Monthly Archives: October 2010

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Opening social networks/ graphs up to Researcher Collaboration Tools, a UCSF Harvard Profiles collaboration project

For the past few months I have been consulting part time with UCSF and the department of Clinical and Translational Sciences. You might think that has something to do with my browser plugin Babelfin, but Translational Sciences really has nothing to do with language learning, but rather taking exciting patterns in other fields and translating the processes between them. In this case UCSF is focusing on how Social Media and Social Networking can be used in an academic sense for collaboration and messaging rather than games, photo sharing, or virtual resumes.

The UCSF OpenSocial project (–shindig-apps/ ) started as a Harvard project called Catalyst PROFILES ( ). Profiles (as we call it), is a simple social networking server that manages the graph relationships between colleagues, co-authors, and research interests. Profiles looks at relationships differently than Facebook, Linkedin, or event MySpace, but it’s pretty bare bones and limited in what it can do.

The innovative part comes in where UCSF thought it would be neat to extend Profiles without altering it’s code. So, Eric Meeks at UCSF bolted on an Opensocial container named Shindig to Harvard’s Profiles project which allows external apps to run on top of Profiles. This makes for an interesting mix of code, as Profiles is a Microsoft C# ASPX project, and Shindig comes in PHP and Java flavors. Eric rightly choose to implement the Java flavor of Shindig as it’s the most current.

So, this is where I come in, as, I am building the applications that run on the Shindig server accessing the Profiles social graph. In many cases it’s just like building an application that runs on Linkedin, Bebo or MySpace, however, there is no friend graph, but, there are 3 other graphs I can use, co-author, colleague, and interest graphs.

Initially we are keeping it simple, but we plan to extend Opensocial in a standard way so that other universities and research institutions can apply Opensocial to their graph servers. UCSF and Harvard are hoping that their work will make it easier to use Profiles as the graph server, but they are both very excited about creating an open platform that can develop a rich ecosystem of applications that extend their work, and are able to run on other platforms with small tweaks. In the end we want researchers to be able to better collaborate using social tools.

“Attention walls” in UX Design, for productivity in an Attention Economy?

This post is in response to Aza’s design talk on China’s Great Firewall. ( ) In brief Aza asks the question if we can better manage our attentions by controlling the speed at which interfaces and information is rendered. He uses China’s Firewall as an example, that does not explicitly block an activity but discourages it strongly by slowing down the service. And as Google points out speed is a huge factor on the internet and heavily effects user behaviour.

From now, on I’ll call this an “attention wall” or the idea of using design to not just think about how best to layout functionality but to also consider the speed at which it reacts. To actually consider using an anti pattern of slowing down UI to discourage the use of a feature.

Why would we want to set up “attention walls”? For one, when I am programing I find that I use the internet a lot for looking up how to use an API or function, but sometimes find my self getting distracted with email or other activities. Also, you might make elements like Deprecated APIs appear lower on a list of functions or slower to auto-complete. Speed in UX does not necessarily have to be something that is counted in seconds, but it could be a metric that measures the distance from the user’s current focus or attention, and in that sense an “attention wall” is just an obstacle to available information.

So how else might we use “attention walls”? Well, we might pair them with the design element of karma, or micro currencies. So if you were running a corporate IT infrastructure and you wanted to pair down rather than block outside email and social networks. You might just slow them down, unless a user… spends some karma, or social currency on that activity.

This might be carried so far as falling within David Helgason’s notion of ‘Gamification’ of the internet and culture. How we are slowing turning work into play, and play into work. Some people call this ‘serious games.’ It’s the sort of thing where you score badges and points for completing an activity. Popular social networks like gowalla and foursquare have been playing with this for a while, and the trend will probably continue.

So, how might we use this? Well, maybe corporate emails are slowed down, unless you spend a few points to send it at a priority level. This might just add enough of an attention cost to sending that short email to 30 people, that will end up distracting them and creating the habit of checking email every 5 min. If we all send fewer emails in the work place, maybe we can get to checking email the 1st five minuets of every hour, and get us into the productive pattern of not checking email, facebook, or twitter so often in the work place.

