Thursday, December 17, 2009

Twitter-stuff: thanks for all the RT?

This is just a quick reflection on normative behaviour and a short personal declaration. I don't thank people for passing along what I have to say, and, while I don't specifically hold it against others when they do so, I do question their motivation. And I have unfollowed people for doing it excessively.

I don't use Twitter for strictly promotional purpose, and if you do, more power to you, especially if you are promoting a product or service I actually use. But I wonder, what is actually happening when you publically thank me for passing along your message? Well, yes, I am getting the thank you, and there is some reciprocation, if one or more of your subscribers decides to add me to to their subscription lists, but this is not likely, particularly if you thank a number of people in a single tweet.

Basically, what I understand when somebody thanks me for passing along a message is "thank you, please do it again" - which is all fine and good, but to be honest, if you were to come out and ask me to "plz RT" or whatever, I would be less likely to do so, and the same goes for a lot of the "thx 4 RT" I see - it makes me feel like I'm being played. So please don't bother.

If you disagree with this belief, let me know. I'm not a rude person, I thank people all the time for all sorts of things. But I'm not going to thank someone for carrying on a conversation with me.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tab Sweep 2009-12-14

Here are some things which I have been following in the last week:

Friday, December 11, 2009

Reader, Writer, User Points: Engagement Engines

This comes as a response to an ongoing discussion at regarding user points and reward systems for online fiction readers. Essentially, the motivation for a user points system is to increase engagement by giving readers something to achieve. The downside is that in order to implement a points system, as a writer you need to produce more, or deny some of your readership access to writing in which they would normally participate. This is problematic.

The system I am trying to sketch out here works within a larger framework that I am proposing, which I am calling an engagement engine. It works like this:

A writer begins with a blank slate, on which she can add descriptions of people, places and things. These are big categories that structure the engagement engine. As a writer, you are able to write as much as you want, but you cannot publish a new person, place or thing until the system allows you to do so - shortly after you start writing, you receive a gift (much like a gift in a social networking environment), which upon opening reveals itself to be, for instance, a place. You use this gift to breathe life into one of the locations you have already privately given a description, and this location is now available for use in your story. After you describe your location more deeply, you receive another gift, and this in turn allows you to breathe life into one of the characters you have described. Now you have a place and you have a person. You can start to really tell your story.

In an engagement engine, multiple writers are supported. This is not essential to the points and rewards system, but I honestly think this is an important component in creating a community, by creating healthy competition and collaboration. As opposed to a content management system, an content engagement system, applies many of the concepts of game-play and social networks, and these work best if they operate within and encourage a wider community.

What really drives the engagement system is the act of creating content, so as you add more content to the system, you receive more gifts, which allows you to breathe life into more people, places and things. This may seem artificial, but I am hazarding a guess that it actually plays well to a strength of many writers that I have known: they are more creative when faced with restrictions and challenges. And there is no limit on the amount of detail, narrative and dialog you can write, or the number of people, places and things you can describe - it's just that you can't actually publicly use these people, places or things until the system has allowed you to breathe life into them. Which means you will want to use your best ideas, and that is what you do anyway.

So this is where the points system comes into play. As your story is published in serial and people read it, you collect extra points from them toward the gifts you use to breathe life into your creations. So you might say "I need 50 more readers before I can add this really cool story arc," and your existing reader base have an incentive to pass the word along, because they benefit from the gifts you receive.

The more readers read a writer, the more that writer can write. This defines story arcs, and encourages reader and writer engagement in an organic fashion. This is by no means a complete description of what I am describing when I say engagement engine, but it is a start. Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Weblit-tle Town of Festivity, lend me your voice!


Okay, look back to the start of November if you want the back story, but in a nutshell, Hallowe'en came and went and I managed to read a sum total of one creepy story online - although I know for a fact there were others - because my kids were already into the chocolate, and I was prepping a knight and a butterfly princess for further looting. So I sent out a request to the WebFic/WebLit community requesting that for the next big holiday season, ChristaKanzaNukkahTurkey, we get ourselves together and record a collection of festive tales, which we will then publish as public domain or Creative Commons NC for all to hear. People responded, and now that NaNoWriMo is done, the time has come.

So here we go.

Please send your seasonal tale to piers.hollott at gmail dot com, following these specifications as closely as you can manage:
  • Easy on the swears. For my kids - they may be listening.
  • 1000 words ~ 10 minutes, which is the length we are looking for.
  • If possible 256 VBR mp3 would be ideal. I would like to put the collection on Internet Archive, and because they archive a lot of live recordings, they tend to be contiguous, meaning all files in an archive are similar in nature. If you are using GarageBand on a Mac, the best bet is to use the default setting (I have no idea what this is, but it will keep all Macusers consistent).
  • Zip up your mp3 with a text version - I'll organize these as necessary, so word, text, even html are fine - not sure if I'll use them, but it would be good to make the archive searchable.
  • Please include your name as you would like to be attributed and any other supporting info you might wish to include in a separate text file.
  • Deadline Dec 18th or ASAP. I know some of you have already begun, and others have been busy with other things, so just let me know if this is a problem.
  • I'm sure I am forgetting something, so comment if you think I have omitted anything.
The only thing I know I am leaving out here is artwork, which is not essential, but if you have any ideas, let me know.


