Category Archives: New Media

Cool Projects for Digital Humanities Grad Students

Here are a couple of projects for grad students in the digital humanities and new media. They’re things I’d like to do. Here goes:

When I read Henry Beston, I really have no idea of the landscape he’s talking about. He covers all kinds of issues: animal migrations, the intricacy of weather systems, and nuance of place change. This all needs to be mapped as an accompaniment to the text: where was he when he saw the spiders? I think this is all under water now?

A much larger project has to do with visualizing history in terms of maps from the point of view of search and place modeling. It’s a simple concept that would probably involve major money and time. Let’s say I go to a map search on the web and type in Battle of Manassas or Battle of Bull Run (depending on what part of the country you’re from). I should be able to go there and study it from angles or versions of choice, but the trick is that everything else has to be there too: the map “follows” the search into the past as a totality of the world, hence a true simulacrum. Likewise Rome, Greece, whatever. Small parts of this should be possible, even more possible with greater computer power on the way. This would be a synthesis of almost every academic discipline.

Another project could just be to GIS out Tolkien’s world. That would be fun.

Why New Media IPOs Bug Me

When Facebook went through its IPO, I couldn’t quite pin down what bothered me about it. I’m a semi-Facebook user. I dabble in Google+. I use and enjoy small company software for my professional work, like Tinderbox. I pay for as many things as I’m able on my professor’s salary. In my quiet time, I think Facebook should charge a subscription for various levels of use, like a buck a month, so that people have a stake in the features they like or depend on. I ask my students if they would pay and they say they wouldn’t. But then I compare the $1 a month cost to their cell phone charges. Most are on their parents plan, so they don’t even know how much they pay for services like cable. When I tell them, they typically shrug and half-heartedly change their minds or reconsider to the extend that they’re willing to forecast their future behaviors around things they don’t have a lot of control.

If we think about investment as a long term commitment, the IPO takes on a different cast. What did people buy long term for Facebook? What did the big money purchase? Will Facebook exist in ten years? Or will it go into hardware, sell a Facebook phone? Is this any different than, say, the next new thing in refrigerators or automobiles?

I have no idea. But I do worry about the long haul.

It would seem to me that Twitter also has this problem. A lot of people depend on the service and have an investment in its core features. Note how the tweet, however, is not really a tweet anymore but a load of interpretables. The core metaphor is changing. And RSS would seem to be wobbling. Don’t people have more control over or with RSS? Perhaps I’m wrong about that.

Simple things tend toward complexity. For me the nostalgia window is getting shorter.

On Almost Being Done with Firefox and Moving to Chrome

The latest version of Firefox is loading ads above search results, which confuses the search priority and has led to my clicking on ads rather than results. Chrome doesn’t do this. If something doesn’t change, I’ll have to switch to Chrome after being a long time Firefox user and fan.

The Facebook IPO and the Big Data Craze

Somini Sengupta’s article in today’s New York Times asks how to make gold out of Facebook’s Big Data pile. Indeed, in all my newsy feeds, a top story (I assume the world of news on finance has grown boring over the years) has to do with Facebook’s valuation. Is it $10 Billion or $100 Billion? Another anxiety in the piece has to do with the social model under the pressure of public holdings. The relationship here is how to make gold out of the data for stakeholders and how the stakeholder model will influence Facebook’s mechanics. It’s an interesting new media question. It should, perhaps, inspire other questions about how to think about internet use.

For example, Facebook could decide to charge users a $1 dollar a month for a subscription, $2 dollars for premium services. Or it could go with a public radio model and ask users to fork over a determination of value. This would, of course, amount to real money, close to a billion dollars a month, if everyone participated. It could inform each user that some of that money would go into assigned investments. This dollar more than competes with other data services.

The story of Facebook is buried deep in contemporary memes. One of these is “Big Data.” I don’t think users would be surprised at how fast data has become a metaphor. Try a search on Google or Bing. It’s all the rage on O’Reilly at the moment. Everyone has data. Some data is protected by law, other data is more ambiguous, a current mood, for example. Facebook has “tons” of it, some of it mine, which I’m uncomfortable with, not because I fear anything about privacy. In conversations between people at the cafe, every third word is the word “data.” When people talk to their mothers, their mothers respond with the word “data” more so than Captain Picard.

Note that I have no issue with data itself. We need to count things. My issue is with how we determine the value of something. To whom is my current mood of value?

All of this isn’t the only possible story. It could be that a user model is designed on the binary: teeny data. That a model is developed on the notion that one does not have to supply information, truthful or not (how much of all that user input is tweaked by users–re age: I’m 29), to use a service, that one does not need to login (what happened to the idea of superlogin–oh, I know?) to attend the party.

Data, given the meme, represents physicality. It comes with proportion; it has potential energy. It shares properties with rare minerals. But must it be this way? I note that at Quora the design concept has built into it a series of fields for email. This means that email is important. One cannot use Quora without an email account.

Someone could ask: why do we have to do it that way? We should pursue user models that ask different questions. I’m going to try one this summer just for kicks.

What We’re Doing in Digital Narrative at Tunxis

It was somewhat fortuitous for New Media Communication at Tunxis to run Digital Narrative, the second course in our program. The students, after taking New Media Perspectives, have the chance to work with an actual project, begun by one of our economics professors on sabbatical with web site needs. Digital Narrative needs a real project; it also needs students ready to apply learning they’ve acquired in new media principles. This program is not about any particular skill. Rather it pulls students who are learning particular skills into the broad new media fields that require teams to synthesize what they’re learning. We need designers, programmers, artists, business people, writers, and we expect them to lead and to apply.

So we build systems inter-disciplinarily. The system we’re building is an archive and story sharing site for the Conference of Solidarity Support Organizations. Here are the components and goals:

1. Use wordpress for the superstructure
2. Use github for team organization, roles, and milestones–this is a fantastic tool for student teams (no one can hide)
3. Build facilities for content creation and management by the client and his editorial board
4. Promote institutional sharing: students will be meeting with local institutions, which is really cool
5. Promote team integration and integrity in the students
6. Integrate the new media layers of code, design, and culture (which are our Programs central concerns)
7. Learn a little about Polish history and the significance of the Solidarity movement.

It’s working pretty well thus far. Students have a two day meeting schedule. They meet with the client on Tuesday (in Agile mode) and work on what they decided with him on Thursday. But they’re also working on their own time, without my prompting on “stuff.” I assist with more advanced programming and organization issues; WordPress can be complicated. But, as this is a necessary project, outside of the classroom, the students have taken the bull by the horns and are being aggressive. Good. I can use milestones to set my assessment schedule, which is convenient.

More on Ecological Buildings

There’s a wonderful connection between ecological thinking, new media, and design. We can use space in and energy in better ways. Ingels‘ hedonistic sustainability is interesting because it’s practical, exciting, and begs collaboration between disciplines. Poet/architect. Programmer/waste manager. Geologist/economist. Et cetera.

How Can I Read Novels on My Mobile Phone

People often ask me, “How can you read a novel on such a small screen.”

I show them the novel on the screen and prove that the words are actually bigger on that small screen than on the book page, which would suggest that what they really mean is: “I am unfamiliar with this method of reading.”