One might continue to tie the message sent into a reward system that if the email causes some sort of positive response either externally or internally that more accelerator points are awarded so that user can send more email; ie, the more responsible users get rate limited less.

So maybe as UX Designers think about color, readability, typography and the so many other things they think about, maybe today’s designers need to start thinking about setting up patterns for “attention walls” as we start to face information overload.

Rate of innovation, too high? Displacing our humanity?

If technology is moving so fast that the past and present are not predictors of future trends, that is a serious problem.

Continuity starts to fade.

Have you ever wondered why people put so much effort into saving a historic building or preserving some artifact? When I was a young technologist I would have razed it all if it meant progress could move faster, but today I am a bit wiser. In the last few years, I have been moving a lot, and have been disrupting my own personal continuity. New friends, new buildings, new places to eat, new everything. Even my family seems…. more distant, not because of distances, but in May my parents started pursuing a divorce. So, for me, nothing is the same, except a few core friends; some of which moved out here. My happiness went way up when they got here, and a small savory piece of continuity was restored for me.

So, what I have realized is that Continuity is what makes us human. And as a result we have rich pasts and experiences to draw from. We have all of recorded history to define and differentiate us. ( of only about 10,000 years ) What will humans know of us 10,000 years from now? What will be preserved? What will be our Iliad? Our Bible? A dark age in Continuity is a dark age in the human spirit. We need continuity to be more than animals.

With out Continuity we may exist in a state of perfect societal flow, and may even transcend into this singularity thing, but really what breaks down? Philosophy will fail? Reason spanning seasons will fail, and a prolonged desire to plan will fail. If you disagree with this, then why is it that the north is more productive than anywhere else in the world. Why is it that winter climates seem to evoke the need to be productive? Why do the Sweeds make the coolest lights? Necessity breads innovation.

Jared Diamond who has written Guns, Germs, and Steal, and Collapse seems to evoke the notion that having to plan for winter each year played a large role in human and human cultural development.

If technology moves so fast that planing and thinking about the future are fruitless, we are in chaos. We might even be without what we call humanity. We will be confined to the present, making decisions on instinct and gut checks rather than thoughtful discourse. We will be in a stress survival mode, which will remove us from higher thought. The poor are often challenged in this way, and study after study shows that the poor spend more money on the same activities. They spend more on food ( percentage wise ), more on transportation, etc… We should strive for the sort of wealth that allows us the pleasure to think and share.

If this erks you, it should. If you disagree, then you might need to check out the Long Now Foundation, which hopes to create a sense of continuity for us into the future.

I am beginning to think that John Nash’s work ( a beautiful mind ) is more meaningful economically at a society level, than at a company a,b,c level. I think as a society we should no longer seek maximums. “Maximums are the root of too much evil, as they lack the room to account for exceptions.” “A maximized system cannot leave room for the Black Swan, and are fragile by nature, asking to be toppled.” John Nash’s work suggests that in a competitive system one will find a more efficient use of resources going for 2nd best rather than the best. So, in the argument of sustainability, continuity, and stability; maximums undermine our ability’s by overvaluing now when compared to the past and future.

As a society we need to to create an economics that has room for “grace”.

Where are the good tech recruiters?

Having been a tech recruiter while I was in high school and being an engineering consultant I have a fairly unique point of view.

  • recruiters will tell you want you need to hear as a developer, a company who passes on you, has no interest in being blunt. however a recruiter has an interest in you interviewing well with their next client
  • being able to talk tech with folks goes miles. if you can talk to an engineer and actually understand what they are looking for, then you can be their advocate, and they will refer you
  • yes you have to hustle, and some hustle on the bottom via numbers, but, you might find other ways to source your phone list.
  • why don’t recruiting companies sponsor tech events, actually putting together great events. build relationships with speakers and attendees. like, duh,….
  • hold programing competitions, the best developers can win more than a cash prize, and even a $1-5k prize is worth it if you can place 2-5 engineers off of one competition.

anyways, that’s my $.02