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

What if a Brand were a Secured Namespace for Identity?

This is in part a response to an article on @mikecane's eBook Test, titled How Book Publishing Will Lose: eBooks Vs. Smart Digital Books, but it is also something I have been trying to articulate for a while. The question that haunts me is how to separate narrative concern from brand in a published work. So, I am asking, what if a brand were a secured namespace for identity?

Namespaces are an oft-maligned and misunderstood component of the plumbing of XML based representations of information, such as XHTML, DocBook, DITA and the like. When you create an HTML page, all of the tags you use to create the page are HTML tags, so you have no need for a namespace. When you create an XHTML page, or any other XML based representation, you may use tags from more than one vocabulary, so you use namespaces, represented by URIs, to discriminate between nodes in your document.

When you use a namespace in a document, you associate it with a prefix, which is used as a placeholder for the actual URI within the document. The URI itself must be unique, and often references a collection of schema or vocabulary documents.

What I would like to suggest is that a document representation of a text could be marked up using an appropriate namespace in order to determine an appropriate brand for the markup within the document. For instance,


<title>El Camino Grande</title>
<p property="isbn:number" content="123-456789"/>

<img src="dora:walking"/>
<span actor="dora:actor">Dora</span> and
<span actor="diego:actor" >Diego</span>
walked down the road
<img src="diego:walking"/>
is very rudimentary pseudo-code representing a description of Dora and Diego walking down the road, along with a picture of each of them doing so. This is not production code, mind you, this is merely a sketch of an idea, that the namespace used in this case securely identifies an actor, so that information such as images associated with this actor are not available unless some blessed mechanism, such as the involvement of a digital signature, is involved. More than likely, this mechanism would also involve the ISBN, since it would be unlikely that licensing an branded actor for use by a reader in one text would allow access for all texts.

So if you have the correct signature for the actor and the ISBN, you access the namespace, and you are blessed for use of the associated branding, which might be images, type-faces and so on. In the case of the pseudo-code above, you would require two signatures, one for Dora and one for Diego.

Or would you?

Well, this is where it gets interesting. What if you have secured one of the signatures, and not the other? Can you still read the text? Ostensibly, since this is pseudo-code, yes you can, if you change the namespace in the header declaration to a namespace for which you do have access; for instance, if an open-branded namespace were available, this could be used instead. In this way, if you were purchasing a book about Dora and Diego, you could pay for the entire branding, a portion of the branding, or just purchase the book itself without purchasing the branding, and rebrand the book with an open brand.

And then let the consumers decide.

So what does this all mean? I honestly believe that, as electronic publishing grows as an industry, it will become more and more necessary to separate narrative concern from commercial concern. So, what if brand were a secured namespace for identity? How would that change the industry?

Prepare for Parallax: Files in the Cloud

Following up on a conversation with a co-worker this morning, something struck me as obvious. One of the things Sugar OS handles really well (either as sugar-on-a-stick or on the OLPC XO laptop) is simplifying the file/resource paradigm to make it consumable by children, by basing access on chronology rather than hierarchy, reminiscent of a search engine rather than a file system. Also, on Sugar you work with activities rather than files.

What struck me recently is that on the one hand, movement towards a cloud OS reflects a shift in consumer tastes from tasks like email (where you attach files in order to share) to social networking (where you pass around links and participate in activities in order to share), so when somebody asks me, in the context of a cloud OS, "but how will you be able to locate your files?" my initial reaction is this: either chronologically, or collaboratively (or possibly spatially, but that is a separate issue).

Think about it this way: was the document or picture I am trying to find something I touched recently? That should make it easy to find. No? Is it something I shared or created with another person or group of people? That narrows the field. As I add in more relationships with people who may have come in contact with the activity in question, I have fewer and fewer activities to sift through.

I think the desktop of the future will not be a desktop at all, it will be more like a shared light-box, emphasizing transparency. In order to find something again easily, you must give it relevance, and the best way you can do this is to share it, to make it available to the people with whom you already have instantiated relevant relationships.

Far more intriguing to me, while at the same time quite far out, is the idea of a spatial desktop, where the first question you ask when you want to locate a particular item is where was I? Where was I when I took the picture? Did I participate in this activity at work, on a plane, at home, in the living room or in the dining room? On the one hand, this sort of information might not be readily available for many activities, but if it were, how quickly would that narrow the field if you could recall your location when you took that picture?

The advantage of this approach is obvious as well. If you can't locate the actual picture, you can ask who else was there? Be prepared for parallax.