Paper maps
Traditional Language
Un-dead media

My Other Posts on Dead media:
Email seen only mostly dead. sort of.
Dead Meme Watch? – Knowledge Management
Lars on dead email
Dead Media Watch #2145 – Email
Dead Fiction
Dead Media [the post that started it all]

Brilliantly, Norway makes iTunes (DRM) illegal

In a bold move against iTunes’ DRM, called Fairplay, the Norwegian Consumer Council has deemed it illegal in Norway, with France and Germany possibly following suit.

If only our policy makers had one iota of this imagination. The message Ottawa need to clue in to:

1. Digital protectionism is not how you promote culture

2. Digital protectionism is not how you promote cultural industry that matters.

3. Policy makers: Support fair use, support balanced copyright and support/reward open distribution models. End of story.

look for Michael Geist to have more to say about this at some point on this in a canadian context.

link: Norway declares iTunes Illegal

The revolution will not be tactile

Alex said something brilliant (as he sometimes does) the other day. He was answering a question from an architecht on the Imagination Challenge. Roughly, the answer went:

With each major shift in society there is something different in centre of the wheel that is driving the change. This time it’s digital and it’s social.

No, you architects and industrial designers, this revolution isn’t about you. “You’ve had had your turn..” Now let us enjoy ours.

When we talk about design these days, think information design, think social, community, interaction and organizational design – don’t think industrial design, don’t think architecture.. That’s not what’s interesting in design right now. This design revolution is not tactile.

At least not (quite) yet